Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and the Best Pick-and-Roll Combinations in NBA History

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 22, 2012

Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and the Best Pick-and-Roll Combinations in NBA History

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    Steve Nash and Dwight Howard have both used the pick-and-roll to great success in the past, but they're now ready to join up on the Los Angeles Lakers and become one of the best PnR combinations in NBA history. 

    The competition is stiff though. There have been quite a few duos that stand out since the play was first popularized in the early 1990s. 

    When reading through these 10 duos, keep in mind that these are not rankings. 

    Instead, this is a chronological look through the best PnR combinations that The Association has seen. Prior to 1990, the pairings that appear are more hypothetical, earning a spot based on what they could have done if they'd run pick-and-rolls more often. 

    Only time will tell if Nash and D12 can challenge John Stockton and Karl Malone for the top spot in NBA history, but they're certainly to find quite a bit of success in the Staples Center. 

Bob Cousy and Bill Russell: 1956-1963

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    While Bill Russell wasn't the greatest offensive center of his era, he managed to average 17.1 points per game from 1956-1963, thanks in large part to the passing brilliance of Bob Cousy. 

    The NBA's original facilitator was known as "The Houdini of the Hardwood" for good reason. He played with a flash and pizzazz that belonged decades into the future, twirling and no-looking his way towards insane assist totals on a nightly basis. 

    Given Cousy's ahead-of-his-time court vision and passing skills, plus Russell's athleticism and basketball savvy, this duo would have used the pick-and-roll to great success if it had been the play du jour in the early NBA. 

Walt Frazier and Willis Reed: 1967-1974

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    Walt "Clyde" Frazier's best trait will always be his pressure-packed defense. Throughout his career with the New York Knicks, he terrified offensive players with his relentless hounding and quick hands. Clyde could lull opponents to sleep and then swipe away the ball in the blink of an eye. 

    However, that quickness didn't only apply to his hands. 

    Frazier was quite fleet of foot and would be able to move around screens effectively before using his impressive court vision to make the right pass. 

    Having Willis Reed on the receiving end of said pass would be a nice luxury as well. 

    Most famous for his limp out of the tunnel in the final game of the 1970 NBA Finals, Reed was one of the NBA's most physical players and would be able to barrel his way through the competition en route to the rim. 

Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain: 1968-1973

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    If the pick-and-roll had been popular during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain would have been challengers for the best PnR duo of all time. 

    How exactly would you have shut down the two of them working together in such fashion? 

    One option would be to stay with West and fight over top of the screen while not allowing the second defender to show, choosing to stay on Wilt. In that case, West would have calmly drilled a jumper in the defender's face, just as he did so many times throughout his career. 

    Perhaps more impressively, West's hair still would have remained perfectly manicured. 

    If the second defender did show on West, then he'd just be asking for trouble. It's tough enough to slow Wilt when he doesn't have a head start while rolling to the basket. 

    Don't forget that Wilt was more than just a seven-footer. He remains one of the best athletes ever to play basketball and had the speed of a track star. 

Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 1970-1974

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    Two of the greatest players in NBA history, Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar worked together fairly well from the first moment that they were paired up. 

    Robertson was a wizard with the ball, employing subtle move after subtle move as he tricked his defender. It was nearly impossible to stay in front of him, and he would have split defenders with ease coming off a screen. 

    The only flaw in this pick-and-roll combo is that Robertson didn't really possess an elite jumper. Sure, he could hit shots from the outside, but not with the consistency necessary to challenge for supremacy if these duos were ranked. 

    Of course, Kareem was a scoring machine and makes up for "The Big O's" minor flaw. It would have been a pretty sight to see him running to the basket and unleashing a devastating sky-hook after a bounce pass from his point guard. 

Magic Johnson and James Worthy: 1982-1991

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    Magic Johnson is one of the greatest distributors of the basketball in NBA history, and James Worthy is one of the best finishers. 

