It's duos week at NBA.com! In addition to our all-time NBA duos 2-on-2 tournament, we're taking a look into the future at some duos that will take over the league sooner rather than later.
The future of the NBA is in great hands. LeBron James said it himself.
There is already a running list of standout duos in the league today and that isn't going to change any time soon. In fact, prior to the start of the season way back in October we ranked the potential for every team's top duo, from 30 all of the way down to one.
While some of the best pairings in the NBA are just getting started, others are in "win now" mode and staring at a horizon that's inevitably creeping closer day-by-day.
Focusing on the here and now is fun, but what about tomorrow? What happens when we stop to ponder what the future may hold?
That leaves us with this list, ranking the future best duos in the NBA. Certainly not an easy task given the glut of young talent spread across the league.
The catch: each individual player from the pairings have to be 30 years old or younger entering the 2024-25 season, five years from now. So that immediately excludes a handful of promising youthful duos headlined by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton (33 years old by these parameters) and Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert (32 years old by these parameters).
Below, you'll find the list of 10 best duos in the future, as well as five honourable mentions that just missed the cut.
10. Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
Two of the key young cogs behind the Heat's rise to being a contender in the East again, the best is still yet to come for Adebayo and Herro.
At just 22 and 20 years old, respectively, the pair of Kentucky products have already made a name for themselves in South Beach. Adebayo has put together a strong campaign for this season's Most Improved Player of the Year averaging a double-double in points and rebounds with over five assists, over one block and one steal per game. He's proved to be one of the most versatile defenders in the NBA and the development in his offensive skillset has been jaw-dropping.
Herro has had his ups-and-downs like the majority of rookies in the NBA but there's no debating his ability to get a bucket. He's averaging roughly 13 points per game in under 30 minutes of playing time shooting an efficient 39.1% from beyond the arc. When Herro's playing starters minutes, he should have no problem posting over 20 points per game.
In five years as this duo enters their prime, they'll be wreaking havoc in the East. You can bet on that.
9. Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell, Minnesota Timberwolves
We've only seen these two best friends suit up alongside each other one time since Russell was traded to the Timberwolves at the deadline, but you can assure that they'll be an offensive juggernaut.
Russell's first game with Minnesota following the trade was also the last game that Towns played in this season thanks to a wrist injury that sidelined him for Minnesota's final 11 games leading into the stoppage in play.
Towns has already shown that he's one of the most skilled scoring big men the NBA has seen in just four-plus seasons. As a near-7-footer, he has a soft touch and good footwork out of the post, but he's also a 3-point marksmen who began to add a stepback jumper to his game this year. Something you simply do not see from someone that size.
Russell has proved he has what it takes to lead a team to the playoffs when he carried the Brooklyn Nets there last season. The first-time All-Star had lived up to his No. 2 overall selection back in the 2015 NBA Draft, showing he can be a top scoring playmaker in the NBA.
Offence will never be the question with this duo. When they pick things up defensively, that's when you'll see them climb a list like this one. Regardless, there's no denying the future is bright for this pair.
8. Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Ayton's 25-game suspension and a couple injuries prevented us from seeing more of this duo this season, but in the small sample size we have seen, the Suns should be in good shape for the future.
Booker has taken the next step on the offensive end in his first All-Star season of his career, going from a high-volume scorer to an efficient scorer. We always knew he could get a bucket, as evidence of his 70-point game his second year in the league, but his 48.7% shooting from the field is a significant improvement over his 43.7 career field goal percentage he had entering this season.
In the 30 games Ayton played in, he further proved that he'll be a walking double-double throughout his career as a quality scorer and rebounder. We were beginning to see the right improvements on the defensive end and he showcased some passing ability that we hadn't quite seen in his rookie season.
Within the next five years, we're bound to see these two players' talents elevate their team, translating into wins.
7. Trae Young and John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Speaking of talent translating into wins, that brings us to this promising Hawks duo.
