Ranking Every Current NBA Backcourt for Worst to Best

30. Cleveland Cavaliers — Collin Sexton and J.R. Smith

Even with the addition of a lottery pick, it’s impossible to place the Cavaliers any higher on this list. Sexton has impressive talent and plays with a chip on his shoulder, but will likely struggle early in his career due to his shooting limitations. Almost all young guards struggle on the defensive end as well. Smith has already seen his best days an NBA player, and was dreadfully inconsistent for Cleveland’s playoff run last season. Without LeBron James, this team is devoid of talent at nearly every position.

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29. Detroit Pistons — Reggie Jackson and Reggie Bullock

It wasn’t all that long ago that teams actually wanted Reggie Jackson. The former Thunder guard helped lead the Pistons to the playoffs in his first full season with the team back in 2016. In the two years that followed, Jackson has been marred by inconsistent play and injuries. He’s still great at operating in the pick-and-roll, but Jackson’s shot-selection and lack of defensive intensity is a big reason for Detroit’s woeful two-year stretch. Bullock has developed into one of the league’s better shooters, but is limited offensively overall. The Pistons hope for a big jump from 2017 first-rounder Luke Kennard after selecting the former Blue Devil a selection ahead of Donovan Mitchell.

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28. New York Knicks — Frank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr.

The Knicks have a number of guards that could be starting on any given night. To close out 2018, New York employed backcourt combos that included Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay and Courtney Lee. However, those lineups saw minutes when the Knicks were far out of the playoff picture. If the Knicks are playing to win, Ntilikina and Hardaway are their best shot. Both guys are capable on defense, but must take the next step on the offensive end to be truly competitive.

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27. Sacramento Kings — De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield

The Kings face a similar situation that New York does. Sacramento has a plethora of competent (but not extraordinary) guards that could fill in as a starter. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Frank Mason III are probably the best offensive combination, but have clear limitations on the defensive end. The Kings will feel pressure to start the two players with the strongest pedigree — Fox (fifth overall pick in 2017) and Hield (sixth overall pick by New Orleans in 2016). Both players need to make significant jumps in several areas if Sacramento has any shot in the rugged Western Conference.

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26. Orlando Magic — Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin

No matter who the Magic start at point guard, that player will likely be the worst starting point guard in basketball. Augustin is a solid player, but is more serviceable as a back-up in spurts than as a team’s primary ball handler. Fournier’s offensive skill-set keeps the Magic from taking dead-last on this list. He was one of the few bright spots for Orlando in 2018, and has plenty of room to grow at just 25 years old.

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25. Atlanta Hawks — Trae Young and Kent Bazemore

Young’s development will be key for not only Atlanta’s backcourt, but the franchise as a whole. The fifth overall pick is exceptionally skilled, and has a skill-set that’s reminiscent of a young Stephen Curry. Bazemore is a solid two-way player that has carved out a nice niche in the league. He’ll help tremendously on the defensive end, as he can defend the opposing player’s best perimeter player.

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24. Brooklyn Nets — D’Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert

The Nets love to get up-and-down the floor, and they should be able to effectively run transition basketball with Russell and LeVert at the helm. Russell is a creative ball handler that hasn’t exactly gotten a fair shake in the league. After being traded to Brooklyn, Russell started off the season hot, but then went down to injury. He was never quite the same when he returned, but the Nets have high hopes for the former No. 2 overall pick. LeVert has a great feel for the game and is already an advanced pick-and-roll handler. If both players can up their shooting efficiency it could be a special pairing.

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23. Chicago Bulls — Kris Dunn and Zach Lavine

Dunn and LaVine represent two-thirds of the haul that Chicago received for Jimmy Butler. With Butler reportedly wanting out of Minnesota after just one season, it’s quite clear that the Bulls won the trade. Dunn improved immensely in Year 2, increasing his averages across the board. LaVine was primarily hampered by injuries in 2018, but is coming off signing a massive four-year deal with the Bulls. Both guys have good size for the position. Dunn’s playmaking and defense — coupled with LaVine’s shot-making ability — makes for an intriguing combo.

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22. Los Angeles Clippers — Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley

The Clippers have an embarrassment of riches in their backcourt. They can start any type of lineup for all sorts of situations. However, their most battle-tested tandem would be the former Rocket, Beverley, and the former Celtic, Bradley. Both players are excellent defenders that have made All-Defensive teams in the past. Each guy understands their role on the other end, and can knock down corner threes with regularity if given the chance. Beverley and Bradley will hold down the fort while 2018 draftees Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson wait in the wings.

