There are a ton of superstars on teams remaining in the second round of the 2023 NBA playoffs, and they played a significant role in their teams making it to this point. The league has shifted towards having star duos rather than super teams in the past few years. As a result, it has given the league more parity, making playoff series more exciting and unpredictable than ever.
This article breaks down the top five superstar duos playing in round 2 and the reasoning behind their rank.
Ranking the Top 5 Duos in Round 2
5. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum’s season stats: 30.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists on 47/35/85 shooting splits
Jaylen Brown’s season stats: 26.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists on 49/34/77 shooting splits
Reasoning: Jayson Tatum is second highest in the league in real-plus minus, with an RPM of 9.01. Jaylen Brown wasn’t very high in advanced statistics this season but is a solid second option. At times, Brown is arguably the best player on the Celtics.
Both well-balanced players provide some of everything – they defend, rebound, stretch the floor, and create offensive opportunities for themselves and their teammates.
This Celtics team is now the favorite to win the title after the Miami Heat eliminated the number one-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. They have all the pieces around Tatum and Brown to get the Celtics their 16th title in franchise history.
Other superstars on this list will test the Tatum and Brown duo throughout the NBA playoffs to see if they are on the same level. Every other pair on this list has a bit more polished resume and accolades, whether it’s NBA championships, MVPs, or both. Their next test comes against MVP favorite Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers in round 2.
4. LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James’ season stats: 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists on 50/32/77 shooting splits
Anthony Davis’ season stats: 25.9 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists on 56/26/78 shooting splits
Reasoning: LeBron James‘ resume speaks for itself. However, his game has finally shown signs of father time catching up to him at age 38. He’s not the best player in the world anymore, but he’s still a superstar, an incredible feat 20 years later in the NBA.
LeBron’s real plus-minus this season was 7.63, good for third-best in the NBA. While the athleticism isn’t what it used to be, LeBron is skilled and intelligent enough to be the best player on the court. His high basketball IQ, size, passing, and improved shooting since coming into the league have allowed LeBron to extend his career while still playing at an elite level.
LeBron’s co-star Anthony Davis is arguably the best defender in the league. He has the second-best RAPTOR defensive rating in the league this season at +5.2. He’s an elite rim protector and rebounder with his 6-foot-10 frame and ability to anticipate shots. According to real plus-minus, the duo of James and Anthony Davis is the best in the league. Davis has the eighth-best RPM rating this season at 6.95.
They are still an elite duo, evidenced by their ability to take the seven-seeded Lakers team to the second round of the NBA Playoffs. However, they aren’t entirely on the same level they were when they won the NBA Finals in 2020. Nonetheless, this remains one of the most skilled tandems in the entire league.
The Lakers will have their hands full in the round 2 matchup against Stephen Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Los Angeles will have two of the best three players in the series, but Golden State is a resilient team that won’t go away easily. They’ll need James and Davis to step up.
3. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic’s season stats: 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, 9.8 assists on 63/38/82 shooting splits
Jamal Murray’s season stats: 20.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.2 assists on 45/40/83 shooting splits
Reasoning: Nikola Jokić is a two-time MVP with advanced statistics through the roof. He’s the league’s best passer as a big man, perhaps in the history of the NBA. The one advanced statistic that stands out for Jokić is the RAPTOR rating. He is a +13.5, which is not only the best in the league, but over five points higher than the next closest guy. His statistics are awe-inspiring on the offensive end, where Jokić is leading the league with a +9.7 offensive rating.
“The Joker” is a 6-foot-11, 284-pound center that can do anything on offense. He can bring up the ball, make plays for teammates, and shoot efficiently from beyond the arc and the free-throw line. In addition, he’s also a force down low with excellent footwork and touch.
The advanced statistics agree with what the eye test shows – he’s virtually unstoppable.
Jamal Murray has been the x-factor in the NBA Playoffs for the Nuggets and will be the key for them to make a deep run. He is finally looking and playing like the same Jamal Murray that went off in the 2020 NBA Bubble. He appears to be fully recovered from his ACL injury.
In game 1 against the Suns, Murray scored 34 points, nine assists, five rebounds, and two steals with a shooting split of 54/60/100. He’s caught fire so far in this year’s NBA playoffs. If he continues to play as he has been lately, the duo of Jokić and Murray should be even higher than third on this list.
Nuggets fans and the organization have much to be excited about with the historical greatness of Nikola Jokić and the return of Jamal Murray. They won game 1 at home, but this should be a dogfight of a second-round series against the Phoenix Suns and the stars on each team.
2. Joel Embiid and James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers
Joel Embiid’s season stats: 33.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists on 55/33/86 shooting splits
James Harden’s season stats: 21.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 10.7 assists on 44/39/87 shooting splits
Reasoning: Joel Embiid led the league in scoring and is the favorite to win MVP, which will be announced on May 2nd. Paired with Embiid is James Harden, who led the league in assists this year. Having the league leaders in scoring and assists is a formidable one-two punch, particularly in pick-and-roll situations.
Harden finally gives Embiid and the 76ers a pass-first guard capable of stretching the floor, forcing the defense to pick their poison in terms of whether or not to double down on Embiid in post-up situations. FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR player ratings show that Embiid and Harden are the highest-ranked duo. Embiid has the second-best rating in the league, with a total overall RAPTOR of +8.1.
Meanwhile, Harden is the highest-ranked “sidekick” on this list. He’s ranked 13th overall with a RAPTOR of +5.6. Harden’s positive contributions primarily come on the offensive end, as he’s +5.3 in that category.
Embiid is doubtful for Game 1 against the Boston Celtics, which is a massive blow for the 76ers, who are underdogs going into the series. They need Embiid healthy if they want a chance at reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.
1. Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Kevin Durant’s season stats: 29.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists on 56/40/92 shooting splits
Devin Booker’s season stats: 27.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists on 50/35/86 shooting splits
Reasoning: The Suns are the only team that has arguably two of the best players at their positions in the NBA. A legitimate case can be made for Devin Booker as the league’s best shooting guard. Kevin Durant has some competition depending on what forward position you classify both him and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Regardless, the point remains that Phoenix has two established superstars in Booker and Durant.
The above stats tell it all regarding this duo’s offensive ability. Both are averaging over 27 points and five assists while shooting exceptionally efficiently from the field. Neither Booker nor Durant is shooting under 50 percent, which is insane, considering they aren’t big men that only hover around the paint.
Instead, they get many of their points in the mid-range game. Booker and Durant have some of the best mid-range attacks in the entire league, making them so lethal. Durant is an unguardable 6-foot-10 sniper shooting 51.5 percent on 6.6 mid-range shots a game.
In addition, both players are underrated defensively. In game 1 against the Nuggets, Durant finished with 14 rebounds, three blocks, and one steal. Meanwhile, Booker had two blocks and one steal of his own. He’s averaging 2.3 steals and 1.2 blocks so far in the NBA Playoffs.
The Phoenix Suns team is extremely top-heavy and needs to improve their depth this offseason. However, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker are arguably the best tandem in the entire NBA. They still give the Suns a chance to reach the Finals this season.
They lost game 1 in Denver against the Nuggets with a final score of 125-107. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokić outplayed Durant and Booker in that game. That can’t happen if the Suns want to win this series. They’re already at a disadvantage with their depth and supporting cast. So, Durant and Booker must do all they can to outplay Denver’s dynamic duo.