For many, the 2017 NBA offseason surpassed the actual gameplay that took place in the 2016-2017 NBA season. Furthermore, once Kevin Durant had inked with the Golden State Warriors the majority of folks had concluded that the Warriors would coast to the 2017 NBA Championship. In large part, the Warriors did indeed coast to the 2017 title as they won fifteen straight playoff games and tied the 2000-2001 Los Angeles Lakers for the best playoff run in NBA history with a record of 16-1. But, once the Warriors had basked in their glory, other NBA teams were making moves in the offseason to dethrone the champions from the Bay Area in California.
The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired three-time NBA All-Star Jimmy Butler via trade from the Chicago Bulls. There was the Houston Rockets who added nine-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul. The Oklahoma City Thunder traded for four-time NBA All-Star Paul George in July and landed 10-time NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony two months later in September. Kyrie Irving’s now a Boston Celtic via trade and Gordon Hayward is joining him in green and white via free agency. Isaiah Thomas is now rocking wine playing alongside LeBron James and Kevin Love in Cleveland. The offseason was the most eventful in NBA history and that isn’t arguable. There’s plenty of teams with respectable (and dominant) big threes. But there are also teams with lackluster big threes. Here, we take a look at the eight best and seven worst big threes for the 2017-2018 NBA season.
15. BEST: New Orleans Pelicans (DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis And Jrue Holiday)
On February 20th, 2017, the New Orleans Pelicans pulled off quite the heist when they acquired DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings. The centerpiece that was leaving the “Big Easy” was rookie shooting guard Buddy Hield. Hield is one who Kings Owner Vivek Ranadive believes has “Steph Curry potential” (his words, not mine). On paper, the Pelicans easily possessed the best frontcourt with former Wildcats “Boogie” Cousins and “The Brow,” Davis. But, that didn’t exactly translate in to wins. Instead, the Pelicans went 11-14 with their new acquisition, Cousins. Cousins and Davis are two of the NBA’s most dominant bigs and Holiday is one of the NBA’s most willing passers. The potential for the Pelicans is sky-high as in the paint there’s no team that comes close to having the duo the Pelicans do with Cousins and Davis.
14. WORST: Sacramento Kings (De’Aaron Fox, George Hill And Zach Randolph)
Make no mistake, the Sacramento Kings will be an improved team in 2017-2018 and that’s in large part due to the off-season the team had. The team drafted their presumable Point Guard of the future when they selected former Kentucky Wildcat De’Aaron Fox with the fifth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The team also made an impact in free agency as it signed veteran Point Guard George Hill (who can serve as a mentor for Fox) and Zach Randolph (who can provide mentoring for Willie Cauley-Stein). The Kings are capable of contending for a playoff spot in the 2017-2018 season, but this does not mean they have one of the league’s stronger big threes. Randolph is at the tail end of his career as he’s thirty-six and whether or not Fox’s success at the college level translates to the big leagues remains to be seen. The closest thing to a sure thing on the Kings roster is Hill and while he’s a solid player he’s unworthy of being a number one option on any team.
13. BEST: Milwaukee Bucks (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton And Jabari Parker)
Bucks fans had reason for excitement last season as they’d get to see budding superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, and young stars, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker further gel and grow as the faces of the team from “Badger Country”. On September 21st, 2016, the Bucks received unfortunate news when it was revealed that Middleton would be out six months due to needed surgery on his left hamstring. On February 8th, 2017, Middleton was set to return and this was supposed to be a joyous day for all Bucks fans. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. On the same night of Middleton’s return, Parker tore his ACL in his left knee for the second time in his career. Parker’s estimated to be out for a year and will certainly not beginning the season with the Bucks. Parker recovered in spectacular fashion from his first ACL tear and gives Bucks fans reason to be optimistic that he’ll do the same the second time around. Oh, and that Antetokounmpo character? He’s only a favorite for the 2016-2017 NBA MVP Award!
12: WORST: New York Knicks (Tim Hardaway Jr, Frank Ntilikina And Kristaps Porzingis)
Building around a 22-year-old unicorn by way of Liepaja, Latvia, Kristaps Porzingis is an ideal building block for any team. However, whether he’s ready to be handed the keys to the city (ruthless New York City, nonetheless) remains to be seen. Porzingis has shown positive progression in his two seasons in the “Concrete Jungle” as he finished last season with a respectable 18.3 PPG and 7.2 RPG averages respectively. But while Porzingis is a promising piece, it’s hard to circle in on who the second and third option on the Knicks are after “KP.” Signing a four-year deal worth $72 million, Tim Hardaway Jr will be playing for the Knicks for a second time and will be expected to carry the bulk of the scoring behind Porzingis. With the 8th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Knicks selected the relatively unknown Frenchman Frank Ntilikina who played overseas in France the year prior. Ntilikina doesn’t come with the hype that his fellow draftees such as Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum and others come with. Furthermore, most individuals think the Knicks made a huge mistake taking Ntilikina over the 9th overall pick, Dennis Smith Jr. Ntilikina has all the motivation to prove his naysayers wrong and will likely be tasked with playing a pivotal role for the Knicks for years to come.
