While every member of an NBA team serves some kind of purpose, games are usually won and lost on the efforts of their three best players. It’s generally agreed upon that an NBA team needs three quality, marquee players that have skill sets to compliment each other, in order to make it far in the postseason. It’s a star-oriented league, and though a team may have great depth or a very good head coach, what really matters is how good their frontline players are when it matters most. Without question, stars are what makes a team with in the NBA.
So it’s no surprise that many of the best teams in the league currently, have some of the best trios of star players in the history of the game. Conversely, other teams may have one young star player, but are lacking any kind of compliment to him. Ultimately, every team in the league knows that they need to construct a big-3 that is capable of elite play, in order to win playoff games. Let’s see who’s done this, and who has some work ahead of them.
Ranked below are the 10 best, and 10 worst Big 3s in the NBA right now.
20. Lakers: Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram (Best)
There’s no question that Los Angeles is still in a state of transition from the Kobe-era, and that it’s going to take some time before their roster is seriously able to compete in the playoffs. But you’d be foolish to think that there isn’t a good amount of talent that’s being assembled on the roster, and better yet, they all contrast each other’s skill sets.
Kuzma has been the biggest surprise of the three, turning in an excellent rookie year, but Ingram is coming along nicely as a big-man that can play the modern game and run the floor. While Ball has been the one with the most press following, he’s taken a while to acclimate his scoring game to the NBA. But as a rookie, that’s forgivable. The bottom line is that the Lakers have a strong core going forward now, and it’s just a matter of developing them into truly elite players.
19. Clippers: DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Austin Rivers (Worst)
After years of being right on the cusp of a Western Conference Title, it seems the Clippers have finally broken. Jordan and Griffin have been good but not great for a long time, and though Rivers is a nice young player, it isn’t going to be enough to get this team over the hump. Injuries and streaky play have killed them when it matters most, and it’s difficult to expect much improvement at this point.
It would seem that a rebuild is in the near future for the second L.A. team. Rivers is a good starting point, but they really should be selling off everyone else to acquire as many quality draft picks as they can get. It’s clear that the ceiling for this trio is very limited.
18. Pistons: Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley (Best)
Nobody expected Detroit to produce a competitive team this year, but lo and behold they’ve actually been able to do it, and are now in playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Drummond is one of the best young bigs in the league, Bradley was a proven two-way force from the Celtics, and Harris has developed into a quality player.
There’s a recipe for success here that extends well-beyond this season. Even though the Pistons aren’t likely to compete for a Finals appearance they’re still setting themselves up for the future, and getting great production out of their frontline players. It’s a successful turnaround story so far, and they should be able to improve further in the coming years.
17. Pacers: Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner (Worst)
While the Pacers have done better than initial expectations, it’s clear that the ceiling for this core group of players is limited. It looked as if the team was going into tanking-mode after they sold off a lot of their top-tier talent, and that may have been the best case scenario. Instead, of working their way into a premium draft position, Indiana now sits at the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, which doesn’t usually see playoff success.
It’s essentially NBA purgatory, and it’s the worst spot for a team to be in. Turner figures to be good for a long time, and Oladipo is a nice scorer enjoying a breakout season at shooting guard, but there’s just not enough firepower with this trio to truly make a championship run.
16. Pelicans: DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday (Best)
As a natural point guard pushed to the 2 and sometimes forced to play the 3 due to Rajon Rondo’s resurgence, Holiday is just a so-so front-court player, which is the only thing holding this trio back from being completely dominant. They’ll need to eventually upgrade that part of their roster (even if Holiday stays), but there’s no denying that Davis and Cousins are two of the best big-men in the league, and should make New Orelans viable for a long time.
True, they’re only hovering around the middle of the pack right now, but they’re young enough that it really doesn’t matter. If they continue to build around this core of players, they’ll eventually be able to take on the Warriors in the Western Conference, and start to establish real dominance. Consider the Pelicans a future playoff threat for the proceeding seasons, and maybe even make some noise this year.
15. Hawks: Dennis Schroder, Taurean Waller-Prince, Kent Bazemore (Worst)
As expected, the Hawks are a complete disaster this season, and there’s very little in the way of young talent that figures to stick around for the long-term. All three of the above players have shown flashes this year, but not the kind of consistency that gives Atlanta a true stable of players to build around long-term. Schroder is the best of the lot, and even he’s really only a pure scorer, and not one of the league’s best.
