NBA’s best one-two punches within the last 30 years

It can be argued that a team sport is not a one-man game. In fact, it’s very rare that one person can come along and change chemistry, talent and overall bring championships to an organization.

For every LeBron James there is a Dwyane Wade and for every Kobe Bryant there is a Shaquille O’Neal.

Because a team of the NBA features only five players at any given time one player does not make the difference, but history has shown us that when two key players join forces special things can happen.

1. Magic Johnson & Kareem Abdul Jabbar

As great as the 7″2 Hall Of Fame center was, Kareem Abdul Jabbar never won a championship with the Lakers until Earvin “Magic” Johnson came via first overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft.

The story of Johnson’s rookie year is well…Magic.

Magic averaged 18 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game for the season. He was selected to the NBA All-Rookie Team and was named an NBA All-Star game starter.

The Lakers reached the NBA Finals where they faced Julius Erving “Dr. J” and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers went out to a 3-2 lead but Abdul-Jabbar who was averaging 33 points-per-game in the series sprained his ankle and was ruled out of game six.

Instead of lying down and concentrating on game seven, head coach Paul Westhead made a drastic decision to start Magic at center in game six where he recorded 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals. Magic became the only rookie to ever win the NBA Finals MVP award, but if it wasn’t for the MVP of the league “Kareem” they may not have been there to begin with.

It’s rare that two of the greatest players of all-time had the opportunity to play together and these two made the most of it.

The Lakers were one of the most dominant teams of the 1980’s appearing in the finals eight different times and winning five NBA championships.

2. Kobe Bryant & Shaquille O’Neal

It can be argued that these two future Hall of Fame players could have been the most dynamic duo of all time, but instead it becomes a “what could have been” situation.

Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles but it was the feud between them that led to the separation of possibly the greatest one-two punch ever.

On the court it was the perfect harmony.

The center-guard combo was impossible to stop as O’Neal was named MVP of the NBA Finals three times and had the highest scoring average for a center in NBA Finals history.

He was also named the 1999-2000 NBA MVP while Kobe earned appearances in the league’s All-NBA, All-Star, and All-Defensive teams.

While opposing teams struggled to stop the size and power of Shaq it gave Kobe the opportunity to flourish and grow into the superstar that he has become today.

Kobe continues to be a dominant force in the NBA and remains one of the NBA’s top players ever.

Jordan-Pippen-sports-illustrated3. Michael Jordan & Scottie Pippen

If there was one person that could turn a team around by himself it was his royal airness, Michael “Air” Jordan.

In a playoff game against the Boston Celtics in 1986, Jordan scored a playoff record 63 points. After the game Celtics star Larry Bird described him as “God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

Jordan led the league in scoring for 10 seasons but was more than a scoring threat, he was the face of the NBA.

Gatorade, Nike and the Jordan image dominated the basketball scene and set an example of how a sports athlete can take advantage of the market.

Despite the image Jordan needed the defensive minded Scottie Pippen who was named to the NBA All-Defensive team 10 consecutive years during his career.

Phil Jackson once described him as a “one man wrecking crew, capable of guarding anyone from the point guard to the five position.”

Pippen is one of three NBA players to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in a season, and he also has the record for career steals by a forward (2,307), as well as in the playoffs (395).

4. Karl Malone & John Stockton

When comparing athletes it’s impossible not to account for how many championships each of them have won over their career, but despite never winning one, Karl Malone and John Stockton were one of the best duos in NBA history.

Karl Malone “The Mailman” twice won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award and is considered one of the best power forwards to ever play the game while John Stockton holds NBA records for most assists and steals by a considerable margin.

Malone’s post game was flawless and became the staple of the Utah Jazz’s offense with point guard John Stockton as the general and distributor.

Stockton to Malone was heard during 1,412 regular season games and many of the record assists Stockton had were to his teammate.

By playing the tough style of 1980s basketball and perfecting the pick and roll the Jazz regularly made the playoffs and became one of the most consistent teams in NBA history.

5. LeBron James & Dwyane Wade

Dwayne Wade has one title under his belt and was named the NBA Finals MVP with the Miami Heat in 2006, but as a duo, the story has just started. There is no telling what these two NBA stars could accomplish over time.

