Ranking the Best Modern/Old School Duos of All Time

Sitting at home in quarantine has left me scrolling the twitter timeline for hours at end. This weekend a very interesting tweet came across my disinfected desk.

Which one of these duos is the best? Each option includes a player from today’s NBA and an ‘old school’ player. Old school is in quotes due to players like Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard being here. For the sake of this argument, imagine each player is in the peak of their prime. The duos will be ranked one through nine, and at the end I will include some other options that were not included in this one of a kind hypothetical question.

#9: Aaron Gordon and Dwight Howard – Orlando Magic

AARON GORDON? That is your best option for Orlando? Why not take a duo like Penny Hardaway and Nikola Vučević? Or if you wanted to keep Howard, maybe Evan Fournier and Dwight Howard?

As fun as this duo would be, they are by far the worst twosome out of the bunch. Do not get me wrong, Dwight Howard was a dominant force in his prime. He almost led his 2009 Magic team to winning the championship. But when you combine him with Aaron Gordon, it is not going to do it for me.

But like I said, this would be a really fun duo. And at its best, Gordon and Howard’s play style could be comparable to the early 2010’s Clippers’ duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The dunks would be entertaining, as both Gordon and Howard are both considered two of the best dunk contest contestants of all time. But defensively, they will struggle to be quick enough to keep up with guards. And offensively, neither can shoot the three consistently. As I have picked apart how bad this duo would be, I have no choice but to put them at the bottom of this list.

#8: Devin Booker and Charles BarkleyPhoenix Suns

The number eight ranking does not do this duo justice, as these two on the court together could do some serious damage. The pick and roll between these two would be a spectacle to watch. On top of that, Barkley is one of the greatest rebounders of all time, and could eat on the offensive boards on the off chance that D-Book misses.

But as good offensively this duo would be, defensively they could run into some problems. As Booker ages, his defense has progressed, but containing some of the greats on the list will give him trouble. Standing at 6’6″, it has always been heart over height for the Chuckster. But when it comes to handling some of the best big men of all time on this list, Barkley may have some trouble.

Like I said, this is certainly one of the more underrated modern/classic duos of all time. But with the caliber of duos in this tweet, they check in at number eight.

#7: Luka Dončić and Dirk NowitzkiDallas Mavericks

Another duo whose ranking does not do them justice is Dirk and Dončić. Both players are elite floor spacers, shot creators, and shot makers. Much like Barkley and Booker, the pick and roll game between these two would be fun to watch.

Another comparison to Booker and Barkley is the defensive struggles. Nowitzki is not the fleetest of foot and Dončić is still improving defensively. When comparing elite to elite, you have to nitpick. Because these two would struggle defensively against the other duos, the European twosome has to be knocked down the ladder a little bit.

What sets them apart from Barkley and Booker, and why they check in a spot ahead of them is the shooting ability. Both Dončić and Nowitzki are elite shooters, and because of this, the pick and pop is a real possibility. In today’s NBA floor spacing is at a premium, and a duo where both could shoot will always get the nod for me.

#6: Allen Iverson and Joel EmbiidPhiladelphia 76ers

Talk about a pick and roll duo! Now I am not saying it is Kobe and Shaq by any means, but it is the next closest thing.

Iverson’s ball handling ability paired with Embiid’s post play makes imagining what this duo would look like pretty fun. Both have their fair share of highlight reel level plays.

As enjoyable as the offensive side of the ball would be. Defensively, switch-ability would be a nightmare. Iverson was never a defensive stalwart, and putting him in today’s NBA, he would get targeted by opposing offenses. I am not worried about Embiid defensively, he is great defending at the rim, and is tough to maneuver around in the paint. As I said, when talking about some of the best that the NBA has ever seen, we have to get nitpicky. And the problem with this duo comes from AI’s defense and switchability.

It is certainly one of the more intriguing duos, but intriguing does not get you into the top five.

#5: Carmelo Anthony and Nikola JokićDenver Nuggets

Just cracking the top five is another headband and cornrows. Carmelo Anthony and Nikola Jokić are so versatile offensively, I had no choice to leave them out of the top five. Melo can spread the floor, create his own shot, play off Jokić, or score from the post. Jokić can do all of that and create offense for others.

