The Duo Era: Ranking the Top NBA Duos for the 2019-2020 Season
Written by ESPN 99.1's Nick Nagel
After an incredible 2019 free agency period, the era of the duo has officially begun. The parity between the league is something we haven’t seen in about a decade. There are a number of power duos across the league and here are my rankings of the top fifteen:
1. LeBron James and Anthony Davis - Los Angeles Lakers
Face it, people. As much as a lot of you hate to admit it, LeBron James is still on top of the basketball world. After a disappointing, injury-filled season where James missed 27 games, the King still managed to average 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists in what some people called a “down year” for him. These are the highest standards of a player we have ever witnessed and James is hungry to get back to his winning ways in year seventeen. Add LeBron with the best stretch big man in the league and most talented teammate he has ever had in Anthony Davis, you have a dangerous duo. Davis averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds in only 56 games last season with New Orleans hesitant to play him after he requested a trade before the deadline. With reports of LeBron playing point guard for the Lakers, this will surely boost Davis’ game to another level. James is the best passing forward to ever play the game. The pick and roll/pop offense between these two will be nearly unguardable. If health is on their side, this is the most dominant duo in the NBA. Don’t worry everyone, it’s still King James’ league and he’s not going anywhere yet.
2. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George - Los Angeles Clippers
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George caught the NBA world by surprise when they agreed to team up with the Clippers. George signed a four-year, $137 million deal with Oklahoma City last off-season. The idea that he would demand a trade was not even in the question. After Leonard pressured the Clippers into trading for George, NBA parity was created throughout the league. This is by far the best defensive duo in the league. Leonard is a five-time All-NBA Defensive selection, winning the Defensive Player of the Year two times. George is a four-time All-NBA Defensive Selection. With the pieces around them including Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell, this duo could be holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. George is coming off an incredible season, finishing third in the MVP voting, while Leonard is coming off one of the greatest playoff runs in NBA history. Due to injury concerns with George’s shoulders, that could keep him out to start the year. Leonard and George are two of the most well-rounded players in the league and should work well together. Look for them to tag team the opponent’s best player and give them problems throughout the game.
3. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving - Brooklyn Nets
When Kevin Durant returns from his Achilles injury, this will be one of the most lethal duos in the league. This season, Kyrie will be running the show on his own. This could arguably be the most talented duo in the game. There really is no telling if Durant will be the same player coming off the injury, but the way Durant plays the game, not much will be lost. Irving is looking for a fresh start after an underwhelming pitstop in Boston. This is a ridiculous scoring duo once KD returns and they should play well off each other. Look for Irving to fill in the role of Steph Curry when he played with Durant, but with a little more isolation involved. Durant was playing the best basketball of his career before his injury. Irving is searching for a fresh start and is hungry to rebuild his reputation as one of the league’s best scoring guards. Once Durant is good to go, which is likely to be the 2020-21 season, Brooklyn will be instant title contenders and surely be the favorites in the Eastern Conference
4. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson - Golden State Warriors
The “Splash Brothers” have been one of the most dangerous duos the league has ever seen. Stephen Curry and Klay Thomspon have changed the game when it comes to the three point shot and how effective it can be. Thompson suffered a torn ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals and is not set to return until after the All-Star break. When healthy, this duo should get right back on track. With Kevin Durant leaving the team this summer, the Warriors went out and traded for 2019 All-Star, D’Angelo Russell. It is uncertain if they will move Russell before the trading deadline or stick with him throughout the season. The reason that this duo is ranked above the likes of a James Harden/Russell Westbrook, is because we know that it works. The chemistry between Curry and Thompson is tremendous and that is what puts them in the top five. It will be a different season in the Bay Area, but once Klay Thompson returns, watch out for the Warriors down the home stretch.
