Ahead of the 2020-2021 season, basketball fans are excited. Despite the lower numbers on TV, basketball remains as strong as ever in the eyes of the young people of America, and they are the fans of today and tomorrow. An overwhelming amount of the appeal of basketball, and the NBA in particular, is star culture. People like to hear and see things about their favorite players, and those players are usually star-caliber players who lead franchises.
Every NBA franchise has one or two players who are the current faces of their franchise. The NBA’s level of parity last season was at it’s highest, and the contenders like the Bucks and the Lakers have made moves to bolster their rosters. With this new excitement and a solid amount of trades, a duo list could show which of them are the best. Here are our rankings of the top duos in the league for next season.
30. RJ Barrett & Mitchell Robinson (Knicks)
RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson could still turn out to be star players. They need to develop, and next year might be a prime opportunity for that. They’re one of the rawest duos in the league; both are elite prospects but not quite stars. With coach Thibodeau in New York though, they will have ample opportunities to have touches on the ball: Thibodeau loves athletic ballhandlers and defensive centers; Barrett and Robinson fit those criteria and should get ample playing time.
29. Andre Drummond & Kevin Love (Cavaliers)
Individually, Drummond and Love could each work as big men on contending teams. Together, the Love-Drummond duo isn’t that great. They finished last in the Eastern Conference last season, and that doesn’t seem like it will change shortly. Twin towers lineups are hard to execute correctly; barring a dramatic development in chemistry or Collin Sexton developing his playmaking to feed them, this duo isn’t moving upwards in terms of how good they are.
28. LaMelo Ball & Gordon Hayward (Hornets)
Is the LaMelo Ball hype getting too much? Possibly, but who cares? Maybe this is too high for a completely unproven duo, but they have such a big upside. LaMelo Ball projects to be a point guard who has all the tools in his bag; Gordon Hayward with more touches could rise back to being an All-Star. With a few roster moves (and possibly without), the Charlotte Hornets could make a lower seed in the playoffs. This duo works well together on paper, but they will need to prove it on the court next season.
27. Nikola Vucevic & Evan Fournier (Magic)
Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier are fairly good at scoring and would be amazing tertiary options on teams like the Raptors or Pacers. Alas, with these two leading a team, that team will top out in the first round to a higher seed. Their defense is subpar, and there are better scorers in the league. Orlando has consistently made the playoffs the last few years, so this ranking is in respect of that fact. Some would say that these two should be lower: but at least they made the playoffs this year, unlike 4 out of 5 teams below them.
26. Buddy Hield & De’Aaron Fox (Kings)
Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox almost made the playoffs a few years ago but took a dramatic step back. The franchise extended its playoff drought to 14 years, and fans are clamoring to compete. Hield and Fox offer great scoring ability, and Fox in particular should take another jump to become an All-Star. Hield could improve his defense, and reignite his creation in isolation on the perimeter. Improvements need to be made by both members of this duo, but the things they need to do are fairly straightforward. While being exciting, the Kings need to develop to compete.
25. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander & Al Horford (Thunder)
The Oklahoma City Thunder are in a rebuild. Their roster lost huge players such as Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari, and the two best players on the team reflect that. While Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a stud, Al Horford brings the duo down in terms of value. Horford had a bad year with the 76ers, but he could still play at an acceptable level. Unless there’s a huge jump in Gilgeous-Alexander’s development or an Al Horford renaissance, this duo is near the bottom.
24. Derrick Rose & Blake Griffin (Pistons)
The Pistons have two former All-Stars in Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin. The Pistons would have been elated if the league was back in time in 2011 when both of those players were in their respective primes. While they are both still very capable players, injuries have taken a toll on their athleticism. Rose and Griffin are ranked last since with the coming season, they’re only getting older, and Griffin has already declined last season.
23. Zach LaVine & Lauri Markkanen (Bulls)
Zach LaVine is the one dragging this duo up to No. 21 overall. LaVine had a great year in terms of scoring and playmaking; even while being surrounded by atrocious coaching, LaVine still found a way to put up big numbers.
Lauri Markkanen took a minor step back, but if you attribute that to his lower usage rate under Jim Boylen, then you see a timeline where he bounces back to being an athletic shooter at the PF position. With a developmental coach like Billy Donovan, this duo could get better this upcoming season.
22. Karl-Anthony Towns & D’Angelo Russell (Timberwolves)
Perhaps this Minnesota duo is ranked too high, but the potential for this duo to be good is there. Both Towns and Russell have made All-Star teams in recent memory, and they are both excellent at scoring the basketball. With a new front-office leader in Gersson Rosas, the framework to build a team around the duo is here. Towns and Russell could be the next one-two punch that rules the league, but they could also fizzle out as Minnesota has done in years past. If the two stars make another leap, expect them to be in the playoffs.
