The opening of the 2019-20 NBA season marked a change of balance in the league. Many superstars left their prior teams to strategically pair with other stars in the league. With this, the era of superteams concluded and was replaced with the era of power duos.
Most fans and media will focus on the popular pairs in the league – some examples include Lebron and Davis, Kawhi and George, and Irving and Durant. But over the last couple of years, many teams in the rebuilding process still utilize the duo method. There has been an abundance of young talent entering the league, and these young players join teams with similar young talent. As a result, many young, developing teammates have proven to succeed off each other and experience maximum production when on the court together. This begs the question, which teams will contain the most effective duos when these young players hit their prime?
This article starts a 5-part series counting down the top 15 duos in the year 2030 (10 years from today). Each article is categorized through tiers; this post addresses tier 5 – High-Quality Teammates. Tiers are classified as followed:
Tier 1 = #1 – #3: Established Superstar Duo
Tier 2 = #4 – #6: Promising Superstar Duo
Tier 3 = #7 – #9: Established All-Star Duo
Tier 4 = #10 – #12: Promising All-Star Duo
Tier 5 = #13 – #15: High-Quality Teammates
Before starting, we must define some terms. Although improbable in reality, this list assumes every player will stay with their current organization in theory. The success of each duo is based on the ability of each teammate to approximately produce at an equal rate. Moreover, each player of the pair must generate production through each other. Lastly, the team should show success when both players share the floor together.
15) Terry Rozier and Devonte Graham – Charlotte Hornets
After Kemba Walker left Charlotte over the summer, The Hornets were forced to change their lifestyle. For 8 years, Kemba was their leader, their frontman, and their only hope. Fans knew that Kemba’s presence was the only thing that kept the organization running, and similarly, the organization knew that Kemba’s presence was the only thing that kept fans motivated. But after Kemba was traded for Boston’s Terry Rozier, the team was forced to regroup. Coming into the 2019 season, expectations for the team were not high, as Terry Rozier had some pretty big shoes to fill. But despite some low peaks in the season, Rozier is living up to his potential, putting up 18 points a game.
His backcourt teammate, Devonte Graham, has a different backstory. In his rookie season, Graham’s minutes were often shadowed by both Walker and future Hall-of-Famer Tony Parker. As a result, he found himself forced to switch between the Hornets and their G-League affiliate. But after both guards, as well as Charlotte’s 2nd leading scorer, Jeremy Lamb, left over the summer, Graham was hopeful to prove himself with steady playing time and a more polished role.
Fast forward to today, and any Hornets fan would know how well Graham used his opportunity. He is averaging 18 points per game, which is an increase of 14 points from a year ago. He is also dishing 8 assists a game, which is 8th highest in the entire league. Additionally, Graham has improved his 3 pointing shooting, making 37% of his 9 attempts beyond the arc. He improved his shooting by 9% from last year, solidifying himself as one of the deadliest shooters in the league today. And with his upgraded overall play, Graham is a frontrunner for the Most Improved Player award.
Rozier and Graham bring different assets to Charlotte because they each have different attributes and playstyles. Graham is the typical, undersized guard who uses his small height to his advantage. He is proving to be a leader who can shoot, score, and make the right plays. On the other hand, Rozier is a scrappy guard with a defensive mentality. He can guard the ball, grab rebounds, and has demonstrated his ability to improve his much-needed scoring ability.
When put together, this backcourt pairing shows encouraging signs of becoming the most productive duo in franchise history. And with the front office making both teammates long term pieces for the foreseeable future, Charlotte’s pair show great potential to be a high-quality duo in 10 years.
14) De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley – Sacramento Kings
As soon as Fox entered the league back in 2017, fans were amazed by his speed, comparing him to guards John Wall and Russell Westbrook. He had unmatched quickness that scorched every perimeter defender on the floor. His acceleration allowed him to run the floor and score in transition. And his sense of pace allowed him to regulate the offensive floor and take control of the game.