11. BEST: Houston Rockets (Ryan Anderson, James Harden And Chris Paul)
On June 28th, 2017, Chris Paul was dealt from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Houston Rockets in exchange for the likes of Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams and others. Paul would now be joining forces with the runner-up in MVP voting for the 2016-2017 season, James Harden. While Harden and Paul are two players that many consider top ten talents in the NBA today, it’s much harder to pinpoint who the third member of the team’s “big three” is. A case could be made for swingman Trevor Ariza as well as for the 2016-2017 NBA Sixth Man of the Year, Eric Gordon. While Ariza and Gordon could certainly establish themselves as the third member of the big three, it’s stretch four Ryan Anderson who will most likely benefit from the unselfish stars, Harden and Paul. Anderson is likely to get a number of open looks from the backcourt duo and it’s his job to capitalize on those opportunities.
10. WORST: Indiana Pacers (Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo And Myles Turner)
With the exit of Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s clear that the team is obviously in rebuilding mode. The face of the franchise is no longer a swingman from Fresno State, but rather, a center who played college ball for the Texas Longhorns. Just 21, Myles Turner will be tasked with returning the Indiana Pacers to relevancy. Turner will not just be the face of the franchise, but will also be a leading candidate to grasp the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year Award. While it’s clear that the headliner that the Pacers received from the Thunder, Victor Oladipo, will be second in command, it’s a little harder to judge who the third member of the Pacers “big three” is. A case could be made for Lance Stephenson whose played his best ball for the Pacers in two separate stints, veteran Power Forward Thaddeus Young or incoming Sophomore Domantas Sabonis who is likely to be on the receiving end of a hefty amount of minutes. Darren Collison will be tasked with leading the offense which is why he’s likely to be the third most vital piece of the Pacers in the 2017-2018 season.
9. BEST: Boston Celtics (Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, And Kyrie Irving)
On July 4th, 2017, Gordon Hayward announced that he’d be “taking his talents to Beantown to play for the Boston Celtics”. Hayward thought he’d be teaming up with Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford. Well, he got half of the equation right; he will indeed be teaming up with Horford, but not Thomas. Thomas, along with others were dealt to Cleveland in exchange for Kyrie Irving. The Boston Celtics will only be bringing back four players from their 2015-2016 roster which will be headlined by the forenamed newcomers Hayward and Irving as well as 2017 third overall pick, Jayson Tatum. Irving will be looking looked at as the team’s leader, while Hayward will be the team’s secondary option and Horford will be the team’s tertiary option. As the makeup of the Celtics roster is almost entirely new it wouldn’t be shocking to see this team experience early struggles. However, their big three (as well as their supporting cast) is too talented to not succeed.
8. WORST: Orlando Magic (Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton, And Nikola Vucevic)
The Orlando Magic have been rebuilding ever since they dealt Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers and haven’t been doing a good job at it. While Howard was clearly the franchise player during his tenure, the team hasn’t had a franchise player since he was dealt to the Lakers. In 2015, the Magic selected sharpshooter Mario Hezonja with the fifth overall pick whose failed to pan out in the NBA thus far. In the 2016 off-season the Magic signed Bismack Biyombo to a massive four-year, $70 million deal just as he was coming off an impressive postseason with the Toronto Raptors. Unfortunately for the Magic, Biyombo hasn’t piggybacked off his postseason success. It’s difficult to identify who is the alpha dog on the Magic because in all honesty, none of their players are fit to be the primary option on any team in today’s NBA. The saving grace is that the best is likely still to come from Fournier who’s only 24, Payton who’s only 23 and Vucevic who’s only 26.
7. BEST: Oklahoma City Thunder (Paul George, Russell Westbrook, And Carmelo Anthony)
Forget about the fact that not only could Russell Westbrook walk at the end of the 2017-2018 NBA season and forget that Anthony and George could also do the same. Instead, focus on the fact that Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager pulled off a king’s ransom not once, but twice. He first added a top fifteen talent in Paul George in July by sending away just Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. And it didn’t stop there. Two months later, Presti was back at it as he fleeced the New York Knicks for a top twenty-five talent (regardless of what ESPN may think) in Carmelo Anthony by packaging away Thunder fan favorite Enes Kanter, lottery bust Doug McDermott and a future second round pick. The Thunder may just have one year to make this work but like Presti, this is a gamble that almost any GM would take in a heartbeat. Each of the three are some of the league’s most dynamic scorers and speaking for George and Westbrook, they are two of the league’s best two-way players. Golden State versus Oklahoma City is officially can’t miss television!
