Star duos are running the league at the moment. Almost every title contender has at least two All-Star players, with some teams having two superstars. Basketball is a team game and even the greatest players of all time needed help when it came to postseason winning. Simply put, a superstar player, no matter how great, cannot win on his own.
Most recently, James Harden and Russell Westbrook broke the record for the highest-scoring duo in NBA history. Harden has been the best scorer in the league for a while now, and Westbrook is a dominant scorer despite playing as a point guard. They go about it their own ways, with Harden living at the free-throw line and beyond the arc while Russell Westbrook attacks the rim or pulls up from mid-range.
With credit to The Ringer’s excellent piece, an adjustment to the ranking has been added. By adjusting the total points scored for the respective era, we reach a fair calculation. So a higher PPG in the early 2000s is more impressive than now, where teams average around 111 PPG. It is time to see who Harden and Westbrook passed up in the top-ten list of highest scoring duos in NBA history.
10. 1964-65 Lakers
Duo: Jerry West, 31.0 ppg; Elgin Baylor, 27.1 ppg
Adjusted PPG Average: 26.16
Total Points Per Game: 58.1 PPG
Team Result: 49-31, lost in NBA Finals
West and Baylor are legendary Lakers that gave defenses fits throughout their whole careers wearing the Purple and Gold. West is clearly a top-five shooting guard of all time who was a sensational shooter. He shot from three, from the line, and from the field in 1964. Baylor was putting up 27.1 PPG on % shooting from the field. This duo was unstoppable, and it is no surprise that they ended up in the Finals only to lose to the Celtics.
9. 2010-11 Heat
Duo: LeBron James, 26.7 ppg; Dwyane Wade, 25.5 ppg
Adjusted Average: 26.22
Total Points Per Game: 52.2 PPG
Team Result: 58-24, lost in NBA Finals
A prime LeBron James decided to not return to his hometown team and join forces with Dwyane Wade in Miami. Via the ESPN-aired The Decision, James let the world know he was taking his talents to South Beach. James and Wade (along with Chris Bosh) were on a mission all season long and made it all the way to the NBA Finals. Wade was still an All-Star in the league putting up 25.5 PPG, but the pair could not take advantage of their scoring and lost to a rampant Dirk Nowitzki and Dallas Mavericks in the Finals.
8. 1999-00 Lakers
Big Two: Shaquille O’Neal, 29.7 ppg; Kobe Bryant, 22.5 ppg
Adjusted Average: 26.25
Total Points Per Game: 52.2 PPG
Team Result: 67-15, won NBA Championship
This list should be known as the “Shaq and Kobe” list because they will appear multiple times unsurprisingly. As probably the most dominant little-big duo in history, Shaq and Kobe made it all the way to the NBA Finals to defeat the Supersonics in 4 games. Shaq was too dominant to handle in the post and having Kobe to deal with as well made it a foregone conclusion that the Lakers would be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.
7. 2011-12 Thunder
Big Two: Kevin Durant, 28.0 ppg; Russell Westbrook, 23.6 ppg
Adjusted Average: 26.61
Total Points Per Game: 51.6 PPG
Team Result: 47-19, lost in NBA Finals
KD and Westbrook were quite a sensational pairing because they had youth and explosiveness on their side. Durant was probably the best scorer in the league and Westbrook played with raw athleticism and aggression. The duo was immensely talented, and with the likes of James Harden and Serge Ibaka on the squad, they made it all the way to the Finals. Unfortunately for them, they ran into the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat and could not overcome them.
6. 2006-07 Nuggets
Carmelo Anthony, 28.9 ppg; Allen Iverson: 24.8 ppg
Adjusted Average: 27.07
Total Points Per Game: 53.7 PPG
Team Result: 45-37, lost in the first round
This duo should have performed much better than they did. Carmelo Anthony was arguably one of the top-10 players in the game when the trade to bring Iverson aboard went down, and many expected them to be a threat to make the Western Conference Finals in the West. Melo had size and explosiveness to go along with his soft touch, while Iverson could still score the ball at a high level. The Nuggets never clicked, and the scoring of the duo went to waste as they lost in the first round.
5. 2001-02 Lakers
Shaquille O’Neal, 27.2 ppg; Kobe Bryant, 25.2 ppg
Adjusted Average: 27.41
Total Points Per Game: 52.4 PPG
Team Result: 58-24, won NBA Championship
Shaq and Kobe appear again, and once again win an NBA title by defeating Allen Iverson and the 76ers. Shaq was his usual dominant self, but this time Kobe was a better player. The Sixers really did not have a chance against the Lakers, although Iverson did manage to sneak a Game 1 victory. Shaq and Kobe once again prove they were the best duo in the NBA and it wasn’t even close.
4. 1961-62 Lakers
Elgin Baylor, 38.3 ppg; Jerry West, 30.8 ppg
Adjusted Average: 28.72
Total Points Per Game: 69.1 PPG
Team Result: 54-26, lost in NBA Finals
It seems to be a recurring theme for the superstar duo of West and Baylor, as they dominated the scoring charts but lost in the Finals. For whatever reason, Baylor never won an NBA title and West had one of the most shocking Finals records ever. In the season, Baylor dropped a whopping 38.3 PPG, and West added 30.8 PPG to lead the Lakers again to the Finals. This duo was truly all-time great, and they should have had one NBA title at least.
3. 2002-03 Lakers
Kobe Bryant, 30.0 ppg; Shaquille O’Neal, 27.5 ppg
Adjusted Average: 30.17
Total Points Per Game: 57.5 PPG
Team Result: 50-32, lost in the second round
For the third time, Shaq and Kobe appear on the list but this time it does not result in an NBA championship. As a matter of fact, they did not even get to the Conference Finals. With Kobe leading the way this time, the duo averaged 30.17 PPG on average. They were dominant inside and outside, but questions on their chemistry remained. Two alpha males are never a good thing, and that is what probably happened in 2003.
2. 2000-01 Lakers
Shaquille O’Neal, 28.7 ppg; Kobe Bryant, 28.5 ppg
Adjusted Average: 30.18
Total Points Per Game: 57.2 PPG
Team Result: 56-26, won NBA Championship
Probably the best version of Shaq and Kobe was this one. Kobe came fully into his own, and Shaq was the most dominant player in the game. There was simply no answer for them and they expectedly captured an NBA title. This pair was the highest-scoring duo in history for years until the Houston Rockets pulled off one of the boldest trades in history.
1. 2019-2020 Houston Rockets
James Harden, 34.4 PPG; Russell Westbrook, 27.2 PPG
Adjusted Average: 30.19 PPG
Total Points Per Game: 61.5 PPG
Team Result: TBD
Overtaking the legendary duo of Shaq and Kobe is the current pair of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. After playing with each other in OKC, Harden led his own team in Houston while Westbrook was traded to the Rockets as part of a Thunder rebuild. With Houston’s spread offense and high-octane scoring, Harden and Westbrook are finding ways to score the ball every time down the floor. They do everything on offense, from taking shots to assisting for threes and layups. There is not a better duo for the modern NBA than Russ and James, and they are the highest-scoring duo in history.