5 Current NBA Star Pairings That Will Never Work

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2012

5 Current NBA Star Pairings That Will Never Work

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    It can be exciting when two stars join forces, but a pairing of two great players doesn't necessarily mean that success will immediately follow. These five duos are perfect examples. 

    Basketball isn't won on paper, where big names stand out like sore thumbs and seem to provide a preponderance of evidence in favor of a winning season.

    It's played on the court, where chemistry matters and directly affects the result of each and every contest. Remember, there's only one ball in play at a time, and the players must successfully share it in order to win games. 

    It takes great players and great chemistry to win championships. That's why rings are a team accomplishment. Basketball isn't an individual sport masquerading as a team game, even though the accomplishments of individuals make all the difference. 

    LeBron James and Dwyane Wade proved this during the 2011-12 season. They weren't good enough to overcome a struggle for dominance in their first season together on the Miami Heat, but they rebounded in championship fashion in their second. 

    These five duos might wish for a season like the Heat enjoyed under the direction of the league MVP, but they won't be able to replicate that special campaign. 

5. Russell Westbrook and James Harden

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    This may seem a little strange because James Harden and Russell Westbrook were two crucial pieces on the Oklahoma City Thunder squad that advanced to the 2012 NBA Finals. However, the league runners-up were better off when the two dynamic guards weren't both on the court. 

    Individually, both Westbrook and Harden are sensational players. They slice and dice a defense to pieces, scoring at a high level while opening up the court for their teammates. 

    It's just too much when they're both out on the hardcourt at the same time. 

    According to 82games.com, only two of the Thunder's five most effective five-man lineups included both Harden and Westbrook. Four of the five included Kevin Durant, four required the presence of Westbrook, and three needed Harden. 

    The most effective lineup was Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Scott Brooks used them as his starting five for good reason. 

    Replacing Sefolosha with Harden gave the Thunder its second-best unit. At first glance, it might even appear to be better. 

    When the second-best squad is out, the Thunder score 0.11 more points per possession. However, they also allow an extra 0.13 points per possession, thus negating the benefit of the extra offensive presence. 

    In short spurts, there's enough offensive firepower for this duo to be effective. However, Brooks must use them sparingly, instead substituting one spark plug for another to maximize the effectiveness of his rotations. 

4. Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon

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    Don't be fooled by this picture of Austin Rivers. He's not a willing passer, even when given the opportunity to throw the ball to a teammate in snazzy, between-the-legs fashion. 

    He's also not a star yet, but he's a big enough name to merit inclusion in this article when paired with Eric Gordon. 

    Rivers prefers to be the man in charge on an offense, dominating the ball as he waits to find his own shot. His terrific handles and ability to get into the lane tempt him into lofting up a ton of shots, both good and bad. 

    A pass is the second option for this son of Doc Rivers. He doesn't want to look in that direction when he doesn't have to.  

    This is problematic for the New Orleans Hornets, who seem to be intent on converting the former Duke Blue Devil into a point guard. 

    If he can harness his desire to dominate the scoring column and start to involve his teammates, he'll play well beside Eric Gordon. That's a big "if" though. 

    Gordon is another player who needs to have the ball in his hands if he's going to be successful. In nine games with the Hornets during the 2011-12 season, the up-and-coming shooting guard had a usage rate of 29.4, the highest mark of his career. 

    That's a small sample size, but it doesn't seem to be an outlandish number. Gordon's usage rate had been steadily rising throughout his career as he gained more confidence in his game. It shouldn't be surprising that it spiked on a team without as many offensive options as the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Gordon may be a smooth offensive player who can score in a variety of ways, but he needs the ball in order to do so. With Rivers bringing the rock up the court, that won't happen as often as it should. 

3. Jeremy Lin and Kevin Martin

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    Jeremy Lin's game is predicated upon drives to the basket. Once he gets past his defender and surrounds himself with the trees of the interior of the defense, Lin either finishes around the rim with creativity or kicks the ball out to his open teammates. 

    It's one of the reasons he racked up so many assists with the New York Knicks, but also a reason he was seen as turnover prone. 

