Battle of the NBA Big Threes: Which Team's Core Is Best in Show?
An argument that constantly crops up between buddies in a bar or some guys going to a basketball game is over who the best "Big Three" is in the NBA. If you're to take it all on face value the obvious answer is the Miami Heat.
The Heat have three of the 25 best players in the NBA, and the oldest of the three is 30-year-old Dwyane Wade, so it's not like they're running out a bunch of geriatrics like the Los Angeles Lakers.
To start a more interesting argument, the question about which of the league's best "Big Three" combinations would win in a 3-on-3 tournament. That's a horse of a different color right there.
In a situation where we're comparing 3-on-3 chops the argument goes beyond who is the best group to build a team around, but we're getting a kind of pick-up game comparison between each team's top three guys.
Obviously it's a little bit different than a straight-up matchup between two guys; there's a certain amount of teamwork involved, but it's very different than a regular basketball game.
So, let's run out the eight best top three groups, ranked according to whatever crazy categories I've got in my mind, throw 'em up against each other in a fictional game to 21 (by ones and twos, win by two, of course), and see who comes out on top.
It's a single-elimination tournament and we're assuming full health of everybody involved, so that means Derrick Rose and Amar'e Stoudemire get to play.
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8) Memphis Grizzlies - Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol
4) Chicago Bulls - Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah
5) San Antonio Spurs - Tim Duncan, Tony Paker, Manu Ginobili
3) Oklahoma City Thunder - Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka
6) Boston Celtics - Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce
7) New York Knicks - Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler
Everybody is probably screaming that I left their team out—well chill out, there was probably a good reason. If I would have expanded this to 12 teams I would have had to arbitrarily hand out byes, and if it went to 16 I would be including trios like James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, and nobody wants to see that.
Because of that, a few notable groups have been left out. Joe Johnson, Deron WIlliams and Brook Lopez was the last left on the cutting room floor, and I just haven't seen enough from those guys to put them in above any of the other eight teams.
The next biggest omission is the Clippers' Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Here I just couldn't justify including the wildly inconsistent Jordan as a part of any team's "Big Three" as it were.
The next few trios left out were Al Horford, Josh Smith and Lou Williams; LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Nic Batum; and Danny Granger, Paul George and Roy Hibbert.
1) Miami Heat vs. 8) Memphis Grizzlies
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The Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combination just showed that they can hang with the Heat in a game with their blowout win on Sunday. That's a big reason why I had to include them over the trio of Joe Johnson, Deron WIlliams and Brook Lopez.
Gay showed that on a good night he can go up against LeBron James and score quite well, and Zach Randolph showed that he can out-man just about anybody that Miami throws at him.
Of course, what we're talking about here is the most gifted player in the NBA and two superstar-caliber players on the other side of the ball.
In this one we'd obviously see Bosh have to take on Gasol, so that's a weakness that Memphis could take advantage of. However, I actually think the Randolph-James matchup favors Miami, even though Randolph is going to play physically and try to bounce LeBron out of the way.
What it comes down to in this one is that Miami's makeup lends itself more to this type of game. They are capable of relying on each other to the point that they can create for one another, but if they need it, somebody will take over.
Memphis operates under an umbrella of teamwork that is more suited for five-on-five play. Plus, they lack shooters severely.
Miami 21, Memphis 16.
4) Chicago Bulls vs. 5) San Antonio Spurs
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This matchup is going to create an interesting dynamic between Derrick Rose and Tony Parker. You've got two guys who can penetrate incredibly well and score with just about anybody protecting the rim.
What it really boils down to in this one is the matchup between Joakim Noah and Tim Duncan, and I think Noah's game is a lot more effective than Duncan's when there are fewer people on the floor.
Noah's high-energy style of play is going to allow him to get around Duncan for rebounds more often, especially since there are fewer people on the floor to get in his way. Duncan relies on positioning and old-fashioned boxing out to grab boards, and Noah can do both, but he's also a ton more active than Duncan.
San Antonio does have the shooters to keep them in the game if Chicago is able to pull away, but this Bulls team seems almost perfectly set up to counter any three-on-three matchup. The quick post play from Noah, penetrating perimeter play from Rose and the knockdown shooting of Luol Deng is a perfect combination.
When it comes down to it, Chicago has the best player on the floor, and when you've got the best guy on the floor in a pick-up game it's hard to argue against that team coming away with the win.
Chicago 21, San Antonio 18
3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 6) Boston Celtics
Rajon Rondo taking on Russell Westbrook is going to be the marquee matchup in this one, but it's going to be the other guys that really decide how the game shakes out.
Serge Ibaka is easily the worst player in this tournament, but the way he plays is extremely effective in a pick-up game between teams of three.
He's able to pop in a mid-range jumper, but he's also got the athleticism to block shots and grab rebounds, plus he can finish around the rim.
What will really hurt the Celtics is that Paul Pierce will have to take on Kevin Durant. He's a good enough defender, but normally he's a lot older and slower than the three-time NBA scoring champion. Durant should be able to get around and get over him if he really needs a bucket.
