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Dwight Howard and James Harden could form NBA’s best duo

Jul 5, 2013, 7:43 PM EDT

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Dwight Howard is a center. James Harden is a guard.

Howard is one of the NBA’s best defenders. Harden is one of the league’s top offensive players.

Howard is an elite interior scorer. Harden’s range extends beyond the 3-point line.

Howard is excellent as the screener in pick-and-rolls. Harden is superb as the ball-handler on those plays.

Howard and Harden, in any system, would be two of the NBA’s best players. Together, they should be great.

They won’t step on each other’s toes the ways LeBron James and Dwyane Wade do at times. Obviously LeBron and Wade have overcome those issues, but the overlaps in their games have caused complications.

Howard and Harden won’t have to deal with that.

Could Howard and Harden even become the NBA’s best duo next season? First, let’s set a baseline using each team’s top duos last season, as judged by combined win shares.

I’ll also slot in Howard and Harden to compare. It’s difficult to know whether Howard’s peak win-share total, set in 2010-11, or his lower total while playing through injury last season is more telling, so I’ll show both.

1. Thunder, 30.5 (Kevin Durant, 18.9; Russell Westbrook, 11.6)

2. Heat, 28.9 (LeBron James, 19.3; Dwyane Wade, 9.6)

Howard (14.4) Harden (12.8) using peak numbers numbers, 27.2

3. Clippers, 24.5 (Chris Paul, 13.9; Blake Griffin, 10.6)

4. Grizzlies, 21.4 (Marc Gasol, 11.5; Mike Conley, 9.9)

Harden (12.8) and Howard (7.6) using last season’s numbers, 20.4

5. Warriors, 20.3 (Stephen Curry, 11.2; David Lee, 9.1)

6. Nets, 19.9 (Deron Williams, 10.9; Brook Lopez, 9)

7. Rockets, 19.8 (James Harden, 12.8; Chandler Parsons, 7)

8. Knicks, 18.8 (Carmelo Anthony, 9.5; Tyson Chandler, 9.3)

8. Pacers, 18.8 (George Hill, 9.7; David West, 9.1)

10. Lakers, 18.5 (Kobe Bryant, 10.9; Dwight Howard, 7.6)

11. Spurs, 17.6 (Tony Parker, 9.3; Tim Duncan, 8.3)

12. Jazz, 15.3 (Al Jefferson, 7.7; Paul Millsap, 7.6)

13. Hawks, 15.2 (Al Horford, 8.8; Kyle Korver, 6.4)

13. Nuggets, 15.2 (Kenneth Faried, 7.8; Ty Lawson, 7.4)

15. Bulls, 14.3 (Joakim Noah, 7.3; Jimmy Butler, 7)

16. Trail Blazers, 14.1 (LaMarcus Aldridge, 7.2; J.J. Hickson, 6.9)

17. Raptors, 12.9 (Amir Johnson, 7.3; Kyle Lowry, 5.6)

18. Celtics, 12.8 (Paul Pierce, 7.2; Kevin Garnett, 5.6)

19. Bucks, 12.7 (Ersan Ilyasova, 6.7; Larry Sanders, 6)

19. Timberwolves, 12.7 (Nikola Pekovic, 6.7; Andrei Kirilenko, 6)

21. Hornets, 12.6 (Ryan Anderson, 6.5; Anthony Davis, 6.1)

22. 76ers, 12.3 (Thaddeus Young, 7.4; Dorell Wright, 4.9)

23. Mavericks, 11.6 (Vince Carter, 6; Darren Collison, 5.6)

24. Wizards, 10.8 (Martell Webster, 6.3; tie John Wall and Emeka Okafor, 4.5)

25. Cavaliers, 10.5 (Kyrie Irving, 5.3; Tristan Thompson, 5.2)

25. Suns, 10.5 (Goran Dragic, 5.7; Jared Dudley, 4.8)

27. Pistons, 10.4 (Greg Monroe, 5.9; Andre Drummond, 4.5)

28. Kings, 9.4 (Isaiah Thomas, 5; tie: DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, 4.4)

29. Magic, 8.9 (Nikola Vucevic, 5.7; J.J. Redick, 3.2)

30. Bobcats, 8.1 (Kemba Walker, 4.8; Gerald Henderson, 3.3)

Wade is 31, and he has spent his career drawing fouls, a style that is difficult to maintain. He showed during the playoffs that he might already be beyond his days of regularly dominating. That doesn’t mean he’ll fall off a cliff or won’t sometimes look like the best shooting guard in the NBA, but it could mean he and LeBron lose their footing as one of the game’s best two duos.

There are also questions about how Westbrook returns from his injury. Lingering effects could keep him and Durant from retaining their place atop this list.

But if I had to guess today, I’d say Durant-Westbrook will be the NBA’s best duo next season with Howard-Harden coming in second.

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