They say age is often just a number, for the NBA’s sake that number holds a whole lot of weight to it. With an average age of 26.8, the second lowest average age of the four major sports in America, the league is undoubtedly a young man’s game.
Where youth has truly been highlighted in the NBA has been in the recent wave of young guards that are taking the league by storm. With the 2018-2019 NBA less than a week away here is a look at the top backcourts under 26-years-old to start the season.
To make this list the starting guards have both be under 26-years-old and have a magnitude of talent. That is where some teams that would have otherwise seen themselves battling for the top spot otherwise falling off the list completely.
The Utah Jazz and the Philadelphia 76ers are prime examples of these guidelines working against them. In the case of the Utah Jazz, the West’s fifth seed a season ago boasts one of the most compelling backcourts in the NBA. With a resurgent Ricky Rubio at the point and runner-up for Rookie of the Year Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz has another strong case to once again be a top seed in the west. At only 22-years-old Mitchell has all the potential in the world to be a perennial all-star and be the face of the Jazz for years to come. Where they fall short on this list is that Rubio will enter this season at 27-years-old, falling just short of the age limit to make this list.
ICYMI, a couple of Markelle Fultz jumpers from earlier.
Still a long way to go to be totally confident shooting from 3, but the growing confidence he’s shown with pull-ups is a really promising start: pic.twitter.com/D4bZglhjWR
— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) October 8, 2018
The Philadelphia 76ers are in a similar situation for this list. With one of the NBA’s premier young talents in their backcourt, they are entering the season with the process behind them and a win now mindset. Their process helped them acquire the likes of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz, a trio any team would love to have. There starting lineup only includes two of the three, however. Fultz, a former number one overall pick is projected to start the season coming off the bench behind starter and 34-year-old J.J. Reddick. If and when Fultz figures out whatever derailed his rookie season and makes his way to the starting spot, he and Simmons could make up the most dynamic frontcourt in the NBA.
5. Chicago Bulls
There is no team that is facing an identity crisis as bad as the Chicago Bulls. Now fully removed from the Derrick Rose, Tom Thibodeau, and even Jimmy Butler era, the Bulls are looking for the next face in the franchise. While they may have found a possible answer in 21-year-old forward Lauri Markkanen, they still face many answers in their backcourt.
The Bulls are expected to roll out Kris Dunn and recently resigned combo guard Zach Lavine as their starting backcourt for the upcoming season. This backcourt symbolizes boom or bust to the fullest extent. Lavine, a human highlight reel had a shaky first season in Chicago where he shot only 38% from the field and 34% from three. After signing an $80 million deal the hope is that he can become an offensive fixture for this team going forward.
Zach LaVine has no chill. pic.twitter.com/vTy6vR2qSx
— Bulls Gold (@BullsGold) October 11, 2018
The case for Dunn isn’t all that different. At 24-years-old the former Providence guard took big steps last season in the stat sheet with still much to be desired. Dunn put up just over 13 points per game while attempting nearly 13 field goals on 42 % shooting in his first season in a full-time role. Dunn’s bread and butter is his defensive ability which saw him average two steals a season ago.
It is hard to believe that Brooklyn can make this list considering that their starting backcourt already has 8 years of experience between them. The combo of D’Angelo Russell and Allen Crabbe may not be the flashiest in the NBA, but when they are on they can be a real problem for teams. At still only 22-years-old Russell has averaged 14.6 points per game throughout his career despite off the court issues and having been traded once already. Per 36 minutes though Russell’s first season in Brooklyn showed glimpses of why he was drafted number 2 overall, as he averaged 22/7/12.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) April 12, 2018
A far different player than Russell, Crabbe offers shooting and lots of it. In his first season in Kenny Atkinson’s offensive-minded game plan, Crabbe put up 7 three’s a game, good enough for 13 points per game, the highest of his career. While he may not ever be a splash brother, Crabbe is an ideal two-guard in today’s pick and pop NBA that emphasizes the long ball.
3. Dallas Mavericks
— NBA UK (@NBAUK) October 9, 2018
Dallas’ ranking on this list is built nearly entirely on potential, and boy does Dallas have a lot of it. The combination of Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic has the ability to captivate NBA fans right away, whether that translates to a difference in the win column remains to be seen, however.
A rookie season for Smith Jr. saw him put up 15 points per game and make more than a few highlight reels, though it also saw him shoot under 40% and have a win share of under zero. An aging Dallas team didn’t offer him much help, but the 2018-2019 Mav’s should be a different story with the addition of Deandre Jordan and most importantly Doncic. Technically Doncic is slated to start at the four for this team, but for argument’s sake and for this list it must be accounted for that he will really be playing a point forward most likely next to Smith Jr.
Most likely the most finished and NBA ready player in the draft, Doncic can come into the league right away and make an impact. With his experience overseas and still only 19-years-old, Doncic may not be an all-star right away but the flashes will be noticeable and he can quickly challenge for the leagues top ‘unicorn’ spot.
2. Denver Nuggets
Denver’s starting backcourt may be the most underrated in the NBA. With 21-year-old Jamal Murray and 24-year-old Gary Harris leading the way this duo is not only young but they managed to put up a combined 35 points per game a season ago. While this number is not earth-shattering, it does exhibit the massive proven potential these two have lined up next to one another.
Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are going to be names to remember.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) March 29, 2018
Outside of the top spot on this list, this backcourt has accomplished more than anyone else on this list, that includes putting up 46 wins in the West a season ago and losing in a one game play-in game for the eighth seed. With another season of growth under their belts, the combo of Murray and Harris has the potential to not only be tops on this list come next season but to be moving up the rankings of top backcourts in general in the NBA.
1. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics take not only the top spot in the list of backcourts under 26-years-old but they likely rank at the top of best backcourts in general in the league right now. The combination of Kyrie Irving at only 26-years-old and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown is just downright unfair. In Irving, the Celtics have one of the leagues best players who has shown time and time again that he can change the outlook for a team.
Last season despite being injured, Irving continued to take his game to the next level in his progression as a guard. Despite averaging 24 points per game, it was noticeable that Irving left points on the court in an effort to get his teammates involved, something that will continue to pay dividends for this team. While Irving’s progression throughout his career has been a marvel to watch, it has been the other Celtics guard who has really drawn praise for his development.
Do you think Jaylen Brown & Jayson Tatum will be all stars in the east? pic.twitter.com/4sO3A2SWY0
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) October 5, 2018
At only 21-years-old, Brown, showed last season that when called upon he can take over a game. While he isn’t going to average 30 points per game, he can fill a stat sheet. At just under 47% shooting and an increased usage rate, even in a stacked team in 2018-2019 Brown should have no problem getting his and continuing to validate that third overall pick in 2016.