Gordon and Griffin have a bright future ahead of them
MJ and Scottie. Magic and Kareem. Stockton and Malone. Shaq and Kobe.
Some of the NBA's most memorable and successful players got to their current levels of recognition because they had help—often from a player just as talented as themselves.
Over the past two or three seasons, there has been an extremely exciting infusion of young talent into the league. Whereas the early years of the millennium will be remembered for draft busts like Kwame Brown, Darius Miles and Jay Williams, GM's have been hitting on all cylinders lately.
Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose have firmly established themselves as elite players, and Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin seem headed down the same road. Some teams have been extremely fortunate to luck into two—or sometimes more—young players who appear destined for stardom.
As such, I've compiled a list of the top five young tandems in the league, combos that make home fans dream about championships and opposing fans jealous.
The criteria for this list is simple: I picked players who'll likely blossom together and form competitive teams for the next five to ten years.
Both players must have legitimate All-Star potential. Nick Young and Andray Blatche are having solid seasons for the Washington Wizards, but I wouldn't feel comfortable pairing either of them with John Wall as potential faces of the franchise's future, as talented as Wall may be. Young and Blatche had opportunities in Washington for years before Wall came; they simply aren't All-Star talents.
Let's have at it!
The Slasher and The Shooter
If Monta Ellis were a bit younger, I'd be a lot more optimistic. As it stands, though, Warriors fans have plenty to be excited about.
Ellis, still only 25, has proven over his five-and-a-half year career to be one of the NBA's best penetrating guards, fast enough to consistently beat his defender off the dribble. That's an extremely valuable asset to have, and an easy one to overlook; Ellis opens up shots for teammates by forcing defenses to send help.
Ellis consistently rates in the top 10 at getting to the free-throw line, a good barometer of the amount of time he spends in the paint. And his field goal percentage is generally solid for a shooting guard; he eclipsed .500 in 2008, and his career percentage is .472.
While he isn't particularly well-known for his outside game (he's a career .325 shooter from beyond the stripe, pretty poor for an SG), the fact that Ellis shares Golden State's backcourt with Stephen Curry alleviates some of that pressure.
Curry, currently in just his second year, can stroke the ball.
His sophomore-campaign numbers have been outstanding so far: 18.8 points per game on .480 shooting, .413 from three-point range and a ridiculous .940 on free throws. Curry is already one of the best pure shooters in the league, and he's only going to improve.
At the very least, he has a career in instructional basketball DVD's once he's done with the NBA. I want my kids to shoot like Stephen Curry.
Together, the Warriors' backcourt duo is averaging 43.8 points per game. Considering their relative youth, the talent they possess and the numbers they put up, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more intriguing guard combination.
Let's hope Golden State finds a way to translate potential into winning.
I don't have to tell you Kevin Love is having a great season, but I will anyway: Kevin Love is having a great season.
It's going to be one of the most memorable statistical seasons in NBA history. Only 22, Love does work on the glass, and is currently averaging 15.6 RPG—but you already knew that.
What intrigues me about his numbers is that Love is more of a mid-range type of PF than a back-to-the-basket kind of player; his bread-and-butter comes from jumpers and put-backs. At least offensively, he doesn't operate in the paint as often as, say, Dwight Howard.
And yet Love continues to gobble up rebounds, which speaks to his ability to mentally predict where wayward balls will bounce. He's like a Jedi.
Beasley, also only 22, is also extremely talented, but it remains to be seen if he can: A) Stay healthy, and B) Stay sane.
Assuming he straightens things out and becomes the player he seems capable of, Beasley offers an extremely interesting Robin to Love's Batman. A wing player stuck in a power forward's body, he has a unique blend of post moves and a solid mid-range J that make him extremely difficult to guard.
If he continues to play at small forward, Beasley's height will offer him a huge advantage over opposing players. He's also surprisingly mobile and much more athletic than he's given credit for.
Beasley has the talent and ability to be a No. 1 offensive option, which is good because scoring is really all he's proven capable of over the first two-and-a-half seasons of his career.
Love is great, and if his career continues to project upwards, a spot in the Hall of Fame isn't out of the question. That being said, he doesn't have the offensive ability to be consistently counted on as a team's top option. He doesn't require a double team in the low post, and he rarely creates shots for other players. That's more of a reflection on his age and experience; he definitely has the ability to improve moving forward.
As it stands, if Minnesota wants to compete with their current core intact, the team dynamic will have to shift toward a Beasley-oriented offense, with Love as a do-it-all second banana.
