In the last decade, the NBA has transformed from being a big man’s league into a guard’s league. Although frontcourts have always, and will always be the foundation of a winning team, recently franchises have found it much more difficult to build an elite frontline than putting together a competitive 1-2 punch. Ultimately, putting together a dominant frontcourt is what separates the good teams from the great ones, because in today’s game every team has talented guards. Frankly, each team has a backcourt that can outplay its opponent on any given night, which is why it is so difficult to pick five particular tandems as the best up-and-comers in the League.
Dominant big men only come around every 10 years or so, while there are a number of talented guards coming out every year. Franchises have come to realize that taking a chance on a skilled guard makes much more sense than taking a chance on a big based solely on his potential. Just look at the draft boards for the previous 10 years. In the early 2000s, it was common to value big men over guards. However, after franchises watched guys like Greg Oden, Andrew Bogut, Hasheem Thabeet and Marvin Williams fall short of their expectations, the tables have turned. Now you see guys like Derrick Rose, John Wall and Kyrie Irving going No. 1 overall as opposed to Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins.
What really eats at me is that had my hometown Hawks not been so high on Marvin Williams, we could have had a backcourt composed of Chris Paul and Joe Johnson, which would undoubtedly be No. 1 on this list.
The guard play in the NBA has taken a significant leap in competitiveness. In the early 2000s, if your name wasn’t Iverson, Bryant, Carter or McGrady, you were pretty much irrelevant. In today’s game, each guard is capable of outplaying his opponent on any given night.
Ranking the league’s top 5 up-and-coming backcourt tandems going into the 2012 season is no easy task. It was a very difficult selection to make. You’re probably asking yourself what my definition of “best” is pertaining to the subject. Well, to answer your question, this list is composed of backcourts that are not ridiculously top-heavy, that can defend (or at least outscore), have solid contributions off the bench, and who still have untapped potential left in the tank. With all of that said, here are our top five up-and-coming backcourts in the NBA.
5. Sacramento Kings
I can admit, putting the Kings on this list was a bit of a force, being that they haven’t proven anything at all yet. However, the key factor in their case is untapped potential, which they might have more of than any other team in the League. Tyreke Evans is the face of the franchise and potential oozes through his pores. This year I’m predicting he goes back to being a 20-point scorer, and could potentially make his first All-Star team. His backup, Marcus Thornton is one of the most underrated backups in the league. He’s also capable of putting up 20 on any given night. But what’s most intriguing about this backcourt is the additions of Jimmer Fredette and “Mr. Irrelevant” Isaiah Thomas. The Kings know exactly what they are getting with Fredette, and it’s exactly what they needed. Tyreke is without a doubt one of the best attackers of the basket in the league right now. You put Jimmer out there with him and he’ll become an even better one. What Jimmer can do to help this team win is stretch the floor with his range, and open up driving lanes for Tyreke that he’s never seen before. The team’s success will ultimately be measured by how well Jimmer can play off of the basketball. Now that he isn’t the No. 1 option anymore it’s going to be interesting to watch him adjust to his new role.
His backup, Isaiah Thomas will provide a great change of pace and spark off the bench. With his combination of energy and skill, he’s a tough cover for any backup PG in the Leauge. By the end of this season I don’t think anyone will be referring to him as “Mr. Irrelevant”. The Kings have an amazing young nucleus led by a budding superstar. If there’s one word to describe the Kings backcourt, it’s potential.
4. Chicago Bulls
Last season, the Chicago Bulls’ backcourt was a one-man wrecking crew. I know you’re probably thinking how is this backcourt not ridiculously top heavy? The answer to that question is Richard Hamilton. If there was one weakness on the Bulls, it was the lack of scoring at the two guard position. During the regular season, Derrick Rose carried the scoring load for the Chicago Bulls’ backcourt, averaging 25 points a game on the way to his first MVP. The next highest scoring average by a guard on the Bulls was 8.3 ppg from Kyle Korver. The acquisition of Richard Hamilton fills that void.
