Just missed the cut…
James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets – Let’s use the words ‘just missed out’ to the extreme. The Rockets do possess an elite backcourt with two of the most talented guys in the league. Perhaps this is picky, but their production is somewhat stunted by a poor scheme that heavily limits what the team can do on court, other than shoot threes.
Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, Utah Jazz – Like many, a new pairing for the 2019-20 season. The Jazz have not improved as much as was expected when the Mike Conley trade was pulled. While Donovan Mitchell himself had his best season yet highlighted by his first All-Star selection, Conley’s defensive limitations became very evident, bringing down the value he brought on the other end of the court.
5) Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
The new duo for the Indiana Pacers had very little on-court time together before the 2019-20 NBA season was suspended, thanks to Victor Oladipo’s quad injury that required surgery, and saw him suit up for just 13 games (10 alongside Malcolm Brogdon). Though with a good amount of source material, it is fair to assume when both men are healthy, they form one the most complete backcourts in the game.
Signing from the Milwaukee Bucks in the offseason, Brogdon, the 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year, had little trouble transferring his successful floor general play-style that helped drive the Bucks, along with superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, to consecutive playoff trips. He became the automatic leader for the Pacers, putting up career highs in a range of key categories, including minutes per game with 30.7, points with 16.1, assists with 7.1, rebounds with 4.7 and field goals made with six. That helped gain the team a 39-26 record, which becomes even more impressive when remembering, as well as no Oladipo, the Pacers lost a key player in forward Bojan Bogdanović last offseason, who was a reliable scorer from all ranges.
For Oladipo, it was not the most memorable return from injury, averaging just 13.8 points off a low 39 per cent shooting. But remember what he has produced since joining Indiana in 2017. While averaging a shave under 21 points a game, he claimed two All-Star selections, an All-NBA third team and All-Defensive first team nomination, and a Most Improved award in two seasons.
4) Paul George and Patrick Beverley, Los Angeles Clippers
Paul George’s trade to the Clippers in the 2019 offseason helped form one of the game’s best duos alongside superstar Kawhi Leonard, but also the game’s best defensive backcourt next door Patrick Beverley.
But much like their predecessors on this list, George and Beverley did not play a huge amount together in the 2019-20 season due largely in part to injuries.
When George was on court the Clippers won 30 of 42 games this past season. While his campaign was very stop and start thanks to a handful of niggles, George still managed to put up averages of 21 points and 5.7 assists a game in 29 minutes, which are All-Star numbers. The 2018-19 season, his last for the Oklahoma City Thunder was his best yet, averaging 28 points a game – a career high – as well as career highs in assists, boards and steals, and ranked third in the league in three pointers made with 292. George has also been a stud on the other end since his rookie year, claiming two first team and two second team All-Defensive honours.
For Patrick Beverley, the 31-year-old guard has become synonymous with stifling defence, which has made him invaluable to each team he has been on. Aside from his two All-Defensive recognitions in 2014 and 2017, team rather than personal numbers prove Beverley’s worth. Since the start of the 2018-19 season, the Clippers are 85-41 when he is on the court and just 7-13 when he is not. As well as that the Clippers’ defensive rating this past season improved when Beverley played, going from 106.3 down to 104.9.
3) Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
The Celtics have plenty of options at shooting guard alongside their starter at the one in Kemba Walker, thanks to the luxury of three two-way wings capable of playing three positions (at the most). For the majority, Jaylen Brown has partnered Walker, and the pair have been one of the highest scoring backcourts in the NBA recently.
Walker’s likeable, magnetic personality has been a welcomed sight for Boston, after a 2018-19 season that was affected by a toxic locker room seemingly due to Kyrie Irving, who ended up leaving last summer for the Brooklyn Nets. While Walker’s scoring load went down minorly in 2019-20 with Jayson Tatum and Brown having career years, he was one of three Celtics players averaging 20 or more points with 21.2 a game. His first campaign in Boston was his fifth consecutive averaging 20 or more, and the fourth highest average of his nine-year career so far. All led to another All-Star selection out East for the former Husky.
Brown, one of the other two players to average 20 or more has sky rocketed in a range of categories. Points went up by seven a game to 20.7, while field goal percentage with 49, free throw percentage with 74 and rebounds with 6.4 also received major improvements. He was unlucky not to receive an All-Star nomination in February, but assuming the NBA season resumes, he will be a front runner for the Most Improved award.
2) Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Few backcourts, if any rival the Portland duo’s all-round shooting ability, which has consistently powered the Trail Blazers to the playoffs since 2016 despite little help around them. While CJ McCollum has been a steady contributor to their success, Damian Lillard is without a doubt the one propelling the pair and team forward.
Since being drafted in 2012 Lillard has been a five time All-Star and claimed four All-NBA selections, including one first team during the most competitive point guard era in NBA history. This has helped him become one of the two best point guards in today’s game. He has averaged 20 points or more over his last six seasons including 25 or more in his last four. Lillard has not shied away from the big moments either, taking over late in games and converting on clutch field goals – commonly referred to as ‘Dame Time’.
McCollum, who is one of a few late bloomers out of the 2013 NBA draft, had a breakout 2015-16 being named Most Improved player with a massive spike in points per game, going up by 14. He has since hovered around the 20-points mark, achieving a personal best of 23 a game back in the 2016-17 season. Since his rise birthing four years ago, McCullom and Lillard have combined to average 45 points or more in each season, and were on track for their best in 2019-20 with a whopping 51.4 combined.
1) Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Was there ever any doubt?
It is quite incredible that despite one guy missing the majority of the 2019-20 season and the other missing it all together, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson remain the NBA’s best backcourt. Boy, in order to do that they must have produced something special when healthy.
Indeed they did, something so special it was league altering. In an era where big men and the post-up game was as important as offensively dominant guards, the Splash Brothers revolutionised the league and prioritised the three-point shot, which came into effect when they and the Warriors became constants in the NBA playoffs from 2013. Every other team in the league has since invested a lot of effort into copying that model.
But much like films, nothing beats the OG.
As a duo, Curry and Thompson have enjoyed their most personal and team success together, winning three championships in five consecutive trips to the NBA finals from 2015 until 2019. In that stretch Curry claimed two MVP awards, five All-Star selections, three All-NBA first team nominations and one second team, and a scoring title amongst a flurry of other accolades which has made him one of the three greatest players of the modern era. Thompson on the other hand, as well as winning three rings himself, has made five All-Star teams, two All-NBA third teams and an All-Defensive second team.
They have also become the two greatest shooters of all time. As a tandem from 2012-13 right through to the 2018-19 season, the pair have ranked first and second in three pointers made in four seasons, first and third in onee and finished in the top 10 in the other two. Curry himself holds the record for most threes made in a season with 402 during his second MVP campaign, and holds five of the 10 highest all-time three-point tallys by a player in a single season.
Sports writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. I have a strong passion for a range of codes, including the NBA, NFL, Soccer, Rugby and more.