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The best backcourt in the NBA resides in Memphis

Through 14 games, Ja Morant and Desmond Bane are second to none when it comes to best backcourts in the NBA

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Memphis Grizzlies v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

It started earlier this month when StatMuse provided some Ja Morant and Desmond Bane stats and simply stated the duo is a “Top __ backcourt in the NBA” and let their followers do the rest. Grizz Nation certainly chimed in arguing they’re the top backcourt in the NBA. Fans of other teams vouched for their backcourt as well with the Darius Garland/Donovan Mitchell backcourt in Cleveland and the Damian Lillard/Anfernee Simons backcourt in Portland getting the most love out of the other teams. At the time, Ja Morant and Desmond Bane had played just 7 games a piece. It was a relatively short sample size, and although 12 games a piece now isn’t much larger, I’ve seen enough to totally buy into the fact that they are the best backcourt duo in the NBA.

Atlanta Hawks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Grizz duo certainly has their fair share of competition when it comes to comparing backcourts across the league. The previously mentioned backcourts in Cleveland and Portland are extremely talented. Trae Young and Dejuonte Murray are playing up to expectations following the Murray trade this past offseason. Spencer Dinwiddie has filled in admirably alongside Luka Doncic following Jalen Brunson’s departure, but the duo is still led by Luka doing so much offensively. Despite his slow start offensively, it’d be disrespectful to not mention Chris Paul and Devin Booker as one of the elite backcourts in the NBA. There are probably a handful of other backcourt combinations worthy of being mentioned here, but the point remains that Ja Morant and Desmond Bane are the cream of the crop.

Best NBA Backcourts

Backcourt Duo Points per Game Field Goal % 3-Point % Rebounds per Game Assists per Game Steals per Game
Backcourt Duo Points per Game Field Goal % 3-Point % Rebounds per Game Assists per Game Steals per Game
Morant/Bane 53.1 47.3% 43.6% 10.9 11.8 1.6
Garland/Mitchell 52.7 46.9% 42.5% 7 14.1 2.8
Lillard/Simons 50.9 44.0% 37.8% 8 10.1 1.4
Young/Murray 49.1 41.2% 31.4% 9.5 17.3 3 (Murray 2.2)

Through Sunday, the duo combines to score 53.1 points per game — leading all backcourts. Part of what makes the Morant/Bane combo stand out, however, is how they impact the game in all facets, not just scoring points. They lead the other previously mentioned backcourts with 10.9 rebounds per game. They dish out 11.8 assists per game, but admittedly are lacking in that department compared to Atlanta (17.3 assists per game) and Cleveland’s (14.1) backcourt. They’re the most efficient of the previously mentioned backcourts, as the duo shoots 47.3% from the field and 43.6% from beyond the arc. Simply put, when looking at the stats, they outrank the competition in most of the categories with the Cleveland duo right behind them.

What jumps out the most, however, is how complete both Ja and Des are as players. Due to their size, both Dame and Anfernee Simons struggle to defend and rebound the ball. The Young/Murray pairing works, because each player is great in areas where the other struggles. Trae, despite his poor shooting start, is the better shooter and floor spacer — which allows for Murray to get to the rim off cuts and get good catch-and-shoot opportunities from beyond the arc. Murray can guard the opposing team's best wing, while the Hawks can hide Young on the defensive end where he struggles.

The Cleveland duo is probably the toughest to gauge thanks to having Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen in the frontcourt. Donovan Mitchell is playing the best defense of his career so far this season, but was a major liability on that end the last few seasons while Garland isn’t known for being a great defender either. Overall it’s simply tough to gauge if their defense has improved a ton or if they benefit from the Cavs system.

The Memphis duo is saved a bit defensively on the wing with Dillon Brooks taking on the toughest assignment each night. Both Morant and Bane have improved as defenders, but with Jaren Jackson Jr.’s absence to start the year, the overall team defense has suffered. If the duo has a weakness, it is definitely on the defensive end, but could also be an issue that is about to be resolved with JJJ’s impending return to the lineup soon.

