The NBA’s New Superstar Power Couples, Ranked

The "Big Two" model is very much en vogue in the NBA this summer

James Harden talks with Russell Westbrook at practice for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
James Harden talks with Russell Westbrook at practice for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
By Evan Bleier / July 16, 2019 6:00 am

Prior to the start of last season, the Golden State Warriors were the heavy favorites to take home their third NBA championship in a row and fourth in five years.

For good reason.

With a projected starting five featuring a quintet of legit All-Stars — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green — the Warriors looked to have one of the best lineups ever to suit up in The Association … when healthy.

As it turned out, injuries to Cousins, Durant and Thompson turned the Warriors into paper tigers by the time the playoffs came to an end, as they fell to the Toronto Raptors in six games in the NBA Finals in June.

Now, a little more than a month later, Golden State’s reign of terror over the league as a super team appears over and, thanks to a series of seismic free-moves in the free-agency and trade markets, a number of teams boasting superstar duos now have the potential to fill the void the fall of the Warriors’ empire created.

Instead of the conventional “Big Three” NBA model which has been followed by everyone from the ’80s Celtics to the Miami Heat of the early 2010s, this has been the summer that franchises have embraced the “Big Two” approach by creating rosters boasting two top-dollar stars backed by complementary players.

Below, we’ve ranked the NBA’s new superstar power couples based on criteria including All-Star appearances, PER (player efficiency rating measures a player’s per-minute performance with the league-average set at 15) and championship odds via Vegas.

1. LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

Combined All-Star selections: 21
Combined career PER average: 27.5
Combined MVP awards: 4
Odds to win NBA Championship: +600

What makes this duo dynamic: No matter what metric you use, the Lakers have two of the most complete players in the NBA on their roster in James and Davis. Capable of scoring from the paint, shooting 3-pointers and making their free throws, James and Davis also are assets on D and should be anchors in what could be a fairly stout Los Angeles defense. If they can develop chemistry, the sky is the limit for these two in LA.

2. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

Combined All-Star selections: 9
Combined career PER: 20.9
Combined MVP awards: 0
Odds to win NBA Championship: +450

What makes this duo dynamic: Instead of defending each other, George and Leonard should instead be able to put the clamps on almost every other frontcourt they face next season. Due to the lack of forwards who are capable of scoring as well as defending at a high level, that should give the Clippers a huge advantage most nights. Though neither is a great facilitator, Leonard and George are both capable of creating their own shot and scoring from inside or outside the paint.

3. James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Rockets

Combined All-Star selections: 15
Combined career PER: 24.05
Combined MVP awards: 2
Odds to win NBA Championship: +1,000

What makes this duo dynamic: It’s not outside the realm of possibility that both Harden and Westbrook will average more than 30 points and 10 assists each next season. Of course, for that to happen, they’re going to have to pass to each other, and it remains to be seen whether they will. Reuniting the former Thunder teammates on the Rockets has tons of boom potential — and, due to the regular inefficiency of both players, plenty of bust potential as well.

4. Steph Curry and D’Angelo Russell, Warriors

Combined All-Star selections: 7
Combined career PER: 19.9
Combined MVP awards: 2
Odds to win NBA Championship: +1,200

What makes this duo dynamic: At this point, we don’t know if it is going to be Russell or Curry who assumes traditional point guard duties next year for the Warriors. If it’s Russell, Curry could become an even deadlier shooter and scorer and help offset the loss of losing the offensive output of Durant and Thompson. If Curry continues to play the point, Russell is going to have to score more efficiently than he has in his previous seasons if the Warriors are going to compete in a tough Western Conference.

5. Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward, Celtics

Combined All-Star selections: 4
Combined career PER: 18.4
Combined MVP awards: 0
Odds to win NBA Championship: +3,000

What makes this duo dynamic: If Hayward doesn’t play like his old — i.e., pre-Celtics — self, nothing. But if Hayward can return to form, Walker could be just the kind of player he needs to help push a well-balanced Boston attack. Though neither player is a great defender, both are solid and can contribute across the board on offense. If the Celtics want to be in the mix with Eastern Conference foes like the Bucks and Sixers, Hayward and Walker will need to play to their full potential as well as lead by example, something the supposed leaders on last year’s team were unable to do.

6. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, Nets

Combined All-Star selections: 16
Combined career PER: 23.65
Combined MVP awards: 1
Odds to win NBA Championship: +4,500

What makes this duo dynamic: Were Durant healthy, this pair might have a legit claim at the top spot on this list. The most-balanced power duo in the league, Irving offers elite ballhandling and scoring at the rim while Durant provides perimeter defense, long-distance shooting and the ability to score one-on-one against any player in the league. Both players can dish the ball as well. Either way, we’ll have to wait till the 2020-21 season to see how things shake out in Brooklyn.