As basketball fans, no matter how devoted, we all have opinions. That’s what separates us from the robots at math camp who need one definitive answer. It doesn’t even have to be about basketball; who was better in their prime, Ryan or Koufax? Monét or Van Gogh? Pizza or Pasta? These opinions can be educated, whether through experience or knowledge, met with skepticism, profound guesswork, and whatever Skip Bayless does.
That’s why we have thousands of writers, podcasters, reporters, and media members covering the league 24/7. That being said, listed below are the ten greatest backcourts in NBA history – according to me.
Wait! Don’t skip this part! It’s important! Please note that the stats are only reflective of the seasons that the two played together. So for example, the stats shown in no.9 are from the ‘78-‘80 seasons, the three seasons Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson played together. Also, the slashes separate the two players respective averages. So in this case, it goes, Gus’ stats/DJ’s stats. Last thing, the accolades listed for each backcourt are combined between the two players. Just in case you thought Terry Porter made 10 All-Star games. You may proceed.
10. John Stockton & Jeff Hornacek: ‘93/’94* – ‘99/00
*Hornacek was traded to Utah midway through the ’94 season.
**Stats are from ‘94/’95 – ‘99/’00
Resume: 2x Finals (‘97, ‘98), 5x All-Stars, 5x All-NBA, 2x All-Defense
Stats (Stock/Jeff)**: 13.4/14.3 PTS, 2.8/2.8 REB, 10/4 AST
These two played six and a half seasons together, appearing in back-to-back Finals in ‘97 and ‘98, and are part of the ‘Jordan prevented me from a ring’ group that meets Tuesday nights to discuss. I put them at no.10 for two main reasons. The first, and biggest, is that they never won. They played for some great Jazz teams, winning 50+ games six times, including 60+ three times. During the lockout shortened ‘99 season, Utah finished 37-13 and were on pace to win 60 had the season been 82 games.
Amazing regular season team, but like so many others, couldn’t beat Jordan. I’m convinced they win a title against any other team. It’s like the Raptors vs. LeBron. You knew, no matter how good they seemed, that when #23 stepped on the court it was over. And that cannot be overlooked.
The second reason this backcourt lands at no. 10 is because of the imbalance in responsibility. These teams belonged to Stockton and Malone, no question. Hornacek was a terrific role player but shared far less responsibility than Stockton. Numbers-wise, the scoring is pretty even, but the assists aren’t even close. Stockton is a top-five passer of all time (along with Magic, Nash, LeBron, and Kidd), and like Nash, made all his teammates better. Including Hornacek.
Just look at Hornacek’s three-point percentage the year he was traded. The first half of the year with Philly, he shot 31.3% from deep. After he was traded to the Jazz, and playing with Stockton? 42.9%. In the words of Peter Griffin, “quite the difference”. Also every single accolade on their shared resume belongs to Stockton. Overall, great backcourt, consistent, talented, but fell just short.
9. Gus Williams & Dennis Johnson: ‘77/‘78 – ‘79/‘80
Resume: 1x Title (‘79), 2x Finals (‘78, ‘79), 1x Finals MVP, 2x All-Stars, 2x All-Defense
Stats (Gus/DJ): 19.8/15.9 PTS, 3.3/4.5 REB, 4.2/3.5 AST
This tandem would’ve been a lot higher on this list had they played more than three seasons together. Alas, they did not. In those three seasons, however, they made the West Finals all three times, advancing to the Finals twice, and winning the Title in 1979. Pretty good, albeit short, window of success. That’s why I put them ahead of Stockton/Hornacek; the same amount of Finals appearances, but these guys won a ring (although they didn’t have to face Jordan). Plus this duo was more balanced, as Stockton did most of the heavy lifting.
With Johnson taking home Finals MVP honors (23/6/6 during the Finals, including a 32/6/4 in a Game 4 OT win), the Sonics had a rock solid backcourt that was still in their early/ mid-twenties. Standing at 6’4, DJ was a pesky defender who averaged just under two steals a game, and was named to back-to-back All-Defensive 1st Teams, as well as a pair of All-Star games in ‘79 and ‘80. While DJ did the dirty work, Williams did the bulk of the scoring, increasing his numbers across the board every year; he went from 18/3/3 in ‘78 to 22/3/5 in ‘80, while shooting better than 45% each year (and 49.1% in ‘80). Efficient scorer, plus lockdown defender who shined when the stage was brightest, equals success.
