Ranking the Most Dynamic 1-2 Punches of Every NBA Team

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2012

Ranking the Most Dynamic 1-2 Punches of Every NBA Team

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    More than any other professional sports league, the NBA depends most heavily on its star power.

    There's any number of reasons why that's the case. Having only five players at a time maximizes the contribution each player can make. Forcing players to play both offense and defense also gives the NBA an inherent advantage in individual importance over the NFL.

    Or it could just be because the NBA is the only one of the "Big Four" professional leagues where players don't wear helmets that end up shielding their faces from the view of fans.

    In any case, in such a star-driven league, teams typically can only go as far as their top one or two players take them.

    Going from worst to best, here's how each NBA team's top one-two option measures up.

30. Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu, Orlando Magic

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    Once the Orlando Magic traded Dwight Howard for young players and draft picks this summer, their spot at the bottom of this list was virtually guaranteed.

    In the wake of the Howard trade, the 30-year-old Jameer Nelson and 33-year-old Hedo Turkoglu appear to be the top two offensive options remaining in Orlando. Last season, the two combined for an average of roughly 23 points per game.

    Back in 2009, during Orlando's surprise run to the NBA Finals, Turkoglu and Nelson served as excellent No. 2 and 3 options behind Howard.

    Three years later, with Howard now in Los Angeles, neither player will likely respond well to more responsibilities. Unfortunately, Orlando won't have much of a choice.

    Give the Magic a few years and the franchise has a chance to get back on its feet. Until then, a Nelson-Turkoglu combination won't be selling many season tickets, to say the least.

29. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Kemba Walker, the No. 9 pick in the 2011 NBA draft, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick this year, are sure to experience some growing pains this season. Hopefully, for the sake of Charlotte fans, the team won't finish with a historically low winning percentage for the second straight year.

    MKG finished as Kentucky's fourth leading scorer last season, averaging 11.9 points per game, but anyone who watched the Wildcats immediately recognized his aggressive, ruthless way of getting to the basket.

    Assuming Kidd-Gilchrist can keep that style of play up in the NBA, it should open opportunities for his teammates—especially Walker.

    Take Walker's per-game averages of 12.1 points, 4.4 assists and 3.5 rebounds from last season and extrapolate them over 36 minutes per game, and you get 16.1 points, 5.8 assists and 4.7 rebounds. On a bad team, Walker has proven to be a serviceable main option.

    He'll need to improve his field goal percentages from last season (36.6 from the field, 30.5 percent from three), but with Kidd-Gilchrist drawing defensive attention away, Walker should be in for a major improvement in his second season.

28. Michael Beasley and Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns

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    On his third team in four years, maybe something will finally click for Michael Beasley, now that he'll be expected to carry a major load for the Phoenix Suns.

    Beasley averaged nearly 20 points per game for the Minnesota Timberwolves two years ago, but his role shrank last season as he averaged just over 23 minutes per game.

    His career average of 19.5 points per 36 minutes suggests he's primed for a breakout offensive season in Phoenix if all goes right.

    Goran Dragic, who's started 36 total games in his career, will likely determine how far Beasley's career resurgence goes.

    Phoenix signed Dragic this summer; the Suns traded him to Houston during the 2010-11 season to mark the end of his first stint in the desert. He averaged a career-high 11.7 points and 5.3 assists in 26.5 minutes per game with the Rockets last year.

    If Beasley and Dragic develop some offensive chemistry in the early going, they'd deservedly shoot up this list. The talent is there, but there's too many question marks heading into the season to put them any higher for now.

27. Jeremy Lin and Kevin Martin, Houston Rockets

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    Speaking of question marks, how does a three-year, $25.1 million contract for Jeremy Lin sound to you?

    In one of the more polarizing moves of the summer, the Houston Rockets offered Lin more than $8 million a year for, essentially, a 25-game run that captivated the NBA world last season.

    The jury remains out on whether Lin can successfully run a team for a full 82-game season, but he'll have some help in Houston from his backcourt partner Kevin Martin.

