The 5 Best Young Backcourts in the NBA

*Originally written on 07/19/2020

The NBA has gradually phased out the era of over the shoulder hook shots and has shifted in the direction of electrifying crossovers and savvy passes. The purpose of this list is to rank the best young point guard-shooting guard combinations in the NBA; keyword being young.

A requirement for consideration is no player can have more than five years of NBA experience. Gauging how bright the future is for these backcourt tandems is based on untapped potential and productivity levels in the 2019–20 season.

Other criteria used will be analytics, NBA awards, and impact on team success. For those unaware of these dynamic duos, then now is the time to hop on the bandwagon because in a few years they could be the league’s premier players.

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5. Charlotte Hornets: Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier

The Hornets have a good problem on their hands with a double-headed monster at point guard. Devonte’ Graham is in his second season and Terry Rozier is in his fourth. Both Graham and Rozier naturally play the one, but they shared the floor this season with Rozier manning the two-guard 62% of the time.

Rozier posted career highs across the board in three-point, free throw, and field goal percentage, resulting in a career-high true shooting percentage (55.3%). Graham’s impact cuts deeper than simply being an offensive maestro (team leader in points and assists) with a +8.0 plus/minus net per 100 possessions.

As the season continued, the pair’s chemistry started shining through as they adopted complementary roles. Graham became the primary ball-handler and Rozier adapted into an off-ball player. While not a spot-up shooter by nature, Terry shot a serviceable 45.6% in catch and shoot situations. The two were definitely in sync, with Graham assisting on 30.3% of Rozier’s assisted made FGs and Rozier assisting on 20% of Graham’s assisted made FGs.

A few days before the NBA halted play, Rozier exploded for a career-high, 40-point game on 8–13 (61.5%) from downtown. And for what Devonte’ and Terry lack in height, they make up for in pure scrappiness on the defensive end with a steal each per game.

If the Hornets manage to build a formable squad around these two, that’s when Buzz City’s win-loss record could see improvement. So, as Hornets’ General Manager Michael Jordan would say, “the ceiling is the roof” for this duo.

COMBINED 2019–20: B-

FUTURE: B+

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4. Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield

In Sacramento, the names De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are backcourt royalty. The Kings cherish these treasures like diamonds in the rough. Or in this case, productive players on a 28–36 team. Fox and Hield average 20.4 and 19.8 points respectively and both appeared in two Rising Stars Games. In the 2020 NBA 3-Point Contest Buddy displayed elite shooting, taking home the crown in dramatic fashion. Before the NBA’s hiatus, Fox was on a tear, tallying 20+ points in eight of his last nine games.

Despite his lean body type of 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, De’Aaron is a formidable defender. His mixture of blazing speed and veteran-esque anticipation make any opponent second guess passing his way. Offensively, his quickness gifts him an edge over opponents as he whizzes past defenders, only leaving them to stare at his tire marks.

Fox ranks fifth in drives per game with a startling 18.8. This might seem excessive but that’s where he generates a couple of his 6.8 assists per game. On his sprints to the hole, Fox connects on 61.1% of his attempts, adding to his relatively proficient 47.5% FG rate.

While Buddy doesn’t always get the starting nod, he’s proven to be the ultimate spark plug. He became just one of three reserves in NBA history to post a 40+ point game with nine or more made FGs. With the second-most made three-pointers (244) by a player this season, Hield is on track to join a shortlist of guys who’ve made over 300 threes in a single season. Ready for the list? James Harden and Steph Curry. That’s the whole list!

Also, the Oklahoma University grad is a corner specialist, shooting a lights-out 45.3% on corner threes. The unique thing about Hield is he holds the record for being the fastest to reach 800 career threes, doing so in only 296 games.

Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox have emphatically made their mark on the NBA. If the youngsters keep up their high quality of play, then don’t be surprised when they become household names for the casual fan.

COMBINED 2019–20: B

FUTURE: A-

3. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks

The Grizzlies tend to use different lineups dependent on player performance and opponent. The most common lineup they use, however, is a backcourt of Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks. Morant, the Murray State standout, has captured three Rookie of the Month awards this season making him a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year.

The rook has shown remarkable leadership, carrying the load with the team’s most assists (6.9) and points (17.6) per game on a lethal 56.8% true shooting percentage. Possibly Ja’s most alluring trait is his ability to close out games. He ranks sixth in fourth-quarter scoring in the NBA (min. 20 games) and he does this at a breath-taking 56.2% FG rate.

Brooks, in his third year, has seen an uptick in his usage accompanied by a career-high point average of 15.7. The more Brooks gets the ball the better; the Grizz have chalked up an 18–4 record when he scores 20 points or more. As for Brooks’ quick trigger, he renders defenders helpless once he gets into a click, making the third most FGs per game in handoff scenarios.

