With the NBA regular season less than a month away, the free agency period of 2017 has been one for the ages. Transactions involving blockbuster deals and signings have forced fans around the globe to speculate whether their franchise has what it takes to bring home a title. Here are the top ten duos of 2017:
10. Anthony Davis & DeMarcus Cousins (New Orleans Pelicans)
Alongside point guard Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins were the only players to be on the floor for 30+ minutes per game in 2016 for the New Orleans Pelicans. While Davis had his most efficient scoring season (28 ppg), Cousins witnessed his worst since 2014 (24.4 ppg).
Although rumors have consistently swirled that Cousins may be dealt by the trade deadline this upcoming season, could the Pelicans instead be interested in re-signing the big man next summer? Containing one All-Star forward is rare in today’s game, but containing two is practically unheard of. On the other hand, with an almost identical roster on their hands, the Pelicans may struggle to win even 40% of their games in a competitive Western Conference. With that, would Cousins hypothetically express interest in returning to New Orleans for the long-haul?
Davis and Cousins should both prove to be effective throughout the 2017-18 season, but with the other powerhouse duos on the rise, it’s difficult to place them anywhere higher than #10 at this point.
9. Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors)
Although the Raptors have sat within a conference as watered down as the East, the duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan has been the key to both the Raptors regular and postseason success. Having made the postseason each of the past four seasons, Toronto even saw an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2015.
With each guard averaging 30+ minutes over the course of their careers, this Raptors duo may prove to be severely underrated in the eyes of most. In today’s game, the backcourt is the backbone for most franchises, and considering both Lowry and DeRozan are under contract through the 2019-20 season, the Raptors do have the opportunity to at least remain competitive with franchises such as the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Although I find this duo more elite than others, the Raptors have never been to the NBA Finals in their franchise history, and I’m not sure that Lowry and DeRozan can surpass the top tier rosters in the East for years to come.
8. Kawhi Leonard/LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs)
Many will be shocked that a duo involving superstar Kawhi Leonard is ranked this low, but there is justified reasoning behind it. While Leonard may arguably be the best two-way player in the NBA right now, his partner, Aldridge, is sitting at 32-years old. In fact, Aldridge’s 7.3 rebounds per game last season was his lowest since his rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2006.
The San Antonio Spurs contain one of the oldest rosters in the NBA, with an average age of 28.5-years old. The only team older than them? That would be the Cleveland Cavaliers at 29.4-years old.
The duo of Leonard and Aldridge shouldn’t be overlooked by any means, but with the recent transactions that occurred this summer, there are a handful of more dangerous duos on the rise.
7. John Wall/Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
Keeping Otto Porter Jr. seemed crucial for the Washington Wizards, but the success is surrounded by both John Wall and Bradley Beal. On top of that, this is a duo that has spent each of the last five seasons together, which is more than any other duo (tied with Lowry/DeRozan).
Although the Celtics and Cavaliers appear to be the favorites in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards have forced 34 playoff games in only four series’ since 2013, which amounts to 5.67 games per series.
They may not have pulled in a whole lot of star talent this past summer, but with Wall and Beal on the active roster, I believe the Wizards can hold their own with the top franchises the NBA has to offer.
6. Karl-Anthony Towns/Jimmy Butler (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Often referred to as the future of the NBA, Karl-Anthony Towns reeled in more points per game last season than names such as Kevin Durant, Paul George, and his now-teammate, Jimmy Butler. Also ranking sixth in the league when it came to rebounds in 2016, Towns has proven to be one of the most elite big men after only two seasons in the NBA.
Butler on the other hand will provide the Timberwolves as a diverse scorer from the outside. Having played 36+ minutes in each of the last four seasons, I’m waiting for Butler to break out of his shell, and hopefully join the likes of the top tier players such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and others.
Going into 2017 with no prior regular season experience, it’s difficult for me to put this Timberwolves duo higher than they’re currently placed. While both should prove to be extremely reliable options, duos often look better on paper than they do on the court.
5. Russell Westbrook/Paul George (Oklahoma City Thunder)
After essentially robbing the Pacers in a trade that involved the Thunder receiving Paul George, Oklahoma City finally has its first All-Star small forward since the Kevin Durant era. While I don’t think Durant and George are comparable, the fact that Russell Westbrook has a sense of the support should be considered lethal to most future opponents.
