This offseason’s storyline was about the superstars who teamed up with each other to make a run for a title. There was Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with the Clippers, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving teaming up in Brooklyn, while James Harden and Russell Westbrook reuniting in H-Town. After many twists and turns; however, the smoke has settled to only four duos left in the field.
The importance of having two superstars to go deep into the Playoffs is emphasized even more during this postseason run. Having two complementary stars is key to unlocking the championship puzzle, which these four teams are still currently figuring out so far. These pairs have helped their respective teams be a stones throw away from the 2020 NBA Finals.
Here are the rankings of each pair left in the Playoffs and what can be expected from them moving forward.
4. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown
The two lottery-picks of the Boston Celtics have lived up to their potential early into their careers, repaying the decision of the team to develop them instead of trade them. The franchise originally hoped to build around Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, but the Tatum-Brown pairing is a way better plan than the original duo that was supposed to run Beantown.
Tatum was already nominated into the All-NBA Second Team in only his third season and he is performing great again in the Playoffs being the main scoring option of the Celtics. Brown has been an important piece of the Playoff puzzle for Brad Stevens as his offseason work is showing. He’s now a much more capable ball handler and has an outside shot that’s finally dropping with consistency
The pair is combining for 50.7% of the Celtics’ usage rate on the floor and it shows given that these young wings have continued to be reliable contributors on offense and defense. The two could certainly end up topping in this list in two years as they still have more room to grow individually and as a duo. Both Tatum and Brown have stepped up for their team when they were needed, especially in Game 7 of the Toronto series. They still have their off-nights though as Tatum had cold stretches in Game 3 against Toronto and Game 4 against the Heat. Brown, on the other hand, has cracked the 20+ point mark only eight times in 14 playoff games thus far.
The Boston Celtics are in the Eastern Conference Finals because of the incredible coaching of Brad Stevens, the collection of star talent in the roster, and how this group has stayed focus throughout the bubble. But the true test for Tatum and Brown’s superstardom is now, during the East Finals. Facing a 3-1 hole, can the two young stars carry their team out of the depths and back into the Finals?
4. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo
The Miami Heat has been the dark horse team of these Playoffs so far, led by gym rat Jimmy Butler and the versatile Bam Adebayo. Both have embraced the spotlight well to bring this fifth-seeded East team to a win away from the NBA Finals.
Butler is having the deepest Playoff run in his career, putting up averages of 20.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 2.1 steals. He completely dominated the series against the top-seed seeded Milwaukee Bucks, pushing Miami way beyond the preseason projections for the team. Bam Adebayo, on the other hand, is the runner-up for the Most Improved Player award and is showing why coach Erik Spoelstra trusts the young big. He has played big all season but his biggest moment so far was the game-saving block on Jayson Tatum at the end of Game 1 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Butler and Adebayo are perfect fits in a Heat roster full of gritty players. They work perfectly in a system that fits their style of play. They both encapsulate the traits of a Pat Riley led team—hungry, scrappy, and energetic. Unlike the rest of the field though, this is the first year they have been showcased in the Playoffs. It will be interesting how these two will finish this season off where they have massively overachieved in the bubble.
2. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray
With this run of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, the two have risen to superstardom and have earned the respect of the entire league. Coming back from a 3-1 deficit twice and having multiple postseason 50+ point games is no joke. They eliminated a Jazz team with their own All-Star duo in former DPOY in Rudy Gobert and a young gunner in Donovan Mitchell. They pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NBA history versus the championship-seeking Los Angeles Clippers with Leonard and George. Currently they are giving the first-seeded LA Lakers a run for their money in the Conference Finals continuing the fun in what is becoming their coming out party in the Playoffs.
Murray has found his touch in Disneyworld—averaging 26.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game while playing 38.8 minutes a game. Jokic has become a matchup nightmare for teams as his playmaking and shot-creating skills are on full display in the Playoffs as he accounts for 61.2% of his team’s usage thus far. The duo has played a Playoff game every other day since the start of the month and they are still putting up these numbers deep into the postseason, making these stats even more incredible.
What makes this pair so special is how their play has elevated the play of their other teammates as well. With Jokic and Murray leading the way, the rest of the Nuggest have fallen into their respective roles of supporting their two leaders. They can play off ball knowing Murray or Jokic will find them at the right spot.
1. LeBron James and Anthony Davis
This pair has been lights out all season long. After facing doubt about how far their pairing can go, LeBron James and Anthony have silenced all critics thus far. They are only the first duo in the league in the All-NBA First Team since Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal made it in 2004. Many have thought that Davis would have to mold his game around James, but it seems that both take turns to be the main option in different stretches of the season. They are so dominant that it’s impossible to tell who Batman and Robin is in this scenario.
The Lakers are currently 11-3 in the postseason with their fair share of highlights including that Anthony Davis game-winner in Game 2. They coasted to the West Finals and have dominated their Playoff opponents with sheer talent. James has turned into a reincarnated Magic Johnson—finishing second in the MVP race averaging 25.3 points, 10.2 assists, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.2 steals a game. Davis’ talents are finally put to good use in a championship-contending team as he finished second in the DPOY ballots, averaging 26.1 points and 9.3 rebounds with 1.5 steals and 2.3 blocks a game.
These two generational talents have proven to be a cheat code together and it seems that their team is peaking at the right moment for a push for the Lakers’ 17th championship. Until father time catches up to James or Davis misses a huge chunk of time, this duo will continue to sit at the top for the foreseeable future.