Top 20 NBA Player Combinations for an Epic 3-on-3 Tournament

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2012

Top 20 NBA Player Combinations for an Epic 3-on-3 Tournament

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    The traditional five-on-five format may not be going anywhere anytime soon, but international organization FIBA is pushing for a three-on-three hoops tournament at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

    The NBA's very best would likely still be a bit preoccupied with basketball as we know it, but that shouldn't stop us from imagining what could be. Indeed, if you could build 20 three-man teams from the league's current stock of talent, which team would you take?

    It's a different game to be sure, relying less on traditional positions and play-calling and more on basic chemistry.

    You'll need someone who can make plays, someone who can score and someone who can guard the rim and rebound. In most instances, that probably means a guard, a wing player and a big man–but hey, there are no rules here.

    We're talking about "basketball gone wild", after all.

    Here's a look the 20 best possible combinations according to one opinion.

20. Mike Conley, Wilson Chandler, Roy Hibbert

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    You can find a lot of guys who are better than some of the players in these rankings, but a lot of them (Ryan Anderson, Brook Lopez, Ray Allen) are more successful in a traditional game where all they have to do is spot up and shoot.

    This team is a close call.

    It would be a half-court squad to be sure, but each of these guys can at least create his own offense. Mike Conley can shoot from the outside and off the dribble, and Wilson Chandler can do the same. Plus, Chandler can crash the boards and defend two or three different positions.

    Meanwhile, Roy Hibbert isn't a natural for the three-on-three game, but he's tough to guard in the post.

19. Jrue Holiday, Danilo Gallinari, Greg Monroe

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    This is a good, young team, and the only reason it's not ranked higher is that these are the kind of players who do better in a traditional scheme than with a three-on-three game.

    Nevertheless, Jrue Holiday is a big, skilled guard who can shoot, and he'll have another capable shooter to target in Danilo Gallinari. They're both a bit streaky, but they can put up points in a hurry when everything clicks.

    Greg Monroe, meanwhile, is one of the league's most improved big men. He doesn't play above the rim, but he has a soft touch in the paint and rebounds well.

18. Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat, Paul George

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    Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat may not be on your radar just yet, but they will be. They're two of the best kept secrets at their respective positions, and they're both set to have big seasons in their first campaign together with the Phoenix Suns.

    Gortat can shoot short jumpers and has a soft touch in the paint. He's also a very big man who isn't scared to run the floor.

    Meanwhile, Dragic is a great shooter and solid passer.

    Through an athletic defender like Paul George into the equation, and you have a nice little team. It doesn't hurt that George can shoot from range and cause havoc in transition.

17. Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Al Jefferson

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    When the ball is in Ricky Rubio's hands, anything can happen. He just needs to have some guys who can do something with the ball when it comes their way.

    In this case, he has an outside shooter who can catch on fire in Kevin Martin, a fundamentally sound big man who can finish when he gets in the paint and make some nice post moves, too.

    Al Jefferson doesn't get the credit he deserves, but this guy is incredibly talented and has a lot of junk in his game that makes him tough to keep up with in the low block.

    You won't find Marc Gasol on this list, but he almost made this team instead of Al Jefferson.With a list that essentially plays both 4s and 5s at the same position, something has to give. Unfortunately, that meant Gasol got left off.

16. Jeremy Lin, Gerald Wallace, Al Horford

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    This lineup may seem bereft of great scorers, but each of these guys can get his offense.

    Jeremy Lin can shoot and get to the basket, so you don't have to worry about him. Gerald Wallace is the quintessential workhorse, and he can hit some spot up jumpers too. 

    In this lineup, he'd be crashing the offensive glass more often than not while Lin and Al Horford score most of the points. Horford is an excellent mid-range shooter, and he's got a nifty post-game. He may not be the biggest of big men, but that's where Wallace's defense and rebounding ability come in handy.

15. Kyle Lowry, Luol Deng, Kevin Garnett

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    No, this isn't the most exciting lineup you can imagine.

