Pairing up NBA stars
By Adam Hoff
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I’ve decided to do a little matchmaking. Of course, this version of playing Cupid has nothing to do with romance … unless you count “Trophy Love.”
I watch a lot of NBA basketball and when you do that, you can’t help but imagine “What if?” every once in a while (which works nicely with the name of this site). In particular, I wonder how certain players would do if only they had the appropriate wingman. Take Allen Iverson’s situation. His whole career he’s needed the second-best player on the Sixers to be a power forward that can finish on the block, hit the offensive glass, serve as a ballhandling relief outlet, hit 15-foot jumpers, and do it all without needing to have the ball in his hands every minute. Instead, AI’s been paired with an immature Larry Hughes, a soft Keith Van Horn, the Little Dog (Glenn Robinson), and now Chris Webber (who is the opposite of everything described above). I’ve often wondered how different things would be with the right match.
This curiosity extends beyond AI. What does Ray Allen need to reach the Finals? Who would put Jason Kidd over the top? Obviously, it isn’t as easy as just adding one player. We’ve found that out in Houston, where T-Mac was added to Yao with shaky results. However, we’ve seen dynamic duos thrive in the NBA. Stockton and Malone never quite won a title, but they were perfect for each other. Nash and (a healthy) Amare appear to be a match made in heaven. Jordan and Pippen. Shaq and Kobe, pre-Armageddon.
I looked for five guys that are in need of a wingman and decided to pair them up. The catch? The player in need of a new running mate must have at least six years under his belt and can’t have a ring. The guy being added can’t have an NBA title on his resume either.
Allen Iverson. Might as well start with the guy that inspired the column. I already described what Iverson needs, and there is no better answer than Kevin Garnett. KG, on the other hand, desperately needs to play with a lead guard like AI. Someone that is able to take and make the big shots, be a vocal leader on the floor, and stretch the defense with speed. Sam Cassell did a lot of this for Garnett in 2003-2004, but was a mess last year and now is doing it for the Clippers. KG is the perfect security blanket to play behind Iverson, and AI is the perfect guard to take the offensive pressure of the game’s most reluctant superstar. Of course, given their monster salaries and increasing age, the odds of ever getting them together are between slim and none.
Ray Allen. The worst thing about trying to pair up Ray Allen with the perfect running mate is that he already had his chance to make it happen last summer. That’s right, Allen could be firing wide-open threes right now and competing for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, if only had had signed with Cleveland and LeBron James. There are a lot of guys that Allen could thrive playing next to, including Wade, Baron Davis, Nash, and any other player that can drive and dish. However, LeBron adds so many dimensions. He is bigger and can handle the opposing team’s best player at both ends of the court. Allen would never have to guard T-Mac or Kobe and he would never be defended by the likes of Bruce Bowen or Andre Igoudala. LeBron would draw that attention.
In addition, Allen wouldn’t have any ballhandling responsibilities. If you watch Sonics games closely, you can see that Allen is at his best when he is coming off screens and moving without the ball. He doesn’t like handling it at the top, and he definitely seems to wear down when he has to help bring the ball up the court. LeBron is the ultimate second point guard on the court and would eliminate any obligation for Allen to handle the ball. Plus, James is so big, strong, and adept at getting into the lane that he can hit Allen with passes that a point guard (like Luke Ridnour) simply can’t make. Playing with James, Allen would undoubtedly torch every three-point record in existence. Too bad he signed with Seattle for a few extra million.
Elton Brand. Judging by the Clippers’ record and improved play, Sam Cassell is the guy that Brand has always needed. However, Cassell doesn’t count since he has championship rings. Plus, Sam I Am is 36-years old and won’t be around forever. Therefore, what Brand needs is a younger version of Cassell. That would be Mike Bibby. The Kings’ point guard showed way back in the 2002 Playoffs that he was one of the premier clutch shooters in the game. He has the calm demeanor and steady presence that would take pressure of Brand. Elton has always been a reliable rebounder, defender, and scorer, but he was never the kind of guy that could just load up in the post and win games down the stretch. Even now, he does it more on little jumpers in the lane and put-back hoops than by utilizing go-to post moves. Cassell’s ability to hit big shots opens things up for Brand and enables him to play to his strengths. Bibby would do the same thing and for a lot longer, plus offer deeper range on his jumper to help spread the floor.
Jason Kidd. Remember how good Kenyon Martin looked playing next to Jason Kidd? So good that he got a ridiculous contract from the Nuggets, who are now desperately trying to pawn him off on an unsuspecting team. (Note to Kiki: get Isiah’s number on speed dial.) It was obvious from the K-Mart Experience that Kidd would make any athletic power forward an unstoppable force in the transition game. Furthermore, it was equally obvious that Kidd needed an athletic big man to make him the best point guard possible. Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter can certainly soar and run the court, but neither of them are quite the dynamic receiver that Martin was to Kidd’s quarterback. Imagine combining the skill of Carter with the positive attitude of Jefferson, all with the size of Martin. Who do you get? The Matrix, Shawn Marion. We might see a new standard for alley-oops and transition basketball. Marion would anchor the Nets’ defense, finish off one fast break after another, and team with Kidd to shatter any existing records for “most three-pointers made with atrocious shooting technique.”
Dirk Nowitzki. It’s hard to say that Dirk needs much of anything right now, considering how well the Mavs are playing. However, he has yet to reach the NBA finals, so he still qualifies for “Matchmaker Aid.” He’s got some big men to keep him out of the center position and an athletic small forward in Josh Howard. The area where he might benefit would be a better point guard. Although Dallas has been better without Nash than they were with him, Jason Terry just doesn’t seem like the ideal guy to run the offense. He has the cold-blooded instincts to make big shots and is a good rebounding guard, but he’s not quite as quick as backup Devin Harris, nor is Terry as good of a passer as his apprentice. However, Harris doesn’t seem to have the swagger of a stud NBA point guard. How to get the attitude and instincts of one player and the speed and passing skills of the other? Simple: give Dirk a new running mate in Chris Paul. The Hornets’ star rookie has the speed, vision, and incredibly quick hands of Harris, the big shot ability, leadership qualities, and rebounding skills of Terry, and that little bit of extra Isiah Factor (the player, NOT the executive) that neither Harris nor Terry could ever hope to possess. Dallas may wind up winning the NBA title with the team they have, but beating out the Spurs and Pistons would qualify as an upset. I’m convinced that if Chris Paul were the point guard of this Mavericks team, they would be the favorites to win it all.
There are more possible matches out there (putting the help defense of Andrei Kirilenko with the gambling Baron Davis, playing Chris Bosh on the block with Brad Miller in the high post, and putting Ron Artest next to Paul Pierce in the role of “Antoine Walker, the Evolution”), but those are the five pairings that would seem to make the biggest difference. Happy Valentines Day, ringless NBA stars.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for the Webby-winning WhatifSports.com.