Ever since Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce teamed up in Boston to form the original “Big 3,” every team has been looking to assemble its own dynamic trio that will stabilize the franchise and put them in the championship position year in and year out. Though in all fairness, Big 3s aren’t a modern invention--just look at Lakers and Celtics of the 80s and Bulls of the 90s, whose teams were all built around a trio of superstars.
Point being, Big 3s have always mattered in the NBA. The modern league is no exception as team’s continue to mix and match big-ticket talents at a higher rate, with instant results earning a greater emphasis than the patience that precedes on-court chemistry and long-term dominance. The outcome is a hodge-podge of Big 3s in the league--all possess supreme talent, but not all of possess the right combination of circumstance, coach or team culture to really make the most of what they can offer as players.
It’s why there are many Big 3s that look good on paper but will deceive you once they’re on the clock. Likewise, it’s also why there’re some units that appear to be a band of misfits that really are a part of well-oiled machine prepped for a late season run. Determining which Big 3 falls into which category is important for all fans to know, and is why we’re going through Top 8 worst and top 7 best Big 3s for the 2016-17 season. Let’s jump into the countdown!
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15 The Worst
8. San Antonio Spurs - Kawhi Leonard, Jonathon Simmons, David Lee
It’s a bold move to put any Gregg Popovich squad on a “worst” countdown, but I’m not confident this group will support the legendary coach the way he believes they can.
Anchored by an all-pro in Kawhi Leonard, the talent quickly falls off from there. Undrafted shooting guard Jonathon Simmons only has a year of NBA game experience and started in just two contests, while David Lee is now viewed as the lowly stand-in for Draymond Green until he became, well, the Draymond Green we all know (and love?) today.
Points appear to be at a premium for this squad who lacks any real offensive threat in their Big 3 (or outside of it, for that matter). They’re slotted as the 8th worst Big 3 for now, but only because I have faith in Poppovich’s ability to turn unknown foreigner ballers into high-functioning pieces of his own puzzle. Still, the optics are bad on this one, and Spurs fans need to brace for rough patches throughout the year.
14 Orlando Magic - Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, Nikola Vucevic
Spearheaded by a sharpshooting guard in Fournier, the Magic also get a lot from Hezonja’s contentious play-style and reliable big man in Vucevic, so the question is what’s not to love?
For one, this is a group that’s hard-pressed for assists. Vucevic leads the trio with assists as a center and they don’t get it from many places outside of the Big 3 as all three point guards (D.J. Augustine, C.J. Watson and Elfrid Payton) are either natural shooters or defenders.
Compounding these problems is a team-wide identity crisis: are these players actually the Big 3? Additions like Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka suggest otherwise, but given that they’re new to the roster it’s hard to tell where (or how) they’ll fit in among their teammates. With a team full of ball-stoppers alongside mysterious new players, it seems like Orlando is just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks--in the bad way.
13 Houston Rockets - James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson
Dwight Howard skipping town means it’s officially Harden’s show now in Houston. Which, as many of you expect, means no defense as well.
Aiding in the offensive tunnel vision is the hiring of offensive coach Mike D’Antoni and the over-priced signing of wing shooter Ryan Anderson. Both will majorly contribute into Houston’s goal of becoming one of the top-scoring teams in the league this upcoming season, but at the same time, give them no real protection at or remotely around the rim. That will cost the Rockets dearly down the stretch and will likely end their season come the first or second round of the playoffs at best.
I guess you get what you pay for--literally. Houston shelled out the big bucks for more offense when Howard left and that’s exactly what they’ll get. Though it’s blatantly clear it’s far from what they need.
12 Detroit Pistons - Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris, Andre Drummond
Three years ago this was a different Big 3, consisting of Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe. With Jackson’s entrance from Oklahoma City two years ago and Marcus Morris coming in after a trade from Phoenix at the beginning of last season, Detroit gets another Big 3 to test out.
Sad to say, this won’t produce what they wanted to. Drummond is a beast on the boards and defensively while Morris adds some nice finesse play down low for Detroit, but Jackson isn’t what the Pistons think he is and that will cost him. He hasn’t been able to elevate his game to a lethal level ever since earning a starting job and that learning process has cost teammates, especially Drummond, two good years of their youth.
You need a stellar backcourt to cut it in NBA, and Jackson falls short of that requirement. It doesn’t help that Drummond is somewhat one-dimensional and Morris is prone to off-nights, but at least they’re pretty damn good at a few things on court. Jackson’s just alright, which means he’s just alright enough to keep this team competing for low-end playoff berths at best.
