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Top 10 NBA Backcourts of the Season
by Ben Leibowitz
'Splash Brothers' Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were clearly the best backcourt duo in the NBA this season, but where do their peers stack up behind them? PointAfter ranked the top 10 backcourt tandem for the 2015-16 season.
Throughout the 2015-16 NBA season, Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson made a combined 678 three-pointers. As a frame of reference, that was more than 13 teams made during the latest campaign, and tied with the total amount of treys drained by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The two-time MVP and 2016 Three-Point Contest champion continued to establish their unchallenged standing as the best backcourt in the league. But how do their peers of starting guard duos stack up?
PointAfter, part of the Graphiq network, set out rank each team's backcourt tandem following the 2015-16 season. To do this, we combined each starting backcourt's win shares, box plus/minus and collective value over replacement player from the latest season. Each pair was then given a score in each category dependent upon their rank -- if a point and shooting guard ranked No. 1 in win shares, for example, they earned 30 points. We'll call this the "Backcourt Score" for the purpose of this ranking.
This method aims to reward players who were individually superior to their colleagues, in addition to those who guided their teams to victory more often than not. Because durability is a part of the game, backcourts that suffered injuries did not ultimately rank very high. So even though the Phoenix Suns' dual-pronged attack of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight has plenty of potential, it wasn't an impressive twosome when strictly looking at the 2015-16 season, because both guys were bitten by the injury bug.
It's also worth noting that one superstar could balance out or even carry a weak link. Having two steady contributors did not necessarily mean said backcourt would rank above another with one All-Star and one role player.
In the event of a tie, the backcourt with the higher combined scoring average ranked higher.
#10. Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith
Backcourt Score: 61
Combined Points Per Game: 32
Combined Win Shares: 10.5
Combined Box Plus/Minus: 2.9
Combined VORP: 3.5
Kyrie Irving falls in the camp occupied by Korver, Butler and Green among NBA stars who watched their three-point prowess dissipate throughout 2015-16. He's caught fire in the playoffs (along with everyone else on the Cavs), but his slow start tied to an early absence while recovering from surgery limited what he's usually capable of doing on the court.
Meanwhile, "J.R. Swish" lived up to his nickname by draining 40 percent of his 510 three-point attempts. His defense was also better than it's been in years. Expect this duo to climb higher in the backcourt standings next year if they stay healthy.
#9. Boston Celtics: Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley
Backcourt Score: 67
Combined Points Per Game: 37.4
Combined Win Shares: 14.5
Combined Box Plus/Minus: 3.2
Combined VORP: 4.7
Boston's diminutive backcourt featuring Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley featured a marvelous balance of offense and defense. IT created a whopping 22.2 points per game while suiting up for all 82 contests. Bradley took on the toughest defensive matchups and helped hide Thomas' shortcomings on the less glamorous end.
Thomas made his first career All-Star team and Bradley posted the best offensive season of his young career. The Celtics are positioned well to become title contenders if they can land a big-name free agent like Kevin Durant.
#8. Detroit Pistons: Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Backcourt Score: 68
Combined Points Per Game: 33.3
Combined Win Shares: 12.2
Combined Box Plus/Minus: 3.4
Combined VORP: 4.8
Reggie Jackson faced heaping amounts of pressure this season after signing an $80 million extension with Detroit. In the face of all that scrutiny, he delivered.
Jackson notched career highs in points, assists and three-point percentage during his age-25 season, leading Motown back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
KCP proved a solid wingman. Despite making a career-low 30.9 percent of his triples, he notched career-highs in BPM (1.1) and VORP (2.2).
#7. Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum
Backcourt Score: 73
Combined Points Per Game: 45.9
Combined Win Shares: 15.2
Combined Box Plus/Minus: 4.1
Combined VORP: 5.5
You could easily argue that Portland's backcourt should be deemed top three in the league. C.J. McCollum blossomed to win the league's Most Improved Player award during his first season as a starter, and Damian Lillard proved in the second half that he shouldn't have been snubbed from the All-Star Game.
These guys are elite offensively, but the lack of two-way play slides them down a few slots in this ranking. Lillard remained one of the game's worst defenders by the eye test and advanced stats. He and McCollum finished 13th and 12th, respectively, among their own teammates in DBPM.
