Settling the NBA’s Backcourt Debate

The Wizards’ Bradley Beal claimed to reporters last Tuesday that the Wizards have the best backcourt in the NBA. This sparked a fire in the Cavaliers’ Dion Waiters. Waiters expressed his own opinion, which is that the Cavaliers actually have the best backcourt in the league. Beal and Waiters both start at shooting guard for their respective teams. John Wall, the Wizards’ point guard, supported Beal by firing back at Waiters, claiming that the Cavaliers need to make a playoff game before they can name themselves the best backcourt. This ended the controversy between Washington and Cleveland, however the debate all together was not over yet. Stephen Curry, the Warrior’s point guard, respected the two teams for their confidence, and said that he too would say his team has the best backcourt in the league.

Not every guard duo in the league can be named the best backcourt. So which team truly has the best backcourt in the NBA? Does Beal have a point? Was Waiters over exaggerating?

These rankings are based on a team’s starting duo, so a “sixth man” guard will not be taken into account for a team’s backcourt. They are also ranked in accordance to their talent level and experience coming into the 2014-2015 NBA season.

5. Phoenix Suns: Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe

When Eric Bledsoe went down with an injury last season, Goran Dragic did not let that keep the Suns from winning. Dragic finished last season averaging 20.3 PPG and 5.9 APG. Dragic was as efficient as any guard at scoring, shooting 51% from the field and 41% from beyond the three-point arc.

When Bledsoe wasn’t injured, which was all but three months of last season, the Suns backcourt was one of the most explosive and high-energy units in the league. Bledsoe proved how versatile of a guard he is in his first season with the Suns. He averaged 17.7 PPG last season, as well as 5.5 APG, 4.7 RPG. Bledsoe is an athletic and quick defender as well, shutting down guards on the perimeter and forcing 1.8 SPG last season. Bledsoe’s efficiently fell right behind Dragic’s, shooting 48% from the field. If only Dragic could match Bledsoe’s pure quickness.

Both these guards are crafty drivers and find effective ways to score and dish the ball out to teammates. They are also great facilitators in pick and roll situations under coach Jeff Hornacek’s offense. When Dragic and Bledsoe started together last season, the Suns were 24-11. Last year was the first time these two paired with each other, and they should be more comfortable playing alongside each other coming into this season. Phoenix finished 48-34 last season, barely missing the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference. This athletic duo will need to prove they can lead their team to the postseason before moving up on the backcourt rankings.

4. Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews

419 three pointers between two players in one season is not bad. That is the total number of three pointers that Portland’s backcourt knocked down last season.

218 of those were Damian Lillard’s alone. Lillard emerged as a star point guard last season, averaging 20.7 PPG and 5.6 APG. He averaged 2.7 three pointers per game last season, which was good for the third most three pointers in the league. Oh yeah, and the guy is athletic too. Lillard can score from virtually anywhere on the court, and has the quickness to beat his defender off the dribble. Lillard is a very versatile scorer, and is known to have a “clutch gene” for hitting big shots in the final seconds of games to lead Portland to victory.

Although Matthews may not be a star alone, he compliments Lillard well. Matthews was not far behind Lillard in total three pointers last season. He knocked down 201 of his own, ranking him fifth in the league in total three pointers. By playing as a knockdown shooter, Lillard is able to find Matthews for open shots, as Lillard attracts defenders through his versatile scoring ability. Matthews also has a strong mid-range and post game for a guard, which allows him to find scoring opportunities in multiple places on the court.

Not only does Matthews’ offensive skills compliment Lillard’s, but his defensive ability does too. Although Lillard is a virtually unstoppable offensive guard, his defense is the only thing holding him back from becoming an elite point guard. Matthews, on the other hand, is able to shut down opposing guards and forwards with his large 6’5” frame. This compliments Lillard in that he is not always required to guard opposing teams’ quick and explosive guards.

In their second season playing together, this duo led the Trail Blazers to the Western Conference semifinals. Both players are young, and should continue to improve this season.

3. Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul and J.J. Redick

Although J.J. Redick may not be the star shooting guard you would expect to see in these rankings, Chris Paul’s excellence at point guard makes up for that. Paul was the only player in the NBA to average a double-double in points-assists last season. Paul averaged 19.1 PPG and 10.7 APG. Paul is an intelligent scorer as well, shooting 47% from the field.

Not only is Paul an excellent offensive player, but he is also arguably one of the most talented defensive guards in the league. Paul uses his quickness, intelligence and elusiveness to pick-pocket his defenders and intercept passes. He averaged 2.5 SPG last season, and was a very good on-ball defender in preventing his defender from scoring.

Paul can be called an “ideal” point guard who does everything a point guard is supposed to do. He is able to score effectively while taking high-percentage shots. He also has an understanding and skill of when and how to pass the ball off in order to set up an easy scoring opportunity for a teammate. He has a great pull-up jump shot off pick-and-rolls, while also having the ability to penetrate for easy opportunities. Overall, he has an outstanding knowledge of the game, and has exceptional defensive skills that can keep even the most athletic point guards from scoring 20+ points on any given night.

With that being said, even though Redick may not be a star, he is no pushover. Redick averaged 15.1 PPG last season with the Clippers, also averaging 2.1 three-pointers per game. Redick is a knockdown shooter from long range when he’s on. He shot 40% from beyond the arc last season and 46% from the field all together.

Redick plays best when his role and job on a team is to solely shoot threes. He fits nicely into Doc River’s offensive, as he is able to go off screens and receive the ball for open shots. He also adds a threat to the Clippers’ offense from long range. Redick is not someone who will pull off an incredible act of athleticism and play in a “flashy” style, but he is a good, intelligent shooter and a solid defensive player. Redick also complements Paul well, as Paul is able to penetrate and find Redick for open jump shots.

In their first season playing together, these two made the Western Conference semifinals before falling to the Thunder in six games. After both dealt with their fair share of injuries last year, this duo should be more effective coming into this season as long as health is on their side.

Chris_Paul_dribble_20131118_Clippers_v_Grizzles

2. Washington Wizards: John Wall and Bradley Beal

Dion Waiters said Bradley Beal’s comment on his backcourt was “nonsense,” however; Beal at least has a good reason to talk.

John Wall was second in the NBA in assists last season, right behind Paul, averaging 8.8 APG. However, passing is just a part of Wall’s game. Wall averaged 19.3 PPG last season, while also averaging an impressive 4.1 RPG, which is good for any point guard.

Wall is the leader of Washington’s offense and the team’s scoring usually flows through him first. In addition to terrific offensive skill, Wall is also a tremendous defensive player. He averaged 1.8 SPG last season, and uses his quickness to shut down other guards. Wall has the ability to dominate on defense, especially when the opposing guard does not nearly match his quickness and athleticism.

Wall has exceptional athleticism, which he uses to penetrate the basket and find easy scoring opportunities. He has a great versatile skill set for a point guard, as he is able to dump the ball off to an open teammate for a scoring opportunity, or free himself from his defender to find a scoring opportunity himself.

Wall’s athleticism is a very nice complement to Beal’s shooting ability.

Beal averaged 17.1 PPG last season, while also averaging 2 three pointers per game. Beal was very accurate from long range too, shooting 40% from beyond the arc. Beal may not as athletic and quick as Wall, but he sure has a lot of athleticism himself. Beal is able to run the fast break alongside Wall, setting up open jump shots. Beal has also proved that he can be the focal point of the offense when he needs to.

Beal is a terrific shooter and is a great scorer off the dribble. He is not one-dimensional either, as he can take the ball to the rim and slam it down when he has the opportunities. He is a tremendous offensive talent, and coming into only his third season this year, Beal should prove that he deserves to be in the discussion for the best shooting guard in the league.

Wall and Beal brought Washington basketball back last season, finishing with 44 wins and making the playoffs for the first time since 2007 in their second season playing together. This young and promising duo was also able to win their first playoff series, but fell in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Pacers. Both Wall and Beal have to make improvements to their game before they can be named the best backcourt in the league. However, these two flourishing guards should improve, and maybe will actually become “the best backcourt in the league” soon, as Beal claimed.

