Time to hit the Mailbag!
This NBCSports.com article by Kurt Helin ranks the top backcourts in the NBA. Rankings:
1) Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
2) Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers
3) John Wall, Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
4) Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns
5) Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Houston Rockets
Then the author lists honorable mention candidates and Lillard/Matthews are not included. In my opinion, the Blazers duo must be included in the top 5. Lillard is only perceivable not as good as Paul and is better than every point guard on the list. Matthews may only be better than Redick on the above list, but is probably the best defender out of the group.
How do you think the Blazers' backcourt stacks up with the rest of the NBA?
Ranking guard duos has been pretty popular lately. You can watch Grantland's Jalen and Jacoby select Portland's backcourt as the 8th best in the league at the 24:00 mark in this clip.
If you're a masochist you can even watch Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith debate the topic. (This is a good sign that you've gone too far.)
I guess my initial reaction is, "Be glad the Blazers made any list!" If you remember before Damian Lillard came on board it was yeah...not so much.
I also feel compelled to give the obligatory perspective speech. This is barstool discussion. Nothing rides on it. The game is played 5-on-5, not backcourt-vs-backcourt. You could make an argument that the best two players on each team (as opposed to best two guards) mean something in comparison to each other, but even then...
A. That's Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, a whole different conversation.
B. LeBron James and anyone you care to put with him win this argument right now. That pairing would be followed by Kevin Durant and a random moldy turnip. Really even the "duo" thing usually boils down to who has the best superstar.
If we're going to get all serious about it, this whole topic merits more of a "whatevs" than worry or indignation. But hey, let's get in the spirit of things and talk about some of these backcourts anyway.
Steph Curry and Klay Thompson will end up on the top of most people's lists because Curry is practically a deity. He notches 24 ppg, 24 PER, 42% three-point shooting clip (the lowest of his career), win shares through the roof...plus you've seen firsthand what he's done to the Blazers. "Ow, Steph! Ow! Ow! Stop it! Ow! Why are you...Ow! Bananas! Ow! This...may...not...be...OW!...legal! BANANAS already!" Klay Thompson brings enough shooting synergy to merit his exalted wingman status. Lillard and Wesley Matthews would have to evolve big time to surpass Golden State's duo.
Chris Paul has also reached demi-god status in the league. If you look at the stretch from 2007-2009, those numbers aren't supposed to exist. He's earned his credibility. It's one of those "Gotta beat the man to be the man" situations and Lillard hasn't done that yet. Damian outshoots Paul from the three-point arc but just about everything else leans in the veteran's direction. Any disparity between Matthews and J.J. Redick isn't going to be enough to tip the scales the other direction.
Bringing John Wall and Bradley Beal into the discussion makes things more interesting. Wall isn't a great shooter nor is he terribly efficient. Lillard edges him everywhere but the defensive end and a somewhat-spurious assist deficit. The argument for putting Beal and Wall first would hinge upon Beal edging Matthews by a commensurate amount. (More, really, since Beal and Wall made the list while Matthews and Lillard didn't.)
Beal probably has more name recognition and upside than Matthews but right now he's not significantly better. They're mostly even, in fact. Including Washington's guards in the Top 5 may have been an East Coast fairness thing or an attempt at future speculation. I'd understand putting either set of guards--Portland's or Washington's--above the other by a small margin. But either way you go, where one pair sits, the other should follow right after. If Wall and Beal were third on this list, Lillard and Matthews should have been fourth. Or Beal and Wall shouldn't have been placed so high.
Goran Dragic had a really nice season for Phoenix and is another of those guys you can put equal to or slightly above Lillard statistically. Eric Bledsoe isn't your traditional shooting guard and tends to double-helix numbers with Matthews;the player on top depends on your angle of view. But Bledsoe has more pop and his star power obliterates Wes so you could see a national survey ranking him higher. The pairs aren't that far from each other but putting Phoenix first shouldn't cause beef.
Patrick Beverley and James Harden versus Lillard/Matthews becomes one of those "best player takes it" matchups. Blazers fans can point to last May and, "Ha Ha!" but Harden sports 25 ppg, 24 PER, 62% True Shooting, 10 offensive wins shares. In a theoretical debate those numbers are going to convince most folks to lean Houston's way.
You can also bat around Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, Tony Parker and whomever...they're all in the middle ground where conclusions are a matter of taste.
The problem for Blazer fans is Lillard and Matthews probably still belong in that middle category as well. Our tastes run towards them but it's hard to distinguish them clearly from the 5th-9th pairings. They should have been in Helin's list. The Grantland guys had them pegged at 8. I'd put them below Curry/Thompson and Paul/Redick. Most folks would put Dragic/Bledsoe and Beverley/Harden ahead of them and I'd acquiesce to that. But Portland's guards would be near the top of the rest of the bunch for me, exact position depending on criteria.
Blazer fans can get upset that their guys didn't appear on a list where Wall and Beal finished 3rd. That shouldn't be possible. Before we can object beyond that we're going to need another season to see if Lillard and Matthews can earn any separation from the rest and get themselves into a consensus Top 5 position.
Go ahead and share where you'd put Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews in the pantheon of guards. And as always, keep the Mailbag questions coming to email@example.com