Ranking some of NBA's best duos heading into 2017-18 season

These 10 superstar tandems are ones to watch as new season nears

Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. Bob Pettit and Ed Macauley. Walt Frazier and Willis Reed. Julius Erving and Moses Malone. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Larry Bird and Kevin McHale (or maybe Robert Parish). Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. And so many more.

Throughout NBA lore, dynamic duos have shaped just about every season. As we gear up for the 2017-18 season, the number of superstar tandems in the NBA is as present as ever. We take a look at the best of the best duos around the league these days and give our assessment of them.

First Five

Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry

Golden State Warriors

Any predictions about what these two would look like operating in the same system together were answered in their first season together, which ended with another championship for Curry and the potential-dynasty-in-the-making Warriors and a Finals MVP for Durant. The prospect of trying to figure out where to focus defensively for opposing teams is more daunting when you add All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green (as well as super-sub/former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala) to the mix. But Durant and Curry alone cause enough headaches to keep opposing coaches up at night searching for solutions. And as good as they are offensively, both Durant and Curry are underrated defenders within the framework of the Warriors’ scheme. Shoe company barbs aside, there really is no debating the most diabolically dynamic duo in basketball right now.

Russell Westbrook and Paul George

Oklahoma City Thunder

The triple-double machine that was Westbrook during his Kia MVP run last season might not be required with George in the fold. Westbrook still has to operate at an elite level but he shouldn’t have to carry the load he did last season without another All-Star by his side. Westbrook shouldn’t wear down at all come playoff time and George is one of the league’s elite two-way players. George has reshaped his body in advance of this new challenge, and gives the Thunder (and their fans) the familiarity of that two-headed monster they’d grown accustomed to when Westbrook and Kevin Durant were teammates. The real heat here is on coach Billy Donovan, who must make this situation so ridiculously comfortable for George that he doesn’t want to leave come free agency next summer.

James Harden and Chris Paul

Houston Rockets

Harden’s transformation into an elite point guard makes this easily the most intriguing duo in the league this season, if for no other reason than watching he and Paul try to co-exist at point guard. Great players tend to figure it out after a little experimenting. And having a hoops scientist like coach Mike D’Antoni designing the attack can only help. But this is going to be about the synergy between these two great friends and talents. They’re both more than capable of playing off the ball even though they are both best with the ball in their hands. Rockets GM Daryl Morey was his usual aggressive and forward-thinking self in trading for Paul and it should lead to the Rockets rising to a spot just behind the Warriors out West.

LeBron James and Kevin Love

Cleveland Cavaliers

The big brother-little brother relationship James and Kyrie Irving cultivated in Cleveland cultivated during their three seasons together helped end the city’s 52-year title drought. And yet there are plenty of people who believe that the more dynamic duo for the Cavaliers remains in LeBron and Love. Maybe it’s the positional dynamic, a jumbo point whatever-he-wants-to-be (LeBron) and a sweet-shooting stretch four/elite rebounder (Love). They both give coach Tyronn Lue an opportunity to be as creative as his imagination allows in designing schemes for either player. They’ll both go into this season chips on their respective shoulders, each of them feeling the need to prove to the basketball world that they’ll be just fine without Irving around.

John Wall and Bradley Beal

Washington Wizards

Wall and Beal have been lobbying for the distinction of the best backcourt in basketball for a while now, long before the title was actually appropriate. But they are in the neighborhood now. Washington’s star guards can make a legitimate claim to being the best two-way backcourt in the league right now. They’ve got all of the ingredients in place and have finally matured into their respective roles. And while mostly every other Eastern Conference contender will have spent training camp and a portion of the early part of this season incorporating significant new faces into their mix, the Wizards have the security of familiarity to work with in surrounding their dynamic duo with the ideal supporting cast. Keeping Otto Porter in the mix during free agency was crucial but everything in Washington starts with the work of Wall and Beal.

Second Five

Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward

Boston Celtics

With apologies to veteran center Al Horford — who has only known playoff-level success from the moment he set foot in the league — it’s the new faces that inspire the most excitement in Boston this season. The attacking perimeter duo of Irving and Hayward make the Celtics a completely different monster than they were last season. Back then, All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas was Plan A, B and C for Boston every night. The Celtics will have as good a 1-2 offensive punch in Irving and Hayward since Paul Pierce and Ray Allen wore green and white. The defensive work Hayward and Irving show, however, will go a long way towards determining if they belong in the first or second tier of this list. Celtics coach Brad Stevens wins either way, though, because he has All-Stars to choose from when deciding how he’d like to attack opposing teams.

Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins

New Orleans Pelicans

If there were a list for the largest and most dynamic duo in the league, Davis and Cousins would win in a landslide. Two 7-footers who can score, rebound and defend the way these two can is rare in an any era. That’s true even moreso now, with the game focusing on stretching and spacing the floor. There’s a limited sample size of them working in coach Alvin Gentry’s system. But a summer and full training camp should allow for improved chemistry between Davis and Cousins. Then there’s the Pelicans’ supporting cast, which needs time to adjust to these dominant big men who share many of the same sweet spots on the floor. The real test for these two, though, is in the numbers. They have to make sure all of this talent translates into wins for a franchise desperate to get back into the playoff mix after a two-season absence. Time is of the essence in New Orleans this season. The Pelicans, with Davis and Cousins leading the way, are desperate for a big start to this season.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Toronto Raptors

Behind their All-Star duo of Lowry and DeRozan, the Raptors have ascended to true contender status in the Eastern Conference. Injuries and inconsistency plagued the Raptors last season, but when Lowry and DeRozan are healthy and locked in, they can be a matchup nightmare for the majority of the league. Having Serge Ibaka back in the fold as their third option strengthens the entire group. The Raptors’ mini-makeover this summer couldn’t have come at a better time, either. Lowry stuck around in free agency, showing his confidence in the franchise that showed it in him when they tabbed him as their floor general. He’s continuing his partnership with DeRozan at a time when there was a significant migration of Eastern Conference star power to the Western Conference.

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum

Portland Trail Blazers

The duo last season who scored the highest total percentage of its team’s points both in 2016-17 and the playoffs wasn’t LeBron James and Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. It was the wildly underrated Portland duo of Lillard and McCollum at 43.9 percent. Only Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota (a non-playoff team) ranked higher overall in the regular season at 46.1 percent. Lillard and McCollum have developed an absolutely spectacular understanding of when to defer to one another, leaving opposing teams lost when trying to figure out which one of them to try and take away. They are a bit undersized as a duo, but don’t suffer from it defensively because of the tenacity they bring to the party. The next step for this duo is finding a third player to bolster their games. Coach Terry Stotts might have his man in bruising big man Jusuf Nurkic, who provided a nice preview after being traded from Denver and looked like the perfect fit before going down with an injury.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler

Minnesota Timberwolves

It feels unfair squeezing Andrew Wiggins out of the picture here, but based on every projection, Towns and Butler have the makings of a most dynamic duo. They provide coach Tom Thibodeau with a splendid 1-2 offensive punch, with Towns capable of operating inside and out at a high level and Butler having already shown himself to be a star capable of matching the best of the best in big game situations. There should be no tug of war for the locker room and a clear understanding that this can’t be one man’s team but has to be an ensemble effort (see the rest of the Western Conference playoff field for validation). Thibodeau has surrounded his young trio of stars with key veterans like Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford to help facilitate growth and help the team reach its playoff goal. Thibs will have all sorts of options with the game on the line, but any long-term success begins with Towns and Butler working some magic together.

The Next Five

  • Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets
  • Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
  • Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
  • Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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