Both of these players are young and could grow to be a top 5 duo in the league in the future. But right now they’re unproven and untested: having a consistent regular season, while leading the Timberwolves to the playoffs and playing better defense should be goals for the duo for this upcoming season.
21. DeMar DeRozan & LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs)
DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge would possibly be in the top 15 of duos if the year were 2004, but instead, these midrange maestros are stuck in the era of 3 and D. DeRozan and Aldridge are both top tier inside the arc, and at creating their shot in one on one situations.
Gregg Popovich has tried to design an offense around the two, but the spacing was subpar and they peaked in taking the Nuggets to seven games in the first round. These two are another duo where the players would work better on different teams as their skillsets overlap.
20. Ja Morant & Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies)
Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. were one of the most exciting duos of this season. Sadly, Jackson Jr. got an injury, and Morant couldn’t get the Grizzlies over the Trailblazers to the playoffs. For next year though, they are primed to both take major steps forward.
While Jackson Jr. is currently injured, once his injury heals he should be back to full form and slated to improve. This duo has high upside, and if one of the Western playoff teams takes a step back, then count on this duo and the Grizzlies as the favorite to overtake them.
19. Domantas Sabonis & Malcolm Brogdon (Pacers)
The Pacers’ two best players are ranked at No. 20 overall, but one must remember that the Pacers are more of a team basketball team, so their duo isn’t going to have bloated usage like some others. This duo led the Pacers to the playoffs: has Sabonis not been injured, the Pacers may have given the Heat more of a fight. This duo fits together well; Brogdon is an all-around point guard and sharpshooter, while Sabonis is a passing big man who likes to bang down low.
Perhaps this duo is underrated; but until we see both of them play a consistent season without injuries, then they will be ranked lower simply due to availability. Brogdon and Sabonis would easily be top 15 if they could play more time for the Pacers.
18. Trae Young & John Collins (Hawks)
Trae Young and John Collins were pegged by some to make the playoffs in 2020: they fell short, but this upcoming year is the year. There is little doubt that the two will make another leap On the offensive end, Trae Young is already an MVP player: it’s his defense that holds him back. John Collins too is a mediocre defender for a big man. But with another offseason under their belts, this duo will show why the Atlanta Hawks are making moves to compete now.
The East is set to be more competitive this year: a lot of Eastern teams made moves, and now teams like the Hawks and the Wizards have a path to the playoffs. If the Hawks can just harness the abilities of their duo while helping them on defense, then the playoffs are there in front of them.
17. Devin Booker & Chris Paul (Suns)
Chris Paul joins Devin Booker in Phoenix. This duo is one of the new and exciting ones. Chris Paul showed that he could still lead a team with the OKC Thunder. Paul remains one of the best pure point guards in the game, and now he gets paired with an electric scorer in Devin Booker. The duo, while being on the opposite ends of their basketball careers, is designed to be a great fit on the court if Paul can stay healthy like this last season.
This duo could get the Phoenix Suns to the playoffs. They have two young stars and have added Chris Paul to finish the big three. Ayton could have Paul’s spot here, but the older point guard is the other part of this duo due to his proven ability to win, something Ayton hasn’t demonstrated.
16. Zion Williamson & Brandon Ingram (Pelicans)
Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram were already in the chase for a playoff spot this year: but they had an awful bubble that let other teams get the chance. Next year, with a new start, this duo could truly break out. Brandon Ingram won the 2019-2020 Most Improved Player award, and Zion Williamson seems like a lock to improve after a stellar rookie season. If the Pelicans’ duo thrives next season under a new coach, then they could bring the Pelicans as high as a 6 seed in the Western Conference.
Zion Williamson is the most exciting prospect since q LeBron James, and Brandon Ingram looks like a smooth scorer already. The moon is the limit for this duo’s potential, and next season will show how far they’ve progressed in fulfilling it.
15. Kyle Lowry & Pascal Siakam (Raptors)
It seems that Toronto has been criminally underrated in terms of its players in recent memory. Recency bias is real: Lowry fouling out against the Celtics in game 7 and Siakam’s general bubble performance has dampened many people’s view of the duo. The Raptors’ duo can turn it around this year by showing why they were on a championship roster just a few years ago. As the Raptors transition to a new era and as Kyle Lowry ages, it will be up to Siakam to continue to hold down the fort
Can Siakam show that he is truly an All-NBA player, and can Kyle Lowry defy old age? That is the biggest question facing the Raptors, but Masai Ujiri believes in his players: if Lowry was going to be traded, the deal would have been done long ago. If the Raptors can improve from last year due to the growth of Siakam and another good year from Lowry, then the Raptors could surprise many fans.
