Who Has the Best Backcourt in the NBA?
Today's NBA landscape is all about the Point and Off-Guard positions. The most successful teams in the league tend to have some of the most talented guards; not to mention the fact that the previous two MVPs and Scoring Leaders were all point-guards. This year will likely be no different, with some of the most promising candidates (Russell Westbrook, James Harden, & Isaiah Thomas) all operating at the guard position. Those same three candidates spent the majority of the season in contention to see who would emerge as this season's Scoring Leader (the honor went to Russel Westbrook of course).
Therefore, it is evident that today's pool of guards represents some of the very best teams in the league; from Washington, Toronto, and Los Angeles to the Golden State Warriors and Boston's very own Tacoma Twins. Each of these franchises owns the rights to elite, champion-caliber backcourt players. But which one is best?
Although difficult to rank all of these duos in ascending order, it is arguable that the top four are Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan, Chris Paul & J.J. Reddick, Stephen Curry & Klay Thompson, and Isaiah Thomas & Avery Bradley. While these backcourts are all relatively similar in terms of the traditional statistical categories, when we begin to consider other factors such as each backcourt’s respective advanced stats, intangibles, and team record, it becomes reasonable to narrow the top two backcourts down to Boston and Golden State. So, of these two, which backcourt do I want leading my team into this year's play-offs? Call me biased, but I am going to have to go with I.T. and A.B. on this one. Hear me out...
Whether it be draining a three with 1.4 seconds left in a game in Cleveland, pulling up for a buzzer-beating jumper in Atlanta, or blocking Gordon Hayward's shot on one of the final possessions of the game back in Boston; these are two guys who are not afraid of the moment. Because of this, opposing teams are forced to respect both A.B. and I.T. from start to finish. This effectively spreads the defense, allowing Boston's other options to shine in crunch time and beyond.
Sure, Golden State's backcourt already has a ring; they've led the Warriors to the Finals two years in a row and most would pick them to win it all again this year. But Boston's backcourt is not far behind; they earned their team possession of the first seed in the East. Additionally, according to FiveThirtyEight, the Celtics currently hold the highest odds to win the championship amongst Eastern Conference teams, at 5%. This figure may seem low, but it also happens to be 3rd best in the league, behind only the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.
In terms of comparing the tangibles, Boston and Golden State's combined averages for nearly every major statistical category differ by less than or equal to one point, as illustrated below...
This fact alone demonstrates that Boston's Tacoma Twins are, at the very least, on the same level as the Splash Brothers. Furthermore, the fact that Boston's backcourt has been able to post such numbers without an "All-Star Cast" around them speaks to Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley’s high level of play. Think about it; Golden State has surrounded its backcourt with players who make them better. That is, All-Star talents such as former MVP Kevin Durant and a former All-NBA/All-Defensive Teamer in Draymond Green. Hell, even Zaza Pachulia nearly made the All-Star team (though this was due more so to ignorant fans than Pachulia's actual contributions).
Meanwhile, Boston has surrounded its backcourt with a lovable band of misfits. Starters like Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson or reserves such as Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk; guys who would likely only be role players elsewhere. At the end of the day, Golden State's supporting cast makes the Splash Brothers better, while Boston's backcourt makes those around them better.
While the above figures help to substantiate the fact that Boston's backcourt is indeed on Golden State's level, I actually do not believe that these figures do Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley justice on a more individualistic level. For example, Avery Bradley has a Defensive Rating of 107.2, whereas Klay Thompson has a rating of 100.7. Anyone who is at all familiar with these two players should be confused by this. After all, Avery Bradley is widely considered one of the best, if not the best on-ball defender in the league.
It is also noteworthy to mention that despite Avery Bradley missing a significant number of games this season, the pair has managed to stay in-sync. I would even go so far as to argue that because of all the injuries and illnesses, we have not seen the best out of the Tacoma Twins just yet (neither as duo, nor as individuals, particularly in the case of Avery). After all, it was not until recently that AB began to again demonstrate his explosive athletic ability and assert himself on the boards.
In terms of head to head match-ups, the Splash Brothers look better on paper, as demonstrated below...
However, the above charts do not tell the whole story; over the past two years these teams have split their games 2-2, demonstrating that perhaps Boston's backcourt has performed better in terms of the intangibles. Admittedly, the sample size is small, but that does not mitigate the fact that since the beginning of the Tacoma Twins Era, Boston's backcourt has held its own against the top team in the league.
According to fans over here on the West Coast, the Splash are the best. Period. When I throw Boston's backcourt into the conversation, people literally laugh out at loud me. I'm not sure why fans continue to underestimate the Celtics, nor why they insist on overlooking Isaiah and Avery as a force to be reckoned with. Maybe it's because IT is only 5'9" or maybe it's because AB isn't necessarily the flashiest of players. People are so focused on what Isaiah cannot do at his height, that they fail to recognize the greatness he has accomplished despite his height. Similarly, people are so focused on the offensive end of the court, that they fail to recognize the brilliance that Avery Bradley demonstrates on the defensive end. But facts don't lie; and whether it's per 36 or in head to heads, the facts show that Boston's backcourt is, at the very least, on-par with that of the Warriors'. And if you ask me, they're just getting started...