Top 10 NBA What If Duos

Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. These are duos that are considered among the greatest in NBA History that dominated in their respective era and changed the scope of the NBA. However, we’re not here to talk about those duos. We’re going to talk about duos that would have dominated had they played together in their prime or for a longer period of time. We’re taking a look at situations where two players were teammates but one player or the other were either traded, out of his physical prime, or left the team before we could see their full potential as teammares. There are so many examples of this, more than one would think there are of these scenarios, but somehow I was able to narrow it down to just 10. Now before we get started, there are a few ground rules we need to put in place. The rules for this are simple: duos featured could only be teammates for one season and one season only, duos could not be members of a NBA championship WINNING team together, and players can only be featured once. With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the greatest one year only duos in NBA History.

10. Karl Malone and Adrian Dantley: Teammates in the 1985-1986 season with the Utah Jazz

We start the list with two of the best players in Utah Jazz history Karl Malone and Adrian Dantley. While Karl Malone was a rookie with the Utah Jazz, Adrian Dantley was in his seventh season with the team. In his seven seasons with the Jazz, Dantley averaged 29.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 461 games. However, the Jazz were only able to make the postseason in Dantley’s last three seasons with the team. While injury troubles plagued Adrian Dantley and the Jazz costing them a chance at the postseason, another reason was their lack of low post scoring, enter Karl Malone. Imagine pairing Adrian Dantley’s 30 points per game with Karl Malone’s prime years with the Utah Jazz. From the 1987-1988 season to the 1997-1998 season, Karl Malone averaged 27.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists and the Jazz won 50 games in all but two seasons. Don’t even get me started with adding John Stockton to that mix that would be a hard team to stop from scoring the basketball.

9. Charles Barkley and Bob McAdoo: Teammates in the 1985-1986 season with the Philadelphia 76ers

Charles Barkley and Bob McAdoo were teammates in Barkley’s second NBA season and McAdoo’s final season. They are one of only two duos on this list to have both players win league MVP at one point in their career. The only reason these two are not higher on this list is Bob McAdoo best years were cut short due to injury but what great years he had before then. Despite this, however, McAdoo had one of the best early careers of any player in NBA history. Although he was undersized compared to centers in his era, Bob McAdoo thrived in his first six NBA seasons with the Buffalo Braves (now Los Angeles Clippers) and New York Knicks averaging 27.8 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. McAdoo won league MVP in just his third season leading the Braves to a 49-33 record which would stand as a franchise record for wins in a season for 38 years. McAdoo played with some good bigs in his prime years but none were as good as Charles Barkley. Adding McAdoo’s numbers to Barkley’s prime numbers of 24.8 points, 12.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.7 steals would make this duo an unstoppable force in the front court.

8. Larry Bird and Pete Maravich: Teammates in the 1979-1980 season with the Boston Celtics

Now we get in to what is probably my personal favorite duo on this list in Larry Bird and “Pistol” Pete Maravich. Larry Bird and Pete Maravich were teammates in Bird’s rookie season and Maravich’s final NBA season. Pete Maravich was one of the most fun players to watch in his prime in the NBA. If anyone reading this is not familiar with Pete Maravich (anyone who calls themselves a basketball fan should know who he is), go to Youtube and watch his highlight tape and see why these two would be an amazing duo in their prime. He was ahead of his time as he was one of the first of a long line of players that specialized in ball handling skills and playmaking. Pairing him with Larry Bird in his prime would not only make them a fun duo to watch for both of their playmaking abilities, but also give him a teammate with a winning pedigree he never had in his prime. Before joining the Celtics, Maravich only made the playoffs three time (his first three NBA season) and only had two All-Star teammates (Lou Hudson and Truck Robinson). Larry Bird would be the great teammate Maravich never had in his prime not only electrifying on the court together but also racking up wins like he was never able to do.

7. Moses Malone and Dennis Rodman: Teammates in the 1994-1995 season with the San Antonio Spurs

This would easily be one of (if not the) greatest rebounding duos if these two were teammates in their prime. Dennis Rodman and Moses Malone were teammates in Rodman’s final season in San Antonio before joining the Chicago Bulls (joining a team that would win a then NBA record 72 games the next season and go on to win three NBA championships in the next three years) while Moses Malone was in his final season of his 21-year career. Both of these men were dominant offensive rebounders (and rebounders period) in their prime leading the league in rebounds per game a combined 13 times, leading in total offensive rebounds 14 times and leading in total rebounds 9 times. Their sheer dominance on the board would be a nightmare for opposing teams and that doesn’t even take into account their defensive abilities. Dennis Rodman’s lack of scoring ability (or lack of caring about scoring) prevents them from ranking higher on this list but these two would definitely an interesting duo to watch in their prime.

6. Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Gail Goodrich: Teammates in the 1975-1976 season with the Los Angeles Lakers

We now shift from what would be a great rebounding/defensive duo to a great scoring duo in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Gail Goodrich. These two were teammates in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s first season with the Los Angeles Lakers and Gail Goodrich’s last season with the Lakers. We all know Kareem and how he is an all-time great in NBA History but not too many people are familiar with Gail Goodrich. Gail Goodrich is one of the more underrated scorers in his prime in the late 60s and 70s who was apart of the 1972 Lakers championship team that is best known for having an NBA record 33-game win streak. He was a 10-year NBA veteran by the time he became teammates with Kareem spending eight of those seasons with the Lakers. From 1968-1969 season to the 1974-1975 season, Goodrich averaged 22.8 points per game and was the leading scorer for the Lakers championship team that also featured Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in that same time span (his first NBA season was in 1969-1970) was averaging 30.4 points and 15.3 rebounds with the Milwaukee Bucks before being traded to the Lakers. These two teaming together in their prime would have a similar effect that Shaq and Kobe when they teamed together.

5. Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady: Teammates in the 2012-2013 season with the San Antonio Spurs

We now come to a duo that was very close to teaming up in their prime but a bone-headed decision by a specific someone (we won’t get into that) prevented it from happening. I am of course referring to Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady who were teammates in the infamous 2012-2013 season that ended with the Spurs losing to the Heat in the NBA Finals in seven games. This was the series known for Ray Allen one of the greatest clutch shots in NBA History in game six that sent the game in overtime capping off an improbable comeback that began with the Heat down five points with 28.9 seconds left in the game. Luckily the Spurs lost that game otherwise these two would not have qualified for this list. In his prime, Tracy McGrady was one of the top scorers in his era which is saying a lot seeing as he played along great scorers like AI, Kobe, Shaq, Melo, DWade, etc. Tim Duncan, on the other hand is widely considered by many to be the greatest power forward in NBA history. Not to mention teaming him up with Tracy McGrady in his prime would give TMac the teammate with a winning pedigree he never truly had. These two would have been a fun duo to watch in their prime with Tracy McGrady’s isolation scoring ability and Tim Duncan’s post scoring. Their athleticism would make them a dangerous combo on both sides of the ball and a tough duo to stop in their prime.

4. Michael Jordan and Artis Gilmore: Teammates in the 1987-1988 season with the Chicago Bulls

Two things Michael Jordan never had in his prime was an All-Star caliber point guard (unless Scottie Pippen as a point forward counts) and an all-star caliber center. Well let’s rectify that in this scenario and team him up with Artis Gilmore. If not for the 1996-1997 season, this could have easily been Jordan and Robert Parish but they won a championship which goes against the rules of this list. That, however, does not mean this is a downgrade for Michael Jordan. Artis Gilmore is one of the most underrated centers in NBA history and one of the greatest centers in ABA history. Gilmore averaged 22.3 points, 17.1 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in five years with the Kentucky Colonels in the ABA and in his prime years in the NBA averaged 19.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. Even if we were to take his ABA numbers out of the equation, pairing his numbers with Michael Jordan who averaged 30 points for his career is absolutely insane. This would give Jordan the scoring big he never had in his career creating space for him to score and make plays without worrying about being the center focus of the opposing defenses game plan.

3. Kobe Bryant and Gary Payton: Teammates in the 2003-2004 season with the Los Angeles Lakers

This was a tough decision because the third and second spots could go either way but I ultimately decided to place Kobe Bryant and Gary Payton at number three on this list. Kobe and Gary were teammates in the infamous 2003-2004 season along with Karl Malone and Shaquille O’Neal when the teamed up in Shaq’s final season in LA ending with the team being dominated in the NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons ending with the team losing in five games. We’re not going to talk about all the drama surrounding the team but what we are going to talk about is how incredible a backcourt Kobe and GP would have been in their prime. Both of these guys are two of the best two-way players at their respective positions with both players combining to average at least 20 ppg 21 times and making the All-Defensive first team 18 times. So not only would they be hard to stop on offense, but they would put clamps on defense making it difficult for opposing backcourts to score. Combined with their playmaking ability, athleticism, intensity and competitive nature these two would not only be one of the most fun backcourts to watch but also one of the greatest backcourts ever.

