Most lethal NBA duos of all time
Ever Michael Lewis' 2003 book (and subsequent movie) “Moneyball,” about advanced statistics in baseball, a statistical revolution has taken place across all professional leagues—most especially in NBA basketball. Whereas an NBA box score used to tell players, fans, coaches, and scouts how many points, rebounds, and assists a player might have for a game, statistical depth today is measured with advanced algorithms in dozens of categories.
Some of the most widely used measures are VORP, BPM, PER, and WS. VORP stands for Value Over Replacement Player, which basically measures the overall value that a player gives to his team in comparison to a player who could theoretically “replace” him. The measure of the replacement player is a set number that might be comparable to the average benchwarmer.
BPM stands for Box Plus/Minus. This statistic measures a player's performance during his time on the court. If a player is a +1, then his team outperformed their opponent by one point during his time on the court. If he's a -1, then the player's time on the court resulted in losing a point to the opposing team.
PER stands for Player Efficiency Rating. This metric was designed by John Hollinger while at ESPN, and is a holistic approach to measuring a player's efficiency while on the court. It takes into account field goals, free throws, assists, turnovers, missed shots, and more. The average PER for players is 15. If a player scores higher, it's great; lower, not so much.
Finally, WS, which stands for Win Shares. This number is calculated by taking a player's output and determining what percentage that output ultimately contributed to a team win.
The advanced numbers help define which players had the best seasons and how that resulted in team success. Stacker, using Basketball Reference as its data source, broke down these stats between the years 1974 and 2017 (1974 was the first year the NBA kept stats for categories like steals, blocks, and others, and when VORP and BPM could be tabulated), to determine not only which players were the best, but to create a list of deadly duos whose combined advanced stats made them the most lethal combo for a given season.
The list below is a tantalizing look at the best tag teams in NBA history (after 1974) from a purely empirical data standpoint. Note that Stacker has included only the best year for each duo. Feelings about who the best is are subjective, but measuring statistics is the most objective way to figure out which teammates ultimately rise to the top.
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#25. 2007–2008 Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (BOS)
- Kevin Garnett (#3 in NBA):
--- PPG: 18.8, RPG: 9.2, APG: 3.4, SPG: 1.4, BPG: 1.3
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 5.5 (#5), PER: 25.3 (#7), BPM: 7.4 (#5), WS: 12.9 (#7)
- Paul Pierce (#10 in NBA):
--- PPG: 19.6, RPG: 5.1, APG: 4.5, SPG: 1.3, BPG: 0.5
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 4.9 (#9), PER: 19.6 (#42.5), BPM: 4.7 (#15), WS: 12.4 (#9)
Paul Pierce's #34 was retired by the Boston Celtics 10 years after he and Kevin Garnett helped the Celtics win their last championship title in 2008—the first time since 1986. Pierce and Garnett led Boston in the championship game against fierce competition: Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, a team Pierce admired as a child. Pierce told ESPN that he and Garnett "were meant to be together." The Celtics may have won more championships if not for Garnett's knee injury in 2009, Pierce has said. The duo met toward the end of their high school years and have maintained a strong bond. Both men and their families are close; their children are reportedly best friends, as are their wives.
#24. 2015–2016 Stephen Curry and Draymond Green (GSW)
- Stephen Curry (#1 in NBA):
--- PPG: 30.1, RPG: 5.4, APG: 6.7, SPG: 2.1, BPG: 0.2
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 9.8 (#1), PER: 31.5 (#5), BPM: 12.5 (#2), WS: 17.9 (#1)
- Draymond Green (#12 in NBA):
--- PPG: 14.0, RPG: 9.5, APG: 7.4, SPG: 1.5, BPG: 1.4
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 5.5 (#9), PER: 19.3 (#60), BPM: 5.8 (#11), WS: 11.1 (#10)
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the 2015–2016 Golden State Warriors had a killer duo on their roster. After all, this is the team that set the single season wins record by going 73-9. What may be surprising is that the duo is Steph Curry and Draymond Green, and not Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. When taking advanced metrics into account, Draymond was a statistical marvel and bested Klay across the board, while Steph was the league MVP, having one of the greatest shooting seasons in NBA history, and ranking first in combined advanced league data. Unfortunately, the statistical gem wasn't enough to overcome LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
#23. 1984–1985 Sidney Moncrief and Terry Cummings (MIL)
- Sidney Moncrief (#6 in NBA):
--- PPG: 21.7, RPG: 5.4, APG: 5.2, SPG: 1.6, BPG: 0.5
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 4.6 (#8), PER: 20.1 (#19), BPM: 4.7 (#9), WS: 11.2 (#6)
- Terry Cummings (#7 in NBA):
--- PPG: 23.6, RPG: 9.1, APG: 2.9, SPG: 1.5, BPG: 0.8
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 4.0 (#12), PER: 22.1 (#8), BPM: 3.8 (#16), WS: 10.7 (#9)
In the NBA, it's often said that if you have the two best players in a game or series, you're usually going to win. That held true for most of the 1984–1985 season for the Milwaukee Bucks, when Sidney Moncrief and Terry Cummings both averaged more than 20 points per game, and both made the Eastern Conference All-Star team while leading the Bucks to 59 wins. Of course, in the playoffs they ran into a team that had the three best players in Julius Erving, Moses Malone, and Charles Barkley, and got swept in the second round.
