By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
The Celtics are fourth in the Eastern Conference without Kemba Walker, which is pretty good, all things considered. Sometimes, you drop one to the Pistons. Other nights, you get bailed out by a rookie. Through it all, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been everything we’ve wanted them to be, as Boston’s top guns have combined for 54 points per game in the early going.
The NBA has evolved into a league of dynamic duos. You’ve got defending champs LeBron and Anthony Davis, as well as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in LA. There’s Durant and Kyrie in Brooklyn. Embiid and Simmons in Philly. Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray made some noise last summer in the bubble.
These pairings don’t often occur organically. For instance, a year and a half ago, Davis, Leonard, George, Durant and Irving were all playing in different ZIP codes. The most recent era of NBA basketball was notorious for superstar movement (often spearheaded by James). But we’ve recently seen a flux of organizations banking on young players they’ve drafted and developed.
It’s a callback to the ’90s, when there was less player movement and a bunch of teams had organic dynamic duos: Jordan and Pippen, Stockton and Malone, Payton and Kemp, and Shaq and Penny. The early part of the decade saw Isaiah and Dumars in Detroit. On the scale of diminishing returns, the Hornets had Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, the Nets Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson, and the Timberwolves (briefly) KG and Marbury.
There are plenty of reasons why those combinations failed: money, health, personality conflicts, the inability to find a third wheel. More recently, the latter plagued John Wall and Bradley Beal in Washington. The same issue afflicts Dame Lillard and C.J. McCollum in Portland. And the Thunder had a third wheel (James Harden) for Durant and Russell Westbrook, but traded him away. We don’t yet know how the script plays out in Philly or Denver.
But the shining example of the modern homegrown dynamic duo is Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. They had their third wheel in Draymond Green, a versatile contributor on both ends of the floor. They got along. They had the money to add Kevin Durant in 2016. And, until recently, they were healthy.
While I don’t necessarily expect Brown and Tatum to make three podium appearances and five consecutive NBA Finals, their recent play does make me wonder what the ceiling is. A healthy Kemba Walker is a pretty good third wheel. These guys (mostly) get along, and Ainge has them signed up for the long-term, with a big, fat Gordon Hayward trade exception sitting in the cupboard in case of emergency.
Perhaps Brown and Tatum are the next homegrown dynamic duo to rule the NBA. Maybe they’re destined to be an entertaining also-ran. Or headed for a crash down the road. We don’t know. But these guys can play. And on cold January nights in the midst of a pandemic, it’s fun to watch and fun to imagine.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.