This Memphis guard duet elevated their team from the 12th seed in 2019 to a playoff primed eighth seed this season. They’ve done so through their unselfish play, catapulting the Grizzlies to the NBA’s second-most assists per game (27), up from 19th place a year ago.

Further analysis reveals that 30.7% of Brooks’ assisted made FGs were directly from Morant. Ja has a keen sense for distributing the ball to the rest of his teammates too, ranking ninth in assist percentage and third in assists off drives.

At 6-foot-3, the 20-years young Ja has a slashing mentality where his priority is finishing strong at the rim. This has led to 67.4% of his made FGs going unassisted and 63.9% of his made FGs coming inside of eight feet. Similar to Russell Westbrook’s physique and mindset, Morant just needs to hit the weight room.

The sum of these statistical milestones lays a rock-solid foundation for a bright future for this Grizzly backcourt.

COMBINED 2019–20: B

FUTURE: A

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2. Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons and Josh Richardson

A part of one of the NBA’s most stacked starting lineups is the backcourt of Ben Simmons and Josh Richardson. Simmons, only in his third active season, has snagged Rookie of the Year and two All-Star nominations. Richardson, in his fifth season, has capitalized on his red hot in-between game, making 56.8% of his shots 16–24 feet out. The Philly duo has sparked the team to an awe-inspiring 29–2 home record, scoring over 30 combined points per night.

This season Simmons leads the league in steals (2.1), is fifth in assists (8.2), and sits third in rebounds by a guard (7.8). Ben’s monstrous 6-foot-10, 240-pound build, coupled with his playmaking, is reminiscent of Magic Johnson. When Simmons picks up a full head of steam, you’re faced with two options: foul him, or get out of the way. The latter is probably your safest bet, but Simmons still draws 2.2 shooting fouls per game. The attention he attracts inside is extra beneficial to Richardson who can spot up on the perimeter for the easy Trey.

In January, Josh was awarded Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Overall, his stat sheet isn’t the flashiest, but he plays with the grit that few other players can match. On defense, Josh restricts his matchups to a subpar 35.8% three-point efficiency. He also has a nose for the ball, intercepting passes (0.9 steals), and swatting away shots (0.7 blocks) on a nightly basis. This season, Richardson is rejecting shots at a historic pace, averaging only 0.1 fewer blocks per game than Dwyane Wade who is the all-time block leader for guards.

Nearly 90% of Simmons’s FG attempts are taken eight feet or closer to the basket. His reluctance to take jump shots could be viewed as detrimental, but he busts that theory. Ben holds an eye-popping 60.8 true shooting percentage and is ninth in FG percentage (58.5%). With a sea of big men sitting atop these lists, Ben’s numbers are notable for a PG.

Arguably the greatest weapon in Ben’s artillery is his tendency to explode for triple-doubles in consecutive games. He and Wilt Chamberlain are the only Sixers to do this more than once.

If this elite two-way duo can live up to the legendary comparisons that they draw, there’s no limit to how much they can achieve.

COMBINED 2019–20: B+

FUTURE: A

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1. Miami Heat: Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro

The Miami Heat’s roster is piled full of rookies who made ripple effects across the league this year. It was clear from season’s start this backcourt of first years needed no grace period to get acquainted with the NBA. The South Beach tandem of Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro made waves in the first month of the regular season. Each tallied their current game-highs in points, with Nunn scoring 40 and Herro scoring 29.

Even though they don’t often appear in the starting lineup together — with Herro coming off the bench — they are the Heat’s most relied upon guard combo. Nunn’s story isn’t conventional, going undrafted and playing in the G-League. But the Heat took notice and signed the 23-year old who was averaging 19.3 points per game in the NBA’s minor league.

The Heat’s investment paid off immediately as Nunn became the first undrafted player to win Rookie of the Month multiple times (3). Both Herro and Nunn were elected to compete in the Rising Stars game during All-Star Weekend, only the second pair of Heat rookies to earn the honor. During the season Nunn averaged the second-most points per game (15.6) for undrafted players as well. Best of all, his contributions are going towards a winning effort as Miami is 13–5 when Nunn scores 20+ points and 41–24 overall on the season.

Among those 20-years-old or younger who attempt at least one three-pointer per game, Tyler ranks second in three-point percentage. His knock-down shooting presents a threat to the opposition with the flammability to catch fire on any given night. For proof, he broke the Heat rookie record on January 22nd when he dropped in 7–9 three-point FGs.

If the first four months of these young star’s careers are any indication of their trajectory, then they should see great individual success. Additionally, the Miami Heat should be in contention for a championship sooner rather than later with this duo in their backcourt.

COMBINED 2019–20: B+

FUTURE: A+

Senior, Sports and Recreation Management major, at James Madison University. I can be contacted at acraphael9804@gmail.com