Defensively, Melo can defend guards or forwards. He is not known for his defense, but is not a liability on that of side of the ball. Pair that with Jokić, and you get a duo that is not the greatest defensive pair, but will not be egregiously bad either.

With their adequate defense and the elite offensive versatility, I have no choice but to include them in the top 5. They will pose many problems on offense. Jokić can stretch the floor and create driving lanes for Anthony, as Anthony could for Jokić as well. There are not any other options with the amount of versatility as these two. But they also lack the top ten player all-time that the four ahead of them have. So number five seems reasonable for Melo and the Joker.

#4: Jayson Tatum and Larry BirdBoston Celtics

First things first, Bird has an argument as a top five NBA player of all time. Just based off that, this duo deserves at least a top five spot. But this is where I am going to bend the rules a little bit. I have not mentioned this for other young players such as Embiid or Dončić, but the tweet talks about players in their PRIME. Tatum’s prime could be a 30 point per game scorer, and because of this I have this duo in the top five. This is no slight to Dončić or Embiid’s primes, but they also do not have Larry Bird as their counterpart in this hypothetical.

Offensively, they are versatile, possibly as versatile as Melo and Jokić. Both can shoot, both can handle the ball, and both have an uncanny ability to put the ball into the basket.

Defensively, they may run into trouble guarding big men as neither spend much time playing the center position. But the pair is versatile defensively as well. Primarily playing the small forward position, Tatum and Bird could defend either guards or forwards if needed. With this versatility on both sides of the ball, Tatum and Bird would thrive as a modern day duo.

Looking at both in their primes, this could be one of the best modern/classic duos in NBA history. Bird is arguably a top five player all time and he could be playing with 25-30 point per game scorer.

#3: James Harden and Hakeem OlajuwonHouston Rockets

Now this is where it gets tricky. Three elite duos all vying for the top spot. Now number one is all but wrapped up for me, so the battle for two comes down to two arguments. Giannis vs. Harden and Hakeem vs. Kareem.

For Giannis vs. Harden, I have to go off what I have seen this year. Sure Harden is averaging almost 35 points a game. But Giannis is a candidate for the MVP and DPOY. He is far and away the best player on what is the best team in the NBA record wise. Harden has looked better on the stat-sheet, but Giannis has looked better on the court. At least for me. So point Giannis and Kareem.

But where this argument gets interesting is looking at Kareem vs. Hakeem. As impressive as Kareem’s counting numbers are, Olajuwon was more dominant on the court when they faced off in the playoffs in 1986. Granted Jabbar was 39, he was still putting up decent numbers against the Dream. But looking at their primes, I have to lean in favor to the player with the most career points of all time. That is why Harden and Hakeem check in at number three rather than number two.

#2: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kareem Abdul-JabbarMilwaukee Bucks

Length, length, and more length. This is what this duo throws at you. Giannis and Kareem add a paint presence offensively and defensively. But the player with the most total points scored in his career and last year’s MVP is not the best duo? Why is that?

Two things. As dominant as Jabbar was, I think Shaq was more of a force in the paint during his prime. On top of that, LeBron in his prime was a different animal. Giannis is a tremendous talent do not get me wrong. But Miami LeBron….. Sheesh! Maybe we have not seen the best of Giannis, but it would be incredibly hard to top what I saw of prime LBJ.

But looking at one of the more taller duos in this hypothetical, Giannis and Kareem would create so many matchup problems offensively. And defensively, the only way to beat them would be with quickness, and even with that it would be tough to get shots up with the wingspans of both.

Some other options for the Bucks could have been with Oscar Robertson and Giannis, or Ray Allen and Giannis. Either duo would make this list for certain, I do not know if it would be as high as number two, but top five is a possibility.

#1: LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal – Los Angeles Lakers

I touched on both players already. But to round it off are two players that are certainly top ten players of all times when in their prime. LeBron could defend almost any position, and Shaq would have the paint locked up.

