NBA teams typically need at least a formidable duo to be a winner. If the duo compliments each other and can play on both ends, the organization can build around them and hopefully compete for a championship.
Although teams often fail to surround their two best players with enough talent to win it all, there have many iconic pairs throughout league history who’ve helped their franchise rise to the top of the league.
To properly commemorate them, let’s look at the best duo ever for each NBA team, with preference given to winning and total years spent playing together.
Atlanta Hawks: Bob Pettit & Cliff Hagan (1956-1965)
Members of the then-St. Louis Hawks, Pettit and Hagan brought the franchise its lone championship in 1958. The team was one of only two to beat the dominant Celtics during Bill Russell’s run, although the Hawks lost to Boston in the Finals three other times during the pair’s duration.
The duo combined for 14 All-Star games and 11 All-NBA selections in their time together, with Pettit also winning two MVPs. Pettit averaged 27.1 points and 16.5 rebounds while Hagan tallied 18.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, according to basketball-reference. They were both amongst the best scorers in the league at the time and did so with strong inside-out shooting.
Boston Celtics: Bill Russell & Bob Cousy (1956-1963)
Cousy and Russell are one of the best duos in NBA history. Although Larry Bird and Kevin McHale make a strong argument for best Boston duo ever, Cousy and Russel went to the Finals in all seven of their seasons together and won six of them. Hard to contend with that.
The two combined for 13 All-NBA and All-Star selections and a staggering five MVPs. Russell averaged 17.1 points and 23.1 rebounds, while Cousy averaged 17.7 points and 7.9 assists. They were undoubtedly two of the top-5 players in the game at the time.
Brooklyn Nets: Jason Kidd & Vince Carter (2004-2008)
Kidd and Carter didn’t experience great team success as a duo, but the pair was lethal apart from the rest of the team. Carter joined New Jersey in a mid-season trade in 2004 and they both played together until an aging Kidd was dealt near the trade deadline in 2008. Had they had more time together in their primes, the Nets probably could have made more noise in the Eastern Conference as they did in the early 2000s.
They combined for nine All-Star games in their years together. Kidd averaged 12.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, nine assists and 1.6 steals per game while Carter accumulated 23.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists. Team defensive woes were a big reason for the Nets’ underachievement, but the duo, as individuals, played well.
Charlotte Hornets: Alonzo Mourning & Larry Johnson (1992-1995)
These two being Charlotte’s best duo is pretty hilarious. Mourning and Johnson hated each other, which came to a head in their 1998 playoff scuffle. Still, the duo was formidable on the court as they were arguably two of the best bigs playing together at the time. They were young, athletic and led the Hornets to an overall winning record in their three seasons together, but Mourning was dealt to the Heat once it was clear the two couldn’t co-exist.
Despite their beef, the pair combined for four All-Star games and one All-NBA selection for Johnson. Mourning averaged 21.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game to Johnson’s 19.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists. They both also shot over 50% from the field.
Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan & Scottie Pippen (1987-1993, 1995-1998)
This is the best duo in NBA history. Jordan and Pippen’s Bulls won it all in all six of their Finals appearances and defined basketball in the 1990s, even with Jordan taking a year-and-a-half off. What truly makes these two the best pair in NBA history is their defensive prowess. Both Jordan and Pippen are two of the greatest perimeter defenders ever with the athleticism and energy to hound opponents for 94 feet.
Pippen was also the ultimate compliment to Jordan’s extreme Alpha dog personality. Jordan did the scoring while Pippen was more of a passer, but as time went on, they both learned to trust their teammates and created a truly great team during their second three-peat. They combined for 16 All-Star and All-Defensive teams, as well as 15 All-NBA teams. Jordan averaged 31.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game. Pippen averaged 18 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.1 steals.
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James & Kyrie Irving (2014-2017)
Although their breakup wasn’t pretty, James and Irving were arguably the most dynamic duo in the NBA during their three seasons together. They made the Finals each season and won one, with James’ historic block and Irving’s legendary clutch 3-pointer in the 2016 Finals completing the greatest comeback in league history.
