I, like many other basketball fans, have been absolutely overwhelmed by college basketball over the past week and using that as an excuse to pretend that the Miami Heat game never happened. That being said, just because college ball has taken over my life, doesn’t mean I can’t make a bunch more lists ranking aspects of the NBA. Today that list will be ranking the backcourts in the Eastern Conference.
15: Brooklyn Nets: Donald Sloan (7.1ppg) and Wayne Ellington (7.7ppg)
This was the first team I genuinely knew neither of the starters. It was a really nice surprise finding out that both of those guys were named Wayne, and that was about it. Brooklyn is the saddest team in the NBA, not only are they not good, but they have no picks for the next several years so there isn’t any way they can improve through the draft. Brooklyn is bad, which inevitably was going to reflect in their placement in these ratings, but on top of that their “best” players include Brook Lopez, Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young, all frontcourt players. Neither of these players play for more than 21 minutes a game, averaging less than 15 points a game combined. If Brooklyn’s new GM is looking for some sort of improvement in free agency, the Point Guard and Shooting Guard positions should be the immediate focus.
14: New York Knicks: Jose Calderon (7.5ppg) and Arron Afflalo (13.7ppg)
New York was Arron Afflalo’s chance to prove that he was more than just a 6th man in the NBA. Thus far, he’s proven that he could, but he can’t be a number one backcourt option. Affalo is averaging more points than Kyle Korver or JR Smith. Unfortunately, Jose Calderon is not preforming as well. New York has been very clear that they looked to improve the point guard position since last year when they traded Tim Hardaway Jr. for Rookie Jerian Grant on draft day. New York is looking good in its rebuilding process, Kristaps Porzingis is a monster, however, New York needs to commit to a full rebuild and dump vets like Calderon and Anthony for draft picks or young players. The real question is will Afflalo stay with New York or try and find a contender that needs a 6 man once again.
13: Philadelphia 76ers: Ish Smith (15.2ppg) and Isaiah Canaan (10.8ppg)
Before the 76ers (re)acquired Smith from New Orleans they were on pace to be the worst team in NBA history, now with Smith, they’re just a bad team in the NBA. Ish Smith has proven that he is a starting calibre point guard. He’s no All-Star, but on a team that was desperate for some sort of playmaker, Smith has found his calling. Canaan isn’t so bad either, contributing somewhere around 11 points a night for the sorry sixers. The problem is that they are both raw, and with the rotation in such flux, neither of them get the full starters minutes (somewhere around 25-30 a game) that other starting backcourts might pick up. That being said, the Sixers might not be great, but maybe some of these guys will find homes elsewhere if they don’t make the cut.
12: Milwaukee Bucks: Jerryd Bayless (10.7ppg) and Khris Middleton (18.3ppg)
I feel almost wrong rating these players so low on the list, especially with Khris Middleton being a borderline all-star. But for all the points that these two may put up, Coach Jason Kidd found it more useful to run a 6’8 player at the Point Guard position rather than Bayless due to his weak court vision. If Bayless could score at the level of a John Wall/Kyrie Irving/Kyle Lowry then the Bucks could find themselves as a top three backcourt easily. Michael Carter-Williams can’t decide if he’s a bust, or wants to score 50 on any given night, which is very similar to the defensive effort of the Bucks themselves. Khris Middleton is a centerpiece to build around for the Wisconsin boys, and with players like Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks may have a foundation to build around, but they aren’t there yet.
11: Orlando Magic: Brandon Jennings (7.9ppg) and Victor Oladipo (15.9ppg)
If ranking Milwaukee at 12 felt wrong because of the individual skill of Khris Middleton, then ranking Magic as low as 11 should be a crime. Victor Oladipo has the skill to take over a game (as seen with his 45 against the Cavs) and Brandon Jennings has the potential to be a top point guard in the league. But, the two of them are not finding a rhythm on this Magic team. Since being traded to Orlando Jennings has seen his field goal percentage drop from 45% to just 42% since joining the Magic, and in 20 minutes of play a night he only finds around four assists and eight points. Jennings is project for Orlando, and he may pay off in the future, but as of now he is still very much underachieving. Oladipo on the other hand is clearly the future for Orlando. He provides a very strong anchor for the backcourt, however head coach Scott Skiles is finding it difficult for other members of the backcourt to contribute, forcing him to place Oladipo on the second unit in a similar manner to how Isaiah Thomas was used on Boston last year. Orlando has a lot to work out over the next several years, but Oladipo at least gives Magic fans confidence that maybe this team can reach the same level of competitiveness that it did with prime Dwight Howard.
Continue to see #10-#6!
10: Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker (21.3ppg) and Courtney Lee (9.0ppg)
Kemba Walker is sometimes referred to as a poor man’s Kyrie Irving, however looking strictly at numbers Kemba might actually be better than Irving this season. In the same amount of time per game, Kemba is averaging around one more point and two more assists. Now some of this comes from Irving’s rehab, and returning early with a minute restriction, but still credit will be given when credit is due. That being said, Courtney Lee does not earn any points. Lee is easily the weakest member of Charlotte’s starting five, and one of the worst starting shooting guards in the league. Some of his failures do come from underuse, as Jeremy Lin does take some of his minutes, but still, the Hornets backcourt ranks this low strictly due to Lee’s underperformance.