Sounds simple, yet Vlade Divac runs out Jimmer Fredette and Ben McLemore. Gus would stay in Seattle until the ‘84/’85 season, while DJ was shipped off to Phoenix after the ‘80 season for Paul Westphal, before ending up winning two more championships in Boston. The dude’s a winner.
8. Chauncey Billups & Richard Hamilton: ‘02/’03 – ‘07/’08
Resume: 1x Title (‘04), 2x Finals (‘04, ‘05), 1x Finals MVP, 6x All-Stars, 2x All-NBA, 2x All-Defense
Stats (Billups/Rip): 17/18.9 PTS, 3.3/6.3 REB, 6.3/3.8 AST
Chauncey and Rip Hamilton were both traded to Detroit in 2002, kicking off the best six-year stretch in Pistons history since the Bad Boys. The Pistons won 50+ games every year these two played together, including a 64 win season in ‘06. Unlike the Bad Boys, however, people actually rooted for them, especially in the ‘04 Finals, where this superstar-less team was pitted against a Lakers team that had won three championships in a row and featured four Hall of Famers.
The Pistons dismantled L.A. in five games, and Billups was named Finals MVP (21/3/5, 50/47/93). Along with Tayshaun Prince and the Wallace’s (Rasheed and Ben), these two helped lead Detroit back to the Finals the following year and made six East Finals appearances in six seasons. They were both named to All-Star games from ‘06-’08, with Billups making a pair of All-NBA and All-Defensive teams in the process. These names might not scream ‘one of the best backcourts ever’, but make no mistake, these two were a problem in the mid-2000’s.
7. Terry Porter & Clyde Drexler: ‘85/’86-’94/’95*
*Drexler was traded to Houston midway through the ‘94/’95 season.
**Stats are from ‘85/’86 – ‘93/’94
Resume: 2x Finals (‘90, ‘92), 10x All-Stars, 5x All-NBA
Stats (TP/Clyde)**: 15.2/22.8 PTS, 3.5/6.6 REB, 7.2/6.2 AST
Porter and Drexler were the backbone of the Blazers during their nine and a half seasons as the starting backcourt in Portland. They had five season of 50+ wins, peaking from ‘90-’92, where they made three straight West Finals, and two NBA Finals. They ultimately were unable to capture a championship, losing to the Pistons in ‘90, and the Bulls in ‘92.
Here’s a weird Blazers stat, from 1977-2003, a twenty-seven-year stretch, the Blazers missed the playoffs once. Once! And they only won one title, in the first year of this stretch (‘77). A little disappointing for Portland fans, (Portland might be the most unfortunate NBA franchise; Walton and Roy injuries, drafting Oden instead of Durant, Bowie over Jordan, etc. Yeesh.) but at the same time, got to witness one of the most exciting players of the 90’s in Drexler.
Clyde the Glide made eight All-Star games in this nine-year span, as well as five All-NBA teams. With devastating dunks coming left and right, Portland got to witness the best two-guard in the league not named Jordan. Although they did get to witness the ‘Jordan shrug’ in the Finals. Porter was a perfect sidekick for Drexler, he made two All-Star games, and was a terrific playmaker. Between the two, they averaged a combined 38 points and 13.4 assists. Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘how can you rank these two over Billups/Rip and Gus/DJ, if they never won!’ Well here’s why; Gus and DJ only played three seasons together. Like I said, if they played longer, they’d be higher.
Individually, Drexler was the best of all six players and the only one who was a true superstar. So longevity, and star power bumps them up a bit. Drexler was traded to Houston midway through the ‘95 season, and won a title that same year. Porter left Portland after that same season, stopped in Minnesota, and finally San Antonio before retiring. Like so many others, these Blazers teams came oh so close, but were thwarted at the hands of MJ and the Bulls.