    A logical pick-and-roll pairing, Magic and Worthy would have added to their highlight collection if the pick-and-roll had been in vogue during the 1980s. For now, we just have to settle for the ridiculous number of fast-break dunks that the Magic-Worthy connection produced when they were both on the Showtime Lakers. 

    If there was even the slightest opening when the goggled power forward cut to the basket after setting his screen, Magic would have found the gap and hit Worthy in stride. 

    Johnson might not have been the greatest scorer, but he still managed just under 20 points per game in his career. Plus, he's the second-best playmaking point guard that the NBA has seen since the 1977 NBA draft after the ABA and NBA merged. 

    Yes, that's a teaser for a future article to be published next week. 

Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley: 1992-1996

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    For those of you who only remember Charles Barkley as the outspoken media personality employed by TNT, let me remind you. 

    Long before Chuck was the most entertaining man in sports broadcasting, he was one of the NBA's most dominant power forwards. 

    Barkley could score in a variety of ways, and his athleticism was more than enough to allow him to dominate against the inferior competition. 

    Running a pick-and-roll with Kevin Johnson, who once averaged double-digit assists for four seasons in a row, would almost have been unfair. 

    When the two were teammates, Chuck averaged 23.4 points per game, well above his career scoring average. 

John Stockton and Karl Malone: 1985-2003

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    Seeing as John Stockton and Karl Malone spent almost two decades together in Utah and firmly established themselves as the best pick-and-roll combination in NBA history, it's only fitting that they are prominently featured in this article. 

    Both players benefited tremendously from each other's presence. No two teammates have been better fits for each other. 

    These two popularized the pick-and-roll that is so commonly used in modern basketball, with Malone coming out to screen for Stockton and then rolling hard towards the hoop. 

    With Stockton's insane passing abilities and Malone's finishing abilities, they were impossible to stop. What's more, these two ended their careers as the No. 1 all-time NBA assist leader and No. 2 all-time for scoring, respectively.

    This duo is still basketball's gold standard. 

Tony Parker and Tim Duncan: 2001-????

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    In terms of pure talent, Tony Parker may be a little bit overrated historically. However—and this is a big and very important however—when you include the ability to work within a system and maximize talent, Parker shoots up those historical rankings. 

    The high pick-and-roll has been a staple in the San Antonio Spurs offense ever since the French point guard joined forces with Tim Duncan. 

    Duncan has stepped out to the perimeter countless times, used his massive frame to provide a screen for the speedy point guard and then rolled to the basket. 

    More often than not, Parker finds him and Duncan finishes with either an easy layup, a dunk that looks way too easy or a bankshot that he might as well have trademarked. 

    They may not be the most flashy duo, but they've been efficiently using the PnR for over a decade now. 

Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire: 2004-2010

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    During their respective primes, Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire thrived together in the desert. 

    Nash possesses some of the greatest court vision in NBA history, and he's made his living off running the pick-and-roll. The number of assists he's racked up by passing the rock to a cutting big man is simply jaw-dropping. 

    During Stoudemire's best years with the Phoenix Suns, before knee injuries caused a decline in offensive capabilities, he was one of the league's premier offensive big men. 

    With off-the-charts athleticism, Stoudemire threw home quite a few rim-shaking slam dunks off the pick-and-roll with Nash. 

Steve Nash and Dwight Howard: 2012-????

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    If I was actually ranking the best pick-and-roll combinations in NBA history instead of providing a chronological look at the best potential duos of the past and the actual recent ones, I would have been tempted to list "Steve Nash and 'Insert Player X' here." 

    Nash is that good at running the play in question. 

    Similarly, Dwight Howard would have to occupy a spot in the rankings, even if Jameer Nelson was his partner in the rankings. 

    With Nash's vision and Howard's speed and athleticism, this is going to be a terrifying duo for the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    Will it be enough to convince Kobe Bryant to take a back seat? Well, that's a question for another day.