The Miami Heat have laid claim to the premier Big Three in the NBA for a few seasons now, but has free agency shaken up the standings at all?
The first few weeks of July have allowed most stars to settle into new homes, leaving the Association with plenty of Big Threes. Other teams have great trios of players, but they fall shy of earning the coveted label.
All three players have to be top-50 guys, though this is an admittedly arbitrary choice. Think about it this way: If you were building a team from scratch, all three players would need to be first or second choices as building blocks of the organization for the 2013-14 season.
Therefore, a team like the Los Angeles Clippers isn't going to make the cut. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are both All-Stars, but who's the third leg? J.J. Redick? DeAndre Jordan?
Nope, don't think so.
Of these 10 trios, three have acquired new players since the conclusion of the 2012-13 season. Have any of them managed to dethrone King James and Co.?
The Golden State Warriors shipped off expiring contracts and draft picks for the chance to free up cap space and acquire Dwight Howard. That didn't happen, but it still left enough financial flexibility to lure Andre Iguodala away from his other suitors.
Now the man who worked hard to defend Stephen Curry in the Western Conference playoffs gets a chance to line up next to him.
This Big Three is just full of offensive explosiveness.
Curry is the greatest outside shooter in the NBA, coming off the most impressive perimeter performance of all time. Iguodala is the master of versatility, and while he might occasionally struggle with his shot, he always makes up for it with his facilitating abilities and transition dominance. Lee thrives on the blocks and shooting mid-range jumpers, and he's as good as it gets at providing offense from the power forward spot.
Defense will be a problem for the trio, though. While Iggy is one of the league's best perimeter stoppers, Curry and Lee are both sieves.
That's being nice to the power forward, too. Last season, the Dubs allowed an additional two points per 100 possessions when Lee was on the court, according to NBA.com. And that's an improvement from his past.
This trio will certainly be an exciting one, but previous injuries, defensive concerns and a lack of established chemistry prevent them from rising any higher.
If we were talking about 2010-11 instead of 2013-14, this trio of stars would have to rank significantly higher. But Father Time has ensured that the ranking of the Los Angeles Lakers' Big Three gets depressed a bit.
Steve Nash is coming off an injury-plagued season in which he failed to establish any sort of rhythm with his new teammates in purple and gold. Plus, he's 39 years old with no guarantee that he can still play at his former level.
Injuries kept Pau Gasol out for much of the 2012-13 campaign, and it wasn't until the end of the regular season that he truly hit his stride. He was a stat-stuffing machine at the end of the year, though. There's no doubt about that.
The unquestioned star of this Big Three is Kobe Bryant, although he's not free from questions.
How much will Kobe's Achilles tendon hold him back as he attempts to heal and start playing at an MVP level once more? Can his aging body allow for the quick recovery that he covets? Will he be able to play as aggressively when he returns?
There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding this trio, but there's also a lot of talent in that huddle up above. Anytime you combine one of the all-time great distributors, one of the most versatile big men in the game and a historically great scorer, you're in good shape.
While the Big Three of Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol occasionally struggled on offense during the 2012-13 season, it was remarkably dominant on the less glamorous end of the court. That's what happens when the Defensive Player of the Year is joined by another physical body and a great perimeter defender.
According to NBA.com's statistical databases, this trio allowed just 95 points per 100 possessions when on the court together. To put that in perspective, the Indiana Pacers had the top team mark at 99.8.
The scary part is that this trio is only going to keep getting better.
All the players are continuing to gain comfort together, and they're all either in their prime or just entering it. Conley is only 25 years old and Gasol is 28. Z-Bo is the old man in the group, about to turn 32, but his game doesn't depend on his athleticism, so he has plenty of great years left in the tank.
When opposing teams see this group of Memphis Grizzlies striding down the court together, they know they're in a battle to score points. And it's a battle they'll typically lose.
That's a terrifying sight, and it'll get even scarier once this trio develops more offensive firepower.
This is the only Big Three featured in this ranking that will be boasting two new parts.
And really, the Brooklyn Nets have more of a Big Five than a Big Three; leaving out Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez is a bit unfair. Especially Brook.
