Three's Company, or Four? NBA Teams Stock Stars for Playoff Runs
It's been the same story every season: a certain team injects their roster with an additional star player, the media jumps on the bandwagon and calls them contenders, and we are all reminded of the San Antonio Spurs' big three.
It seems to be so common in the last few years—and quite frankly, it's blistering to my ears when rumors claim there's another danger being assembled in the Western Conference.
The biggest story of 2007 had to have occurred in the off-season, when the Boston Celtics reloaded with All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Along with Paul Pierce, the three were dubbed "The Boston Three Party" and "The Big Three" by the starving media and eager Celtics fans.
But what about four?
The last time we really witnessed a core of four stars on one team, it was the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers, adding veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton to an already dominant duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. That particular Lakers squad was on pace to win 66 games before Malone's injury (starting 20-5), and right before the end of December, the injury bug started biting.
This year, there are four teams in the NBA who could fit that mold.
The Los Angeles Lakers, who, sometime in April, should have a frontline of three players who are or nearly are seven feet tall, will be one of the scariest teams gearing for a top four spot in the playoffs. Let's not ignore the facts: Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum are all capable of grabbing 10 rebounds on any given night, pairing 15-20 points with them.
We haven't seen a front three that massive and talented since Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Larry Bird won championships for the Boston Celtics in the 80's.
With Kobe Bryant thrown into the pot, you can't help but think that the Lakers are just as mean as the 2004 Lakers. Anyone can make an argument that, without those injuries to Malone, Shaq and Kobe, Los Angeles would have an extra 60-win season under their belt, along with another championship.
Combined stats: 73.5 PPG, 35.0 RPG, 13.3 APG
Out in Arizona, another big four has developed before our eyes for the Phoenix Suns. Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Grant Hill and the newly-acquired Shaquille O'Neal may have all the tools for a run at the NBA championship. As many have pointed out, it's a hit or miss for the Suns, who took a gamble by placing one of the largest players in the fastest offense in the NBA, but what if they find success in the second half of the season? The "hit" I speak of will either be a grounder to first, or a grand slam, which is parallel to the difference between a pretender and a contender.
Combined stats: 69.6 PPG, 25.2 RPG, 17.5 APG
Another dangerous four, who have been pushed aside in the playoffs the last two seasons, are the Detroit Pistons. In 2004, you can make an argument for them, but today, Tayshaun Prince has become an amazing player on both ends of the court, and with the experience this team has together, they have a shot at the NBA Finals in a weaker Eastern Conference (yet we all know the road goes through the Celtics this year).
Like them or not, the Pistons are flexing their muscles with talent. Chauncey Billups gives Detroit very solid point guard play, with exceptional defense and clutch shooting. Richard Hamilton is possibly the best mid-range shooter in the NBA. Rasheed Wallace has very good range and defense. With the growth of Prince, the Pistons are "four on the floor" most of the time, due to their stellar training staff (or their great stroke of luck).
Combined stats: 61.4 PPG, 18.0 RPG, 16.2 APG
You can also make the case for the New Orleans Hornets, who are stacked with two current All-Stars, one of the best shooters in the league, and a defensive beast at center. Chris Paul, David West, Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler have driven the Hornets into the top seed of the Western Conference, and these four could be a more lethal version of last season's Golden State Warriors. Teams have something to sweat about in New Orleans, and it's not just MVP candidate Chris Paul.
Combined stats: 68.7 PPG, 29.7 RPG, 15.4 APG
After two incredible, unexpected trades turned the Western Conference into the frightening, mean bully we all knew in grade school, Mark Cuban decided to build his four. The Dallas Mavericks brought back Jason Kidd to pair with Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Jason Terry, all with the ability to have 15-20 point games for the Mavericks. It's tough to believe the Mavericks will have the size up front to deal with the larger, more powerful frontcourts in the league, but if the right path is available to them in the playoffs, they could easily follow the yellow brick road into the conference finals.
Combined stats: 69.6 PPG, 26.8 RPG, 19.8 APG
Rumors are swirling about the Spurs or the Denver Nuggets stealing Ron Artest from the Sacramento Kings. If the disgruntled star is headed to Colorado, or packing his bags for the Alamo, you can add another team to the list.
In a sport where satisfaction was achieved by putting together the perfect duo, or even the most absurd trio of players, four's company is now knocking on our door.
Note: combined stats are not projected statistics, just the four averages added up per team
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