The NBA has long been a league of dynamic duos. Rarely can a team rise to championship levels with just one All-Star-level guy (whether both actually make the team or not is another story), and the days of the three-star superteams are thankfully beginning to fade, although certain teams (Hey there, Phoenix) are always going to choose the top-heavy roster route when the option is available.
But yeah, a big-time duo is what everyone is realistically hoping to develop. If you get them young, you can imagine a Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown future. Whether that sort of duo development will come to fruition is perhaps unlikely, but you can imagine it.
Suffice it to say, there are a lot of really exciting duos under the age of 25 in the league. I set out to rank my top five, and I wound up tangled in a web of indecision for three days. Alas, here's what I came up with for the top five under-25 duos, in order, that I would want starting today and moving forward.
*Honorable mentions at the bottom
1. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., Grizzlies
By far the most established duo on this list, it's hard to believe that Morant is still just 24 and Jackson Jr. is 23. The two of them have already accounted for three All-Star appointments, one All-NBA selection, two All-Defensive nods, a Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year, which Jackson took home last season.
That DPOY feels like the first of many for Jackson, who is busy right now turning World Cup shots away for Team USA (he's as ambidextrous a shot blocker as I can remember and his recovery time is a blink). Right now I'd say Jackson is on the short list of big men for next summer's Olympic team.
2. Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, Magic
Not one, but two damn-near seven-footers, one 21 years old and the other 22, who both register north of Cleaning The Glass's 80th percentile on the same team? Orlando hit the jackpot. As a duo, these guys averaged over 38 points per game last season, and they haven't even scratched the surface of their potential, individually or as a tandem.
Wagner, unfortunately, remains one of the best players that too many people don't know enough about. His scoring footwork alone is worth swooning over, but he does it all, on both ends (I've talked to coaches who have raved about some of the stuff Wagner does defensively). He's going to be north of a 38% 3-point guy, on good volume, moving forward, I believe.
Wagner is a natural fit as a more creative-minded secondary scorer next to a potential future scoring champ in Banchero, who last season became just the fourth rookie this century to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and three assists, joining LeBron James, Blake Griffin and Luka Doncic.
Orlando made a franchise-changing call taking Banchero No. 1 overall in 2022 when that wasn't regarded as the consensus pick, and getting the pick that became Wagner in the Nikola Vucevic deal with Chicago was a godsend.
3. Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, Cavaliers
Garland is a 23-year-old All-Star, Last season, he was the only player in the league to average at least 21 points and seven assists on 40% 3-point shooting. Meanwhile, Mobley is a 22-year-old first-team All-Defensive player who averaged 16 and 9 in his second season -- which, relative to the next-Kevin-Garnett hype his rookie season birthed, was actually considered a slight disappointment. That tells you how good Mobley can be.
It's true, Mobley needs to expand his offensive arsenal to really level up into superstardom, and Garland will likely always be defensively limited, but to have this tandem in place at such a young age, even if they both remain one-end dominant players, is a terrific foundation upon which the Cavs can build their future.
But will they? At this point, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of Garland, who is entering the first season of a five-year, $193M extension, eventually being traded. If Donovan Mitchell sticks around for another long-term deal (he can be extended next summer for some $260M), then I think the Cavs have to consider splitting he and Garland up. Title hunting with that small a backcourt is not optimal, even with the backline support the Cavs have built.
That's all speculation, of course. For now, this is the most established under-25 duo in the league short of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson. If I was absolutely certain that they'll both stay together long term, I would consider ranking them above the Orlando boys, although the collective size/skill combination of Banchero and Wagner would probably still be too tough for me to deny if I had to pick one duo moving forward.
I could make a strong case that this Minnesota duo should be higher on this list. It's easy not to think of McDaniels as a Robin-level partner to Edwards' Batman, but rather just a good young player who just so happens to be on the same team as a great young one (sort of like Devin Vassell or Keldon Johnson with Victor Wembanyama). But take caution in your McDaniels ceiling. I think this guy can be an All-Star-level player even if he may never actually make the team.
Last year, McDaniels bumped his scoring average to 12-plus per game and I think he can get to an efficient 18 in the near future if he gets the attempts. He shot 39% from 3 last season and has 40-plus in his bag. He showed he can create, ramping up his unassisted buckets and finishing 75% of his shots at the rim. This is all in addition to his defense, which is elite.
Pair this with Edwards, who we know is a superstar in waiting, and I would argue this is the two-way duo the Wolves will end up building around once Karl-Anthony Towns is traded and Rudy Gobert ages out.
