Over the past decade, the NBA has transitioned to a league dominated by guard play and led by the analytics movement, emphasizing the use of smaller lineups and relying largely on three-point shooting. The result? Less emphasis on traditional back-to-the-basket big men who work offensively from inside the paint. With this change in philosophy comes a big shift toward constructing a team that relies heavily on their backcourt for success. With that in mind, here are the NBA’s top five backcourt dynamic duos:
5. Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler
Over the last few seasons, the Chicago Bulls have developed one of the league’s most dynamic backcourts with Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. When healthy, Rose has been one of the league’s best point guards. As an explosive player, his unique skill can be highly effective when driving to the rim, and over the years he has added an outside shot that makes him more difficult to defend. Sure, he may be a shadow of himself, but he’s still an above-average starter on an NBA team. However, he’s only one half of the equation.
Despite (or perhaps owing to) Rose’s injuries, the development of Butler’s skills has propelled the pair to an elite status in the NBA. The 25-year-old has had significant growth in his game during the last two years as he took over the responsibility as the team’s primary scorer when Rose was sidelined due to injury. He’s also become a great individual defender who has been among the league leaders in steals over the last two seasons.
What stops this backcourt duo from being higher on our list? Rose’s inability to stay healthy. His extended absences prevent the Bulls from truly being legitimate championship contenders, resulting in some early playoff exits. The blueprint is there — it’s just a matter of the former MVP staying healthy throughout an entire regular season.
4. James Harden and Ty Lawson
Any backcourt headed by perennial MVP candidate, James Harden, will be on this list, but when the Houston Rockets acquired Ty Lawson from the Denver Nuggets in the offseason, it only solidified their rankings as one of the elite backcourts in the league.
In his first four seasons with the Rockets, Harden has become arguably the league’s best shooting guard. He’s a multifaceted offensive player and dynamic passer who is deadly from three-point range; can create his own shot from anywhere on the floor; and is nearly impossible to keep off the free-throw line.
The addition of Lawson only increases the overall offensive production from the Rockets’ backcourt by bringing in another reliable three-point shooter who has been near the top of the league in assists over the past two seasons. Although it may take some time for them to develop on-court chemistry, it’s what they each bring to the table that puts them on our list as one of the best backcourts in the NBA.
3. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan
After the departure of All-Star forward Chris Bosh five seasons ago, the Toronto Raptors were a free-falling organization without any direction. Things drastically changed in the 2013-14 season with the emergence of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as the main offensive contributors.
Lowry has developed into one of the better all-around point guards in his league, which helped him earn his first All-Star game selection last season. DeRozan has become a dependable scorer, averaging more than 20 points in each of the last two seasons, which includes his only All-Star game appearance. What is most surprising? The duo hasn’t received much national recognition even though they are a major reason for the Raptors’ transformation into a legitimate playoff team.
In many ways, both players are underrated at their position. Lowry has averaged over 4.5 rebounds and 6.4 assists in each of the last six seasons while scoring at least 17 points in the last two years. As for DeRozan, he has placed inside the top-15 scorers in the league in each of the last two seasons, which includes placing inside the top five at his position both times. All in all, Toronto boasts only the league’s best and undervalued backcourts in the league; they deserve some much-needed attention.
2. John Wall and Bradley Beal
The Washington Wizards have steadily become a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference, and it’s due to the strong backcourt pairing of John Wall and Bradley Beal. The young Wizards’ duo has become a dynamic offensive force. Wall has developed as a complete point guard on both ends of the floor. He is consistently among the league leaders in steals and assists. In regards to Beal, despite dealing with injuries as of late, he has become one of the league’s best shooters, hitting over 40% of his attempts from three-point range in the last two seasons.
Washington has become a mainstay in the playoffs, reaching the second round in each of the last two seasons. The future of the franchise is clearly on the shoulders of the young guards. If the two stay healthy, the Wizards will be a legitimate playoff team in the Eastern Conference and potential title contenders led by an All-Star caliber backcourt.
1. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson
If there’s one team that has adopted the modern NBA mold, it has been the Golden State Warriors with the league’s best backcourt team: MVP Stephen Curry and All-Star Klay Thompson. The “Splash Brothers” are the most explosive and arguably best-shooting combo in the NBA. The Warriors’ duo is the most lethal pair from three-point range, where they set the NBA record with 484 combined three-pointers last season. This includes Curry setting the record with 286 three-pointers.
Every year, Curry takes his game to greater heights. His proven ability to be nearly unguardable with his flawless and sometimes mesmerizing dribbling ability opens up the floor for him to score. He can hit a shot from anywhere on the floor regardless of the perceived difficulty. This, along with his great floor vision, makes him one of the most exciting players in the league.
Thompson has also developed into a great three-point shooter over his first four seasons in the league. This includes shooting more than 40% from beyond the arc while averaging over 17.5 points for his career. He also holds the NBA record for most career three-points through his first three seasons (545). Thompson has also become an elite-level defender at his position and has been a big part of the Warriors’ vast improvement defensively.
All that said, Golden State holds the league’s best backcourt, and they should hold down the top spot for many years to come.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.go.com.