The Timberwolves have talent on their roster. Like Golden State, it'll be interesting to see if potential turns into success.
Stop laughing. Seriously, stop. Hear me out for a second.
A Demarcus Cousins-Tyreke Evans combination could lead the Kings to multiple championships. The ceiling for these two is incredibly high. Of course they're both headcases; it'd be too easy otherwise.
Cousins has the size, strength, post moves... hell, he has everything you'd want your big man to have. The only thing holding him back is himself.
People have been talking about Cousins' erratic behavior since his days at Kentucky, and his bad habits have apparently followed him into the NBA and led to several confrontations with the Kings' coaching staff. He's been playing better since the turn of the calender, though, averaging 17.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in January and 17.8 and 11.3 in February.
And, oh yeah: dude's only 20 years old. Won't be able to legally buy beer until August.
I'm pretty optimistic, but I think he keeps his head on straight and develops into one of the best big men in the league.
Evans is equally sketchy, most notably being named in a lawsuit stemming from a drive-by shooting outside his hometown of Chester, PA in 2007 (although he was never charged for doing anything wrong; it was probably more of a wrong-place wrong-time type of thing). He was also suspended for one game earlier this season for a reckless driving arrest.
You never want to be associated with anything illegal, no matter the profession. Let's hope Evans stays out of trouble, because he can ball.
The 2009-2010 Rookie of the Year winner, Evans does a bit of everything. He joined the 20-5-5 club as a rookie.
His combination of size and speed make him an ideal wing player, even though he plays PG. He has the ability to penetrate defenses, which is how he generally gets his points. Still only 21, Evans' biggest problem is he usually looks for his own shot first, which is why his future at PG is a bit uncertain.
At 6'6'', he has the size to play the one, two, or three, giving him increased value. He needs to work on his shooting and on involving his teammates more, but he has the talent to be a top-10 player.
The combination of Cousins and Evans probably isn't going to inspire much faith in most people outside Sacramento, but I believe.
The two are incredibly young and talented, and both feature games that require immediate defensive attention. Teams are going to start double-teaming Cousins, and Evans' penetration game is tailor-made to get his teammates open looks.
If their duo learns to operate with a team-first mindset, the Kings could be one of the league's premier squads for the next ten years.
Blake Griffin can slam a revolving door.
Blake Griffin counted to infinity. Twice.
Blake Griffin's tears cure cancer. Too bad he's never cried.
Umm...yeah, you get it. Blake Griffin is sick.
My voice cracks when I talk about him; he's the single most exciting rookie I've ever watched, and I'm a Cavs fan. Never thought I'd say this, but rookie Griffin is more exciting to watch than rookie LeBron James (feels good to say that).
His game revolves around a combination of athleticism and post moves that are already among the best in the league. He's a monster in the low post, and he's even more terrifying during fast breaks. Give him some time to work on his mid-range game, and we'll probably be looking at a first-team All-NBA player.
Griffin's potential is practically limitless, but Eric Gordon is what elevates the Clipper's young tandem to number two on my list.
A wrist injury slowed down what was shaping up to be an All-Star-caliber season for the young shooting guard. Gordon averaged 24.1 points and 4.5 assists per game before he went down with the injury. For his career, the 22-year-old third-year guard has averaged 18.1 points per game on a respectable .457 from the field.
Gordon is a dynamic offensive presence. Known as a shooter at Indiana, he has a remarkable inside-outside game, capable of knocking down threes at a relatively consistent rate (although he hasn't broken the 40 percent mark yet; his career average is .375, not a bad number but not what his potential projects to be), but also athletic and fast enough to beat his defender off the dribble.
And he can dunk. Oh man, can he dunk. Peep this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6BQ3MmMrqE
Considering that Griffin won't be 22 until March, the Clippers would appear to have stumbled into what could become the league's best young duo.
What's better, the two have games that fit perfectly side-by-side: Gordon the shooter and Griffin the low-post banger. The guard/big man dynamic has dominated the NBA forever, and for good reason: It produces results.
Look for the Clippers to take off over the next few years, unless something particularly Clipper-y happens (career-ending injuries, etc.), which is never out of the realm of possibility.
I tried. I tried really hard not to state the obvious. I didn't want to put these two No. 1; I wanted to surprise you.
Russell Westbrook is no longer one of the league's best-kept secrets, as he was recently selected to his first All-Star Game. And Kevin Durant is probably going to end up winning a second-consecutive scoring title when the season concludes.
