Every week on NBA.com, we'll unveil a new bracket with daily matchups to vote on. By the end of the week, we'll crown a champion and determine a winner based on fan voting. Up next for this week? The best duos in NBA history.
What is the best duo in NBA history?
Perhaps you're in the camp of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen who won six NBA titles together with the Chicago Bulls. Or maybe you think it's Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant or Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, two different dynastic inside-outside duos with the Los Angeles Lakers. Or if we're really focused on winning, can you really do better than Bill Russell and Bob Cousy?
Here's the thing, though. Any discussion placing too much emphasis on rings when debating duos tends to ignore everything else that factored into winning: teammates, coaching, competition, health... you get the idea.
But what if we removed the accolades from the equation and focused strictly on basketball? Sure, Jordan and Pippen were unstoppable in the context of playing five-on-five, but would they be able to stop someone like O'Neal or Abdul-Jabbar? We'll let you decide!
LAST WEEK: Kawhi voted winner for best shot ever
Imagine if you could take every great duo in NBA history, transport them all in their prime to the same place at the same time and hold the greatest 2-on-2 tournament ever.
That's exactly what we're doing... sort of.
We took 16 of the greatest duos in NBA history and seeded them 1-16 for our hypothetical tournament.
- Monday: First round
- Tuesday: The Final 8
- Wednesday: Semifinals
- Thursday: Championship
- Friday: Winner announced
|1.||Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen|
|2.||Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant|
|3.||Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar|
|4.||LeBron James and Dwyane Wade|
|5.||Moses Malone and Julius Erving|
|6.||Larry Bird and Kevin McHale|
|7.||Bill Russell and Bob Cousy|
|8.||Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson|
|9.||Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook|
|10.||Elgin Baylor and Jerry West|
|11.||Karl Malone and John Stockton|
|12.||Tim Duncan and David Robinson|
|13.||Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars|
|14.||Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp|
|15.||Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry|
|16.||Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire|
- In order for maximum variety, each player could only be represented in one duo. For example, you won't see Shaq and Penny Hardaway since he's already teamed up Bryant.
- We tried to balance out not only which duos are more known for playing with each other which is why someone like Steve Nash is teamed up with Amar'e Stoudemire instead of Dirk Nowitzki.
- This is about winning a game of 2-on-2, not necessarily which duo has won the most together in real life. That's why Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are seeded higher than Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars.
- Games are to 11 by 1s and 2s. And it's not make-it, take-it. That's it!
Without further ado... on to the voting!
1 vs 16 - Can anyone stop MJ and Scottie?
1 Jordan/Pippen vs 16 Nash/Stoudemire
Jordan and Pippen are perhaps the most intriguing duo simply because it would be interesting to see how they'd stack up against a dominant big man. Both are obviously all-time world-class perimeter defenders but neither are notorious bangers in the low post. Stoudemire could, in theory, give them some fits, but both Bulls would switch everything and hound Nash to the point where that two-man game might not translate. Is Nash going to be able to stop anyone?
A quick word on Nash who gets teamed up with Stoudemire instead of Nowitzki. While the latter probably is a more formidable 2-on-2 partner, the majority of Nash's prime came alongside Stoudemire and not Nowitzki, hence that decision.
8 vs 9 - Rivalry renewed
8 Curry/Thompson vs 9 Durant/Westbrook
This is my favourite first-round matchup.
On one hand, playing by 1s and 2s give a major advantage to the sweetest shooting backcourt in NBA history who might try winning solely on shots from downtown.
On the other hand, Durant and Westbrook have the size and strength to cause major fits for the Splash Brothers.
Durant and Westbrook might not have reached another NBA Finals together after getting there in 2012 but moreso than perhaps any other duo in this tournament would likely be more dangerous in a hypothetical 2-on-2 setting than they were in real life in Oklahoma City. the guess here is that Jordan and Pippen would much rather face Curry and Thompson.
5 vs 12 - Fo Fo Fo vs Twin Towers
5 Malone/Erving vs 12 Duncan/Robinson
Moses and Dr. J could be a dark horse to win the entire thing with a combined seven MVP awards between them including the NBA and ABA. A dominant low post scorer alongside a high-flying wing who can get buckets and defend.
