It’s an almost impossible task for one man to carry a NBA team. We are seeing more and more players with unique skill-sets flock into the league each year, which is why some superstars are pairing up with one another. Over time, many superstar combos seamlessly gelled together.
Today, we are ranking the 25 best duos in NBA history. This won’t be just about who won the most titles together or who scored the most or who dominated statistically. Basketball is an art form, and two talented teammates that fit perfectly together can make a masterpiece. Which duos complemented each other, never taking, only adding to the buffet? That’s what we had to ask ourselves while writing this.
From dynasty duos to duos that never met the anticipation surrounding them, here’s where they fall in the top 25.
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25. ALONZO MOURNING and LARRY JOHNSON (1992-1995)
For three years, one of the most bolstering and youngest frontcourts belonged to the Charlotte Hornets. Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson were simply too much power for opposing teams to handle. Both ‘Zo and Johnson were 20 and 10 players their first season together, and even though the young tandem finished under .500, they were able to make it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals against New York.
Even though the two never seemed to really get along, ever, their talent together went unquestioned, and if their chemistry remained in balance, there’s no telling how much more we could have seen out of the two.
24. KEVIN DURANT and RUSSELL WESTBROOK (2008-PRESENT)
With both players only 24 years old, the sky is the limit for the young Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Already one of the best scoring pairs in the NBA, together they make one of the best one-two punches in the league.
Of their five seasons together, both have averaged over 20 points per game in three of those seasons. Combined, they have scored a total of 20,090 points throughout 706 games together. This is only the beginning for these two as both are in the midst of maximum contracts. Despite getting to the Finals only one time, they still have a great deal of time to get there again, as both KD and Westbrook have yet to even enter their primes.
23. CHARLES BARKLEY and KEVIN JOHNSON (1992-1996)
Charles Barkley was a ruthless and wild power forward. Kevin Johnson was a quick, athletic slashing point guard. The two were the perfect one-two combo that worked in Phoenix for four years. There was no time wasted in Barkley’s journey for a championship, going directly to work his first year with his quick crafty point guard, going to the NBA Finals their first season together, but falling to the Chicago Bulls as many teams did in the ’90s.
Both players were able to get it done on each end of the floor, and were tough as nails. Johnson was able to put pressure on opposing teams, which helped Barkley create for himself. Over four seasons, Barkley and Johnson held a regular season record of 204-124 and one Finals appearance.
22. ALONZO MOURNING and TIM HARDAWAY (1995-2001)
Coming together in 1996, expectations were high for Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. Unfortunately, the two constantly fell short of even reaching the Finals, losing to the Knicks and Bulls year in and year out.
Mourning, a seven-time All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, complemented the offensive-minded Hardaway with his aggressive defense and shotblocking prowess. Hardaway was a five-time All-Star and possessed a killer crossover that devastated opponents, while Mourning locked down the interior, and is still the all-time leader in blocks for the Miami Heat with 1625 swats.
21. KOBE BRYANT and PAU GASOL (2007-PRESENT)
This tandem was a fixture at the top of the Western Conference for a half decade, making three trips to the NBA Finals and winning two championships during their seven years together. Despite only playing 27 games their first season together, Gasol was able to manage his health for a full playoff run to help get the Lakers to the Finals.
After that year, Bryant and Gasol looked to be an unstoppable force, winning back-to-back championships while Kobe made himself a staple in points per game, finishing in the top five every year. Without the drama of Dwight Howard this year, a healthy Bryant and Gasol could see a reemergence as a force in the Western Conference.
20. OSCAR ROBERTSON and LEW ALCINDOR/KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR (1970-1974)
After hitting the jackpot in 1969 drafting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (at the time Lew Alcindor), the Milwaukee Bucks made a move to acquire ten-time All-Star and arguably one of the greatest point guards in history, Oscar Robertson. Though on the back end of his career, Robinson and Kareem proved to be a deadly combo, winning 67 games their first year together en route to a 4-0 sweep of the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Finals. Winning out their first year showed that it did not take long for the young rising star and the wily veteran to fuse their talents.
But as Abdul-Jabbar improved into the most dominant scorer in the NBA, father time began to catch up with the Big O, and their chances for a second championship began to fade away after losing in the conference finals to a strong Los Angeles Lakers team. Robertson and Abdul-Jabbar never failed to win less than 60 games during their time together, proving them to be a stalwart while together.
19. PAUL PIERCE and KEVIN GARNETT (2007-PRESENT)
With a legacy left in Boston, this duo was actually traded together this past offseason to the Brooklyn Nets, and looks to write a final chapter together in their quest for a second championship.