Westbrook is obviously coming off of his historic MVP season in 2016, which resulted in him averaging a triple-double, and was the first to do so since Oscar Robertson back in 1961. On the contrary, the real headline is which Paul George will show up in 2017. Having deemed himself inconsistent in years past, will George be able to handle the spotlight and prove himself to be a dominant small forward once again?
Superstars that meet up typically don’t click off the bat in their first season, but the combo of Westbrook and George should be enough for the Thunder to sneak their way into the postseason this year. The franchise won’t be a top seed, nor will they create any postseason damage, but this is a duo that we should keep our eyes on.
4. Kyrie Irving/Gordon Hayward (Boston Celtics)
While neither found themselves on the Celtics roster in 2016, this is a duo that looks great on paper. Both Irving and Hayward are relativity young, and in result, have remained consistent since their entries into the NBA.
Irving made it clear that he desired to be the leader of the Celtics, while Hayward may be one of the most underrated sidekicks heading into the upcoming campaign. Boston found themselves as winners through the off-season, but the only question mark surrounding these studs involves what they’ve done on their own.
We witnessed the the downfall of the Cavaliers when LeBron James departed to the Miami Heat a few years back, which ultimately could be viewed as proof that Irving isn’t valued as a “championship-caliber” player. Hayward on the other hand spent his career with the Utah Jazz, who have lost two of their three total playoff series’ with Hayward on the active roster.
All in all, the Celtics are a favorite to represent the East in 2017, but it won’t be handed to them by any means. I hope that the duo of Irving and Hayward can lead to an NBA Finals appearance, seeing that the franchise hasn’t made it since their rivalry days against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009.
3. LeBron James/Isaiah Thomas (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Say what you want about LeBron James’ ethics and age, but he has been the face of the NBA for years, and it would be a disgrace to leave him off of this segment. With the acquisition of Isaiah Thomas from the Boston Celtics, many fans remain torn on who won the trade at hand.
In my personal viewpoint, the Cavaliers picked up a lot of pieces in return for Kyrie Irving, and it will be intriguing to see which franchise prevails.
Many undervalue Thomas based on his size and his incapability to play defense against aggressive scorers, but what’s important to remember is that Thomas no longer needs to be “the guy”, he just needs to adapt into “the sidekick” to James.
The Cavaliers will find themselves as one of the most competitive teams in the league, regardless of the fact that they have the oldest average roster in the NBA. A top three duo is lethal on all levels, and with a sense of competition returning to the East, the sport of basketball is about to get a lot more interesting.
2. James Harden/Chris Paul (Houston Rockets)
With the addition of Chris Paul, the Houston Rockets have once again transformed themselves into contenders within the Western Conference. Harden, who spent a vast majority of the 2016 season as a point guard, will likely shift back into the shooting guard position.
The historic season by Harden resulted in a runner-up position for the MVP award last season, but the Rockets are overdue for an NBA Finals appearance. Having made the postseason on an annual basis since the Harden era in 2012, the franchise has undergone three first-round exits.
At the end of the day, the Rockets have been hyped up year after year when it comes to their regular season success, but haven’t executed within the postseason. I firmly believe the Rockets would be the favorites this year if they were placed in the East, but considering that’s only a hypothetical, this Rockets backcourt will need to put up results this season.
1. Kevin Durant/Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
Was there really any doubt about this? Durant joined the “super team” known as the Warriors last season, and in result, Golden State won their second title in three years. On top of that, while many believed Durant would demand a max extension from the Warriors, he took less money to keep everyone together.
Curry on the other hand has been within other talks, as many refer to him as “one of the best point guards ever” already. While I can’t fathom how that’s possible, there is no debate that the talks are at least present. Considering he is signed through the 2021-22 season, the Warriors will now focus on re-signing stars such as Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the near future.
Heading into 2017, most have agreed upon the fact that the Warriors are the favorites to win it all, but nothing is guaranteed in this league. The duo of Durant and Curry gives Golden State weapons that other franchises are desperate for. It would be foolish to consider the Warriors anything less than the favorites to secure yet another title, but how long will it be before someone flips the script and creates their own legacy?