When putting this list together I considered fit. Fit, as in how well players complement each other and work well together. That aspect involves some projections for the recently formed duos, but I think we all generally know what each players game looks like individually. I value duos with the best fit above ones that just consist of two flashy names. You don’t deserve to be in the top five based on name brand alone. You may not agree with my philosophy, but that’s how I’ve always tried to evaluate teams and their potential.
As far as injuries go, I made this list based on how good the duos are or will be when both players are on the floor. So, you will see duos that feature injured players.
I’m going to have some unpopular opinions in this article and that’s just how it’s going to be. If I wanted to do a list based solely on what team had the most “star-power” I could, but this article won’t be like that.
* Denotes player with significant injury
1. Anthony Davis & LeBron James
The style just clicks. James is a great passer and the Los Angeles Lakers will thrive having him drop dimes for Davis. Davis has wanted to play with James and now the two of them will try to deliver another championship to LA.
While I think the fit between Davis and James is perfect, I could see this duo being ranked in second place. While I think rumors about James’ demise are wildly exaggerated, he’s not the All-Defensive player he was in the past. He also suffered the first significant injury of his career last season. The heights this duo and the Lakers can reach will be determined by how many prime seasons James has left in him.
2. Paul George & Kawhi Leonard
Good luck scoring against the Los Angeles Clippers. George and Leonard are both monsters on the defensive end and have developed into offensive stars as well. If Leonard plays more games in 2019, he will automatically be in the MVP discussion. George hasn’t consistently played at an MVP level, but he was at that point last season until a late-season injury hindered his success.
I am interested to see how the passing dynamic plays out between George and Leonard. Leonard isn’t a great passer and can sometimes drop his head and drive to nowhere. Don’t get me wrong, this duo will be fantastic, but I think other players on the team will have to contribute when it comes to ball movement.
3. Stephen Curry & Draymond Green/Klay Thompson*
Curry and Thompson have the most chemistry among any duo on this list. Throw in Green and you’ve got the big three that won 73 games just a few seasons ago. The Splash Brothers and the former defensive player of the year are still a formidable unit. I’ll say confidently that Curry and Thompson are the best three-point shooting backcourt in league history. The Golden State Warriors will experience some drop-off this season as they wait for Thompson to return from a torn ACL.
While Thompson heals up, the Warriors will try to incorporate D’Angelo Russell into the offense. Russell won’t be the primary ball handler in Golden State like he was in Brooklyn and he will have to act more as a spot-up shooter. I don’t think bringing Russell into the fold will be difficult, but the team will miss Thompson’s defense while he’s out. Also, the backcourt will become crowded when Thompson does eventually return from injury.
4. Kevin Durant* & Kyrie Irving
We’re not going to see these two share the court until 2020. Brooklyn Nets fans can hardly wait to see their two big free agent acquisitions play together. Durant was the best player in the world last year, but an Achilles injury has set him back. Still, the Nets have signed a generational talent who can play multiple positions and be a deadeye shooter. On the other hand, Irving has some of the best handles in league history. He’s a tremendous finisher around the basket and proved he can be a closer during his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
I do think it’s weird that Irving was so adamant about wanting to team up with Durant. I understand how great Durant is. He has the potential to become a top ten player of all-time if he returns to form in 2020. I also recognize that Irving had a bad experience as the alpha dog in Boston, but he forced his way out of Cleveland to become the man on his own team. Now, Irving has signed with another player that has a bigger brand and better game than his. It’s strange how Irving’s situation has changed so dramatically in just a few years.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo & Khris Middleton
While Antetokounmpo carries this duo onto the list, Middleton complements the MVP’s game well. Middleton isn’t a superstar, but he’s an above-average defender and can shoot threes. He’s also developed the ability to play off of the ball and fits with what the Milwaukee Bucks are trying to build around Antetokounmpo.