    But, it would be a surprisingly effective one. Kyle Lowry has the strength and quickness to get into the paint whenever he wants, but he's also a dangerous outside threat. Surrounding him with guys who can benefit from his play-making is a must.

    Neither Luol Deng nor Kevin Garnett excels at creating his own shots at this point, but they can spot up to hit jumpers all day long. 

    More importantly, they're both good defenders and play hard. This won't be an especially high-scoring unit, but it could win some games.

14. Kyrie Irving, James Harden, DeMarcus Cousins

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    This would be one heck of a young lineup.

    Kyrie Irving and James Harden are both capable of shooting from anywhere and taking the ball to the rim. For his part, DeMarcus Cousins is already one of the best scoring bigs in the game and almost automatic from the high post.

    That's a good thing too, because this team would struggle a bit on the defensive end.

13. Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, Amar'e Stoudemire

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    This team is built to run.

    Tyreke Evans and Amar'e Stoudemire can get up and down the floor and finish around the basket. With Evans' ability to push the tempo, having a big man who can run the floor with him is a must. 

    Meanwhile, Brandon Jennings can score from anywhere and brings some perimeter shooting to the fold. He's at his best when playing alongside another passer, so Evans should help him in that respect. Evans may be a more natural shooting guard, but he has enough combo-guard tendencies to make this lineup work.

12. John Wall, Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee

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    You might think this is a bit high for JaVale McGee, but he's great fit for this team, and he's a great fit for the three-on-three format. He moves incredibly well, rebounds, blocks shots and can run the floor.

    Those are important assets when paired with a couple of racehorses like John Wall and Andre Iguodala.

    Wall is a beast in one-on-one situations. His speed, athleticism and finishing ability make him awfully hard to stop. Meanwhile, Iggy is similarly unstoppable on the fast break, and he's one heck of a defender to boot.

    This team might not have a lot of perimeter shooting ability, but they probably won't need it.

11. Ty Lawson, Danny Granger, Chris Bosh

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    Ty Lawson is as good as just about anyone at breaking down defender and creating opportunities for spot-up shooters with his driving-and-kicking ability.

    Accordingly, he'd be a fine fit alongside Danny Granger and Chris Bosh. Both excel at spotting up, and both have great range (Granger especially). They also have good length and would find themselves able to easily shoot over much of the opposition.

    And, while Ty Lawson doesn't have amazing size for a point guard, he doesn't need it. He's quick and super strong, so don't you worry about him.

10. Monta Ellis, Paul Pierce, Tyson Chandler

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    Monta Ellis was born for this kind of basketball. 

    If he just had two fewer guys to pass to, he'd be in heaven. He wouldn't rank this highly on any other kind of list, but the guy is an absolute beast of a scorer, and he doesn't need any help. He can score with the ball in his hands and do so in a lot of different ways.

    Meanwhile, Paul Pierce does a little bit of everything, and Tyson Chandler will protect the rim in the inevitable event Ellis lets his man get into the paint.

    Because, that will happen.

9. Stephen Curry, Joe Johnson, Tim Duncan

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    No, Tim Duncan isn't washed up just yet. He can still score inside and from the high post, and he's a exceptional defender. 

    Plus, he still runs the floor incredibly well for a man his size.

    Pair him with a couple of scorers like Stephen Curry and Joe Johnson, and you're good to go. Both can shoot from outside, allowing this team to play inside-out whenever it wants to. Additionally, Johnson can post up or score in isolation, so this club would have a lot of different options.

    It may not seem like the most athletic lineup, but it's so skilled that it won't make a difference.

8. Steve Nash, Josh Smith, Dirk Nowitzki

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    That's right.

    Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki together again. It was bound to happen.

    Unfortunately, neither of those guys is a good defender, but that's where Josh Smith comes in. He's one of the league's finest. 

    The offensive end could be fun to watch, too. Nash will have the option of finding Dirk for a jumper or lobbing it to Smith for the dunk. The defense will have to stay on its toes.

7. Russell Westbrook, Rudy Gay, Blake Griffin

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    This team may be one of the most fun to watch. 

