The NBA is unique from the other "Big Four" sports leagues (NHL, MLB, NFL) in that the teams are much smaller. Active NBA rosters are only composed of 12 players. There are obviously multiple positions in basketball with defined roles, but not to the extent of other sports. In football there are two completely different units for offensive and defense. Quarterbacks generally get the spotlight, but they don't take away from the stardom of great defensive players. In baseball, you don't even have to worry about star players having good chemistry. In baseball, players who don't have much team success usually don't have their reputations affected because baseball is primarily focused on individual performance.
We have seen numerous great dynamic duos in NBA history. Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. John Stockton and Karl Malone. However, with these duos, I don't think one player took away from another. None of those duos had someone playing in the shadow of another player. Instead they were both recognized as great players who reached their maximum potential.
Many of the players on this list are widely considered to be amongst the greatest to ever play. Yet they still don't receive the same recognition that the franchise player on their team did. Who knows how these players' careers would've been affected had they played on other teams and been the go-to-guy.
15 Terry Porter
The Portland Trail Blazers teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s were amongst the most popular teams in the NBA. They were led by a dynamic backcourt of Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter. Drexler was the team’s go-to guy, and made numerous All-NBA teams along with multiple All-Star appearances. Porter was the point guard who ran the Trail Blazers’ offense, while only making the All Star team twice. He was a very good shooter who consistently averaged around 17 points and nine assists per game. Terry Porter is one of the great passing point guards of all-time, and he ranks 14th all time in assists. Porter's ability to both drive and shoot the three made him a duel threat that could take some of the offensive load off of Drexler. Drexler was the flashy scorer and garnered more attention than the quiet and efficient Porter.
14 Dave DeBusschere
Dave DeBusschere was a huge part of the New York Knicks teams that won championships in 1970 and 1973. He started his career on the Detroit Pistons, but was eventually sent to the Knicks where he joined a star-studded team composed of fellow future Hall of Famers Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, and Earl Monroe. Reed was the de-facto leader and captain of the team, while Frazier was the biggest celebrity on the team due to his flashy play and high profile off the court. So that left the gritty DeBusschere as the guy who did all the dirty work. He made the All-Defensive First Team six consecutive years and averaged double digit rebounds ever year he was with the Knicks. In the Playoffs, especially in the the years they won the NBA Championship, he turned it up another notch. His gritty play often gets overlooked because he was on such a stacked team.
13 Rashard Lewis
Before Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, there was another duo of "Splash Brothers." They were on the Seattle Supersonics in the mid 2000s and their names were Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. The SuperSonics had acquired Allen from the Milwaukee Bucks, in a trade involving their former superstar Gary Payton, and together, he and Rashard formed a lethal duo of sharpshooters. They could both take over a game at any given time and Rashard scored more than 40 points multiple times during his time with the Sonics. What made Rashard so great was how versatile a player he was. He was 6'10" and had great length, yet he could shoot and was agile like a guard. Simply speaking, Lewis was a matchup nightmare. He seemed to hit his prime right when Ray Allen arrived and only had one All-Star appearance with Seattle while Allen had four All-Star selections while in Seattle.
12 Shawn Kemp
Shawn Kemp was a huge part of the great Seattle SuperSonics teams of the 1990s. Those teams were fuelled by Kemp, but primarily led by their Hall of Fame point guard Gary Payton, who was later traded for Ray Allen, who we mentioned in the previous entry on this list. Kemp was a freak athlete who many deemed a basketball prodigy early in his career. He made six consecutive All-Star teams from 1993-1998. However, the Seattle teams he played on were led by Payton, while also being well balanced. The team had other scorers in Hersey Hawkins and Detlef Schrempf. With so many people who could score the ball, there was no player who was the focal point of the offense. Kemp was able to manage around 12 shot attempts per game and you have to wonder what his stats would’ve been had he gotten more volume.
11 Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol has established himself as one of the greatest post players of all time and he definitely doesn't get enough credit for that. He started his career with the Memphis Grizzlies where he posted great individual numbers, but his team never enjoyed much success. Once he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, he took the role of a dominant second option, with the first option being Kobe Bryant. Bryant was the face of the Lakers and was the unquestioned leader of the teams that won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010. Gasol has everything you want in post-up big man and more. He has a .510 field goal percentage and 9.5 rebounds per game for his career. Rebounding and scoring are always vital for a big-man's success, but Gasol also had a great ability to pass the ball for someone his size. Pau was a huge part of those Lakers teams and his elite unselfish play is often overlooked.
10 Manu Ginobili
Manu Ginobili has been incredibly important to the success of the San Antonio Spurs over the last decade, even over the last five years as mostly a bench scorer. He has won four championships with the team, which have always been led by Tim Duncan, one of the best big men of all-time. Ginobili is a shooting guard who has the ability to play point guard and has frequently been asked throughout his NBA career to come off of the bench and run the team’s offense. Ginobili’s situation is very similar to James Harden’s situation when he was on the Oklahoma City Thunder coming off the bench behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Once Harden had his own team and was the focal point of the offense, he blossomed into a true superstar (though he still can't play defense). A similar outcome could have occurred with Ginobili had he ever been the go-to guy on his team.
9 Tony Parker
Perhaps one of the most under-appreciated players of the last decade, Tony Parker's accolades should put him in consideration for the Hall of Fame. The four-time NBA champion has six All-Star appearances, three All-NBA Second Team, and one All-NBA Third Team selections as well as a Finals MVP. He's been a staple in the Spurs' dynasty that is headlined by Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich. Like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker's style of play is not very flashy, but extremely effective. He and Duncan quietly do their job and both are incredibly clutch players, showing up in the fourth quarter for a variety of classic NBA finishes. Tim Duncan was drafted first overall by the Spurs and has been their franchise player ever since. Both Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have been tremendous team players who have always had significant roles but were never the franchise player that Duncan was.