Whether or not Durant, Westbrook and the Thunder are "up-and-coming" or established is up for debate, but the KD-Westbrook duo can't be ignored in a list of the league's best young tandems. Still both 22, they have a ways to go before they reach their true potential, which should worry everybody else in the NBA.
Durant is dirty. Disgusting. Filthy. He needs a shower, because his game is stankin'. And I mean these things in the best possible way: Durant has the best offensive game in the NBA.
When he's firing on all cylinders, there isn't a player in the world capable of stopping him. It's unfair, really; a 6'10" player shouldn't be able to score in such a dominant manner. And yet he does (I was actually kind of surprised to find out that his career three point percentage is only .358, but when a player shoots as often as Durant, high percentages are harder to obtain).
He's fast enough to beat his defenders off the dribble, athletic enough to finish what he starts and a good rebounder (although, to be fair, he should be putting up 10+ boards a night).
It'd all be a moot point, though, if Westbrook wasn't on the team. And this is coming from a guy who thought Russ was overrated at UCLA; I openly questioned his selection as the No. 4 overall pick in '08.
I get it now, though. I really do.
Westbrook has improved his game noticeably every season, to the point where you can't have a discussion about the best PG's in the game without mentioning his name. Currently averaging 22.5 points, 8.6 assists, 5.1 rebounds (as a freakin' point guard) and 1.8 steals per game, Russ cemented his legitimacy when, earlier in the season, he had to carry the Durant-less Thunder for a few games.
Westbrook led the Thunder to a 3-1 record in the games KD didn't suit up for. One of those wins came against Boston. Very legitimate.
What's great about the tandem is that, while Durant is relatively one-dimensional (he's great at scoring, but simply good—mediocre, even—in most other aspects of the game), Westbrook's game has everything you'd ask for out of a point guard, and then some.
He might be the fastest player in the league, meaning he can disrupt half-court sets and wreak havoc in transition. His athleticism speaks for itself. At 6'3", he's relatively tall for a point guard, and he finds his teammates often. His assist/turnover ratio is over 2, which is what you'd want from somebody handling the ball as much as Westbrook does.
I honestly think I'd rather have Russell Westbrook on my team than Kevin Durant. At the very least, it's a discussion worth having, which speaks volumes about how truly great the Thunder's young duo is.
So, yeah. I'm putting KD-Westbrook as No. 1.
It isn't even debatable, really. The Thunder have the best young duo in the league, and should begin reaping the benefits soon.
I just feel bad for Seattle.
Honerable mention time:
Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls: Rose is currently a top-five player, and only 22 years old. He deserves MVP this year. Noah is a great defensive player, but in my opinion is a rich man's Anderson Varajao; great energy, great hustle, but nothing intimidating on the offensive end. Put it this way: if Rose is the best player on your team, you can go pretty far, potentially winning a championship. If Noah's the best player on your team, you're gonna be looking at the draft lottery.Rose is a Top 5 player; Noah is probably the fifth offensive option on his own team. Sorry, champ.
Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies: Oh, how much it pains me to see the Grizzlies' young tandem fall from grace. Mayo has regressed every year since his stellar rookie campaign: his scoring averages have dipped from 18.5 to 17.5 to an extremely disappointing 12.2. Not saying that we should give up on him, but what once looked like an All-Star career has definitely dipped a bit. And Rudy Gay has the talent to be one of the league's best, but he appears satisfied with simply being very good. He's putting up 20 PPG and 6.2 RPG; great numbers to be sure, but I just can't shake the feeling that he could be doing better. Mayo and Gay are only 23 and 24 respectively, so they can still turn it around.
Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers: A 20-year-old sophomore that continues to improve his game at the one, Holiday should have Sixers fans excited. He has good size, rebounds the ball well, and is averaging 6.3 APG (with a nice 2/1 TO/Assist ratio) while sharing time with Lou Williams. His shooting percentage isn't great, but it will improve over time. Turner is kind of hard to justify... the Sixers are loaded with young talent under the age of 24 (Williams, Thaddeus Young, Marreese Speights, Jodie Meeks), so it kind of came down to personal preference. Turner hasn't had nearly as good a season as any of the aformentioned players, but I strongly believe that the former Buckeye and National Player of the Year can elevate his game as his career progresses. He definitely has All-Star potential, despite a so-so rookie career. Time will tell, but one thing is already clear: the Sixers have one of the most interesting rosters in the league. Time to trade Andre Iguodala, guys! Do it now, while you still can!
J.J. Hickson and Christian Eyenga, Cleveland Cavaliers: Just kidding... kind of.