If Westbrook is knocking down jumpers then the game might as well be over before it starts. If Rondo is able to corral him enough, however, he could get into a bad groove and shoot Oklahoma City out of this one.
Once again, the Thunder have the best guys on the floor, and even though they have nobody to stop Garnett from scoring in the paint, they'll be able to catch up easily if they get down early with the shooters they have.
It's going to be a close one with the very different styles of play, but the lock-'em-down, drag-'em-out defensive mindset doesn't usually work as well in a game with fewer people compared to a high-flying style of play.
Oklahoma City 21, Boston 19
2) Los Angeles Lakers vs. 7) New York Knicks
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The combination of Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony might not work incredibly well with the two of them on the floor in a five-on-five scenario, but if we get them together in a three-on-three set with the importance of individual play amplified, then this could be a very dangerous team.
I guess before I get into that I should explain taking Pau Gasol over Steve Nash. Nash is great to have when you're running the pick-and-roll in a regular game; otherwise, his best skill is as a spot-up shooter with some dribble penetration. Taking Gasol gives the Lakers another big body and a mid-range scoring threat for Stoudemire to chase around. At the very least we get to see two guys play half-assed defense to the best of their abilities.
Kobe Bryant is going to be the main scoring threat for the Lakers here. He's going to go into isolation against Anthony—and let's be honest, he's going to rip him apart. However, I'm not sure that's going to be enough for the Lakers.
It seems to me that Tyson Chandler will be able to keep Dwight Howard far enough away from the basket so he's unable to really develop much right up against the basket, forcing Gasol to take on a scoring load for the Lakers.
With the two bigs more or less neutralized, it comes down to who will be able to score in the mid-range and from the perimeter better between the other two guys, and after seeing Anthony play for the past few games, it seems like the Knicks have an edge. I'm calling an upset.
New York 23, Los Angeles 21.
1) Miami Heat vs. 4) Chicago Bulls
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I actually think the smartest thing the Bulls can do in this one is work a nice inside-outside game between Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.
Defensively, you'll see LeBron covering Rose, so do what you can with any kind of space Wade gives Noah on the three-point line and let Noah do his wild-man routine down low against Chris Bosh. Once things start to get down to it, see what Rose can do against LeBron.
For that to work, however, they're going to have to hope that Rose can cover Wade well enough when they're on defense.
The post matchup is going to be key. Noah and Bosh have been pretty back-and-forth over the past few seasons, trading good games against each other. It's going to be the luck of the draw on that one.
They've got a shot at winning a three-on-three, that's for sure. The only problem is that LeBron James is built for getting points when there's space on the floor. Get him a crease and he's at the rim.
Once again, I think this one's close, but the best player on the floor wins it for Miami, sending Chicago home, sullen.
Miami 21, Chicago 19.
3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 7) New York Knicks
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This would be a downright fascinating matchup to take in, but it seems the Knicks are fundamentally flawed when they don't need to stop a big man from scoring, at least in a matchup like this.
Instead of slowing down what could have been Los Angeles' most dangerous scorer in Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler is instead switched to covering Serge Ibaka against the Thunder. It greatly diminishes his value in this one.
With that, you'd have Amar'e Stoudemire's broken knees, which would have been fine guarding Pau Gasol in the previous round, taking on Kevin Durant, followed by Carmelo Anthony being forced to corral Russell Westbrook.
It all makes such a strong case for the Thunder, but I don't think it would be nearly as bad as it looks on paper.
Russell Westbrook would be effective on offense, sure, but Anthony would be able to post up on Westbrook all game long. And if Ibaka came over to help out, there's a nice little dump-down to Chandler to be had.
What takes it for Oklahoma City has to be Durant. He's going to be able to easily beat Stoudemire off the dribble, and once he does he's either got a free lane to score or Chandler rotating to try to stop him, leaving Ibaka open for an easy bucket.
Oklahoma City 21, New York 18.
1) Miami Heat vs. 3) Oklahoma City Thunder
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Well, this is pretty much what everybody expected, right?
The two best players on the two reigning conference champions taking each other on with their two best buddies. So how does this one go down?
I really like Serge Ibaka's matchup in this one. His speed and athleticism should allow him to keep up with Bosh no matter where he migrates to for his shot, the only problem is that Ibaka still falls easily on a pump-fake, and if Bosh starts getting him to bite then it's all over.
Will LeBron James be able to slow down Kevin Durant? That seems highly unlikely, but conversely there's no way whatsoever that Durant slows down LeBron.
Does that mean it's all up to the matchup between Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook then? That's quite possible.
Westbrook's dribble-penetration should be on full display in this one without a threatening defender around the basket to deny him, but he's also going to have to deal with putting a body on Wade.
If this turns into a shootout then Miami is probably going to win. Oklahoma City would need to continually attack the rim and keep the ball moving between Durant and Westbrook.
With LeBron as their main opposition, however, it seems like it's all pointing in the favor of the defending champions.
Miami 26, Oklahoma City 24.