A Duo Of Bad Boys

I love the notion and idea of a duo in the NBA. Yes you still need all 5 players on the court in unison but being able to lean on another player that you can depend to bring it at an elite level every night is something special. Neyo said it best “I’m a movement by myself, but I’m a force when we’re together” and that was makes a dynamic duo. It’s a combination of being great individually with great individual success but also the team dynamic success when you pull it together.

What’s the hardest duo to succeed in the NBA? Its when both players aren’t the biggest on the court in height, but can play big amongst the giants in the NBA. We seen Shaq and Kobe dominate, we seen Twin Towers like Tim Duncan and David Robinson dominate and from the wings, we seen MJ and Pippen, but how can 2 guards demonstrate dominance?

Isaiah Thomas,aka Zeke, was the 2nd overall pick in the 1981 draft. A young 20 year old pup from Indiana University, who had stardom written all over his face. In his first 4 years, he average 21 ppg and 10 assists per game. Coming off a Eastern Conf SemiFinals series where he and the Pistons lost 4-2 to the Boston Celtics, it was clear to Jack McCloskey (GM) and Chuk Daly a 2 way player was needed

In 1985 Draft, the Pistons took Joe Dumars from McNeese State University with the 18th pick. He started majority of his rookie season and once he got his feet wet, it was all set up for a potential great backcourt for years to come.

Individually, Zeke is one of the best PGs to ever play the game. During his time with Joe Dumars he averaged 20 points 9 assists, 2 steals and 4 rebounds per game. Although he made previous appearances, Zeke was an 8x All Star with JD as his teammate, a one-time All-NBA nod in 1986 and 2nd All-NBA in 1987.

Dumars was impressive individually as well, averaging 17 points 5 assists, 2 rebounds and was assigned the toughest matchup at the guard position, facing foes like MJ, Clyde and Mitch Richmond, etc. He was a 4-time All Star in consecutive years from 1990 through 1993. 4-time 1st All-Defense and one-time 2nd team all defense and ending up on All-NBA nods (two-time 3rd Team and one-time 2nd team)

We all know the Bad Boys story throughout the late 80s and early 90s but what separates them as the best backcourt duo was the ability to be the best player on the court on the biggest stage.

In 1989, they dismantled the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks without losing a game and with rising superstar, Michael Jordan on the horizon, the Pistons was able to beat them in 6. One year removed from losing to the Lakers in Game 7 due to Isiah Thomas not playing in 1988, this dynamic backcourt was able to sweep Magic and Kareem led Lakers, combining for 49 points per game and 13 assists. This tandem was able to to seek revenge vs LA. Joe Dumars was your Finals MVP (27 ppg and 6 apg) and being known for one of the best defensive players, he came away with the hardware, scoring the most points in the Finals.

The following season, the Pistons’ Finals MVP has arrived making 2nd Team All NBA and another 1st Team All-defense nod. What were the odds he could win the Bill Russell Award for the 2nd straight year? In 1990, the Pistons were able to handle the future of the 90 Teams like sweeping the Indiana Pacers, beating the New York Knicks in 5 and once again holding off Michael Jordan and the Bulls in 7.

Heading into the Finals vs the Portland Trailblazers, this duo once again showed up when it mattered the most. Another year averaging 48 combined points and 13 assists per game brought out another championship that was headed back to the city of Detroit. Joe Dumars in Game 3 went off with 33 points but that alone wasn’t enough to get him the Finals MVP trophy. Zeke, playing less minutes than his duo counterpart, poured in 28 a night with 7 assists and 5 rebounds, shooting 54% from the field and 69% from 3.

Isiah Thomas after winning the 1990 NBA Championship

No backcourt duo will ever be able to pull off what these bad boys accomplished. Together, they accumulated a winning percentage of 59% through 9 years. Pulled off 7 straight playoff trips, 3 straight final appearances, 2 Eastern Conference Finals Appearance me a backcourt duo that, individually stand on their own, have a premier dominating run together that results in multiple championships and both bring home the NBA’s most pinnacle award, the Finals MVP

The Championship Theory

Without a doubt the Summer of 2019 will go down as the most epic in NBA history. Over $3 Billion dollars was doled out to players within the first 24 hours of free agency. Superstars such as Kevin Durant changed coast going from Golden State to Brooklyn, Jimmy Butler was signed and traded to South Beach and later in the week like a thief in the night Kawhi returned to the United States by signing with the Clippers.

