In the NBA, things are changing every season. The three-point shot has started to revolutionize the game and made it much more analytical. Now if you are on the court and don’t possess at least the ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc, your value is severely worse than players that do have that skill. As a result centers have become less of a factor each game and there seem to be no true power forwards in the league anymore. But there is one change that might be even more interesting then shooting and that’s the creation of the big 3.
It was a term that was made when the Celtics formed the unit of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and it hasn’t left the NBA lexicon yet. A few years later when the Heat had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh it became something that each team was trying to accomplish. Since the Mavericks won the championship in 2011 each team that has won an NBA championship has had some sort of big 3 on their roster. Each team is trying to get to that level and given the way that the salary cap works a big 3 is the way to go.
There are some teams who are about to lost one of their three best players though, either with a lack of postseason success or trying to improve on what they have. The NBA is a fluid machine of change and soon some teams will realize that their units simply don’t work long term. On the other end teams will be forming new units to match the NBA that they believe will take place in the future. Here is a list of ten big 3s that are about to be broken up and ten which will be newly formed.
20 Split Up: Chris Paul, James Harden & Carmelo Anthony - Houston Rockets
When Chris Paul and James Harden joined forces last season the results were incredible. Separate, both Paul and Harden were accomplished players who were considered great but together they jumped another level. Harden averaged 30.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game on his way to the MVP. Paul was great as well with 18.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game.
As a result they won 65 games and were one game away from beating the eventual champions the Golden State Warriors. With the addition of Carmelo Anthony, they hope to reach the next level. But Anthony has shown the unwillingness to change in recent years and that will ultimately lead to the Rockets' demise.
19 New: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard & Klay Thompson - L.A. Lakers
Okay Lakers fans just take a deep breath and relax for a moment. No this is not destined to happen because this was supposed to come out of the 2018 free agency class. Kawhi Leonard really is quite the head case and there is no telling which decision he makes at the end of the day.
When it finally comes down to it he’ll pick the Lakers over the Raptors, and even the Clippers, the other team he's reportedly considering.
And if he joins the Lakers, Klay Thompson would be the perfect player to follow. The wheels are beginning to turn around the league to give the Lakers a true big three.
18 Split Up: Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns & Andrew Wiggins - Minnesota Timberwolves
When the Timberwolves traded for shooting guard Jimmy Butler in the 2017 offseason it was clear they were trying to make the next move towards a championship. They already had Karl-Anthony Towns in place as a stud big man and Andrew Wiggins as a good slashing player. The addition of Butler allowed them to make the playoffs for the first time in this era. The hopes were that they would continue to gel together long term to take the next step. But this offseason there have been reports that Butler doesn’t like the work ethic of the Towns or Wiggins and wants out. So much for that.
17 New: Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Kevin Durant - OKC Thunder
The most surprising move of the offseason might have been the decision to stay put. Most people didn’t think that there was any way Paul George would re-sign with the Thunder after what happened last year. George reached the Thunder in a trade and didn’t have as much success as most predicted with point guard Russell Westbrook and small forward Carmelo Anthony. But the team underachieved and lost in the first round to the Utah Jazz.
Westbrook is signed to the team long term and George just inked his deal which means it's the perfect situation for Kevin Durant to go back and be a hero. When looking at spots he might go to after leaving the Warriors, the Thunder look like a great possibility.
16 Split Up: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard - Washington Wizards
The Wizards have been trying to win with this guard combination since they drafted Bradley Beal with the 3rd pick in the 2012 draft. Beal was a project at first but eventually has reached the level where he is a legitimate threat alongside point guard John Wall.
Finding the third piece has always been the problem for the Wizards though.
Otto Porter is a good player but he won’t propel the other two. Luckily center Dwight Howard was the on the market again and the Wizards decided to sign him. But given what has happened at all his stints it is only a matter of time before the team moves on from Howard.
15 New: Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid & C.J. McCollum - Philadelphia 76ers
While “The Process” isn’t complete, it does have two of the best building blocks in the NBA. Ben Simmons at point guard alongside center Joel Embiid seems to be a possible dynasty in the making. These two were finally both healthy and the results were immediate as Simmons won rookie of the year and the Sixers made it to the second round of the playoffs after not winning 30 games for five straight years.