#6. Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker and Nic Batum
Backcourt Score: 74
Combined Points Per Game: 35.8
Combined Win Shares: 14.9
Combined Box Plus/Minus: 6
Combined VORP: 6.9
Following back-to-back seasons in which point guard Kemba Walker made fewer than 40 percent of his attempts from the field, the former UConn star experienced a breakout. He averaged a career-high 20.9 points on 42.7 percent shooting from the field and a career-best 37.1 percent from beyond the arc (a massive improvement from 30.4 percent the season prior).
Add offseason acquisition Nic Batum to the mix -- a defensive-minded wing who recorded two triple-doubles -- and Charlotte's backcourt certainly commanded opponents' respect.
#5. Houston Rockets: Patrick Beverley and James Harden
Backcourt Score: 80
Combined Points Per Game: 38.9
Combined Win Shares: 17.7
Combined Box Plus/Minus: 7.8
Combined VORP: 8.5
This is another instance where one superstar guard helped prop up the exploits of the backcourt tandem as a whole. Though the Houston Rockets nearly missed out on the playoffs amid team chemistry concerns, James Harden was phenomenal offensively yet again. With averages of at least 29 points, seven assists and six rebounds, Harden joined an elite group of players to post similar stats in a season: Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
And while Patrick Beverley is clearly not as talented, he quietly put together a career year for the Rockets. He drained a career-high 40 percent of his three-point attempts, which led to a career-high 12.3 points per game.
#4. Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul and J.J. Redick
Backcourt Score: 82
Combined Points Per Game: 35.8
Combined Win Shares: 19.4
Combined Box Plus/Minus: 8.6
Combined VORP: 7.5
Now that Steph Curry is winning unanimous MVPs and Russell Westbrook is tying 30-year-old triple-double records, Chris Paul's usual standing as the best point guard in the game has slipped in recent years.
Nevertheless, the savvy veteran remains elite on both sides of the ball, guiding the Clippers to winning records despite a lack of depth and injury troubles. J.J. Redick proved himself as a more than capable wingman, ultimately leading the Association in three-point percentage at 47.5 percent.
#3. Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan
Backcourt Score: 84
Combined Points Per Game: 44.7
Combined Win Shares: 21.5
Combined Box Plus/Minus: 8.2
Combined VORP: 8.7
Throughout the 2016 NBA playoffs, it appears as though the MonStars made their presence felt prior to release of "Space Jam 2" by stealing the talents of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
The two guards have struggled mightily throughout the postseason, but, boy, were they special during the regular season -- both making the All-Star team.
#2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson
Backcourt Score: 84
Combined Points Per Game: 28.3
Combined Win Shares: 17.4
Combined Box Plus/Minus: 11.4
Combined VORP: 9.6
Oklahoma City's ranking among opposing backcourts is a huge validation of just how transcendent Russell Westbrook was throughout the latest campaign. Andre Roberson is perhaps a bit underrated as a plus defender, but he made just 31.1 percent of his threes and averaged 4.8 points per game over the course of 70 starts.
Make no mistake, 99 percent of the credit here goes to Westbrook. He amassed 18 triple-doubles, ranked No. 2 in assists, No. 8 in scoring and No. 5 in steals. Though Kevin Durant is the only Thunder player with an MVP trophy on his mantle, Westbrook proved himself as the team MVP for 2015-16.
#1. Golden State Warriors: Steph Curry and Klay Thompson
Backcourt Score: 90
Combined Points Per Game: 52.2
Combined Win Shares: 25.9
Combined Box Plus/Minus: 13.1
Combined VORP: 11.6
Who else but the Splash Brothers would chime in at No. 1?
Stephen Curry put together arguably the best MVP season of all time, and Klay Thompson held his own by splashing a plethora of quick-fire treys.
Interestingly, though, Thompson actually finished 2015-16 with a -2.2 defensive box plus/minus (the worst mark since his rookie year). Though Thompson has garnered a reputation as a solid defender who uses his height to disrupt opponents, he's never graded out positively by that metric, and his mark this year was tied with Damian Lillard and others for 30th worst among players who played at least 50 games. Perhaps Klay is a bit overrated defensively, but this duo remains the best backcourt in basketball by a comfortable margin regardless.
Article: Courtesy Point After
NBA Basketball: "Top 10 NBA Backcourts of the Season"