Imagine a 2-on-2 basketball tournament featuring the best hoopsters in history, each playing at the peak of their career, with an interesting rule governing the formation of teams — the first player’s last name has to be the second player’s first name.
NBA NAME GAME
We’ve assembled the best duos possible for our NBA Name Game 2-on-2 tournament, power ranking the teams by adding each player’s best single-season win shares contribution per 48 minutes played.
WIN SHARES EXPLAINED
For those not familiar with the win-shares stat, it is similar to the WAR metric from baseball, which attempts to measure a player’s overall contribution to a team. In other words, the higher the number, the better the player. A WS/48 of .100 represents the league average, while anything above .200 represents elite-level skills.
While it should come as no surprise that the tournament’s top team includes one of the league’s greatest-ever players in LeBron James, the quality of the teammate we were able to find for him is noteworthy…
1) LEBRON JAMES HARDEN
LeBron James 2012-13 Miami Heat WS/48 .322
James Harden 2014-15 Houston Rockets WS/48 .265
It’s hard to imagine a more potent combo than represented by team LeBron James Harden. Taking James’ third year with the Miami Heat, we get an NBA champion, NBA Finals MVP, and NBA Most Valuable Player all rolled into one. Meanwhile, in the 2014-15 edition of Harden, we have the season’s league leader in win shares, who posted career highs in that stat on both sides of the ball.
Unstoppable drives to the hoop, chase-down blocks from behind, pin-point passes… this team has it all.
2) CHRIS PAUL PIERCE
Chris Paul 2008-09 New Orleans Hornets WS/48 .292
Paul Pierce 2007-08 Boston Celtics WS/48 .207
As a guard for the New Orleans Hornets, Chris Paul led the NBA in both assists and steals during the 2008-09 season, while scoring a career-high 22.8 points per game. Now imagine him playing alongside 6-foot-7 small forward Paul Pierce — who was both an NBA Champion and Finals MVP in 2008 — and you have one versatile duo.
3) BILL RUSSELL WESTBROOK
Bill Russell 1963-64 Boston Celtics WS/48 .238
Russell Westbrook 2015-16 OKC Thunder WS/48 .245
While a couple other teams have higher win shares totals, it’s likely that Bill Russell Westbrook would be the most feared team in a 2-on-2 tournament. You have Russell protecting the rim and grabbing up rebounds, supplemented by a triple-double machine in NBA MVP Westbrook.
4) MICHAEL JORDAN HILL
Michael Jordan 1990-91 Chicago Bulls WS/48 .321
Jordan Hill 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers WS/48 .147
Michael Jordan posted one the highest ever single-season WS/48 in 1990-91 with a .321, but we couldn’t find any player above .200 to pair with him.
5) CARMELO ANTHONY DAVIS
Carmelo Anthony 2012-13 New York Knicks WS/48 .184
Anthony Davis 2014-15 New Orleans Pelicans WS/48 .274
With 6-foot-8 Carmelo Anthony and 6-foot-11 Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony Davis is one long and lean team. Opposing players that manage to evade Anthony’s defense will still have to contend with the Unibrow patrolling the paint.
6) PAUL GEORGE MIKAN
Paul George 2013-14 Indian Pacers WS/48 .178
George Mikan 1951-52 Minneapolis Lakers WS/48 .268
Our penultimate entry, pairs 2013 circa Paul George, with vintage George Mikan. The ambidextrous hook-shooting Mikan, with his stellar 1951-52 season, sports the fifth highest WS/48 of any player in the Name Game tourney.
7) RAY ALLEN IVERSON
Ray Allen 2000-01 Milwaukee Bucks WS/48 .211
Allen Iverson 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers WS/48 .190
Short on length, the Ray Allen Iverson team compensates with mad 3-point-shooting and ball-handling skills. Allen produced his best all-around statistical output playing for the 2000-01 Milwaukee Bucks, when he led the league in offensive win shares at 11.5. That same season, Philadelphia 76ers star Iverson also enjoyed his finest season, leading the league in scoring for the second time in his career.
Check back soon as the tournament will expand to include teams Rick Barry Clemens, Ken Charles Barkley, Kobe Bryant Stith, Steve Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon Hayward. Let us know in the comments if you can come up with any other pairings that might contend for the NBA Name Game 2-on-2 title.