In the age of the internet, fantasy sports have spread like wild fire, as fans everywhere want to showcase their skills as fledgling general managers. These leagues allow participants to assemble teams with combinations of players who, in reality, would never find themselves on the same squad. Some fantasy leagues begin anew each year with a draft. In other leagues, participants carry their rosters over from one year to the next; these are often called “keeper” or “legacy” leagues. This latter type of league is fascinating in that GMs develop a level of comfort with their team’s strange player juxtapositions. For instance, an NBA keeper league might have a team with Joakim Noah and Lebron James on the same squad—two bitter rivals, but when merely considering stats, not a bad fit. Personal beefs notwithstanding, Lebron and Noah could do great things together.
Back in reality, a new paradigm has taken hold of and begun to pervade the NBA, one that is reminiscent of the aforementioned fantasy leagues. Players have begun to team up. Perhaps this trend started when ageing superstars Karl Malone and Gary Payton joined forces with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in the early 2000s. That Los Angeles Lakers team did well that season, but ultimately the season was a disappointment, as the Detroit Pistons defeated L.A. in the NBA Finals.
It is safer to say that this “team-up” trend started when the Boston Celtics signed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to play with Paul Pierce. That team won a championship in its first season, and since then, other players have embraced this strategy. The Miami Heat are the pre-eminent example of this strategy. Since teaming up, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh have won two back-to-back championships, an impressive feat.
Given the Heat’s success, this trend will not dissipate in the near future. Obviously teams have always tried to consolidate as much talent as possible, but the NBA has never seen such a willingness amongst its players to team up. Gone are the days of bitter rivalries, and an atmosphere of friendliness has taken over. But is this necessarily a bad thing? It certainly fits well in this age of the internet, fostering a deeper imagination in fantasy GMs. For most people, the unsettlement of the line between fantasy and reality usually leads to insanity. However, for sports fans, especially rabid fantasy GMs, the unsettlement of said line can be fun and exciting.
In that spirit, this list looks at ten “team-ups” we would love to see in the NBA. If these team-ups became realities, they would probably be quite successful. Since this list is fun and playful, there is no specific order to these rankings—just ten team-ups that would be, well, cool. Let us know the team-ups you would like to see.
10. Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant
With things ending poorly for New York this season, Carmelo might be on his way out of the big city. The Los Angeles Lakers might be his next team, since things are likewise ending poorly for the Lakers this season. With Kobe and Melo, the Lakers would have two of the league’s best scorers. Carmelo would attract the defense’s attention, which would make things easier for Black Mamba, who is currently in the process of rehabilitation. The combination could be lethal. Melo could get to the rim at will, because the defense would have to respect Kobe. And Kobe would be able to isolate his defender without constantly having to guard against the trap. If the Lakers surrounded these two studs with decent role players, such as a good rebounder in the frontcourt and a good shooter in the backcourt, the squad could be hard to outscore. Oh the possibilities…
9. Kevin Love and Derrick Rose
This team-up seems unlikely to happen in real life, but wouldn’t it be special? Derrick Rose—assuming he comes back strong from his injury—can easily get to the rim and make any defense look porous. With the addition of Kevin Love, Rose would have one of the league’s best rebounders and scorers from the power forward position. Love would afford the Bulls’ offense many opportunities. The Bulls could play an inside-outside game with Love and Rose in interchangeable positions. Moreover, the high screen becomes a real option with the addition of Love, as he can pick and pop or pick and roll effectively. Also, defenses would have to be wary of collapsing on Rose, because Love is one of the league’s premier shooters from the power forward position.
8. Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol
If the Gasol brothers united, they could vex and befuddle opposing defenses. Pau, who has always been the more mobile of the two brothers, could play power forward, establishing himself on the elbow or setting high screens. Marc, on the other hand, could stay put on the block and do what he does best. On defense, this pairing would be formidable. Marc, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, would have to do less, and Pau could always switch to playing center, if his team needed it. The brothers also have a good deal of experience playing together internationally, and this kind of familiarity (aside from their blood connection!) cannot be overstated.
