How valuable are backcourt defenders
There’s a reason that guards so seldom win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award. While it’s a huge plus to have strong defenders at the point of attack, there’s only so much impact a guard can have on that end of the court.
It’s much more imperative that the backline of a defense has multiple stoppers capable of rotating, switching, filling lanes, and protecting the rim.
Take for example the Cleveland Cavaliers who feature Darius Garland and Cedi Osman as their starting backcourt. Neither of those players is known for their defense, yet the Cavs are currently fourth in the NBA in defensive rating.
The Dallas Mavericks are fifth with Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson, the Los Angeles Clippers seventh with Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann, and the Utah Jazz tenth with Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell.
In contrast, some teams with excellent defenders at guard still struggle on that end due to their weaker backlines. The San Antonio Spurs currently sit at 18th with Dejounte Murray and Devin Vassell hounding opposing ball-handlers. In 2020-2021, the New Orleans Pelicans finished 23rd despite having Eric Bledsoe and Lonzo Ball guarding the point of attack.
Even with CJ McCollum — a notably worse defender than Ant — Portland was able to construct some passable defenses around their backcourt. In 2017-2018, the Blazers finished sixth in defensive rating with Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Maurice Harkless rounding out the starting lineup. The following year they finished 16th.
The question shouldn’t be whether they should start Anfernee Simons next to Damian Lillard next year. That’s already been answered with a resounding yes. The real question that needs to be asked is who will be filling out the rest of the roster around them.