They just need one more push to that next level and C.J. McCollum would be perfect in that role. He is a pure shooter and scorer at guard and would flow perfectly with the other two. As the Blazers start to move pieces around McCollum will be on the board and the Sixers will try to make that move.
14 Split Up: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson & Kevin Durant - Golden State Warriors
This big 3 has been the cause of a lot of anger in the NBA. When it was Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green the Warriors was the most lovable bunch in the NBA. However, the addition of Kevin Durant in the 2016 offseason changed the entire dynamic of the team.
They went from being a championship team to virtual unbeatable in the NBA playoffs now.
But with back to back rings there have been rumblings that all isn’t good in paradise. With Thompson and Durant both being free agents in 2019 the entire league could be heading for another shake up.
13 New: Steph Curry, Draymond Green & DeMarcus Cousins - Golden State Warriors
This unit is already together but not currently the big three of their team. With Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson on the team, Draymond has become the fourth best player. He’s important of course but he just isn’t a part of the big three anymore. With DeMarcus Cousins no one knows how the big man will respond to his Achilles injury this season. But if Thompson and Durant do decide to leave this big three would be good enough to compete with Steph Curry at point guard doing Curry things. His offense and ability to run the pick and roll with Cousins would make this one of the better teams in the west, despite their losses.
12 Split Up: Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving & Jaylen Brown - Boston Celtics
This group has come out of nowhere in the last two seasons of the NBA but looks like a group that can challenge for a championship. When the Celtics traded for Kyrie Irving it was clear that they were making their final push to becoming a true contender. He was paired with rookie small forward Jayson Tatum and shooting guard Jaylen Brown.
With Irving missing the last 22 games of the regular season, and all of the playoffs, Tatum and Brown showed how good they were. But when Irving didn’t sign an extension with the Celtics, rumors of him going to the Knicks picked up. It looks like that will end this big 3.
11 New: Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Kristaps Porzingis - New York Knicks
There have been whispers of this happening in the offseason. With Jimmy Butler frustrated with the lack of fight that he senses from his Timberwolves teammates, his time in Minnesota seem to be numbered. On the flip side Kyrie Irving doesn’t appear to love playing in Boston for the Celtics. Yes they could be dynamic but it wasn’t one of the teams he wanted to go to before getting traded.
The two are also great friends and there is a lot of room and roster spots opening up in New York.
Add in the fact that Kristaps Porzingis has decided to stay a little quiet about his desire to leave and this could be the next super team in the league.
10 Split Up: Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Nikola Mirotic - New Orleans Pelicans
For most of his career Anthony Davis has not had enough help to really compete with other teams. That was supposed to change when the Pelicans acquired power forward DeMarcus Cousins during a trade deadline move in 2017. But Cousins ended up with an Achilles injury during the regular season. The Pelicans were still very good without Cousins with the addition of Nikola Mirotic. After winning a round in the playoffs the Pelicans have decided to move on from Cousins and they signed Julius Randle. With this group of big men, the Pelicans will try to build on last seasons’ success.
9 New: Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr., Kemba Walker - Denver Nuggets
Last year the Nuggets continued their effort in becoming a playoff team in the NBA. They had been getting closer with the incredible rise of center Nikola Jokic but last season they were one play in game away from reaching the post season. However, missing by one game may have been a gift from Denver because they were able to take Michael Porter Jr. in the draft. Yes, he’s had back injuries in college but taking someone who is being compared to Kevin Durant has to be done.
They have solid guard play with Jamaal Murray, but they might want to take another step towards being a championship team. The Hornets are already shopping Kemba Walker and if the Nuggets step up to the plate he would be a perfect fit for this team.
8 Split Up: Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin & Andre Drummond - Detroit Pistons
The Pistons were determined to make it into the playoffs last season at any cost. They did have point guard Reggie Jackson who has averaged 16.6 points and 6.1 assists per game with the team.
Jackson was added to pair with center Andre Drummond who has gotten at least 13 points and 13 rebounds per game for the last five years of his career.
But the big move they were set to make was trading for Blake Griffin at the trade deadline in 2017. The move didn’t pay off as the Pistons miss the playoffs last year. Now Jackson might be on his way out as the Pistons struggle to put together a winning formula.
