ESPN Insider Amin Elhassan certainly thinks so.
With the dog days of the NBA summer dragging on, basketball fans and experts have little to grasp onto besides Team USA. So Elhassan took the opportunity to rank the top five starting backcourts in the league. He anointed Chris Paul and J.J. Redick the top guard combo (subscription required):
Congrats, Steve Ballmer, that $2 billion price tag comes with some cool features, namely the most well-rounded backcourt in the NBA.Once again, Chris Paul ranks as Bradford Doolittle’s top point guard in the NBA…
His counterpart, Redick, is no star in the conventional sense, but his elite shooting from all areas of the floor, undervalued ability to run secondary pick-and-roll and either score or distribute, and underrated defensive proficiency (particularly within team schemes) make him the perfect complement to Paul.
Surely this declaration will be met with plenty of arm-raising outrage in the Bay Area, D.C., Phoenix and even Chicago–the other four entrants on this list, in order.
Unfortunately for Bulls fans, the question marks around Derrick Rose are too great at this point and Jimmy Butler’s offense is too suspect to justify putting them any higher. It also wouldn’t be crazy to say that the Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan pairing, or even Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters (at least offensively) are better right now based on what we know from last year.
The same goes for the Wizards. Elhassan correctly points out that John Wall and Bradley Beal have the highest ceiling of any backcourt, but potential can only get you so far going up against the best point guard in the league. Wall and Beal need another solid regular season and a deep playoff run before they can make a claim for the top spot.
I’d be willing to include Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe in the conversation, but they have a few issues working against them. We’ve only seen them play less than half a season together and we don’t even know if Bledsoe will be in purple and orange come October. Suffice to say this backcourt is due for a regression this year.
It’s fitting that new rivals Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson present the strongest counterargument.
Let’s start with shooting guards. This has been the summer of Klay Thompson. His value as a two-way guard skyrocketed when the Warriors refused to include him in a trade for Kevin Love. Though the announcement hasn’t been made, Thompson’s expected inclusion in Team USA’s World Cup of Basketball squad only highlights his rise to stardom. But both points are more about his potential than what he’s already done.
Oddly, ESPN Insider Bradford Doolittle ranked him as the eighth best shooting guard based on forecast WARP–a combination of “efficiency, volume of production and team context.” To be sure, Thompson finished the 2013-14 regular season with a 14.32 PER. The league average is 15.00.
There’s no denying Thompson outclasses Redick in name recognition. He also outdid the former Blue Devil from the three-point line last year, each player’s professed specialty. Redick missed over half of the season with hip, back and shoulder injuries and still hit a shade under 40 percent from three. As Elhassan writes, Redick has a more well-rounded offensive game than Thompson, who seems to specialize in perimter catch-and-shoot situations. But, according to NBA.com stats, Redick actually outperformed him in catch-and-shoot and vastly outdid him on pull-ups.
Thompson gets the nod when it comes to defense based on his reputation as a sizable one-on-one defender who can guard above his positions, but Redick does enough with Paul next to him and DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin lurking in the paint.
Overall, I’d take Thompson over Redick, but we need to see Redick play a full season in a Clippers uniform because the gap is closer than people think.
Now for the point guards. Curry was far and away the best scoring (read: shooting) ball handler in 2013-14. His 24.0 points per game topped the closest challenger, Kyrie Irving, by over three points. He was the only elite point guard to hit over 40 percent from behind the arc, and only Tony Parker shot better from the field overall.
Players that took at least one shot of the dribble per game averaged 36% on those shots. Steph Curry shot 45 PERCENT ON 7.4 OF THEM PER GAME
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) August 15, 2014
He’s no slouch as a distributor, either. Curry’s 8.5 dimes per game ranked sixth in the league last year. You think his shot release is quick? His passing hands might be quicker.
There’s no denying that Paul is in a class all by himself when it comes to ball distribution. But looking at a combination of points and points created by assists, he and Curry are neck and neck. Last season, Curry created an average 19.2 points per game, making him directly responsible for a total of 43.2 per game. Add a league-leading 24.5 points created by assists per game to his own 19.1 and he holds a slight edge with 43.6.
Where it gets blown open is the increased carelessness with which Curry fires his passes. It seems his eyes were even faster than his hands last season, finishing tied with Russell Westbrook for the most turnovers per game (3.8) among qualified point guards. Paul, on the other hand, comfortably led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio with a 4.57 mark, three-hundredths shy of his career best. Pablo Prigioni came in a distant second with 3.80.
How did Elhassan describe Paul’s game?
…excellent distributor, controller of game tempo, terrific penetration and finishing skills, deadly pull-up game, outstanding vision, elite IQ, vicious on-ball defense, clutch-time heroics, etc.
Curry possesses some, but not all of those skills to the same degree as Paul.
Advantage CP3. Advantage Clippers.