    This playing style doesn't fit well with Kevin Martin, who is still undoubtedly the best scoring option on the Houston Rockets. Martin's offensive success also comes from his ability to drive and draw contact. 

    The shooting guard gets to the free-throw line quite often, and he usually tends to convert those freebies, shooting at 86.5 percent for his career from the charity stripe. While he's a great three-point shooter, Martin is such an offensive stud because of this knack for drawing his defenders into fouls. 

    This ability will be marginalized while playing alongside Lin, which could lead to an early exit from the Rockets organization for Martin. Lin is the future of this franchise, as his new contract indicates. 

    Lin will have success running the pick-and-roll with some of the team's young, athletic forwards, but he and Martin won't form a dynamic duo in the backcourt. 

2. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings

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    This duo might have enough high-scoring games that they'll give off a facade of effectiveness, but there's going to be too much tension below the surface level. 

    Neither Brandon Jennings nor Monta Ellis has a conscience when it comes to shooting the ball. Each one will take any open shot that's made available. Hell, they'll each shoot it even when they aren't open. 

    Jennings averaged 17.1 points per game before Ellis' arrival on the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2011-12 season. After the shooting guard joined forces with him in the backcourt, his shots per game declined to 16.7. 

    The drop-off in shots was even more precipitous for Ellis. With the Golden State Warriors, he took 19 per game. After the trade, the number dipped to 16. 

    It's tough to build chemistry when both players are forced to concede to the other throughout the game. 

    Additionally, Ellis and Jennings both struggle to contain opposing guards. They're average defenders, but neither one controls his aggressiveness and gambling instincts effectively enough to maintain a constant defensive presence on the perimeter. 

1. Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire

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    Q. What happens when Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are on the same team? 

    A. The New York Knicks get their first playoff win in 11 years and then promptly get knocked out of the postseason in the first round. 

    Knicks fans had big things in mind when Stoudemire joined forces with Melo in Madison Square Garden. Dreams of multiple titles danced through their heads when they thought of the offensive explosions that were to come. 

    Now, it appears as though the Knicks are doomed to be a slightly less than elite team in the Eastern Conference, barring some unexpected rise to superstardom from Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith or Iman Shumpert. 

    The playing styles of these two stars just don't mesh well at all. Each relies on ball-stopping plays, holding onto the rock until they've successfully created their own shot. There simply aren't enough passes to go around. 

    Ian Begley is one of the many NBA analysts out there who shares the same opinion, as shown by this article about an interview with former Knick Stephon Marbury: 

    "Amare needs a point guard like Steve Nash (to thrive). He's a pick-and-roll guy, a pick-and-pop guy. He can't play in the half court where everything's slowed down," Marbury told ESPN New York during a brief interview in Manhattan on Wednesday.

    When asked if he thought Anthony and Stoudemire could flourish together, Marbury said flatly, "Nope."

    Many have expressed the same concerns with the Knicks' star duo. In their season and a half together, the Knicks have a sub-.500 record when both are in the starting lineup.

    While N.Y. has enough pieces in place to prevent a sub-.500 record during the 2012-13 campaign, the Stoudemire-Anthony pairing isn't enough to push open the proverbial championship window. 

Bonus: Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard (Maybe)

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    I don't expect Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant to have trouble coexisting on the Los Angeles Lakers, but the potential exists for this duo to flop. 

    For that to happen, Kobe would have to refuse to change his ball-dominating ways. If he continues to believe that he should be jacking up shot after shot, refusing to involve his teammates as he attempts to carry the team singlehandedly, the Lakers won't be as successful. 

    Kobe is one of the more intelligent basketball minds in the NBA right now. He most likely realizes that the offense shouldn't—and maybe even can't—run through him anymore. As strange as it may be, he must take a bit of a backseat to Dwight when the big man is fully healthy. 

    As I said, I don't expect for this to become a problem. There's a reason that this duo is listed as a bonus pairing with "(Maybe)" in the title. 

    However, the potential for disaster still exists for this convergence of superstar-level talent.