In a new two-part series, Garbh Madigan count downs the top ten backcourt partnerships in the NBA. Here’s Part I discussing No. 10 – No. 6.
“I think me and Ky (Kyrie Irving) are the best backcourt, young backcourt in the NBA. That’s all.” – Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers.
arrogant confident statement sent the basketball media into a silly season tailspin as they clamoured around NBA players for opinions, including John Wall (who, unlike Waiters and Irving, made the playoffs with the Wizards) who rebutted Waiters’ sentiments on camera.
In a modern day society it’s fun to simplify how we grade athletes to a ranking in a typically quicker factual process. Usually when rankings like these are created, their authors use complicated metrics and statistics for the effect when one of the players is off the court, advanced win shares, etc.
For the purposes of this off-season exercise, I will establish a ranking based on how worried I would be facing that backcourt in a playoff game, taking into account their personal abilities and how the backcourt coalesces and plays as a duo. Obviously, factors such as team individual success as well as clutch late game play will contribute also.
Here’s the first part of our countdown, listing numbers ten to six.
10. Denver Nuggets – Ty Lawson, Aaron Afflalo (& Gary Harris)
I, for one, am delighted these two are back together in the Mile High City. Combining the duo with the improving Kenneth Faried who had a career boosting summer with Team USA and the enigmatic Danilo Gallinari, healthy for the first time in two years, this team could become one of the most fun teams in the league.
While on the rebuilding Magic last year, Afflalo was probably one of the most consistent two guards in the league and his offensive confidence should be off the charts, having shot a career best 18.2 PPG. This is only a bonus to add to his defence where he is probably one of the best three on-ball two-guard defenders in the league, a definite upgrade on Randy Foye from last season. This will be a necessary trait as Lawson plays atrocious defence but at a frenetic offensive pace which should fuel a highly potent offense.
With the improved Afflalo alongside him, Lawson may be able to finally make the leap to the echelons of the top class point guards in the league. Also, make sure to keep an eye out for Michigan product Gary Harris who came to Denver via the draft night trade with the Bulls.
Drafted for defence, Harris put up over 18PPG with 2 assists and 2.6 steals a game in Summer League and is touted as one of the draft sleepers who could really contribute to Denver in a three-guard rotation this year.
9. New Orleans Pelicans – Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon & Tyreke Evan
We still haven’t seen the best of these two. Despite a 2013 riddled with injuries for the Pelicans, we were still able to catch glimpses of the bright future of their starting five. In a case of “too many cooks” at the guard spots Tyreke Evans has become primarily a small forward having spent time at both guard spots last season.
People tend to forget just how good Holiday is; he can shoot, rebound, distribute and defend. There aren’t many holes in his game, and that’s a big deal since Davis will likely be the only other “non-specialist” in the starting lineup. The man should have been an All Star two seasons ago in Philly.
It certainly helps that Holiday has Anthony Davis (the remix of Tim Duncan), a top five pick and roll man already to run the offence through. I have already acted like a fan-girl for Davis in my League Pass Article. With the spot up players this team has, Holiday should be running the pick and roll with Davis and Anderson all game long, his stats will benefit from it too.
We have seen Gordon prove to be a top scorer in the league before time and again frustratingly going down with injury. Even though Gordon is primarily a shooter at this stage in his career, defensively he can still get after it a bit. You’d like to see him pinch down and help on the glass more, but Gordon can play in the pick-and-roll a bit and score at a decent clip.
At 25, he’s still a young player and only a few years removed from a season in which he averaged 22.3 points and 4.4 assists while shooting 45 percent from the field. Shooting guard is one of the league’s weakest positions, so the Pelicans aren’t likely to be outmatched with Gordon starting at this spot very often. He should be helped tremendously by the return of Holiday and the continued development of superstar Anthony Davis.
8. L.A Clippers – Chris Paul, J.J Redick (& Jamal Crawford)
Chris Paul is really carrying this one. The future Hall of Famer is being flanked by a veteran old heat check guy and a forgettable overpaid three point shooter. While Paul has been overrated at times throughout his tenure in New Orleans and L.A, he still is the perennial favourite to lead the league in assists and steals while giving a solid seventeen points a night.