When first assembled, Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen were immediately deemed championship contenders, praised for sacrificing their statistics to win a championship. Pierce and Garnett, though, were the backbone of the three-headed monster in Boston for the next five years, appearing in two Finals and winning one championship.
The statistics were never jaw dropping for this duo, but their willingness and team effort were. Showing one of the gutsiest performances we’ve seen in years two years ago, a broken down Celtics team pushed the eventual champion Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, which ended up being the last hoorah of the legacy Pierce and Garnett had created in Boston. With 57 playoff wins and five straight Atlantic Division championships, Celtic pride had been restored.
18. SHAWN KEMP and GARY PAYTON (1990-1997)
After drafting Shawn Kemp in 1989 and Gary Payton in 1990, the NBA wasn’t prepared for the storm that brewing in Seattle. Kemp and Payton provided Seattle with seven years of physical, emotional basketball that was eaten up by the fans. Five 60-plus win seasons cemented the Supersonics during what many label “the golden age of basketball.” In 1996, Seattle pushed through all adversity to meet the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, where Payton’s defense met Jordan‘s offense. Chicago would eventually take the series to start their second three-peat, but Seattle almost forced the only Game 7 Finals appearance of MJ’s career.
Payton and Kemp were one of the best defensive duos in the league. Payton led the league in steals in 1996 with 231 while Kemp finished third in total rebounds in back-to-back seasons (’94-95, ’95-96).
17. WILT CHAMBERLAIN and HAL GREER (1964-1968)
It’s amazing to say Wilt Chamberlain’s better years were behind him when he came to Philadelphia to team up with swingman Hal Greer, because his rebounding was just as effective as ever. We just weren’t seeing 50 points per night anymore.
Chamberlain was brought in before the 1964 season to star alongside Hal Greer, the swingman who, at the time, was one of the best jump shooters in the NBA. Both were used to carrying the load of their teams alone and it wasn’t until the next year when they exploded as a duo.
Winning 61 regular season games and an NBA championship, Wilt completed his task of helping Hal Greer obtain a championship. In four seasons together, the two accumulated 25 playoff wins and over 14,000 regular season points as one of the most dominant offensive duos of the 1960s.
16. HAKEEM OLAJUWON and CLYDE DREXLER (1995-1998)
Hakeem Olajuwon was fresh off his first NBA championship, and needless to say, many players in search of a ring hoped to flock to Houston with aspirations of winning a championship, but Clyde Drexler was the only player to make that possible. In assisting Hakeem to his second championship, the Dream and the Glide created nightmares for opponents, mostly their first year together… even though they played four seasons together.
Both Drexler and Olajuwon were stat sheet stuffers who contributed on all levels for their teams. Though only winning 47 regular season games in 1995, this team was built for a deep playoff run. Olajuwon and Drexler both respectively averaged 33 and 20 points per game in the post season, both looking extremely hungry for a championship. Hakeem was able to bring Clyde Drexler a long awaited championship while dominating the league for a brief period of time.
15. PATRICK EWING and John Starks (1990-1998)
The New York Knicks may have been one of the toughest teams in the NBA during the era of Patrick Ewing and John Starks. Together they fought numerous battles against the powerhouse of the East, Michael Jordan. Watching these two teams go blow for blow during the playoffs and regular season was a thing of beauty.
Ewing and Starks played eight years together and saw one Finals appearance in 1994. It took the Houston Rockets seven games, and a 2-for-18 shooting collapse from John Starks to win the series that New York was so close to winning. Starks and Ewing were victims of Michael Jordan as were many ring-less superstars of the ’90s, but had many memorable bouts against the Bulls that solidified both Ewing and Starks as marquee players.
14. SHAQUILLE O’NEAL and PENNY HARDAWAY (1993-1996)
Penny Hardaway hit the floor running his rookie year, immediately stepping in as Shaquille O’Neal’s sidekick. Their second year together, Penny and Shaq made it all the way to the NBA Finals, only to get swept by the Houston Rockets. However, they were to catch the attention of the national eye and show the league they were going to make noise.
During the ’94-95 season, the two combined for more than a third of the team’s total points that season while racking in 57 wins. They’d win 60 during the following season before falling in a sweep to one of the greatest teams ever, the 72-win Bulls. Hardaway’s health and O’Neal going west to the Los Angeles Lakers ended a short, but exciting era in Orlando. Many fans thought they had a set of superstars to carry them to multiple NBA championships.
13. JULIUS ERVING and MOSES MALONE (1982-1986)
Moses Malone arrived in Philadelphia after three heartbreaking losses by Philly and Julius Erving in the Finals and conference finals. Erving needed help heading into his 11th season after not being able to overcome the powerful Los Angeles Lakers.
