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Utah Jazz

Ranking the best international duos in the NBA

As the NBA game continues to expand around the world, international players have not only made their mark in the league, but have cemented themselves as superstars.

From Giannis Antetokounmpo winning back-to-back MVP awards to the rise of All-Stars Luka Doncic and Ben Simmons, international players have played a key role in the growth of the NBA around the world.

On opening night of the 2019-20 season, there were 108 international players from 38 countries and territories on NBA rosters, making it the sixth-straight year with at least 100 international players in the league.

With more and more international players growing into stardom and with the league moving away from the "Big 3" era into the dynamic duo era, we break down the best international duos in the league.

1. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic - Denver Nuggets

The 2020 postseason was Denver's coming out party as the Nuggets captivated the NBA world with their Cinderella run, coming back from a 3-1 deficit in two straight series, first against the Utah Jazz and then against the LA Clippers in the second round.

As a No. 3 seed, their run to the Western Conference Finals shouldn't have been that much of a surprise, but it's the way they did it that stood out.

Jokic's star status was already cemented as a two-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA selection, but Murray ensured that everyone knew his time had arrived, turning in electric performances night in, night out, highlighted by his two 50-point performances in the first round.

Through 19 playoff games, the duo combined for 50.9 points, 14.6 rebounds and 12.3 assists per game, utilising their impressive combination of playmaking and scoring as the foundation for the team's offence.

The scary part for the rest of the league? Murray (23) and Jokic (25) are both yet to hit their prime years and have already built valuable playoff experience together. The Canadian guard and the Serbian big man excel playing off each other and recency bias aside, these two are going to be a problem in the league for a long time to come.

2. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid - Philadelphia 76ers

The Australian point guard and the Cameroonian big man are arguably the two most talented players on the list but have yet to convert that promise into playoff success for the 76ers.

As new head coach Doc Rivers noted in his introductory press conference, the combination of Simmons and Embiid "clearly works when they play together," they have just been unable to stay on the court together for extended stretches due to injuries.

Over the three seasons Embiid and Simmons have played together, the 76ers are tied with the Nuggets for the league's fifth-best regular-season win percentage (.616), but ultimately they will be judged on their ability to get Philadelphia deep into the postseason.

Sure, the pair aren't the most ideal fit in a conventional sense given their overlapping skill sets and desire to play in the paint, but if the 76ers front office can put the right pieces around them, the duo has the potential to take over the league.

3. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis - Dallas Mavericks

By next season, the Luka and Porzingis combo could well be one of the best duos in the league.

After finishing fourth in MVP voting this season, Doncic is the early favourite to win the award in 2021 following his impressive playoff debut for the Mavs, where he averaged 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, pushing the LA Clippers to six games in the first round of the playoffs.

The success of the duo largely hinges on the health of Porzingis, who missed the last three games of the series with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. If Porzingis, who has already missed significant time in his young career with a string of injuries, can stay on the floor consistently, the Mavs could vault themselves into the top tier of the Western Conference next season.

Doncic's do-a-bit-of-everything skill set meshes perfectly with Porzingis' ability to space the floor, operate in the pick-and-roll and serve as the defensive anchor for the team.

Much like the 76ers, the pieces around the star duo will go a long way to determining how successful they can be, but if you're a Mavs fan, having Luka and KP on deck for the franchise's foreseeable long-term future is worth getting excited about.

4. Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert - Utah Jazz

Unlike the three duos above, Ingles and Gobert aren't the primary options on the Jazz, but the Aussie swingman and the French big man form one of the most effective duos in the league.

Ingles' playmaking and ability to generate open looks in the pick-and-roll, combined with Gobert's dominance as a screener, puts opposing defences under a ton of pressure every night.

Gobert was second in the league in screen assists this season and first in points created off screens, while Ingles and Gobert posted a net rating of +8.3 during the regular season.

Leave Gobert for a wide-open dunk? Fall for Ingles' ball fake? Let Ingles find an open shooter? It's pick your poison when these two get going.

5. Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby - Toronto Raptors

Following Kawhi Leonard's departure, Siakam emerged as Toronto's primary option on the offensive end, which saw him average 22.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game during the regular season, culminating in his first All-Star berth, as a starter nonetheless.

While he struggled to replicate that form in the bubble, the 26-year-old Cameroonian's star quality is undeniable.

Meanwhile, Anunoby (UK/Nigeria) had a bubble experience to remember, which included a game-winning 3-pointer in the second round against the Boston Celtics, while making a huge impact for his team on the defensive end.

Offensively, the duo still has plenty of room for improvement, but their overwhelming versatility and impact on the Raptors defence can't go unnoticed as they routinely defend point guards through to centres on a nightly basis, giving Nick Nurse limitless flexibility in his lineups.

Honourable mentions

- Evan Fournier (France) and Nikola Vucevic (Montenegro) - Orlando Magic

- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Canada) and Steven Adams (New Zealand) - Oklahoma City Thunder

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