In just his second season at 21 years old, Young is one of the best scoring playmakers in the NBA. Averaging nearly 30 points and 10 assists per game - ranking fourth and second in the league in points and assists per game, respectively - there's no debating that Young is among the most gifted offensive talents in the league already. Defensively he still leaves much to be desired, but if he can improve on that end of the floor while continuing to progress as an efficient shooter, Trae will be a certified top-10 player in the NBA.
As for his partner, Collins was just beginning to display how great he could be in the near future as the league suspended it's play. Averaging 24.9 points and 10.1 rebounds shooting an absurdly efficient 62.3% from the field and 49.2% from 3-point land from February through the beginning of March, Collins was starting to break through any ceiling he had been limited to.
Like the Suns, the Hawks have yet to churn out wins to show for the talent of this duo, but it is inevitable that success should come sooner rather than later with these two players as their cornerstones.
6. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Jokic's game should age like fine wine as arguably the greatest passing big man of all-time who doesn't rely on elite speed or athleticism to do... well... anything.
His size makes him a dominant force in the paint and around the basket, but it's his crafty playmaking skills and high basketball IQ that takes him to another level as one of the best players in the league. Jokic is clutch. He has the Nuggets in a position to contend for an NBA title for the second-consecutive season. There aren't many questions surrounding how good he'll be in the future.
As for Murray, we're still waiting to see the player that he'll truly become. Denver bought in on their young guard signing him to a max contract extension this past offseason and he's followed that by plateauing from his performance the year prior. Some of the best basketball we've seen from Murray came in the Nuggets 2019 postseason run, so perhaps he's saving his best for when it matters most, but the ceiling of this duo almost solely relies on the progression of their 23-year-old point guard.
Five years from now Jokic and Murray will be 30 and 28, respectively, with plenty of experience and postseason runs under their belt.
5. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Performing way ahead of schedule, Morant and Jackson surprisingly had their Grizzlies squad poised to make the playoffs before the NBA's season was suspended.
Likely the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year, Morant made as big of a splash as you would've expected after Memphis selected this electrifying point guard with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft. He's scoring more efficiently than projected and he's been a much better 3-point shooter than he was in college. His playmaking is on par with his scoring and he brings an intensity to both ends of the floor that radiates to his teammates, giving the Grizzlies a whole new version of Grit-and-Grind. At 20 years old, it's scary to think about how good Morant could be at 25.
As for Jackson, he's as versatile as they come as a forward/centre. He can step out an knock down the 3-ball, doing so at almost a 40% clip in his sophomore season. He can score inside and out and he's an elite shot blocker, utilizing every bit of his 7-foot-4 wingspan. At just 20 years old, we've barely seen what Jackson could be capable of on both ends of the floor in the future.
With this pairing, Memphis is set for years to come.
4. Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
I know what you're thinking. Williamson and Ingram at No. 4? That just goes to show how many great young duos there are in the league today.
You could make the case for these two players over any of the three ranked above them.
In Zion's case, we haven't even seen him play 20 games and you can already see the greatness in his future. If there's such thing as living up to the hype in just 19 games, Williamson has done it. At 19 years old he's bullying grown men, asserting himself into the paint for layup after layup, dunk after dunk. He's been a force on the glass, too, and although he needs to show some improvement on defence, there's no reason to believe he can't take a step forward on that end of the floor given his remarkable strength and athleticism. His defensive instincts may be lacking right now, but he sees the floor well and has a high basketball IQ that should in time translate on D.
As for his counterpart, Ingram was amidst a Most Improved Player of the Year-calibre season. When Williamson and other Pelicans key players were forced to miss time with injuries, Ingram did his best to keep the team afloat and in the process, we began to see the potential franchise cornerstone the Lakers saw when they selected Ingram with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. He can score from anywhere on the floor, he's a long and wiry defender and he showed major development as a passer.
Behind these two and Lonzo Ball, New Orleans should shoot toward the top of the Western Conference sooner than you may expect.
3. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
"We've got different games... like fire and ice," Brown told the media of he and Tatum earlier this season.