If we use the older theory as to be the prototypical point guard, Paul is this generation’s model as to how to play the point; he is an excellent distributor, controls the tempo, has elite in game IQ, outstanding vision, plays top on ball defence (when he wants to dial it in) and has proven his clutch ability when the game is on the line.
The problem is that point guard play in the league has changed dramatically since Paul entered the league as the fifth pick in the 2005 draft and is now epitomised by the hybrid play of the likes of Westbrook, Lillard and Irving.
A timeshare for minutes is in place at the two spot, based on which of the defensive sieves of Crawford and Redick is the hotter shooter on the night. While Redick is certainly good at what he does (playing off picks, single doubles, fades) and Crawford can erupt for twenty on an almost nightly basis, they depend on Paul’s creative gene while hoping to be hidden on the defensive end where they stand out like a sore thumb.
7. Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose & Jimmy Butler
Forecasting the Bulls season, or anything to do with the Bulls is precarious to say the least. We still all hope and pray to see the injury free Derrick Rose that prised the MVP crown away from LeBron James at a time when we didn’t think anyone in the world could. Nonetheless, Rose has proven he’s healthy at the FIBA World Cup, and even if he only reaches something like 85 percent of his previous productivity this year, he could contribute to a stacked team and be the difference maker in bringing a potential championship back to Chi-town (sorry Cleveland).
Like Russell Westbrook, Rose plays with unabashed aggression at all times. The difference is he marries real point guard instincts to his physical style, like the Chris Paul comparison made earlier. Where Westbrook frequently spins out of control in search of his own offence, Rose’s reckless forays into the lane are designed to set up team-mates as often as they’re meant to find his own shots. The talent will always be there, but the inner self confidence and belief in his knees will decide if Rose becomes either the next immortal – or the next Penny Hardaway tragic story.
Jimmy Butler, despite a troubling decline in his three-point shooting last season, remains an exceptionally valuable wing because of his defence and willingness to play within a scheme. While Rose defends at an O.K level, to play for coach Thibs in Chicago, you need to defend (sorry Carlos Boozer) and Butler does that.
Influential at either wing spot, Butler gives the Bulls one of the game’s best stoppers. As defence is still unfortunately viewed as less valuable than offence in the NBA, he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his contributions. Some view Butler as a candidate for a maximum extension which is probably a stretch but the potential is there for these two to be elite – especially as the best defensive duo of these rankings.
6. Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan
If I told you that of all the backcourts on this list that Lowry and DeRozan were the second highest scorers on this list (Lowry 18PPG and DeRozan 22.7PPG), you would probably be surprised, I was. In addition, between them they provide nine assists nightly despite neither being noted creators. They have just been going unnoticed in Canada as cornerstones for a young, exciting Raptors team. Unlike other pairings on this list this is a very equal pairing who act as more of a dual threat than as a strong individual flanked by a upper class defender.
For years, the Raptors have been waiting for DeRozan to make the leap from a solid scorer to an elite one. His 22.7 points per game and 18.42 player efficiency rating are both career highs by a wide margin. In recent years, it seemed like DeRozan relied solely on his superb athleticism. That is no longer the case. He shot over 30% from behind the arc for the first time in his career, and he got to the free throw line a career high eight times per game.
Lowry re-signed with the Raptors for the next four years, deservedly being rewarded for his career year with a four-year $48 million contract. Both parties come out the best from the deal, Toronto getting a fair price for a point guard who outperformed many of his peers last year having taken a risk on the inconsistent Villanova talent. His 3.02 assist to turnover ratio is tied for fourth highest among guards who played thirty or more minutes. There is no doubt he is the right guy to be manning the ship for Toronto. In the somewhat weak East, they should have no problem making the playoffs again this season.
Stay tuned to Pundit Arena for Part II later this week.
Garbh Madigan, Pundit Arena.
Read More About: Aaron Afflalo, Anthony Davis, chicago bulls, chris paul, DeMar DeRozan, derrick rose, Eric Gordon, Gary Harris, Jamal Crawford, Jimmy Butler, JJ Reddick, Jrue Holiday, kyle lowry, LA Clippers, NBA, nba news, New Orleans Pelicans, Raptors, Top Story, Ty Lawson, Tyreke Evans