Injuries and underwhelming play have completely changed the dynamics of this list. You’re used to seeing backcourts like the Deron Williams–Joe Johnson duo in Brooklyn or the Steve Nash–Kobe Bryant tandem in Los Angeles or Oklahoma City’s pair in Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha. Even the tandem of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler would stand out as one of the league’s top starting backcourts. But, alas, that is impossible when all four of those aforementioned backcourts have not been worthy this year of being considered as one of the best backcourts in the league.
There’s a solid reason for each of them. Brooklyn’s backcourt still hasn’t recognized how to play together and is incredibly overrated. The backcourts of Chicago and the Lakers have yet to play any minutes together, and Oklahoma City’s backcourt has significantly struggled with their shots.
That disclaimer had to be mentioned. Just simply being a recognizable, standout name isn’t going to make this list. This rundown of the league’s 10 best starting backcourts is based on how well they have started off the year, as well as how well they’ve lived up to the expectations they had going into the season.
There’s a delicate relationship in the backcourt, especially when both players have similar playing styles. Both guards usually need the ball in their hands to thrive, but it’s the backcourts that can thrive off of each other that truly separates that pair from the rest of the pack.
What makes it even more delicate is the distribution of shots. The point guard position has become far more than just setting up plays for teammates. Guys like Ricky Rubio and Jason Kidd, who chose far more often to pass than to shoot, are almost archaic. You can’t seem to come across a team now that doesn’t have a point guard who could be an All-Star, thanks to their emphasis on scoring, on top of passing ability.
When it doesn’t work, it’s ugly to watch, such as the situation brewing in Brooklyn where Deron Williams is dropping career-lows across the board. When it works, however, as in Golden State or Washington, it’s a beautiful thing; watching two players play not only contribute, but play off each other and in harmony.
I’m showing some appreciation to those relationships, ranking the league’s 10 best backcourts based on their performances from this year.
All stats, unless said otherwise, courtesy of NBA.com/stats
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10. New Orleans Pelicans: Jrue Holiday/Eric Gordon
It came down to either New Orleans’ high-scoring backcourt or that of the Memphis Grizzlies and their standout defensive backcourt to take the final spot in the top ten.
In the end, Mike Conley‘s paltry three-point percentage stuck out too much, and Jrue Holiday’s flawless acclimation to the Pelicans backcourt with Eric Gordon gave New Orleans the edge.
Not enough can be made of Holiday’s integration with the Pelicans. In fact, it seems as if he’s improved since departing from the Sixers, posting an absurd 43 percent clip from three-point range, and averaging a career-high 8.1 assists to go along with 15.1 points per game.
As a passer, Holiday is bringing in over 18 points per game off his assists, good enough for eighth in the league.
Holiday’s offense has been boosted by his pull-up shooting ability, where he’s converting 43 percent of his shots overall and 44 percent from beyond the arc. He ranks seventh in the league in efficient field goal percentage among those who attempt at least five catch-and-shoot shots per game.
But Jrue is certainly not one to hold himself back from driving. On 141 drives this season, Holiday is converting on 47 percent of them, and the Pelicans are generating nearly nine points per game when he drives.
Not far behind is backcourt teammate Eric Gordon, who is shooting 47 percent on 106 drives. He is also racking up nearly seven points per game off of drives.
Still, the Pelicans may have been a tad overzealous in offering Gordon a deal for the 22 points per game he put up with the Los Angeles Clippers. With injuries playing such a large factor and Jrue Holiday dominating the ball more, Gordon doesn’t exactly come across as a player who is earning his $58 million.
His numbers leave something to be desired at only 16 points per game on 41 percent shooting, but it’s solid for a player who has been riddled with injuries over the past two years.
[RELATED: The NBA’s 10 Best Frontcourts]
9. Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard/Wesley Matthews
Alright, I’m giving in — it’s time to start respecting the Portland Trail Blazers.
Credit goes out to everyone, from Robin Lopez adding an inside defensive presence to LaMarcus Aldridge looking like one of the best power forwards in the league to Mo Williams providing a shooting touch to a bench that was considered arguably the worst last year.
From there, Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews, Portland’s backcourt, have done enough in their power to propel Portland’s 16-3 start to the season.
Matthews has been unconscious to start the season. He’s converting on 50 percent of his three-point attempts, having taken 104 attempts already, and is shooting 51 percent on catch-and-shoot three-point opportunities. That’s second in the league in three-point percentage on such opportunities, trailing only Atlanta’s Kyle Korver. Wesley is also shooting 53 percent overall and grabbing a career-high 4.4 boards a night.
