Perhaps no other inside-outside tandem in NBA history sticks out in memory as well as, "Stockton to Malone," but there have certainly been good ones over the years worth recognizing.
Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. Moses Malone and Dr. J. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In 1995, a 22-year-old Shaquille O'Neal and 23-year-old Penny Hardaway led the Orlando Magic all the way to the Finals.
A year later, the Seattle Supersonics came within two games of a title behind the high-flying circus show that was Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp.
Of course, Kobe Bryant later joined forces with O'Neal in Los Angeles and helped the Lakers win three titles at the start of the new millennium.
Interestingly enough, after what has been a decade in which the hybrid, or in-between, player has blossomed (think Andre Iguodala and Joe Johnson), many of the teams in the league are again overtly featuring inside-outside tandems that fit the more traditional definition.
In other words, team-leading duos are looking a bit more like Andrew Bogut-Brandon Jennings and less like Ray Allen-Glenn Robinson. Having twin towers and weak guards doesn't work. Having great guards but no inside scoring presence doesn't work.
It's no coincidence the most successful teams in the NBA this season split their best two players between the post and perimeter. While unsuccessful teams—think Charlotte (Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson) and Minnesota (Kevin Love, Michael Beasley)—feature their best tandem either outside or inside, not both.
With such thoughts in mind, let's take a look at this season's best inside-outside combos thus far.
Consider the 15th slide as an honorary, have no idea where or how to place these guys but they belong somewhere slide (where and how would you rank them, if at all?).
Interestingly enough, this duo is somewhat of an unorthodox inside-outside threat: The 6'3" Westbrook takes and makes most of his buckets in the paint, while the 6'10" Durant does much of his damage from the perimeter.
The Houston Rockets:
-Lost dominant 7'6" center Yao Ming for the season (maybe forever) with foot injuries.
-Were without their engine, point guard Aaron Brooks, for 24 games (and only had him healthy for about five games).
-Play in the toughest division in the league (Southwest).
-Sporting a somewhat miraculous 19-23 (.452) record.
The 6'7" Martin, a Reggie Miller-like scoring guard, and the 6'9" Scola, an offensive-minded power forward, are averaging a combined 42.6 points per game on 47.6 percent shooting. They alone are scoring 40 percent of their team's points.
Martin's 23.3 points per game average is currently 10th-best in the NBA. Only five players have made more three-pointers. He might be better than anyone in drawing fouls and getting to the line, where he's nearly automatic.
I don't know what was put in Zach Randolph's Kool-aid upon his arrival in Memphis, but the heavyset lefty has gone from perceived underachieving headcase to King Kong status practically overnight.
Randolph is fourth in the league in double-doubles (27) and averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds per contest. With him, the Grizzlies made a 16-win improvement from 2008 to last year. Currently, they're rated the 11th-best team in John Hollinger's latest power rankings.
Right alongside him and possibly more deserving of credit is Rudy Gay. The 24-year-old, 6'9" forward is scoring just slightly more than Randolph (20.7 vs. 20.1), and grabbing seven fewer rebounds per game, but is clearly the team's most dynamic player and go-to guy in the clutch.
Gay, who signed a max five-year, $82-million deal over the summer, is posting career-best shooting percentages across the board, including an impressive 41 percent from three.
Well, gee, I know Blake Griffin is just a rookie and less than two months away from his 22nd birthday, but you're a liar if you haven't once said this season, "this guy is the most incredible thing I have ever seen."
Griffin is Larry Johnson and Shawn Kemp rolled into one with Olympic-level athleticism. The guy is such a beast he deserves his own Street Fighter character.
If you think ranking him and teammate Eric Gordon, who has also been out of this world this season, on this list is a premature reach, you probably live under a rock and have your back covered in peat moss.
This deadly inside-outside threat has helped the L.A. Clippers win 10 of its last 14 games, including matches against the L.A. Lakers, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls.
If health allows it, the Clippers could make a serious push the No. 8 playoff seed in the Western Conference.