It’s a shame they didn’t have more years together. Irving’s perimeter scoring and playmaking meshed well with James’ passing, paint presence and athleticism. During their run, James averaged 25.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.6 assists to Irving’s 22.4 points and 5.3 assists per game. They also combined for five All-Star selections and four All-NBA teams.
Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki & Jason Terry (2004-2012)
You could argue for several other players to pair with Nowitzki here, but no one played with him longer or had as much prolonged success as Terry. The duo helped the Mavericks win over 50 games in each season they played together (not counting the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season), including two seasons of 60-plus wins and two Finals appearances.
Terry was also pivotal to Dallas’ upset victory over Miami in the 2011 Finals. He averaged 18 points per game in the series and hit numerous clutch jumpers, all of which helped a dominant Nowitzki finally get over the hump.
In their eight years together, Nowitzki averaged 24.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while Terry tallied 16.1 points and 4.1 assists, each shooting nearly 39% from behind the arc. Nowitzki also made All-NBA in each season and won the MVP in 2007.
Denver Nuggets: David Thompson & Dan Issel (1976-1982)
Denver hasn’t had too many longstanding duos throughout franchise history, but Thompson and Issel are the clear leaders in both seasons played together and overall team success. This duo peaked early, in large part due to off-the-court issues with Thompson, but there were few more talented offensive pairings in the NBA at that time.
The Nuggets peaked with these two in the 1978 playoffs when the team narrowly lost to Seattle in the Western Conference Finals. It was a rapid decline as a team in the following years, but the two still finished their time together as a memorable offensive tandem. Thompson averaged 23.7 points per game and Issel 21.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, with the two combining for four All-Star games and Thompson earning two First-Team All-NBA selections.
Detroit Pistons: Isiah Thomas & Joe Dumars (1985-1994)
Thomas and Dumars anchored the “Bad Boy” Pistons of the late 1980s and led the franchise to three consecutive Finals appearances, winning back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990. Both players could handle the ball, play inside and out, make plays for their teammates and lockdown the opposing squad’s two guards. They played off each other better than most for nine seasons and tormented Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the process.
They each won a Finals MVP and combined for 12 All-Star appearances and six All-NBA teams in their nine seasons together. Before Thomas’ career-ending Achilles tendon tear in 1994, Thomas averaged 18.5 points, 8.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Dumars averaged 17.1 points, 4.7 assists and shot 38.2% from behind the arc, as well as making five All-Defensive teams.
Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry & Kevin Durant (2016-2019)
Durant’s move to Golden State was despised then as is still lamented now, but he undoubtedly created one of the best duos ever between him and Curry. They are two of the greatest shooters of all time and were unguardable when motivated, which wasn’t always the case after the team’s initial 67-win regular season and 16-1 playoff record in 2016-2017 since they won so easily all the time.
For as good as they each were, what made them legendary was their unselfishness. You never saw them holding the ball for long, and that mindset spread throughout the rest of the roster and made for some truly beautiful basketball.
In their three seasons together, each player made the All-Star team and an All-NBA team. Curry averaged 26.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, six assists and 1.6 steals per game. Durant averaged 25.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game while also making great strides on the defensive end.
Houston Rockets: Hakeem Olajuwon & Clyde Drexler (1995-1998)
Amid a disappointing follow-up to the team’s 1994 championship, Houston traded for Drexler midway through the 1994-1995 season in hope that another star alongside Olajuwon would reignite the Rockets’ title hopes.
He did just that as the two carried the sixth-seeded Rockets to a second championship, becoming the lowest seed ever to win it all. Drexler’s athleticism and perimeter scoring complimented Olajuwon’s interior dominance well, and the two enjoyed great success in their short time together.
Both players were in their 30s when they joined forces, which unfortunately caused a quick decline by the late 1990s. Still, Olajuwon averaged 24.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game to Drexler’s 19 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.9 steals. The two also combined for five All-Star games and four All-NBA teams.
Indiana Pacers: Reggie Miller & Rik Smits (1988-2000)
The Pacers haven’t enjoyed many great duos throughout their history, but Miller and Smits were the core of the organization for over a decade. They carried the team’s offense and eventually turned the franchise into a legitimate contender by the end of their time together, although they fell to several other great teams.
