During the summer of 2007, Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge pulled off a basketball miracle, landing Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in separate deals. The age of the modern superteam began.
In 2010, LeBron James left Cleveland for the beaches of Miami, forming one of the greatest “Big-3’s” the NBA’s ever seen with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The age of the superteam hit full force.
Fast forward to 2021, and superstar trios are out of fashion. It’s now the age of duos.
The association is stocked full of impressive tandems, so much so that with Jamal Murray’s ACL injury and Michael Porter’s back ailments, 2021 league MVP, Nikola Jokic, doesn’t make our list. The Serbian big man doesn’t have a good enough partner on the Denver Nuggets to qualify.
Young studs LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges have thrust the Charlotte Hornets into the playoff conversation, and both are All-Star candidates. They don’t make our list either; they’re not there yet.
Next, we’ll run through the ten best duos in the NBA.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards
Karl-Anthony Towns ranks third in shooting percentage among all players who’ve taken six or more shots from deep; he’s morphed into one of the best high-volume three-point shooters in the league. More importantly, after slacking on the less glamorous end during his first six seasons in the league, he’s finally playing high-end defense. The Timberwolves are 10th in the league in defensive rating behind Towns’ aggressive play in the middle. He’s defending 14.2 shots per game, altering opponents’ attempts at the rim, and allowing his teammates to play disruptive D on the perimeter. Suddenly the Timberwolves are 11-10 and in playoff contention for the first time in what feels like forever. Karl Anthony-Towns is an All-Star this season.
This year, Anthony Edwards is getting buckets, dropping a cool 22.1 PPG off one of the most explosive first steps in the league. Unfortunately, his overall playmaking skills haven’t caught up with his scoring. He’s only averaging 3.5 dimes per contest. Once Anthony Edwards starts to create for his teammates, he’ll help drive the Minnesota Timberwolves into contender status, and he’ll form one of the most devastating duos in the association with Karl-Anthony Towns.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum
Damian Lillard’s offensive struggles this season have been well documented. His points per game have plummeted from 28.8 last year to 21.5 through the first quarter of 2021-2022. He’s connecting on only 39.7% of his total field goal attempts, and even worse, he’s taking 9.1 shots from deep per contest and hitting only 30.2% of them. Lillard has always been known as an excellent offensive weapon and subpar defender. Oddly, he’s wholly flipped his personal script by not only playing poorly on the fun side of the ball but by also stepping up his perimeter D. The Trailblazers have been 4.3 points better on defense with Lillard on the court. Overall, Damian Lillard is still a net positive for Portland.
CJ McCollum is scoring 20.3 PPG, but he’s been near as inefficient as Lillard. He’s shooting 42.7% from the field off of 18.4 attempts per game. Unfortunately, McCollum hasn’t increased his defensive effort like his backcourt running mate; in fact, he’s been so porous on the less glamorous end that the Blazers perform at a -13 points pace with McCollum on the floor, landing him in the 13th percentile out of all NBA players.
10. Trae Young and John Collins
Trae Young is an absolute beast on offense. He’s averaging 118.5 points per 100 shot attempts (88th percentile), and he has a 41.9 assist percentage which places him in the 98th percentile in the league. Outside of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, Trae Young has been the best offensive player in the association through 2021-2022. He kills teams from deep (39.4 3P%), from midrange (51.7% from 10-16 feet and 50.0% from 16-3P), and he’s mastered the art of hitting a floater in the lane. He’s also an exceptional passer, capable of hitting open shooters in the corner off of swing passes and finding tiny windows off of drive and kicks. On defense, Young struggles. At 6-2, he gets bullied across all three levels of the court. This season he’s performed so well on offense his defense can’t detract from his overall value. Case in point: The Hawks are 10.7 points better, with Trae Young on the court, one of the best marks in the association.
John Collins’s profile is strangely similar to Trae Young’s. He’s a great offensive player and a subpar defender. Collins connects on a whopping 78.8% of his shots at the rim, but he’s not just an inside bruiser. He’s also hitting 36.8% of his 2.7 three-point attempts per game. John Collins, 24, isn’t ready to anchor a defense. The Atlanta Hawks are ranked 23rd in the NBA in defensive rating (110.7), canceling much of their excellent offense. If the Hawks are going to improve meaningfully on their 11-10 record, Collins will have to put effort onto the defensive end.
9. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis
Luka Doncic does everything on offense for the Dallas Mavericks. He has the highest usage rate in the league, at 40.4%, and he also sports the highest assist rate at 44.8%. Luka Doncic is slashing 25.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, and 8.3 APG, numbers that should help propel him along with Porzingis toward the top of our list. Sadly, the overall load on Doncic’s shoulders takes a toll on his two-way effect over the game. He’s only shooting 43.9% from the field, and his defensive effort has waned early in the season. He’s allowing his assignments to hit 5.5% above their average, and the Mavericks are 10.0 points worse on defense with Doncic on the court, one of the worst marks in the league.
Kristaps Porzingis comes in at just under 20 PPG, with a 19.6 average along with 7.9 RPG and 1.6 BPG. He’s played mostly mistake-free basketball, turning the ball over a mere 1.4 times per game (88th percentile). More importantly than his solid offensive start to the season is Porzingis’s level of defense. He’s provided backline D for a Dallas squad that lacks a top-flight ball stopper on the perimeter. He’s defending 13.9 shots per game, most on the team, and the Mavericks have been solid of the less fun end, with Kristaps in the game, holding opposing squads to -2.4 points per 100 possessions.
8. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell
Rudy Gobert has made an early case for the Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s defending a whopping 18.4 shots per game, first in the association, and he’s holding opposing players to a 37.7 shooting percentage, the third-best mark among all centers. The Utah Jazz rank 4th in the NBA in defense through the first quarter of 2021-2022, and Gobert’s rim protection has been the catalyst, allowing Jazz wings to pressure perimeter offensive players beyond the arc, taking away their three-point opportunities and daring them to meet “The Stifle Tower” in the lane. On offense, Gobert is averaging 15.1 PPG while shooting 73.1% from the field. Early in the Frenchman’s career, he mainly was a putback specialist, but now he’s formed a solid pick and roll connection with Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley.
Donovan Mitchell is having a down year, which pushes Gobert and him back in our rankings. He’s putting in 23.2 PPG while dishing out 5.1 APG. Solid numbers, but nothing special in today’s NBA. It’s his defense that’s worrying, though. He’s allowing the players he’s covered through the start of the season to shoot 9.4% better than their normal average, one of the worst marks among starting guards in the league. Teams have begun to pick on Mitchell’s deficiencies, forcing switches with Mike Conley for easier shots. So far, Gobert has covered many of Mitchell’s blunders, but this is the type of hole teams will abuse in the playoffs.
7. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo
Jimmy Butler is a bit like Chris Paul in that the statistics don’t do his overall impact justice. That’s not to say he hasn’t produced at a high rate. Butler is averaging 23.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, and 2.1 SPG. His energy and confidence are infectious. He grinds hard on both sides of the court, and he’s not afraid to take on the most talented players in the world. His attitude trickles down to his teammates, imbibing them with a little extra something that makes an enormous difference against the top teams in the league.
Bam Adebayo is one of the few players in the league who can switch onto a point guard off a pick and roll and smother him before switching back onto a big man, halting his progress at the rim. His ability to cover all five positions is incredibly important and gives head coach Erik Spoelstra an edge in gaming planning against three-point shooters or pick and roll specialists. Bam is defending 4.5 three-point attempts per game, allowing the opposition to connect on only 30.9% of their endeavors, and he’s defending 3.5 shots per game at the rim, conceding a solid 66.7%. On offense, Adebayo is putting in 18.7 points per game, a number that is better than it looks, considering the Heat play at one of the slowest paces in the NBA (27th in the league). Adebayo has never been a great long-distance marksman, and this year he’s cut the three-point shot out of his arsenal, increasing his efficiency to 51.9% overall.
6. Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins
The advanced stats jump off the screen and shout, “Stephen Curry is having a remarkable season.” Most people think of Curry as a special offensive weapon, but his defense has been incredible this season. He’s holding his assignments to a 36.8% field goal percentage, and the Warriors are 8.2 points better on defense with him on the floor. On offense, he bends the court for his teammates in a way we’ve never seen before. Curry is launching 13.1 three-pointers per contest and connecting on 41.2% of them. It’s not just his percentages, though. His outside stroke puts constant pressure on opposing defenses and opens long-range bombs or lanes to the rim for his teammates. Overall, the Warriors are 18.7 points per 100 possessions better with Curry on the floor, good for a mind-boggling +36 wins throughout an 82 game season.
Here are a few facts for you: Andrew Wiggins is only 26-years-old, he’s the 18-3 Warriors’ second-leading scorer, and he defends the most field goal attempts on the team. It feels like Wiggins has been in the league forever, but he’s just now entering his prime. He’s finally figuring out his role in the NBA. Wiggins is averaging 18.6 PPG off a very efficient 49.0% from the field and 37.1% from deep, providing Stephen Curry a solid outlet off of double teams. He’s also one of the best wing defenders in the league. The Warriors are the top-rated defensive squad in 2021-2022, and it’s not close (100.4 DEFRTG VS the 2nd place Clippers at 104.0). Draymond Green mans the middle, and Wiggins terrorizes opposing wings on the perimeter, stuffing shots from the three-point line and shutting down opponent attempts to get into the lane.
5. DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine
It took DeRozan 22 games during 2021-2022 to change his perception in the league. People used to call him an offensive specialist who couldn’t defend. This season he’s locking down players on the less fun end. The Chicago Bulls rank 7th in defense, and while Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso soak up much of the attention for the Bulls’ improved D, DeRozan might be their most crucial ball-stopper. He’s first among all Bulls regular rotation players in defensive rating at 100.6, and according to Cleaning the Glass, he ranks in the 94th percentile in his defensive on/off splits. We haven’t mentioned the fun side yet. DeMar is 6th in the association in scoring, dropping 25.9 PPG with a clean 48.9 field goal percentage. He’s proved the perfect offensive weapon for the Bulls during bogged-down half-court possessions, dropping 1.24 points per possession off of isolation play types, 5th best in the NBA.
Zach LaVine is an offensive assassin. This season he’s showing he’s got a bit of Stephen Curry in him. He’s putting up 7.5 three-point attempts per game off of one-dribble launches, step backs, and around screens. His shot making bends defenses and opens up lanes for DeRozan or free-and-clear bombs from deep for Lonzo Ball. LaVine has also stepped up his D, allowing the men he’s guarding to shoot only 44.3% from the field. The Chicago Bulls are winning for the first time in what feels like forever, and LaVine’s two-way play has played a large part in their success.
4. Chris Paul and Devin Booker
Chris Paul’s Suns beat the 18-3 Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night in a clash of the two best teams in the league. Paul scored 15 points and dished out 11 assists, but his numbers don’t do his impact justice. He dominated the Warriors, controlling the game down the stretch without his running mate Devin Booker (hamstring injury) like a sorcerer with supernatural powers. He had his hand on every offensive play during crunch time, and he shut down the perimeter on defense, nabbing five steals and playing a large hand in holding MVP frontrunner Stephen Curry to his worst shooting night of the season, a 4-21 disaster.
Devin Booker showed during the playoffs last year he’s one of the best wings in the league by averaging 27.3 points per game and by strapping the Suns on his back at times and dragging them across the finish line. This year it seems like Booker is more willing to lay back for stretches and let his teammates do the heavy lifting. He’s still putting up a solid line of 23.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG, and 4.5 APG while shooting 40.3 from beyond the arc, but his shot attempts are down. Booker’s Suns are 18-3, tied for the best record in the league, and look poised to make another deep playoff run with him well rested and ready to explode during the NBA’s second season.