That said, the three best players calling the Barclays Center home in 2013-14 will be Deron Williams, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, so that's just the way the cookie crumbles for the shooting guard and center.
D-Will played fantastic basketball after the All-Star break gave his lower extremities a chance to heal. He finally looked like the point guard the Nets originally inked, averaging 22.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game on 48.1 percent shooting from the field.
If he can keep that up, he'll make another All-Star team and start looking like he could lead Brooklyn to a championship.
Of course, having Pierce and KG alongside him will only help.
The former Boston Celtics are getting up there in years, but each one can still be a high-level contributor. Pierce will finally get to focus on shooting jumpers, thriving in that role while continuing to play stellar—and underrated—perimeter defense. KG will continue protecting the rim and spacing the court.
A Garnett-Williams pick-and-roll game is sure to be an effective strategy, especially when everyone else on the court can hit shots if left open. There are no double-teams allowed against Brooklyn, or else the Nets will surely make the defense pay.
By the end of the season, Lopez may replace one of the new acquisitions in the Big Three, but that day has not yet arrived on paper.
In terms of balance and well-rounded games, it's hard to find better trios than the one boasted by the Indiana Pacers.
Paul George is now the star of this team. He'll become a top-10 player in the NBA if he spends the offseason improving his outside shot and working on his control over the rock. His perimeter defense is always impressive, but it's his offensive versatility that truly allows him to stand out.
The Pacers managed to keep this Big Three together by re-signing David West, and it's a good thing they did. Thanks to his pick-and-pop skills and willingness to guard any type of forward, he's become the heart and soul of the team.
West's toughness keeps Indiana going.
Roy Hibbert is the third member, and he steadily improved throughout the 2012-13 season. He struggled tremendously at the beginning of the year, got better during the second half and then dominated during the postseason.
The seven-footer's ability to protect the rim is invaluable, especially because it allows George and West to gamble a bit more on the perimeter. If he can continue hitting mid-range jumpers, he'll keep working his way up the center rankings.
And if he does that, this Big Three will keep steadily ascending up their own rankings.
The Houston Rockets now boast two of the 10 best players in basketball, as well as one of the rising stars. When you're trying to build one of the best Big Threes in the NBA, that's usually a good way to start.
Acquiring Dwight Howard will do great things for the Houston Rockets.
While Omer Asik was quite adept at protecting the rim and covering up the defensive mistakes of James Harden and Jeremy Lin, he didn't bring much offense to the table. Dwight Howard is just as good, if not better, at defense, but he's also a much more dominant inside force.
The three-point shooting of Harden and Chandler Parsons will help open up the court for him, ensuring that defenses can't collapse around Howard due to the danger of the long ball. It's essentially the same system that the Orlando Magic used for D12 back in the day, except Harden is a more dynamic offensive player than the big man's Orlando teammates.
Howard has developed an awful reputation after this disaster of a year. He was injured and less effective than normal, but it was his off-court antics and indecisiveness that really made fans turn on him.
But regardless of personal feelings, let's not forget just how overpowering the league's best center is when he's out on the court and fully healthy.
You'll most certainly be reminded after his reign of terror begins in Houston.
As for choosing Parsons over Lin, well, the former Florida Gator will use next season to prove that his 2012-13 breakout was neither a fluke or finished quite yet. He left Jeremy Lin in the dust, especially when playing small forward. According to 82games.com, Parsons earned a 16.2 PER while holding opposing 3s to 13.9.
Compare that to Lin's 15.0 for and 16.9 against, and you'll see that the choice for the third spot in Houston's trio is rather easy.
Between Luol Deng's frequent stints on the sidelines, Derrick Rose's rehabbed ACL and Joakim Noah's bout with plantar fasciitis, there are plenty of injury concerns about this Big Three. However, there's no denying the trio's talent.
Rose may have missed the entire 2012-13 campaign, constantly under scrutiny after he was medically cleared—but not mentally ready—to play. He's still a former MVP who should quickly reassert himself as the class of his position, though.
Don't be surprised when Rose, Tony Parker and Chris Paul are battling it out for the point-guard crown as the season wears on.