The good news for the Hawks is that they’re going to net a great draft pick this year. If they hit on it, it should give them a starting point to build the roster back up again. Conversely, if they miss on it, they’ll probably remain in the cellar of the Eastern Conference for a while longer, which would definitely be a disappointment.
14. Timberwolves: Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins (Best)
Pound for pound, Minnesota may have the best amount of sheer talent in the league. The team has truly come into their own this year, and will likely get a very respectable playoff seed in the Western Conference. Wiggins and Towns are two dynamic young players that have developed over the last few seasons, and Butler was one of the marquee acquisitions in the league last offseason.
Combined, this forms a roster with a ton of top-tier players that is needed to compete in the playoffs. The scary part is, this is only the first year where all three of them are playing together. This trio only figures to improve, in which case they’ll be among the league’s best in short order. It seems like they’re well on their way to accomplishing that standing.
13. Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic (Worst)
This is really a duo, because Nurkic, talented big man that he is, is still the odd-man-out in terms of skill. While Lillard and McCollum comprise the best back-court pairing this side of the Golden State Warriors, it’s never going to be enough to make a true push for a Western Conference Title. They lake the star-power and dynamic mix of talent necessary for that to happen.
It’s going to be difficult for Portland to maintain both Lillard and McCollum for the long-term, and simultaneously build up their roster to the point where they’re a viable threat. They’re a good team at the moment for sure, they just have a very slim chance of ever being great. In the NBA, that won’t be good enough to win a championship.
12. Raptors: DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka (Best)
You have to give Toronto credit for being resilient in the face of an Eastern Conference that always has LeBron James in it. They’ve constructed a very quality trio of star players with the aforementioned names, and have enough talent to have a puncher’s chance at winning the East all together.
DeRozan and Lowry form a great back-court, and Ibaka is a do-it-all player that gives them a great compliment. This is a lineup that can get to the Finals in the East, and on their best day could take down LeBron or the Celtics. The lack of a true generational star knocks them down a bit, but everything else puts them as one of the best trios the league has to offer.
11. Jazz: Donovan Mitchell, Rodney Hood, Ricky Rubio (Worst)
Despite efforts for years to duplicate the production of the John Stockton and Karl Malone years, the Jazz really haven’t come anywhere near that level of excellence. The Dante Exum draft pick hasn’t paid any dividends yet, and they’ve only really accumulated one player for the future that they can count on. That appears to be rookie guard Mitchell, who has certainly established himself as one of the best young players in the league.
But Hood and Rubio aren’t suitable compliments. The Jazz are currently stuck in NBA purgatory, and it’s not a good spot to be in. They really need to hit on a draft pick next year to start building the rest of the trio around Mitchell for the long-term. As it stands now, they’re merely treading water.
10. Rockets: James Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon (Best)
The sheer skill level of this trio makes up for their lack of youth, and it’s clear that Houston is a legitimate contender in the Western Conference because of it. The acquisition of Paul has made them take the next step in becoming a truly elite team that could potentially see a berth in the Finals. That’s not at all out of the question for the Rockets, as they’ve only added on to Harden’s MVP-caliber player over the past few years.
Incumbent Sixth Man of the Year Gordon is the least notable of the three, but even he’s having a very good season. Paul’s passing ability and Harden’s scoring dominance are a perfect compliment, and this is a trio that could see a ton of postseason success this year. Don’t sleep on the Rockets.
9. Thunder: Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Russell Westbrook (Worst)
While this is one of the most talented big-3s in the league on paper, in execution it just becomes over-saturation. The Thunder are going to make the playoffs this year as usual, but there’s little evidence to show that the acquisitions of George and Anthony will be able to elevate Oklahoma City into the Finals once again. Anthony, in particular, is an aging veteran who requires the ball too much to be productive.
It’s understandable why the Thunder would make these moves, but in actuality there’s not much they stand to gain from them. George and Anthony haven’t been able to elevate any of their past teams to championship success, so combining them on the same team just makes for a cluttered roster of very good, but flawed players.
8. Sixers: Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric (Best)
It’s clear that the Sixers aren’t yet at their apex, but when they eventually get there, health permitting, they’re going to be a problem for the rest of the league. The talent of Simmons and Embiid alone makes them a threat, and Saric is a good compliment to them at the moment, even though 1st-overall draft pick Markelle Fultz is waiting in the wings.
The Sixers are vying for a playoff berth, and even though they won’t be winning a title this year, “The Process” is certainly over with. They’ve got the talent, now it’s just a matter of learning how to win. Embiid and Simmons should combine to achieve excellence in the playoffs for years to come.