3. LeBron James and Anthony Davis
LeBron James has played in only 11 Lakers games this season, throwing off his rhythm and conditioning. Still, he’s averaging 25.8 PPG, 6.8 APG, and 5.2 RPG. The Lakers have looked off all year and are barely staying afloat with a 12-11 record. It doesn’t matter, though. No organization wants to see LBJ in the playoffs. Nobody controls the game the way he does. He’s Chris Paul, with an extra 75 pounds of muscle and nine inches of height. LeBron blends basketball IQ with physicality in a way we’ve never seen before, and he’s not slowing down.
Anthony Davis is having an awful shooting season. He’s hitting a measly 19.6% of his three-point attempts, yet he’s still 11th in NBA's catch-all advanced metric, Player Efficiency Rating. Anthony Davis is averaging 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.3 BPG, and 1.3 SPG, and despite his shooting woes, is imparting his will on the league. AD sends shivers down Rudy Gobert’s spine because the “Stifle Tower” can’t stick with him on defense, and he can’t get by him on offense. Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic doesn’t want to deal with AD’s speed and athleticism in the playoffs either. AD is a matchup nightmare for the best big men in the league because he dribbles like a shooting guard, stuffs the rim with furry, and plays defense better than only a handful of men in the world.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton
If you thought Curry’s advanced stats were impressive, have a look at Giannis’s. His on/off stats are ridiculous: The Bucks are 16.1 points better per 100 possessions on defense and 14.9 points better on offense with “The Greek Freak” on the floor. Giannis doesn’t care about last year’s title; it’s already forgotten. He comes in every night and goes 100% on both sides of the floor. He’s averaging 27.0 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.8 BPG, and 1.1 SPG while playing I-want-to-break-your-soul defense. Giannis ranks second in NBA's PIE at 21.3, and he has that Kobe look, the one that says, “I will not settle for one chip. I want a handful of banners before I’m done.”
Khris Middleton’s statistics aren’t impressive. He’s averaging 16.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.8 APG, and he’s shooting 32.0% from deep. It doesn’t matter. He’s missed significant time with injury and is slowly rounding into shape. The Bucks can’t win without Middleton; they’re 10-3 with him in the lineup and under .500 without him. He takes on the opposing team’s best perimeter threat night in and night out; his shooting stroke helps spread the floor for Giannis’s bull rushes to the rim, and he can create for himself in the half-court. Put Middleton on a lottery team like the Detroit Pistons, and he’d average 27-plus points per game. He’s that type of offensive force.
1. Kevin Durant and James Harden
The Brooklyn Nets started off slow, but suddenly, they are 15-6 and in first place in the east. Nobody wants to see LeBron in the playoffs; times that sentiment by two, and you have the fear Kevin Durant strikes in the opposition. He is death on the basketball court, and the one guy on this planet opposing squads don’t want to see taking the last shot for a championship. Durant is tied with Curry for the scoring lead at 28.6 PPG, and his shooting splits are crazy: 76.1% at the rim, 53.0% from 3 to 10 feet, 52.5% from 10 to 16 feet, 64.9% from 16 feet to the three-point line, and 38.9% from deep. He uses his length and quick first step to get efficient shots from anywhere on the court. His defense isn’t bad either. He has no problem switching onto wings from beyond the arc or bodying up big men down low.
James Harden started off slow, but he’s picked things up over the last couple of weeks. The former MVP is the closest in the league to a triple-double at 21.0 PPG, 9.3 APG, and 8.0 RPG. More importantly, he’s regaining the burst he lost over the summer when he was stuck inside recuperating from a hamstring injury. Harden has slowly crept back towards his old one-on-one ways, and now after the quarter mark of the season, he’s ranked 15th in isolation production, scoring an excellent 1.10 points per possession. Harden will never be an excellent defender; he’s too slow. Still, “The Beard” is trying on the less fun side/ He’s fighting around screens, digging against dribble drives, and closing out beyond the arc.
NBA Duos Reign Supreme In Today’s NBA
Basketball is a team sport. At the same time, an excellent duo can make the difference between a title and the lottery.
All the men on our list are capable of pushing their squad to new heights. We can nearly guarantee that one of these tandems will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the year. Injuries will play a part. Luck will also come into play.
Still, chemistry, talent, and hard work will determine which partnership helps propel their team to the top of the mountain at the end of the season. It truly is the age of the duo.