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SUPERSTAR POINT GUARD Damian Lillard is on his way to the Milwaukee Bucks after a three-team trade that just blew up the NBA. There he’ll join fellow superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, to form the league’s latest dynamic duo/power couple.

The trade comes as a shock. Miami was Dame’s preferred destination and the Heat had been trying to get a deal done all off-season, they just didn’t have the pieces. In the end it took a three-team trade to seal a deal that will see the Trailblazers’ veteran pack his bags (and his thrilling three-point shooting) for Milwaukee, who gave up defensive ace, Jrue Holiday, in return, while the Phoenix Suns traded 2018 No.1 pick, Deandre Ayton, to Portland, in exchange for big man, Jusuf Nurkic.

The deal makes the Bucks the favourite in the Eastern Conference; to be honest they probably were even before this deal—without Giannis’ injury in last year’s first round series against the Heat, they were a good bet to make the Finals. Giannis is the league’s best two-way player; the Bucks are a maximum security prison on defence and now they add a player who last year averaged 32.2 points (a career high) and 7.3 assists while shooting 37.1 per cent from 3.

While Dame had his sights set on joining Jimmy Butler and close friend, Bam Adebayo, in Miami, he and Giannis do have a little history. Giannis picked Dame first over his then-teammate, Holiday, in this year’s All Star game in Salt Lake City back in February, a moment that probably meant nothing but has gone viral on NBA X since news of the trade dropped.

More than anything else, the trade shows how much the NBA is ruled by superstar pairings these days, rather than the superteams of the past, though you could argue that if Bucks’ small forward Kris Middleton regains his pre-knee-injury form that they are, in fact, a superteam; with last year’s defensive player of the year runner-up, Brook Lopez, as the team’s fourth best player, they probably should be donning capes. Here’s a look at the NBA’s best duos.

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Who are the NBA’s best duos?

The top 5 duos as of now are:

5 LeBron James and Anthony Davis – LA Lakers

This duo got it done back in the bubble in 2020 and made a decent fist of things against the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals last year. The problem is keeping them both on the court at the same time due to James’ age and the fact that AD is made of glass.

4 Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown – Boston Celtics

The Js are just entering their prime with Tatum just 25 and Brown turning 27 in October. They’ve already made the finals once and you would expect them to return to the biggest stage in the next couple of years. As two big, two-way wings, they’re probably the most balanced duo, though it’s difficult to say if two wings beats a centre and point-guard pairing. It certainly does on defence but the Js have had problems moving and protecting the ball on offence.

3. Kevin Durant and Devin Booker – Phoenix Suns

The best pure shooting duo outside the Splash Brothers, Durant may be turning 35 tomorrow but is still practically unguardable and Booker is probably the heir to Curry’s throne as the league’s premier shooting combo guard.

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard – Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis is the best two-way player in the league and Lillard the second best three-point shooter (after Curry). That’s a hell of a one-two punch.

1 Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray – Denver Nuggets

These guys just won the NBA title so they’re proven. Given Jokic is the best player in the world and a two-time MVP, this duo is perhaps more lopsided than others (insert your own joke about an uneven celeb couple; I don’t want to be mean) however, given Murray averaged 26.1 points, 7.1 assists and 5.7 rebounds in the 2023 play-offs, he’s at least a Robin to Jokic’s Batman, certainly no Joker.

There are plenty more duos outside the top five, too: Kawhi and Paul George on the Clippers, Luka and Kyrie in Dallas, Jimmy and Bam in Miami, Ja Morant and JJJ in Memphis and the OGs: Steph and Klay (plus Draymond!) on the Warriors, to name a few.

Why are there so many superstar duos in the NBA these days?

The reason duos have replaced ‘Big Threes’ or ‘Superteams’ as the most common and desirable team structure is two-fold. One, finance. Paying three, or four big salaries, in the case of the Warriors dynasty team of Steph, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, is an accountant’s nightmare. Even two max contracts, as the Celtics are going to have to cough up when Jayson Tatum becomes eligible next season, is going to be tough. Still two is easier than three.

Secondly, superteams or Big Threes have only enjoyed periodic success. The big three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce in Boston (with Rajon Rondo a kick-ass fourth guy); the Miami Heat’s big three of LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and the aforementioned Warriors, all won titles. But the last superteam assembled in Brooklyn comprising Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, were only able to play 16 games together before imploding.

The problem in a big-three dynamic is that someone usually has to sacrifice points or touches and team chemistry is volatile. Perhaps more problematic is that often these teams have very thin benches; a couple of injuries to one of the big three and your season is as good as done.

Duos are more cost effective, allowing a front office to prioritise depth. The LA Clippers had the deepest bench in the league the last two seasons, though as injuries to both Kawhi and Paul George showed, if both of your two stars are always in street clothes, you forever remain a team that looks sick on paper.

Are duos good for the league?

Yes. Since the decline of the Warriors there has never been more parity in the league. When superteams actually work, such as during the Warriors’ or Heat’s heydays, it can make for a lopsided league where you can basically pencil in the winner at the start of the season. With dynamic duos up and down the league, it’s a far more level playing field.

Who is the favourite to win the NBA title this upcoming season?

Right now, a Nuggets v Bucks contest is the most likely, and probably most mouthwatering, finals match-up. The Nuggets’ duo of Jokic and Murray is championship proven and in Michael Porter Jnr. and Aaron Gordon, Denver has the potential to become a superteam dynasty in its own right. Despite the Dame trade, they remain favourites to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy.


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