10. Utah Jazz – Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley
Combined average: 37.5 PPG, 8.4 APG, 7.2 RPG
Previous rank: 4
Despite being in a tailspin as of late with four straight losses, the Utah Jazz still find themselves in the top four in the Western Conference largely due to the play of 2020 NBA All-Star Donovan Mitchell. Spider Mitchell’s marks of 24.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game are all career-high marks as he continues to propel Utah into a homecourt advantage position in the West.
Mitchell’s improved play has been enough to cover up for Mike Conley‘s slow start to the season. Conley is shooting just 38.2 percent from the field and averaging 12.9 points per game, which is the lowest he’s averaged in a season since 2011-12. A hamstring injury that forced Conley to miss 20 games is largely to blame for his struggles, but the excellent play of Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic has been enough to put the Jazz at 32-17 after 49 games.
Due mostly to Conley missing almost half of the season and other NBA backcourts having surprising showings, the Utah Jazz fall from number four in our preseason rankings to 10.
9. Philadelphia 76ers – Ben Simmons and Josh Richardson
Combined average: 31.7 PPG, 11.6 APG, 11.1 RPG
Previous rank: 5
Speaking of teams that are struggling lately, the Philadelphia 76ers have dropped their last two, including a 10-point loss to the bottom-dwelling Atlanta Hawks. Picked by many as one of the top two or three teams in the Eastern Conference going into the season, their current place at sixth with a 31-19 record is a surprise.
Still, as far as NBA backcourts go, the Sixers are in the top 10 due mostly due to the play of two-time All-Star Ben Simmons. Ben’s 16.7 points, 8.2 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game earned him another All-Star selection this season. He’s also done something this season that he hadn’t done before: make a couple of threes.
BEN SIMMONS WITH ANOTHER 3 pic.twitter.com/3DLaVPZxwz
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 8, 2019
While going 2-for-5 from long distance isn’t exactly going to change the course of the franchise, Simmons at least has shown he’s capable of taking and making the increasingly important trifecta.
Josh Richardson, despite a recent hamstring injury sidelining him for a handful of games, has wasted little time fitting into the Sixers. The 26-year-old is contributing 15 points per game to go along with 3.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
Things don’t get much easier for Philly next week, as they hit the road for matchups with the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks before a home game against the hot Memphis Grizzlies. If they don’t right the ship soon, they could see themselves falling down even further in the East. Due mostly to team performance, the Sixers’ backcourt drops from fifth in our preseason rankings to ninth.
Next: Numbers 8 & 7