There are certain players that seem to share a telepathic communication anytime they step onto the hardwood. Many teams experiment with a “Big 3”, but often it is a dynamic duo that can be the most damaging. This will often be a small guard and center/forward that enable them to play a 2 man game inside and out as well as run the pick and role, but this is not always the case. Some of the best duos have been comprised of 2 big men creating a formidable front court, and you will often get prolific duos of perimeter players who are more than capable of running the show. Sometimes they will have a similar playing style and leave defenders shaking in their boots, however it is also common for duos to be like chalk and cheese with one excelling on the offensive end, whilst the other locks down on defence and does the dirty work.
There are few things more exciting than watching a dynamic duo work together and it serves as a reminder that it is a team game. You can bring 2 elite players onto the same team, but it does not mean that they will form a deadly duo if all they do is take it in turns to run iso plays. A duo will work well together and bring out the best in each others game.
There are currently a range of fantastic duos in the NBA, including the likes of Westbrook & Durant (although not so much this season), Lillard & Aldridge, Curry & Thompson, Paul & Griffin and Harden & Howard. It is exciting to see what these duos are capable with, and with the playoffs just around the corner it is a chance to for them to cement their legacy. Taking a look back through NBA history, there have been many dynamic duos that have dominated, dazzled and been a joy to watch.
Here are the top 10 NBA duos of all time.
10 Walt Frazier & Willis Reed
It is difficult to image the Knicks as a 50+ win team and one that could challenge for the title. This was once the case, and it was largely down to the duo of Walt Frazier and Willis Reed. They were two hard working players that understood the value of locking down on the defensive end and it is here they excelled, but they were also more than capable of shouldering the scoring. Frazier was an excellent playmaker whilst Reed had the strength and footwork to dominate down low, but he also had a soft shooting touch which made him difficult to guard.
Their toughness was epitomised by Willis Reed emerging from the tunnel in game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, providing the emotional lift to help his team go on and win the game. Between the two of them, they helped the Knicks to their only 2 NBA titles in 1970 and 1973, with the duo getting a little help from Earl “The Pearl” Monroe in ’73.
9 Julius Erving & Moses Malone
Erving and Malone may not have played together as long as most of the entries on this list, but they accomplished a huge amount in their time together in Philadelphia. Erving brought extreme athleticism and explosive plays to fire up the crowd, whilst Malone loved the physical aspect of the game and was an elite rebounder. Combined, this made a devastating duo that managed to win an NBA title in 1983, despite the dominance of Boston and L.A. at the time. In their title winning season, Malone famously claimed that they would sweep each series. This astonishingly almost came true, with the 76ers dropping just 1 game to the Bucks on their road to their first title since 1967.
8 Isiah Thomas & Joe Dumars
There has never been a backcourt in the NBA quite as tough as this, and these two were the heart of the “Bad Boys” Pistons team which stifled their opposition and roughed them up each night. Their aggressive brand of basketball helped them to 2 NBA titles in ’89 and ’90, but importantly they also famously became the thorn in Jordan and the Bulls for many years and helped to create one of the greatest rivalries in the game.
It was not just on the defensive end where this duo succeeded however, Thomas is one of the all-time great point guards who could score, pass and attack the paint, whilst Dumars had size, strength and an outside shot which complimented Thomas’ play.
7 Tim Duncan & David Robinson
Before Parker and Ginobli developed and formed part of one of the greatest trios of all-time with Duncan, Timmy formed a deadly combination with “The Admiral”. Having a pair of intelligent, unselfish and hard working 7’0 players is one of the greatest weapons a coach can have, but these two also excelled alongside one another and provided incredible interior defence which made it near impossible for teams to outscore the Spurs.
What was special about this duo was that Robinson was coming to the end of his career as Duncan was learning the ropes, which meant that Duncan had a mentor alongside him in the paint. It is thanks to the Admiral that Duncan is one of the all-time greats and the Spurs have maintained such a high level over the years. Duncan and Robinson won 2 rings in their time playing alongside one another.