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21. Los Angeles Lakers — Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

The Lakers brass have expressed their belief in the young core, though they aren’t quite ready to hand the starting job to Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. Instead, coach Luke Walton will lean on two veteran guards to help shape the lineup around LeBron James. Rondo is a fearless competitor that has experienced a massive amount of success throughout his career. He’ll bring leadership, vision, and toughness to a young Laker squad. Caldwell-Pope was up-and-down throughout his first year with the Lakers, but he finished the season strong shooting 42 percent from three over the last 30 games. KCP should benefit greatly from the stellar passing of Rondo and James.

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20. Memphis Grizzlies — Mike Conley and Garrett Temple

Conley has been criminally underrated throughout his 11-year career. The Grizzlies are often criticized for a lack of playoff success, but Conley has been at the forefront of the franchise’s longest sustained run of relevance. Conley helped lead the Grizzlies to seven consecutive postseason appearances from 2010-2016. Part of the reason they weren’t able to make a return to the playoffs last year was because Conley played in just 11 games. Now healthy, the 31-year-old vet looks to bounce-back in a big way.

While he’s not quite the talent Conley is, Temple has been underrated over his career in his own right. The eight-year journeyman has been a steady hand for the six teams he’s played for. He’ll add much-needed spacing and perimeter defense to an aging Grizzlies roster.

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19. Phoenix Suns — Devin Booker and Josh Jackson

Phoenix enters the 2019 season with a huge question mark at the starting point guard position. Eric Bledsoe was sent to Milwaukee, Brandon Knight got traded to Houston, and last year’s starter to end the year, Elfrid Payton, signed with New Orleans in the off-season. The Suns spent a second-round pick on French guard Elie Okobo, but it’s unknown if the 20-year-old will be ready to shoulder a bulk of minutes in his first season.

Booker seems like the likely choice to take on the playmaking responsibilities. He’s grown increasingly comfortable operating in the pick-and-roll, and the threat of his scoring ability can open up passing lanes for his Phoenix teammates. Accompanying Booker in the backcourt will likely be a swingman in Jackson. The Suns are going to be playing a ton of small ball with their heap of switchable wings. Jackson plays with a ton of energy, and ended last year strong with a All-Rookie Second Team nod.

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18. Dallas Mavericks — Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Dončić

In a few years, we might be talking about this duo as the premier backcourt in the entire NBA. The Mavericks have two blue-chippers that are waiting to take the league by storm. Smith is a freakish athlete, and the NBA world learned that first-hand with his performances in last year’s Slam Dunk Contest. It’s easy to forget Smith underwent knee surgery just two years ago given the explosiveness he displayed in his rookie season.

Dončić is the most accomplished 19-year-old in the history of European basketball. As a teenager, Dončić won a championship and took home MVP honors in what’s considered the second best basketball league in the world. He’s as polished as a rookie can be, and will be an instant contributor.

Dallas’ pair of youngsters are cornerstone prospects that are capable of leading this franchise for years to come.

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17. Milwaukee Bucks — Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon

The players that should be most excited for Mike Budenholzer taking over coaching duties in Milwaukee will be the two guards. Bledsoe relishes playing at a quicker pace which can mask his deficiencies as a player. At his peak, he was either leading an athletic Clippers bench mob or running the wing alongside Goran Dragic in Phoenix. While he has the ability to quarterback a team, he doesn’t have the consistency or savvy to take on an opponent as the primary playmaker for 48 minutes. That’s where Brogdon — and Giannis — come in. Brogdon entered the league with a polish unlike his fellow rookies. He can shoot, defend, finish at the rim, and is willing to make an extra pass. The Bucks got an absolute steal with the 36th overall pick in 2016.

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16. Charlotte Hornets — Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb

It feels like the Hornets haven’t been able to find a true running mate to pair with their All-Star guard Kemba Walker. Last season, coach Steve Clifford went with a jumbo lineup that had Nicolas Batum in the backcourt, though the awkward spacing limited Charlotte’s offensive ceiling. Batum has since slid into his natural small forward position, and new coach James Borrego has inserted Jeremy Lamb into the starting 2-guard spot after a breakthrough 2018. Lamb finally flashed the skills that made him a lottery pick in 2012 — posting career highs in points, assists, and three-point percentage.

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15. New Orleans Pelicans — Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore

With the loss of Rajon Rondo, it’s unclear who the starting point guard in New Orleans will be. Elfrid Payton is the closest thing they have to a ‘true’ point guard, but he was tremendously underwhelming in Orlando and Phoenix. Ultimately, the Pelicans best lineup will likely feature Holiday and Moore splitting the playmaking responsibilities at the guard spots. Holiday burst onto the scene with a strong playoff performance and an All-Defensive first team appearance. Moore is an excellent spot-up shooter that has a little off-the-bounce game to him. It will be interesting to see how Holiday reacts to playing a lead guard role again, but until the Pelicans find a legit playmaker they have no choice but to put the ball in Holiday’s hands.

