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The NBA's 10 Most Dangerous 1-2 Punches Under 25 Years Old

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2013

The NBA's 10 Most Dangerous 1-2 Punches Under 25 Years Old

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    Young assets in the NBA are the most prized because they offer upside and a steady foundation for franchises to build upon. 

    The influx of young talent into the league has been staggering recently. Nearly every team has at least one promising prospect who's 25 years old or younger.

    However, the happiest teams are those with two or more precocious youngsters. From Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, dynamic young duos have pushed their respective teams to the forefront of the title conversation. 

    One quick note before we get started: Although they're two of the league's premier young talents, both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard did not qualify for the list because their sidekicks are over the age of 25. 

Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler

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    It's frightening to think that Derrick Rose is just 24 years old. With an MVP already in his possession and one of the best supporting casts in the NBA, Rose and the Chicago Bulls are primed to challenge the Miami Heat for an Eastern Conference title this season. 

    What makes Rose's offensive potency even scarier is that he now has another weapon in Jimmy Butler, the 23-year-old whose defensive intensity helped push the Bulls to the conference semifinals last season. 

    With Rose set to be the focal point of the opposition's defensive game plan, Butler will be given plenty of opportunities to spot up for open threes on the perimeter. In 82 games (20 starts) last season, Butler hit 38.1 percent of his treys. Factor in Rose's return, and that number could approach 40 percent. 

     

Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers are on the rise in the Eastern Conference, and the development of wunderkinds Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson could help them capture the franchise's first playoff berth since 2009-10. 

    At 21 years old, Irving is already a superstar after averaging 22.5 points on 45.2 percent shooting (39.1 percent from three) last season. He has also proved that he possesses the clutch gene, a prerequisite for being a true star. 

    His partner in crime is Thompson, whose 2012-13 campaign was indicative of a player on the cusp of breaking out. Thompson, 22, averaged 11.7 points and 9.4 rebounds last season and is entering the 2013-14 campaign with a refurbished offensive game. 

    According to Michael Grange of Sportsnet Canada, Thompson has decided to switch shooting hands: 

    The burgeoning Canadian NBA star, a left-handed shooter for his entire basketball career, has decided to use his right hand to shoot jump shots and free throws.

    The unusual – perhaps historic – switch has been months in the planning but had its competitive debut this past weekend in a pair of Canadian wins over Jamaica in exhibition play in advance of the 2013 FIBA Americas tournament Aug. 30th – Sept. 11th in Caracas Venezuela.

    Such a decision is unprecedented, but if Thompson's switch to shooting right-handed jumpers pays off and he can become a true threat from mid-range, the Cavs will be looking at consistent playoff appearances in the years ahead. 

Detroit Pistons: Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe

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    Unlike many of the pairings on this list, the Detroit Pistons' young 1-2 punch is confined to the frontcourt. With 23-year-old Greg Monroe and 20-year-old Andre Drummond, the Pistons have a solid 4-5 duo to construct a roster around. 

    Monroe brings offensive stability from mid-range to the blocks, while Drummond's freakish athleticism is a matchup nightmare for opponents on both ends of the floor. Granted, his offensive game is far from polished, but his shot-blocking ability and speed combined with a 6'10'', 270-pound frame make him impossible for less explosive players to defend. 

    He only started 10 games last year, but his production in 20.7 minutes per contest should be enough to lock him into the starting center role permanently from here on out. With averages of 13.8 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes last season, via Basketball-Reference, Drummond's production is set to ramp up. 

Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

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    Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to hit 483 three-pointers last season. That's more than the Memphis Grizzlies, Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Bobcats and Phoenix Suns made as a team in 2012-13. 

    And what's scary is that last season's production seems sustainable given their acumen for hitting threes in a variety of situations. Whether they're pull-ups in transition or quick catch-and-shoot opportunities off screens, the Golden State Warriors' young offensive wizards are just now starting to enter the realm of stardom. 

    Curry, 25, and Thompson, 23, propelled the Warriors to the Western Conference semis last season, and with Andre Iguodala and another year of growth ahead, Golden State should be viewed as a legitimate contender for a conference title in Year 3 of the Mark Jackson era. 

Houston Rockets: Chandler Parsons and James Harden

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    All eyes will be on Dwight Howard this season, but it's the other two-thirds of the Houston Rockets' big three that should garner significant attention. 

    James Harden (23) and Chandler Parsons (24) established a beautiful rapport during The Beard's first season in H-Town, combining to average 41.4 points. In an up-tempo, high-octane offense that stresses the importance of the three-point shot, a high volume of looks from deep contributed to career-high scoring marks for both players. 

