The Brooklyn Nets just created the best backcourt in the NBA.
by Allen Powell II
“Two All-Stars in their primes in the same backcourt? Who does it better than Brooklyn?”
NBA fans of a certain age will get that reference. They remember the breathless discussions, debates and daydreaming that greeted the news that Penny Hardaway and Jason Kidd were teaming up in Phoenix in the ‘99-00 NBA season. Penny and JKidd? The Maestro and the Monster of Memphis? What could possibly be better?
It turned out that the answer was pretty much everything. Penny never fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered in his final year in Orlando, and Backcourt 2,000 was cast on to the scrap heap after just 45 games. But, the potential of that pairing is still tantalizing, and it deserves to be mentioned because with the combination of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams in Brooklyn, it has a chance at rebirth. Backcourt 2,012.
Some will scoff at the notion of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson representing the NBA’s best backcourt. Didn’t the second best shooting guard of all time and a top-10 point guard of all time just hook up in La-La Land? Aren’t James Harden and Russell Westbrook still hooping for the same team?
That may all be true, but the reality is there is not a more complete, more talented and more dangerous backcourt combination in the NBA than the one suiting up in New York’s most notorious borough. Brooklyn-style is about to make a serious, serious comeback.
Contrary to popular opinion, Deron Williams is not a second-tier star. He may not breathe the rarified air that LeBron, Durant and Dwight breathe, but he’s right there with the Dirks, Kobes, Derricks, Melos and CP3s of the world. In other words, this dude is a bonafide stud.
Apparently, fans don’t realize which point guard has the most 30-point and 10-assist games over the past three seasons. That’s right, it’s Deron Williams. The stench from Jerry Sloan’s abrupt departure has combined with Deron’s plummeting shooting percentages and abysmal win totals during the past two seasons to produce a funk that he can’t seem to shake. When the top point guards in the League get discussed, fans tend to debate the merits of Paul, Westbrook, Rose and Rondo with vigor, but Deron is only begrudgingly thrown into the mix. That is a terrible mistake. Turrible.
Williams has a unique blend of girth, quickness and shooting that is absolutely lethal when combined with the sort of court vision that allowed him to average 10 assists or better for half of his career. He probably has the best crossover in the League, and is deadly with his pull-up jumper regardless of what his shooting percentages say. He neither possess the top-end athleticism of Rose and Westbrook nor does he have the uncanny sixth sense of Paul and Rondo, but he is the most complete blend of all the things that make a point guard great. Well, except for a slight, slight problem with pouting when forced to deal with losing.
Deron is docked by fans because for many of them he just doesn’t move the needle. He doesn’t possess that “it” factor that makes people believe he is worth a maximum contract and teams fawning all over him. Truthfully, the same could be said for his backcourt mate Joe Johnson who is still being punished for having the audacity to say, “Please sir, may I have some more?” when confronted with a smorgasbord of the Atlanta Hawks’ money.
Look, Joe Johnson is overpaid. He should have never been given the same sort of contract as Kobe Bryant. He has never been a “franchise player” or “superstar.” He has always been a second tier star. But, at a certain point people are going to have to learn to consider Johnson’s skills separate from his contract. Anyone who needs help in doing this should use the same glasses basketball fans use when assessing the New York Knicks’ importance to the NBA in the context of the team’s record.
Johnson can score from anywhere on the court either off the dribble, or using the catch and shoot method. He can spot up; he can post up. He defends at a high level. Yes, he’s on the decline, but this is still a player who once averaged 25 ppg on 47 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent from downtown. You know who has never done that before? Kobe.
A combination of Johnson and Williams gives the Nets two players who can handle and create shots for themselves and others. But, the real value is that it provides a serious safety valve for two players who have a tendency to over dribble, and hoist long jumpers when asked to do too much. Williams is a better player when he’s surrounded by players he trusts and respects. Johnson is a better player when he’s not asked to make too many decisions about how the team should operate.
A lot could go wrong when the Nets make their debut at the Barclays Center. The team is by no means a juggernaut, and still has some pretty obvious holes, even if the convoluted Dwight Howard trade is salvaged. But, contrary to popular opinion, the Nets didn’t just destroy their salary cap flexibility to sign two good, but not great players. The Nets just created the best backcourt in the NBA, and everyone else in the League would be wise to take notice.