As NBA training camp approaches in a little over a week, we've been taking a look at the Rockets roster and how it competes in a highly competitive Western Conference. Yesterday, we tackled the front court and you told us how you felt in a poll. Today we'll do the same for the back court.
Much like the match ups in the front court, the Western Conference is a veritable murderer's row, absolutely loaded with talent. Luckily for the Rockets, they have one of the most talented of all.
What else can be said about James Harden that hasn't already been covered here at The Dream Shake? Last year's MVP runner up set career highs in just about every major box score stat and advanced metric.
He's the perfect fit for Daryl Morey's offensive philosophy, and even his previously much-maligned defense took a noticeable leap this season by almost every measurable number. This shows Harden is willing to work hard to improve areas of his game and suggests that we've not yet seen the best of The Beard.
At 26 years old, he should be an annual MVP candidate for the foreseeable future.
The Rockets solidified their point guard position this offseason with the Ty Lawson acquisition, adding a badly needed playmaker to complement Patrick Beverley's defense. Fewer minutes for Beverley should bring his offensive efficiency up as well, and if he maintains his play on the other end, the Rockets should have one of the more complete 1-2 punches in the league at the point.
Veteran Jason Terry is back for one more go 'round, and he'll see time off the bench at both guard spots and add locker room intangibles, while Marcus Thornton serves as a sharpshooter-for-hire. His best days are behind him, but he's still more than capable of lighting up from downtown, a valued and highly usable trait in the Daryl Morey system.
Don't forget that even though Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer most often play the front court, both have proven capable of stepping up to tackle opposing guards when needed. The Rockets are a deep, versatile and veteran squad with MVP-level talent in their back court. What's not to like?
The man who beat out Harden for the MVP may have something to say about who has the best back court however, as Stephen Curry comes off his finest season as a pro in Golden State.
In addition to leading the league in offensive plus-minus, value over replacement and free throw percentage, Curry also set a career high in field goal percentage, which subsequently led to a sky high 28.0 PER, making him one of the most efficient players in the league.
Fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson may give the Warriors the finest starting back court in the West, but if Golden State does have a weakness, it's a lack of depth behind these two.
Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston are both coming off of overall sub-par seasons, and neither can shoot a lick outside of the paint, though Livingston can bother teams with his size and Barbosa with his quickness.
Journeyman Brandon Rush is back, and the club added young guard Chris Babb, but don't expect much from either. If either Splash Brother spends any significant time on the shelf, the team's back court bench is far from confidence-inducing.
If you want depth in the back court, however, look to Warriors' southern neighbors down in L.A. The Clippers made moves in the off season to strengthen their bench when they traded for a disgruntled Lance Stephenson. If Lance can get his head on straight, this has the potential to be one of the better transactions this year.
Of course Lance could very easily shoot and pout his way into Doc Rivers' doghouse as well, but the hope in L.A. is that Chris Paul's leadership will squash any of those concerns.
Additionally, in what has become a bit of theme for the Clippers, they also snagged ex-Rocket Pablo Prigioni to stack the bench.
A full back court lineup of Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, Austin Rivers, Lance Stephenson and Pablo Prigioni has enough versatility to match well with anyone in the NBA, making there's one of the West's top overall back courts from top to bottom.
There's another superstar and perennial MVP contender in Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, which pushes an otherwise mediocre group to the forefront.
Westbrook's talent is undeniable, and he's a match up nightmare for anyone who's guarding him, though his usage should go down a bit from his career season last year with the return of Kevin Durant.
In addition to off-the-charts hops and athleticism, he also dresses like he just stepped out of 1991 and fuels up on PB&J before games, making him one of the more entertaining non-Rocket players in the league.
After Westbrook, though, things fall off dramatically. D.J. Augustin is a capable backup, but will always remain nothing more than. And though both Anthony Morrow and Dion Waiters can shoot the Thunder into any victory, they're also both capable, especially Waiters of the 39 percent field goal percentage, of shooting them out of any game entirely.
The veteran back court in San Antonio always manages to keep them in contention, though both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili showed their age last season. Parker averaged the fewest points, assists and minutes since his rookie season, his VORP was even, making him no better than an average NBA replacement player and his overall plus minus was -2.0, the lowest of his career.
Ginobili followed suit, averaging the fewest minutes and points since his rookie season, shooting only 42.6 percent from the field, and earning the lowest VORP and overall plus-minus of his career.
Can someone out of Patty Mills, Reggie Williams, Ray MacCallum, Jimmer Fredette, or Jonathon Simmons step up and play meaningful minutes for the Spurs? That could be the key to their entire season.
The Grizzlies' back court is much like their front court: a tough-minded, defense-centric group of grinders who simply come to wear you down. Mike Conley is the star, but even the back court's leading scorer and assist man is known just as much for his defense as he is for his scoring average and distribution.
Conley's been one of the top defensive point guards in the league for several years now, and he's joined by defensive stoppers Tony Allen and Courtney Lee. All three were considered positive players in every single measurable defensive advanced metric last season and all averaged 1.0 steals per game or better.
Beno Udrih and Vince Carter both see minutes off the bench for the Grizz and both are able to provide a little bit of offense, though both are sub-par defenders at this point in their careers.
There are two dark horse groups in the West whose potential also needs consideration.
New Orleans has a trio in Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans who all averaged double-digit scoring last season. Evans brings the versatility and physicality to play any position from the one to the three, Gordon brings sharp shooting from the outside (he shot 44.8 percent from three last year) and Holiday brings a steady hand and play making from the point. He had a career best overall plus-minus last year.
The team went out and added Alonzo Gee and resigned Norris Cole to come off the bench, combining with Holiday, Evans, and Gordon to make a solid back court quintet with a variety of ways to match up.
The talent is there. Deron Williams was once elite, and if he can find the fountain of youth in Dallas, that could change the entire complexion of this team.
He's joined by another offseason acquisition hoping to make a big splash, Wesley Matthews. Matthews is an above-average defender and a great shooter who can help beat you in a multitude of ways. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle even recently praised his post up skills.
Matthews is recovering from a torn achilles however, and though he expects to be ready for opening night, his ability to bounce back is one the biggest questions in Dallas this year.
But if a motivated Williams and a healed Matthews shows up, they have the potential to combine with Rocket playoff nemesis J.J. Barea, Devin Harris and Raymond Felton in a solid and savvy veteran group.
Also, Eric Bledsoe is impressive in Phoenix, though the Suns have very little after him other than potential, and the Utah Jazz back court of Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Trey Burke shows promise if health can keep them on the court together.
Who has the best back court in the Western Conference? Cast your vote below and discuss who the Rockets match up well with and who, if anyone, could give them fits.