How do James Harden, far left, and Jeremy Lin, second from left, measure up against the top backcourts in the NBA? (Photo : Reuters)
They have the stats. They have the moves. And they have one of the hottest, most exciting offenses in the NBA at their beck and call.
But two months into the 2012-13 NBA season, do James Harden and Jeremy Lin have the stuff to be considered the best backcourt in the NBA?
Little argument can be made against the theory that as Houston's backcourt goes, so goes the Houston Rockets. With the firepower and ferocity that Harden provides, Houston's top player and one of the NBA's top scorers at 26.0 points per game has given opponents more than one reason to "Fear the Beard."
Meanwhile, though Lin had initially struggled in start of the season, Lin found his explosive first step again and, after a pair of superb games against San Antonio and New York, Lin has surged with several strong games during the last two weeks that have rejuvenated Houston's offense and propelled them to the No. 3 offense in the NBA with 105.3 points per game.
And the Rockets are moving the ball well, their 22.6 assists per game good for seventh-best in the league, and you can bet that Lin and Harden are a huge part of that, both of them playmakers who can score and pass the ball to get other weapons such as Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson and even Omer Asik involved.
Of course, they still have their share of problems. Both Lin and Harden are susceptible to turnovers--Lin in particular. In fact, the Rockets turn the ball over more times than any other team in the league. And both could make a bigger commitment towards defense, as the Rockets give up 103.8 points per game, second-worst in the NBA.
But given that this is their first two months playing together and the expectations facing them both, all in all, Houston's backcourt has been nothing short of explosive and exciting, more so, as any other backcourt in the NBA.
Of course, they're not the only game in town. Let's take a look at some of the other great backcourts around the league:
1. Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd, New York Knicks
There are a lot of factors behind the Knicks' superb start to the 2012-13 season that has seen them with a firm hold in the Atlantic Division-Carmelo Anthony's sensational play, of course, being one of them-but a key reason has been the forming of a savvy, veteran backcourt in Felton and Kidd.
Felton, fresh off a stint with Portland that was less-than-spectacular, was terrific before his hand injury that sidelined him for four to six weeks, averaging 15.8 points and 6.3 assists this season in a strong bid for the NBA All-Star Game. Kidd, meanwhile, has been proving that even at age 39, he's still got what it takes to play with the best of them, teaching the Knicks the value of passing and defense while showing he can make the big shots, such as his game-tying three-point shot against Brooklyn in December.
They're smart, they're skilled, and they play well together. And if they keep playing at this level, New York may even be a threat for its first NBA Finals appearance since 1999.
2. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers
Yeah, it's fairly obvious what some readers might think-why Nash and Bryant?
After all, the Lakers have been a mess all season, going through two coaches and two different scoring systems, neither of which have been enough to get the pricey and talented veteran squad containing Bryant, Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to play well together.
But, in fairness, Nash hasn't been a part of the offense for a good chunck of the active games played, sitting out with a leg injury he sustained in the preseason. Familiar with Mike D'Antoni's offense since his days in Phoenix, the return of the driving-and-dealing Nash should eventually bring good things to the Lakers.
Combined with the scoring dominance of Bryant, the leading scorer in the NBA with 30.1 points per game, the Lakers backcourt, once they find a way to work together, has the potential to be among the most dangerous tandems in the league.
3. Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City Thunder
As far as point guards go, they don't come any better than Westbrook. A scorer who can pass, the athletically superior Westbrook can change the game with his slick passing as well as he can with his "attack-the-basket" aggressiveness.
Sefolosha, the yin to Westbrook's yang, is a superior defender who can, on occasion, score in double digits. But his commitment to defense is invaluable against superstar guards such as Bryant and Dwayne Wade.
When added to the talents of the elite scorer Kevin Durant and the rugged, shot-blocking Serge Ibaka, is it any wonder why the Thunder are favored by so many to reach the Finals for a second straight year--and possibly win it all?
4. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets
Williams and Johnson started hot in October and November before the Nets began to slide, Brooklyn winning 11 of its first 15 games.
When you have Williams, who scores 16.6 points and is passing 7.8 assists per game this season, and Johnson, who blends size and quickness together with a nice shooting touch and good defense, it's pretty easy to see how this can be among the best backcourts in the East.
While they are currently marred in a shooting slump and erratic play, the Nets won't struggle for long; Williams and Johnson are too good to let them be kept down for too long.
5. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have emerged as a surprise squad this season, tied for second place with Chicago for second place in the NBA's Central Division with a 16-13 win-loss record.
The reason? Jennings and Ellis.
Jennings, passed over by the New York Knicks in the 2009 NBA Draft for Jordan Hill--who was off the New York roster after a season--has emerged as a rising star in the NBA's point guard crop, ranked fourth in the league in steals with 2.14 picks per game and a constant scoring threat, averaging 17.6 points per game with 5.8 assists. Young and multi-dimensional, Jennings could eventually become the best point guard in the NBA when he reaches his prime.
Ellis, the leading scorer on the team with 19.7 points per game, can score and pass, adding speed and the ability to finish to a young and hungry Milwaukee Bucks squad that might just sneak up and steal the division this season.