Ranking the top-10 two-star pairings in the NBA

Harden-Westbrook

In this Jan. 25, 2012 file photo Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden, left, talks with teammate Russell Westbrook in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City. (Sue Ogrocki / AP)

This summer, NBA free agency turned the league’s best teams into “NBA Jam” video game pairings.

After $3.4 billion dollars were spent in the first 30 hours, the landscape of the league shifted.

One of the league’s all-time, superteams was broken up and a number of stars found new homes, with many partnering with other elite players breaking from the recent three-stud model.

In a span of 23 days, the following NBA players changed teams: Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Mike Conley, Chris Paul, Al Horford and D’Angelo Russell. They have 17 all-star games between them.

In the past year, four of the league’s seven active MVP’s have changed teams.

The 2017 NBA All-Star Game was only two years ago, but 17 of the players have already changed jerseys.

The only players that are still with their team are: Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

To further hammer home the point, of the 15 players from the all-NBA team last year, six are on different teams and seven from the squad two years ago. In short, the best players have been in constant motion. The superteam era, that some feared would doom the sport, has transitioned into a time of terrific tandems, which has levelled the league’s playing field.

With the musical chairs of star players switching locales and trading uniforms, it’s hard to keep track of who is playing with whom, and what pairing will actually work.

As we head toward the upcoming season with elite players assembling two by two like Noah’s Ark, here are the best pairings to date.

1. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George – Los Angeles Clippers
Any duo that Kawhi Leonard’s part of will be pretty good. Leonard’s teams have a winning percentage of .754 in the regular season when he plays, currently the highest such figure in NBA history among players with at least 400 games played. That’s considerably higher than the next closest all-time greats: Magic Johnson (.740), Larry Bird (.736) and Draymond Green (.734). Paired up with the two-time Finals MVP, Paul George, an NBA MVP finalist, has an impressive resume of his own. The pairing is the closest the NBA has ever seen to Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The only question is how many games will they play. Both have long injury histories, and at one point missed the better part of a season. George enters the campaign after having surgery on both shoulders and Leonard only played 60 games last year as he was load managed in order to be healthy for the post-season.

Talent: A+

Chemistry and compatibility: A

Longevity: D

Watchability: B

2. LeBron James and Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers

The highest combined “NBA 2K20” rating of any two players on a single team is James (97) and Davis (94). James is the biggest name on the team but Davis, if healthy, might be the most dominant force. Davis has 11,059 career points, 10th most in the league since 2012-13. The six-time all-star put up 25.9 points, 51.7 per cent field goal shooting, 12 rebounds and 2.4 blocks last season. In any other year, that would be MVP-worthy, but the narrative of Davis wanting to leave New Orleans for Los Angeles overrode his on-court play. How good is this tandem? Both James and Davis have 7-1 odds to win league MVP. That firepower is the Lakers have 3-1 odds to win the championship.

Talent: A+

Chemistry and compatibility: A-

Longevity: D

Watchability: A

3. Stephen Curry and Company (Klay Thompson / D’Angelo Russell) – Golden State Warriors
You might be surprised to see the Warriors this high with Kevin Durant no longer part of the duo. But no matter if it’s Draymond Green or Splash Brother Klay Thompson when healthy or splash stepbrother in the 23-year-old D’Angelo Russell, Stephen Curry will be on the floor with anther all-star next year. People sleep on Curry when discussing the top stars in the game. The last time Curry played a regular season without Durant, he averaged 30.2 points, hit 402 three-pointers, led the Warriors to 73 wins and won unanimously MVP. The Warriors are this high on the list for their continuity. Curry is the longest-serving player with one franchise as he’s been in the Bay area since 2009. Klay Thompson is not far behind. Their shared understanding makes them a much more dynamic duo. And of all the partnerships on this list, this is the only one that’s won a title before.

Talent: A

Chemistry and compatibility: A+

Longevity: B-

Watchability: A-

4. Mike Conley and Donovan MitchellUtah Jazz

Mike Conley is a pass-first point guard who is a career 37.5 per cent shooter from three and a plus defender, which makes him a perfect complement next to Donovan Mitchell. If Conley didn’t have a long injury history heading into his age-32 season, this duo would be ranked higher because it fits together like a glove.

