Ranking the Top 10 Best Duos in the NBA (#6-10)
After a wild summer of unprecedented star-player movement, the NBA’s newfound parity promises an exciting season with no heavy title favorites. Fans no longer have to fool themselves into believing there’s hope for competition while knowing full well that the Warriors are just going to win it all again. The “NBA Superteam Era” has been on a break ever since Kevin Durant’s departure from the Golden State Warriors. For the time being, the NBA is a league of dynamic duos in a wide-open 2020 title race. Check out our rankings for the top 10 best duos in the NBA!
The following list of NBA duos are ranked based on individual talent, chemistry, age, durability, ceiling, track record, and ability to win. The duos are also ranked with the assumption that all players involved are healthy.
10. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis (DAL)
As the EuroLeague’s champion and youngest MVP ever, Luka Doncić took the NBA by storm in his rookie season. Luka showed the world his generational talent by using a combination of vision, creativity, and high basketball IQ to make the right — and sometimes flashy — basketball play. He outplayed Trae Young to win NBA ROTY with 21 ppg, 7 rpg, and 6 apg in 72 games. At just 20 years old, Luka is already an elite passer in the league, utilizing his great size as a 6’7” point forward to find open teammates. Luka’s elite playmaking will be the key to a successful career with his new teammate Kristaps Porzingis. At just 23 years old, Kristaps already boasts an elite all around game, earning him the “Unicorn” nickname as a freak of nature. In 2017, Kristaps logged 22 ppg, 6 rpg, and 2.4 bpg while shooting 39.5% from 3. Kristaps can drain 3’s, post-up, catch-and-shoot, and take you off the dribble, all while playing lockdown defense and protecting the rim at 7’3”. Like most 7-footers, injuries are the only concern in Kristaps’ game as he hasn’t played since February 6, 2018 due to a torn ACL. When healthy, the Luka-Kristaps pick and roll will abuse opponents with Luka’s distribution and Kristaps’ ability to roll hard or pop behind the arc. Luka and Kristaps teaming up in their early 20’s will give them the opportunity to enter their primes together with established chemistry in Dallas. Growing up, the Slovenian Luka and Latvian Kristaps looked up to the legend of German Dirk Nowitzki. It’s fitting that the best international duo in the NBA will follow in Dirk’s footsteps by playing for the Dallas Mavericks.
9. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum (POR)
Damian Lillard is one of the most cold-blooded players in today’s game, hitting big shot after big shot. As one of the most clutch players in the league, Dame has earned himself the catchphrase “Lillard Time,” highlighting how he takes over games down the stretch. The most famous “Lillard Time” moments include his playoff series-winner versus Houston in 2014 and his recent playoff series-winner versus OKC with 50 points. Dame has also earned himself the nickname “Logo Lillard,” referring to how deadly he is on offense even when shooting from the team logos at half court. Last season, Dame averaged 26 pts, 4 reb, and 7 ast to lead the Trailblazers with CJ McCollum to the Western Conference Finals. CJ is a dynamic shooting guard entering his prime with averages of 21 pts, 4 reb, and 3 ast last season. However, CJ’s lack of playmaking and defensive contributions restricts him from impacting the game outside of scoring. While both Dame and CJ are consistent scorers at 6’3”, their lack of size severely limits their ability to defend and impose themselves on the game, especially down the stretch. This was evident in the 2018 playoffs when Dame struggled with the Pelicans’ double-teams, resulting in a clean sweep against the Blazers. After 6 years together, Dame and CJ have led the Blazers to become a respectable playoff team every season. But their lack of size and similar skillsets restrict them from placing higher on this list and leading the Blazers deeper into the playoffs. Along with their serious firepower, Dame and CJ’s contributions to Portland’s consistent playoff appearances make them one of the best backcourts in the NBA.
8. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray (DEN)
Nikola Jokić is arguably the greatest passing center of all time at just 24 years old. Standing 7 feet tall, Jokić is a transcendent passer who can be unselfish to a fault. The Denver Nuggets run their offense through Jokić due to his ability to pass from the post, on hard rolls, and in the open court. Jokić uses a combination of pocket passes, no-looks, behind-the-backs, lobs, and hit aheads to put teammates in scoring opportunities. His craftiness, creativity, and high basketball IQ helped him average 20 ppg, 10 rpg, and 7 apg last season. With his showtime passing, knockdown shooting, beautiful touch, tight ball handling, and strong rebounding, Jokić is already a top 3 center in the game at such a young age. He has also shown promise as a reliable closer for the Nuggets by hitting multiple clutch shots, game-winners, and buzzer beaters last season. Jokić’s elite playmaking is also highly complementary to his young co-star Jamal Murray. Thanks to Jokić’s skillset, Murray has less pressure as a playmaker, allowing him to thrive as a score-first point guard. At 22 years old, Murray averaged 18 ppg, 4 rpg, and 4 apg, and peaked with back-to-back 34 point games during the WCSF against the Blazers. The Nuggets have an exciting duo with Jokić as an MVP candidate and Murray as an emerging star. Last season, the Nuggets were a powerhouse 2nd seed team in the Wild Wild West that got to the WCSF. For the Nuggets to advance further into the playoffs, Jokić will have to be more aggressive by taking more shots, especially down the stretch as a go-to scorer. Murray will also have to improve as a secondary playmaker and defender since he’s currently a one-dimensional scorer. Only 2 years apart, Jokić and Murray will have the luxury of entering their primes together, allowing them to build their chemistry and sharpen their skills in the mean time. Jokić and Murray form a young and ascending duo that gives the Nuggets a bright future for the years to come.
7. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons (PHI)
When healthy, Joel Embiid is arguably the best center in the world at just 25 years old. Embiid is a 7 foot, 250 pound monster who averaged 27 pts, 13 reb, and 2 blk last season. Using his post moves, quick first step, great touch, and strong physique, Embiid is a load in the post for opposing bigs. His elite post play coupled with his ability to drain jumpers makes him virtually unguardable. Unfortunately, health is a serious hurdle between Embiid and all-time great status. Embiid missed the entire first two seasons of his NBA career due to a broken bone in his right foot and only played 31 games in his rookie season due to a torn meniscus. He would go on to miss a combined 37 games in the last two seasons due to various injuries. Besides being injury prone, Embiid has shown signs of poor conditioning by getting gassed towards the end of games, especially in the playoffs. If Embiid truly wants to cement his name in history and win the 76ers a championship, he’ll have to seriously dedicate a lot of time, effort, and energy in taking care of his body. Similarly, Ben Simmons’ inability to shoot is a fatal flaw in his game. Simmons is a talented 22 year old with overhyped comparisons to LeBron James and Magic Johnson. As a 6’10” primary ball handler with elite passing, Simmons is an oversized and athletic point guard who can finish strong in the paint. While he had strong averages of 17/8/7 last season, Simmons’ inability to hit perimeter shots makes him an offensive liability at the end of games, especially in the playoffs when the defense tightens up. Simmons is consequently forced to stay in the “dunker’s spot” to be ready for lobs or put-backs, clogging up the paint for Embiid in the process. If Embiid can take care of his body to stay healthy and Simmons can develop a respectable jumpshot, their well-rounded games will propel the 76ers to perennial title contention. But for now, Simmons and Embiid are a flawed but formidable duo with all the potential in the world.
6. James Harden and Russell Westbrook (HOU)
James Harden and Russell Westbrook already have a great relationship off the court, dating back to their days together on the OKC Thunder. Harden and Westbrook have both consistently been MVP candidates for the last few years now. In the ’16-’17 season, Westbrook was the league MVP after averaging a triple double for the entire season — a feat that had only been accomplished once in NBA history by Oscar Robertson. What’s more impressive is that Westbrook has averaged a triple double for 3 straight seasons now with his elite athleticism, relentless drives, and impressive playmaking. Westbrook is heavily respected for never taking a play off and playing his heart out for all 48 minutes. In the ’17-’18 season, it was Harden’s turn to win league MVP after leading the Rockets to a league-high 65 wins. Last season, Harden torched the league with 36 ppg and a streak of 30+ points in 32 consecutive games, the second most in NBA history. As two former league MVP’s, Harden and Westbrook have mastered leading their teams as the focal points on offense. Now, they must learn to share the spotlight by playing team basketball to be on the right side of history. If they retired right now, Harden and Westbrook would be remembered in a similar light as Carmelo Anthony: highly talented isolation scorers that could never set aside their egos in order to win championships. The Houston Rockets will most likely thrive in the regular season as per usual. However, Harden and Westbrook must produce on the biggest stage in basketball in order to save their legacies. To become legitimate contenders, the Rockets must solve the issue of Harden and Westbrook fitting together as two of the highest usage rate players in NBA history. Another concern is Westbrook’s abysmal shooting of 29% from 3 last season in a classic 3-point bomb D’Antoni system. While people doubt that they can co-exist to win a title, Harden and Westbrook are still both phenomenal superstars in their primes, forming one of the most exciting duos in the NBA.