Batman & Robin. Peanut Butter & Jelly. New Year’s Eve and champagne. All of these pairs are iconic duos. Staples of two characters or objects that are fine in their own regard but even more elite when paired with another. In the current landscape of the NBA, franchises are thinking in a similar fashion.
Through about two and a half months of the season, the team to beat is in Boston. The Celtics have cemented themselves on top of the league in the wins & losses column and in a few other relevant statistics. Offensively, the C’s are on a record-setting pace. Boston’s offensive rating clocks in at a staggering 118.9. Part of their success can be attributed to the improvement of role players like Sam Hauser, Grant Williams, and Derrick White. Malcolm Brogdon has also been a terrific pickup along with first-year head coach Joe Mazzulla. Additionally, Marcus Smart has taken a massive leap in terms of his playmaking ability. Nevertheless, the bulk of the early success the Celtics have had should be attributed to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum has been the MVP 36 games in and his counterpart (not even sidekick anymore), Jaylen Brown is picking up where he left off in the Finals. Brown and Tatum combine for a whopping 56.8 points per game. Another improvement Tatum has made to his game is limiting his turnovers. Tatum is turning the ball over just 9.9% of his possessions, down from 11.0% last year (stats from Cleaning The Glass). Jay and Jay seem very comfortable out there and it is clear the trust they have in themselves, each other, and the rest of Boston’s group.
Next, we have Los Angeles’s brightest stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Following a year plagued by injuries, AD is showing the basketball world why he’s arguably a top 5 player in the world when fully healthy. Yeah, I said it. Top 5. He’s averaging 28.1 points a night and his defensive presence might be better than all he does offensively. After a slow start to the year shooting the ball, his percentages have picked up. Hopefully, Davis can continue to get back to what he was in 2020 which ultimately led to the Lakers winning the NBA Finals. AD is currently ranked first in the league in 2nd chance points per game, and 3rd in points per game in the paint with 17.6. LeBron is having another LeBron-like year, with averages of 26.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg, and 6.5 apg. James is shooting below average from 3 but has a solid overall FG% of 47.5.
Sticking with California teams, the reigning champs have gotten off to a rocky start to begin their title defense. Golden State has had a dominant year at home with a 15-2 record at the Chase Center, but an abysmal 3-16 road record that only consists of wins at Houston (10-25), Toronto (15-20), and Minnesota (16-19). Despite a slow start to their season, the Warriors have had insane production from Finals MVP Stephen Curry. Curry shoots the ball at a scorching 44.4 percent from 3 and 66.8 true shooting overall. It’s easy to see his 30-points-per-game average and assume how much value he brings scoring the ball, but Steph’s off-ball movement and gravity have truthfully provided just as much benefit to the Warriors’ offensive success as his box score numbers say. Klay Thompson has also started to come in as of late after starting the year in a shooting slump. However, I believe it is Jordan Poole who should garner a lot of credit. Poole’s large contract extension over the off-season was met with some harsh criticism, but he has played well this year for the Warriors. Jordan has started 17 games this year and in those starts has averaged 26.1 points, 3.9 assists, and 2.3 rebounds per game.
The last duo I will write about today are two guys who I haven’t written about a whole lot before. However, with a solid 18-16 record and firmly in the mix for a playoff run in the west, it’s time for me to mention Dame Lillard and Anfernee Simons. Lillard and Simons have had to shoulder most of the load on offense for the Blazers, and they’ve each done so effectively. Lillard ranks tenth in scoring, averaging 27.8 points per game while Simons holds his own with 22.4. Simons has talked at length about how much of an influence Dame has had on his game, and you can clearly see it. At just 23 years of age, Simons will continue to get better and help the Blazers win games. Portland is currently sitting at the 8 seed in a jam-packed Western Conference.
Now, did I just write about the best teams in the NBA? No. Obviously, there are more than 2 great players on any successful franchise, but having an elite duo makes for an encouraging start. NBA organizations are always looking for those 2 superstars to build their teams around. For Boston, it was Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, for the Lakers it was Bron and AD, for Golden State it was originally Steph and Klay, for Portland it was originally Dame and CJ McCollum, and now it’s Dame and Simons. So far it has been an intriguing and exciting season and I can’t wait for the year to progress and the playoff race to heat up. While you enjoy hoops, keep your eyes on these duos and all the other talented cores in the NBA.