    Martin may not be with Houston for much longer, but he's always been a player who knocks down threes and draws fouls at a high rate, which should take some pressure off Lin.

    However, like Beasley and Dragic, Lin and Martin will need to learn how to mesh with each other before earning a higher spot on this list.

26. Kyle Lowry and Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors

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    When Kyle Lowry made his displeasure with the Houston Rockets public this summer, the Toronto Raptors swooped in and stole one of the NBA's best contracts for a future first-round pick.

    Over the past two seasons, Lowry averaged around 14 points, seven assists, four rebounds and over a steal per game as the Rockets' starting point guard. In a league where Goran Dragic just earned $8 million a year, Lowry is only signed for $12 million over the next two seasons.

    Meanwhile, the 7-foot Andrea Bargnani hasn't quite lived up to the billing of having been selected No. 1 overall in 2006. He's averaged only 4.9 rebounds per game over the course of his career, although to his credit, he's averaged around 20 points per game over the past two seasons.

    With the addition of rookie big man Jonas Valanciunas this season, Bargnani should have more freedom to roam around the perimeter, which should open a multitude of high pick-and-roll opportunities for he and Lowry.

    Pairing Lowry with Bargnani gives the Raptors two players in their mid-20s to build around over the next few seasons, even if they're not the flashiest names in the NBA.

25. Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons

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    Brandon Knight, last season's No. 8 overall pick, didn't exactly set the world on fire in his first season with the Detroit Pistons.

    He started 60 games and got over 32 minutes of burn per night, but his per-game averages of 12.8 points, 3.8 assists, and 3.2 rebounds paled in comparison to fellow rookie point guard Kyrie Irving, the unquestioned Rookie of the Year in 2011-12.

    With a full season under his belt, the Pistons will need Knight to improve his efficiency and shoot above the 41.5 percent he did last season.

    Having rookie Andre Drummond now paired alongside Greg Monroe in the front court should make Knight's task much easier.

    Monroe finished fifth last season in voting for the NBA's Most Improved Player award, and the third-year center only stands to build upon that success this year. He's poised to become one of the few players capable of averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game over the next couple of seasons.

    They rank low on this list because of their relative youth, but the Monroe-Knight duo could develop into one of the league's most promising young cores over the next few seasons, assuming Drummond pans out.

24. John Wall and Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    Last year turned into somewhat of a lost season for John Wall, the Washington Wizards' presumed star point guard.

    Wall completely stagnated in terms of statistical output for the bottom-of-the-barrel Wizards last season. His 16.3 points and eight assists per game ranked solidly among point guards, but his shooting percentages?—not so much.

    Shooting 42.3 percent from the floor and 7.1 percent from three (that's not a typo) isn't exactly what most teams expect from a No. 1 overall pick, but that's exactly what Wall managed to do last season.

    The arrival of Bradley Beal in the back court should alleviate some of the pressure from Wall. Beal often drew comparisons to Ray Allen in the draft process this past spring, with his three-point shot coming as one of his strong points.

    Wall and Beal could evolve into an All-Star backcourt some day, but like Monroe and Knight, their youth prevents them from climbing any higher on this list... yet.

23. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    With Greg Oden and Brandon Roy no longer on the Portland Trail Blazers, LaMarcus Aldridge becomes the only remaining member of Portland's Big Three from a few years ago.

    As the unquestioned No. 1 option last season for Portland, Aldridge averaged nearly 22 points and eight rebounds per game, earning his first All-Star berth as a result.

    He's a career 49.5 percent shooter, averaged nearly a block and a steal per game last season, and has drawn at least five free throws per game in each of the past two seasons.

    Add in Damian Lillard, the No. 6 pick from this summer's NBA draft, and the Trail Blazers suddenly have a potentially potent pick-and-roll combination at the 1 and the 4.

    Lillard enters the season as Anthony Davis' biggest challenger for the Rookie of the Year award, as he could average somewhere around 20 points per game if coach Terry Stotts gives him the green light.

