Can Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine become one of the Eastern Conference's great duos?

With the league trending towards teams built around two big stars, how do Lauri and Zach stack up with the rest of the East?

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With strong duos the NBA trend, how do Lauri and Zach stack up against other tandems around the Eastern Conference?

One can wish upon a star
Two can make a wish come true
One can stand alone in the dark
Two can make a light shine through
It takes two, baby
It takes two
To make a dream come true,
Just takes two

Songwriters: Sylvia Moy / William Stevenson
Sung by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

The Big Three is over in the NBA. It seems now it only takes two. That was the big message from the Fabulous Free agency Frenzy of 2019. There's now LeBron and AD with the Lakers and Kawhi and PG-13 with the Clippers.

There's Kyrie and KD with the Nets, though on hold for a season, the Beard and Russ reunited in Houston like peaches and cream (or Herb). And still Steph and Klay, though perhaps also delayed before they again can make their way.

And, what do you know, perhaps Zach and Lauri. It's one thing to stand up to three stars, but when it's two, and when you have a pair of 20-point scorers, well, why not?

Zach and Lauri

Despite all the league-wide fears and angst about potentially building so called super teams that eliminated most of the NBA from playing for a title before the season begins, what mostly emanated from the cross country free agency road race was a new formula for success. Three is nice, but not necessarily necessary. And while a three can be difficult, pretty much everyone can make a claim of having the two.

Heck, Kawhi did it in Toronto with basically one and a half. So the NBA is going into the 2019-20 season probably with as much parity as it's had in a decade. LeBron and Anthony Davis are formidable with the Lakers, though perhaps the second best tandem in their building. And now with MVPs James Harden and Russell Westbrook stalking them.

There are probably at least a half dozen Western Conference teams with a good chance to get to the NBA Finals, also including the Nuggets, Jazz and Trailblazers. And in the Eastern Conference with Leonard back to Southern California, the Bucks, 76ers, Raptors, Celtics and Pacers all can stake a claim to the gold of the last round for a championship. Plus the Nets once Durant recovers from his Achilles tear.

That's almost half the teams in the NBA who can honestly tell their fans they are playing for a championship. Yes, so much for the monopoly on excellence limited to a select few. Although the players who changed teams didn't plan it that way, the movement appears to have opened up competition like it hasn't existed in both conferences perhaps since the window between Michael's first departure and return. There is no longer one or two teams who you know possess apparent inevitability and invincibility.

Which perhaps is why Zach LaVine at Las Vegas Summer League last week when discussing the Bulls new additions said not to forget about he and Markkanen playing together and off one another.

Bulls Summer League concluded Saturday with a 2-3 record and the next stop training camp in late September. No one is suggesting quite yet the Bulls can make some kind of other worldly leap into contention. But accompanied by the likes of veterans like Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky, the Bulls can assert their own talented twosome. Certainly teams like the Celtics and 76ers feature more experienced depth. But as one/two punches go, the Bulls have a high level athletic wing player who was among the top 20 scorers in the NBA last season and a seven-foot perimeter player who was in the top 30 in rebounding and just barely outside that in scoring. It would place both, at least statistically, on the verge of being All-Star level players. Who compare favorably with the top twos in the Eastern Conference.

Here's a look at the top scoring duos in the Eastern Conference. Obviously, scoring isn't everything. Team play, depth and experience also are determinative. But with duets now hitting the high notes around the NBA, the Bulls also have two who perhaps can help dreams come true.

Giannis and Khris

Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton: 46 points, 18.5 rebounds and 10.2 assists.

Antetokounmpo is the reigning league MVP and a dominant driver who was exposed somewhat in the playoffs for the lack of a jump shot. Given his commitment, he will rectify that. Middleton has the jump shot, but isn’t nearly as athletic or gets to the basket like players who include Zach LaVine, Kemba Walker and Jason Tatum.

Joel and Ben

Philadelphia 76ers. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. 44.4 points, 22.4 rebounds and 11.4 assists.