These two led teams that pushed Jordan’s Bulls to a Game 7 and gave Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers issues in the 2000 Finals. Miller averaged 20.4 points on 40.5% 3-point shooting, while Smits 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game as a more modern-styled center. They combined for six All-Star games, and Miller made three Third-Team All-NBA teams.
Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul & Blake Griffin (2011-2017)
When Paul joined the Clippers following Griffin’s Rookie of the Year campaign, many were excited for what the All-NBA guard and the uber-athletic forward could accomplish, both in terms of alley-oops and winning.
The team never made it past the second round, mainly due to injuries and an inability to finish games, yet the duo was highly successful and they elevated each other’s careers. Toward the end of their time together, however, feuds over team leadership caused the pair to split.
They’ll always be remembered for “Lob City” and their shortcomings, but boy were they fun to watch. Paul averaged 18.8 points, 9.8 assists and 2.2 steals, and Griffin accumulated 21.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per contest. They also combined for nine All-Star and All-NBA teams.
Los Angeles Lakers: Shaquille O’Neal & Kobe Bryant (1996-2004)
O’Neal and Bryant were the most talented pair to ever play together in the NBA. Their Lakers teams were the last to three-peat as champions, yet the pair also had one of the most publicized and complicated relationships of any All-Star teammates in history. They compliment each other so well on the court but weren’t like-minded off of it.
Unfortunately for basketball fans, the two decided they could no longer co-exist after losing the 2004 Finals, which led to O’Neal being traded to Miami. Both players won titles after playing together, which shows how great they were as individuals in addition to their success as a pair.
The two combined for 14 All-NBA selections, 13 All-Star games and eight All-Defensive teams. O’Neal averaged 27 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on 57.5% shooting, and Bryant averaged 21.8 points, five rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.5 steals.
Memphis Grizzlies: Marc Gasol & Mike Conley (2008-2019)
The Grizzlies have only been a franchise for 25 years, so they haven’t seen too many greats come through the organization. Gasol and Conley are the clear top duo as they helped turn the franchise into a winner, peaking in 2013 when they made it to the Western Conference Finals.
Their teams never got over the hump, but the pair created a gritty culture that gave many teams fits. Gasol averaged 15.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists to Conley’s 15.3 points, 5.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Gasol also made three All-Star games, made the All-NBA team twice and won Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
Miami Heat: LeBron James & Dwyane Wade (2010-2014)
Although Wade and James needed time to gel after the infamous “decision,” the two worked better than anyone could have imagined once they figured out their chemistry. They developed one of the most famous alley-oop combos in basketball history and showed a unique ability to pass and cut at the precise moment needed. Their full-court outlet passes were a sight to behold and they could both lockdown their matchup.
There were hiccups along the way, like when James crumbled under the pressure of the 2011 Finals and Wade eventually suffered knee issues, but the two still led the franchise to back-to-back titles and created plenty of timeless highlights.
Miami’s success helped James earn back-to-back MVPs in 2012 and 2013, and the two combined for eight All-Star games and seven All-NBA teams in just four seasons. James averaged 26.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.7 steals on 54.3% shooting. Wade averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.6 steals.
Milwaukee Bucks: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Oscar Robertson (1970-1974)
Abdul-Jabbar was a sensation in his rookie season, but the addition of Robertson made Milwaukee into a contender. The Bucks dominated the league in the duo’s first season together, winning 66 games and cruising to a championship before age slowed Robertson down in the following seasons.
Their time together was short, but the pair accomplished its goal right away. The two combined for six All-Star games and five All-NBA teams, with Abdul-Jabbar also three MVPs in these four years. Abdul-Jabbar averaged 30.9 points, 15.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists while Robertson tallied 16.3 points and 7.5 assists per game.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns & Jimmy Butler (2017-2019)
The Timberwolves don’t sport any noteworthy duos in their 31-year history, so Towns and Butler are the best almost by default. The team did make the playoffs in the pair’s lone full season together, winning 47 games despite Butler missing 23 contests, but lost in the first round.