    Portland could be a playoff sleeper in the West because of these two.

22. Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Last season, Kyrie Irving finished only three votes shy of being named the unanimous NBA Rookie of the Year. That's a tough act to follow in Year 2.

    Luckily for Cleveland, Irving's breakout season didn't appear to be a one-year fluke. The 2011 No. 1 pick averaged 21.8 points, 6.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, knocking down nearly 40 percent of his three-point attempts, too.

    Assuming the broken hand Irving suffered during Team USA training camp doesn't adversely affect him in the early-going of this season, he could be challenging for an All-Star berth in a few months time.

    Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller are the Cavs' three other young core players to potentially build around, but Anderson Varejao's NBA experience makes him the No. 2 option on the team for the time being.

    Varejao's per-game averages don't jump off the page like Irving's, but his two-way play should help anchor the Cavaliers this season as they work their way up the Eastern Conference rankings.

21. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Both Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings would rank highly in a list of dynamic backcourt scoring options, as both have proven that they can average 20 points per game over the course of a full season.

    The problem lies with both players' scoring efficiency, or lack thereof.

    Jennings sports a paltry career shooting average of 39.3 percent, and Ellis only shot 43.2 percent after being traded to the Bucks in March.

    Both Jennings and Ellis also lack the traditional size required for their positions, with Jennings standing only 6'1" and Ellis at 6'3". They'll generate a number of steals, but will likely gamble too often defensively.

    If Ellis and Jennings can score 40 points or more per game and prove that the undersized pairing works, they'd move up a few spots in these rankings.

20. Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors

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    The key for the Golden State Warriors' pairing of Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut? Their health.

    Both players come into the season carrying the chronically-injured reputation, whether it's fair or not.

    Curry couldn't overcome a bout of ankle problems last season, and Bogut has suffered two freak injuries in the past two years that have kept him largely sidelined.

    When healthy, both players have the potential to be top five at their positions. Bogut was evolving into one of the most defensively sound centers in the league before his spate of injuries, and Curry appeared to be en route to becoming a fantasy basketball superstar with his stat-stuffing tendencies.

    The question is, can both stay healthy this season? If so, they'd easily move into the top half of this list.

    However, until Curry and Bogut prove they can stay on the court for a majority of this season, they can't move much higher.

19. Dirk Nowitzki and Darren Collison, Dallas Mavericks

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    For Dallas Mavericks fans, it'll assuredly be heresy to see Dirk Nowitzki, star of the 2011 NBA Finals, this low on the list.

    Dallas' shredded summer plans earned this ranking, though.

    Had the Mavericks landed either of the big fish they were targeting this summer—Dwight Howard or Deron Williams—they'd likely be in the top five. Instead, Howard went to the L.A. Lakers, Williams re-signed with the Brooklyn Nets, and the Mavericks were left scrambling to cobble together a Plan B.

    To Dallas' credit, adding Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison wasn't too shabby of a Plan B. Collison could especially end up being a steal, assuming he and Nowitzki develop some chemistry in the two-man game.

    But until Collison proves that he's an adequate replacement for Jason Kidd, the Nowitzki-Collison duo can't rank in the top half of the league's best one-two punches. 

18. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz

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    For the time being, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap remain the No. 1 and No. 2 options on the Utah Jazz.

    Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter could soon have something to say about that, however.

    Last season, the 6'10" Jefferson finished just shy of averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, with the 6'8" Millsap chipping in roughly 17 points and nine boards per game of his own.

    Together, the two make for a dynamic front court on offense, although both lack the prototypical size for their positions. Jefferson defends better than Millsap, but neither player comes with the reputation of being a game-changing defender.

    With both Jefferson and Millsap on the final year of their contracts, this upcoming season will likely be the final go-around for the duo in Utah.

17. DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings

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    Both DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans come with question marks abound, but there's no denying the underlying potential of each player.