6. Tony Parker & Manu Ginobili: ‘02/’03-’17/’18
Resume: 4x Titles (‘03, ‘05, ‘07, ‘14), 5x Finals (‘03, ‘05, ‘07, ‘13, ‘14), 1x Finals MVP, 8x All-Stars, 6x All-NBA, 1x 6th Man
Stats (TP/Manu): 16.3/13.8 PTS, 2.8/3.5 REB, 5.8/3.8 AST
These two have played more seasons together than any other pairing on this list, with an unbelievable sixteen. In an era where loyalty is slim, all-stars constantly switch teams, and players move cities every few years, it was always nice to flip on a Spurs game and see these two in black and silver. Until Tony Parker signed with Charlotte this summer, ending his tenure, and simultaneously ending the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili era (although some might say it ended when Duncan retired in 2016).
Parker and Ginobili set the record for most playoff wins by a duo this past playoffs with 132. They passed Duncan and Parker who are in second, and Duncan and Ginobili who are third. Just goes to show how successful this group was in almost twenty years. Now, they do get knocked down a couple spots on this list for a few reasons; one, neither of them were the best player on their team in any season. It was Duncan, and after him, Leonard.
The second reason is that Ginobili was primarily the sixth man for his career. Out of sixteen seasons, he only started for three of them. But I couldn’t leave them off this list. When you think about how successful they were, for how long, it’s impossible to leave them off. Fifteen straight 50+ win seasons, including six 60+ wins. Parker made six All-Star games, four All-NBA teams, while Manu made two of each, as well as a 6th Man award in ‘08. These two embodied everything it meant to be a Spur, and will both have their jerseys retired as soon as they hang ‘em up.
5. Walt Frazier & Earl Monroe: ‘71/’72-’76/’77
Resume: 1x Title (‘73), 2x Finals (‘72, ‘73), 7x All-Stars, 5x All-NBA, 5x All-Defense
Stats (Walt/Earl): 20.5/17.6 PTS, 6.2/3.1 REB, 6/6.3 AST
The duo of Frazier and Monroe helped bring New York its second championship of the decade when they avenged their ‘72 Finals loss to L.A. by beating them in the rematch a year later. Frazier, who won the 1970 title in New York as well, filled the box score nightly.
Over the six years these two played together, he put up 20/6/6, and never shot below 45% from the floor. Impressive for a guard who shot roughly 18 times per game. Offensively, he was fantastic for the Knicks; an efficient scorer who was good for 20 a night, while still getting his teammates involved. But as good as he was on offense, perhaps his most valuable skill was his defense. Standing 6’4, Frazier was an excellent rebounder, topping out at 7.3 per game in ‘73. He made five All-Defensive teams during this six-year span, as well as five All-NBA and All-Star teams.
During the ‘73 Finals, he played an insane 46 minutes per game and was responsible for guarding one of the best scorers ever, Jerry West. He held West to 21 PPG while putting up 16/7/5 on 48% shooting himself. Walt was perfect next to Monroe, who was not particularly known for his defense. He was in his early/mid 30’s at this point, and clearly was past his prime. He had so much mileage on his body but still made two All-Star games with N.Y. During his first couple years with the Knicks, he averaged 15ish PPG but brought that up to 20 shortly after. He evolved beautifully into a role player, realizing that he could make his team better if he accepts his role. You know, like Carmelo Anthony has done.
Like Parker and Manu, these two were not the best player on their teams. You could make an argument for Frazier, but Willis Reed was the clear alpha dog on those teams. Monroe was past his prime by this point and had a couple of sub .500 teams towards the tail end of this stretch. Nevertheless, these two had everything I was looking for when ranking; a title, longevity, chemistry, playoff success, and of course, talent. They come in at no. 5.