In case you didn’t know, and I’m sure you didn’t, Wesley Matthews leads the league in points per possession, per Synergy, at 1.22 PPP. He’s a 54 percent three-point shooter on spot-up opportunities and a 53 percent three-point shooter on transition opportunities. He’s good at shooting, in case you didn’t get the message I was conveying.
Damian Lillard, meanwhile, has been an enigma. He’s among the league’s top pull-up shooters, shooting 38 percent on nine opportunities per game and 38 percent on three-point attempts of the same nature, but is one of the league’s worst finishers when speaking in terms of volume.
Although Lillard is fifth in the league in total drives, the 35 percent he’s shooting on those forays is the third-worst percentage among players who have 100 or more drives, trailing behind Brandon Jennings and Rudy Gay, thankfully.
However, Lillard does rank 13th in the league in points per game on drives and is seventh overall in total points off of drives.
As a facilitator, Lillard ranks 22nd when it comes to points per game created off his assists, generating nearly 14 a night.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio/Kevin Martin
The Minnesota Timberwolves are playing great basketball this year, based on how well the likes of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Kevin Martin have been playing, yet they remain a .500 team, which isn’t good enough for a playoff spot out West.
It’s tough to blame Rubio and Martin for this, though, as they have been playing at an elite level.
Martin returns to his role as a starter, following a year-long stint in Oklahoma City where he attempted to replace James Harden as the team’s sixth man. Now that he’s back with a starting position, filling in the long vacant spot of shooting guard on Minnesota, he’s taking as many shots per game as he had his entire career.
He’s shooting only 42 percent on the 17 attempts per he’s taking, but is also shooting a career-high 44 percent from three, as well as a career-high 94 percent from the foul line. The 23 points he’s averaging are the most he’s put up since averaging 23.5 back in 2011 when he was still a member of the Houston Rockets.
On pull-up opportunities, Martin is shooting 36 percent overall and 36 percent from beyond the arc. However, he has proved to be far more efficient as a catch-and-shoot player, where he is shooting 46 percent overall and 49 percent on four three-point attempts per game on said opportunities.
Martin ranks sixth in the league in three-point percentage on catch-and-shoot jumpers among those who attempt at least 3.5 of those types of shots per game.
Unfortunately for Rubio, he cannot boast such robust shooting numbers. He is still a poor shooter, converting only 37 percent of his shots overall and 36 percent from three, but is making up for it with his usual Magic-esque passing ability.
Rubio currently ranks fourth in the league in assists per game at nearly nine, as well as in passes per game. He’s also tied for third in points created by assist, but is second only behind Chris Paul in points created by assist per 48 minutes at nearly 30.
7. Dallas Mavericks: Jose Calderon/Monta Ellis
There is hardly any credit being doled out to Monta Ellis for his incredible start to the season in his first year with the Dallas Mavericks.
It was believed beforehand that Ellis would complicate things in what should have been a devastating pick-and-roll tandem of Jose Calderon and Dirk Nowitzki, but Ellis has only bought into this, averaging nearly six assists per game and generating nearly 14 points per game off his assists.
His current PER of 19.2 would be a career-high, which is surprising when you consider his usage rate is only at 27 percent, far off from his usage rate during his prime years with Golden State.
What’s even more surprising about Ellis is how prolific he’s been around the rim and getting to the rim, as well. He leads the league in total drives by 13 over second-place Ty Lawson and is doing so on 48 percent shooting, and is also leading the league in points per game off of drives.
Admit it. Going into the season, you probably didn’t expect Monta Ellis to be not only the league’s best driver, but one of the best passers, as well. But he’s completely bought into the system that’s been presented to him by coach Rick Carlisle, and it appears it’s going to result in a return to the postseason.
Not to be forgotten has been the Mavericks’ other big acquisition of the summer in Jose Calderon, who signed a lucrative deal that will have him paid by Dallas until he’s 36 years old.
With Ellis sharing ballhandling responsibilities, Calderon’s assist numbers have taken a significant hit. Averaging seven assists per game for his career, Jose is dishing out less than five dimes per contest this year, but he still maintains his reign as one of the league’s least turnover-prone guards. The Mavericks’ offensive efficiency is up a full two points from last year and his 13.4 percent turnover percentage would be a career-low. To go along with the 14 points a night that Mavericks are garnering off of Ellis’s assists, they’re also receiving over 11 points from Calderon.