#22. 1975–1976 Bob McAdoo and Randy Smith (BUF)
- Bob McAdoo (#3 in NBA):
--- PPG: 31.1, RPG: 12.4, APG: 4.0, SPG: 1.2, BPG: 2.1
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 5.9 (#2), PER: 23.3 (#4), BPM: 5.0 (#10), WS: 12.3 (#2)
- Randy Smith (#10 in NBA):
--- PPG: 21.8, RPG: 5.1, APG: 5.9, SPG: 1.9, BPG: 0.0
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 4.3 (#9), PER: 18.7 (#21), BPM: 3.3 (#18), WS: 9.4 (#11)
Bob McAdoo's best season was actually the year before in 1974–1975, when he won the league MVP award, but as a duo, he and Randy Smith took the Buffalo Braves to new heights. In advanced stats, McAdoo ranked third league-wide and Smith was 10th, while averaging 31.1 and 21.8 points respectively. 1975–1976 was the fourth year the two all-stars played together (both made the 1976 All-Star team) but they ultimately lost to the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs. Just two years later, the Buffalo Braves relocated to San Diego and became the Clippers.
#21. 2011–2012 Kevin Durant and James Harden (OKC)
- Kevin Durant (#3 in NBA):
--- PPG: 28.0, RPG: 8.0, APG: 3.5, SPG: 1.3, BPG: 1.2
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 4.6 (#3), PER: 26.2 (#5), BPM: 5.2 (#7), WS: 12.2 (#3)
- James Harden (#9.5 in NBA):
--- PPG: 16.8, RPG: 4.1, APG: 3.7, SPG: 1.0, BPG: 0.2
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 3.2 (#15), PER: 21.1 (#34), BPM: 4.5 (#14), WS: 9.3 (#6)
Before one of the worst trades in NBA history, Kevin Durant and James Harden were a lethal combo leading their team to the NBA Finals in 2012 (losing to the Miami Heat). On the statistical side, Durant was ranked third overall in advanced numbers and led the league in scoring with 28 points per game. Unbelievably (since he is the reigning NBA MVP), Harden came off the bench for the Thunder and earned the league's Sixth Man of the Year award.
#20. 2008–2009 Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol (LAL)
- Kobe Bryant (#5 in NBA):
--- PPG: 26.8, RPG: 5.2, APG: 4.9, SPG: 1.5, BPG: 0.5
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 4.9 (#6), PER: 24.4 (#14), BPM: 4.5 (#13), WS: 12.7 (#7)
- Pau Gasol (#7 in NBA):
--- PPG: 18.9, RPG: 9.6, APG: 3.5, SPG: 0.6, BPG: 1.0
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 5.3 (#5), PER: 22.2 (#23), BPM: 5.0 (#10), WS: 13.9 (#4)
The 2008–2009 season wasn't Kobe Bryant's best individual performance (he won league MVP the year before), but it was the first full season that he and teammate Pau Gasol played together, winning 65 games and bringing the Lakers another NBA title. Gasol was traded to the Lakers midway through the previous season. Bryant's advanced stats put him as the fifth ranked player in the league and Gasol was just behind him at seventh. The duo was so good that they repeated as champions, beating the Boston Celtics the next year.
