Top 5 Most Promising Backcourts
A week ago, I used this space to look at which young frontcourts offered the most promise for their organizations and fans, and sparked quite a bit of healthy debate. That being the case, it only makes sense that we’d do the same sort of analysis for the league’s young guards.
So today we’ll take a look at which organizations have put together the most promising backcourts for their teams’ long and short terms. I’m focusing on the younger guard combinations, giving special credit to those who have done the most so early in their careers.
Just like last week, I’m defining “youth” as “players who will enter the 2011-2012 season with five or fewer years of NBA experience underneath their belts.” Teams that appear to be conspicuously missing from this list may have a vet with six or more years of experience, even if their frontcourt mate coming in is a rookie. Both guys have to be below that threshold.
Here they are, the top five most promising young backcourts in the NBA:
#5 – Darren Collison & Paul George, Indiana Pacers – While Collison had a relatively frustrating sophomore campaign as a starter in Indiana, he played significantly better after the midseason coaching change and should rebound quite well in his third season. George took over the starting shooting guard role about that same time (the coaching change) and has some really smart basketball people wondering if he won’t be the best player on that team in a few years. They’re still young and still have a lot to prove, but this backcourt holds a lot of promise. They’d be higher on the list had they realized as much potential as some of the guys listed above them have.
#4 – Eric Bledsoe & Eric Gordon, L.A. Clippers – We know the future of this team lies in the hands of Blake Griffin, but Gordon is equally important. He’s easily one of the hottest young shooters in the league, and paired with Bledsoe, who had a surprisingly successful rookie season last year, the “other” L.A. team has quite a bit of potential before even taking Blake into consideration.
#3 – John Wall & Nick Young, Washington Wizards – Young had a breakout season last year, finishing the year averaging 17.4 ppg, and Wall is obviously one of the brightest young point guards in the entire league. Toss in Jordan Crawford, acquired from Atlanta at the trading deadline, and Washington really has a great young corps of guards with which to move forward. They’ve got to win some more games before the rest of the league takes them seriously, but there’s absolutely no second-guessing these kids’ talent.
#2 – Ray Felton & Wes Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers – Switching out Andre Miller for Ray Felton very quickly turned Portland from a creaky, aging team to one with quite a bit of youthful promise. Felton and Matthews both really came into their own last season, and while neither is an All-Star just yet, both could be in the discussion at some point in their careers. They’re definitely among the most talented pairings in their conference, and one has to wonder what Portland could be if the rest of the roster were able to stay healthy.
#1 – Russell Westbrook & James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder – Technically, Thabo Sefolosha is the starter, and with five years of experience he’s actually eligible for this list as well, so between him and Harden at shooting guard and a prolific point guard like Russell Westbrook running the offense, it should be pretty clear that there isn’t a better young backcourt in the entire NBA. Imagine what we’d be saying were the Thunder still running Kevin Durant at the two!
Jerryd Bayless & DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors– Definitely the hardest duo to leave out of the top five, but their untapped potential still outweighs their tapped potential a little too heavily. While Bayless floated around a little bit this early in his career, he seems to have found a home in Toronto, where he’ll undoubtedly take the helm whenever Jose Calderon moves on from the team. He and DeRozan, one of the most freakish athletes in the league, are really exciting to watch together, and their collective youth means they’ll be together for a while. That’s a good thing for the Raptors.
Jrue Holiday & Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers – They’re young, so they qualify, but only Holiday has really proven anything as a pro at this point. His leadership, despite being one of the youngest players in the league, has been pleasantly surprising, and Philly loves him moving forward. Turner, on the other hand, has been a huge disappointment thus far. He has plenty of career left to turn it around, but he just hasn’t done enough yet to get him and his backcourt mate into the top five.
Toney Douglas & Landry Fields, New York Knicks – The Knicks had to give up a lot to bring in Carmelo Anthony, but luckily Douglas and Fields weren’t part of the deal. While both players are more “above average” than “exceptional,” they still are now a big part of New York’s immediate future. What keeps them out of the top five is the fact that, on rosters with more internal competition, they might not get the same opportunities for playing time. They also seem to be pretty close to their ceilings as players already, meaning their potential isn’t quite as great as some of their colleagues. Both are solid young players, but other duos here are pretty obviously better.
D.J. Augustin & Gerald Henderson, Charlotte Hornets – With Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson gone, the onus for success in North Carolina has fallen on Augustin and Henderson, both of whom stepped up bigger last year than anybody ever would’ve thought possible. Their talent (and in Augustin’s case, his size) are somewhat limited on the larger scale of things, but the heart and leadership is definitely there. Those are great qualities in players so young.
Jimmer Fredette & Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings – Let’s be honest; a lot of us are skeptical about how well this backcourt is going to work together considering both Tyreke and Jimmer are accustomed to having the ball in their hands about 90% of the time. Since there’s no such thing as 180% of a game with which to give each guy that many touches, it’s hard to guess how this thing will end up. Still, both guys are individually very talented, as is young scorer Marcus Thornton, and that’s what gets them here. We’re skeptical, but optimistically so.
Ty Lawson & Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets – Chandler and Lawson were both huge reasons that the Nuggets made such a splash in the regular season even after losing Carmelo Anthony. Neither is a huge star, but both are immensely talented, mature players, and should Denver keep Chandler (he’s a free agent), they’ll be able to keep this duo together for a few more years.
Ricky Rubio & Wes Johnson, Minnesota Timberwolves – Johnson might technically be more of a small forward than a shooting guard, but he started at the two for Minnesota last season and his talent and potential are what carry this particular pairing in these rankings. Rubio, a former top-five pick making his debut this upcoming season, was pretty awful in Europe last year, so there’s no telling what kind of NBA player he’ll be just yet. That being the case, it’s impossible to sneak these pups into the top five. Maybe we’ll think differently in a year, but until Rubio proves himself, they’ll stay in the land of honorable mention.
J.J. Barea & Roddy Beaubois, Dallas Mavericks – There’s no certainty that Barea will remain with the Mavericks after free agency comes and goes this offseason, but if he does, he and Beaubois are definitely the team’s hope in the backcourt moving forward. They’re very talented young players, but they’re also both too far down the depth chart for now to be considered among the best in the league. They’re worth mentioning, but they’re not quite up there with NBA’s best. At least not yet.
They say this league is more tailored towards point guards than any other position, so we know how important it is for a team to land a franchise point guard if they hope to have any hope at winning a ring. Three of the last #1 overall picks have, in fact, been point guards, likely for that very reason. So talented guards is obviously the way GMs build their teams for success, but adding the right young shooting guard is often equally crucial.
These organizations have the best combination of youth and talent, but you’ll notice the most successful teams don’t have major players on this list. Miami, Chicago, Boston, San Antonio, the L.A. Lakers, and even the Dallas starters aren’t on here. Youth doesn’t mean success right now in most instances. My guess, though, is that the top five teams on this list will see that success soon, due in large part to the young guys they have doing most of the ball handling and outside shooting.