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14. Toronto Raptors — Kyle Lowry and Danny Green

A mainstay in the top-5 of these rankings over the past half-decade, Toronto’s backcourt took a devastating blow with the loss of DeMar DeRozan. Leonard is quite clearly the team’s starting small forward, making it likely that his former San Antonio teammate Green slots in at the 2-guard. Green has lost a step of his athleticism over the past couple of years, but he remains a cagey defender that can hit open jumpers.

Toronto remaining in the top half of this list is primarily due to Lowry’s brilliance. The Raptors’ playoff woes have ultimately hurt Lowry’s legacy, but it’s ridiculous to minimize his impact because he simply couldn’t beat LeBron James (nobody else in the East has been able to do it for eight years). Lowry is a lights-out shooter, a sound defender, and a terrific leader — all traits you want out of your lead guard.

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13. Indiana Pacers — Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison

Before last season, Indiana’s guards would have likely been in the bottom-5 in a ranking of best backcourts in the league. At the time, Oladipo was a former No. 2 overall pick that was going to his third team in as many seasons. Collison has been doubted his whole career, and is often viewed as a back-up rather than a starter.

The Pacers shocked the NBA world by capturing the fifth overall seed in the Eastern Conference — thanks in large part to the play of their exceptional guards. Oladipo has since transformed into an All-NBA talent, and Collison led the entire league in three-point percentage in 2018 (46.8). Safe to say this duo is here to stay.

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12. Denver Nuggets — Jamal Murray and Gary Harris

There’s something special brewing in Denver. Not only has Nikola Jokic already developed into one of the five best centers in the NBA, but the Nuggets young backcourt looks the part of a top duo moving forward. The two former first-round picks have all the makings of a excellent combo. Both guys are supremely skilled and can shoot with range. Murray is the primary ball handler, and has improved as a pick-and-roll player over his two years in the league. Harris is the designated defender, able to match-up on either guard spot as well as anybody. In a few years, we might be talking about this duo as the very best in all of basketball.

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11. Miami Heat — Goran Dragic and Josh Richardson

One of the more underrated duos in the league, the Miami Heat’s savvy guards often don’t get the credit they deserve. Although it was only made possible due to an injury, Dragic made the long-awaited trip to his first ever All-Star game in 2018. Had he been playing in the Eastern Conference for his entire career, that appearance may have happened a few years prior. Regardless of how it occurred, Dragic was one of the most consistent guards in the NBA last season. He has a well-rounded offensive game, which further makes him a tough match-up on any night.

Richardson meshes well with his counterpart. He’s an athletic wing that defends multiple positions, and is willing to do the dirty work. While he’s not a household name quite yet, Richardson has improved every year of his career. He shot 38 percent from three last season, and is already one of the better perimeter defenders in the league.

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10. San Antonio Spurs — DeMar DeRozan and Dejounte Murray

The newly acquired DeRozan is a clear upgrade over anyone San Antonio had at the shooting guard position last season. DeRozan is a bona fide scorer that can instantly spark an offense with a vast array of post-ups, floaters, and mid-range jumpers. He’s a player that should fit well in San Antonio’s patient offensive attack. Murray will help make that move even easier, as he’ll be able to mask many of DeRozan’s weaknesses on the other end. The Spurs have high hopes for the 22-year-old Murray, who is coming off an All-Defensive Second Team nod this past season.

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9. Philadelphia 76ers — Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz

It seems a bit off to consider Simmons a backcourt player given his enormous size and rebounding ability. However, the former No. 1 overall pick operates as a point guard in Brett Brown’s system, and has quickly become one of the more unique players in all of basketball. Great playmaking slashers such as Simmons flourish when shooting is placed around them, making Fultz an awkward choice to insert into the lineup. Last season, JJ Redick and Simmons meshed perfectly in what was one of the strongest starting lineups in the league. Coach Brett Brown believes (and hopes) that Fultz can make a leap and help stabilize Philadelphia’s backcourt of the future.

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7. Utah Jazz — Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio

Mitchell’s sudden rise to stardom — coupled with Rubio’s development since joining the Jazz — has catapulted this group up the rankings. Both guys needed each other dearly in 2018. Coming out of Louisville, it was unclear what Mitchell’s role would be at the next level. Given his 6’4″ frame and propensity to score the ball, he fell somewhere between both guard positions. It just so happens that today’s NBA is perfect for a player with Mitchell’s skill-set. Quin Snyder trusted him as the team’s main playmaker, and Mitchell obliged by leading all rookies in points in 2018 with 20.5.