4. Jerry West & Gail Goodrich: ‘65/’66-’67/’68, ‘70/’71-’73/’74
Resume: 1x Title (‘72), 4x Finals (‘66, ‘68, ‘72, ‘73), 11x All-Star, 8x All-NBA, 4x All-Defense
Stats (West/GG): 26.8/17.4 PTS, 5.3/2.9 REB, 7.6/3.5 AST
In seven seasons, spanning nine years, these two helped bring the Lakers their first championship since moving to Los Angeles. West, who was 33 and had played twelve seasons so far, still managed to average 26/4/10 in the ‘72 season. West was the face of the NBA during his career and is currently the literal face of the league, as the NBA logo depicts a silhouette of West. He was one of the best offensive players in league history, scoring over 25,000 career points in fourteen seasons, without a three-point line. West was ahead of his time and was one of the first perimeter threats in the league. He shot 47% for his career, and never shot below 44% after his rookie year. During the latter part of his career, when his body caught up with him and his scoring slowed down, he remained effective by increasing his assists.
He lead the league in assists in 1972, with 9.7 a game. He was named an All-Star every year of his career, and made All-NBA every year he played with Goodrich, as well as four All-Defensive teams. Goodrich only averaged 11.3 PPG during his first stint with L.A, but by the time he returned, his scoring skyrocketed into the mid-20’s, topping out at 25.9 in ‘72. Talk about improvement. Like West, he never shot below 44% with L.A. after his rookie year and was named to three All-Star games during his time with West, as well as an All-NBA nod in ‘74.
The ‘72 Lakers finished the year 69-13, good for the third best record in NBA history while winning a record 33 games in a row. This duo was the first of many Hall of Fame guards to wear the purple and gold and kickstarted the first of many, many, Laker titles. Good for the fourth greatest backcourt of all time.
3. Stephen Curry & Klay Thompson: ‘11/’12 – Pres.
Resume: 3x Titles (‘15, ‘17, ‘18), 4x Finals (‘15, ‘16, ‘17, ‘18), 2x MVP, 7x All-Stars, 7x All-NBA
Stats (SC/Klay): 24.8/19.2 PTS, 4.5/3.4 REB, 7.1/2.3 AST, 43.6/42.2 3FG%, 1812/1557 3PM
Before we get into this pairing, I want to say that the only reason the Splash Brothers aren’t higher on this list is that they’re still playing. We don’t know how many more championships they’ll win in Golden State, or how many more All-Star games they’ll make, etc. The Curry/Klay chapter in The Bay isn’t finished, which is why they only come in at no.3. That being said, let’s dive into the best shooting backcourt of all time. Steph and Klay are already two of the top five shooters of all time, with Curry sitting at the top. Out of the top nine seasons with the most made threes, the Splash Bros. own seven of them, including the top five. Read that again. Go ahead, do it. That’s crazy!
Curry alone has the number one, two, three, five, and nine spots, while Klay has four and seven. And it’s not even close. Curry has had seasons of 402, 324, 286, 272, and 261 made threes. Klay has had 276, 268, 239, 229, and 223.
To put that in perspective, the highest total of made threes in a season that isn’t a Warrior? Ray Allen with 269. That’s 133 less threes than Curry’s highest season. And they’re really efficient seasons too! Curry hasn’t shot below 41% from three during any of those five seasons, while shooting a scorching 45.3% during his 402 year in ‘16 – the same year he unanimously won MVP. From 2015-2017, Curry hit 1,012 threes. Those three seasons alone would be good enough for the 99th most made threes of all time. Morris Peterson is currently 99th with 1,007 made threes, and it took him eleven seasons to accomplish that. It took Steph three. In terms of team success, the Warriors have had more than any other team in league history.
Since the ‘14/’15 season, the Warriors have gone 265-63. From ‘15-’17, they went 207-39, the best three year span in league history, and during the ‘16 season, set the mark for the best record in history at 73-9, breaking the ‘96 Bulls record of 72-10. They have made four straight Finals, winning three of them, including back-to-back titles in ‘17 and ‘18. Whenever this era in Golden State comes to an end, I can guarantee that they’ll move up this list, maybe even to no.1. But for now, they temporarily hold the no.3 spot.