7. Magic: Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier (Worst)
The Magic are another team that is l0oking to find some kind of an identity. Though the team has been on a skid for years now, their frontline trio has a lot of talent, no questions asked. The question is, do they have enough talent to legitimate make a difference in a potential playoff environment? That remains to be seen, as Orlando tries to regain the dominance they had a decade ago.
The players listed above should all be part of the puzzle going forward, but you can’t help but feel that a legitimate star is needed on this roster. Gordon is the closes thing they have to one, but even he isn’t an A-level player all of the time. The Magic really need to make a big free agent signing next offseason to add to this core.
6. Celtics: Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum (Best)
Unfortunately, we can’t include Gordon Hayward here, given his horrible season-ending injury suffered in the first game of the season. It was a big loss for Boston, but the good news is that the team still has a ton of young talent, and a legitimate superstar in Irving. To compliment, Horford is one of the toughest big-men in the league, and the Tatum pick has been working out wonderfully.
The Celtics will be a tough out in the Eastern Conference, led by these three players. They’re probably the one team that has a real chance to knock off Cleveland, and if they do, expect Irving to be leading the charge, with Horford and Tatum as the next two in line to make an impact.
5. Wizards: Bradley Beal, John Wall, Otto Porter (Worst)
The Wizards are an above-average team, and Wall is one of the most exciting players in the league, but this roster is limited. On paper, it always seems like they have a chance to go far in the postseason, but their deficiencies always show through at the worst possible time. Really, Washington is an okay team pretending to be a good one, and they can’t compete with the Celtics and Cavaliers.
So while this trio has a lot of talent, and puts up very good numbers, they aren’t going to be serious contenders in the playoff race. In reality, the Wizards should be looking to rebuild, because they won’t be able to make it through the East. These three put up numbers, but they merely appear more effective than they actually are.
4. Cavaliers: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love (Best)
Any roster that has LeBron on it is going to be in the Finals at this point, but the reunion with Wade now in Cleveland was a nice touch, and a fitting storyline for the this season. Love has proven his worth more often than not, and has given the Cavaliers a quality scorer and rebound to compliment the best player in the league.
If Wade and LeBron were in their prime, this would unquestionably be ranked as the best trio in the league. As it stands now, they’re still one of the best, despite their increasing age. You can expect Cleveland to at least make the Eastern Conference Semis, and probably go to the Finals yet again. When was the last time LeBron missed the championship round anyway?
3. Bulls: Justin Holiday, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn (Worst)
It looks like Chicago really hit on the Markkanen pick, and they needed to in order to jumpstart this rebuilding process. That was a good start, but there’s still a ton of work to be done. Holiday is nothing more than a placeholder, yet he’s probably the third-best player on the entire team. That doesn’t bode well for the Bulls, who have been on a downward trajectory ever since firing Tom Thibodeau.
Dunn is the real wild card here, and it would really go a long way if he could maintain a starting job in the back-court to compliment Markkanen’s emergence as one of the best young bigs in the league. Those two could form the foundation of a great trio, but they’re still a few years away at least.
2. Warriors: Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson (Best)
Really, you could substitute in Draymond Green for Thompson as well, but the point remains the same; the Warriors have the absolute best lineup of any team in the league. The addition of Durant last year only solidified them even further, and now this is unquestionably one of the best group players in NBA history, all on the same court. If there ever was a modern NBA super-team, this would be it.
With a pair of titles to their credit already, the Warriors clearly aren’t done yet. They have a trio of elite scorers that will allow them to compete for a long time to come. They’ve made the team the undisputed kings of the Western Conference, and there’s really no one else in sight ready to compete with them on a serious level.
1. Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter
The Knicks have been a confirmed mess for a while now, and only recently after moving on from the Phil Jackson debacle, can they say that there’s any semblance of a plan to get into playoff contention again. Obviously, Porzingis was a good start, and a great draft pick. He has emerged as one of the best young players in the league, and gives New York a truly unique talent who will be elite over the long-term.
However, if Hardaway and Kanter are going to be his primary compliments, then it’s going to be an uphill battle for the team to really compete in the Eastern Conference. They’re B-level players at best that can’t be counted on to win playoff games.
The Knicks may not have the outright worst big-3 in the league right now, but if they believe that this is the configuration that will see them win in the postseason, it could be the most detrimental. They can’t be tricked into thinking Hardaway and Kanter are good enough.
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