King James finished second in the league in scoring in 2011 with 26.7 points per game and Dwyane Wade finished fourth (25.5 points per game). They combined to score 4,052 points last season, most by a duo in Miami Heat history.

Are there long term side effects of cutting class for the NBA?

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James NBA TV’s Open Court is a round table of successful former NBA basketball players discussing all aspects of basketball and life.  When asked what one thing you would do if you could be NBA commissioner for a day, Charles Barkley said he would expand one of the newest rules that affects potential NBA players.  The rule now is that a player has to be one-year-removed from high school in order to be drafted.  Barkley said he would make that two years.  He makes the argument that a person goes from playing with boys to playing with men.  The actual physical size difference was negligible for some players, so why would Barkley make a comment like this?

After the 2011 NBA finals, critics picked apart holes in Lebron James’ game that had never even been whispered before a TV audience.  It was apparent that even though Lebron is the most dominating athlete in the NBA, possibly the best athlete in the world, that there were some things that he did not do well on the court.  We have all seen this in our sports experiences from the kid who could jump higher than anyone, but could not actually make a layup, to the football player that could tackle anyone, but could not catch a ball unless you hit him in the chest.  These players “lack the fundamentals” necessary to get to the highest level possible.

College provides the perfect environment to develop these fundamentals.  Some players develop quicker than others, and NBA teams judge every year if and/or when these under-developed players will blossom and match their game-play with their athleticism.  When a player leaves early to join the NBA, development slows because the level of competition increases.  Therefore the learning curve is much harder, hence the “jump” players feel going from the amateur ranks to the professional ranks.  When a player takes his time in college to develop his game, he often reaches his potential sooner, and lasts longer in the NBA.

Developed players win championships in the NBA, under-developed players don’t.  Therefore, players that continue to polish their game, and work hard in the areas that need improvement tend to be more successful.  Average NBA talented players can turn into veterans that play for 15 to 20 years, and above average talented players turn into superstars that win multiple championships.  Examples of current NBA players that stayed in school, and turned their average NBA talent into many seasons of prosperity include Shane Battier(four seasons at Duke), Mike Dunleavy (three seasons at Duke), Kurt Thomas (four seasons at TCU), and Keith Bogans ( four seasons at Kentucky).

When you have above average talent, mixed with time in college, and time spent polishing their game, you come up with hall of fame type players.  Examples of current players include Paul Pierce (three seasons at Kansas), Steve Nash (four seasons at Santa Clara), Ray Allen (three seasons at UCONN), and Tim Duncan (four seasons at Wake Forest).

On the flip side, examples of talent minus years in college and minus the necessary work to improve their fundamentals include J.R. Smith ( no college), Sebastian Telfair (no college), Michael Beasley (one year at Kansas State), and Demarcus Cousins (one year at Kentucky).

There are players who are on the fence. Players that lack either college time, or the time polishing skills. The lack of developing these skills could change a player from NBA to NBDL, or Hall of Fame candidate to a great player on a good team. Dwight Howard needs to polish his skills. Specifically, he can play defense better. He can play up on the ball when he guards the other team’s center. He can be more aggressive defending pick and rolls. He can definitely move his feet better when playing one-on-one defense. On offense, he is limited to playing with his back to the basket 10 feet away. He has no jump shot. He can only score on pick and rolls when he is attacking the rim. If he could work on these things, then we are talking about a sure Hall-of-Fame player. He could be the next Shaquille O’Neal (three seasons at LSU), or he could be the next Tracy McGrady (no college).

David Gallagher is an NBA writer for The Sports Blitz

What will former Lakers Shaq and Magic soon have in common?

Shaquille O'Neal

According to ESPN Los Angeles, Lakers team spokesman John Black confirmed on Thursday that the team will retire Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 34 next season.  The date is still to be determined.

O’Neal’s number will make the 8th retired in Lakers history.  He will join the rafters of Staples Center alongside former Lakers and Hall of Famers, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich, Kareem Adul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and Magic Johnson.

Shaq led the Lakers to three straight NBA titles between 2000-02.  He was named Finals MVP for all three series.

O’Neal called it quits after last season bringing his 19 year career to an end.  He retired with an impressive resume of four NBA titles while averaging 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game during his career.  While in L.A., O’Neal thrived averaging 27 points and just under 12 rebounds a game.

Former teammate Kobe Bryant had this to say about the announcement of Shaq’s number retirement.