One also can’t forget about Calderon’s exceptional shooting ability. As arguably the league’s most efficient three-point shooter, he’s currently making 48 percent of his three-point attempts. Among those who are attempting at least four catch-and-shoot three-pointers per game, Calderon ranks fourth in efficient field goal percentage at 69 percent. He trails only Ryan Anderson, Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews in that category, where he also shoots 49 percent from beyond the arc on catch-and-shoot situations.
6. Miami Heat: Mario Chalmers/Dwyane Wade
Averaging 18.5 points on 53 percent shooting, 5.4 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game, Dwyane Wade is proving to zombies everywhere that they, too, could be an All-Star starter, despite being declared dead by critics and analysts everywhere.
Wade has been proving doubters wrong throughout the early portion of the season. In 14 games this season, Wade is shooting a career-high field goal percentage and has greatly improved his jump shooting ability, formerly believed to be broken.
Wade is shooting 37 percent on spot-up opportunities this season, per Synergy, and is shooting 41 percent on five pull-up attempts per contest. He’s also converting 46 percent of his shot opportunities as the pick-and-roll ballhandler and has continued to show off his newfound ability as a cutter, where he’s shooting 77 percent on 17 shot attempts.
Naturally, his shooting percentage has been boosted by his exceptional driving ability, where he’s converting 56 percent of his 81 drives on the season. The Heat are also generating eight points per game off of Wade’s drives, where he’s scoring five points per 48 minutes.
You might be thinking how Mario Chalmers should be weighing the tandem down, but he’s actually been extremely solid this year. He’s averaging nine points per game, a career-high five assists, and is shooting a career-high 41 percent from beyond the arc, despite the recent slump he’s been mired in.
On pull-up opportunities, Mario is shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc and has an efficient field goal percentage of 70 percent, which is seventh among players who have attempted at least 2.5 pull-up three-pointers per game.
His 26.5 assist percentage is also a career-high by far, three points higher than the previous high he set back in his rookie year.
With Mario hitting shots and distributing the ball as well as he ever has, the Heat can finally boast a top 10 backcourt.
5. San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker/Danny Green
It sure doesn’t seem as if Tony Parker and Danny Green have been too miserable about their 2013 NBA Finals loss, once you consider how well they’ve started out the 2013-14 season.
Months after succumbing to the Heat in one of the most emotional NBA Finals in recent history, the San Antonio Spurs are back to their usual dominant self, facilitated by the driving and passing ability of Tony Parker as well as the deft shooting ability of Danny Green.
As usual, Parker is among the league leaders in drives, fourth in the league at 166, and also in field goal percentage off of drives at a staggering 62 percent. To put that number into perspective, of the four other players with at least 150 drives, only one has a shooting percetnage of at least 50 percent. That one being Ty Lawson, who still pales in comparison at only 53 percent. But that’s been Parker’s career: freeing himself on pick-and-rolls, getting to the rim with disturbing ease, and then finishing around the rim at the same clip as most power forwards and centers. The 53 percent he’s shooting overall would only be the second-best percentage of his career.
Parker is also making his presence felt as a passer, which I know you’re all surprised by. He’s averaging only 6.4 assists per game, but ranks 15th in the league in points created by assist per, as well as 21st in points created by assist per 48 minutes.
Parker is also among the league leaders in pull-up field goal percentage, where he shoots 47 percent on his five attempts per contest.
However, Parker does not compare to the shooting prowess of Danny Green, who has shaken off the rust from poor outings in Games 6 and 7 of the Finals to start off the season shooting 43 percent. If the season were to end today, Danny Green would have shot at least 42 percent in his past three seasons.
Not bad for someone who shot 27 percent on threes as a rookie with Cleveland. Ever since gaining a consistent role in San Antonio’s rotation, Green has delivered, becoming one of the league’s top perimeter threats.
He’s also delivering as a defender. He’s aiding the league’s second-best defense, per Hollinger’s efficiency ratings, by holding pick-and-roll ballhandlers to 39 percent shooting overall.
San Antonio’s been a well-oiled machine for two decades in a row, but we’ll wait another four months until the average NBA fan starts caring.
4. Washington Wizards: John Wall/Bradley Beal
Hey, in case you haven’t noticed, the Washington Wizards have themselves a squad.
Yeah, they’re only 9-9, but that qualifies as a three seed out East at the moment. It’s also a grand improvement from previous years where they couldn’t even get themselves out of the basement of the decrepit Southeast Division.
