The NBA will look a lot different next season. Many players made moves, either in free agency or via trade, leaving teams with new rosters.
While basketball is less orthodox than it used to be, a strong backcourt is still very important in today’s league. The guard position is where many teams get a bulk their scoring from.
Here are the top five NBA backcourts that will start the 2019-2020 season. Injured players are omitted, so Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdan, along with Bradley Beal and John Wall were not factored in.
Honorable mentions: Chris Paul & Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert
#5- Kemba Walker & Jaylen Brown
The Boston Celtics swapped All-Star point guards this offseason. After it became clear Kyrie Irving would depart for Brooklyn, the Celtics were able to sign Kemba Walker away from the Charlotte Hornets after he was reportedly low-balled by the team.
Walker is coming off a career-year with the Hornets where he was selected to his third All-Star game, as well as the All-NBA Third Team. Walker averaged 25.6 points on 43 percent shooting, along 4.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists last season.
Jaylen Brown will join Walker in the backcourt as the team’s starting shooting guard, and will look to rebound after being demoted in his third NBA season.
Brown was moved to the bench after a slow start, and ended the season with lower stats than his breakout season a year prior. He averaged 13 points and 4.2 rebounds.
With Irving out and Walker in, there is a good chance that the Celtics have better chemistry as a group next season. Look for Brown to take another step in his fourth season, which happens to be his contract year.
#4 Mike Conley & Donovan Mitchell
The Utah Jazz made two big acquisitions this summer, potentially moving them up the Western Conference ranks. The team signed former Pacers forward Bojan Bogdanovic, and traded for Grizzlies veteran Mike Conley.
Conley will replace Ricky Rubio at the point guard position for the Jazz. Headed into his 13th season, Conley brings leadership and perimeter defense to assist the interior defense of Rudy Gobert.
Conley had an excellent season last year, averaging 21.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists on his rebuilding Memphis team.
Headed into his third season, Donovan Mitchell has already become one of the best young players in the league. Mitchell averaged 23.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists last season.
If Mitchell can continue to develop his game and become a top-tier guard in the NBA, he and Conley will give the West’s top teams trouble all season long.
#3 Steph Curry & D’Angelo Russell
After Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn following his injury in the Finals, the Warriors needed firepower to replace the also injured Klay Thompson. Unexpectedly, Golden State signed former Net D’Angelo Russell to a max deal, teaming with Steph Curry in the backcourt.
Curry was spectacular yet again this past season, averaging 27.3 points and coming in second behind James Harden in three-pointers made. He shot 47 percent from the field, and also averaged five rebounds and five assists per game.
While Thompson is out, Curry will have Russell next to him in the backcourt. 2019 was a breakout season for Russell, who earned his first All-Star appearance and helped take the Nets to the playoffs. He averaged 21 points and seven assists in his fourth NBA season.
While there have been reports about the Warriors potentially trading Russell during the season, the team will have one of the best backcourts in the league in the meantime. A trio of Curry, Russell and Thompson could be difficult to beat in the postseason.
#2 Russell Westbrook & James Harden
Once Paul George requested a trade to link up with Kawhi Leonard, Oklahoma City moved quickly and dealt Russell Westbrook to Houston for a massive haul. Now, the 2017 league MVP is paired with his former teammate James Harden, who won the award in 2018.
Westbrook is coming off a third straight year of averaging a tripe-double, a feat unheard of in the modern NBA. Westbrook averaged 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10.7 assists last season.
Harden had a historic offensive season last year as well, nearly earning him back-to-back MVP awards. He averaged 36 points on 44 percent shooting, as well as 6.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists.
When the deal initially happened, there was much debate about if the two players could co-exist. Westbrook and Harden have two of the highest usage rates in the league, as well as both being score-first players.
Is Westbrook willing to change his game to play alongside Harden? In his introductory press conference, Westbrook said “I can play off the ball. I don’t have to touch the ball to impact the game.”
While the pressure is high, this trade could be a huge payoff for the Rockets. If Westbrook and Harden co-exist alongside each other, with Westbrook playing a more tame brand of basketball, the Rockets could have the best backcourt in the league come playoff time.
#1 Damian Lillard & CJ McCollum
Of all the backcourts on this list, Portland’s star duo are the only ones who weren’t recently assembled, giving them a massive edge in chemistry. The two guards are at their peaks, and have proven to be a great offensive duo. Other teams will have to figure out how their star guards will play together. The Blazers do not.
Damian Lillard had another excellent regular season, which evolved into postseason heroics. Lillard averaged 25.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists.
McCollum serves as a strong co-star to his point guard in Portland, averaging 21 points on 46 percent from the field. Both players recently signed extensions.
After dismantling OKC, the Blazers beat the second seed Nuggets in a seven-game series. Though they were swept in the Conference Finals by the Warriors, the Blazers managed to keep most of the games close before giving up a run.
While other backcourts may have more individual talent, Portland’s two stars have a tight chemistry that compliments their incredible shooting abilities. Lillard and McCollum are the centerpieces of a Blazers team that re-tooled this summer, and could find themselves in the Conference Finals once again. Going into the 2019-2020 season, the Blazers have the best backcourt in the league.
Featured image credited to Yahoo.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.