“It’s deserved,  It’s rightfully deserved.” Kobe said in a postgame interview following the Lakers’ Thursday 88-87 overtime win against the Boston Celtics.

Kobe and Shaq were arguably the greatest one-two punch in NBA history before egos got in the way and forced a split of two NBA super powers.  Both went on to win championships after the split.

O’Neals definitely deserves to have his No. 34 retired and will one day join his fellow Lakers with retired jerseys in the NBA Hall of Fame.

Top 5 Lakers of all-time: Did Kobe make the cut?

Kobe and Shaq

Kobe and ShaqThe Los Angeles Lakers are arguably one of the most elite franchises in professional sports.  With 16 NBA Championships dating back to their days in Minneapolis, the Lakers have had a wealth of talented stars that have dazzled the hardwood and helped make the NBA what it is today.  Here are the Top 5 Lakers of all-time.

1.       Magic Johnson:  At 6’9, Earvin “Magic” Johnson redefined the position of point guard.  His cat-like instincts and ability find the open man often made it appear as if he had eyes in the back of his head while leaving defenders looking foolish.  Magic spent all 13 seasons of his NBA career with the Lakers before retiring prematurely after testing positive for HIV.  During his career, Magic scored over 17,000 points but even more impressively finished with over 10,000 assist.  That equates to directly contributing to over 37,000 points during his abbreviated NBA career. Johnson led the Lakers to five NBA championships in a nine-year span earning league MVP honors as well as Finals’ MVP three times a piece. 

 2.       Shaquille O’Neal:  At 7’1 and a generous 325 lbs, Shaq was arguably to most opposing figure to ever play professional basketball.  O’Neal joined the Lakers after four years with the Orlando Magic.  During his eight seasons in L.A., Shaq averaged 27 points and just under 12 rebounds a game.  He led the Lakers to four final appearances in five years with three straight titles between the 1999-2002 seasons.  He was named Finals MVP in each of the championship years and NBA MVP in the 1999-00 season.  Although Shaq would go on to play with four more NBA teams and win a 4th championship with the Miami Heat, without a doubt, the most productive stint of his career came in L.A.

3.       George Mikan:  The NBA calls George Mikan it first “superstar,” so what would a Top 5 Lakers’ list be without him?  Mikan was 6’10 and one of basketballs’ original big men.  He joined the Lakers of the then Basketball Association of America back in 1948 when they were still in Minneapolis.  In seven short professional seasons Mikan amassed over 10,000 points as he led the Lakers to five championships.  Rebounds were not recorded in the NBA until the 1973-74 season but rest assure that Mikan grabbed plenty.

 4.       Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:  At 7’2, Kareem was by far one of the most dominant players of his time.  Before joining the Lakers in the 1975-76 season, Jabbar spent six years with the Milwaukee Bucks.  Known for his unstoppable “skyhook” and trademark goggles, Kareem would spend 14 years with the Lakers before retiring in 1989.  He won three league MVP honors with L.A. while helping them win five NBA championships.  When it was all said and done, Abdul-Jabbar had amassed an NBA record 38,386 points in 20 seasons.  That’s one record that just may never be broken.

 5.      Kobe Bryant:  Of all the players that have entered the NBA directly out of high school, Kobe Bryant is without a doubt the most successful.    Originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996, Kobe was subsequently traded to the Lakers.  In 15 NBA seasons, Kobe has accumulated over 28,000 points averaging just over 25 points a game.  With Shaquille O’Neal at his side, Kobe helped the Lakers win three consecutive championships in the early 2000’s.  He would go on to lead the Lakers to two more without O’Neal later in the decade.  Bryant has been named the NBA MVP once, in the 2007-08 season and NBA Finals MVP twice.   Although his career still hangs in the balance, it is doubtful that he will ever be higher than the 5th greatest Laker of all-time.

Noticeably absent from this list are Laker greats Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain.  Despite West being the NBA logo and Wilt’s profound dominance during his era, these three only combined for one title with the Lakers in 1972.

 Aaron Moon is the CEO and a Featured Journalist for Shatter The Backboard. An active duty Navy Chief and avid writer, Aaron is a longtime Bulls’ fan who enjoys the history of the NBA. You can contact Aaron on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @DA_Bear_Truth.