In the floor general's absence, Noah took over as the best player on the Chicago Bulls.
The Florida product is a joy to watch, mimicking the Energizer Bunny whenever he steps onto the court. He just keeps going and going and going.
That said, Noah's contributions go way beyond all-out effort; he runs the floor in transition, thrives on the glass, has an expanding offensive game and flat-out dominates defensively. Marc Gasol was a deserving winner of Defensive Player of the Year, but Noah wasn't far behind.
The two stars are complemented quite well by Luol Deng, who thrives as a third option. Deng struggles when asked to carry too much of an offensive workload, but he's at his best when he can spot up on the perimeter and use most of his energy as a lockdown defender.
This trio is elite on both ends of the floor, and a complete return to form from Rose could push them even higher up the rankings.
Note: Originally excluded from the rankings due to uncertainty concerning Rose's return to health.
So will the 2013 postseason finally quiet Russell Westbrook's detractors?
It was apparent that the Oklahoma City Thunder just weren't the same without the dynamic point guard, and Kevin Durant struggled to shoulder the load all by himself. It didn't help that neither Kevin Martin nor Serge Ibaka were able to step up offensively.
Westbrook certainly has his flaws, namely his penchant for taking ill-advised pull-up jumpers. However, his aggressiveness helps the OKC offense tick. Defenses are forced to respect his incredible scoring prowess.
I'm sure that Durant would much rather live with Westbrook's over-assertiveness and without constant double-teams than vice versa.
For this Big Three to rise any higher in the rankings, Ibaka must improve. He's become a fantastic interior defender and shot-blocker, but his offense has stagnated. Although his 13.2 points per game on 57.3 percent shooting from the field is impressive, the Thunder need the Congolese big man to become more assertive and force opposing defenses to view him as better than just a third option.
Of course, it's hard to have a bad trio when the second-best player in basketball is on the roster.
Durant's knack for putting the ball in the basket is what gets the most credit, particularly after a 50/40/90 season, but his defense and skills as a facilitator both improved dramatically during his latest professional season. He's becoming more of an all-around threat by the day.
For about a decade now, we've thought of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili as the San Antonio Spurs' Big Three.
Well, there's been a changing of the guard. Er, forward.
Kawhi Leonard has now stepped up as the Western Conference champion's third-best player, trailing only Duncan and Parker. The San Diego State product is a quickly developing offensive player; his three-point shooting and ability to attack the rim already make him potent on that end.
However, it's his defense that makes him stand out.
Even during his second season in the NBA, Leonard thrived as a defensive stopper. He displayed fearlessness regardless of the matchup, and that was never more clear than during the NBA Finals when he stepped up and played against LeBron James.
Still only 22 years old—his birthday was in late June—Leonard appears to be the next face of the franchise. But for now, he's the third wheel in a set of tires that also includes an all-time-great big man still playing like he's in his prime and the second-best point guard in the NBA.
Derrick Rose may take that title away from Parker once he shows that he really is fully healthy, but Parker wrestled it away from Rose, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the contenders during the 2012-13 campaign.
Was there any doubt?
The Miami Heat won their second championship in a row thanks to the performance of the league's premier Big Three. Even when Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh declined during the postseason, LeBron James was there to pick up the slack.
Honestly, there can't even be much of a debate here.
LeBron is head and shoulders above Kevin Durant and the rest of the NBA when it comes to individual player rankings. In fact, he might be head, shoulders and waist ahead of everyone else after the 2012-13 season.
While Wade's knees are putting him into a premature decline, he's still a fantastic two-way shooting guard. When healthy, he's easily a top-10 player, and he's not far removed from that section of the player rankings even in his injured state.
While Bosh's stats don't stand out much now that he's the third option in Miami, he's playing the most efficient basketball of his career and starting to focus more of his energy on defense and protecting the rim. According to Basketball-Reference, he shot a career-high 53.5 percent from the field during the 2012-13 campaign.
LeBron is so good right now that he could find himself in the No. 1 spot even with lesser teammates, but the two All-Stars lining up next to the MVP ensure that the Heat are top dogs in another set of rankings.