Decade’s Best: Backcourt
Rip and Chauncey: Consistent. Effective. Exciting?
by Quinn Peterson
At first, I had trouble coming up with a good answer for this. It’s hard to think of two guys — if not more — who had the perfect combination of impressive stats, post-season success, and years playing together.
Steve Nash and JKidd are no doubt the two best PGs of the decade, but who were their running mates? Leo Barbosa and Jason Richardson in the case of Nash. He had Joe Johnson by his side at one point, but that was only for a year. JKidd had Vinsanity for a few years but they never won anything. And Kerry Kittles… (Pardon me I had to laugh at that.)
Tony Parker was also had a great PG of the ’00s, but like Nash and Kidd, Parker’s sidekicks were never been up to par. Michael Finley and Manu Ginoboli are both solid, but few would call them top 2-men in the NBA.
DWade and Kobe are probably the best 2 guards of the decade. But, DWade has never played alongside another guard anywhere near his caliber.
How about Kobe and DFish, though? For a while, I was convinced it was those two who made up the “Best Backcourt of the Decade.” Four NBA Championships, plenty of Ws, and about as many clutch baskets as there are years on a “Spike Lee Joint” New Era. Kobe is Kobe, and we know this. Derek Fisher plays his role in Phil Jackson’s offense perfect to a T. At the same time, Fish has never been an all-star and isn’t on the top of anyone’s list when it comes to talking about top PGs in the NBA. A case could be made for those two, but it’s a rather lopsided tandem, and I was convinced that there just had to be one backcourt that was better.
Then it hit me in the face like Paq-man: Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton.
Both arrived in the The D in ’02 (word to Joe Dumars), and from then until 2008, there was not a more consistent duo in the L. Boring? Maybe. But night in, night out, you knew what you were going to get.
Every game was business as usual with those two. That great defense that dominated (and killed?) the League for so many years started with Chauncey. And Mr. Big Shot was as cool and clutch as they come. Meanwhile, Rip, trademark facemask and free-throw routine and all, replaced Reggie Miller as the best moving without the ball in the League. He was the best mid-range shooter in the L, the best shooter coming off screens in the L, and a top free-throw shooter. They were the No. 1 and No. 2 leading scorers for the Pistons in every one of those seasons they shared together in the D. Both three-time All-Stars, Chauncey the 2004 Finals MVP.
Those Pistons everyone loved to hate. As a Pacers fan I initially hated them as much as anybody, but by the latter half of the 00s, I loved that “swagger” that they had that let them walk into every gym not caring who the opponent, but knowing they could beat them. Regardless of their record or most recent showing, there was always the feeling that on any given night, they could take down anybody — when they felt like it. I’m sure there are some reading this that hated those Pistons teams, too, and probably still do. At the end of the day, though, men lie and women lie, but numbers don’t.
Check the stats, though, and you see their resume is impeccable: six-straight 50-win seasons. Six-straight trips to the Conference Finals. Five first place finishes in the Central Division and the Eastern Conference (Indiana won both in ’03-04). Two NBA Finals appearances. One NBA Championship. A cumulative record of 334-158. Only San Antonio and Dallas have more impressive records during that six-year span.
‘Sheed and Big Ben weren’t there for all of those years (of course, Detroit was certainly at their best with both), but Chauncey and Rip were. Still stacking Ws. Equally impressive is the fact that they did it under three different head coaches. First Rick Carlisle, then Larry Brown and finally Flip Saunders. Three coaches in six years, but the wins kept coming.
Why? What was the one constant? The backcourt.
There were a number of good backcourts in the decade, namely the Spurs and Lakers as aforementioned. But with their rocksteady play, Billups and Hamilton stood out the most, putting the Pistons on their shoulders and steering the D back to NBA prominence.
Chauncey and Rip — Best backcourt of the Decade.
For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.