Tag Archives: Backcourt duos

NBA backcourt tandems with the highest usage rates

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Photos by Keith Allison, via Flickr

Going off my last post, I decided to list the other starting backcourts with usage ratings (possessions when a player takes a field goal, gets fouled or turns the ball over) of over 25 percent each. There were some guidelines, though:

  • They couldn’t be formed after a mid-season trade. (Allen Iverson played only three games for Denver before being traded to Detroit, so I included the ’09 Pistons.)
  • Both players had to start together, not just each starting whenever the other missed a few games.
  • I sorted through the Lottery Era up to last season.

There were quite a few cases where tandems interfered with the first two guidelines, but it made it easier to narrow down the list of qualified candidates and then calculate their effective field goal percentages, compare it to the team they played for, and then see how it matches up with the league average. 

Free throw attempts per game will be missing from the table as well as some other notable stats. I had to narrow it down to a doable list otherwise it wouldn’t format correctly. Here’s what’s left of it, sorting each duo by the season. The stats are according to Basketball-Reference.

Backcourt duos with >25% usage rate each

Player Year Team MinPG FG% 3PT% PTSPG Usage DuoEFG TmEFG LgEFG W/L
Jerry Stackhouse 1996 PHI 37.5 .414 .318 19.2 26.0 .458 .474 .499 18-64
Vernon Maxwell 32.9 .390 .317 16.2 25.6
Allen Iverson 1997 PHI 40.1 .416 .341 23.5 28.9 .458 .470 .493 22-60
Jerry Stackhouse 39.1 .407 .298 20.7 25.6
Ray Allen 2000 MIL 37.4 .466 .423 22.1 25.6 .498 .494 .478 42-40
Sam Cassell 35.8 .455 .289 18.6 25.0
Latrell Sprewell 2001 NYK 39.2 .430 .381 17.7 25.8 .467 .476 .473 48-34
Allan Houston 36.6 .449 .304 18.7 25.7
Sam Cassell 2002 MIL 35.2 .463 .348 19.7 27.3 .526 .507 .477 41-41
Ray Allen 36.6 .462 .434 21.8 26.2
Allan Houston 2002 NYK 37.8 .437 .393 20.4 25.9 .471 .468 .477 30-52
Latrell Sprewell 41.1 .404 .360 19.4 25.1
Michael Jordan 2002 WAS 34.9 .416 .189 22.9 36.0 .430 .464 .477 37-45
Richard Hamilton 35.0 .435 .381 20.0 28.6
Michael Jordan 2003 WAS 37.0 .445 .291 20.0 28.7 .444 .460 .474 37-45
Jerry Stackhouse 39.2 .409 .290 21.5 27.9
Larry Hughes 2004 WAS 33.8 .397 .341 18.8 28.1 .447 .454 .471 25-57
Gilbert Arenas 37.6 .392 .375 19.6 27.4
Gilbert Arenas 2005 WAS 40.9 .431 .365 25.5 27.3 .481 .474 .482 45-37
Larry Hughes 38.7 .430 .282 22.0 26.6
Jason Richardson 2006 GSW 38.4 .446 .384 23.2 27.6 .486 .479 .490 34-48
Baron Davis 36.5 .389 .315 17.9 25.9
Allen Iverson 2009 DET 36.5 .416 .286 17.5 25.9 .459 .483 .500 39-43
Richard Hamilton 34.0 .447 .368 18.3 27.0
Devin Harris 2009 NJN 36.1 .438 .291 21.3 28.4 .482 .497 .500 34-48
Vince Carter 36.8 .437 .385 20.8 26.8
Richard Hamilton 2010 DET 33.7 .409 .228 18.1 27.9 .438 .474 .501 27-55
Rodney Stuckey 34.2 .405 .297 16.6 26.4
Manu Ginobili 2011 SAS 30.3 .433 .349 17.4 26.0 .520 .491 .498 61-21
Tony Parker 32.4 .519 .357 17.5 25.5
Kyrie Irving 2013 CLE 34.7 .452 .391 22.5 30.2 .485 .473 .473 24-58
Dion Waiters 28.8 .412 .310 14.7 26.1

You can pick and choose what stands out here, if anything. Here are a few thoughts:

Backcourts who carry the load of an offense can be risky, but that’s not to say they often struggle. They can succeed when implemented with the right group of complimentary players and system. For example, I’m pretty comfortable letting Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili carry the offense, though I can’t say the same for two guys who couldn’t stretch the floor like Jerry Stackhouse and Michael Jordan.