They owe a lot to the success of John Wall and Bradley Beal, as both have been exceptional to start the year. While Wall averages a career-high 19 points and 9.2 assists, second in the league, Beal is dropping a career-high 20.6 points and is shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc.
Beal’s 4.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists are also career-highs for the second-year player, who is making the proverbial sophomore jump that so many coaching staffs wish to see. The former No. 3 pick is beginning to live up to expectations, shooting 43 percent overall and an exceptional 47 percent on three-pointers off of catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Beal currently ranks eighth in the league in three-point percentage on catch-and-shoot jumpers among players who are attempting at least four of those shots per. Teammate Trevor Ariza ranks seventh.
Meanwhile, John Wall has vastly improved his jump shot. From shooting 3-for-42 from three in his second year — yes, those are real numbers — Wall is currently shooting 34 percent on nearly four three-point attempts per game this year. Not great numbers, but far better than the seven percent he shot in 2012 and the 27 percent he shot in 2013.
Wall’s passing ability and facilitation duties have also been subject to improvement. The high-octane, impossible-to-stop-with-a-head-of-steam point guard is third in the league in passes per game and second in the league in points created by assist per game.
Considering first place is Chris Paul, a legitimate MVP candidate every year, I’d say Wall has done a fine job at involving his teammates, as well as creating opportunities for himself.
However, Wall still needs to pick-and-choose his shots with a greater emphasis on efficiency. Per Synergy, he’s still reliant on isolation opportunities, where he’s shooting only 25 percent overall, and is shooting 11 percent on nine three-point attempts in transition opportunities.
There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but this backcourt tandem, with Beal the shooter and Wall the creator, is one that should be considered a threat come playoff time.
3. Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lin/James Harden
There is only one team in the league with a backcourt that has two players in the top 10 in points per game off of drives. That tandem is Jeremy Lin and James Harden, a prolific duo that features two players who can pass as well as they can score off of jumpers or drives. The pair go seventh and eigth in PPG off of drives, accumulating over 17 points per game when it comes to how many points the team scores off of their drives to the basket.
They’re doing so an exceptional efficiency, too, with Lin shooting 65 percent on drives, second-best among players with at least 100 drives, and Harden at 59 percent. Harden ranks sixth in the category, yet only has the third-best percentage on drives among Houston players, with Chandler Parsons ranking fifth.
The influence of Dwight Howard, as well as all of the three-point marksmen, has made driving a heavy part of Houston’s game on the offensive end.
Lin and Harden have also made their impact felt when it comes to facilitation. Both players are generating at least 10 points created by assist per game, as well as at least 16 points off of assists every 48 minutes. They’re also both generating at least 4.5 assists a night.
But it’s not all roses for the Rockets duo. For one, James Harden as been one of the league’s most inefficient pull-up shooters. He is a 29 percent shooter overall and a 21 percent shooter from beyond the arc on pull-up opportunities.
Jeremy Lin has been no better. In fact, he’s actually been worse. He’s a 26 percent shooter overall and a 22 percent shooter from three. Both of them are shooting an effective field goal percentage of less than 33 percent.
You may not even need advanced stats to notice this phenomenon. Although Lin has been a 39 percent shooter from beyond the arc, because he’s been a great catch-and-shoot player, Harden is shooting only 29 percent from three. Harden has also proved to be a better catch-and-shoot player, but is doing so only 35 percent shooting from deep.
About that whole Harden > Dwyane Wade debate now. Any thoughts, Kevin Durant?
The Rockets’ 13-7 start has been solid, but this team is supposed to be a championship contender and they have yet to show it. That could be due in part to how horrific Lin and Harden have been as far as their pull-up shooting goes.
It’s doubtful Harden and Lin will shoot that poorly on pull-up jumpers the whole season. If their shots return once the playoffs roll around, however, then Houston’s dynamic perimeter shooters and inside game will come to full fruition.
2. Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul/J.J. Redick
Living in South Florida means I get to observe the greatness of LeBron James on a nightly basis. It’s not something that I take for granted, either, as many already have. His mastery over the game and his improvement since joining the Miami Heat is something that should be reveled in.
However, when I watch Chris Paul play, it’s literally watching someone who has taken this unmastered game and has made it bow down to his every whim. There is no player in the game today that has as deft a touch when it comes to playmaking.
And now that he has J.J. Redick, or at least when he had him before he broke his hand, the results are obvious. Paul and Redick are feeding off each other, with Paul being the main beneficiary on account of the sudden spike in his assist numbers.
