This NBA off-season has been the most active that we’ve ever seen as we’ve seen stars change teams left and right forming super dynamic duos. The Rockets got in on the action when they added 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook. But where should a Westbrook/Harden duo rank with the other newly-assembled duos of the Lakers and the Clippers? Here’s my take on why they should rank first.
Many super duos were formed this past off-season with the Clippers landing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Lakers landing Anthony Davis to pair with LeBron James and the Rockets adding Russell Westbrook to pair with James Harden. Sure the Warriors added D’Angelo Russell but the Warriors also have other All-Stars in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, so I’ll rule them out for the purpose of this argument as they aren’t necessarily a duo. Whereas the players who comprise the Lakers, Clippers and Rockets duos would have each been the only All-Stars on their new teams. In addition, I’m leaving the newly formed duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving off the list as Durant will surely be out of action this season.
The Rockets should rank first amongst the newly formed duos for a number of reasons. For starters, the Rockets duo is the only one with previous experience of playing together. Harden and Westbrook played together for three years and made it to the NBA Finals in 2012. Granted this was some time ago but Harden and Westbrook have both evolved their games significantly since then. The Lakers duo can’t say they’ve ever played together and neither can the Clippers.
Another reason is because the Westbrook/Harden pairing is the only one in which each player can facilitate and create offense for others. Westbrook has averaged 10.4 assists per game over the last four seasons and Harden has averaged 8.8 assists during the same span.
By comparison, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Anthony Davis have each never averaged more than 4 assists in a single season! This is an important factor is assessing duos because Harden and Westbrook would each be able to play off each other and create offense for one another, whether Westbrook is kicking out to Harden behind the line or whether Harden is throwing lobs to Westbrook. LeBron certainly is a facilitator and can get the ball to Davis but can Davis do the same for LeBron? Obviously not. Kawhi and Paul George will especially have this challenge as neither of them are known to be passers. However Westbrook and Harden each ranked in the top 3 in assists in 2018 and each ranked at least top 3 in both points and assists in previous seasons.
On top of that, Houston’s duo is the only pairing amongst the newly formed duos where each player has played in an NBA Finals before. Although LeBron seems like he’s playing in the NBA Finals annually, the reality is neither LeBron or Anthony Davis were even in the playoffs this past year and Davis has only made it past the first round once in his career, and has certainly never made it to the NBA Finals. Kawhi has played in numerous NBA Finals including this past one, but Paul George has never made it to the NBA Finals himself. George has actually been eliminated in the first round in each of the last four years.
Another reason why Westbrook and Harden should be viewed as the best duo is because this is the only duo in which each player has hoisted an MVP award. Harden and Westbrook finished first and second in MVP voting in 2017 and have each been top 5 MVP finishers in three of the last five years. In addition, either Westbrook or Harden have been top 5 finishers in the MVP voting for each of the last 5 years. By comparison, no other duo can say that.
This off-season has completely changed the NBA landscape, with the Rockets, Clippers and Lakers forming super duos. However, the backcourt in Houston outranks them all.
*All stats and voting results are from Basketball Reference*