The NBA landscape has changed completely.
The 2019 offseason promises to be one of the most memorable in history. In terms of player mobility, NBA fans have never seen anything like it. Star players moved teams at an unprecedented rate, to create a whole new era.
The “Big 3” has not exactly gone the way of the western, but it seems as if duos are the newest trend dominating team composition. With that in mind, of the new and previously existing NBA superstar duos, who are the best of the best?
These rankings will be based solely on the two players’ talent levels, chemistry and expectations. Things such as other players on their teams, coaching and schedule strength will not factor in.
5. Houston Rockets: James Harden & Russell Westbrook
How could the only duo on the list featuring two former-MVPs have the lowest spot?
It all has to do with usage rates and their need to have the ball in their hands. James Harden played the second-most minutes in the NBA last year (Bradley Beal played the most), at 2867 minutes over 78 games. Russell Westbrook played the 16th most minutes at 2629, playing in 73 games. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni needs to find a way to both maximize court time for Russ and Harden, while also managing their loads.
Harden and Westbrook both like scoring in similar ways, by slashing to the basket. Harden relies on foul shots more, while Westbrook uses his body and positioning to move players out of the way. If they adjust well, however, Harden could use his shooting prowess to stay closer to the 3-point line, while letting Russ take most of the drives in the paint.
Harden averaged 36.8% on 3-pointers in 2018-2019. Compare that to Westbrook’s 29% success rate behind the arc, which presents the Rockets with the opportunity to utilize both players’ specific skill sets without sacrificing either one’s game.
All of this contingent on their ability to share the ball, however. Both are assist men, who relish the opportunity to bring the ball up the court. While they share the floor, they are going to have to learn to be off-ball. If they strike the right balance, however, this ranking could prove to be much too low.
4. Brooklyn Nets, Kevin Durant & Kyrie Irving
Kevin Durant is, arguably, the second-best player in the league. A constant scoring threat the moment he crosses the half-court line, Durant is unlike anything the NBA has ever seen. Pair that with, maybe, the best finisher and ball-handler in the game, in Kyrie Irving and you already have a championship-caliber team.
The reason the Nets super-duo lands so far down the list is mostly due to injuries. Kyrie is notoriously injury-prone. He failed to play in 70 games during his two years with the Celtics. In the 2015-2016 season he played in just 53. He has had reconstructive knee surgery, along with shoulder, back, hip and eye issues.
Durant suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the NBA Finals in 2019. According to Heavy.com, no NBA player has ever returned from an Achilles injury sooner than 7.5 months. This puts Durant’s return in January in an absolute best-case scenario, although he will likely be out for the entire 2019-2020 season. Apart from that, he has suffered various ankle and calf injuries throughout his career, although none have been as damning as the Achilles tear.
Chemistry could also be an issue for this team. It is no secret that Durant and Irving both have had issues in the past with teammates, coaching and the media. These two did choose to join the same team and play together, though, so hopefully, the butting of heads will be at a minimum.
Having two injury-prone stars should scare Nets fans, but the risk-reward is absolutely worth the contracts Brooklyn gave out. Surround these two players with some solid pieces (most especially a big man), and they are a title threat immediately.
3. Golden State Warriors, Stephen Curry & Klay Thompson
Apart from Harden and Westbrook back in their Oklahoma City Thunder days, when both players and their roles were vastly different, Steph and Klay are the only duo on this list that NBA fans have seen play together before.
These two have proven their mettle a thousand times over, to the tune of five straight NBA Finals appearances and three titles. Klay Thompson holds the record for most points in a quarter (37), most three-pointers in a half (tied with Chandler Parsons at 10) and most 3-pointers in a game (14). Stephen Curry is the only unanimous MVP in NBA history, he holds the record for most threes made in a season (402), he has led the league in 3-pointers made a record five times and he held the record for most threes in a game before Klay surpassed it by one.
The backcourt chemistry could not be any tighter. Forged in the fire of five Finals runs in a row, and being a seminal part of the team that holds the record for best regular season in NBA history, they know each other and each other’s game inside and out.
There is not a lot to be said about these two that has not been said already. The newest development is Klay Thompson’s ACL injury that will sideline him until at least January. But apart from how he bounces back from that, it should be business as usual in Golden State.
Steph and Klay won a title without Durant before. Who’s to say they can’t do it again?
2. Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James & Anthony Davis
The hype surrounding the Lakers’ new duo is insane.
Some sportsbooks have the Lakers at 4/1 odds to win the title, almost entirely because of LeBron and Davis. For good reason, too. LeBron is, semi-arguably, the best player in the world, and Anthony Davis is also a top-5 talent. They both score in bunches, and are team players, even if the stats do not always reflect that.
The reason they are number two, however, is due to their similarities in the way they like to play, much like Westbrook and Harden. Both would prefer to score around the basket, and, while both can hit jumpers, they are much more comfortable driving the lane.
Add on that both Davis and James are coming off of injury-laden seasons, this particular duo has a little more to prove than the twosome in the top spot.
Apart from those nit-picks, the pairing here is a no-brainer. A whole lot would have to go south chemistry-wise to stop two top-5 players from racking up wins. If James serves up his trademark dimes to Davis with regularity, these Lakers may usher in a new “showtime” era.
1. Los Angeles Clippers, Kawhi Leonard & Paul George
Kawhi and Paul George was the team up the NBA did not know it needed- or thought would ever happen.
In the most unexpected move of the offseason, Kawhi Leonard not only moved teams after winning an NBA Finals and Finals MVP for Toronto, but convinced the Clippers brass to make a move for Paul George.
The only knock on this pairing is that they share the same position. But even that breaks down in the era of positionless basketball.
Kawhi is coming off of his best scoring season of all time, and riding high after winning the first-ever championship for the country of Canada. Paul George also had his best scoring season, and was in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year.
There in-lies the reason this duo is the best of the best. Defense.
Kawhi Leonard is a two-time defensive player of the year who can score and lead his team. Paul George is a wizard when it comes to stealing the ball away, and has every core offensive skill available. Simply put, they have everything it takes to dominate every other duo listed on both ends of the court.
They may not be the most flashy or exciting pair, but the fundamentals and effort they will display on every possession will be the difference it takes to make this the most well-rounded duo of the brand new player-mobility era.
Featured Image courtesy of Jae C. Hong/AP
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