Butler then forced a trade out of town because he felt Towns and Andrew Wiggins didn’t match his mindset. It wasn’t a great duo by any means, but Butler averaged 22 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game to Towns’ 22.8 points and 12.4 rebounds. They also combined for three All-Star selections and two All-NBA teams.
New Orleans Pelicans: Chris Paul & David West (2005-2011)
New Orleans hasn’t enjoyed much success or the talents of many great players, but Paul was arguably the best point guard in the league during his time there. West was his best teammate, so naturally, they make the best duo in franchise history.
The pair didn’t accomplish much, but their best season was in 2007-2008 when the team won 56 games and Paul finished second in MVP voting before they lost in Game 7 of the second round to the reigning-champion Spurs.
The two combined for six All-Star games, with Paul also earning three All-NBA and All-Defensive team selections. Paul averaged 18.7 points, 9.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game, and West accumulated 19.2 points and eight rebounds per outing.
New York Knicks: Walt Frazier & Willis Reed (1967-1974)
The only pair in Knicks history to bring the iconic franchise a title is Reed and Frazier, who won two out of their three Finals appearances in the 1970s. The pair was staunch on defense and dynamic on offense, although a major injury to Reed hindered him in his final few seasons.
The pair peaked in 1969-1970 when they led New York to 60 wins and later their first championship. In their years together, the two combined for nine All-Star and All-NBA selections, as well as seven First-Team All-Defensive teams. Frazier averaged 19.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists and Reed tallied 18.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook (2008-2016)
Everyone mostly remembers how this pair split, but in the eight years they played together, few duos ever were more explosive and exciting. Durant’s all-time great scoring output combined with Westbrook’s elite athleticism and motor dominated most teams in the league, and the Thunder enjoyed extreme success even without winning a championship.
Oklahoma City made the Western Conference Finals four times in this span and the Finals once. The duo didn’t always mesh perfectly and it became clear toward the end that something needed to change, yet a couple of luckier moments could have resulted in a ring for the organization.
They combined for 12 All-Star teams, 11 All-NBA teams, five scoring titles and Durant won the MVP in 2014. Durant averaged 28.4 points and 7.4 rebounds to Westbrook’s 21.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game.
Orlando Magic: Shaquille O’Neal & Penny Hardaway (1993-1996)
This duo was brief, but few pairs were ever more successful in such little time together. Orlando won 50, 57 and 60 games in the three respective seasons these two stars shared the court, which included two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, one Finals appearance and the lone playoff defeat of the 1990s Bulls with Jordan.
O’Neal left for L.A. after his rookie contract expired, and Hardaway suffered several injuries afterward and was never the same player. Still, the two combined for five All-Star and All-NBA selections, with O’Neal averaging 28.6 points, 12 rebounds and 2.5 blocks to Hardaway’s 19.5 points, 7 assists and two steals per game.
Philadelphia 76ers: Moses Malone & Julius Erving (1982-1986)
Malone’s addition to the 76ers, who lost the Finals in the previous season, was the perfect move to take some of the burdens off of an aging Erving. The pair dominated en route to a championship in their first season together, cementing both their legacies as all-time greats.
Few teams in the league at that time could counter this duo’s combination of size and athleticism. They combined for eight All-Star games and five All-NBA selections, and Malone won the MVP in 1983. Malone averaged 23.9 points and 13.4 rebounds, while Erving accumulated 20.5 points, 6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
Phoenix Suns: Steve Nash & Amar’e Stoudemire (2004-2010)
Nash and Stoudemire headlined Phoenix’s “seven seconds or less” offense that revolutionized future NBA offenses and inspired the 3-point heavy style of today’s game. They connected on countless pick-and-roll dunks courtesy of highlight-reel dimes from Nash, which helped him win back-to-back MVPs in the pair’s first two seasons together.
Stoudemire did miss almost the entire 2005-2006 season because of injury, but the pair still narrowly missed going to Finals several times. They combined for 10 All-Star games and nine All-NBA selections. Nash averaged 17 points and 10.9 assists per game to Stoudemire’s 23.2 points and nine rebounds.