6. WORST: Atlanta Hawks (Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince And Dennis Schroder)
Paul Millsap, the last of the starting five of the Atlanta Hawks that made the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals (along with Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll and Al Horford) decided a change of scenery was best for him and opted to sign with the Denver Nuggets in the 2017 off-season. Big man Dwight Howard was dealt to the Charlotte Hornets for little to nothing. With both of these moves the Hawks officially became Dennis Schroder’s team. The year prior, Schroder took over starting Point Guard duties from the aforementioned Teague and just one year later he’s the face of the franchise. Speaking of Teague, he was dealt for the twelfth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft; the Hawks selected Taurean Prince with this pick. Prince had a tough rookie campaign but is likely to see his role increase in the sophomore year. Bazemore will likely be cast with carrying the load in the scoring department for the Hawks in 2017-2018. Needless to say, things aren’t looking good for the Hawks for the upcoming season.
5. BEST: Minnesota Timberwolves (Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns And Andrew Wiggins)
Before the Rockets acquired Chris Paul, before the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Paul George and Carmelo Anthony and before all the shakeups that took place in the 2017 off-season, it was the Minnesota Timberwolves who made the first blockbuster move. Trading away the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft along with Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, the Wolves acquired the fifteenth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and the missing piece to their big three, Jimmy Butler. Adding icing to the cake is that Butler is familiar with Wolves Head Coach Tom Thibodeau’s system as he played under “Tibbs” while playing for the Bulls. Towns represents one of, if not the best big man in the game today despite the fact that he only has two years under his belt. Wiggins will clearly be the third option on this team, but at just twenty-two his best years are clearly ahead of him. The Wolves also possess the best two-way big three in the league as Butler, Towns and Wiggins are not a liability on either end of the ball and are clearly capable of holding their own end when it comes to getting buckets and locking up their man.
4. WORST: Chicago Bulls (Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine And Lauri Markkanen)
When the Chicago Bulls dealt Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves on June 22nd, 2017 in exchange for Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft which ended up being Arizona big man Lauri Markkanen they let their fanbase know they were officially in rebuilding mode. Not only did the Bulls signal that they were in rebuilding mode on that fateful day, but they also acquired the three biggest cogs of their team on that day. Dunn was a promising college player at Providence but never really had a chance to showcase his talents in Minnesota as he was playing behind Ricky Rubio. Similarly, LaVine was overshadowed by the likes of Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Markkanen is a skilled big, mostly known for his shooting and the fact that he’s a stretch four bodes well for him in today’s NBA. Years down the road this may be one of the better big threes in the association, but as of now it’s a work in progress.
3. BEST: Cleveland Cavaliers (LeBron James, Kevin Love And Isaiah Thomas)
Quite frankly, the Cleveland Cavaliers do not have a big three; the team has a big four (and arguably a big five). With the recent signing of Dwyane Wade, as well as the off-season signing of Derrick Rose, the Cavs are one of the deepest teams in the league, if not the deepest. Despite Isaiah Thomas being rumored to be out until the 2018 calendar year, he’s expected to be a main focal point, and the Cavs number two option behind LeBron James. Thomas is coming off a career year having finished fifth in MVP voting behind Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and new teammate, James. Kevin Love will be going into his fourth season playing alongside James and will be looked at to pick up some of the scoring load as a result of Kyrie Irving’s departure. And LeBron James? He’s simply the greatest basketball player on the planet currently. Bron Bron’s seat in Cleveland’s big three is safe, but don’t be surprised if Love and/or Thomas is replaced by Rose and/or Wade.
2. WORST: Brooklyn Nets (Allen Crabbe, Jeremy Lin, and D’Angelo Russell)
Unlike teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors who fans can debate about who is their rightful big three for all the right reasons, the Brooklyn Nets are a team fans can debate about who is their rightful big three for all the wrong reasons. While D’Angelo Russell will be expected to lead the Nets and is the clear go-to guy of the franchise, it’s hard to decipher a clear-cut number two option on the Nets. Is it Jeremy Lin? Allen Crabbe? DeMarre Carroll? Rondae Hollis-Jefferson? Lin only played in 36 games in his first season in Brooklyn but was formidable when he suited up as he totaled averages of 14.5 PPG, 5.1 APG and 1.2 SPG. Crabbe was a free agent that the Nets actually signed to an offer sheet in the 2015-2016 off-season; however, the Portland Trail Blazers matched the offer. A year later, the Nets gave their man and are likely expecting big things from him. Brooklyn Nets fans, it’s looking like a difficult 2017-2018 campaign for you guys!
1. BEST: Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant And Draymond Green)
Leaving Klay Thompson out of a big three seems almost criminal but that’s the scenario the Golden State Warriors find themselves in and something tells me not a single member of that team (sans Thompson possibly, who may or may not want an increased role) is complaining. Adding Kevin Durant to the fold on July 4th, 2016 officially put the NBA on notice that this was now the Warriors’ league for the foreseeable future. In Durant’s first year in the NBA he and the Warriors hoisted the NBA Championship. Prior to 2017, Durant and Stephen Curry were winners of the last three MVP awards with Durant having won in 2014 and Curry having gone back-to-back in 2015 and 2016. Draymond Green was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and while he isn’t the scorer that Curry or Durant is (not like he needs to be), he’s one of the NBA’s most versatile players and stuffs the stat sheets in all categories. The Warriors’ big three is balanced with every one knowing his role and what his teammates expect out of him.
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