They’re inside/inside, so they’ll have to answer whether there’s enough outside with losing Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick. Simmons was another who was neutralized in the playoffs without a perimeter shot, though Al Horford will help.

Bulls. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen: 42.4 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists.

LaVine ranks among the most explosive drivers and is a near 40 percent three-point shooter while Markkanen is one of the best shooting big men in the NBA. They hold the potential for one of the highest scoring wing/inside/outside scoring duos now that both are healthy.

Andre and Blake

Detroit Pistons. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. 41.8 points, 23.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists.

The modern NBA isn’t about two tough guys inside anymore, though Griffin has extended his shooting range. They’re All-Stars, but are they the right ones? And how much will it mean to have the Bulls reunion of Derrick Rose and Tony Snell?

Boston Celtics. Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum: 41.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and eight assists.

It’s a lot of points to lose from Kyrie Irving, but Walker averaged even more, though without much help in Charlotte. Plus, perhaps free agent of 2017 Gordon Hayward regains his health. They lost Al Horford, but by their account it sounds like addition by subtraction without Irving.

Atlanta Hawks. Trae Young and John Collins. 38.6 points, 13.5 rebounds and 10.1 assists.

They’ve a developmental favorite of many with their surfeit of young players and now with a Chicago flavor after adding Jabari Parker and Evan Turner.

Gordon and Vucevic

Orlando Magic. Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon. 36.8 points, 19.4 rebounds and 7.5 assists.

They were the surprise playoff team last season, but no guarantee they’ll be back with several projects to test out like former first round pick Mo Bamba, injured much of last season, and former overall No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, trying to find his shot and career.

Brooklyn Nets. Kyrie Irving and (Kevin Durant 2020-21) DeAndre Jordan. 34.8 points, 18.1 rebounds and 9.2 assists.

It’s obviously all about the return of KD and pairing with Kyrie, but the NBA is making them play next season, anyway. Who figured, but it sounds like Spencer Dinwiddie was crucial in putting the deal together. The test there is to see what effect Irving has on their one-for-all aptitude and attitude.

New York Knicks. Julius Randle and Bobby Portis. 35.6 points, 16.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

All the power forwards money can buy. They were shut out in free agency once again, so they invested in mostly short term contracts and R.J. Barrett in what figures to be another experimental season.

Cleveland Cavaliers. Kevin Love and Collin Sexton. 33.7 points, 13.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists.

The Cavs likely would like to move Love, but it’s difficult (like with J.R. Smith) with a long contract and only a few games played last season with health problems. Darius Garland meet Collin Sexton.

Washington Wizards. Bradley Beal and (John Wall next season) and Isaiah Thomas. 33.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.4 assists.

But wait ’til next year because Wall is out injured. Another Thomas miracle season? Thomas rarely played in Denver, so this will be his return since his remarkable Celtics season and two years wandering the NBA desert.

Miami Heat. Jimmy Butler and (CP3?) Goran Dragic. 32.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists.

The speculation has Chris Paul moving here after the trade to Oklahoma City, though the Heat doesn’t appear to be hot for him quite yet. They traded high scorer Josh Richardson to the 76ers in the Butler deal and Dragic returns after missing much of last season hurt.

Oladipo and Turner

Indiana Pacers. Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner. 32.1 points, 12.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists.

Oladipo figures to return and to scoring his 20 per game again after missing most of last season injured. They picked up some scoring to help in Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren, though everything will depend on Oladipo’s health.

Toronto Raptors. Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam. 31.1 points, 12.2 rebounds and 12 assists.

They just might miss Leonard. Though they were 17-5 when Leonard checked into the Load Management Hotel, it was 13-0 against non-playoff teams. Are the defending champions a playoff team? Probably, though maybe not much more without more scoring. Probably will miss Leonard.

Charlotte Hornets. Terry Rozier and Malik Monk. 17.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

Well, Rozier gets his own team.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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