A primary ball handler for most of his career, Rubio settled into a secondary role and eventually flourished in his first season with the Jazz. With Mitchell taking a majority of defense’s attention, Rubio is able to operate with more advantages. This development accentuates his vision and ability to create for others. The Jazz seem to have found a perfect match.

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8. Minnesota Timberwolves — Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague

Although Butler’s future with the team is still up in the air, the Timberwolves explosive duo remains one of the most talented pairings in the league. The tenacious Butler is as good of a two-way player as there is in today’s league. Butler expertly utilizes a strong frame to bully smaller players on both ends of the floor, but has the speed and lateral quickness to beat bigger defenders off the dribble or contend with bigs in the post. Teague can run hot or cold, though his quick handle and bounciness make him a terror in the open court. His improved shooting opens up a new facet to Teague’s game we hadn’t seen before.

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6. Oklahoma City Thunder — Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson

Westbrook is the most explosive player at the point guard position the league has ever seen. His ability to relentlessly attack throughout the entirety of a game, while shouldering a bigger offensive load than any current player, is truly outstanding. While his shot selection is often challenged, there’s no doubting Westbrook’s motor or drive to be great.

Roberson’s offensive limitations are well-documented. Teams sag off of the Colorado prospect when he’s spotted up, ultimately closing driving lanes that would normally be exposed by Westbrook’s elite slashing ability. He’s the worst free-throw shooter of any guard in the league. Of the 275 active players that have logged at least 5,000 minutes, Roberson ranks third to last in free-throw percentage (46.7), and is only ahead of DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond. Having said that, he’s arguably the best defensive wing not named Kawhi Leonard in all of basketball. He allows Westbrook to be Westbrook, and is a stalwart on a Thunder defense that regularly ranks among the best units in the league.

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5. Boston Celtics — Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown

If we were including bench players, the Celtics could be in the running for one of the top-2 spots. Boston is the deepest team in all of basketball — especially in the backcourt. Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart would be starting on some teams across the league, but both will (likely) be coming off the bench for Brad Stevens’ squad in 2019. Irving is an obvious choice at the point guard spot. The five-time All-Star is battle-tested and quite possibly the best ball handler the game has ever seen. Brown made great strides in Year 2, and flashes the potential of an elite 3-and-D wing. Luckily for the Celts, if anything were to happen to one of their starters, they’ll be fully equipped to plug in a worthy replacement.

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4. Washington Wizards — John Wall and Bradley Beal

Washington’s All-Star backcourt has a throwback feel to it. Wall is as pure of a point guard as there is in today’s NBA. He’s lightning quick, exhibits inhuman vision, and has the skills to be a lockdown defender for stretches. Beal has the ideal skill-set for a prototypical shooting guard. He works well off the ball (although he flashed some playmaking chops in Wall’s absence in 2018), has a quick release, and is one of the more refined shooters in all of basketball. Although they don’t always see eye-to-eye, Washington’s talented guards have a strong case for being the best backcourt in the entire Eastern Conference.

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3. Portland Trail Blazers — Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum

Of all the backcourt pairings in the league, Portland’s is the most likely to combine for 100 points in a single game. Lillard and McCollum are born scorers that have found a way to make it work together. Lillard is the quintessential offensive-minded guard in today’s league. His range is limitless, and he’s become known as a clutch performer over the years. McCollum is a combo guard that can fill either position. His tight handle and knack for finding creases in a defense is remarkable. While we’re unsure if the Trail Blazers envision this duo lasting together for much longer, they are an explosive pair that have given Portland fans plenty to cheer for over their respective careers.

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2. Houston Rockets — James Harden and Chris Paul

There was plenty of skepticism over how Paul would fit within the confines of Houston’s offense. Houston emphatically quieted any concerns over Harden and Paul sharing a backcourt after winning the first 15 games in which both players suited up. By season’s end, the Rockets featured a trio (Harden, Paul and center Clint Capela) that won 50 of 55 games together. The biggest takeaway from Houston’s success is that it never hurts to have an abundance of unselfish, gifted playmakers littered throughout your roster. Defending Harden and Paul is difficult enough. Once they start getting their teammates involved, the Rockets become nearly unstoppable on the offensive end.

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1. Golden State Warriors — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

The Splash Brothers have a strong claim of being the best backcourt we’ve seen in league history — let alone their standing within today’s ranks. Curry and Thompson mesh as well as two players can. Two of the deadliest shooters of all-time, the Warriors’ potent combo mask each other’s deficiencies while boosting their own unique strengths. Curry’s ability to create on offense boosts both player’s ability to find open looks, and Thompson’s versatility on the defensive end allows his teammate to get much needed rest on that end of the floor. Having already won three rings together, there’s no telling how expansive the Curry’s and Thompsons’ household trophy cases will look like by the time their respective careers are over.

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