7. Lebron James and Kyrie Irving
As the regular season has wound to a close, many have begun speculating as to what Lebron will do next. He has the choice of opting out of his current contract with the Heat. If he does opt out, he could resign with his former and home-state team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. It is tough to envision this rapprochement, given the virulence with which Cleveland fans and its owner reacted to Lebron’s initial departure. However, Kyrie Irving and LBJ would be an awesome duo on the court. Kyrie could take over the point guard duties, allowing Lebron to play from the wing where he can get to the rim easier. Unlike in Miami, where Lebron often has to do things alone on account of Dwyane Wade’s injury troubles, Lebron would have another dependable scorer from a backcourt position. Irving, for his part, gives Lebron something he has never had: a playmaking point guard. This duo could be special…
6. Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert
Although managing the on-court logistics of this pairing would take a good deal of finesse, it would be an exciting duo. Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert share a trenchant dislike for the Miami Heat, and they are old-school players in an era that has passed such players by. Yes, they both play the same position, and neither is versatile with regard to playing another role, but these two stoppers on the same team would almost guarantee a high level of intensity—Hibbert with his stoic, yet contemptuous demeanor, and Noah with his effusive on-court histrionics. This would be a playoff-oriented type of pairing in that it might not lead to dominant regular seasons, but it would be tough to beat a team in a seven-game series that featured these two leviathans.
5. Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker
This pairing would not just be a novelty. Yes, these are two of the most highly decorated European players in NBA history, so it would be refreshing to see them on the same squad. However, this duo could do some serious damage on the court. Dirk Nowitzki, though ageing, can still spot up and knock down jumpers with the best of them. Especially as he ages, Dirk will need a frenetic player who can penetrate and kick the ball out to him—enter Tony Parker. Indeed, Parker might play better in an offense with Dirk than Tim Duncan, because Dirk can play farther away from the rim, affording Parker more room to maneuver.
4. Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard
If these two players united on the same squad, the combination could lead to several championships down the road. Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard are the pre-eminent young talents in a league wherein the stars of just a few years ago are beginning to show their age. As these two continue to develop, they will become the league’s best. What makes the thought of these two on the same squad so exciting is the way they would complement each other. Davis scores well from the post and disrupts slashers on defense, whereas Lillard shoots the ball effectively from the perimeter. For Lillard, having Davis would be similar to what he has with Aldridge, but Davis will continue to improve.
3. Rajon Rondo and Kevin Durant
Since the Celtics bereaved Rajon Rondo of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the former Kentucky Wildcat has been on an island in Boston. For Rondo to be successful, he needs to be paired with good scorers. On the other hand, Kevin Durant’s biggest problem is his timidity. That is not to say that Durant is a bona fide Milquetoast, but Durant could benefit from hoisting up more shots. With Rondo on his team as opposed to Russell Westbrook, Durant would have to shoot more, and, moreover, Rondo would look to get Durant the ball as much as possible, since Rondo wants nothing to do with perimeter shots. Rondo could still penetrate and score, as is his wont, and he would certainly encourage, if not force, Durant to shoot at will, something Durant should be doing anyway.
2. Chris Paul and Chris Bosh
Since teaming up with Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh has fallen off in the opinion of many experts and fans. Bosh, however, has done an admirable job of improving his outside scoring touch; he is now a legitimate threat from beyond the arc. His now-deft shooting would bode well in a pairing with Chris Paul, who uses high screens better than most point guards in the league. What Paul lacks with Blake Griffin is the very thing that Bosh does so well now: perimeter shooting. Bosh would afford different looks off of the high screen that Griffin does not. The pick and pop could be a lethal play, if Paul and Bosh teamed up.
1. Stephen Curry and Tim Duncan
Despite Tim Duncan’s age, this could be a formidable team-up. Few players possess the unshakeable aplomb that Duncan has. Indeed, he could provide a calming influence for Stephen Curry, who, though extremely talented, often gets trigger happy. Duncan, moreover, would afford Curry the opportunity of playing without the ball in his hands, something Curry did more of in college. Off-ball screens and movement, aside from confounding the defense, can free up a player like Curry for open jump shots. This team-up is unlikely to happen, so bask in its imaginative glory!