6 Bob Cousy & Bill Russell
What was so fantastic about the dominant 50’s and 60’s Celtics dynasty was the fact that they were a solid team of good players, with Russell arguably being the only star. Bill Russell famously has the most rings in NBA history, but the 7’0 defensive mountain would not have been able to have achieved this without Bob Cousy running the show. Russell dominated the boards and shut teams down with his interior presence, whilst Cousy controlled the tempo of the game, he could score the ball and was an excellent passer (he led the league in assists 8 times). This little and large duo won 6 titles in 7 Finals appearances together.
5 Larry Bird & Kevin McHale
It was not just the 50s and 60s where the Celtics formed a dynasty; it was also famously in the 80s with the likes of Bird, McHale, Parish, Maxwell, Johnson and Walton. Although Bird, McHale and Parish were very much a Big 3, Bird and McHale’s understanding and combination make them one of the best duos the game has seen. Bird was of course an elite shooter, excellent passer and decent rebounder, and this complimented McHale who would bang down low with plenty of unstoppable post moves and he is also one of the great interior defenders too. Bird and McHale took the Celtics to 5 Finals, picking up 3 titles in some unforgettable duels with the Lakers.
4 Kobe Bryant & Shaquille O’Neal
It may now seem like an eternity ago that these two were dominating the NBA due to their very public feud, but there is no doubt that Kobe and Shaq formed one of the most formidable duos in NBA history. Shaq provided the size and muscle down low to beat up on defenders and bring across double-teams, which enabled Kobe to knock down shots and find easy lanes to the basket. Kobe’s outside threat could also open up easy buckets for Shaq in the post, creating perhaps the greatest inside-outside duo to play the game.
Shaq has claimed that he and Kobe formed the best duo in NBA history, and although they are not number 1 on this list, you can certainly see his case with a remarkable three-peat to their names. A public falling out split up the duo, but it is interesting to think how things would have been different had they stayed together. Kobe was coming into his prime, and he impressively managed to win even without his former partner in crime throwing his weight around in the post.
3 John Stockton & Karl Malone
Although Stockton & Malone never won a championship (largely due to another certain duo in Chicago), they remain one of the greatest 1-2 punches to have played the game. Anyone wanting to learn how to run the pick and roll should study footage of these 2 in Utah, as they dismantled defences with their flawless execution and understanding of one another.
Both players benefited greatly from playing alongside one another, with Stockton sitting atop the all-time total assists leader board, whilst The Mailman is 2nd in total points by a comfortable margin. They played 18 fantastic seasons together, appearing in the playoffs every year and making it to the Finals twice. They may not have won a ring, but they were a joy to watch and exemplify great team basketball.
2 Magic Johnson & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The “Showtime” Lakers era was something to behold, and even if you are not a Lakers fan it is hard to deny how entertaining they were with their unselfish, fast paced play which was of course packed with flashy moves. At the heart of this was Magic and Kareem, probably the best PG and C duo there has been in the NBA. The fact that Magic was a 6’8 PG made them even more difficult to contain, but his vision and passing ability combined with Abdul-Jabbar’s patented sky-hook and size made them a force to be reckoned with. Together they won an impressive 5 NBA titles, but they will always be remembered for their entertaining brand of basketball which is still raved about today.
1 Michael Jordan & Scottie Pippen
Michael Jordan may get all the plaudits, but it is important to remember that Scottie Pippen played an enormous role in helping the Bulls to an impressive 6 NBA titles. Jordan of course excelled in every area of the game and he was the go to guy, but the hard work of Pippen was integral to their success. Pippen is one of the all-time great perimeter defenders, and alongside another elite perimeter defender in Jordan, the Bulls were difficult to score on. Pippen could also score the ball too, and this was crucial as it made double (or even triple) teams on Jordan futile as he could find his partner in crime for a bucket.
They formed a fantastic, hard nosed and hard working duo that enjoyed a tremendous amount of success together. Pippen may have had to settle in a supporting role, but he was hugely important in helping the Bulls to 6 NBA titles and also helping Jordan to become the best in the business.