With good knees, Brandon Roy is unquestionably a top-25 player, and teammate LaMarcus Aldridge has elevated his game this season to All-Star-worthy status (mostly to compensate for Roy' struggles).
Healthy, this duo forms an incredible, and somewhat underrated, inside-outside punch.
Roy is a deadly mid-range jump shooter who can penetrate at will. Aldridge is increasingly starting to look like a young Rasheed Wallace; he's getting nastier, scoring at will inside, defending better at the rim and taking his jumper out to the three-point line.
Even with all the injuries, the Portland Trail Blazers still have a three-game hold on the 8th playoff spot. Thanks to Aldridge.
Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton are both having career years their first season together in New York.
Stoudemire has upped his game on defense and in the clutch, and is deservedly getting MVP consideration. Felton has churned out Stephon Marbury-like production (18 points, 9 assists) minus the shenanigans and meltdown.
Lately, the Knicks have seemingly hit a wall, losing four of its last five, and both STAT and Ray-Ray have seen their shooting percentages dip.
But either way you cut it, this tandem has been nothing short of a success story for Knicks fans, and a threat to opposing defenses.
We all know Deron Williams is the real deal and, if not the best, then at worst the 3rd-best point guard in the league. This is not up for debate.
But how good is Paul Millsap? Despite his per-game averages of 17.5 points and 8 rebounds, people continue to sleep on him as if he were still semi-buried behind Carlos Boozer.
The undersized power forward—he's 6'7" with shoes—currently ranks 10th in field goal percentage (.541), 20th in steals per game (1.4), and 20th in Win Shares (5.1--tied with Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant). There's nothing sexy about his game; he just gets the job done.
Behind Williams and Millsap, the Utah Jazz are sitting pretty atop their division.
Chicago Bulls fans came out in droves to tell me I was crazy for writing Derrick Rose won't win the MVP Award. I can only wonder what they'll make of Rose and Carlos Boozer being named the 8th-best inside-outside tandem in the league.
In all honesty, while I still believe Rose won't win the award, I must admit his play as of late has further opened my eyes. In Chicago's last seven games, the Bulls have won five, and Rose has averaged 28.6 points, 6.4 assists, and 5.9 rebounds.
Statistically, that's LeBron James-Kobe Bryant-Dwyane Wade territory.
Boozer's contributions have been somewhat bittersweet, considering he has missed 16 games with injuries and played several others feeling less than 100 percent. Of course, when he has played 30-plus minutes in a night, he and the Bulls have both often looked unstoppable.
Depending on whether Boozer can stay healthy and Rose can continue his ascension, this tandem could move up a couple of spots. But as of this moment, they're right where the belong.
The New Orleans Hornets' Nine-Man Rotation:
- Chris Paul
- David West
- Emeka Okafor
- Trevor Ariza
- Marco Belinelli
- Willie Green
- Jason Smith
- Jarrett Jack
- Marcus Thornton
Do not tell me this rotation deserves to be 26-16 (.619) and 3rd in the Southwest Division.
Paul is carrying this team, which is exactly why he's No. 1 in Win Shares and just .02 behind LeBron James for the league lead in PER. No player in the league is doing more with less right now than Paul.
Paul is leading the league in steals and assists while shooting a career-best percentages from three (.452) and the charity stripe (.901).
West, a two-time All-Star, is leading the team in scoring (19.0) and is second in rebounding (7.2).
Throw out his first two seasons in Dallas in the mid-90's, and Jason Kidd has won 60.4 percent of the games he has appeared in during his career.
That is exactly the reason why he's still a starting NBA point guard, despite being just two months away from his 38th birthday. He knows how to win.
Of course, Kidd's days of turning water to wine are over; the Mavericks are Dirk Nowitzki's team and as he goes, they go. Those seeking evidence need not look further than what the team has done with and without their German assassin this season:
24-7 with him; 2-7 without him.
