A decade ago the trend around the NBA was to build Big Three lineups around three star players. Today we’re seeing it turn to more of a salary cap-friendly approach of the Dynamic Duo.
The Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Clippers countered with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Rockets put former MVP Russell Westbrook with former MVP James Harden. And the Nets are waiting for next year to show off the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving tandem.
With this in mind, we looked around the league to find what could be the next star duo that we’ll be talking about. Who are the best duos under the age of 25?
While everyone will want to point to Dallas first — and we’ll get there eventually — this list starts in Boston.
We forget just how young Jaylen Brown (23) and Jayson Tatum (21) are with a Celtics team that has been among the league’s elite over the last few years. When these two are on the court, the Celtics are +202 in 1,098 minutes and average 56.6 points per game. Tatum is an all-star and Brown is an underrated two-way player and shot-maker. They are the foundation of a roster that is made up of a lot of unknown players who fit coach Brad Stevens’ system and, of course, max player Kemba Walker.
This pairing also gets forgotten when it comes to age and impact mainly because, like Tatum and Brown, it feels like they’ve been together in Denver for years. Jamal Murray (22) is still quite young and Nikola Jokic (24) only looks like an old man (kidding). These two are why the Nuggets are that team you can’t dismiss in the West as much as you want to only focus on the LA teams. On the court together, they are a dominating +253, which is way more than anyone on our list (and, it should be noted, more than the Harden-Westbrook duo).
Luka Doncic (20) is one of the most exciting young players in the game and how easily he acclimated to the NBA says a lot about his talent and how playing pro ball in Europe helped prepare him. As expected, it took Kristaps Porzingis (24) some time to find his rhythm — remember, he was an all-star selection before his ACL injury and missed an entire season — but once he did he’s put up some big numbers. The two on-court for the Mavs are +143 in 904 minutes and the team averages 60.6 points per game, the third-highest average for the tandem’s we are featuring here.
When you look at the numbers, and the talent, it’s hard to understand why the Phoenix Suns are still going nowhere in the West. Devin Booker (23) finally earned an all-star invite — and it took an injury replacement — after three years of averaging over 20 points per game. He’s one of the purest scorers in the league and also one of the best shooters. Paired with Deandre Ayton (21), a number one overall pick, it should be a perfect pairing of guard skill and big man power. On the court together, it works. The Suns average 65.6 points in 786 minutes when they’re on the court. But they’re just +63 in that time, which speaks volumes about defense and supporting cast.
The Pelicans are the only must-watch non-playoff team in the league. It’s mainly because of Zion Williamson (19) and the exciting blend of bounce and power he displays on a given night. But you can’t forget that before Zion was cleared to play, there was Brandon Ingram (22) who earned all-star status for the first time in his career. The two on the court together are a fairly modest +54 (in limited time of 273 minutes, mind you) and the team averages 47.6 points. Now, we should point out that Lonzo Ball (22) and Zion are a more effective duo: +117 in 362 minutes with a scoring average for the Pels at 57.9 points per game.
MORANT/JACKSON JR. (Grizzlies)
The Grizzlies have been a fun story this season and who outside of New Orleans isn’t rooting for them to hang on and clinch that 8th seed? But regardless of this season’s result, Memphis has a foundation of Rookie of the Year leader Ja Morant (20) and emerging new-era big man Jaren Jackson Jr. (20). The two on the court mean 45.7 points per game for the Grizzlies, but this part has to improve: in 933 minutes, the team is -6.
What are we supposed to believe about the bottom-feeding Hawks? Trae Young (21) is already a star among the fans and has an erratic style of non-stop motion and unpredictable pull-up range that can create social media highlights for days. John Collins (22) is a powerfully athletic stat-padder. Together on the court, the Hawks average 65 points per game, which is the most of any tandem we have named. But in 813 minutes together on the court, the team is -25, which is the worst of any tandem on this list.
They’ve had just one game together since D’Angelo Russell (23) was traded to Minnesota, so it’s impossible to provide much statistical analysis of their impact. Karl-Anthony Towns (24) has been injured but rather than shut it down for the season, he is pushing to come back just to get some court time with his longtime friend and develop chemistry that might create much-needed momentum toward next season.
So Rockets GM Daryl Morey, he who is the defiant architect of the smallest lineup in the NBA and religious leader of the analytics movement, took a blowtorch to how the NBA game is being promoted on game broadcasts.
He basically gave an “OK Boomer” to the voices complaining that the NBA is all threes and no more defense.
“Right now, if you tune into a lot of NBA telecasts, the announcers are hate-watching their own game, it’s crazy,” he said during an appearance on FS1. “You’ll tune in, and they’ll be like, ‘Well, what’s happening here? They’re shooting too many three-pointers! Back in my day…’”
Morey used the NFL as an example of how announcers have changed with the times and celebrate the game rather than complain about it. He used Tony Romo (who just reportedly signed a 10-year, $180 million deal with CBS) as an example.
“Imagine the NFL if Romo was basically like, ‘Oh, this passing is not going to work. Where’s my cloud of dust? Where is it?’”
Morey’s rant continued. “Literally, it’s the whole game. That’s NBA games right now. ‘Where is my cloud? Why aren’t we smashing that ball in there?’ You tune into any NBA game, that’s what you get all night.”
Morey also took issue with the idea that broadcasters force the narrative that the only thing that matters is the playoffs, which takes the value out of watching a regular season game.
“It’s almost like cognitive dissonance,” Morey said. “People tune in, and they’re being told how they shouldn’t watch, and how it’s not a fun game to watch. It’s bizarre to me. The NFL would never let it happen, and I don’t understand it.”
Is he right?
With the continued spread of coronavirus, which has now reached the United States, the NBA has sent a memo to teams advising team officials and players about being more aware when in contact with fans.
According to ESPN, the memo suggested that players fist-bump fans rather than greet them with the traditional high-five. It was also suggested that players think twice about taking pens, basketballs and even jerseys from fans seeking autographs.
If you think this is an overreaction, read this tweet from Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum:
The league has sought consultation with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to get a better understanding of the outbreak and how it can protect its players and teams from spreading it.
“The health and safety of our employees, teams, players and fans is paramount,” the league said in a statement to the Associated Press. “We are coordinating with our teams and consulting with the CDC and infectious disease specialists on the coronavirus and continue to monitor the situation closely.”
Sports is one domain where a virus can quickly spread. You see it often when one player has the flu, it usually runs through the locker room. Players share a locker room and travel together and, of course, with courtside seats and fans around the court for pregame warmups, no players are more accessible to fans than NBA players.
Better to be safe than sorry. Be safe, everyone.