The pick and roll between these two in their primes has an argument to be the best pick and roll duo of all time. They may struggle shooting. But what they lack in shooting, they make up for in elite paint play.

Some other Laker Options could have been Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Anthony Davis, Magic Johnson and LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Anthony Davis. I mean any all time great Laker and either LeBron James or Anthony Davis is an option for LAL. Any of those options is easily number one all-time for me as well.

Other Duos Not Shown in Graphic

Sacramento Kings

Modern OptionsClassic Options
De’Aaron Fox
Buddy Hield
Chris Webber
Peja Stojaković

Create any duo out of these four and it is certainly better than the Orlando Magic option listed at #9. Fox and Webber’s pick and roll would be electrifying to watch, as both are elite athletes. Hield and Stojaković would be an elite shooting duo. Fox and Stojaković would make for an impressive pick-and-pop option. Hield would give Webber floor spacing, while Webber goes to work in the post. They may not be a playoff team now, but the Kings modern/classic duo with the players in their prime is one of the more intriguing duos listed.

Toronto Raptors

Modern OptionsClassic Options
Pascal Siakam
Kyle Lowry
Vince Carter
Tracy McGrady

Another team whose all-time duo who could crack the list is the Toronto Raptors. Any combination of these four would create an enjoyable team to watch. Siakam and McGrady would be a dynamic duo who would be versatile on both sides of the ball. Lowry and Carter may not be the biggest team, or the best option, but it would give some awesome alley oops.

Atlanta Hawks

Modern OptionsClassic Options
Trae Young
John Collins
Dominique Wilkins
Pete Maravich

A prime Trae Young with prime Dominique Wilkins certainly is an option to crack the top five. Young has a ceiling that could be near the likes of Stephen Curry. Pair that with Wilkins and you could get a pretty excitable duo where Wilkins will have spacing and Trae Young has a lob option to one of the best finishers of all time. The Hawks’ options are very unique in the sense that Trae with John Collins almost mimics the play style of Trae with Dominique. And Collins would not have that much different of a guard if paired with Maravich. Either option, Young with Wilkins or Collins with Maravich makes for a very interesting argument around the five to six spot.

Golden State Warriors

Modern OptionsClassic Options
Stephen Curry
Klay Thompson
Chris Mullin
Wilt Chamberlain

I am going to just flat out say this. A duo of Curry and Chamberlain has an argument to be #1 all-time. Pair the best shooter of all time with one of the game’s greatest big men and you get a duo that will just flat out score. But the duo here that really intrigues me is Thompson and Mullin. Two of NBA’s best ‘catch-and-shoot’ shooters paired together. I am assuming Mullin would do more ball handling than Thompson. But what draws me to Mullin and Thompson is when they both catch fire, because when they do, you better lock them up as soon as they step into the building.

Portland Trail Blazers

Modern OptionsClassic Options
Damian Lillard
C.J. McCollum
Bill Walton
Clyde Drexler

Rounding out the duos is the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland already has one of the more impressive offensive duos in the league with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. But what would happen if you paired them with a classic counterpart. A Lillard-Walton duo would certainly be interesting. Comparable to the Iverson-Embiid duo mentioned, but not nearly as dominant. McCollum-Walton is pretty similar to what Lillard-Walton brings to the table as well, a scoring guard and a paint centric big. The duo that catches my eye is Damian Lillard and Clyde Drexler. Drexler was a slashing guard and he would have one of the best three point shooters in the league today as a floor spacer. Dame would get a wing that could lock up opposing guards and forwards that serves also as an elite finisher. I am not sure where any of these duos would check in at, but it is certainly better than AARON GORDON!

One more thing, if one of these hypothetical basketball questions/debate pieces catches your eye do not be afraid to send it our way! We love talking hoop here at OTH, and would certainly love keeping the much-needed sports chatter during this troubling time. But if you want to hop in on this modern/classic duos discussion, do not be afraid! You can tweet me @craines38 or tweet at @OTH_Basketball to talk about who I might of missed. Who you would rank higher/lower.

Stay safe out there folks!


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Cole Raines

I'm a student, college athlete, and a sports junkie. I will be covering the NBA and the MLB.

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