I DON’T know how often some duo’s minutes were staggered because lineup data on NBA.com is only available from 2008 and on. Some backcourts, like Sixers of ’97, just look like they played a ton of time together. That couldn’t have been a good thing. Here are the minutes the previously-listed backcourt tandems logged together over the last six seasons, though:

  • Allen Iverson and Richard Hamilton: 23.2
  • Devin Harris and Vince Carter: 27.7
  • Richard Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey: 25.0
  • Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili: 19.6
  • Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters: 21.4

The combo of Jordan and Stackhouse/Hamilton made the list when neither were point guards. Looking back, there wasn’t a whole ton of talent at that position for Washington. It speaks for itself when, in 2003, 70 percent of Larry Hughes’ minutes came at the point, according to Basketball-Reference. It’s kind of amazing that he, a 39-year-old Michael Jordan, and Jerry Stackhouse won even 37 games with their shooting, but that’s the power of MJ, I guess. It’s also impressive that Jordan used up 36 percent of the Wiz’s possessions in 2002. Overall, Washington had high-usage backcourt combos for four straight seasons until Cleveland splurged on Hughes.

Another oddity was Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell making the list too. Basketball-Reference has them listed as a shooting guard during their careers at one point or another, though. I chose not to remove them from the list. Shooting guard and small forward tandems, or teams with three starting wings who used a ton of possessions (the early-2000s Bucks, for example) might be something I’ll look into in the near-future.

Again, this post isn’t meant to say high-usage backcourts often lead teams into mediocrity. Point guard-shooting guard duos (or in some cases, two shooting guards with one as a small forward) are just something I find interesting and worth looking at. It made me think, though, that if those backcourts used up a ton of possessions, then the team is more often than not sorely lacking talent in one other position.

It’s also pretty obvious that teams with two players taking a combined ~30 or more shots per game with inefficient stats (and one of them being the point guard) just won’t perform well. They might not frequently get to the line, take (and miss) several jumpshots, play lackluster defense in order to save energy on O, or some combination of the three. To repeat what I mentioned earlier, some (not all) of that can be helped by staggering minutes.

Going forward, I wonder how often we’ll see two guards with similar high usage rates, and how well their teams perform. Right now, Philadelphia and Washington have duos that would join the list but neither squad is doing all that well this season.

Anything else worth mentioning? Feel free to leave a comment.

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Why Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters remind me of a backcourt duo from the 90s

Erik Drost | Flickr

Erik Drost | Flickr

Lately I’ve been getting my cavalier on, both with a more-lazy-than-usual weekend and a couple of my latest posts featuring the rebuilding, possibly playoff-contending franchise out in Cleveland. It wasn’t my intention to continue discussing them through this week, but the young backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters felt worth looking at.

Irving and Waiters arrived in Cleveland through the 2011 and 2012 NBA Drafts, respectively. The former went first overall and the latter sparked a lot of discussion about going fourth, drafted when Cleveland also could’ve used a small forward or center for the future. Nevertheless, Cleveland locked up their backcourt.

But the Cavaliers continue to struggle, 11 games under .500 as they approach the halfway point in the season. (They were 9-28 through 37 games a year ago.) Waiters is no longer in the starting lineup (not a terrible thing, to be fair), and he’s had a few words about his difficulties playing with both Irving and Tristan Thompson. He’s floated around in trade rumors since last summer, and it’d be no surprise if he’s playing for a new franchise by the end of his rookie contract.

It all reminds me of a backcourt duo from over 15 years ago, back in the mid-90s when the Philadelphia 76ers retooled their backcourt with the third and first picks of the 1995 and ’96 drafts, respectively. Jeff Malone and Dana Barros were out and replaced with Jerry Stackhouse and Allen Iverson.

