Top 10 backcourts in modern NBA

ByKevin Pelton ESPN logo
Friday, May 22, 2015

With the Splash Brothers rolling into the conference finals, this is a good time to revisit the topic of the NBA's best backcourt combinations.

To rank the top 10 guard duos since the ABA-NBA merger, I started with my wins above replacement player (WARP) value statistic for each player, then added five wins for each All-Star appearance. Then, to make sure I highlighted the best combos rather than backcourts where one star far outshined his more limited teammate, I multiplied the totals for each player while the duo was intact and took the square root to come up with the backcourt score.

Alas, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson don't make it -- yet. They've played together only four years, and everyone in the top 10 spent at least six seasons together. But after both made the Western Conference All-Star team this year, the Warriors' backcourt already ranks 21st on the list, and they're surely coming for a spot in the top 10. Here's who they're chasing.

Top 10 backcourts of all time

1. Terry Porter/Clyde Drexler

Team: Portland Trail Blazers

Score: 134.2

Years: 9+(1985-86 to 1994-95)

All-Star appearances: 10

(Drexler 8, Porter 2)

Championships: 0

The Blazers' duo probably isn't the first one fans imagine when they consider great backcourts, but few were more balanced. Drexler was one of the league's best all-around shooting guards and an All-Star fixture, but Porter was no slouch himself, making a pair of All-Star Games during a period when the Western Conference was loaded at point guard. Only one other combo -- No. 2 on this list -- had as high a rating for its second-best player.

2. Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili

Team:San Antonio Spurs

Score: 121.8

Years: 13(2002-03 to present)

All-Star appearances: 8

(Parker 6, Ginobili 2)

Championships: 4

The longest-running tandem on this list, Parker and Ginobili have only occasionally started together because Ginobili typically comes off the bench. Still, this is also the most balanced duo, with Ginobili leading Parker in WARP (123.1 to 81.5). There's a reasonable chance both Spurs guards end up in the Hall of Fame.

3. John Stockton/Jeff Hornacek

Team:Utah Jazz

Score: 87.7

Years: 7(1993-94 to 1999-2000)

All-Star appearances: 5 (Stockton)

Championships: 0

Any backcourt duo that includes the NBA's all-time leader in assists and steals is off to a good start. It's worth noting, though, that the Jazz didn't reach their greatest heights until they stole Hornacek from the Philadelphia 76ers for an aging Jeff Malone. Hornacek's uber-efficient game -- he was nearly a 50/40/90 player during his seven years in Utah -- shines by advanced statistics.

4. Isiah Thomas/Joe Dumars

Team:Detroit Pistons

Score: 80.0

Years: 9(1985-86 to 1993-94)

All-Star appearances: 12

(Thomas 8, Dumars 4)

Championships: 2

No guard teammates combined for more All-Star appearances together than Dumars and Thomas, who are both Hall of Famers. Subjectively, those honors plus a pair of titles would put them near the very top of most backcourt rankings. Dumars doesn't score as well by WARP, though, and that costs Detroit's duo on this list.

5. Magic Johnson/Byron Scott

Team:L.A. Lakers

Score: 75.0

Years: 8(1983-84 to 1990-91)

All-Star appearances: 8 (Johnson)

Championships: 3

The Lakers' Showtime backcourt produced three championships during the 1980s. It tilts a little more heavily in one direction than most of the other combinations in the top 10, since Johnson was a three-time MVP (all while playing with Scott) and Scott nevereven an All-Star. Still, Scott was a fine role player and ideal complement to Magic.

6. Derek Harper/Rolando Blackman

Team:Dallas Mavericks

Score: 71.7

Years: 9 (1983-84 to 1991-92)

All-Star appearances: 4(Blackman)

Championships: 0

With first-round picks in 1981 and 1983, the Mavericks drafted their backcourt for the bulk of the 1980s. Though Harper was crowded out of the All-Star Game by other West point guards like Johnson, Porter and Stockton, he was a reliable presence at both ends of the floor. Many of his assists went to the high-scoring Blackman, a four-time All-Star.

7. Mark Jackson/Reggie Miller

Team:Indiana Pacers

Score: 68.9

Years: 6(1994-95 to 1999-00)

All-Star appearances: 4 (Miller)

Championships: 0

Voted the duo most likely to be heard on a national TV broadcast, Jackson and Miller brought contrasting styles to the Pacers' backcourt. Jackson was the physical point guard at home in the post, while Miller was constantly in motion coming off picks to free himself for open jumpers. The combination got Indiana to the Eastern Conference finals four times in their six seasons together, and to the 2000 NBA Finals.

8. Penny Hardaway/Nick Anderson

Team: Orlando Magic

Score: 63.8

Years: 6(1993-94 to 1998-99)

All-Star appearances: 4 (Hardaway)

Championships: 0

The Anderson/Hardaway pairing showed great early promise, leading the NBA in WARP by guards in 1995-96 with a combined 29.2. Alas, injuries slowed Hardaway's production and Anderson was never quite as effective as he neared age 30, and by the end of their run together the duo was no better than average.

9. Steve Nash/Michael Finley

Team: Dallas Mavericks

Score: 60.9

Years: 6(1998-99 to 2003-04)

All-Star appearances: 4

(Finley 2, Nash 2)

Championships: 0

Either Finley or Nash appeared on the Western Conference All-Star team each year from 2000 through 2003, though never at the same time. By the time Nash overcame early struggles as a starter in Dallas, Finley was no longer at his peak. Still, this was an impressive combination of backcourt talent.

10. Chauncey Billups/Rip Hamilton

Team: Detroit Pistons

Score: 57.6

Years: 6(2002-03 to 2007-08)

All-Star appearances: 6

(Billups 3, Hamilton 3)

Championships: 1

Like their Detroit predecessors, Billups and Hamilton fare better in terms of All-Star appearances (Dumars/Thomas was the only other backcourt where both players were All-Stars at least three times while playing together) and titles (one, in 2004) than advanced stats. Hamilton's game, which depended heavily on midrange jumpers and featured few box-score contributions besides points, hasn't held up well in this regard.

Honorable Mention

  • Rajon Rondo/Ray Allen, Boston Celtics
  • Mookie Blaylock/Steve Smith, Atlanta Hawks
  • Gary Payton/Hersey Hawkins, Seattle SuperSonics
  • Kevin Johnson/Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns

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