The NBA’s six most intriguing superstar duos this season

How wild was this NBA offseason? The LA Clippers are suddenly the title favorites. Now that’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d be writing six months ago when the Golden State Warriors owned the league and the Clips were just overachieving underdogs.

Then July happened, superstars changed teams and suddenly the NBA landscape was completely different. Instead of one superteam in the Bay Area, the league now is full of exciting duos fighting for pro basketball supremacy.

Let’s examine six of the most intriguing duos — some old, some new — breaking down how they fit and what their biggest questions are entering the season.

LA Clippers: The illuminati wings

Kawhi Leonard | F | NBArank: No. 2
Paul George | F | NBArank: No. 10

We’ll start with the favorites.

Leonard and George are both back home in Southern California, and they immediately make the Clippers the team to beat. In an era when superstar wings seem to be the most important assets in the league, the Clippers will have two of the best when George returns from offseason shoulder surgery.

Why it works: George and Leonard are both phenomenal two-way players squarely in their primes who can score, defend and dominate games in different ways. On offense, these guys can get buckets effectively on all three levels: in the paint, in the midrange and beyond the arc. Leonard is a better 2-point scorer and George is better from downtown, but both are formidable everywhere. Last year, these dudes combined to score a cool 54.6 points per game at an efficient clip.

But the scariest thing about this duo is on the other end of the floor, where these stoppers will join up with Patrick Beverley to immediately form the most ferocious perimeter defense in the NBA.

Virtually every legitimate NBA contender features a dominant scorer (James Harden, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo), and Doc Rivers will have multiple defensive rock stars ready to stifle all of them. We saw this effect last season as Leonard derailed Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference finals. The fact that Paul George will be the second-best wing defender on the team says all you need to know.

Biggest question: Interior play

The Clippers’ frontcourt is dicey, and there’s major Peter Principle potential with the bigs. JaMychal Green, Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell each have played well in limited roles coming into this season, but one or two of them must thrive under more pressure now. Can they do it?

Despite the decreasing relevance of bigs in the NBA, rebounding and rim protection remain among the most important jobs in the game. Can we really trust Zubac & Co. to get those jobs done in huge games against guys such as Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green and Anthony Davis in May and June?

At the peak of their powers, Leonard and George can help here by shutting off driving lanes and protecting their bigs.

Key stat: Defensive efficiency

The last time Rivers won an NBA title, it was because of an incredible defense. The 2007-08 Boston Celtics ranked first in the NBA in defensive rating. Last season, the Clippers ranked 19th in this key metric. That’s not good enough.

If Leonard and George remain healthy and the bigs can at least be passable, this Clippers team has the potential to be incredible defensively. But potential doesn’t get stops, and it certainly doesn’t win in June. To win it all, the Clips need to be a top-five defense.

LeBron James | F | NBArank: No. 3
Anthony Davis | F/C | NBArank: No. 5

Say what you want about the Lakers’ front office, but there’s no denying that amid a backdrop of chaos and disorder, it still managed to turn a lottery team into a contender. After all, over the past 16 months, this front office has made two clutch acquisitions: James and Davis. Not too shabby.

Why it works: Folks, is there a more terrifying pick-and-roll combination on planet Earth?

With James at the controls and Davis popping/rim running, this team is bound to turn the most ho-hum action in basketball into a highlight machine. We’re about to watch two top-10 players make themselves even better.

The James-Davis pick-and-roll is offensive efficiency in a can. It frequently will lead to lobs, perfect pocket passes, open jumpers and frustrated defenders. More than any other duo in the league, this one meshes the most on the floor. The Lakers’ two-man game should immediately become the centerpiece of a top-10 offense.

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