Since ‘Stack’ was drafted before Iverson, it’s a little hard to make statistical comparisons between the Sixers’ ’96 and ’97 backcourt and Cleveland’s the last two seasons, which was built with the point guard first. Here’s my best shot though, with the help of Basketball-Reference. As always, you can click to enlarge each screen shot:

per game wsai

per 36 wsai

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There’s a lot to discuss from there. (If I missed something you’d like to include, feel free to use the comment section.)

First, I’m not comparing Waiters to Stackhouse or Irving to Iverson, though Cleveland could build around their point guard much like Philadelphia did with theirs. I’m grouping them together mainly because of their unique situations: two young, ball-dominant guards on the same team. Already mentioned was Waiter’s issues with Irving and Thompson, but Stackhouse had his own reported problems with Iverson that you can find here and here from the SI Vault. Bad things happen when backcourt duos consist of each wanting to score. Speaking of that…

Another reason I compared the two duos was because of their usage rates. Iverson and Stackhouse were the only starting backcourt in 1997 to each use up over 25 percent of their team’s possessions, according to Basketball-Reference. The same went for Waiters and Irving in 2013. Backcourt combos with similar high usage rates can succeed as long as they complement each other well, like Ray Allen and Sam Cassell for the 2001 Milwaukee Bucks and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili for the 2010 Spurs. More often than not, however, guards with similar usage rates feature one starter and another as a spark off the bench, like how the Spurs have often used Ginobili.

That wasn’t the case for the ’97 Sixers or the 2013 Cavaliers, though, and neither team won all that many games as a result. That’s not to say those four players were solely responsible for so many losses, but a team isn’t going far with two players taking over a combined 30 field goal attempts per game while recording effective field goal percentages (EFG%, when accounting for threes worth more than twos) below league-average, which usually ends up between 47.5 and 50 percent. In particular, Iverson and Stackhouse couldn’t spread the floor, shooting around 30 percent from the arc and playing an average of nearly 40 minutes per game. Bad times all around.

Cleveland has since put Waiters in the role of a sixth man rather than pull the trigger on a trade. Philadelphia eventually scrapped their backcourt pairing and surrounded Iverson with players known more for their defense, starting when Stackhouse was sent to Detroit in December of ‘97 with Eric Montross and a 2nd round pick for Aaron McKie, Theo Ratliff, and a 2003 first-rounder. That first rounder, with the help of hindsight, was treated pretty unfairly. 25 months after trading Stackhouse, that pick would be sent to Houston for Mirsad Turkcan. (Turkcan didn’t do much at all in the NBA, but in fairness he ended up being a force of nature overseas. He was a nominee for the 2001-2010 Euroleague All-Decade team, but did not make the list.) In June of 2001, the first-round draft pick was then traded from Houston to Atlanta for Terrence Norris, then traded to Sacramento for Dan Dickau, and finally sent back to Detroit with Jon Barry for Mateen Cleaves. The draft pick ended up being Carlos Delfino, but treating a pick like that in the one of most loaded talent pools could’ve led to disastrous results.

But trading Stackhouse deserves a ton of credit when the Sixers’ front office had top-10 draft picks each year from 1992 and 1998, yet only kept two of them – Iverson and Larry Hughes – by 1999, when Philadelphia finally made the playoffs. They too logged usage rates of over 25 percent each, though Hughes came off the bench instead of starting. He was traded the following season for Toni Kukoc.

This all actually makes it a little more interesting that, despite the results from the Stackhouse-Iverson combo, Denver made the trade in 2007 to pair Iverson with Carmelo Anthony. Denver had a better supporting cast than Philadelphia in the mid-90s, and the Nuggets played 10 points better/100 possessions when Iverson was on the court in 2008 (according to Basketball-Reference), but it’s hard to expect two mediocre perimeter defenders and outside shooters like themselves to go deep in a loaded Western Conference.

In Cleveland, Irving remains relatively safe from trade rumors while Waiters, like Stackhouse, has been thrown around in plenty. The Cavaliers still have plenty of trade assets left over even after acquiring Luol Deng, so it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Waiters is eventually moved before his next contract. The value of rookie deals in today’s NBA is so different from when Stackhouse and Iverson entered the league, though. Both trading and keeping Waiters feel like gambles, but at least Cleveland still has time to decide which decision is better for their long-term future.

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