When the James Harden-led Houston Rockets traded for Chris Paul over the summer, the immediate response included a number of people questioning whether two ball-dominant point guards could play together.
After an interrupted start to the duo playing together due to an injury to Paul, the paring seems to be just fine. In fact, they’re looking like they are putting together a great argument for the best-passing backcourt of all-time.
While numbers don’t mean everything, they don’t mean nothing, either. I first perused Basketball-Reference.com’s Play Index, looking at every player who has averaged 8.0 assists per game for a season. I could only find three instances where teammates with at least 11 games averaged eight dimes: Paul (9.6) and Harden (9.4), John Lucas (10.7) and Johnny Moore (9.6) for the 1983-84 San Antonio Spurs, and Norm Nixon (8.8) and Magic Johnson (8.6) for the 1980-81 Lakers.
There is no searchable database I have access to for total assists by a pair of teammates, but as far as what I could find, the Spurs pairing has the record at 20.3. The Houston duo is tied for second (19.0), with the Johnson and Michael Cooper tandem from the 1983-84 Lakers.
But bear in mind that Paul and Harden are playing in the 3-point era, and 9.52 of their assists are for threes. In 1983-84, the Spurs averaged on shot from distance per game, and the Lakers averaged 0.7. That means even if the representative duos assisted on every single three, it wouldn’t make up the difference.
In other words, Harden and Paul are combining to produce 47.52 points per game through their passing, which is at least six more points than any backcourt in NBA history. And that’s just through their passing. They’re also combining to score 47.9 points per game. Lucas and Moore averaged a total of 21. Johnson and Cooper averaged 26.6. Johnson and Nixon averaged 38.7. The 94.5 combined points passing and scoring is unparalleled.
Looking at some other tandems beyond just backcourts, John Stockton and Karl Malone totaled 82.8 in 1989-90. Wilt Chamberlain and Paul Aizin notched 82.3 in 1961-62, the year Wilt famously averaged 50 points per game. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined for 82.13 in 2014-15, and that comes with the caveat that Durant played just 27 games. Dwayne Wade and LeBron James combined for 79.64 in 2010-11.