9: Atlanta Hawks: Jeff Teague (14.9ppg) and Kyle Korver (9.4ppg)
Not even 9 months ago you could make an argument that these two were at top five backcourt in the NBA, but the fickle winds of change have blown and these two are starting to look rusty. Teague was shopped by the Hawks in an attempt to gain picks/young players and clear time for the budding Dennis Schroder. Rumors of Korver’s availability spread throughout the league as one of the best shooters last year, but his age is starting to show. Both Korver and Teague are better off with a big playmaker on the floor, and now with DeMarre Carroll being gone they are forced to make their own offense, a task they are not completely living up to.
8: Indiana Pacers: George Hill (12.4ppg) and Monta Ellis (14.3ppg)
The core of the Indiana team lies in Paul George. He is without question the best player on that team, someone that is almost comparable to LeBron James. Outside of George, however, there is little reason to believe that any player on that team is better than the Cavaliers. Bleacher Report listed Indiana as Cleveland’s most favorable round one matchup (an opinion I disagree with) due to the fact that almost all roles would be simply outclassed. George Hill is a serviceable point guard, but every year rumors of him being shopped occur. Indiana went as far as signing Ty Lawson to provide a spark at the position. Monta Ellis is indeed having a bit of a renaissance, coming close to grabbing an All-Star spot than he ever did in the Western Conference. That being said there is no reason to believe that his consistent 15 points a night will ever tip the scales in a matchup against an all-star guard. Indiana finds itself in these rankings in a similar position they find themselves in the actual standings, better than average, but nothing spectacular.
7: Detroit Pistons: Reggie Jackson (18.9ppg) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (14.7ppg)
There is a lot to say about the Detroit starting backcourt, most of which is positive. The entirety of the Detroit Starting 5 are under the age of 26, none of which have more than four years on the team, meaning we’re still not seeing any of these players best basketball. Reggie Jackson took a gamble on himself last year requesting a trade, the point guard believed that he was more than just a backup and thus far has proven himself right. Reggie Jackson is quietly becoming one of the top producers at his position and is poised to become even better over the next year. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is slated to be one of the best shooting guards in the league over the next few years, already putting up numbers similar to those of Orlando Magic Star Victor Oladipo, except this time Caldwell-Pope isn’t even the focus of the offense. The only reason this Pistons team doesn’t rank higher is their lack of experience and proven record as a team.
6: Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose (16.7ppg) and Jimmy Butler (21.9ppg)
Injury is the name of the game for Chicago. Rose is always a potential driving layup away from a season ending injury, Butler has been sitting for the past several weeks, Chicago seems to be a team that just can’t find a string of good luck, bouncing them pretty low in these rankings, but that being said, do not sleep on these players. Since returning from the All-Star break, Derrick Rose has a PER of 20.6 and has a true shooting percentage of 58%, only 1% behind James Harden. Rose’s contribution has been felt, he provides scoring that a Butler-less team just cannot seem to find and is returning, while not to MVP form, somewhere close to old Rose. Butler on the other hand has been just phenomenal, when he is on the court. Averaging 22 points a game, with the ability to be a strong two way player, and cover the three and small ball four despite being a traditional shooting guard makes him candidate for an All-NBA second team, once again if he can stay on the court. The real test these two have is staying in the playoff race, as of now they are tied with the Detroit Pistons for the eighth seed, and the hungry Pistons in Detroit will not make it easy for a team that struggled against the Sacramento Kings.
Continue to see the top five backcourts of the East!
5: Miami Heat: Goran Dragic (13.7ppg) and Dwyane Wade (19.0ppg)
I almost wish there was more of a spotlight on Miami, then suddenly all of this Goran Dragic not fitting in nonsense could leave just the Miami media circles and remind everyone that the Kevin Love situation is far more normal. The combo guard from across the pond is very good mind you, but doesn’t seem to have a true role on a team run through its star shooting guard. With Miami striking gold on three others (Whiteside, Winslow and Richardson) this doesn’t seem to pose a real problem. On the other side of the starting backcourt comes someone who may be the second best shooting guard of all time. I love seeing people talk about how what Curry is doing has never been done before, do you just conveniently seem to have forgotten about prime D-Wade? The man averaged 30 points a game in 2008-2009 with 7.5 assists a game and a true shooting percentage of 52% over an entire year. Prime D-Wade was a monster. Even as a shell of his former self, Wade brings intensity that no thirty four year old that I know could even come close too. God if only he would take a pay cut as well and the Paul-Wade-James-Melo team could happen. A boy can dream.