#19. 1979–1980 Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell (BOS)
- Larry Bird (#5 in NBA):
--- PPG: 21.3, RPG: 10.4, APG: 4.5, SPG: 1.7, BPG: 0.6
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 5.4 (#3), PER: 20.5 (#17), BPM: 5.3 (#5), WS: 11.2 (#8)
- Cedric Maxwell (#7 in NBA):
--- PPG: 16.9, RPG: 8.8, APG: 2.5, SPG: 1.0, BPG: 0.8
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 5.1 (#5), PER: 19.0 (#31), BPM: 5.4 (#4), WS: 12.2 (#3)
Larry Bird's rookie season was so incredible that he not only won Rookie of the Year, he improved the Boston Celtics record by a whopping 32 games from the previous year as the team went 61-21. Cedric Maxwell, meanwhile, didn't win any awards, but statistically he was in the top five rankings in VORP, BPM, and WS. The Celtics didn't win the title that year, but they did win it the year after with Maxwell taking home the Finals MVP trophy.
#18. 1973–1974 Rudy Tomjanovich and Calvin Murphy (HOU)
- Rudy Tomjanovich (#5 in NBA):
--- PPG: 24.5, RPG: 9.0, APG: 3.1, SPG: 1.1, BPG: 0.8
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 4.7 (#7), PER: 20.5 (#8), BPM: 3.8 (#9), WS: 12.8 (#4)
- Calvin Murphy (#7 in NBA):
--- PPG: 20.4, RPG: 2.3, APG: 7.4, SPG: 1.9, BPG: 0.0
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 3.7 (#10), PER: 20.0 (#10), BPM: 3.0 (#13), WS: 9.2 (#13)
The 1973–1974 Houston Rockets didn't exactly have a banner season—they went 32-50 and missed the playoffs entirely. What they did have was all-star Rudy Tomjanovich and lightning quick guard Calvin Murphy, who played their third consecutive season together, putting up highlight statistics that ranked them fifth and seventh overall in advanced metrics. It was also just the third year of the team in Houston, as they moved from San Diego in 1971. Besides their joint rankings, Tomjanovich and Murphy have the dubious distinction of being the only duo on this list where their advanced statistical dominance didn't translate into team success.
#17. 1980–1981 Julius Erving and Bobby Jones (PHI)
- Julius Erving (#1 in NBA):
--- PPG: 24.6, RPG: 8.0, APG: 4.4, SPG: 2.1, BPG: 1.8
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 7.2 (#1), PER: 25.1 (#5), BPM: 8.0 (#3), WS: 13.8 (#2)
- Bobby Jones (#9 in NBA):
--- PPG: 13.5, RPG: 5.4, APG: 2.8, SPG: 1.2, BPG: 0.9
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 3.6 (#16), PER: 20.1 (#17), BPM: 5.0 (#8), WS: 9.2 (#14)
The 1980–1981 season was a monster year for Julius Erving. He was the league MVP and led his Philadelphia 76ers to 62 wins. From an advanced metric standpoint, he was the overall #1 ranked player. As a duo, Erving and teammate Bobby Jones played together for eight seasons and in 1980–1981, led the league's statistical rankings as Jones was in the top 10 overall in advanced numbers and made the NBA All-Star team alongside Erving. Unfortunately, the team ran into the juggernaut that was the Boston Celtics and lost in the Eastern Conference Finals.
#16. 1973–1974 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Lucius Allen (MIL)
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (#1 in NBA):
--- PPG: 27.0, RPG: 14.5, APG: 4.8, SPG: 1.4, BPG: 3.5
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 9.4 (#1), PER: 24.4 (#2), BPM: 8.5 (#1), WS: 18.4 (#1)
- Lucius Allen (#9 in NBA):
--- PPG: 17.6, RPG: 4.0, APG: 5.2, SPG: 1.9, BPG: 0.3
--- Advanced stats rankings: VORP: 3.4 (#15), PER: 18.8 (#16), BPM: 3.6 (#10), WS: 8.2 (#18)
The 1973–1974 season was the first year the NBA kept stats for categories like steals, blocks, and offensive and defensive rebounds, which is why it's the first year that advanced metrics could be tabulated properly. It's also a year where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the league MVP and was the #1 ranked player in all advanced stat categories except for PER (he was ranked #2). Combining this historic season with Lucius Allen's nearly 18 points per game made this the most lethal duo for the year. The team wound up winning 59 games, but fell short by losing to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.2018 All rights reserved.