2. Hakeem Olajuwon and Scottie Pippen: Teammates in the 1998-1999 season with the Houston Rockets

As I said before, it was tough decision to who I should put at the number two spot between Olajuwon/Pippen and Payton/Bryant. Ultimately, I decided to go with Hakeem and Scottie but if someone were to say Kobe and GP would be the better duo I would not be mad. Most people don’t remember these two were teammates in the lockout shortened season in 1999 a year removed from Scottie Pippen’s sixth championship season with the Chicago Bulls. While there is a debate of who would have won in a seven-game series between the Bulls and Rockets had Jordan not retired in 1994, one thing that is not debatable is that Scottie and Hakeem are two of the most versatile defenders the NBA has ever seen. With their size, length and athleticism, they can easily guard anybody at any position while also remaining effective on offense. I genuinely do not know how opposing offenses would score with these two on the floor. Combined with their talents on the offensive side of the ball, Scottie’s point forward playmaking/scoring and Hakeem’s post offense, these two would be an absolute nightmare to play against. While there was a huge debate at who was going to take the third or second, there is no debate about who deserved the top spot.

  1. Lebron James and Shaquille O’Neal: Teammates in the 2009-2010 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers

This was an absolute no brainer if Lebron and Shaq were teammates in their prime they would without a doubt be considered the greatest duo of all-time. The best way I could describe these two as teammates in their prime is like if the Monstars were already great basketball players and still decided to steal the powers of other great NBA legends. Shaq had so many options for duos that could have made this list that I could have done a what if duos list with just him. Minus LeBron, here is a list of players Shaq was teammates with for one season: Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul, Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Mitch Richmond, Dennis Rodman, Jermaine O’Neal, and Antawn Jamison. But of all these names, LeBron is the one who stands out most and would have made for the better duo compared to the other players listed. Two men who were the most dominant players in their respective era, these two would be a headache for opposing offenses. With LeBron’s athleticism, scoring and playmaking ability and with Shaq’s post offense and athleticism, I don’t see anybody being able to stop these two. These two individually are considered among the top 10 (or maybe even top five) greatest players of all-time.

BONUS: Julius Erving and George Gervin: Teammates in the 1972-1973 season with the Virginia Squires

Julius Erving and George Gervin may have been teammates in the ABA rather than the NBA, but the fact that they were teammates and both went on to have Hall of Fame careers they deserved to be mentioned on the list. These two were teammates in George Gervin’s rookie season and Dr. J’s second season in the ABA. Just imagine if Dr. J and Gervin were able to team together when the NBA and ABA merged. Two of the ABAs greatest players in the leagues history coming together to take over the NBA would have been amazing to watch. Both of these guys were great scorers two of the greatest finishers at the rim the NBA has ever seen with George Gervin known for his patented finger roll layup finishes and Dr. J known for being the founding father of dunking. These two were beyond great playmakers they were highly skilled and had great success in the NBA once the ABA merged. Julius Erving made four NBA Finals appearances including making the Finals in his first season with the 76ers following the ABA merger winning the championship in 1983. George Gervin won four scoring titles leading the Spurs to the Playoffs in all but one season in the NBA. If only these two teamed up in the NBA that would have been one for the history books.

Honorable Mentions

Luka Doncic and Dirk Nowitzki: Teammates in the 2018-2019 season with the Dallas Mavericks

Patrick Ewing and Grant Hill: Teammates in the 2001-2002 season with the Orlando Magic

Marc Gasol and Allen Iverson: Teammates in the 2009-2010 season with the Memphis Grizzlies

Tim Hardaway and Reggie Miller: Teammates in the 2002-2003 season with the Indiana Pacers

Spencer Haywood and Magic Johnson: Teammates in the 1979-1980 season with the Los Angeles Lakers

Dwight Howard and Steve Nash: Teammates in the 2012-2013 season with the Los Angeles Lakers

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