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.