Quick Bit: Who is the backcourt of the future? In an attempt to sift through the league’s young guard pairings, The Sporting News ranked the best young starting backcourts in the NBA.

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In a perimeter-oriented era of the NBA, investing in your backcourt is investing in your future.

Whether on or off the ball, strong guard play is often a harbinger of success in the league. The Warriors, for example, paired a 23-year-old Stephen Curry with a 21-year-old Klay Thompson in 2011. 11 years later, they have four NBA titles to show for it.

It would be disingenuous to not acknowledge that Curry is an all-time great and Thompson is a generational talent in his own right, but Golden State has laid a blueprint for teams to follow, many of which have paired young guards with hopes of developing the backcourt of the future.

Who is the backcourt of the future? In an attempt to sift through the league’s young guard pairings, The Sporting News ranked the best young starting backcourts in the NBA, with one rule: they both must be under the age of 25 on opening night (Oct. 18, 2022) of the 2022-23 season.

Now, onto the rankings.

MORE: Which rebuilding team has the best young core?

9. Tre Jones and Joshua Primo, Spurs

The offseason trade to send Dejounte Murray to Atlanta opens the door for Jones and Primo to start side-by-side in San Antonio’s backcourt. As the Spurs build for the future, however, this pairing feels temporary — Primo has the potential to be special in the league but it probably won’t be alongside Jones, who is more than likely a stopgap until San Antonio finds a long-term starter as a lead guard.

(NBAE via Getty Images)

8. Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs, Magic

It feels like there’s an abundance of guards in Orlando, but Anthony and Suggs are the most talented of the bunch. While they check the boxes of being young, talented and athletic, the overlap in what they’ll be asked to do makes for complications with their fit.

Both Anthony and Suggs are thought of as pure point guards and a lack of size could make for difficulties on the defensive side of things.

7. De’Aaron Fox and Kevin Huerter, Kings

Fox is entering his sixth NBA season but won’t be 25 until December. After averaging 23.2 points and 5.6 assists last season, Fox is joined by a new backcourt mate in Huerter, who comes to Sacramento after being the odd man out in Atlanta.

For years now, it feels as though Fox has been on the precipice of making an All-Star leap, while Huerter has proven to be effective and efficient for a Hawks team that had a number of mouths to feed. While Huerter brings playoff experience and is a malleable talent, we’ll have to see the two in action before any further judgment.

6. Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin, Pacers

The Pacers are ushering in a new era of basketball, and Haliburton and Mathurin stand at the forefront.

Haliburton, 22, has shown flashes of excellence during his first two seasons, including averages of 17.5 points and 9.6 assists on .502/.416/.849 shooting splits after being acquired by Indiana at the deadline. Mathurin, 20, is a fiery competitor that appears to be ready to contribute on Day 1.

Guard play is key to Rick Carlisle’s system, meaning Haliburton and Mathurin can thrive together from the jump.

(NBAE via Getty Images)

5. Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green, Rockets

Unlike some of the pairings that feature at least one rookie, we’ve got two known commodities that spent plenty of time sharing the floor in 2021-22.

It starts with Green, who has legitimate potential to be a star in the NBA. The former No. 2 overall pick had his struggles early but got into his groove to put his potential on full display to close the season, earning All-Rookie First Team honors in the process.

Porter is still relatively new to the point guard position but the numbers would indicate otherwise — over the final seven games of the season, he averaged 28.7 points, 7.4 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game. Similar to San Antonio, this might not be Houston’s backcourt of the future, but it’s pretty solid as is right now.

4. Darius Garland and Ochai Agbaji, Cavaliers

Due to the uncertainty surrounding Collin Sexton’s restricted free agency, Agbaji lands as Garland’s backcourt mate here.

We’ve yet to see Agbaji at the NBA level but he is coming off of the momentum of winning Most Outstanding Player of the 2022 NCAA Tournament, where he led Kansas to a national title. That said, this ranking is really all about Garland.

Garland took the All-Star leap in 2021-22, averaging 21.7 points and 8.6 assists per game, cementing himself as one of the league’s best guards at just 22 years old. The most exciting part? Garland is only getting better, and he’s been aptly rewarded with a five-year deal worth $193 million, the richest in Cavs history.

Soon, Garland alone could be enough to place Cleveland atop this list.

3. Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, Pistons

Given all that has been said about unknowns, Ivey’s potential and Cunningham’s promise is just too much to ignore — they have the potential to be the perfect pairing.

Cunningham’s body of work as a rookie showed exactly why his being selected first overall in 2021 was a no-brainer. Good as Cunningham was as a rookie, there is plenty of room for him to improve, which he will inevitably do as the game slows down. An All-Star-like leap is not out of the realm of possibility for Year 2.

Ivey might have gone fifth overall, but he was widely considered among the top tier of prospects in this year’s draft, including by TSN’s draft expert Kyle Irving. At 20, Ivey can grow on the same timeline as Cunningham, who will be 21 on opening night.

With Detroit fully focused on the future, its backcourt has the keys.

[NBA Getty Images]

2. Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder

With each passing year, Oklahoma City’s vision gets clearer.

The Thunder have a guard-heavy roster, but no two guards shine brighter than Giddey and Gilgeous-Alexander, standouts that make for a jumbo-sized pairing, with Giddey standing at 6-foot-8 and Gilgeous-Alexander standing at 6-foot-6.

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Giddey’s 20th birthday falls days before the 2022-23 season begins and he’s already an elite passer. As a teenager in the league, he averaged 12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists, including four triple-doubles. Giddey’s ability to facilitate and make plays perfectly complements Gilgeous-Alexander’s skillset as a smooth scorer with a natural feel.

Gilgeous-Alexander will be 24 next season and already has four seasons under his belt, including two playoff appearances. OKC might still be a few years away from taking the leap into becoming a playoff contender, but SGA is close to making that All-Star leap.

As part of the vision, Giddey and Gilgeous-Alexander could accelerate the Thunder’s rise to contention.

1. Ja Morant and Desmond Bane, Grizzlies

Where to start? There are plenty of stars on this list — All-Stars even — but Morant is the only guard here remotely in the realm of superstardom.

That near-superstar status had Morant in MVP conversations and ultimately earned him a seventh-place finish in the 2022 MVP race. Morant will be 23 next season and has already thrust himself into the “elite” tier of guards.

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But what about the pairing?

Morant missed his fair share of time due to injury last season but a Grizzlies team that featured a backcourt of Morant and Bane won 56 games and earned the West’s second seed.

Bane, who turned 24 this offseason, averaged 18.2 points per game last season, shooting a scorching 43.6 percent from 3 on nearly seven attempts per game. Bane’s floor spacing paired with Morant’s penetration, playmaking and athleticism make them a scary duo.

Do they have limitations? Sure. But those limitations didn’t keep them from winning 56 years in their second year together. This is the backcourt of the present and the future.

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