Malone answered Erving’s call for help in 1982 by signing with the 76ers, and giving Erving, a former MVP, an offensive force down low to work with. They immediately went to work, winning 65 games their first season and going 12-1 in the playoffs on their way to Erving’s only NBA championship, a season where Erving and Malone averaged a combined 45.9 points per game. The two remained together until 1986, remaining an offensive juggernaut for those four years, although only going as far as the Eastern Conference Finals one time. The duo was still a force to be reckoned with in the early ’80s.
12. ISIAH THOMAS and JOE DUMARS (1985-1994)
Labeled “The Bad Boys,” the Detroit Pistons were not a team to be taken lightly by anyone. Playing in an era with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas may have been the smallest of the bunch, but he had the biggest heart. Joe Dumars was also named the 1989 Finals MVP.
Thomas and Dumars were both originally point guards, but naturally, Dumars levitated towards more of an off guard due to his great shooting behind Zeke’s stellar passing ability. The two were able to feed off of each other like perhaps no two guards before them ever could, as they were able to win back-to-back championships, the first consisting of a sweep against the Show Time Lakers. The duo accumulated 64 playoff wins and three Finals appearances over their nine-year marriage, leaving a dynasty in Detroit.
11. TONY PARKER and TIM DUNCAN (2002-PRESENT)
Still a well-oiled machine to this very day, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker fell one game short last year of a fourth championship together after 12 years side by side. One can argue that Tim Duncan is one of the greatest power forwards in the history of the NBA. Tony Parker is highly underrated in this generation, even while being a key component to all three of this duo’s championships. Duncan and Parker have also finished with more than 50 wins EVERY season they have been together (excluding the lockout-shortened 48-win season), including four-straight 60-plus win seasons.
The duo is a prime example of professionalism and consistency, never missing the playoffs, which is an extremely credible accomplishment for any team, let alone two players going through all of it together.
10. JOHN HAVLICEK and DAVE COWENS (1970-1978)
The rebirth of the Celtics after the departure of Bill Russell and Bob Cousy came in the form of John Havlicek and Dave Cowens. Havlicek was a longtime Celtic before Cowens arrived, a player who had the leisure of playing with the great Bill Russell. So when Russell hung his jersey up, Havlicek took the reigns of the franchise. The Celtics drafted Dave Cowens in 1970 with hopes that he would be the next cornerstone big of the franchise. The two lived up to the hype.
With two championships and five straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, Cowens’ excellent rebounding and Havlicek’s all-around play made the Celtics a force in the mid-70s. Havlicek was a once-in-a-generation player, and was similar to LeBron James statistically. Cowens fortified the team with his rebounding, averaging 13 rebounds per game for his career.
9. LeBRON JAMES and DWYANE WADE (2010-PRESENT)
At 28 years old, LeBron has made it clear he is the best player on the planet, and silenced the last of his doubters by winning a second championship this past year. LeBron is now on the hunt for his first three-peat, but not without his sidekick Dwyane Wade. The elusive combo has the incredible ability to kick their game into a third gear that no team in the league is really able to contain. Wade may already be beginning to decline, but his IQ and defense makes up for what is lost, and so does LeBron James.
Last year, James and Wade rattled off 27 wins in a row, the second most wins in a row of all time, and absolutely took control of the league. We are also currently seeing James play some of the most efficient, complete basketball anyone has ever played, averaging 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, while Wade was there to pick up the dropped pieces.
8. WALT FRAZIER and WILLIS REED (1967-1974)
The only two world championships in New York Knicks history were won by the smoothest of the smooth, and the toughest of the tough: Walt Frazier and Willis Reed. Both cared about winning more than statistics, and beat the Los Angeles two out of three Finals matchups between the two.
Reed’s midrange jump shot was the best for a big man in the era, and he was the anchor of the Knicks’ post defense; Walt “Clyde” Frazier, who was known for his length and quick hands, locked down the perimeter. Both were the first to get their teammates involved, but also could have their way on offense. The two won two championships and had four 50-plus seasons in six years.
7. JERRY WEST and WILT CHAMBERLAIN (1968-1973)
Sort of an original superteam, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain were both considered the best at their positions in the late ’60s. Chamberlain was traded from Philadelphia and turned the Los Angeles Lakers into a basketball giant.
The Lakers went to four Finals in five years, and won one championship, led by the incredible scoring of Jerry West, who was able to fire away with Chamberlain gobbling up every shot that didn’t go in. To go along with their championship in 1971-72, the Lakers also set the all-time record for most wins in a row, 33 games without a loss, finishing the season with a 69-13 record, one of the best historically.