And that wasn’t all, Paul George was traded from OKC to join Kawhi in LA which lead to Russell Westbrook being dealt to Houston to team up with his good friend James Harden. These moves along with countless others now have everyone wondering who will win the NBA Championship this upcoming season. For the first time in nearly a decade the NBA season doesn’t feel like a foregone conclusion. But maybe it is! After analyzing each team, their off-season moves, and using my 2 key indicators (the age of your superstar and the position he plays) I feel we can accurately predict the next champion.

When it comes to building a championship team I firmly believe that “Wings win you Rings”. More times than not the key cog that fuels a championship run will be a player listed as Small Forward (SF) or Shooting Guard (SG) and ranges from about 6 feet 5 inches tall to 6 feet 9 inches tall. Jalen Rose is famous for noting that “positions were created so that a novice can follow the game” but history has shown us that with the exceptions being Isiah Thomas and Steph Curry point guards/small guards do not lead to championships (Sorry Dame).

Yes, Magic Johnson was listed as a Point Guard and won championships but let’s note that he’s 6’9 and he walked into the perfect situation playing alongside Kareem. So Magic does fit into the wing category. It is also worth pointing out that great big men don’t win titles without an elite wing alongside them. But 2 great wing players (Mike and Scottie, LeBron and Wade) can win together.

Now let’s talk age. The most consistent themes are ages 22, 23, 27 and 32

At age 22 Shaq, Tim Duncan, LeBron and Kawhi all made their first NBA Finals. Duncan (1999) and Kawhi (2014) were victorious capturing Finals MVP while Shaq in 1995 and LeBron in 2007 were swept. 

At age 23 Kareem (1971), Hakeem (1983), Dwight Howard (2009) and Kevin Durant (2012) made their first NBA Finals. 

At age 27 Michael Jordan, LeBron, Shaq, and Isiah Thomas all captured their first NBA titles. Kawhi Leonard and Larry Bird won their 2nd ring and were selected as Finals MVP. Clyde Drexler made his first of 3 NBA Finals. Dirk Nowitzki also made his first Finals appearance at age 27.

At age 32 the aforementioned Clyde Drexler won his first title playing alongside Hakeem who the previous year won his first title at 32. Dirk also makes this category for defeating the highly touted Heatles in their first year together winning his first championship. Championship glory eluded Kareem for 9 years until he won again at this age.

Let’s compare this with the odds makers favorites for this season – Lakers, Clippers, Bucks, Sixers and Rockets. 

LeBron will turn 35 this season. He’s playing like he’s still in his prime years but how long can he hold up. His running mate Anthony Davis will be 26 this year which coincidentally is the same age Steph Curry won his 1st title and Duncan won his 2nd title. This bodes well for the Lakers titles hopes. However, with King James’ mileage it’s possible he begins to wear down as the season goes on. 

Harden will turn 30 and Westbrook 31. I like these 2 players, they are box office but at their age, defense not being their greatest attribute and no dominant big to lean on I can’t see them winning the title. 

The Bucks have Giannis who is continuing to ascend. He’ll be 25, he’s still getting better and is arguably the best player in the East. It has been proven having the best player in the Eastern Conference can get you to the Finals. But with no costar also in his prime I think the Bucks fall to this next team.

The Sixers have Embiid and Ben Simmons who will be 25 and 23. These guys are entering their primes. With an expected ascension in their games, being motivated from how the playoffs ended for them and entering that age window where players start to win I expect the Sixers to be in the 2019-2020 NBA Finals. But who will they face….

Kawhi Leonard will be 28 and Paul George 29 respectively. Both guys have dealt with injuries throughout their careers but these ages are typically considered athletes “prime years”. Championship winners usually consist of 2 guys in their primes. Again think MJ and Scottie or LeBron and D-Wade 2012. PG and Kawhi are elite 2 way wings both coming off career years. These guys check both boxes of playing the right position and prime age. Don’t be surprised if the Clippers take home their first Larry O’Brien trophy.