Brooklyn Nets: Do Nets Have NBA’s Best Backcourt?

The Brooklyn Nets truly believed they had hit a home run during the summer when they not only re-signed point guard Deron Williams for five years and $98 million, but also landed shooting guard Joe Johnson in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks.

Not only did Brooklyn keep Williams and add Johnson, but top reserve guard MarShon Brooks—the Nets final first-round pick while still in New Jersey in 2011—would improve his game after a solid, if injury-shortened, rookie campaign.

It gave the Nets one of the more highly decorated backcourts in the NBA, with Williams—a three-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA selection and two-time Olympian—teaming with Johnson, himself a veteran of six All-Star selections and one All-NBA team.

Granted, the tandem didn’t compare to the three Most Valuable Player awards piled up by Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash of the Los Angeles Lakers, but nine All-Star berths, three All-NBA nods and two Olympic teams was hardly a pairing to sneeze at.

The question came up recently, though, about whether or not the Nets actually have the best backcourt in the NBA right now.

Being a numbers-oriented sort of character, I turned to two of my favorite measures of efficiency and productivity, player efficiency rating (PER) and win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48).

Not only are these decent measurements of individual performance, but they can be neatly combined to create a broader perspective, as well.

Looking at the top three guards on each team in terms of playing time, with the caveat that each player had to have appeared in at least half of his team’s games through Thursday, Feb. 7 (sorry, John Wall), I got my answer.

Do the Brooklyn Nets have the best backcourt in the NBA?

Not. Even. Close … at least not based on this year’s production.

The top two backcourts in terms of combined PER and WS/48 were identical. The Los Angeles Clippers’ trio of Chris Paul, Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford crushed the competition in each category, with the San Antonio Spurs’ backcourt of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Patrick Mills coming in second in each category.

Here are the top 10 backcourts in terms of PER:

Team (Guards) Combined PER
1. Los Angeles Clippers (Chris Paul 26.1, Eric Bledsoe 19, Jamal Crawford 16.7) 61.8
2. San Antonio Spurs (Tony Parker 23.7, Manu Ginobili 21.1, Patrick Mills 13.5) 58.3
3. Charlotte Bobcats (Kemba Walker 19.0, Ramon Sessions 18.8, Ben Gordon 16.5) 54.3
4. Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant 22.9, Steve Nash 16.5, Jodie Meeks 12.6) 52.0
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (Russell Westbrook 23.0, Kevin Martin 16.4, Reggie Jackson 12.5) 51.9
6. Houston Rockets (James Harden 23.0, Jeremy Lin 14.6, Carlos Delfino 13.6) 51.2
7. Miami Heat (Dwyane Wade 23.4, Ray Allen 15.4, Mario Chalmers 11.9) 50.7
8. Dallas Mavericks (Vince Carter 17.0, O.J. Mayo 16.7, Darren Collison 16.5) 50.2
tie. Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry 19.5, Jarrett Jack 17.2, Klay Thompson 13.5) 50.2
10. Detroit Pistons (Jose Calderon 19.3, Will Bynum 16.5, Brandon Knight 13.0) 48.8
tie. Sacramento Kings (Tyreke Evans 18.0, Jimmer Fredette 15.5, Isaiah Thomas 15.3) 48.8

The Brooklyn triumvirate of Williams, Johnson and Brooks is solidly in the middle of the NBA pack in combined PER, ranking 15th with a mark of 46.8.

And how do the top 10 backcourts stack up with regard to WS/48? I’m glad I asked:

Team (Guards) Combined WS/48
1. Los Angeles Clippers (Chris Paul .286, Eric Bledsoe .133, Jamal Crawford .115) .534
2. San Antonio Spurs (Tony Parker .223, Manu Ginobili .204, Patrick Mills .106) .533
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (Russell Westbrook .180, Kevin Martin .158, Reggie Jackson .085) .423
4. Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant .176, Steve Nash .142, Jodie Meeks .088) .406
5. Miami Heat (Dwyane Wade .180, Ray Allen .135, Mario Chalmers .086) .401
6. Indiana Pacers (George Hill .162, Lance Stephenson .125, D.J. Augustin .111) .398
7. Houston Rockets (James Harden .200, Carlos Delfino .098, Jeremy Lin.088) .386
8. Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry .152, Jarrett Jack .131, Klay Thompson .082) .365
9. Memphis Grizzlies (Mike Conley .151, Jerryd Bayless .104, Tony Allen .095) .350
10. Dallas Mavericks (Vince Carter .120, Darren Collison .113, O.J. Mayo.098) .331

The Nets’ fared better here, placing 12th among the league’s 30 teams with a combined .307.

The numbers for this season say the Los Angeles Clippers have the NBA’s best backcourt. Not only that, but the Brooklyn Nets have a long, long way to go to even get into the conversation in 2012-13.


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Tags: Best Backcourts Best Guards Brooklyn Nets Deron Williams Joe Johnson Marshon Brooks NBA

  • Walt Coogan

    Mr. Watson, PER and Win Shares (per 48 minutes or not) are both fallacious, unreliable measures. If you want to use PER, which inappropriately applies team pace factors to individual performance (among all manner of other flaws), then you also need to defend the idea that Terrell Brandon in 1996 constituted a better point guard than Magic Johnson in 1986. And if you want to use Win Shares, then you need to defend the notion that Amare Stoudemire was usually a more valuable player than Steve Nash when the two played together in Phoenix, even though Stoudemire’s field goal percentage plummeted when Nash was out and the Suns reached the Western Conference Finals without Stoudemire in 2006. And unless you can actually explain the formulas for PER and Win Shares and why those formulas are worthwhile (which they’re not), I don’t know why you are citing those metrics in rote fashion. Please remember that elaborate metrics constitute contrived, inherently imperfect gauges. On occasion, they may provide support for an argument, but they cannot serve as the argument themselves. Instead, issues need to be addressed conceptually and comprehensively, without shortcuts that relegate critical thinking to the sidelines.

    So while I concur with your conclusion about New Jersey’s starting guards, my argument will not come in the form of blind faith in flawed metrics. Instead, I don’t think that Deron Williams and Joe Johnson form the NBA’s best back-court because neither guard is sufficiently efficient as a shooter or scorer. Williams has been a 41 percent field goal shooter in each of the last two years and since joining the Nets, he has shot just .404 from the field. In short, he has not been an elite point guard since leaving Utah, whether the chief culprit is his bad ankles or something else. Johnson, meanwhile, has been just a .421 field goal shooter this season and both he and Williams sport True Shooting percentages below .545 this year.

    And they are both dribble-heavy guards who don’t seem to jell well. Eight years ago in Phoenix, Johnson thrived in a catch-and-shoot capacity complementing Steve Nash, but that Joe Johnson seems to be a distant memory after seven seasons of serving as “The Man” in Atlanta.

    Now, to be fair, Williams and Johnson might be better if the Nets added a shooter at forward who would help open the floor for the dribble-heavy guards. Much like the Lakers, Brooklyn attempted to just stack talent without much regard for how that talent would really fit together, and much like the Lakers, the result is plenty of discombobulation. Fortunately from the Nets’ perspective, they reside in the Eastern Conference.