    In his sophomore season last year, Cousins averaged 18.1 points and 11 rebounds in just over 30 minutes per game. On a per-36-minute basis, Run DMC averaged 21.4 points and 13 rebounds, with nearly two assists, two steals, and 1.5 blocks per game.

    In Evans' rookie season, he became one of only four players in NBA history (Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James being the other three) to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game.

    However, Evans has only fallen off in the two years since, with Sacramento struggling to find a natural position for him.

    If both Cousins and Evans play to their potential, they'd arguably have a claim at being a top 10 duo on this list, based on talent alone. Until they can do so on a nightly basis, however, they're not even in the top 15.

16. Andrew Bynum and Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Full disclosure: As a Sixers fan, I couldn't be more all aboard the Andrew Bynum era. I've even got a Bynum Sixers T-shirt already (No joke).

    In a town starved for basketball stars since the heyday of Allen Iverson, you can't blame Philadelphians for getting this excited about the arrival of Bynum. Nothing against Andre Iguodala, whose defensive abilities will be missed this season, but Iggy couldn't be expected to carry a team.

    Last season, Bynum's play suggested that he finally was at that level. Despite Kobe Bryant averaging 23 shots per game, Bynum finished with a career-high 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game in his final season with the L.A. Lakers.

    Bynum also gives point guard Jrue Holiday the first legitimate big man teammate of his career. Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand had their moments for the Sixers, but Bynum will command enough respect in the post to open the offense up for Holiday on a consistent basis.

    If Holiday becomes an "extra-point player," in the words of ESPN's Tom Haberstroh and Beckley Mason, and Bynum can shoulder the load of being a No. 1 option on a nightly basis, this duo will skyrocket up these rankings. 

15. Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon, New Orleans Hornets

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    For a player who's never played a single NBA minute to appear in the top half of this list, he needs to be a virtual All-Star lock, at worst.

    Enter Anthony Davis, the No. 1 pick from this past summer's draft.

    Davis proved his worth with Team USA at the London Olympics by demonstrating that he belonged with the 11 other players on the team.

    He still has much to learn about the NBA game, but already it's become clear that Davis will be challenging for Defensive Player of the Year honors sooner rather than later.

    With Eric Gordon healed up and inked to a long-term contract this summer, the New Orleans Hornets have a star guard to pair with Davis for the next five to 10 years. He's averaged 18.2 points per game over his four-year career and touts a career three-point average of 37 percent, despite a rough year from deep last season.

    Gordon and Davis make up two of the Hornets' Big Three to build around, no questions asked.

    The big question for New Orleans, at least for this season, is: Can Austin Rivers prove he's the third leg of that tripod?

14. Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers

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    At this point in Danny Granger's career, you basically know what you're getting.

    The 29-year-old has been remarkably consistent over the past five years with the Indiana Pacers, relatively speaking. His scoring has decreased every season since 2008-09, but Granger will otherwise be good for roughly 20 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal per night.

    Since Granger's sophomore season, he hasn't exactly been a consistent shooter (career shooting average: 43.8 percent), but his career three-point percentage of 38.4 leaves a lot less to be desired.

    Down low, the Pacers tout the 7'2" Roy Hibbert, who's quickly evolving into one of the most dominant centers in the league. The foul trouble that plagued Hibbert in his early years has become a thing of the past, as he averaged 15.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, and only 3.6 fouls per 36 minutes last season.

    Hibbert's size allows him to affect far more shots defensively than the box score would suggest, which gives the Pacers a defensive backbone to build around. This duo likely can't climb much higher on this list, but Hibbert's continued growth would be the only reason they would.

13. Danilo Gallinari and Andre Iguodala, Denver Nuggets

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    Lost in the whole Dwight-Howard-to-the-Lakers hysteria, besides Philadelphia's elation over acquiring Andrew Bynum, was the Denver Nuggets' acquisition of Andre Iguodala in that four-team blockbuster.