    And with Howard's arrival, the tandem only has brighter days head. As defenses craft strategies that focus on limiting Howard's touches in the post, Parsons and Harden will see fewer and fewer double-teams, allowing them to effectively create on the perimeter. 

     

Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love

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    Inside-outside combos don't get much more fun to watch than Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. That is, assuming they're healthy. 

    The duo combined to miss 89 games last season but will presumably return at 100 percent as the Minnesota Timberwolves seek to compete for one of the West's final two playoff spots.

    Love, 24, is unquestionably the best power forward in the NBA. He shoots 35.2 percent from three and collects a guaranteed 10 rebounds a night. 

    In fact, the fewest rebounds he has averaged for a single season over the past four years is 11. Effective both inside and out, he is the perfect complement to Rubio, the passing wizard. 

    Although the Spaniard's overall offensive game still needs work, he already possesses elite court vision at 22 years old and has posted more than two steals per game in his first two seasons.

    If Love and Rubio can both play 70-plus games this season, the Timberwolves could see their long postseason drought come to an end. 

New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday

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    Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday are a sneaky one-two punch to keep an eye on as the 2013-14 season tips off. Holiday, 23 is coming off a breakout campaign, which saw him post career highs of 17.7 points and eight assists en route to his first career All-Star selection. 

    Now paired up with the 20-year-old Davis, Holiday finally has a talented big man to play off. Sorry, Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand, but Davis is arguably the game's most talented young post, one who will have no problem living up to the expectations of No. 1 overall picks. 

    Davis played just 28.8 minutes a night during his rookie season, which leaves plenty of room for improvement. Currently projected as the starter at center, he is a lock to post double-double averages and threaten the league lead for blocks per game. 

    With two studs just beginning to establish themselves, look for the New Orleans Pelicans to post one of the largest win differentials from a year ago.  

Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook

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    It's unfair that both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are still under the age of 25. With all of the buzz that surrounds newly formed superteams like the Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets, the Oklahoma City Thunder are now underrated despite boasting the league's second-best player and a top-three point guard. 

    Durant is the league's most prolific scorer, and aside from LeBron James, he is the most efficient. The three-time scoring champion waltzed into the 50/40/90 club last season and averaged 28.1 points on 17.7 field-goal attempts a night. That number helped contribute to a career-best player efficiency rating of 28.3. 

    And for all the talk surrounding Westbrook's inabilities to play with an efficient mindset, he seemed to quiet that noise last season. He finished with a PER of 23.9, which ranked second among point guards, behind only Chris Paul

    Yes, he attempted more field goals per game than Durant last season, but the matchup problems he creates with his speed, change-of-pace and aggressive defense are invaluable components of the Thunder's championship formula. 

Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum

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    Like the New Orleans Pelicans, the Portland Trail Blazers have a stellar one-two punch that's flying under the radar. 

    Nicolas Batum doesn't feel like a young gun anymore because he's going on his sixth NBA season, but the Frenchman is still just 24 years old. Better known for posting a five-by-five last season against New Orleans, he can get it done on both ends of the floor.  

    He has the size (6'8'', 200 pounds), defensive intellect and three-point shooting (37.2 percent for his career) to be one of the league's top-five small forwards, and as Portland continues to move up the Western Conference ranks, he will receive more praise. 

    Part two of the Blazers' young duo is Damian Lillard (23), otherwise known as "Russell Westbrook-lite". He captured Rookie of the Year honors in 2012-13 after pouring in 19 points on 42.9 percent shooting, which was tops among all first-year players. 

    He still has plenty to improve upon defensively, but his debut campaign proved that he's capable of being the Blazers' go-to scorer for the long haul. 

Washington Wizards: John Wall and Bradley Beal

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    The Nation's capital hasn't produced quality basketball in years, but fortunately fans of the Washington Wizards have brighter days ahead. 

    John Wall recently signed a five-year, $80 million extension, and in doing so he became the clear-cut future of the franchise at the age of 22. Such a generous extension may have been unthinkable a couple of years ago, but his play last season (18.5 points and 7.6 assists per game) was worthy of a big raise. 

    For a franchise that ordinarily has a hard time selling itself to big-name free agents, retaining Wall gives the Wizards a piece to build around and one that will attract talent in the summers to come. 

    Wall's partner in crime is second-year man Bradley Beal (20), whose billing as a three-point marksman was not a false advertisement. In his rookie season, he hit on 38.6 percent of his threes, including 44.5 percent after the All-Star break. 

    He has the potential to blossom into one of the league's premier 2-guards, and with Wall by his side, that process should occur sooner rather than later.  

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