The 12 assists he’s averaging this season would be a career-high, and it would destroy his previous high with the Clippers, which was only 9.7 last year. His assist percentage of 54.5 percent is only a percentage point off his career-high set in 2009, but, once again, it smashes any previous high he had with the Clippers the past two years.
He’s the only player in the league averaging double-digits in assists, nearly three more than second place John Wall. He’s also the heavy leader in points created by assist per game, averaging nearly 27, which is five more points than second place and nearly eight more than third place.
Per 48 minutes, Chris Paul is averaging 36 points created by his assists. Nobody else in the league is averaging more than 29. There is a heavy dependency on the court vision and basketball IQ of Chris Paul, which is why the Clippers currently rank fourth in the league in offensive efficiency, per Hollinger. Only Wall and Brandon Jennings hold onto the ball longer per game than Chris Paul does, yet it would be a horrendous disservice to compare the facilitation abilities of those two to Paul’s.
One can’t also forget of Paul’s defensive influence, where he is averaging over two steals and is limiting opponents to 36 percent shooting overall and 33 percent shooting from deep, per Synergy.
But Paul’s numbers have increased so over the past year because he has shooters like Redick and Jared Dudley in the starting lineup. Before a hand injury impacted his season, Redick was averaging a career-high 15.8 points, while converting two three-pointers per game on 36 percent shooting.
He was shooting 43 percent overall and 38 percent from three on catch-and-shoot jumpers. Note that he was doing this in only 28 minutes per game, among the lowest in the top 25 of the league leaders in catch-and-shoot points overall.
Don’t forget that there was a time where Chris Paul made Morris Peterson a respectable player. The results with Redick in the same backcourt should come as no surprise to anyone.
1. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson
The league’s top shooting backcourt this year, and arguably in the history of the game, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson lead one of the league’s top offenses with precise shooting and playmaking abilities.
As far as playmaking goes, Curry is currently averaging a career-high 8.8 assists per game, nearly two more assists per game than his previous high. He ranks third in that category, even though he is making only 54.5 passes per game, by far the lowest among the top five in assists per game. Curry also ranks third in the league in points created by assists per game at nearly 20.
But you don’t want to hear about their playmaking ability, right? No, you want to hear about their shooting prowess and how they could be the scariest team to be matched up against postseason time.
As the Denver Nuggets experienced last year, you don’t want to be on the opposite end of a Stephen Curry shooting streak.
What’s astounding about the Curry/Thompson backcourt is how each player thrives at their own game; Curry relying on his pull-up jumper, Thompson on his catch-and-shoot jumper. It makes the two impossible to defend, and it makes it only more difficult when you also have to worry about Andre Iguodala and David Lee in the same starting lineup.
Thompson, who is shooting an absurd 48 percent on over seven three-point attempts per game, is far-and-away the best catch-and-shoot player in the league. He leads the league with 10 points off of catch-and-shoot opportunities per game, is shooting 47 percent on eight catch-and-shoot attempts per, and, probably the most impressive stat, is converting 49 percent of his six catch-and-shoot three-pointers per game. Ryan Anderson is the only shooter with superior numbers, but has done so in only nine games, while Thompson has already played in 18.
Thompson is also tied for first among players in points per touch who have played at least 11 games, garnering .51 points per touch, tying him with Brook Lopez, who has only played in 11 contests.
As for Curry, his numbers border on the impossible. On nearly 15 pull-up jumpers per game, he’s shooting nearly 41 percent overall, as well as shooting 37 percent on nearly five pull-up threes per game. Of the six players in the league taking at least 10 pull-up jumpers per game, Curry and Chris Paul are the only ones shooting above 40 percent.
Although CP3’s percentage is actually superior to Curry’s, he is doing so on three fewer shots per game. There is no player who can even come close to boasting a percentage like Curry’s at a similar volume. Russell Westbrook takes the second-most pull-up jumpers per game, but is doing so at a 37 percent clip.
The 13 points per game Curry’s dropping off of pull-up jumpers is three points more than second place.
Combining to average nearly 44 points and nearly seven three-pointers per game, Curry and Thompson represent the league’s top backcourt, solely because of how devastating they can become at any moment, as probably the last two players in the league you want to leave open.
It’s not everyday you find arguably the league’s two best shooters on the same team. But Golden State, through excellent drafting and free agency pickups to complement the two, have managed it.
Which backcourt would you take for the rest of the season?
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