For the first time in what seems like forever, the NBA appears to have parity. The days of super teams and big 3’s are over, and the new era of dynamic duos is upon us. But with so many new faces in new places, which duo should take the claim as the very best?
10. Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley
For the past few seasons the Utah Jazz have been a perennial playoff team out West but have been lacking that consistent second scoring playmaker to pair with Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz solved that problem with their acquisition of the underrated, 12-year veteran Mike Conley. Despite being one of the elder statesmen at the point guard position, Conley has shown zero signs of slowing down as he scored a career high 21 points per game last season. Conley will take some of the offensive load off of Mitchell’s shoulders while being quite the defensive backcourt duo. With the one-two punch of the savvy veteran Mike Conley and the young Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz are sitting nicely for the upcoming season. And the beauty for the Jazz is their depth is what will really elevate them to success this upcoming season.
09. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray
The Denver Nuggets were one of the good feel, surprise teams a year ago, defeating the Spurs in a seven game series, then going the distance in the West Semifinals, but falling short to the Portland Trailblazers. What we learned from last seasons effort from the Nuggets was Jokic and Murray are a young dynamic duo, still developing and set to be a true headache for opposing teams for years to come. Jokic is the best passing bigman in the league by far, leading the Nuggets team in assists with 7.3 a game to go along with his 20 points and 11 rebounds. He is a true triple double threat every time he steps on the court, and potential MVP candidate going forward. His running mate Jamal Murray is no slouch either as he averaged 18 points on 44% shooting and 37% from the 3 point line. Both stepped up big time in the playoffs when the games were on the line, showing that they are more than just a regular season feel good story. I’m not sure where the Nuggets place in a stacked Western Conference, but with this duo and a young core, they’ll for sure be in the mix come playoff time.
08. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton
What more is there to say about Giannis Antetokounmpo? The Greek Freak is the reigning MVP, who wants to take the claim as the leagues best player, and is not content with individual accolades. In a league dominated by perimeter centric offense, Antetokounmpo has found his own way of dominating the game. When driving to the paint and taking close range shots, Antetokounmpo is nearly unstoppable and when on defense, he is in the running for defensive player if the year. If this were a top 10 players list, he’d easily be higher on the list, but when it comes to duos, his “Robin” is not on the same level. Middleton is a fine player, an all-star last season and the ideal fit next to Antetokounmpo. Middleton is among the best 3 and D guys in the league but with the names to come on this list, its hard to elevate this duo beyond this spot on the list.
07. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons
If we’re talking strictly talent, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are arguably a top three talent duo in the league, but their games meshing together is like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Embiid standing at 7’1″ and Simmons at 6’10”, both players flourish in the paint, and are capable of dominating from inside. However in a perimeter centric league, the combination of your two best players being less than average from deep, problems will occur. Although Embiid can hit from three, I cringe every time he pulls from deep because at his size and his skills, he should be an automatic two points in todays game. As for Simmons, he is reluctant top even attempt a three point shot which allows defense to sag off him and congest the paint even more, making things harder for Embiid to perform.
With that said, the 76ers were a game 7 Kawhi Leonard buzzer beater away from the Conference Finals and a good chance of winning it all. Embiid when healthy is giving you a state-line of 27-13-4 while locking down the paint. Simmons is a jump shot away from being an unstoppable force in this league. Even without said jump shot, Simmons will give you 17-9-8 a night. The duo will win 50 games in the East but until Simmons can develop and take consistent jumpers outside of the paint, the duo will always be an awkward fit and will struggle to become the dominant duo in the NBA.
06. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum
Outside of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the guards in Portland are the most lethal shooting backcourt the league has to offer. Lillard and McCollum have a distinct advantage over most of the duos featured on this list, experience and chemistry. Although Lillard is the clear “Batman” talent in this scenario, it is often hard to tell even in the biggest of moments. If you need any proof, take a look at their 2019 playoff series’ against OKC and Denver. In the series against OKC Lillard was front and center with his battle with Russell Westbrook, and the iconic series ending launched three pointer over Paul George(what a final moment for that failed duo in OKC). In the very next series, CJ seemed to jump into the drivers seat and take the big shots and carry the load offensively. This duo understands their strengths, leaves their egos outside of the arena, and shoot daggers into the hearts of the opposing team.
05. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving
Obviously we all sit back and wait on Durant’s recovery and return from his torn Achilles, so we won’t know where this duo sits as of now. We hope Durant returns to being the best player in the league that he was at the moment he went down with the injury, but we just don’t know. Torn Achilles often take a big chunk of your ability the day the injury occurs. Just projecting forward to the 2020-21 season, even if Durant is just 85% of what he previously was, paired with Kyrie Irving, they probably are still a top 5 duo in the league.
04. James Harden and Russell Westbrook
I wrote a whole article on this duo when the trade went down questioning if the duo would be successful (as in win a title). I do not think it is an ideal fit as both are ball dominate guards who care about their individual accolades, but based off strictly talent Harden and Russ are going to win around 55 games and should advance to the Conference Semifinals. We know all about their abilities, Westbrook with back to back seasons averaging a triple double, Harden a walking 30 points a night and the best step back in the game. The two former league MVP’s will put on a show this season and the only thing to wait and see is if they can mesh it together all the way to a Finals win.
03. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson
In a summer of star player movement, I feel like everyone had forgotten about those Splash Brothers in the Bay Area. Also the three year stint of Durant in a Warriors uniform overshadowed the ability and dominance of a Curry, Thompson backcourt. The best shooting backcourt of all time, arguably the two best shooters ever are still together. The Steve Kerr offensive system is still in place, they won a record 73 games in a single season together, and are champions together, the only standing duo to lay claim to those accomplishments. Once Klay returns from his ACL injury I expect he and Curry to continue being the best backcourt in the NBA.
02. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
The Clippers shocked the world this summer when they beat out the Lakers and Raptors for Kawhi Leonard and minutes later acquiring Paul George out of nowhere. As we sit here today, the Clippers have the two best two-way players in the NBA. Leonard hit a level that most players never dream about during the 2019 playoffs when he place his application to be the best player in the league. As the lone star on a very good Toronto team, Leonard carried the load through the playoffs to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy, dismantling a few of the duos on this list. This year he has a true co-star to run with in Paul George. George finished 3rd in MVP voting a year ago and has consistently been among the leagues best two way players. George’s shoulder issues are something to worry about, as well as Leonard’s load management schedule out West this season, but come playoff time, this duo will control games on both sides of the floor, making it very possible that the Clippers win their first title in franchise history.
01. Lebron James and Anthony Davis
After a disappointing year for Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, and a summer filled with ridiculous criticism scaling from his decision to film Space Jam, to his “Taco Tuesdayyyyy,” to literally being a supportive father at his sons AAU games, you’d be stupid to think LeBron isn’t coming with a vengeance to shut his critics up. In a “down year” for LeBron he averaged 27-8-8 and had the Lakers as the 4th seed on Christmas Day prior to his injury. Either way, LeBron and the Lakers were going to need that second star level player if then would be true title contenders, and this summer they finally made it happen. The Lakers management finally pulled the trigger on the Anthony Davis trade, landing themselves a 26-year old, top 5 player when healthy. In a toxic environment last season, Davis averaged 26-12-4-2-2 in 56 games with limited playing time as the lone star. This season Davis is technically “entering his prime” and he will be paired with the best player of the past decade. The pick and roll/pop game with LeBron as the ball handler and Davis and the pick setter, opposing defenders and coaches will have nightmares trying to defend and game plan again the duo. I’m not sure how a duo is able to match up with Lebron James and Anthony Davis at any point in the upcoming season.