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1. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the best shooting backcourt in the league, and possibly the best shooting duo ever to step on a court together. However, they can both do much more then just shoot.

Curry averaged 24 PPG last season, knocking down 3.3 three pointers per game along the way. He was insanely accurate from long range, hitting 42% of his shots from beyond the arc, and 47% from the field all together. Curry led the league in three pointers in each of his last two seasons, connecting on 261 last year.

In addition to his ability to shoot and score at ease, Curry is also a good playmaker. He averaged 8.5 APG last season, which was much improved from his 6.9 APG in the 2012-2013 season. Curry is also a quick and elusive defender, who has a knack for pick-pocketing his defender. Curry averaged 1.6 SPG last season, and playing alongside Thompson, was able to effectively defend top-tier guards.

Curry is great at shooting off the dribble and creating shots for himself. One of the most impressive parts about Curry’s shooting performances is that his shots don’t always come off of screens. Curry is able to create his own shots by performing dribble moves and using his speed to free himself from his defender and hit open jump shots off the dribble.

Thompson and Curry complement each other better then any backcourt duo in the league.

Thompson is one of the best two-way shooting guards in the league. Standing at 6’7,” he takes on the responsibility of defending the opposing team’s best guard. Whether that be Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul or Damian Lillard, Thompson is able to guard them and do so effectively. This allows Curry to not have the pressure of always defending the opposing team’s best guard, so he can have more energy to produce on offense.

Not to mention, Thompson can shoot the lights out too.

Thompson averaged 18.4 PPG last season, while also averaging 2.8 three pointers per game. Thompson, like Curry, took quality shots and shot them effectively, matching Curry’s shooting percentages of 42% from three and 47% from the field. Oh yeah, and Thompson’s 223 three pointers last season was good for second in the NBA, right behind Curry.

Thompson has a great skill of shooting off the catch. He is a shooter Curry can rely on to be open for jump shots on the wing when Curry is penetrating the basket. Thompson’s ability to catch and shoot can be deadly when combined with Curry’s skill of shooting off the dribble.

Curry and Thompson, like most backcourts on this ranking, are young and could develop into one of the best backcourts ever one day if they find more success in the postseason. In their two seasons playing together, this duo has made the playoffs both times, and have won one playoff series. However, these two knockdown shooters still have time to prove they can win in the playoffs, and will be expected to make a jump this season. Regardless, Curry and Thompson are the most skilled backcourt in the NBA coming into the 2014-2015 season.

Wizards v/s Warriors 03/02/11

Honorable Mention:

Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Kyle Lowry (17.9 PPG, 7.4 APG) is a great scorer and a versatile point guard all together. He has the ability to be physical and penetrate the paint, while also being able to step back beyond the arc to drain a three pointer. DeMar DeRozan (21.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG) is a quick, elusive and physical scorer. He is able to attack the hoop and finish using his athleticism. However, both these young guards did not shoot the ball effectively last season, as both shot below 43% from the field. DeRozan also has a shaky jump shot, which needs to be improved in order for him to become a star shooting guard. After playing only one season together, and both having breakout years last season, this duo must prove they can produce over a longer period of time and find success in the postseason before cracking these rankings.

-Kyle Melnick

@kyle_melnick 

Kyle Melnick
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Kyle Melnick

Columnist at The Left Bench
Kyle is a freshman journalism major at the University of Maryland. While contributing to The Left Bench, Kyle also serves as a staff writer for The Diamondback, where he covers the Terps tennis team. He's a D.C. sports fan and is in the process of memorizing RGIII's entire 2012 highlight reel.
Kyle Melnick
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About Kyle Melnick 15 Articles
Kyle is a freshman journalism major at the University of Maryland. While contributing to The Left Bench, Kyle also serves as a staff writer for The Diamondback, where he covers the Terps tennis team. He's a D.C. sports fan and is in the process of memorizing RGIII's entire 2012 highlight reel.