    All three guys can throw it down with the best of them, and all three guys are more than happy to run the floor. Stopping this team in the open court would be a tough task.

    Russell Westbrook can score from anywhere, defend and set guys up. Rudy Gay is a fantastic athlete who can seriously shoot from range. And, in case you didn't know, Blake Griffin has some hops.

    Good luck slowing them down.

6. Tony Parker, Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis

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    A bit high for Anthony Davis? Maybe.

    But, his athletic ability would pay extra dividends in this kind of scenario. Plus, his rangy ability to block shots and grab rebounds from anywhere would be all but essential given that both of his teammates in this case are guards.

    He won't need a lot of experience to handle this kind of game.

    This backcourt brings incredible scoring abilities to the table. Tony Parker uses his speed and range of inside moves to rack up points in a hurry, while Eric Gordon will remain content to do most of his damage from outside.

5. Rajon Rondo, Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol

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    Here it is: the best passing team on the list.

    They won't run the floor, but they won't need to. All three of these guys can create plays. None does it better than Rajon Rondo, and Manu Ginobili can shoot and pass in equal proportions. Gasol may be the best passing big around, and he'd form a dangerous combination with Manu.

    Rondo's rebounding ability would compensate for the fact that Manu isn't a bigger forward. The fact that both Ginobili and Gasol have good range would compensate for the fact Rondo isn't a very good three-point shooter.

    So, everyone's happy in this family.

4. Deron Williams, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love

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    Sure, it's somewhat smaller lineup, but Dwyane Wade is an excellent rebounder and defender. Forget size when he's on the floor.

    Kevin Love will cause all sorts of matchup problems as usual. He'd create drive-and-kick opportunities on the offensive end while cleaning the glass on defense.

    Wade of course is as good as it gets when it comes to scoring without much help, especially if he's 20 feet or closer to the basket. Williams gives you the ability to create plays and score from anywhere. 

    You might think Rondo is a better all-around player than Williams, but Deron's ability to shoot makes him vital to this roster. Wade isn't much of a perimeter threat, so pairing him with Rondo might cause some problems.

3. Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, LaMarcus Aldridge

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    LaMarcus Alridge doesn't get the attention he deserves. He's one of the most well-rounded big men in the game, can run the floor, and can score inside and out. He'd be phenomenal playing with a couple of superstar guards.

    Rose will make contributions on the glass as well. This guy is big and strong enough to make you think he's a forward on some nights. He's also a beast when it comes to getting his own shot, so he'd make this game look easy.

    Do you really need to be sold on Kobe Bryant? He's one of the best iso-scorers of all time. He'd be unstoppable in three-on-three ball.

2. Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Andrew Bynum

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    Here's the thing about Carmelo Anthony.

    Whatever you think about the rest of his game, he's an absolute beast in isolation situations. In fact, there are times when he probably wishes he could ask two of the New York Knicks to just sit down so that he had a little more space with which to work.

    It goes without saying that Chris Paul and Andrew Bynum are two of the very best at what they do.

    This wouldn't be the most fun team to watch, but it would be effective. In its own, plodding half-court way, they'd be hard to stop.

    How many big men can stop Bynum in the post? How many guards can keep Chris Paul unders wraps? And, good luck stifling Anthony without the benefit of extra help defenders.

1. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard

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    It doesn't get much better than this.

    LeBron James is the best all-around player in the world and a play-maker that never ceases to amaze. Kevin Durant is the league's best scorer and excels at just about everything else too.

    And, we should all know by now what all the fuss about Dwight Howard entails. He'd be especially valuable in a three-man format given his mobility and athleticism. With a couple of extra guys on the team, there's more space for each guy to cover on the defensive end. 

    A center like Howard would fit the part perfectly.

    Of course, James and Durant would create a range of matchup problems for opponents.

    James can guard virtually anyone and would make life rather hellish for opposing point guards. Meanwhile, Durant has the length of a power forward and the shooting ability to score from anywhere on the floor. 

    This team would be dangerous in every conceivable way.