14. Donovan Mitchell & Rudy Gobert (Jazz)
Perhaps this ranking makes no sense for a team that took the Nuggets to seven games: but the Jazz have been a first round-exit the last two years, and their duo seems to have hit a hump. Of course, Donovan Mitchell is still young and could improve. Gobert is still a defensive powerhouse, but he could have hit his peak. In short, this Utah Jazz team has a lot of questions around it. But, the Utah Jazz duo still have time, and perhaps this is the year we see Mitchell enter the echelon of elite shooting guards.
While this duo has been bounced early in the playoffs by various opponents, they still have some hope for next year. Gobert is in a contract year with motivation to play well, while Mitchell is ready to break out even further.
13. Damian Lillard & CJ McCollum (Blazers)
The league underrates Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum every year. Even so, a top 10 ranking might be way too high. The justification for that is the fact that the Trail Blazers got to the Western Conference Finals in 2019, and have been maligned with injuries. A lot of their roster’s woes were due to those injuries, so McCollum and Lillard’s performances in 2020 don’t reflect their ability in the regular season.
This duo performs around the same every year. It is whether Damian Lillard can outplay some of the best players in the league that will determine the fate of this duo this season and moving forward.
12. Luka Doncic & Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks)
Luka Doncic has already established himself in the NBA this year. Next year he’s destined to be one of the best players in the world. Luka Doncic is one of the next greats, and the fact that he took the Clippers to six games against Kawhi Leonard shows that he isn’t afraid to take the fight to other superstars. As a duo, Doncic and Porzingis are sure to do better next year, assuming both stay healthy.
If Porzingis can stay healthy and space the floor for Luka Doncic then this team could easily be a top-five seed in the West. Playing Porzingis on the perimeter allows Doncic to operate. If Doncic continues his meteoric rise, then all Porzingis will have to do is score easy feeds. Porzingis is the deciding factor, and if he exceeds expectations, then the Mavericks will reap the rewards.
11. Jayson Tatum & Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both two-way wings who had their breakout seasons this year. That’s a blessing for the Celtics, considering both should be under contract for many years to come. The young Celtics are an up and coming duo that might oust some of the well known NBA names from being the top dogs. Under their leadership, they’ve made the Eastern Conference Finals twice, losing to Jimmy Butler’s Heat in 2020 and LeBron James’ Cavaliers in 2018.
The Celtics’ wings development bodes well for the future, including this season. Either can score 20 PPG and defend some of the best players on the other team. If either of them can improve their playmaking to take some of the load off Kemba Walker, then that will put them on the next level.
10. Ben Simmons & Joel Embiid (76ers)
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were supposed to be up next after nearly beating Toronto in 2019. Even though they showed promise, Ben Simmons got injured before the 2020 playoffs, and they lost to the Celtics. Joel Embiid is an incredible athlete who can score inside on anyone, while still spacing the floor at a passable level. We know that if Joel Embiid has the right spacing and the right teammates, he could be an elite almost-MVP level player (27.5 PPG and 13.6 RPG in 2019).
The development of Ben Simmons will be key for this duo in the future. Embiid needs floor spacing to succeed and it’s hard to improve spacing when your co-star can’t score from outside of the paint. If Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid make it work, and their shooters don’t brick then this duo is projected for a successful season.
9. Stephen Curry & Andrew Wiggins (Warriors)
Warriors fans rejoice: Stephen Curry is back. But his season, he is without his partner in crime, Klay Thompson. The person who takes his role this season is going to be Andrew Wiggins, an enigmatic scorer who hasn’t quite lived up to his touted potential as a draft pick. This duo might be a little high; for all we know, the Warriors could be bad as last year, and Stephen Curry might not be able to carry them. But, Stephen Curry is a former MVP; a unanimous one at that. We don’t doubt Curry until there’s reason to, and this ranking reflects that.
Andrew Wiggins will make or break this duo. There is pressure on him to finally be the guy; but on the Warriors, his role will be simplified. Wiggins will be asked to score the ball; that’s it. He won’t have to play make or handle a lot; all he’ll have to do is score, and he excels at that.
8. James Harden & John Wall (Rockets)
James Harden is still one of the best players in the league. A Harden team is almost guaranteed a playoff spot, and this year will be no different. Harden will still be an elite scorer, and if the Rockets will have a good regular season. The X-Factor is John Wall. While Russell Westbrook was a great regular season performer, he was traded due to being underwhelming in the playoffs. If Wall gets back to a semblance of his old form, then this team could be spooky.
Wall was a playoff performer before a series of devastating injuries. If Wall is truly healthy then this Rockets team will still be a playoff team, albeit one that will lose by the second round. Wall will determine how good this team is going forward.
7. Russell Westbrook & Bradley Beal (Wizards)
Russell Westbrook is elite at elevating a team to being in the playoffs, and he has been to the Finals with Kevin Durant. The Wizards getting Westbrook means getting an All-NBA caliber player when he’s healthy. Westbrook is good at doing pretty much everything except for shooting from beyond the arc. Which brings us to the other half of this duo, Bradley Beal. Bradley Beal is a top SG in the league who has had his All-Star teammate injured for most of last season. He can shoot the ball while Westbrook drives.