Assuming that marks Brown as the "fire" - an explosive guard whose never had much trouble getting to the rim, punishing defenders that get in his way. But what's been so impressive this year is his vast improvement in creating his own shot, becoming one of the best spot up shooters in the league while also taking his defence to another level. If you've been paying attention, you've seen that at 23 years old, Brown is already beginning to iron out most of his perceived weaknesses in his game, though it's been majorily overshadowed by his teammates's monster leap.
That leaves Tatum as the "ice" - a smooth, cold-blooded offensive maestro who began to enter the next tier of great NBA players just as the league came to a halt. He's learned the importance of shot selection and getting to the free throw line and the result is a player that is now being considered as arguably the second-best in the Eastern Conference, ahead of some extremely talented names. Prior to the stoppage in play, Tatum was scoring 30 nearly every time he touched the court and his defence was elevating at the same level as his offence; a terrifying development for the rest of the league.
Think about how good this tandem will be in five years when Brown is 27 years old and Tatum is just 26.
2. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Back at the start of March when our NBA.com staff ranked the top 10 players in the NBA in five years, the 76ers were the only team to have multiple players crack the list. Those two players are this duo right here.
Say what you want about their ability to co-exist, but the talent level of Embiid and Simmons can match up with any duo in the league RIGHT NOW.
When Embiid is locked in, he's among the most dominant players in the NBA that can give you a 20-point double-double with ease. He can score from all three levels of the court and if he can improve his shot selection as his career goes on, he'll only become more unstoppable on the offensive end. Defensively, he's a strong rim protector who can body up with any big in the league, yet he's quick enough on his feet that he doesn't get torched by guards on the perimeter.
Pair him with Simmons who has blossomed into a premier versatile defender in the NBA and this duo can stop just about anyone. Simmons is still working on his outside shot, but you can only assume that he'll eventually become comfortable enough to add that to his arsenal on offence. Once he can supplement his elite playmaking skills and ability to get out in transition and score in the paint with a respectable jumper, it's going to make things a lot tougher for opposing defences.
If these two can stick together and learn how to grow their games alongside one another, the 76ers should be in the title hunt for years to come.
1. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic might be the engine that drives this lofty ranking, but don't sleep on the progress that Porzingis had been making either.
The Mavericks traded for the injured Porzingis to pair alongside Doncic in hopes that their games would mesh as well on the court as you would have imagined. It turns out that is the case and we really started to see Porzingis hit his stride toward the back end of the season. After missing over a year of action from a torn ACL the Latvian forward took some time to shake of the rust, but once he got comfortable, he started to look like the player everyone was gushing over in New York. Averaging just about 23 points and 10 rebounds since the calendar flipped to 2020, a 24-year-old Porzingis appears to be right back on track.
As for Doncic, his performance this season speaks for itself.
There's very little doubt that Doncic will be a top-two player in the NBA within the next five years. He's already posting an MVP-calibre season just his second year in the NBA and he's poised well beyond his years, destined for greatness in the near future. He's almost averaging a triple-double at roughly 29 points with nine rebounds and assists per game and he leads the league in the well-rounded feat, even ahead of his idol LeBron. Once Doncic hones in on his slight 3-point shooting flaws, he'll be virtually unstoppable.
The future may be as bright in Dallas as it as anywhere else in the NBA.
In no particular order...
Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors - Siakam is already there, earning his first All-Star appearance as a starter this season. Can Anunoby progress his game to take this Raptors duo to the next level?
Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers - The future is bright for Sabonis, who just earned his first All-Star appearance this season. Can Turner polish his offence game to raise this duo's ceiling?
Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls - Once the Bulls figure out their front office situation we might be able to see what's in store for this tandem.
Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic - They might not be mentioned alongside other duos on this list very often but with the way Isaac was playing before his season-ending injury and the way Gordon was playing before the season's suspension, maybe we should be talking about them more.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and one of the Thunder's 12 first round picks - This is light-hearted and comes with an asterisk, but if Gilgeous-Alexander already had a co-pilot for the foreseeable future he very well could have ended up within the top 10 on this list. Hopefully OKC can find him one with the 12 first round picks they have in the next five years from the Russell Westbrook and Paul George trades.
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