That's of course if they can get by the twin towers. Either David Robinson or Tim Duncan would have a big size advantage on every possession and while there's a severe lack of playmaking, both rank among probably the 10 best defensive players ever with underrated mobility. There's a case to be made that Duncan's teammate could have been either Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili (or even Kawhi Leonard, though to be fair Kawhi wasn't yet KAWHI when Duncan was still at his best) for a more natural fit. And yet we couldn't in good conscious leave out The Admiral even if he was on the backend of his career by the time Duncan showed up.
4 vs 13 - Heatles take on the Bad Boys
4 James/Wade vs 13 Thomas/Dumars
A couple of perimeter duos that each won back-to-back titles. While Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars would be at a size disadvantage, the Hall of Famers are among the toughest of competitors that serve as the perfect embodiment of the rough and tumble 80s.
LeBron James unleashed as a post-up wizard alongside one of the greatest cutters in the history of the league would be at times unfair in a 2-on-2 setting. If there's cause for concern with the BFFs taking down the whole thing it could be a relative lack of shooting although that might not rear its head in a game against the Detroit duo that pre-dated the rise in 3-point bombing backcourts.
6 vs 11 - Pick and Rolls and short shorts
6 Bird/McHale vs 11 Stockton/Malone
Like Nash, John Stockton is somewhat of a liability in 2-on-2 matched up against size. And let's be honest... either Larry Bird or Kevin McHale is a terrible matchup for the all-time assist king.
If it were make-it, take-it then you'd have to like the chances for Stockton and Malone who could in theory pick-and-roll 11 straight possessions to win. There's not a more iconic two-man game than the Utah pairing that went high-low for two decades alongside each other.
Bird and McHale meanwhile could be grossly under seeded. Given their size and defensive chops, there's not a single duo in this entire field that they couldn't hang with.
3 vs 14 - Mic'd up
3 Johnson/Abdul-Jabbar vs 14 Payton/Kemp
In terms of trash talk, there's not a more entertaining opening round matchup as Magic Johnson and Gary Payton are two of the best to ever do it.
On the floor, you could make a case that Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar could be the favourites to win the whole thing as they'd presumably skyhook anyone and everyone.
Payton's two-way tenacity and Kemp's sheer athleticism would no doubt be a thorn in the side of anyone. The Glove routinely punched up weight classes and never shied away from any defensive challenge so he certainly wouldn't back down at the prospect of going up against Showtime's size.
7 vs 10 - Lakers, Celtics and tradition
7 Russell/Cousy vs 10 West/Baylor
Given all of their battles in the NBA Finals, it only felt right to have Russell square off against West and Baylor.
The trickiest part was settling on a wingman. It could have been the trusty Sam Jones who won 10 titles alongside Russell. It could have been John Havlicek who was probably the best player that Russell played alongside even if he didn't truly reach his peak until after Russell's retirement. If the goal is solely to win a 2-on-2 tournament, the pick is probably Havlicek.
And yet it feels odds to have that be anybody other than Cousy. Yes, Jones is the teammate most synonymous with Russell. Yet Cousy himself was an MVP and All-NBA First Team mainstay playing alongside Russell.
Whoever comes out on top sets up a potentially fascinating second-round showdown with Shaq and Kobe.
2 vs 15 - Diesel and Mamba
2 O'Neal/Bryant vs 15 Leonard/Lowry
There's a case to be made that Shaq and Kobe could have been the number one overall seed. O'Neal is the single most destructive and unstoppable offensive force in the field while there's not a perimeter player that Bryant couldn't either score on or stop. While we don't necessarily think of them dominating in a two-man game in the same vein as some other inside-out combinations, there's zero denying their competitiveness, ruthlessness and ability to impose their will on both ends.
As for Leonard and Lowry... look, I get it. There might be some confusion as to why they're listed here. And yet they won an NBA title in their only season playing together, Leonard might be the most complete player in today's game and Lowry remains an ultimate gamer who does all of the little things that would become magnified in this setting.
If we're trying to sneak in Kawhi, there are a few other options. Maybe it's Pascal Siakam who has more size than Lowry. Maybe its either Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili though once Leonard became a superstar both were on their relative last legs. And the pairing with Paul George remains incomplete as they haven't played together long enough to warrant a spot in the field. And so Lowry it is!
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