- Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer
It's been just a month since we ranked the top players by position, and since we're still biding our time until teams report to training camp, it's still the season for projections and rankings. At this point of the offseason, we have a pretty good idea of what the main components of each team's rotation are going to be once the new season tips off. To be sure, there will be tweaks from preseason developments, plus an unpleasant injury or two, but by and large we can turn our attention to figuring out how the revamped teams are going to fit together.
With that in mind, let's look at some unit rankings, beginning today with backcourts across the NBA. We'll do the frontcourts later this week.
An important note: The list is based on 2013-14 projected WARP as forecast by ATH, my system for generating performance based on trait matching, athletic indicators and aging curves. At the bottom line, WARP is primarily a function of the quality and quantity of a player's production, so these rankings take into account not just how well ATH thinks a player will play but how often.
The combined unit WARP is based on the projections for each team's probable starting guards, plus its top reserve. So again, this is looking ahead, not at last season.
1. Houston Rockets | Combined WARP: 22.6
Surprised? Well, remember that elite players in the NBA generate such a disproportionate amount of a team's production that unit rankings will invariably be dominated by star performers. So it is with the Rockets, who landed a big man as the jewel of the current offseason yet still project to have the league's most valuable backcourt. The rating is of course driven by MVP candidate Harden, now entering his age-24 season, and it's somewhat speculative given the optimism about Beverley despite his short track record.
One of Houston's key questions entering the season is whether Beverley or Lin fits better as Harden's primary partner. In the playoffs this past spring, Lin and Harden played together for 70.2 minutes, per Basketball-Reference.com, during which Houston was outscored by 28.7 points per 100 possessions. However, Harden teamed with Beverley for 172.4 minutes and the Rockets outscored opposing Oklahoma City by seven points per 100 possessions. We'll see whether those results hold up in preseason play and affect Kevin McHale's formulation of his new rotation.
7dEthan Sherwood Strauss