Portland Trail Blazers: Clyde Drexler & Terry Porter (1985-1995)
This guard tandem led the longest duration of success in Trail Blazers history, peaking in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the team went to the Western Conference Finals in three consecutive seasons and the Finals once.
The duo simply couldn’t overcome better tandems like Thomas and Dumars, Johnson and James Worthy, and then Jordan and Pippen. Had they had a few lucky breaks, the team likely wins at least one title.
The duo combined for 10 All-Star games, with Drexler also making five All-NBA teams. Drexler averaged 22.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.1 steals, and Porter tallied 14.9 points, seven assists and 1.6 steals per outing.
Sacramento Kings: Chris Webber & Peja Stojakovic (1998-2005)
This pair probably has a ring if not for controversial refereeing in the 2001-2002 Western Conference Finals, but Webber and Stojakovic still led the Kings in scoring and created one of the most unselfish cultures in the league at the time.
Sacramento won 55 more games in each season from 2000-2004 with this duo pushing the pace and sharing the ball with their teammates. They combined for seven All-Star games and six All-NBA selections. Webber averaged 23.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists to Stojakovic’s 18.5 points and five rebounds per game on 39.8% shooting from behind the arc.
San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan & Tony Parker (2001-2016)
These two are arguably the most consistent pairing in NBA history. As individuals, especially in the second half of their time together, they weren’t spectacular and didn’t accumulate big numbers. They weren’t stat-padders, they were winners, and in their 15 years together they never won less than 50 games in a season.
The beautiful part of Duncan and Parker’s on-court relationship is that as Duncan began to transition from his superstar status, Parker elevated his game and took on more of the offensive load. They both Parker and Duncan took turns manning the helm and were as unselfish of stars as there have ever been in the NBA, which resulted in four titles with their first and last being 11 years apart.
The two combined for three Finals MVPs, 18 All-Star games and 15 All-NBA teams. Duncan averaged 18.2 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, while Parker averaged 16.6 points and 5.9 assists. No two players will ever be as successful for an extended period as these two were.
Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan (2012-2018)
Although this duo was often embarrassed by James’ Cavaliers in the playoffs, Lowry and DeRozan still turned Toronto into a respectable organization, which put the franchise in a position to acquire Kawhi Leonard and subsequently win its lone championship.
These two are as classy of players that an NBA team can have but weren’t quite good enough to make it out of the Eastern Conference. They combined for eight All-Star games and three All-NBA selections, with DeRozan averaging 22.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists to Lowry’s 17.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.
Utah Jazz: Karl Malone & John Stockton (1985-2003)
This duo played together the longest of any on this list and is perhaps the best pair to never win a championship. Stockton and Malone dominated the league for 18 seasons, turning the Jazz into a perennial powerhouse with their unstoppable pick-and-roll and unmatched consistency and durability. They each played only one season without sharing the court with each other.
These two missed just 32 of a possible 1,476 games in their time together and made back-to-back Finals in 1997 and 1998. They combined for 24 All-Star games, 25 All-NBA selections, nine All-Defensive teams and Malone won the MVP in 1997 and 1999. Stockton averaged 13.5 points, 10.8 assists and 2.2 steals, while Malone tallied 25.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. With their superb chemistry, Stockton became the all-time leader in assists and steals, while Malone ranks second in career points.
Washington Wizards: Elvin Hayes & Wes Unseld (1972-1981)
During maybe the most dysfunctional decade in NBA history, Unseld and Hayes were one of the league’s best tandems. They controlled the paint on both ends and were extremely talented and skilled, which helped the Bullets make three NBA Finals and win one in 1978 during their time together.
Getting swept in the 1975 Finals is perhaps the biggest upset in Finals history and a stain on these two’s resume, but the duo redeemed themselves near the end of the decade and eventually made the Hall of Fame. They combined for 10 All-Star games, with Hayes also making six All-NBA and two All-Defensive teams. Hayes averaged 21.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, and Unseld contributed 9.2 points, 12.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game while being one of the greatest passing big men ever.