Memphis Grizzlies v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Lauren Bacho/NBAE via Getty Images

While the Memphis duo has few flaws, they work together tremendously and have improved a ton where there used to be deficiencies. There have been concerns regarding Ja Morant’s shooting skills since he was drafted. Morant did his part to silence some of those critics with a strong, albeit inconsistent, shooting season last year. This season, however, Morant has taken another leap as he’s shooting 41% from deep on 61 attempts so far this season. Time will tell if Ja’s shooting prowess is here to stay or just a hot shooting streak, but with Morant showing off a newfound mid-range game, it feels like his shooting may be more consistent this season.

While Morant is growing as a shooter alongside his sniper partner, Bane is doing his part of taking on the burden of some of Morant’s responsibilities. A majority of Bane’s offense came off the playmaking ability of others in his rookie season, as 82% of his made baskets were assisted. So far this season, only 55% of Bane’s baskets are assisted, as he’s proven himself to be one of the more lethal pull-up shooters in the NBA. Bane’s shooting a career-high 45.1% on a career-high 8.5 attempts per game. Everyone knew Bane could shoot during his rookie season, but the question was how they were going to create shots for him. So far in Year 3, Bane is taking care of doing that himself. While his finishing at the rim has been inconsistent, his ability to attack the basket and get to the room will only create more space for him to get as many 3-point attempts up as he wants.

Where Bane has truly grown this season, however, is his playmaking ability. The Memphis Grizzlies are using him even more in pick-and-roll situations throughout games and if it isn’t creating an open shot for himself, Bane is able to find the rolling big man or kick it in the corner to a wide-open shooter.

Bane’s passing abilities were on full display in the clips above against the Kings. He’s patient in the pick-and-roll, and teams are selling out more to stop him at the perimeter and the rim; it creates openings for him to take advantage of and get teammates easy looks. Bane’s ability to know when to look for his shot and went to look for the pass has been fantastic this season.

While Bane is still growing as a ball handler and secondary playmaker, his improvements are already having a major impact on the Grizzlies. While it makes the offense easier for Morant, Bane’s emergence has really had a strong impact anchoring the bench unit. With Taylor Jenkins’ staggering lineups, Bane will typically sub out after 5 or 6 minutes in the first quarter, just to check back in late in the quarter and take over against the other team's bench unit. The rotations Jenkins has set up, alongside Bane’s continuous growth, make the Grizzlies' already dangerous bench even more troublesome for opponents, especially as the team looks to offset the offseason departures of De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson.

Bane’s growth offensively is a saving grace for the Grizzlies' half-court offense. Already something the Grizzlies were hoping to improve upon from last season, Bane’s abilities give the Grizzlies another option down the stretch in close games. As magical as Ja Morant can be in the 4th quarter, Bane is actually the league leader in 4th quarter scoring (min. 10 games) as he averages over 9 points per 4th quarter.

This was on full display last week in the Grizzlies' thrilling victory over the Spurs in San Antonio. Bane scored 14 points in the 4th quarter, taking over offensively as Ja Morant struggled to get his typically lethal floaters to drop. In years past, the Grizzlies might have lost a game like that with Morant missing shots down the stretch, but with Bane’s emergence, the Grizzlies have another fantastic option to flow the offense through in crunch time.

Watching the growth of both Ja Morant and Desmond Bane has been a thrill so far in their careers. Both have grown a great bit over the last few seasons as they have built upon their strengths and improved where they had weaknesses. At just 23 and 24 years old, the sky is the limit for the Grizzlies' backcourt duo. Both players will continue to improve alongside one another and will be a pain in the rear end for opposing teams for the foreseeable future.

The numbers back it up, and the eye test confirms it. Ja Morant and Desmond Bane are the best starting backcourt in the NBA.

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