11 Los Angeles Clippers - Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
This trio got exposed last year when Griffin got injured and the Clippers actually got better as a team without him. Talk about awkward. Now after an offseason of shopping Blake around it seems the Clippers will reluctantly roll with Paul-Griffin-Jordan as its big 3.
Problem is, outside of the rift, the team is overly reliant on Paul’s talents. His injury last postseason sealed LA.’s fate against Portland in the first round. Jordan’s defense and rebounding and Griffin’s offensive abilities became obsolete when Paul’s leadership wasn’t on the floor. How can you even call this a Big 3 when two of the stars are rendered useless without the third?
You can’t. Jordan’s limitations on the offensive end and Blake’s inconsistency and immaturity as a player make them dependent on Paul. If they don’t sharpen up soon they’re window will be closed for good.
10 Sacramento Kings - Darren Collison, Rudy Gay, Demarcus Cousins
On paper this looks like a stellar lineup. Boogie would command the paint, Gay is a pure scorer, and Collison is capable of doing damage from the perimeter. Crosstown rival Golden State should be shaking in their boots over this squad’s rising status!
But let’s get real. The Kings have been a basement franchise for the same reason every year: consistency. So while Cousins may be a force down low and Gay a premier scorer, it seems those two never showcase those abilities in the same game or even on a regular basis. Worse yet, by enlisting Collison and Afflalo into the backcourt, Sacramento is trying to use two mediocre players who’re past their prime to compensate for its lack of one great guard.
Like I said, it looks good on paper, but this squad will not live up to those expectations of success throughout the season. The Kings will always be the Kings, and 2016-17 will reinforce that notion.
9 New York Knicks - Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis
You all knew this one was coming ever since Rose stated his addition to the Knicks signified New York’s ascension into one of the NBA’s feared “superteams.” But the rose-colored glasses Derrick is donning don’t tell the truth of the whole situation.
Just look at Melo. He’s been a perennial all-star in the league yet hasn’t won a playoff series in a number of years, even after the Zen Master himself, Phil Jackson, jumped in to oversee operations. By adding another me-first player to the mix, this is supposed to cure the postseason woes Knicks fans have been encumbered with? Not likely, and now they’re becoming more dependent on a second ball hog to realize championship dreams.
The real loser here is Porzingis, who despite his gangly frame, has potential to be a real pro in the NBA. Sadly, he won’t get any help from Melo or Rose, who’ll be too concerned about counting money and buckets rather than wins.
8 Dallas Mavericks - Harrison Barnes, Dwight Powell, Dirk Nowitzki
Ever since Nowitzki signed his honeymoon contract with Dallas to ensure he’ll be a Maverick until he retires, this team sacrificed any hopes of being taken seriously. That investment into Dirk’s failing ability means this team isn’t looking to do anything worth noting until number 41 leaves the buildings.
It’s a shame too because this team has talent to be a threat. Powell is a strong presence defensively and on the boards with room to grow offensively while Barnes has shown he can be versatile on both ends of the court. Of course, this hinges on Barnes’ ability to shake off his dreadful performance in last year’s NBA Finals. His disappearance in the biggest series of his life is easily the most damning trait he possesses and could carry over into his Dallas tenure.
Sure, he could shed those bad memories and move on just fine. But players are human, too, and it’ll be hard for Barnes to forget his role in dethroning his old team’s chance at being the best of all-time.
7 The Best
7. Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Jared Sullinger
Lowry and DeRozan have solidified themselves as one of the league’s best (regular season, albeit) backcourts in the NBA and have done their job in stabilizing the Toronto’s chaotic tenure as a franchise.
With the addition of Jared Sullinger, who proved himself as a true stretch-4 last year with some potent strikes from beyond the arc, the Raptors are finally primed for deep playoff run. About damn time. Lowry and DeRozan have been lauded as a great backcourt for quite a while, yet never seemed to materialize in April and May. It seems now with a deadly trio taking form thanks to Sullinger’s arrival, this team will actually make good on its hype.
One problem does remain: defense. Lowry, DeRozan and Sullinger aren’t known for preventing baskets as much as they are making them, but if they can keep teams just enough in check, good things will come to Toronto
6 Utah Jazz - Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert
Often forgotten about as an NBA franchise ever since Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer left many moons ago, the Utah Jazz are once again a legitimate team thanks to collection of talent on the interior.