6. JOHN STOCKTON and KARL MALONE (1985-2003)
Without a doubt, the most talented duo to ever play basketball and NOT win a title goes to John Stockton and Karl Malone. Combined, the two played a NBA record 1,142 games together. Stockton was the model of consistency, rarely missing a game. He always played good, hard-nosed defense. Karl Malone was able to beautifully execute the pick-n-roll with Stockton like no other players have ever before. Out of 18 seasons, the Jazz finished with more than 50 wins 13 times, twice with more than 60, and back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in the late ’90s.
Stockton is the all-time leader in assists with 15,806. A good portion of that total went to Malone, while the Mailman was able to average 25 points per game on his career. The two together were good enough by to be considered by many a top five duo in the NBA’s history.
5. LARRY BIRD and KEVIN McHALE (1980-1992)
It only took Larry Legend one year before he hit the floor running and won his first championship with a rookie Kevin McHale. And this was only the start of what was to be a very special pairing of players. Thirteen years together and three championships later, some may argue Bird and McHale were the best Celtics duo of all time.
Bird’s all-around play was perfect for Kevin McHale and created a perfect bond. McHale was able to flourish from Bird’s uncanny passing skill and made a name for himself on the glass. What gets overlooked is Kevin’s defense presence, averaging almost two blocks per game on his career. He and Bird were a constant threat out of the Eastern Conference every year, making the playoffs all 13 seasons together and reaching the Finals five times.
4. MAGIC JOHNSON and KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR (1979-1989)
Magic Johnson spent 13 years in the NBA, and managed to have one of the most illustrious careers of any player. Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the greatest thing to happen to Los Angeles since Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West. The Lakers became a facet in the NBA Finals, making a trip there eight out of 10 years together. Those eight trips included five world championships for the duo. Johnson came away with three Finals MVP awards while Abdul-Jabbar claimed one for himself.
The duo consisted of the flashiest player in the league and the most dominant scorer to ever play the game. This was the perfect recipe for a dynasty, and that was the outcome after 10 years as two incredible defensive players put their team first in a superstar era.
3. KOBE BRYANT and SHAQUILLE O’NEAL (1996-2004)
The turn of the millennium brought in a new wave of players of all skill-sets. But one who was already deemed the next best thing since MJ was Kobe Bryant. A super athletic offensive machine who based his game off of Michael Jordan was paired up with a center named Shaquille O’Neal, who was just entering his prime. There was no chance of stopping the two on offense. Both players were born to score and score well.
Eight seasons together brought eight seasons of 50-plus wins and three championships back-to-back-to-back… the first three-peat since Michael Jordan completed his second in 1998, and the most recent to-date. O’Neal was a three-time Finals MVP while Kobe was the engine that kept the winning going. At one point, the two were combining to average over 50 points per game for the Lakers, topping out at 57.5 combined points per game in 2002-03. However, Bryant and Shaq began to have their share of quarrels and became unhappy with each other. They eventually went in separate directions, each winning another championship. If Kobe and Shaq had not feuded, there was a possibility they could have won five or six titles together and built an even bigger legacy than the one already created.
2. BILL RUSSELL and BOB COUSY (1956-1963)
The pound-for-pound greatest champion to ever play the game, and the original crafty point guard, Bill Russell and Bob Cousy undoubtedly helped each other reach new heights of legendary with each other. The duo won six championships in seven years, including five in a row.
During their time together, Cousy won the NBA MVP his first season, with Russell winning the award five times after Cousy. The two played a brand of basketball that dominated an era, and played on both ends of the floor. Their sportsmanship and teamwork was really the original installment of Celtic pride. Bill Russell still holds the record for most championships won by a wide margin.
1. MICHAEL JORDAN and SCOTTIE PIPPEN (1987-1993, 1995-1998)
The greatest of all time, his Airness, Michael Jordan influenced more than a generation of basketball players and had one of the greatest passions for the game of basketball. Right by his side was Scottie Pippen, whose defense and slashing ability fit right in with the style MJ preferred to play. Jordan was a defender’s nightmare, as was Pippen, making them virtually unstoppable.
Jordan and Pippen still hold the record for most regular season wins at 72, and never lost in the NBA Finals, nor did they even reach a Game 7 of a Finals matchup. The two were able to pull off two three-peats. Six championships in less than 10 years is extremely impressive, especially when Jordan took two of those years off to play baseball, which leaves the door open to the argument that MJ could have finished with maybe even eight championships and set an even higher standard for what he already had, which makes Pippen and Jordan the greatest duo in the history of the NBA.
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