The trade for Westbrook means that the Wizards want to help Bradley Beal win now. Instead of waiting to see what they had with John Wall, the Wizards traded for a former MVP. This duo will easily make the playoffs in the East, and if they mesh well as teammates, they could go even further.
6. Jimmy Butler & Bam Adebayo (Heat)
After making the NBA Finals, it is official: Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo have arrived as a duo. Butler is a forward who can guard all positions; Adebayo is an athletic big who can pass and score well in transition. The duo beat the reigning MVP and took LeBron James to six games in the Finals. It is hard to take down the King, but the Heat made a valiant effort. Adebayo and Butler should continue to develop their chemistry.
There’s not much to say about this duo beyond the fact that they’re great basketball players: both are fundamentally sound, unselfish, and switchable defensively. They can get to the Finals, but winning them is another matter. Butler is likely what he is as a player, and won’t develop further. It falls to Adebayo to fill in the holes.
5. Kyrie Irving & Kevin Durant (Nets)
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are both coming from injuries into a new coaching system. Perhaps they shouldn’t be ranked above Luka Doncic? Putting Durant slightly outside of the top five is fair given his accomplishments and track record, while also considering his injury history. If Durant is healthy and the same as before the Achilles injury, then this duo’s ranking could be different in the future. The risk is there, but Durant is a former MVP and one of the greats; you never doubt the greats.
The clear question for the Nets is the question of Durant’s health. While Durant’s shooting should stay similar even with a small loss of athleticism, the question is whether he’ll be the same mobile perimeter defender and whether he’ll still be fast enough to drive inside like a guard. The other question is how Durant will play with Irving. Though there are doubts, sometimes talent is talent, and this duo comes at No. 6.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo & Khris Middleton (Bucks)
The reigning MVP and his co-star come at No. 5. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have disappointed in the playoffs in recent years following his ascension to MVP status. This year, the Greek Freak is bound to have a revenge season to silence any doubters. This duo’s status as top 5 may be low, considering they were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference only last season. But two years of underperforming in the playoffs brings them down a notch.
This duo lives or dies with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Can the Greek superstar exert his will in the playoffs this season? Can Khris Middleton be clutch? The duo is consistent, but they need to hit that next level to do well in the playoffs. With the acquisition of Jrue Holiday, this duo’s life becomes a lot easier on both ends in the upcoming season.
3. Nikola Jokic & Jamal Murray (Nuggets)
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are the third duo on this list. The duo led their team to victory against the Clippers in seven games, but then quickly lost to the Lakers in five. They are in that upper echelon of duos in the NBA and could develop even further. They need to get more consistent; their high level of play only started when their team went down 3-1. It took the rest of the roster doing well and a drastic underperformance from the Clippers to get them to the Western Conference Finals. If Jokic and Murray can play like they’re 3-1 down all the time, then they can be a top-two duo in the league.
If Jokic and Murray develop even further, they could make the Finals together. They know they have the potential to beat a contender like the Clippers, making them a top duo. Can they beat other teams with a transcendent big man like the Lakers is another question. Consistency is key and if they do what they did again they will move up in the rankings.
2. Kawhi Leonard & Paul George (Clippers)
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are great as a duo. The Clippers roster as a whole underperformed, leading to their demise. Kawhi Leonard is the consistent half of this duo: he comes in, scores his points, and clamps up on the best player on the opposing team. Leonard is why this duo gets pushed to No. 2. On the Clippers, he’s had to cover for the underperformance of his running mate, Paul George. Kawhi Leonard can elevate a team to being a championship contender: it is up to Paul George to step up when Leonard has some bad games.
If this duo can both perform at their peaks, then they are easily the second-best duo in the league. They lost to the Murray-Jokic duo in seven, but they could easily come back and beat them in a rematch if up 3-1 again. Leonard is a known factor: all that remains is for Paul George to show the same play that made him an MVP candidate in 2019. The Clippers seem to have full confidence in a bounceback.
1. LeBron James & Anthony Davis (Lakers)
The reigning duo that won the championship sits at No. 1. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are the best duo in the league, and their path through the playoffs seemed fairly easy. It never looked like they were going to lose, and they both showed why people shouldn’t have slept on them during the regular season. The Lakers were the No. 1 seed in the West under the duo’s leadership.
The fit on the court between the two is perfect. Anthony Davis is a big man who can do everything on the court, while LeBron James is a force of nature that can only be stopped by superteams. With Anthony Davis, LeBron James has found the perfect running mate to build a continuous winning culture. This is their first championship, and it seems like it won’t be their last as a duo. The greatness of those two has been shown by winning a championship in extreme circumstances during a raging pandemic; what more is there to be said?