During Media Day, Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards made a bold proclamation that he and teammate John Wall comprised the best backcourt in the NBA. When told about Beal’s claim, Cleveland shooting guard Dion Waiters unequivocally disagreed with Beal.
It’s easy to appreciate Beal’s and Waiter’s confidence, but there are a lot of talented starting backcourts in the NBA today that have a claim to being one of the best starting backcourts in the league heading into the upcoming season. Here, we take a look at some of the best backcourts in the NBA, using last season’s performances as the most significant factor, along with other factors like age, likelihood of improvement, health and overall impact on team success, among others:
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
Lowry (age 28). 79 games played. 17.9 points, 7.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 38.0 3P%.
DeMar DeRozan (age 25). 79 games played. 22.7 points, four assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 30.5 3P%.
The Toronto Raptors were one of the surprise teams of last season and were one Paul Pierce blocked shot away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs. A big part of the Raptors’ success came from Lowry’s career best averages in points and assists. Lowry is a physical player that does just about everything well. He can score, shoot from distance, make plays and rebound well for a point guard. There are no real weaknesses in Lowry’s game at this point in his career and he has established himself as one of the better point guards in a league saturated with talented point guards.
Lowry arguably should have been named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team, but was snubbed in favor of Joe Johnson. But Lowry’s play on the court earned him a new four-year, $48 million contract with the Raptors, which is a nice payday for one of most overlooked point guards in the league.
DeMar DeRozan is no slouch either. Like Lowry, DeRozan had a career year last season, averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. After the Raptors traded away Rudy Gay, DeRozan became the go-to-scorer for the Raptors, and ultimately finished tenth in the league in points scored per game. But beyond scoring, DeRozan showed significant improvement as a playmaker, jumping his per game assists averages from 2.5 to four last season. However, moving forward DeRozan will need to improve his three-point shooting. DeRozan’s three-point percentage has risen virtually every season, but he still shot just 30.5 percent from range last season. If and when DeRozan starts hitting from distance at or around 35 percent, he will have a valid claim to being the best shooting guard in the NBA.
Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers
Irving (age 22): 71 games played. 20.8 points, 6.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 35.8 3P%.
Waiters (age 22): 70 games played. 15.9 points, three assists, 2.8 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 36.8 3P%.
This may not be where Dion Waiters thinks he and Kyrie Irving should be ranked, but it’s still a pretty good ranking for one of the youngest starting backcourts in the league. In fact, Lowry and DeRozan have a strong case for being ranked ahead of the Irving and Waiters based on last season’s performance, especially since they led the Raptors to the playoffs. But this ranking takes into consideration projected improvement for the upcoming season, and Irving and Waiters benefit from being so young, and from the return of LeBron James.
With James, Irving can now dial back his focus on being a scorer, and become more of a traditional playmaker for his teammates. Of course, James will handle the ball and initiate the offense at times as well, but with James and Kevin Love on the roster, Irving has the opportunity to jump his assists average into the Chris Paul, Ty Lawson and John Wall range. That, and with James taking over as the team’s unquestioned leader, Irving will likely be held to a higher standard of defensive effort. If Irving can build off his summer with Team USA, focus more on making plays for others, and become a positive factor defensively, he has a chance to compete for best overall point guard in the league. A lot of things need to go right, but Irving has the talent, and now the teammates, to make the leap.
Waiters stands to gain as much from James as Irving does. Waiters can now focus his game on spreading the court with his three-point shooting and focusing on defense. Waiters may not like taking on more of a 3-and-D type of role, but it’s the role he needs to embrace on what is arguably the most talented team in the league. Knocking down three-pointers, swinging the ball to teammates for better shots and trying to lock down opposing wing players is where Waiters can really help his team. It may not be glamorous, but if Waiters is effective in this role, he will be praised for sacrificing part of his game for the betterment of his team.
Irving and Waiters are not the best backcourt in the league, but with James back in Cleveland, they have a shot to be one of the two or three best moving forward. Whether that happens depends on how willing they are to embrace different roles this upcoming season.
Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns
Dragic (age 28): 76 games played. 20.3 points, 5.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 40.8 3P%.
Bledsoe (age 24): 43 games played. 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 35.7 3P%.
For most of the offseason Eric Bledsoe’s contract situation threatened to break up one of the most entertaining, and effective, starting backcourts in the NBA. Fortunately for NBA fans, Bledsoe and the Suns recently agreed to a five-year, $70 million contract.
Dragic had a career year last season under head coach Jeff Hornacek and could be even better this upcoming season if Bledsoe can stay healthy. When Bledsoe injured his knee last season, Dragic took sole control of the team and almost led them to the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference. Even though teams were loading up defensively to stop Dragic, he still scored over 20 points a game, was a solid playmaker and shot 40.8 percent from beyond the arc. Dragic may not take another major statistical leap moving forward like he did last season, but with Bledsoe sharing point guard duties, he will have more room to operate against opposing defenses.
As for Bledsoe, he is a freak athlete and has the potential to be one of the best two-way point guards in the league. Bledsoe’s strength, length, and commitment to defense allows Hornacek to run Dragic and Bledsoe together, which is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. Both players can score and make plays for teammates, and both can push the ball in transition effectively. Health is the major issue with Bledsoe, but with a little luck and another season under Hornacek, Bledsoe may be due for a big jump in overall production.
John Wall and Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Wall (age 24): 82 games played. 19.3 points, 8.8 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 35.1 3P%.
Beal (age 21): 73 games played. 17.1 points, 3.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds, one steal, 40.2 3P%
Waiter’s called Bradley Beal’s claim “nonsense,” but Beal really isn’t too far off.
