James Harden and Isaiah Thomas have emerged as two of the best offensive players in the NBA, and they have a lot in common.
Both are ball-dominant, lefty point guards who can not only create shots for themselves but also make the players on their team better. They both get to the FT line to score a chunk of their points. They are also the most valuable player on each of their teams, which are both the second-best team in their respective conferences.
They also share one fatal flaw: Defense.
Harden has never seemed to put the work in on defense, exhorting most of his energy on the offensive side of the court.
Isaiah on the other hand has shown minor flashes of decent defensive instincts. But when you’re 5 foot 9 it’s near impossible to have much success when most guards can shoot over the top of you.
This raises the question; How do the Rockets and Celtics have so much success despite the fact that their marquee players are below-average defenders? The answer is simple, they have the perfect sidekicks.
If you were going to craft the perfect shooting guard for Isaiah Thomas, he’d most likely come out looking a lot like Avery Bradley. Bradley’s playing style compliments Isaiah’s on both ends.
He is arguably the best defensive guard in the league, covering up a lot of Thomas’s defensive woes. Bradley can guard smaller, score-first guards like Damian Lilliard, and also to the larger, more multi-dimentional players like Harden.
Bradley is a good enough offensive player to score 16-18 PPG. He’s also not a guy who has to have the ball in his hands to make a play. In fact, Bradley is often times a better offensive player away from he ball. He’s been regarded as one of the best cutters in the league, and has also greatly improved his corner three the last few years.
These qualities are perfect for Thomas’s game, as he often makes plays for others by penetrating the defense and kicking out to an open shooter.
Very similar to Thomas and Bradley, Harden and Patrick Beverly work off eachother’s weaknesses and strengths. Beverly plays a similar style to Bradley, acting as both a defensive stopper and a guy who can make open spot up threes when Harden creates a shot. Beverly also acts as the team’s vocal leader, similar to what Draymond Green does for the Warriors.
Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have developed a similar dynamic in Golden State. Klay, a phenomenal shooter who doesn’t dominate the ball, compliments Curry on both ends of the floor in the same way Bradley and Beverly do.
At the end of the day, Thomas and Harden would be phenomenal players no matter who they were paired with. The point is that players like Bradley and Beverly are never going to make all-star games or make all-NBA teams, but their roles are just as important to their teams as their superstar counterparts.