The upside of this duo is through the moon. But right now, it's pretty much only upside. We haven't seen anything from Henderson and everyone else on this list has proven far more than Sharpe. That's the main qualifier with this group.
That said, Henderson so convincingly projects as a future superstar that the Blazers basically gave up on keeping Damian Lillard the second he fell to them at No. 3. The more that Brandon Miller plays, I think he's going to be very good. But I still think Charlotte is going to regret passing on Scoot. Portland lucked into a dude.
As for Sharpe, all the "he's untouchable" trade chatter has, perhaps, painted a portrait of a better prospect than the third-year wing actually is, but the organizational devotion isn't without merit. The rocket-booster athleticism, the pure shooting, the posterization finishing, it all jumps off the screen. We'll see how much defense Sharpe is interested in playing; the Blazers know all to well the limits of offense-only stars.
That said, Sharpe's offense profiles as high end, if not elite, and he has the body all the ability to become a plus defender. Last season, Sharpe averaged 24 points, six boards and four assists over his final 10 games after the Blazers officially shut down Lillard. He's 20 years old. Henderson is 19. What they can become is still almost entirely left to the imagination.
Honorable mention (no order)
Chet Holmgren/Josh Giddey:, Thunder Two things kept this duo off the list for me. First, I can't fully buy into Giddey given his shooting deficiency (though there was some sign of hope last year). Second, this isn't really the duo OKC is building around. Giddey is a good piece, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Holmgren are the bedrock guys. (SGA not qualifying for this under-25 list as a 25 year old is a technicality).
Tyrese Haliburton/Ben Mathurin, Pacers: I love both these guys. Haliburton is already an All-Star and the franchise player, and Mathurin is a force. Mathurin's scoring efficiency cratered as his rookie season progressed, but his raw ability and downhill aggression is undeniable. He's super strong and finishes through contact like a grown man. He's a big part of Indiana's transition offense that ranked first in total points. I'm not sure that Mathurin is the partner in crime Indiana wants to depend on long term next to Haliburton, but it's a terrific under-25 duo to have even if Mathurin falls short of All-Star status.
Zion Williamson and Trey Murphy III, Pelicans: If I had even a semblance of faith in Zion's health, this duo would undoubtedly be near the top of this duo list, if not at the top. You know what a monster Zion is when he's on the court, but you might not realize what a stud Murphy is quickly turning out to be. Over the last five weeks of last season, Murphy, on close to nine 3-point attempts a game, averaged 20 points on 50-44-90 shooting splits. He's a high-flying athlete and a plus defender who can create, finish and bomb away from deep with elite efficiency.
Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, Pistons: It remains to be seen how well Ivey fits with Cunningham, whose sophomore campaign ended in early November. But the duo is certainly tantalizing. Ivey is a blur and if changing speeds becomes a staple of his attack, as it did more and more last season, he's going to be tough. You could just as easily peg Jalen Duren as Detroit's most promising Cunningham parter. He has every necessary tool to be an elite defender and rim runner and he's already one of the league's biggest beasts on the offensive glass. Don't forget about this year's No. 5 pick Ausar Thompson. Detroit quietly possesses one of the most intriguing young cores in the league, we just don't quite know who the No. 2 guy will end up being.
Victor Wembanyama and Devin Vassell, Spurs: Reasonable minds can disagree with regard to who might be Wembanyama's wingman over the next half decade. Vassell would be my pick among current candidates. He's a near 20-point scorer who has steadily upped his 3-point volume and efficiency over his first three seasons. Keldon Johnson averaged 22 points last season, but ultimately he feels like a trade candidate. Jeremy Sochan will immediately form a destructive defensive duo next to Wemby. Hell, you could argue Wembenyama on his own constitutes a place on this list. But eventually he will need a co-star, and long term, that feels like a TBD in San Antonio.
LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller: I know I'm pinning Scoot Henderson as half of a top five under-25 duo without ever having seen him play an NBA game, but I just feel better about his superstar prospects than Miller. That said, the intrigue of this pairing is obvious. If Miller, at 6-foot-9, shoots the way he projects and pops as a creator, pairing him with the 6-foot-7 Ball will give Charlotte a big leg up -- on both ends -- as so many other teams try to cover for diminutive backcourts.
Also considered: Jabari Smith Jr./Jalen Green; Walker Kessler/Ochai Agbaji; Jonathan Kuminga/Moses Moody; Trae Young/AJ Griffin; Luka Doncic/Anyone