NBA Duos that never won a championship can sometimes become as infamous as duos that do. It can sometimes be puzzling how they did not win it all.
Even when a team has a one in a generation type of player, they almost certainly will need the assistance of at least one other All-Star player to have a serious chance to contend for a championship. Legendary duos or even “big threes” are commonplace on championship teams, and sometimes even go for multiple rings.
Elite duos are such an effective recipe for championship success that even casual fans can name several without issue. LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, etc.
Despite this, sometimes a team will manage to acquire a couple of superstar level players and still fail to win it all. Whether due to chemistry issues, facing bad match-ups, or untimely injuries, sometimes top tier talent just fails to capture the ultimate glory.
10. Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire
Steve Nash is one of the most accomplished and greatest point guards in NBA history. The Hall of Famer and eight time All-Star peaked later than most players and was paired with athletic power forward Amare Stoudemire. The two thrived under head coach Mike D’Antoni’s revolutionary “seven seconds or less” offense. Clever coaching and elite talent proved to be insufficient as they could never quite make it out of the loaded Western Conference.
9. Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton
Though the reason for Shawn Kemp’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame remains a mystery, the impact that Payton and Kemp had on the league is no puzzle. Payton was the elite defensive point guard who could still get buckets. Kemp on the other hand was an ultra-athletic power forward with an array of post moves to score in the paint. In 1996, they would come close but ultimately lost to Jordan’s Bulls in the NBA Finals.
8. Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony
Such was the scoring talents of Carmelo and Iverson that when Iverson landed on the Nuggets alongside Anthony, pundits wondered – sometimes seriously – if there was enough ball to go around for the two superstars. Debatable fit issues aside, the two megastars were clearly voluminous scorers that constantly gave opposing defenses something to worry about. Sadly for Nuggets fans, they never got past the Western Conference Finals.
7. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin
Point god Chris Paul and super athlete Blake Griffin brought Lob City to the largely maligned Los Angeles Clippers franchise. Paul brought his incomparable basketball IQ and feel for the game and Griffin was the talented, athletic, and versatile power forward. Even more interestingly, both players were unquestionably in their primes during their time together. A combination of injuries and superior teams kept them from fulfilling their maximum potential.
6. Jerry West and Elgin Baylor
Perhaps the earliest example of an exemplary duo, West and Baylor were truly special basketball talents. Unfortunately for the two, so was Bill Russell and his loaded Celtics’ squad. Despite West’s unique skillset and dominance (still the only player in NBA history to win Finals MVP on the losing team), and Baylor’s versatility and scoring acumen – they were just unlucky enough to be playing the wrong era.
5. Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway
Though both players were young and not yet fully developed NBA talents while they were paired together, Shaquille O’Neal was a truly unique player that seemed to defy physics with his combination of skill, speed and strength. Penny was a large point guard that drew comparisons to Magic Johnson almost immediately. Ultimately, their collective talent proved to be insufficient when it mattered most.
4. Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson
Few would debate that Charles Barkley was one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history. “The Round Mound of Rebound” as he was affectionately known, combined quick twitch explosiveness, deceptive speed, and a high basketball IQ to dominate in a way that few could. Kevin Johnson was an undersized but vertically gifted point guard with lightning speed and dazzling quickness. The two made for a spectacular duo but could never go all the way.
3. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady
The pairing of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady was truly exciting around the league as they were essentially seen as a reincarnation of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Tracy McGrady was a dynamic wing/two-guard that could shoot, defend, handle, and beat his man off the dribble. Yao Ming was an elite center with extensive post moves and an effective rim protector. It seemed almost inevitable that the pair would win at least one championship together. A multitude of injuries robbed them and fans of that possibility ever coming to light. Both players’ careers would ultimately end early as a result of injuries as well.
2. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook
Though not truly in their primes at the time, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were extremely high-level NBA talents during their time together with the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is speaking nothing of the budding James Harden coming off of the bench. Though there were some injuries, this duo likely never won together because the team was disbanded just as the talent was all starting to come together.
1. John Stockton and Karl Malone
This duo would likely be in the top ten of any lists, regardless of championship status. Their combined longevity and sustained excellence make their championship futility all the more puzzling. Malone was one of the most physically imposing bruisers of a power forward, and Stockton an excellent pass first point guard that could also get his own shot off. Their many playoff disappointments would ultimately peak with a Finals loss to Jordan’s Bulls in 1997.
Clint is an avid fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, and contributed to various sports publications prior to his work with Upside Hoops.