5. James Harden and Russell Westbrook - Houston Rockets
Let’s run it back to 2012, James Harden and Russell Westbrook are reunited! After the Paul George trade, Oklahoma City was looking to clean up shop and rebuild. Daryl Morey took a chance and acquired the 2017 MVP in exchange for Chris Paul, two first-round picks, and two pick-swaps. Despite making it work in Oklahoma City, Harden and Westbrook are ultimately different players now. The two ranked 1 (Harden) and 8 (Westbrook) in usage rate last season. These two love to have the ball in their hands, which could be a problem. If both Harden and Westbrook are willing to take a step back, this could be a top three duo easily. Granted, these are two of the most talented players in the league and will be a dangerous duo in the West. Harden is coming off a monster offensive season averaging just above 36 points per game. Playing off-ball could be a difficult thing for him to adjust to. This could either be a boom or a bust, but I will give the two the benefit of the doubt given their talent and drive.
6. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum - Portland Trail Blazers
Behind Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, this has probably been the best backcourt duo in the NBA the last few years. Now with Westbrook in Houston alongside Harden, they potentially have taken a back seat to them. The advantage that Lillard and McCollum have is chemistry. The two have played well off each other in their time together. When Lillard shined in the Oklahoma City series, McCollum willingly took a step back and let Lillard do his thing. Similarly, when McCollum was playing well in the Denver series, Lillard took a step back. Other than making the WCF last season, this duo has struggled to make a deep run for the Finals. With the league more balanced, this could be the year they could take it over the hump.
7. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons - Philadelphia 76ers
If it wasn’t for Kawhi Leonard’s insane Game 7 buzzer-beater, the 76ers very well could have been NBA Champions. Now, the Sixers are without Jimmy Butler and have added Al Horford. Ben Simmons got his money, signing a 5-year, $170 million extension with the team. Embiid took another step forward last season, averaging a career-high 27.5 points per game along with 13.6 rebounds. The big question mark with Embiid is how great of shape he is in. Down the stretch, Embiid looked gassed and struggled to put together a full complete game. If Embiid can get his body right, he is an instant MVP candidate next season. Simmons is the reason why this is not a top five duo. The 2018 Rookie of the Year has yet to make a three point shot in his career. Because of his lack of shooting, the duo is not a great fit. Simmons needs an open lane to thrive and Embiid clogs the lane quite often. Despite this, the duo has worked for the most part and are both very talented. The two will look to take another step forward and show why the Sixers pay them the big bucks.
8. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton - Milwaukee Bucks
The reigning league MVP along with his all-star teammate will look to bring the Milwaukee Bucks to the promise land next season after coming up short in the Eastern Conference Finals. Giannis took the league by storm last season, dominating with a kind of style we have never seen before. Khris Middleton broke out last season averaging 18.3 points a game and earning his first all-star appearance. Middleton has developed into a great “three and D” player and gives Giannis a trusty side-kick. Despite his incredible season, Antetokounmpo struggled in the Eastern Conference Finals. When Toronto made an adjustment to put Kawhi Leonard on Giannis, the Greek Freak was held to just 20 points a game. If he can find a way to expand his perimeter game, look for the Bucks to be heavy favorites in the East.
9. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray - Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets were one of the surprise teams from last season, in big part to Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Jokic has developed into the best passing big man in the league. The Joker averaged 7.3 assists per game to lead the Nuggets. Jamal Murray made a splash last season averaging a career high 18 points per game, establishing himself as one of the league’s bright young stars. Jokic could ultimately become an MVP candidate next season if he takes another leap forward in his progression. His talent on the offensive end is unprecedented, but his defense tends to struggle. Like Joel Embiid, Jokic also struggles with his body and looks out of shape at times. If Jokic gets his body right and Murray becomes more consistent, this will be a scary duo in the Western Conference.
10. Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley - Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz made it known after last season that they wanted to acquire a scoring point guard alongside Donovan Mitchell, and they did just that. Mike Conley is one of the most underrated players the league has seen. The twelve-year vet has shown no signs of decline, coming off a year where he averaged a career-high 21 points a contest for the Memphis Grizzlies. Donovan Mitchell is improving every year and has solidified himself as one of the best young players in the game. Coming into his third season, Mitchell will look to take another step forward. This duo along with reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert can make some noise. Both Mitchell and Conley are solid defensive players as well. Conley will take some of the scoring load off of Mitchell and the Jazz will be a legitimate threat in the Western Conference.
11. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis - Dallas Mavericks
12. DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge - San Antonio Spurs
13. Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum - Boston Celtics
14. Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry - Toronto Raptors
15. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond - Detroit Pistons