Speaking of the MVP, he’s an elite defender thanks to his length and athleticism. Offensively, he’s the most dominant player in the paint since Shaquille O’Neal. However, Antetokounmpo doesn’t have a threatening three-point shot. Teams have developed defenses that focus on walling him up and stopping his drives. That’s why Middleton’s shooting is so important and why this duo works well together.
1. Joel Embiid & Ben Simmons
You don’t have to guard either of these guys if they’re beyond the three-point line. In his first season, Embiid shot 36.7% from three. His percentage has dropped every year since, cratering at 30% this past season. Simmons has only taken 17 three-pointers in his entire career, and he’s missed all of them. Embiid may be the best center we’ve seen since prime Dwight Howard and Simmons may be a 6-10 point guard, but there are nights where these guys just look off. They’re not unstoppable.
Their styles can conflict as well. Simmons likes to run the floor, finding lanes to drive to the rim or holes to find cutting teammates. Embiid can’t run the floor right now and his offense is based on a more methodical approach that takes time to set up. When that happens, Simmons’ value diminishes because he’s stuck on the perimeter where he can’t shoot.
Embiid and Simmons are an intriguing duo moving forward, but they have to develop more well-rounded games and a cohesive style before I put them in the top five.
2. James Harden & Russell Westbrook
It worked when these two played together back in their OKC days, but Harden and Westbrook are two different players no. Both are ball-dominant guards who have been “the man” of their own teams for years. They wouldn’t have won MVP awards otherwise. Among the two, Harden is the better player. He shouldn’t have to sacrifice to accommodate Westbrook. After all, Westbrook is joining Harden’s team not the other way around.
It will be interesting to see how the triple-double machine fits in with Houston’s three-point shooting style. Westbrook shot just 29% from three last season. He’s a better player with the ball in his hands so he can drive for a better shot or kick to open players. However, Harden’s isolation style relies on the ball being in his hands for most if not all of an offensive possession. That’s what upset Chris Paul so much last season.
Both Harden and Westbrook are superstars in the primes of their careers, and that could ultimately be the downfall of this duo.
3. Damian Lillard & CJ McCollum
Lillard and McCollum, like the Splash Brothers, have great chemistry. The biggest issue with this duo is their ceiling. While many of these other duos are comprised of championship winners and former MVPs, Portland’s duo has neither. Lillard and McCollum have been together since the start of the 2013-14 season, yet they just made their first Conference Finals appearance this past season. And they were swept by the Warriors who didn’t even have KD.
The Portland Trail Blazers have made the postseason every year of the Lillard-McCollum era. They’ve only made it out of the first round three times. While I respect what Portland has built without signing superstars in free agency, there’s a hump the team just hasn’t been able to get over. Things won’t be any easier in 2019. Five of the other duos mentioned in this article are in the Western Conference. That doesn’t even include duos that didn’t make the cut, like LaMarcus Aldridge & DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Jokic & Jamal Murray.
4. Mike Conley/Rudy Gobert & Donovan Mitchell
Mitchell is the future of the Utah Jazz, and he has a strong supporting cast thanks to an active free agency. Even without bringing in Conley, the Jazz are still a good team with Gobert and Mitchell. In his second year in the league, Mitchell improved his scoring and three-point shooting. He might be an All-Star in the East, but there are so many guards in the West that he’s momentarily buried under older players.
This is the only duo on the list without a true superstar. While Gobert has was two Defensive Player of the Year awards, no one believes he’s a top ten player in the league. Mitchell isn’t even fully developed yet and who knows if he’ll ever reach that superstar level? Conley has been a great, overlooked player for years, but he’s not an All-NBA level player.
I do think that this group is more well-rounded than some of the options I left off of the list. While Denver has a superstar in Nikola Jokic, his secondary player isn’t as strong as Conley/Gobert. While the San Antonio Spurs have two All-Star level players, they’re a poor three-point shooting duo and are worse defensively than the Utah combination.