The end of last season couldn’t have been more perfect. With the Golden State Warriors’ superteam losing in the Finals, the Toronto Raptors winning its first ever NBA championship, and Kawhi Leonard winning his second Finals MVP, NBA fans rejoiced at the sight of a new champion. Kawhi put a whole country on his back and delivered a ring to the city of Toronto, but the impact of his play this season extended much more than the NBA Finals and into the future of the NBA entirely.
When Kawhi and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Miami Heat and their big three, it highlighted Miami’s vulnerability and caused the departure of Lebron James thus ending the Heat’s superteam. As a result of losing the Finals with their most stacked team in team history, the Warriors fell through the same hole. Both Kevin Durant and Demarcus Cousins left in free agency, and Klay Thompson is dealing with a torn ACL. The Warriors’ reign of terror upon the NBA was over.
Although superteams have been the norm in the past decade, a new era has emerged via the split up of the Warriors. Days after the Warriors lost, the New Orleans Pelicans agreed to trade Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, forming a superstar duo with Lebron James. Then, at the start of free agency, Kevin Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets, but he didn’t come by himself instead choosing to team up with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. And then in early July, when everyone thought Kawhi was going to make a three-headed monster in LA with Lebron and Davis, he surprised everyone by agreeing to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers while practically forcing them to make a trade to acquire Paul George.
These were the three biggest moves in free agency, but the NBA is looking more open than ever as 10 teams have a realistic shot to win the Finals. Superteams are out the window and dynamic duos are in season. So, in celebration of Kawhi restoring the balance to the NBA, here are my top five duos in the NBA.
Statistics from NBA.com (player impact estimate = PIE)
5. Kevin Durant & Kyrie Irving – Brooklyn Nets
Combined 2018-2019 statistics: 49.8 ppg, 12.8 apg, 11.4 rpg, 31.9 PIE
This ranking comes with a huge asterisk. Both KD and Kyrie are filthy when fully healthy but unfortunately KD suffered one of the more damaging injuries to an athlete’s career. Coming off an Achilles injury and playing at the same skill level before the injury is a very rare feat you never see happen (shoutout Dominique WIlkins). When KD returns in 2021, we’ll be seeing a very different Durant, so that’s why they’ll stay at No. 5. However, like I said before, this duo when fully healthy would be a matchup nightmare.
4. Klay Thompson & Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors
Combined 2018-2019 statistics: 48.8 ppg, 7.6 apg, 9.1 rpg, 25.5 PIE
Many fans tend to forget Klay and Steph, with the help of Draymond, carried the Warriors to a NBA record 73-9 regular season. Of course, the league was a lot less competitive and Klay was 100% healthy back then, but Klay and Steph shot their way to the Finals and they can certainly do it again. Yes, Klay is coming off an ACL injury, but he’s expected to be back next season and coming off an ACL injury is less severe than coming off an Achilles injury (hint: Adrian Peterson). Any team with two of the best shooters in NBA history has a chance of reaching the Finals, so don’t forget about the Splash Brothers.
3. James Harden & Russell Westbrook – Houston Rockets
Combined 2018-2019 statistics: 59 ppg, 18.2 apg, 17.7 rpg, 36.5 PIE
As free agency buzz cooled down, the Rockets came out of nowhere and traded for Russell Wesbrook in exchange for Chris Paul and draft picks. Former MVPs and teammates, Westbrook and Harden are bound to make Houston a dominating force in the West. Their combined stats alone from last year should already make you shiver. The only interesting aspect of this duo is how they’re going to share the ball given Harden and Westbrook are both known to be ball dominant players. Nonetheless, both players are team leaders and can score and pass efficiently. Will Westbrook finally be the key to take James Harden to the Finals? Guess we’ll just have to watch.
2. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George – Los Angeles Clippers
Combined 2018-2019 statistics: 54.6 ppg, 7.4 apg, 15.5 rpg, 33.3 PIE
Not only will this duo combine for 60 points on any given night, but they will lock you up faster than they locked up OJ. Imagine being unable to go around Kawhi, calling a screen, and then having Paul George switched on to you. Both players are coming off MVP caliber seasons and one off a championship. They have experience, leadership, a dominant offense game and scary defensive presence. Out of this list, George and Kawhi make up the most dominantly balanced team and a true problem on both sides of the court. You saw what Kawhi just did with Lowry and Siakam. Now, let’s see what he can do with Paul George.
1. Lebron James and Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers
Combined 2018-2019 statistics: 53.3 ppg, 12.2 apg, 20.5 rpg, 38.5 PIE
Having Lebron as a teammate is an automatic ticket to the NBA Finals. Of course, due to injury and lackluster roster, James missed his first NBA Finals since 2010. Now, James is fully healthy again and who does he have by his side but none other than Anthony Davis. Lebron’s game speaks for itself, but Anthony Davis is truly a top five player in this league plagued by bad rosters in New Orleans. Although only playing 56 games last year, Davis has steadily been improving his game. Already a monster in the post and automatic bucket from mid range, Davis’ three point percentage hit a career high 34% in 2017 and stayed around that mark at 33.1% in 2018 despite playing less minutes and 19 less games. Davis, who is already a defensive beast, is starting to score from anywhere on the court and at a high percentage, so mix that with Lebron (the GOAT) James and you have a duo that will tear this league in two. Mark this in your notes folks, Lakers will be the 2020 NBA Champions.
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Photo Courtesy of USA Today