Last season, John Wall had a standout season. He tied with Ty Lawson for second most assists per game, and significantly improved his three-point shooting (26.7 percent on 45 attempts to 35.1 percent on 308). Wall is another freak athlete who can push the ball in transition better than just about anyone else in the league. His length and athleticism make him a tough a matchup for anyone, and at age 24 he still has room to get much better.
As for Beal, at age 21, he is already one of the best shooting guards in the entire league. He is a knockdown shooter with great size and athleticism for the two guard position and is also a pretty decent playmaker as he averaged 3.3 assists per game last season. Beal’s stats from last season are slightly better than Eric Gordon’s stats when he was 21 years old (16.9 points, three assists, 2.6 rebounds and one steal per game). In his third season, and at age 22, Gordon’s production took a big leap forward. If Beal takes a similar kind of leap, he will challenge Klay Thompson. James Harden and DeMar DeRozan for title of best shooting guard in the league as early as next season.
Also, being one of Charles Barkley’s favorite players in the entire league counts for something, right?
Chris Paul and J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers
Paul (age 29): 62 games played. 19.1 points, 10.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 36.8 3P%.
Redick (age 30): 35 games played. 15.2 points. 2.2 assists, 2.2 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 39.5 3P%.
Chris Paul is still the best point guard in the league, although Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook may change that this upcoming season. But for now, Paul holds the mantle for being the best playmaker in the league, a good scorer, and committing himself to defense as well. Paul is getting older, and is not the athlete he once was, but no other point guard impacts the game as much as he does.
Anytime you have arguably the best point guard in the league, you likely have one of the best overall backcourts in the league. But J.J. Redick is no scrub himself. In fact, with Redick in the lineup, the Los Angeles Clipper’s league best offense goes from great to elite. Under Rivers, Redick plays Ray Allen’s old role of constantly moving off of screens and knocking down open jump shots. And like Paul, Redick commits himself to defense as well. He may not be a lockdown player, but his effort and attention to team defense makes him a net positive in that regard.
Unfortunately, both Paul and Redick missed significant time last season due to injuries. But with another season under head coach Doc Rivers, and one of the deepest rosters in the league, Paul and Redick project to be one of, if not the best backcourt in the NBA this upcoming season.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Curry (age 26): 78 games played. 24 points, 8.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 42.4 3P%.
Thompson (age 24): 81 games played. 18.4 points, 2.2 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 41.7 3P%.
The Splash Brothers were at risk of being broken apart this offseason as the Golden State Warriors considered moving Klay Thompson to acquire star power forward Kevin Love. Ultimately, the Warriors opted to keep Thompson and move forward with last season’s best backcourt.
Stephen Curry has elevated his game from a top-scorer to all-around superstar. With Curry, three-point shooting has always been his main weapon. Curry knocked down more three-pointers than anyone last season (261) and did so at a blistering 42.4 percentage. But, perhaps even more important than three-point shooting, Curry has made the jump into a legitimate, full-time point guard. In 2012-13, Curry averaged 6.9 assists per game, which increased to 8.5 last season. However, Curry does turnover the ball more than you would hope for from your star point guard. Nevertheless, Curry is a threat from everywhere on the court, and that includes passing the ball now too, not just shooting.
Like Curry, Thompson’s main weapon is his three-point shooting as Thompson made the second most three-pointers in the NBA last season (223). But unlike Curry, Thompson has not become a great playmaker up to this point in his career. But where Thompson lacks playmaking, he makes up for it with defense. When the Warriors need to shut down an opposing wing, Thompson has just as good of a shot as noted defender Andre Iguodala, which is saying something.
Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews, Portland Trailblazers
Lillard (age 24): 82 games played. 20.7 points, 5.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 39.4 3P%.
Matthews (age 27): 82 games played. 16.4 points, 2.4 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 39.3 3P%.
If Curry and Thompson are the Splash Brothers, then it wouldn’t be too far off to call Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews the Splash Brothers Light. Lillard finished last season with the third most made three-pointers in the league (218), while Matthews finished fifth (201).
Like Curry, Lillard is the star player in the backcourt, but stands to improve defensively. And like Thompson, Matthews takes defensive assignments as seriously as he takes his offensive game. Lillard and Matthews may have been left off the top-6 here, but figure to be even better this upcoming season and in the discussion as one of the league’s best backcourts again.
Ultimately, it turns out neither Beal nor Waiters was right. While both are part of some of the best backcourts in the league, Curry and Thompson edge out the competition. Lillard and Matthews, like a few other starting backcourts, have a valid claim that they should be included in the top-6, but just barely missed the cut here.
Which team do you think has the NBA’s best backcourt? Let us know in the comments section below!
Lottery Reform Coming Soon?
Zach Lowe of Grantland reported in July that the NBA is considering reforming its current lottery system to provide less incentive for teams to tank. The push for reform is in direct response to the Philadelphia 76ers who have blatantly tanked the last two seasons under general manager Sam Hinkie.
After it is approved, the proposed reform will go into effect immediately. On Friday, 76ers managing owner Josh Harris spoke to the media about the proposal, acknowledging it could hurt his team in the short term.
“A change that flattens the Lottery system would be a little bit worse for Philadelphia in the short run,” Harris said.
However, Harris believes that the proposed changes will ultimately help his team in the long run.
“But long run, since we expect to be a consistent playoff or deep playoff-caliber team, it’s actually better for us.”
Harris is right about this, especially considering that Philadelphia is a big market that does well in attracting free agents. However, this assessment is only accurate if players like Michael Carter Williams, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric turn out to be as good draft picks.
Some may view this move as punishment for teams that are simply following the league’s rules. But the 76ers have taken the tanking strategy to a level that has angered team executives around the league. Hopefully the proposed changes can effectively deter teams from tanking moving forward. Tanking may be a good strategy for teams, but at its extremes it is harmful to the league.
NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.