    As a No. 1 offensive option, Iguodala won't take a team very far, as Philadelphians came to terms with over the past five years. On the Nuggets, where he's a No. 3 option offensively? Different story entirely.

    Iguodala comes to the Nuggets as one of the most best defensive wing players in the league. Oh, Kevin Durant's going off against Denver? Sic Iguodala on KD and make him work for it.

    Pairing Iguodala with the sharpshooting Danilo Gallinari will provide headaches for any opponent defensively, as both players can bomb it from downtown as quickly as driving it to the basket.

    Gallinari's shot selection could certainly stand to improve this season (he's a 42 percent shooter over his career), but Iguodala's presence should help generate some easier offense for Gallo and the other Nuggets.

12. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

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    Had Derrick Rose not tore his ACL in the first game of the 2012 playoffs, there's no question this pairing would be in the top 10.

    The 2011 league MVP suffered through a slew of injuries that kept him limited to 39 games last season, yet he still managed to average nearly 22 points, eight assists and three rebounds in the games he did play.

    When healthy, Rose ranks as a top-three NBA point guard, which isn't as easy as it sounds with competition such as Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook.

    The only question is: When will Rose come back healthy?

    Joakim Noah doesn't pack the scoring punch of his teammates Carlos Boozer or Luol Deng, but like Roy Hibbert for the Pacers, Noah provides the Bulls with their defensive backbone.

    Noah has averaged roughly 10 rebounds per game over the past three seasons, and he truly makes his impact on the offensive glass, having ranked third in the NBA this past season with 3.8 offensive boards per game.

11. Josh Smith and Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks

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    With Joe Johnson now a Brooklyn Net, the Atlanta Hawks officially become Josh Smith's and Al Horford's team this season.

    Horford appears to have largely faded from the NBA collective memory after he sat out most of last season with an injury. That's a mistake no one should make.

    Before his injury, Horford appeared to be en route to becoming one of the NBA's best young big men. There's an argument to be made about playing him at power forward instead of center, but at either the 4 or the 5, Horford can more than hold his own.

    Smith has long been known as a fantasy basketball superstar, and one look at his per-game averages last season explains it all.

    With 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.4 steals per game in 2011-12, Smith statistically dominated in virtually every way (his one weak spot: 63 percent shooting from the free throw line).

    If Smith played the 3 and Horford the 4, no team in the NBA could match up against them. Even with Smith at the 4 and Horford at the 5, the Hawks' frontcourt is the team's biggest strength.

10. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Speaking of dominant front courts, remember the 2010-11 season, when Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol led the Memphis Grizzlies to the playoffs, despite Rudy Gay being sidelined with a shoulder injury?

    Last year, Randolph slightly tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in January, which kept him relatively limited when he came back for the end of the season and the playoffs.

    With a full offseason to heal, there's no reason to think Z-Bo can't return to the 20-point, 12-rebound player that he was back in '10-11.

    Alongside Randolph in the frontcourt stands Marc Gasol, the younger of the two Gasol brothers. Marc was once regarded as a throw-in for the blockbuster trade that brought Pau to the L.A. Lakers; four years later, Marc could be the better of the two Gasols.

    The Grizzlies' Gasol packs a punch defensively that his older brother can't match. He's not afraid to throw his 7'1", 265-pound frame around in the post, which few opponents can effectively counter. 

9. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets

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    Although these two have yet to play a meaningful minute together, their individual accolades earn them a top-10 spot on this list.

    Like Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks, Deron Williams has largely faded from the NBA's collective memory because he spent the last 18 months playing for the unbearable-to-watch New Jersey Nets.

    Now, with a new five-year, $98 million contract, Williams becomes the franchise cornerstone for the new Brooklyn Nets. For a guy who used to routinely average 20 points and 10 assists in his Utah Jazz days, the Nets could do far worse for a No. 1 option.

    Joe Johnson's contract may be a tough pill to swallow, but for anyone not named Mikhail Prokhorov, the positives should outweigh the negatives. Sure, Johnson is a 31-year-old shooting guard with little room to grow, but is 20 points, five assists and four rebounds per game really such a bad thing?