2. Isiah Thomas & Joe Dumars: ‘85/’86-’93/’94
Resume: 2x Titles (‘89, ‘90), 3x Finals (‘88, ‘89, ‘90), 2x Finals MVP, 12x All-Stars, 7x All-NBA, 5x All-Defense
Stats (Zeke/Joe): 18.5/17.1 PTS, 3.4/2.2 REB, 8.8/4.7 AST
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the tandem of Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars led the Bad Boys to back-to-back titles in ‘89 and ‘90 and came one win away from making it a three-peat. If Thomas doesn’t sprain his ankle in Game 6 of the ‘88 Finals, it’s very likely that they win three in a row.
These teams had to go through so many historic teams; the Bird Celtics, MJ Bulls, and Showtime Lakers were all playoff opponents for Detroit. With five straight 50+ win seasons, including one 63 win year, the Pistons, lead by Thomas, became the epitome of NBA evil; between Thomas, Dennis Rodman, Rick Mahorn, and most notably Bill Laimbeer, everybody outside of Michigan despised these teams. Dumars was actually depicted as a pretty nice guy, who just happened to be employed by the Empire. If the Bad Boys were the Empire, then Thomas was Vader. He had an evil persona, but deep down was a good guy. Laimbeer was Palpatine. Just a mean dude that shot lightning from his fingertips. Okay, maybe not that last part. Anyways, Thomas was an All-Star every year until his final season, while Dumars made four of his own during this stretch.
They combined for seven All-NBA nods, while Dumars made five All-Defensive teams, and it showed come playoff time, when Dumars was the center of the ‘Jordan Rules’, effectively containing MJ in the late 80’s. Makes up for drafting Darko Milicic when he became the GM years later. These two each won a Finals MVP award, with Dumars winning in ‘89, and Thomas in ‘90. The two greatest Pistons of all time take the no. 2 spot.
1. Magic Johnson & Michael Cooper: ‘79/’80-’89/’90
Resume: 5x Titles (‘80, ‘82, ‘85, ‘87, ‘88), 8x Finals (‘80, ‘82, ‘83, ‘84, ‘85, ‘87, ‘88, ‘89),
3x Finals MVP, 3x MVP, 10x All-Stars, 9x All-NBA, 8x All-Defense, 1x DPOY
Stats (Magic/Coop): 19.8/8.9 PTS, 7.3/3.2 REB, 11.2/4.2 AST
Aaaaaaand the number one spot goes to none other than Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper, staples of the Showtime teams that dominated the league in the 80’s.
You can see the resume for yourself, in eleven seasons, they made eight Finals, while bringing home five Titles back to L.A. I had two options when deciding between the two-guard to put with Magic on this list. I was debating between Magic/Byron Scott, or Magic/Cooper. I could’ve put both on the list, but ultimately decided to stick with one. I was considering putting Kobe/Sasha Vujacic on here, after all, they did combine for 84 points against the Raptors in ‘06. But Cooper was just so much more valuable than Scott. Scott was only apart of three title teams, and was less of a defender than Cooper. Michael Cooper was lockdown. He made eight consecutive All-Defensive teams from ‘81-’88 and took home Defensive Player of the Year honors in ‘87. He was also a cyborg. Maybe. He played 80 or more games in nine of his eleven seasons, including playing all 82 games in five straight seasons, plus every playoff game in that stretch, including extended playoff runs to five West Finals and four NBA Finals. That adds up to an unfathomable 497 out of a possible 497 games. He never missed a game in five years, plus an additional 87 playoff games! From ‘83-’87 he was the Iron Man of the NBA.
Now read that again, but remember that he was also responsible for guarding the best player on the opposing team every night, and was effective! Like really effective! Not too shabby for the 60th pick in the ‘78 draft. Meanwhile, Magic was running the best show in basketball, winning three MVPs in the process, and making ten All-Star appearances, nine All-NBA teams, and winning three Finals MVPs. All the while becoming the greatest point guard of all time.
To sum it all up, in the eleven seasons these two played together, they won 50+ games every year, and 60+ games six times. They made eight Finals in eleven years and won five of them. The best facilitator and point guard of all time, and a top three player of all time, paired with a lockdown defender who may or may not be a robot, is more than enough to claim the spot as the best backcourt of all time.