7 New: Dennis Smith Jr., Luka Doncic & Carmelo Anthony - Dallas Mavericks
This would be the ultimate Mark Cuban move. Dennis Smith Jr. was taken in last year’s draft and had a good rookie season, averaging 15 points and 5 assists per game. It’s clear Smith is the future of the team and in last year’s draft they went all in for a second time. They liked what they saw with guard Luka Doncic from Europe and traded up in the draft to take him. With their unit of guards, the Mavericks will need help scoring in the front court.
Dirk Nowitzki is on his way out, DeAndre Jordan isn’t a scorer and Harrison Barnes is solid but not someone Cuban would fawn over. No, that person is a way past his prime Carmelo Anthony the year after Nowitzki retires. The Mavericks don’t want to waste years building post Nowitzki, so they will gamble on a lot of players. Anthony will just be in the right place at the right time.
6 Split Up: Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell & Rudy Gobert - Utah Jazz
When the Jazz lost small forward Gordon Hayward to free agency in 2017, they were set to take a slide the next year. Rudy Gobert had been a staple for the last couple of years for the team on defense but he never has been a great scorer. However, the Jazz picked up two guards who helped them stay in the playoff race. Point guard Ricky Rubio averaged 13 points and 5.3 assists per game after joining them in the offseason. But acquiring Donovan Mitchell in a draft-day trade was the key. As a rookie Mitchell averaged 20.5 points per game and led the Jazz to the second round of the playoffs. With the Jazz realizing the talent they have in Mitchell it won’t be long until they try to make drastic moves to get better.
5 New: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward - Boston Celtics
Yes, all three of these players are on the same team but they are not the big three for the Celtics. As long as Kyrie Irving is around he is the starter for the team and the second-best player at the very worst. But the big three of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward might be able to have more success for the Celtics going forward.
They would lose a tremendous scorer and all-around player in Kyrie Irving but the versatility these three would have playing on the court at one time would be incredible.
With no Irving they would simply need a point guard who didn’t care about shooting but would set everyone else up. Or they could just have no point guard and throw this at teams as a monster defensive lineup. Either way this will be the big three which leads the Celtics into the future.
4 Split Up: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum & Jusuf Nurkic - Portland Trail Blazers
The emergence of shooting guard CJ McCollum meant everything for the Blazers. Yes they already had point guard Damian Lillard running the show but they just lost power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to free agency. As a result they needed someone else who could score and McCollum has stepped up hugely scoring 20 or more points in each of the last three seasons. Last year the Blazers added center Jusuf Nurkic to complete their front line and give them three very good players. But last year ended in disaster as the Blazers lost to the Pelicans in four games in the playoffs. This is going to be the season that one this big 3 is moved if they get off to a rocky start.
3 New: Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Isaiah Thomas - Phoenix Suns
The Suns are a team that has slowly been creeping towards contending level. After they picked Devin Booker, he has exploded in the NBA. Everyone remembers the 70-point outburst, but Booker has become a consistent scorer in the NBA with 25 points a game last year. Then with the 1st pick in the draft the Suns selected center Deandre Ayton. Ayton is a pro ready player who will be very good form the second he steps on the floor.
The only thing the Suns are missing is a point guard and this is the perfect unit for Isaiah Thomas to join. Booker and Ayton would give him the reins and for a few seasons he could make their lives easier and make this a playoff team.
2 Split Up: Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic & Myles Turner - Indiana Pacers
In 2017 the Pacers could have never imagined that they would have their current big three. At that point they had Myles Turner who was trying to learn and grow as a center on a playoff team. Back then the key to the team with Paul George, a perennial all-star who was tired of not having another star. As a result the Pacers traded him to the Thunder and one of the pieces they received was Victor Oladipo.
With Bojan Bogdanovic joining the team in 2017-18 the Pacers suddenly had two solid players and another all-star.
While they looks like a nice core the Pacers will want to capitalize on their assets and try to bring another star to Indiana soon.
1 New: Mo Bamba, Aaron Gordon & Rajon Rondo - Orlando Magic
The Magic continue going with their strategy of taking the best available player in the draft each year. Even though Mo Bamba wasn’t really the best fit for the team, they selected him anyone based on his ability. Now he is matched up with Aaron Gordon and Johnathan Issac as a crazy athletic group in the front court. But they need one more piece to put everything together and become a playoff team and that’s a point guard.
After Rondo and LeBron realize they don’t work as teammates, Rondo will want full control of a situation. The Magic are the perfect place for this with the weakest unit of point guards in the league. These three would cause major problems in the East if they formed.