With such splits painfully obvious (Dallas has lost nine of its last 11), and Nowitzki averaging 24-and-7 on .543/.416/.881 shooting percentages, the 7'0" forward might just be the favorite for MVP.
As for Kidd, who's clearly at the end of the line, he's putting up 8.5 assists per game (good for 7th in the league) and is only behind Russell Westbrook in rebounding average (4.7) among point guards.
I don't know that anyone would call Dwight Howard the best player in the league, but he's certainly the most impacting. Since the start of the 2008 season, the Howard-led Orlando Magic have won more games than any team except the L.A. Lakers and Boston Celtics.
Think about that.
The Lakers had Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest, Trevor Ariza and Derek Fisher. Let's not forget Phil Jackson.
The Celtics had Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace, and Glen Davis.
The Magic had Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, J.J. Redick and Mickael Pietrus.
Clearly, Howard does more with less. He and a zebra probably form a tandem worthy of a top-five placing on this list.
You might opt for a pairing with Nelson (clutch) or Turkoglu (versatility), but I chose Jason Richardson, who at age 30 is in his prime, having a great season and is most likely the best 2nd option after Howard.
I always tell people Dwyane Wade is the best guard I have seen since Michael Jordan. Unfortunately, he currently plays alongside a better, more impacting player in LeBron James.
The biggest difference between Wade and James is that while both can score 20 points at will, only the latter can get a teammate like Zydrunas Ilgauskas to do the same.
It's for this reason I've selected James and Chris Bosh, the default star post threat on the team.
And while such a tandem is worthy of discussion for the No. 1 spot, until it wins a championship it will remain on the outside looking in.
The Miami Heat lost only one game in December (15-1), and it was by two points to the Dallas Mavericks.
James is averaging 25.6 points, 7.2 assists and 7.1 rebounds per game. Thanks to those gaudy numbers (and Wade's) Bosh might be posting the quietest 19-and-8 in history.
Statistics don't tell the whole story when it comes to these two players. Neither one cares about individual accolades or whether or not you win your fantasy league. All that matters is winning and, in that sense, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are two of the best in the business.
Inside, the 34-year-old Garnett focuses on anchoring the defense and controlling the glass. Outside, the 33-year-old Pierce dominates with one of the best mid-range games around.
It's no surprise the Boston Celtics currently have the 2nd-best record in the league at 31-9 despite injuries to key rotation players. When the going gets tough, the C's more often than not find a way to win.
The 2nd-best player of the last decade (after Shaquille O'Neal), Tim Duncan has slowed down considerably. He's soon to turn 35 and has appeared in close to 1,200 games, including playoffs.
It should come as no surprise Duncan is averaging career-lows in minutes, field goal percentage, points and rebounds.
Interestingly enough, the San Antonio Spurs have the best record in the league at 35-6, and are on pace to finish with 70 wins. Credit Manu Ginobili, who is leading the team in scoring (18.9), three-pointers (3rd in the league), steals (5th in the league), Win Shares (12th in the league) and PER.
As of this second, the top three guys in the league in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes are Chris Paul, Pau Gasol and LeBron James. Ginobili is 4th. The next ranked Spur is Tony Parker at No. 23.
This duo is unmatched when it comes to intelligence and defensive awareness.
This is a no-brainer.
In Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, we're talking about the two best-skilled players in the league at their respective positions. Both are excellent shooters, ball-handlers, passers, rebounders, and defenders.
You could take either one off the L.A. Lakers and the team would still be championship-caliber. That's because both are in-their-prime, No. 1, franchise-carrying options.
Such a quality combo hasn't been seen since Bird-McHale or Moses-Dr. J. in the early 1980s.
Bryant is 5th in the league in points per game (25.2), 6th in free throws made, and 6th in PER. The incredibly underrated Gasol is 4th in minutes, 5th in rebounds, 7th in blocks, and 2nd in Win Shares.
With this duo leading the way, it's no surprise the Lakers are favored to return to the Finals again.