WE’VE entered a rare lull in the continuous news cycle that is the NBA. Most of the blockbuster moves have taken place, giving fans and players alike a chance to catch their breath after an offseason for the ages. During the month of July, the league was flipped on its axis with the OKC Thunder imploding, the New York Knicks once again left at the altar and the Warriors pulling off a stunning move to secure a new All-Star for the second straight offseason. We saw franchises opt to ignore the popular route of creating a ‘Big 3’ like dynasties in year’s past and now the league’s highest-profile stars have paired off in their own dynamic duo’s. To pass (some of) the time, let’s rank the 11 new couples atop the superstar food chain ahead of a new season.
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11. Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon
I was somewhat surprised to see the Bucks let Malcolm Brogdon depart after he illustrated his importance for the squad last postseason. Their loss is Indiana’s gain though, with the Pacers banking on their new star backcourt featuring the 2017 Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo. A ruptured quadricep held Indiana’s star shooting guard to just 36 games last year and we still don’t know exactly when he plans to return to the court. When he does though, an energetic, efficient starting guard rotation of he and Brogdon has the Pacers aiming high in 2019-20.
10. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis
WE’VE known this pairing was going to feature together for some months now, but again, an injury has slowed one side of the star set. International flavour has been a winning product in Dallas before and there’s a chance that Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis can follow in Dirk Nowitzki’s footsteps by turning the Mavs into a winner. It might take some time for this duo to emerge as a perennial contender, but given their age, there’s no rush for the Mavericks to win it all ASAP. Boasting complementary skillsets means Doncic and Porzingis could quickly become a league pass favourite from as early as this year.
Image from thesmokingcuban.com
9. Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday
I have a hunch that if New Orleans is going to eventually taste championship successful Zion Williamson will be joined by another young stud as his sidekick. However, for the time being, having Jrue Holiday as a second fiddle is hardly an issue. Holiday is no scrub, annually floating in All-Star and All-Defense conversations while providing NOLA with a great role model to help usher Zion into life as a pro.
THE NBA vet kept the Pelicans afloat amid all the Anthony Davis drama last season, averaging a career-best 21.2 points while running their offense on a nightly basis. Lonzo Ball and/or Brandon Ingram may emerge as a running mate for the dunking ball of muscle that was drafted first overall, but until they take the next step in their development, we’ll have to settle for Jrue Holiday/Zion Williamson pick and roll combos. I for one won’t be complaining.
8. Kemba Walker and Brad Stevens (?)
KEMBA Walker lands in Boston flanked by a number of potential sidekicks. It’s still not clear if Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown or Gordon Hayward will be the best wing player for the Celtics this upcoming season, but one thing we can bank on is Brad Stevens’ wizardry to be a handy string in their bow. Declaring him as one of the best coaches in the league wouldn’t be perceived as a shock, even after a down 2018-19 season. With the Kyrie Irving shadow no longer hanging over the franchise, Stevens will be out to reinvigorate his reputation with the help of his new All-Star floor general, who offers a very similar skillset as Irving without all the extra drama.
7. Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell
BEFORE free agency even commenced we were treated to a big-time trade that saw Mike Conley become a member of the Utah Jazz. Conley’s arrival strengthened Utah’s chances on contending following consecutive playoff exits at the hands of the Houston Rockets. In those series’ Utah’s biggest problem was their one-dimensional offense and their reliance on ball-dominant sophomore Donovan Mitchell, who is fast becoming one of the best scorers in the league. Adding a heady veteran like Conley as his backcourt running mate not only takes some of the pressure off of Mitchell, but it gives the Jazz another scoring threat to help make their postseason visits worthwhile.
6. Al Horford and Joel Embiid
MOST of the new teammates on this list can be found in the backcourt or on the wings, but the 76ers will now be rocking a formidable one-two big man punch. It would be unfair to expect Al Horford and Joel Embiid to be the sole reason Philly makes a championship push in 2019-20, but they will definitely be an integral part. The health of their twin towers will go a long way to determining what heights the Sixers can reach in this upcoming campaign, with Embiid and Horford’s skillsets suiting each other tremendously.
FROM a defensive standpoint, there may not be a better starting combination in the league and if they can find plenty of points from the likes of Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons, then their big men in the middle can pick up the rest of the slack. If they’re able to protect the paint and keep teams off the glass, Philadelphia may emerge as the best team in the East when basketball tips off again in October.
5. D’Angelo Russell and Stephen Curry
ONE of the more unlikely new pairings that came to fruition over the NBA summer came via a Dub Nation trade. Not many people expected D’Angelo Russell to stay with the Nets as the rumour mill started to link Brooklyn with former Celtic Kyrie Irving (more from him soon), but seeing Russell land in Oakland was still a surprise to basketball fans. An All-Star for the first time in 2019, Russell will join forces with the greatest shooting backcourt in history, attempting to fill Klay Thompson’s shoes by playing Robin to Steph Curry’s Batman. They’ll need to adapt the way they play, but it’ll be exciting to watch the two dynamic scorers go to work for the Warriors next year.
4. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving
FOR most of last season the writing was on the wall for both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to head to New York. However, we expected them to head to Manhattan instead of Brooklyn with the Nets receiving a severe talent injection once free agency commenced. With a history of injuries and plenty of off-court drama arriving with Brooklyn’s new superstars, there’s a chance they never live up to the hype by bringing a title to the Barclay’s Center faithful. On paper though, recruiting both KD and Uncle Drew in one summer is as close to an A+ offseason as you can get.
3. James Harden and Russell Westbrook
IF you thought Golden State’s new All-Star backcourt was a surprise, then this one blew your socks off. After the Thunder decided to hit the self destruct button on their team many people expected Russell Westbrook to change uniforms before the new season commenced. Seeing Westbrook and James Harden reunited wasn’t exactly on our radars though. It’s cool from a nostalgic perspective to see part of the band back together, but their on-court fit will be heavily scrutinised until they deliver a championship to Houston. Neither of the MVP’s own the greatest reputation for lighting it up in the postseason, but my gut tells me things could be different this time around. Could…
2. LeBron James and Anthony Davis
I’M not ready to slander LeBron James’ name and declare him as a declining player unlike some others. James didn’t exactly have an All-NBA cast to work with last year and for the first time in his career injuries played a significant factor in his output. However, if he wants to claim the fourth championship of his career, there’s no doubt that he’ll need to defer a lot of the attention (and the spotlight) to Anthony Davis.
WHEN healthy there’s an argument that can be made around AD being the best player on the planet and his previous seven seasons in NOLA were plagued by front office inefficiencies and an inability to stay on the court. There’s a scenario where these two emerge as THE powerhouse couple in the league until LeBron calls it quits, with the Lakers once again owning a championship or bust mentality.
1. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
IN my eyes you can’t place any other new superstar tandem higher on the food chain. Arguably the two best two-way wing players in the league will now don Clipper blue after a stunning trade and a swift signature. We saw what Kawhi Leonard was capable of at the peak of his powers in the recent Finals and there was a decent portion of time last year when Paul George was in the MVP discussion, making the new pairing perhaps the highlight of the L.A. Clippers franchise to date.
IF they could pull off the improbable and bring a title to the city of Los Angeles that wasn’t motivated by a team in purple and gold, they would be immortalised as legends of the sport. Much like a lot of these duo’s health will again be a factor in their potential ceiling, but for the first time since their inception, the Clippers are deservingly getting a lot of championship buzz.