Fox could also finish around the rim using different techniques, similar to that of guards like Kyrie Irving. Fox would frequently cup the ball under his arm to deny defenders from stripping the ball away. Fox had polished footwork, which allowed him to draw distinct angles between the ball and the backboard. And once at the rim, Fox would use that particular angle to give the precise amount of spin on the ball necessary to put the ball in the basket. But there’s one big difference between Fox and Irving that’s important to recognize – while it took time for Irving to construct his vast collection of moves in his arsenal, Fox has already gained these skills in the early years of his career.
When Bagley jumped onto the scene, Sacramento fans attained a new type of optimism. The decision to pick Bagley 2nd in the draft showed how much confidence GM Vlade Divac had in the development of Bagley, and as soon as Bagley joined the court with Fox, an instant chemistry was formed. He had a solid all-around game because he could give the Kings a bit of everything on the court. On offense, he was a multi-level scorer who could shoot from distance and muscle through defenders to finish inside. On defense, what he lacked in the interior presence he made up for with solid rebounding and lateral quickness.
Unfortunately, not everything has been favorable for Sacramento in the past couple of years. Fox and Bagley were riddled with countless injuries throughout their careers that forced them to lose focus on succeeding. Even though these injuries weren’t the players’ fault, many lost trust in Sacramento’s process and direction. The Kings underperformed by the end of their season due to large gaps of production through the year, and these inconsistencies caused large problems both within and around the Sacramento organization.
Luckily for Kings fans, there is an upside. Most doubters choose to forget that Fox and Bagley have played less than a season together (in games). With an entire career ahead of them, their troughs will only serve as learning opportunities for them to become better. They have shown peaks of potential, proving just how good they might become. They have been put in the best position to produce, so if they execute the game plan and stay healthy, Sacramento’s pair show great potential to be a high-quality duo in 10 years.
13) Zach Lavine and Lauri Markkanen – Chicago Bulls
At only 23 years old, Lavine has proven why he’s more than a flashy dunker. He’s averaging 26 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists while putting up 2 steals and 1 block per game. He has shown his ability to maximize his potential, as he has steadily increased his averages in points, rebounds steals and blocks every season of his career. On the court, he has shown tremendous improvement in his offensive playstyle. His best production comes from the pick and roll, in which he makes the right decision by demonstrating patience and letting the game come to him. With this, he built unrivalled chemistry with multiple of his big men teammates, but one more than others, Lauri Markkanen.
Markkanen has all the qualities necessary to synchronize with Lavine’s playstyle. While Lavine is a quick, athletic guard who likes to finish around the rim, Lauri is the big man who can stretch the floor and score with ease. Lauri’s ability to shoot from distance can open up the lane for Zach to dribble penetrate. Therefore, Lauri’s presence on the floor makes it more difficult for the defense to focus on containing Lavine. This allows for higher production from both teammates when they are on the court together.
In the pick and roll, Lavine and Markkanen have many options they can choose from, because of the unique skills each of them has acquired over their careers. If the defense goes under the screen, Lavine can hit the open 3. If the defense goes over, Lavine can finish inside, lob it to Markkanen to finish inside, or find one of the many quality shooters on the Chicago roster. If the defense switches, Lavine or Markkanen can both produce by playing the mismatch through iso ball. Lastly, Lauri’s 3 point ability also allows the duo to run a pick and fade, in which Lavine or Lauri would get an open look in their respective areas. No matter which situation takes place, Lavine’s refined ability to scan the floor and make plays, combined with Lauri’s ability to read the defense and shoot off the catch makes this simple play a very difficult one to defend.
With this, Lavine and Markkanen have already proven to be a tenacious duo in the league. Both already have the skills to succeed in the league at a young age, and with decades of experience yet to come, their ceilings are immense. And because both show the capabilities to improve their physical and mental mindsets in the future, Chicago’s pair show great potential to be a high-quality duo in 10 years.
***Note from author: This piece took an extensive amount of research, film, and analysis to create, and I appreciate anyone who takes the time to read it. If you liked this post, please stick around for the remainder of the series, which can be found on the League Alerts website. Thank you.