8 Klay Thompson
Along with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson is one half of the "Splash Brothers," the two best shooters in the NBA today (and possibly NBA history). Both Curry and Thompson use a combination of smooth form, great footwork and a quick release to be able to knock down long distance shots at will. Curry is the reigning MVP and receives far more media attention than Klay. However, it is safe to say that both are impossible to guard. You can even make the argument that when Klay is in a groove, he is even more lethal than Steph. Klay holds the NBA record for most points in a single quarter (37) and most threes in a playoff game (11). He even beat Curry in the most recent three point contest during All-Star Weekend (though Steph beat him the year before). Klay is someone who is tremendously effective with and without the ball. He has also established himself as one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. If he played on another team, his numbers would increase and he could be in the MVP conversation.
7 Joe Dumars
Michael Jordan called him the best defender he ever faced in the NBA. Joe Dumars was a part of the "Bad Boy" Pistons that won back to back championships in 1989-1990 under head coach Chuck Daly. The team was known for their ruthless defense and for frequently getting under the skin of their opponents. He was half of a legendary backcourt pairing with Isiah Thomas. Dumars was also a very good shooter and scorer, but it was his defense that made him so dominant. Dumars was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team four times. Dumars was generally perceived as the quiet one on the team and that's likely what hurt his marketability. In spite of Dumars' greatness, those Pistons teams seemed to always be described as being led by Isiah Thomas and his great supporting cast of Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer and Dumars.
6 Kevin McHale
Kevin McHale was one of the best all-around players in the NBA in the 1980s and was a part of the Celtics dynasty that won three championships. The 1980s Celtics were led by Larry Bird who was one of the most popular athletes in the world. Bird and Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers had a rivalry that was always heavily marketed by the NBA. McHale was the guy on the team who did the dirty work. He was a ruthless defender who had three All-NBA Defensive First Team and three Second Team selections. On offense, McHale was as efficient as they come. He has career averages of shooting .554 from the field and .798 from the free throw line. Oftentimes, McHale even came off the bench and he was named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year twice in 1984 and 1985.
5 Robert Parish
Also a member of the 1980s Celtics dynasty, Robert Parish owns the record for most regular season games played in NBA history with 1,611. Parish was a center who was an absolute force in the paint. He averaged over 15 points and nine rebounds in eleven different seasons. Although he played for four different teams, the bulk of his career during his prime was with the Celtics. Like Kevin McHale, Parish received many impressive accolades, but was still in the large shadow of Larry Bird. The Celtics were always "Larry Bird and his supporting cast." While Parish's longevity is remarkable, the fact that he was able to maintain a high level of play throughout his career is what is truly unbelievable. Fellow Hall of Fame center Bill Walton called Parish the "greatest shooting big man of all time," which is high praise.
4 Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway
Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway had a long career that lasted fifteen seasons, yet his greatest success came in the beginning of his career with the Orlando Magic. The Magic drafted Hardaway third overall in 1993, one year after they selected Shaquille O'Neal first overall in 1992. Shaq and Penny became two of the most dominant young players in the NBA, but as good as Hardaway was, it was Shaq who was the jaw-dropping spectacle every time he took the court. In his first four years in the league, Hardaway averaged 19.7 points and 6.7 assists per game, and was one of the most promising young players in the league. However, Shaq was the prodigy big man who received the spotlight and Hardaway was always the second option. Sadly for Hardaway, after Shaq left Orlando, he started dealing with a multitude of injuries and his play started to decline.
3 Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook and teammate Kevin Durant are two of the best players in the NBA today. They are both bonafide superstars who can take over a game at any given moment. Westbrook could quite possibly be the most athletic player the league has ever seen. He stands at 6'3," yet he can drive and dunk as if he was 6'9." He can dominant all areas of the game and is a triple-double machine. It may be hard for some people to look at Westbrook's stats and think that he plays in the shadow of another player. However, one of the most frequent criticisms of the Oklahoma City Thunder is that Westbrook takes away from Durant. Westbrook has oftentimes tried too hard to take over a game, and many people would rather have the ball in Durant's hands. You never hear anyone criticizing Durant from taking away from Westbrook. Russell Westbrook is everything that Derrick Rose was in 2011 when he won MVP and more.
2 James Worthy
"Big Game James" Worthy won three championships with the Showtime Lakers in the late 1980s. Worthy was an offensive dynamo and one of the best wing players in NBA history. He got his nickname "Big Game James" because of how he performed in the clutch. He always came up big in the playoffs and won a Finals MVP in 1988. In spite of how dominant of a player Worthy was, he was overshadowed by not one, but two players in Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Johnson was the face of the franchise as he had spent his entire career with the team. Kareem had spent the first part of his career with the Bucks and was already on a Hall of Fame pace by the time he joined the Lakers. Worthy was never very ball dominant because most of the offense was run through Magic and Kareem. With Magic and Kareem as the one-two punch, Worthy never truly received the hype he deserved.
1 Scottie Pippen
The greatest Batman-Robin combo in the history of sports, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen led the Chicago Bulls to six championships in the 1990s. Both Jordan and Pippen were tremendous all-around players. No one should ever doubt Pippen's greatness. He is one of the greatest wing players of all-time and is in the Hall of Fame. Yet when we talk about him, the fact that he was Jordan's sidekick always permeates in the conversations. There are many great sidekicks in sports history. Yet with Pippen, you can't help but immediately think that he was a member of "Jordan's Bulls." This has nothing to do with Pippen's basketball abilities, but is a testament to how Jordan is both the greatest player ever and a global icon. There will never be a bigger shadow to play under than the shadow of Michael Jordan.