Talent: B

Chemistry and compatibility: A

Longevity: B

Watchability: B

5. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollumPortland Trail Blazers

The Mama’s Boys, as they’ve come to be known, are one of the few duos that are a holdover from a season ago. They’re a watered-down version of the Splash Brothers, which is a compliment. What is holding them back is they might be the worst defensive duo on the list.

Talent: B-

Chemistry and compatibility: A-

Longevity: B

Watchability: B+

6. James Harden and Russell Westbrook – Houston Rockets

Russell Westbrook played three seasons with James Harden in Oklahoma City, so the duo isn’t new to each other. In fact, the two California kids have been close friends since high school. But there are still huge questions on how they’d fit together at this stage of their career. Westbrook shot just 29 per cent from three last year. That’s not the type of spacing Harden needs to operate in isolation or that works in Mike D’Antoni’s three-happy system. More concerning is he’s trending in the wrong direction. That’s not ideal considering what is going in the opposite direction is the money owed. Westbrook is due an average of $42.8 million over the next four seasons. In 2016-15, Westbrook averaged 34.3 per cent from three. In 2017-18, that number dropped to 29.8 per cent. It’s unlikely they’ll still be playing together and have won a championship by the end of that contract.

Talent: A

Chemistry and compatibility: C-

Longevity: F

Watchability: A+

7. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid

Ben Simmons’ five-year, $170-millon deal means the Philadelphia 76ers are all in on this being their dynamic duo of the present and future. Joel Embiid is under contract through 2022-2023. Simmons is getting paid through 2024-2025. Both have missed a full season of basketball due to injury. Simmons has never hit a three-point shot in an NBA game and hit just one in college. In crunch time Philadelphia’s top two ballhandlers will be Embiid and Al Horford ⁠— not Simmons. It begs the question: how good a duo you have when you can’t trust your max-level point guard to make a play for himself or others down the stretch. Nonetheless, the sheer physical dominance of this duo will make them hard to handle and have them invited to the NBA all-star games for the better part of the next decade.

Talent: B+

Chemistry and compatibility: C

Longevity: B-

Watchability: B-

8. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets

The best pick-and-roll tandem in the league has a nice thing going on in the Mile High city. Most East Coast NBA fans aren’t awake long enough to watch the Nuggets play, but there is a reason Nikola Jokic was in the MVP race last year and GM Tim Connelly rewarded Jamal Murray with a $170-million contract extension. These two will be a terror for the rest of the league for a long time.

Talent: B

Chemistry and compatibility: A

Longevity: A

Watchability: C+

9. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris MiddletonMilwaukee Bucks

Antetokounmpo just won the league MVP and yet still thinks he’s only at 60 per cent of his full potential. If he develops a consistent jump shot, the rest of the league can pack it in. The problem for the Bucks is that the continued improvement of the Greek Freak is their sole area of potential upward mobility. Khris Middleton is a nice player getting the most out of his ability, but he’s reached his ceiling. And, the Bucks are capped out after giving Middleton a five-year, $178-million deal.

Talent: B-

Chemistry and compatibility: B

Longevity: B

Watchability: C

10. Kyle Lowry and Pascal SiakamToronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors’ championship duo took turns playing sidekick to Kawhi Leonard last season. This year, they’ll share the duty of trying to make up for his absence. Kyle Lowry is still an all-star who in the Finals’ biggest moments stepped up on both ends of the floor. Pascal Siakam is the reigning Most Improved Player, who progressed so much that he’ll certainly be an all-star himself next season. They aren’t as big names as some of the pairings ahead of them on this list, but outside of George and Leonard, the Raptors’ star couple is the best defensive tandem in the league.

Talent: B-

Chemistry and compatibility: A

Longevity: C

Watchability: B-

Honourable Mention: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving – Brooklyn Nets

This combination will be delayed for a year as Kevin Durant redshirts his first season in Brooklyn with rehab from an Achilles injury. Both players can play with or without the ball, but both also seemed unhappy in their previous situation if they weren’t given the lion’s share of the praise. Durant and Kyrie Irving are close friends and basketball junkies, but they also are similar in how exasperated they get with the media. Moving to New York is going to make that problem worse, not better. However, if Durant returns to full health in the fall of 2020 and Irving manages to mitigate his own reoccurring knee injury, this duo will be among the league’s best.

Talent: A

Chemistry and compatibility: C

Longevity: C

Watchability: A

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.