    Johnson has never played with an elite point guard like Williams, either. Seeing as Johnson has always been a relatively solid three-point shooter (36.8 percent from deep over his career), Williams' presence should allow the offense to flow to Johnson easier than it ever has before in his NBA career.

8. Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks

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    A-year-and-a-half into the Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire experiment, the duo still hasn't exactly answered the question of whether they can co-exist long-term.

    This shouldn't have exactly been a surprise to anyone outside of New York, either. Both Anthony and Stoudemire tend to thrive in one-on-one situations, which can clog up the team's offensive flow at times.

    When both players are at their best, they're two of the most dominant scorers in the league, though. 'Melo has averaged a shade under 25 points per game over his career, and Stoudemire trails right behind him with a career average of 21.6 points per game.

    However, neither Anthony nor Stoudemire play consistently solid defense, which limits their ability to rise any further on this list.

    Stoudemire claims that he's planning on showing a new commitment on that end of the floor this season, but let's wait until the season tips off to see if that actually comes to fruition. 

7. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

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    It's hard to believe that the mid-30s pair of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce can remain as dominant as they are, but this duo brought the Boston Celtics within one game of the NBA Finals in 2012.

    Garnett continues to be the Celtics' defensive anchor, having been forced to log a majority of his minutes at the 5 after the All-Star break last season. Remarkably, Garnett only dominated more at center, averaging a per-48-minute PER of 22.5 when playing center. (His PER was 17.0 when at the 4.)

    As Spencer Hawes of the Philadelphia 76ers can well attest, Garnett's pesky 18-foot jumper isn't broken yet, which keeps him offensively relevant as well.

    Pierce labored through a knee injury in the 2012 playoffs, but still managed to hit a clutch three-pointer in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals to give his Celtics a 3-2 lead over the Miami Heat.

    That's Pierce in a nutshell. As long as he's around the Celtics, they'll be legitimate contenders to take down LeBron James and the Heat.

6. Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    It may be sacrilege to some to see two young players like Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio this high on the list, but the teeming-with-talent duo justifies it.

    For anyone not on board with Kevin Love as one of the NBA's best young big men, it's time to get with the picture.

    After leading the league in rebounding with 15.2 boards per game in 2010-11, Love followed up by averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds per game for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season.

    And by the way—Love can shoot the three, too. He's a 37.2 percent career shooter from deep.

    Before Ricky Rubio tore his ACL in March, he appeared to be Kyrie Irving's greatest challenger for the NBA Rookie of the Year award. After being drafted in 2009 and stored in Spain for two years, Rubio finally joined the Timberwolves last season and proved why he was such a highly touted pick.

    Rubio's points per game (10.6) and shooting percentage (35.7) shouldn't wow anyone, but his creativity with the ball (8.2 assists per game) certainly should. His vision and passing ability should make the Love-Rubio combo one of the most entertaining pairings in the entire league for years to come.

5. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

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    In what's become a yearly NBA preseason tradition, we count out the San Antonio Spurs, because finally, this is the year that their collective age catches up to them.

    Every year, they prove us wrong. Last year, they opened the playoffs with 10 straight wins before the Oklahoma City Thunder roared back and won four straight to knock them out of the Western Conference finals.

    San Antonio's supporting cast, led by sixth-man legend Manu Ginobili, deserves a heap of credit for the Spurs' contender status last season, but Tony Parker and Tim Duncan truly led the charge.

    Parker played at an MVP level last season, averaging 18.3 points and a career-high 7.7 assists per game, which helped him finish fifth in MVP voting.

    Parker joined Duncan and Ginobili on the wrong side of 30 in May, but he's proven that there's plenty of basketball left in his tank.

    Speaking of plenty left in his tank, how about Duncan? The 36-year-old averaged a career-low 28.2 minutes, under coach Gregg Popovich's orders, yet still averaged 15.4 points and nine rebounds per game in that limited time.