All Derrick Rose needed was a little help. Now that he’s gotten Rip, who can almost guarantee you a solid 18 a game, the Bulls have become even better than they were last season. With the help of Brewer’s defensive toughness and Korver’s three-point shooting, look for the Bulls backcourt to be one of the league’s best this season.
3. Washington Wizards
The Wizards, or the Wiz-Kids as I like to call them, have one of the most promising backcourts in the league. This summer we picked John Wall as our next breakout star for 2012. On top of that, Nick Young has developed a very well-rounded offensive game. Last season, he lead the team in scoring at 17.4 ppg, while Wall followed up with 16.4. The Wizards only gave Young a one-year deal so look for him to become a 20-point scorer this season in an effort to earn that big contract.
What was crucial for the Wizards backcourt was the acquisition of Jordan Crawford and the addition of backup point guard Shelvin Mack. Everyone knows Crawford can fill it up, (he put up 39 in a game against Miami in late February of last season). His potential is through the roof. What Shelvin Mack brings to D.C is his ability to keep up the tempo when Wall comes out the game. Mack has a quick trigger and loves to look for his own shot, which is great to have off the bench. Between him and Crawford, bench scoring will be a non-issue for the Washington Wizards. Expect to see the Wizards backcourt outrun and outscore their opponents this season.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
The only reason this team isn’t No. 1 is because of the fact that Westbrook has to iron out a few issues. First and foremost, he is the team’s second-best player, however he often tries to play like he’s the first option out there. When a play breaks down, Russ goes into force mode as opposed to getting the ball to Durant and clearing out. What Russ has to get better at is not taking away from the success of his team. He has to get better at playing his role. Sure he’s an All-Star point guard and the team needs him to pick up a significant bulk of the scoring load, but at the end of the day he’s a point guard first. Once he realizes that, the Thunder are a mismatch for any opposing backcourt.
Also, I believe that they are the best defensive backcourt in the NBA. Westbrook has grown into a beast on the defensive end. Scott Brooks will most likely go with Thabo Sefolosha at the starting two spot again, mainly because of his defensive ability. The starting backcourt for the Thunder is very stout defensively and very well-balanced. Thabo plays his role as a defensive stopper well and leaves the scoring to his backup. Harden is my favorite for 6th Man of the Year next season. I believe he can average at least 15 points a game off the bench. Many believe that he deserves to be the starter, however that’s not where he can help the Thunder most.
With Durant and Westbrook out there, scoring at the two spot is not what the Thunder need to start off games. They need defense, and that’s exactly what Sefolosha provides. Harden’s impact off the bench is where the Thunder have a significant advantage over opponents. Also, Westbrook’s backup Eric Maynor proved in the playoffs last season that he is the perfect backup for the team. He’s safe with the basketball, he can score, and defend as well. With Maynor and Harden backing up Westbrook and Sefolosha, the Thunder have the potential to be the best up-and-coming backcourt in the NBA next season. But before I can crown them, Russ has to remember that he’s a point guard.
1. Golden State Warriors
It’s no secret that the Warriors have the best backcourt in the NBA. Being that they don’t get to play on national television much (when they do, half of the East Coast is usually in bed by halftime) they fly well under the radar. But Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry are the highest-scoring backcourt in the NBA. The key to having an elite backcourt is having your starting point guard & shooting guard combine for an average of at least 30 points. Well last season, Curry & Ellis put together a combined 42.7 ppg, which is way above average. Many didn’t believe these two could co-exist. It’s safe to say they spoke too soon.
These two have an amazing feel for each other out there, they both know when it’s time to step up and when it’s time to defer. They are lights out from three and are lightning fast. The main problem with the two is that they aren’t the best defensive tandem in the league, however their ability to score balances that out. The addition of Klay Thompson was exactly what the Warriors needed. Curry, Ellis and Thompson can all play both guard positions, so the Warriors couldn’t have found a better fit for their team. Thomson is a sharp-shooting guard with a solid handle and a nose for the basket. If this tandem stays together for the entire season, expect to see them reign as the supreme up-and-coming backcourt of the NBA.
Which backcourt will be the best over the next few years?
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