Gobert has been silently asserting himself as a two-way threat in the much tougher Western Conference, Favors has been able to stretch the floor for buckets inside and outside of the 3-point line and Hayward has a repertoire of talents that become more and more evident every game. To top it all off, all three players are just entering their prime as athletes and look to build on the smidgens of success they’ve had early in their careers.
Good things are coming for this young Jazz squad, and while they may still be a year or two out of true contention, don’t be surprised if they burst onto the scene next Spring.
5 Minnesota Timberwolves - Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns
Last year Minnesota was one of the few teams to regularly challenge Golden State due to their length and speed at almost every position. This group will look to grow from that experience as they offer one of the most dynamic threesomes in all of the NBA.
LaVine may be known for his eccentric dunks, but it’s the guards shooting that actually has the T-Wolves on the up and up. Combine that with Wiggins who’s beginning to live up to his prodigal pre-draft status and the big KAT himself in Towns who ran away with Rookie of the Year honors last season and Minnesota has a bonafide roster that can make waves in the competitive Western Conference.
Although, not surprisingly, success from this team can’t be one-sided--they must defend well--which has been a problem for this squad (LaVine in particular). If they can commit to playing real defense, this team will find a way to carve out a 4th or 5th seed in the playoffs.
4 Portland Trailblazers - Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Maurice Harkless
The true surprise of last year’s playoffs came from Portland’s backcourt, when Lillard and the surprising rise of McCollum quickly transformed this team into one of the top 5 guard tandems in the NBA.
Lillard and McCollum look to carry that confident showing from last year’s second round exit in the playoffs into a strong start to the 2016-17 season. The key variable here is Harkless--will he continue his rising status as interior threat for this roster that currently relies heavily on perimeter, especially three-point, shooting? That remains to be seen, but with fellow big man Mason Plumlee down low to help gobble up rebounds and defend, Harkless can focus on making an offensive impact that will elevate the Portland.
As long as Harkless keeps elevating his play (and eventually starts to takeover for what Plumlee currently adds to the team) the Trailbalzers will surely be a force to be reckoned with in the NBA.
3 Indiana Pacers - Paul George, Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young
A remarkable offseason that saw the Pacers not only replace questionable guard George Hill for a player with a higher floor and ceiling in Teague, but add supplementary players for depth make Indiana the top contenders against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.
George has already shown he’s a standout star with defensive and shooting ability that are hard to come by. His play alongside an older-than-you-realize player in Young, who still has the legs to play both ends of the court well and the chops to make jumpers equip Indiana with a powerful trio. The growth then mainly relies on the team’s new addition: Teague. He must adapt to a new system quickly and master it, or else it will be his head people will be calling for.
Still, the Pacers are more competitive than they’ve looked in years, and now with strong players in all the key positions, they’ll earn a second-round playoff birth at the least.
2 Cleveland Cavaliers - Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love
Despite being the most remarkable NBA champions in recent history, the LeBron-led Cavaliers still rely mostly on the health and wellbeing of their stars to make the deep title run they’re planning now.
That health is a fickle friend. When it’s present, Irving, Love and James are an unstoppable trio that can best even the presumptive greatest NBA team of all-time.Though to keep them all in playing shape, each must miss chunks of the season, especially Irving, if they want a chance at defending their title. Make no mistake, this group is the best Big 3 of the bunch, but when being the best comes at the expense of 30 or so missed regular season games, it’s hard to vouch for their total dominance.
Cleveland will likely find themselves competing for another Conference championship and NBA title unless something goes horribly wrong. Scary thing, it’s a long season, and something can always go horribly wrong.
1 Golden State Warriors - Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green
This one was obvious, but also unfair since it’s not really a Big 3 but Big 4. You could argue last year this team was even a Big 5 with the “death lineup” James and Cleveland debunked in three straight Finals games.
Nevertheless, the Warriors will be hungrier than ever to come out and prove themselves after their disheartening end to last season. Curry will resume his crafty crossovers and decisive three-pointers, Green will continue to harass opposing players on both ends of the floor and Durant will carve out a role for himself as an elite scorer on an elite team. Don’t forget, Golden State also has Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala on the squad so they can reincarnate the “Death Lineup” 2.0 in case Durant can handle a larger (and more polarizing role) as an NBA superstar.
Watch out world. Golden State is here to tear it up in the league for 2016-17. Question is, even if they do, will it wipe out the memory of last year’s loss? That will likely never happen.
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