    Per 36 minutes, Duncan would still be a 20-10 player. 

4. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Assuming Blake Griffin and Chris Paul can continue dodging the Clippers Curse, they can be one of the league's most dynamic one-two punches for the next five years.

    With Derrick Rose's ACL tear, Paul appears to have no real challengers for his rightful claim as best point guard in the NBA. Despite standing 6' even, Paul averaged almost 20 points per game last season, has led the league in steals four times in his seven NBA seasons, and led the league in assists twice, too.

    Paul was traded to the Clippers in December 2011, leaving little time for he and Griffin to develop chemistry before the start of the season. Now, with a full offseason under their belts, the pairing could be virtually unstoppable this season.

    At this point in his career, Griffin is known best for his flashy dunks. That's majorly underselling a player who's averaged 21.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per game over his two-year career.

    Griffin also passes rather well for a big man, having averaged 3.5 assists per game over his career. Paired with Paul, "Lob City" could take the next step toward a title this season.

3. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers

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    The L.A Lakers already had a claim to the best offseason by trading for Steve Nash earlier in the summer.

    They locked up that title in August by effectively trading Andrew Bynum and a first-round pick for Dwight Howard.

    Howard, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, is the only center in the league that could be considered a definitive upgrade over Bynum.

    Howard's free throw shooting makes him a liability at the end of close games, but his ability to alter shots on the defensive end gives the Lakers an unparalleled advantage over opponents this season.

    Assuming Howard follows through with his promise to work with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one can only imagine his post game blossoming over the next few years. His tutelage with Hakeem Olajuwon had already started paying dividends.

    And of course, there's no talking about the Lakers without mentioning Kobe Bryant, who's entering his 17th NBA season with 42,000+ minutes under his belt.

    Despite the wear on his tires, Bryant nearly led the league in scoring last year before falling to Kevin Durant in the final few days of the season.

    With the addition of Howard and Nash, Bryant's scoring should drop off a bit this season. His experience with the Olympic team this summer could prove valuable in that regard, as Bryant saw how he could positively impact a team without being the No. 1 option all the time.

2. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    The fact that Oklahoma City locked Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook up for the long-term should send chills down the spines of 29 other NBA teams.

    At 23 years old, Durant has already led the NBA in scoring three times. He led the Thunder to the Western Conference finals in 2011 and the NBA Finals in 2012. I repeat, he's 23 years old.

    Durant's 6'9" frame, long arms and quick release make him virtually unguardable. He's become like Kobe Bryant in his heyday: He's going to score, the question is—how much?

    Playing next to Durant, Westbrook often catches some heat for trying to create his own offense when Durant has an open look.

    Seeing as Westbrook averaged 23.6 points per game last season on a career-high 45.7 percent shooting, that outrage appears to be somewhat misplaced.

    Critics will immediately point to Westbrook's 5.5 assists from last season as evidence that he's selfish, but how does that explain him averaging at least eight assists per game each of the prior two seasons?

    Durant and Westbrook appear to be genuinely enjoy playing next to each other, which spells nothing but trouble for the rest of the league over the next half-decade.

1. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

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    After winning their first championship together, could another pairing really prevent LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from being at the top of this list?

    What happened to James before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, the world may never know. All we do know is James snapped during that game, exploding for 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.

    He never looked back on his remaining run to the championship, earning himself a well-deserved Finals MVP trophy in the process.

    Plain and simple, James is the best basketball player on the planet right now, playing his best basketball ever. That's a dangerous combination.

    It certainly doesn't hurt the Miami Heat to have James right next to Wade, a former Finals MVP himself. Wade's days of scoring 30 points per game may be a thing of the past (he averaged 22.1 PPG in 2011-12), but he remains a dynamic, multi-dimensional scoring threat.

    James and Wade set the tone for Miami's "Flying Death Machine" on both ends of the floor. Seeing as that combination just won a championship together, the rest of the league can only look up at James and Wade until next June.