The league’s landscape took a dramatic shift this offseason, moving from the Big Three model en vogue for the last decade to a slew of dynamic duos. Kawhi Leonard left the champs to team up with Paul George, while LeBron James has a new running mate in Anthony Davis. The NBA is paired off like NBA Jam, with one of the duos likely to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.
Conversation surrounding the potential of each pairing has consumed the summer, though less ink has been spilled sifting through the duos’ supporting casts. Are the Lakers less of a skeleton crew than last year? Does the Clippers’ rotation run 11 deep? We at The Crossover ranked the talent surrounding the league’s top five duos, with apologies to Philadelphia, Utah (relative Big Threes), Brooklyn (no KD for now) and Denver (need a touch more from Jamal Murray.)
Clippers (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George)
Bringing in the reigning Finals MVP along with Paul George isn’t the only reason for the Clippers’ title optimism. Doc Rivers has nearly a dozen quality rotation options at his disposal, with little of the positional voids potentially plaguing the Clippers’ Staples Center cohabitants. A similar starless squad clawed their way to the playoffs last season, grinding the Warriors to six games in the playoffs with a stream of Montrezl Harrell rim runs and Lou Williams isolations. Patrick Beverley is quite the luxury against the West’s high-octane guards. Landry Shamet projects to be the jewel of the Tobias Harris trade. Lawrence Frank and Co. engineered an impressive rebuild in Los Angeles even before the summer fireworks.
We could see the Clippers exit the dynamic duo club by February. Los Angeles is armed with cost controlled assets (albeit a lack of future picks), and another backcourt piece could swing the Western Conference. The Clippers have pushed most of their chips to the middle of the table following their summer spending spree. They could soon push their chips to the middle of the table. Los Angeles is still incredibly deep without another major deal, and the Leonard-George pairing should pillage the conference given good health. What was once a franchise stuck in the meaningless middle has now risen to the top tier of title contenders.
Rockets (James Harden, Russell Westbrook)
This year’s Rockets’ roster appears closer to the 65-win squad of 2017-18 than last season’s relative skeleton crew, with a slate of largely established veterans joining James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Houston could take the court on opening night with the league’s top starting five given good health, and its bench mob is distinctly engineered around the Beard. Mike D’Antoni should have plenty of rotation options in May and June.
Eric Gordon isn’t a star by any stretch, though it's hard to envision a better third guard to pair next to Westbrook. The Indiana product is a true floor spacer in the truest sense of the word, extending his range further feet outside the three-point line each season. He’s attempted the fourth-most threes of any player in the last three seasons despite logging 1,700 minutes less than Kemba Walker and James Harden. Only Steph Curry has launched as many threes in comparable minutes since 2016-17.
The Rockets struggled to find quality big minutes behind Clint Capela last season as they relied heavily on Tucker at the five. Kenneth Faried’s performance was uneven and Nene’s waning athleticism led to limited production. Can Tyson Chandler be a stabilizing answer? The 18-year veteran still posted positive on/off splits with Los Angeles last year, and he appeared spry as a weak-side defender. Capela missed 15 games last season, and a re-injured thumb could derail his season. The Rockets are flush with talent on the wing. They boast the best scorer alive and an overqualified running mate. Houston’s frontcourt remains the biggest impediment to a Finals run.
Blazers (Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum)
The Blazers will hold a share of stability as long as Damian Lillard leads the franchise, though its been under discussed just how much reconstruction this roster underwent in the offseason. The biggest question exists at the five, where Hassan Whiteside replaces the injured Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic was a pivotal cog last season, unselfish and efficient, which are two words seldom used to describe Whiteside. Lillard’s previous relationship with Whiteside has a chance to bring out the most of the physical marvel. Whiteside’s personal baggage may get in the way.
There are pockets of interested talents throughout Portland’s roster, with a pair of young wings providing perhaps the most intrigue. Second year guard Anfernee Simons will likely replace Seth Curry as Portland’s third guard spark plug, while North Carolina product Nassir Little may battle Mario Hezonja and Kent Bazemore for forward minutes. The ceiling of this Portland team remains below the West’s top tier. Its core should still hold steady for a playoff appearance.
Lakers (LeBron James, Anthony Davis)
Now we approach the less rosy side of our supporting casts. The Clippers appear stacked and the Rockets are at least sufficiently stocked. The Lakers, however, remain a work in progress. Dealing for Anthony Davis is a worthwhile move for sacrificed depth, though Los Angeles’ cast outside of LeBron and Davis appears to be a large tower of roster jenga. Will the collection of oddballs form a cohesive unit?
It’s a testament to the strangeness of Los Angeles’ roster than Dwight Howard is more of a secondary consideration outside of the Lakers’ top two. Avery Bradley may be the defensive stopper Los Angeles has touted; it’s more likely he’s a replacement-level wing. Rajon Rondo was a squeaky wheel last season and the Quinn Cook-Alex Caruso combo is questionable at best. Even the supposedly-steady Kyle Kuzma is out of Los Angeles’ rotation for the time being with a foot injury. The passable minutes may be hard to find. LeBron and the Lakers landed their second star this summer. It may take a pair of MVP-level campaigns to earn home court in the first round.
Warriors (Stephen Curry, Draymond Green)
You could argue D’Angelo Russell’s presence vaults Golden State out of the dynamic duo discussion, though I’m not totally swayed by one All-Star appearance in the junior varsity conference. Plus, it’s truly worth examining the bleak roster surrounding Steph Curry and Draymond Green. Alec Burks will be relied on to an alarming degree; ditto for Willie Cauley-Stein. Golden State hemorrhage points without Curry in the 2019 playoffs. The splits may be even more severe this season. Are there any breakout candidates on the roster? Perhaps Omari Spellman can provide some decent frontcourt spacing. Damion Lee was passable in limited minutes last season. Curry and Green’s brilliance should carry Golden State to the postseason, but the margin for error remains razor thin.