With the Reds set to visit three cities this summer where their basketball teams - the Chicago Bulls, the New York Knicks and the Charlotte Bobcats - are bigger than any local soccer teams, we've scoured the sport to find the on-court pairings most like some of Liverpool's most recent duos - good and bad.
In the NBA, 'Big Threes' are all the rage - teams don't dream of winning a championship without three great players - but more often than not, those 'Big Three' groupings are really just two elite players and one merely good one.
Duos still dominate the league - in the same way they have done in so many Liverpool teams over the years. NBA superstar Kobe Bryant is a known footy fan and he's compared basketball and football in the past - the end objectives are the same and the angles to score are similar as well. He's not wrong in his analysis either and to take it a step further, it's high time we compared a few of Liverpool's recent duos and their modern NBA equivalents...
Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant
As an observer of both the EPL and NBA, this comparison has been eating away at me for almost a year now. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are the most prolific scoring duo in today's NBA, and it'd be hard to argue against a likewise statement for Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge's EPL status. This season, Westbrook and Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder average 104.8 points per game, with Durant averaging 31.5 point per game, and Westbrook (who's missed extended stretches of this season with a troublesome knee) averages 20.9 points per game. On averages alone, they account for 50% of the Thunder's scoring-no other NBA duo handles that level of burden on offense.
Since Sturridge was bought from Chelsea last winter, Liverpool have scored a total of 107 EPL goals, with the No.15 plundering 28 of them, and Suarez adding 32. That's 56% of Liverpool's EPL goals, even though both Sturridge and Suarez have seen their own lay-offs from the side due to suspension and injuries. Statistically, SAS and Durant and Westbrook are dead even when it comes to scoring responsibilities.
Stylistically, it's harder to tell who's who - all four players are score-first types but each has an ability to create and provide opportunities for teammates. Lately, however, Durant has developed (impossibly, it sometimes seems) into an even more devastating shooter, while Sturridge's goals per minute ratio continues to drop as Suarez's recent form has seen him create more chances for Sturridge and Raheem Sterling. Sturridge is the best striker in England currently and Durant's the NBA's best scorer-that comparison has sorted itself out quite naturally. Suarez and Westbrook shouldn't fret though-each is a match-winning alpha dog who've taken second banana roles (for the time being) to let their in-form teammates flourish.
Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll are Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire
Nearly £60 million worth of striker never gelled together - just as over $43 million in annual salary worth of front court has failed the New York Knicks. Suarez and Andy Carroll never fulfilled the big-little partnership that Kenny Dalglish surely envisioned for them. Carroll's immobility came at Suarez's detriment-Carroll needed service directly to and through him at his monotonous pace, while Suarez's dynamic movements were undercut by Carroll's massive tactical cog. The two simply could not co-exist nor bring the best out of each other.
Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire have encountered the exact same problem while on the floor together. Anthony is a fantastic scoring wing player with one of the game's smoothest jump shots. But he's at his best working at the elbows, down on the block, and in the paint, where he can use his girth to bully smaller forwards down low to either kick the ball out around the perimeter for his teammates or get a shot closer to the basket. Stoudemire, as a Knicks player, has been at his best playing in the exact same area of the floor as Anthony. Problem! When they play together, Anthony defers that space on the court to Stoudemire, forcing himself further out from the basket to find less efficient shots. In short: the Knicks' best and most adaptable player has to lessen his game to cater to a larger player with more specific needs. Sound familiar?
Fernando Torres and David Ngog are LeBron James and Mo Williams
Remember Roy Hodgson’s rigid 4-4-2? No? Good, you’ve successfully blacked out from memory some of the least effective football in Liverpool’s history! For those fans who can’t erase that period, clear memories of a forced Fernando Torres and David Ngog striker pairing will lead to a recollection of Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat at St. James’s Park—one of Hodgson’s final matches in charge. Torres, as one of the EPL’s elite forwards, needed that dependable, able-bodied, skillful running mate to play off of. David Ngog unfortunately wasn’t that player.
Likewise, LeBron James desperately needed a Robin to his Batman during his years with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The best he got was Mo Williams, whose career 13.4 points per game average leaves much to be desired. Hardly a number two option fit for a King. Torres can surely sympathize-both he and James moved on to different teams shortly after their unsuccessful runs with Ngog and Williams.
Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire
Watching the Steven Gerrard-FernandoTorres axis at its peak was sensational. The precise through balls, the seemingly telepathic connection, and above all, the goals. Oh, how they scored goals. In the mid-2000s, Steve Nash and Stoudemire (this was Stoudemire at his athletic peak, not the second-rate, broken down version the Knicks bought) ran pick-and-roll plays better than any other duo in modern NBA history. Nash always found the smallest cracks in the defense to feed pinpoint passes to Stoudemire, who used his stunning strength and speed to finish powerfully at the rim with a dunk, which was exactly how Torres in 2008-09 would finish his goals off. And if Stoudemire or Torres couldn't wiggle free for the scoring chance, Nash, like Gerrard during this era, was more than capable of shooting from distance or sprinting forward to find a shot.
Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso are Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul
Disruptive defense meets clinical passing. Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso were a midfield pairing that Liverpool struggled for years to replace and they may never find a balance this effective and this delicate ever again. Mascherano was Liverpool’s ultimate destroyer—any mistakes made in midfield or any holes to plug to protect the goal, he was always there to get the job done. Alonso was Liverpool’s offensive metronome, the finest pacer and passer of the game west of Andrea Pirlo. Down in New Orleans during the late-2000s, Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul had the Hornets dancing to a similar jig. Chandler would protect the rim from oncoming attacking ball handlers at all costs, and Paul’s passing and basketball IQ masterfully dictated the flow of every game he checked into. Not too Xabi, eh Mr Paul?
Do you agree or disagree with Justin Block's NBA comparisons? Let us know on Twitter @LFCUSA using #LFCNBA