4: Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving (19.9ppg) and JR Smith (12.3ppg)
Cleveland at 4th! On a Cleveland fan site?! What is this blasphemy?! It’s simply a case of Cleveland’s depth, and two of our best three players exist in the frontcourt. Kyrie Irving this season is the fifth best point guard in the NBA when he’s feeling good (Curry/Westbrook/Paul/Lillar) and sixth after Wall due to the shortened season. This is the issue with coming back from rehab, stat numbers dip, sometimes due to minute limits and sometimes it just takes time to get the touch back. Kyrie is starting to find his rhythm now, which is good, but this is not the Kyrie Irving of last year, and until the second round of the playoffs, I don’t really expect much more. JR on the other hand is a whole different beast to tackle. His numbers are deceptive, because he can either average 29 on any given night, or four. Cleveland relies on depth and shooting, but not just from its backcourt. Stretch fours such as Channing Frye and Kevin Love provide threats from deep just as JR and Kyrie do, and backup guards such as Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert fill roles respectively. Cleveland’s starting backcourt is nothing to trifle with, however it is by far not the best in the Eastern Conference.
3: Boston Celtics: Isaiah Thomas (22.1ppg) and Avery Bradley (15.0ppg)
I’ll be honest I don’t believe that Isaiah Thomas is an All-Star, that being said he is a damn good point guard. When I think of comparisons, Allen Iverson is the first name that comes to mind. Thomas is fast, small, and lethal if you let him get to the rim, that being said he should not be the best player on a team. Thomas is good but limited, his shooting is not fantastic, it’s not bad per say, but he relies far more on the layup than he does the jump shot, and this is easily read by defences. Bradley on the other hand lives and dies by the three point shot. Bradley is one of the up and coming shooting guards in the league, along with Caldwell-Pope and another shooting guard later in the list. With free agency looming multiple teams, such as the New York Knicks have made it clear that they will be attempting to pry him from his home in Boston, likely with a healthy, near max contract. Bradley deserves it, unlike the traditional shooting guard who provides just a spot up shooting presence or defense, Bradley brings a very complete package, he can switch onto either guard, hit a three, dribble drive and pass. The C’s have one of the better backcourts in the NBA, but they aren’t ruled by it like the next two teams, and that’s what truly makes this team special
2: Washington Wizards: John Wall (20.1ppg) and Bradley Beal (17.6ppg)
The Kyrie Irving vs. John Wall debate is one of the most niche in the NBA. As much as any Cleveland or Washington fan want to believe it, no one outside of those circles actually cares which one is better. Kentucky vs. Duke, Calipari vs. Coach K, tradition vs. new age, these two despite being niche rivals, embody a conflict of style, and bring the greatest college rivalry onto the main stage. That being said, that race is dead even. I will openly admit that John Wall is one of the league’s top-five point guards, as is Kyrie (sometimes). But the comparisons really end there. If Kyrie is Russel Westbrook, then Wall is CP3. His ability to not just run the floor, but also direct the flow of the game is second only to Chris Paul. He may not have the handles of Kyrie, but he finds shots very few would actually find, not just for himself, but for his teammates. And boy, oh boy, does his backcourt mate make those shots count. Bradley Beal (when healthy) has the potential to be a better shooting guard than JJ Reddick or Klay Thompson. Beal is a pure scoring machine, as long as he can put up even somewhat passable defense he will dominate the floor. Forget passing Beal only has one gear, go. If Wall can find an open shot, nine times out of ten, Beal will hit it. Washington’s problem is that outside of these two, they have nothing, Marcin Gortat is a good center, but he cannot be your third option. Washington lives and dies by their shooting (who else do we know that does that), and right now, they are very much falling under the dying column.
1: Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry (21.9ppg) and DeMar DeRozan (23.8ppg)
I love Toronto, and not just because I’m really into this girl from up there. I have never seen a team so dependent on their backcourt, the two of them average over half of the points the team scores a night, which is to be expected when DeMarre Carroll goes down for most of the season, and they do it so effortlessly. I have to admit; I think Kyle Lowry deserves to be in the top point guards in the league conversation, something I wouldn’t have said even nine months ago. He scores at a high rate, but more importantly is critical to the success of the Raptors on any given night. The most recent example of this was against Chicago on Wednesday 23 of March, when Lowry sat out for rest, and Chicago, a non-playoff team was able to beat them, keeping the season series perfect (Which I personally find humorous). On the other hand we have DeMar DeRozan, first I’ll get the same criticism I have for most guards of his style, he cannot shoot a three point shot to save his life. If it wasn’t for and-ones, this man would have an even number score line every single night. Now that I have gotten that gripe out the way, DeRozan is one of the best, if not the best, dribble driving guards in the NBA. Rumors of the Lakers offering him a max contract are very much warranted based on his skill set (however if you actually believe that LA will give up on the Russell/Clarkson backcourt this early, well actually that would be a pretty Lakers thing to do). I wouldn’t be surprised if a team that’s one piece away from contender status tries to lure DeRozan away with a large deal of dollars, but until that happens, The Far North holds the very strongest Backcourt in the Eastern Conference.