With Miami Heat's Big 3 Disbanded, Which NBA Trio Is Tops?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 23, 2014

AP Images

LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have parted ways, which means the Eastern Conference is back up for grabs. And so is the title of the "NBA's Best Big Three."

Just for reference, the Miami Heat's superstar trio wasn't the most effective in the league last year. That distinction went to Andre Iguodala, Stephen Curry and David Lee of the Golden State Warriors, who collectively posted a net rating of plus-16.5 points per 100 possessions over a 1,229-minute sample, per NBA.com.

From a purely statistical standpoint, nobody was better in 2013-14.

Of course, you may have noticed that Golden State's group didn't lead it to four straight Finals or set the NBA world on fire when they initially came together like Miami's now-disbanded Big Three did.

For our purposes, being the top trio involves a combination of stats and status. Numbers matter, but playoff chops and star power are equally critical. Looking ahead to the 2014-15 season, which three-man unit has the best chance to replace the Heat atop the list of NBA trinities?

The Newbies

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 1:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks and Chandler Parsons #25 of the Houston Rockets battle for the rebound on November 1, 2013 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

No offense to some of the most recently formed contenders, but these good-on-paper triads are simply too untested to lay claim to Miami's throne.

In theory, the Dallas Mavericks group featuring Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons should be excellent together. Dallas boasted the league's best offense after the All-Star break last year, per NBA.com (and second best overall), and adding Parsons to the high-scoring duo of Ellis and Nowitzki should only make that attack more potent.

But we don't yet know how those three players will mesh and can't reasonably expect them to defend at a break-even level.

The same thinking applies to Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol.

That freshly created Chicago Bulls threesome should boast playmaking, terrific defense and some of the best big-man passing the league has ever seen in one place.

At the same time, Rose's health will be a question until he puts together at least a season or two without a major injury. And it's entirely possible Gasol won't be able to coexist with Noah, who typically occupies the same high-post position the Spaniard prefers.

The worst-case scenario for the Bulls is scary, but if things play out in best-case fashion, it's easy to see Chicago atop the East when the upcoming season concludes. With such a wide spectrum of possible outcomes in play, it's far too early to say the Bulls' new Big Three is the league's best.

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 21:  Joakim Noah #13 and Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls talk during the game against the Denver Nuggets on November 21, 2013 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Bart Young/Getty Images

Finally, no list of new Big Threes would be complete without including James, Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins. This bunch is the most untested of all, but we probably shouldn't discount the immediate impact James could have on his young teammates.

And if Wiggins somehow morphs into Kevin Love via trade, well...we might have to immediately re-evaluate a few things.

All three of those clubs—the Mavs, Bulls and Wizards—warrant mention here, but none have the proven chemistry, stats or past success to replace the Heat's old bunch.

Proven Dominance

May 13, 2013; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) guard Mike Conley (11) and forward Zach Randolph (50) in game four of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Memphis defeated Oklahoma 103-97 in overtime and lead t

We get a little closer to the top potential Big Three by looking at the groups that were most dominant last season.

That Warriors' unit of Iguodala, Curry and Lee certainly fits in here, but it bears mentioning that they've been together for just one season and haven't advanced past the first round. And as we said from the outset, stats—especially those from a mere one-season sample—aren't enough on their own.

If the Dubs' best three-man unit makes a bigger playoff splash, earns a little more notoriety and plays as well as it did last year, they'll be contenders for the crown. But they won't be alone.

The Portland Trail Blazers have Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum providing a perfect blend of offensive skills. It's no coincidence that last year's Blazers featured an elite offense that ranked fifth in the league, per NBA.com.

Lillard, Aldridge and Batum posted a net rating of plus-8.3 points per 100 possessions in Portland's breakout campaign and did it over a whopping 1,790 minutes on the court together. That's an efficiency and volume of which any Big Three should be proud.

The Los Angeles Clippers' troika of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were even better, notching a net rating of plus-11.2 over 1,701 minutes together.

And if it's a trio with a little more grit and grind that interests you, consider Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies. Injuries limited them to under 1,200 minutes on the floor last year, but when they played together, they tossed up a net rating of plus-7.8. Further, they've been a brutally tough playoff out in each of the past four years—falling in seven-game series three times and advancing to the Conference Finals in 2012-13.

Ultimately, even these established units aren't real contenders to replace James, Wade and Bosh's vacated spot as the best Big Three.

The Runner-Up

Jun 8, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21), guard Tony Parker (9) and guard Manu Ginobili (20) talk during the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat in game two of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. The Heat won 98-96. M

The San Antonio Spurs boast the most successful postseason trio in history, which counts for an awful lot here.

It's also worth noting that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have been around long enough to have been known as a Big Three before the Heat ever got the idea to put together one of their own. If history matters at all, the Spurs' veteran bunch can't be ignored.

Go ahead and add seven more wins to that total, by the way.

At the same time, statistical production is important, and we can't shove aside the fact that San Antonio actually got more value from Duncan, Parker and Kawhi Leonard than it did from its tried-and-true, old-school threesome.

With the young gun alongside Parker and Duncan, the Spurs posted a net rating of plus-9.3 in 1,158 minutes.

In 603 minutes with Ginobili in place of Leonard, the Spurs managed only a plus-3.8 net rating.

In a way, San Antonio's plug-and-play system—in which everybody who sees the floor automatically enjoys a productivity spike—hurts its ability to establish a statistically dominant Big Three.

And it's telling that Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer actually went with Leonard, Duncan and Parker as his top trio when listing his favorite Big Threes: "Can’t argue with the champions. Duncan and Parker provide experience and wide skill sets. Leonard added much-needed youth and athleticism to the Spurs."

When the rotation goes 10-deep and everyone plays so well, it's hard to get the kind of volume necessary for a single trio to surpass what the Heat once had. All those championship rings speak loudly, though. Unfortunately for San Antonio, there's a younger, scarier trio screaming to be acknowledged.

The New Kings

That leaves the Oklahoma City Thunder's entry: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

Right off the bat, throw out this group's plus-7.4 over 1,209 minutes last year. That's a heck of a figure, but it suffered from the injury that yo-yo'd Westbrook in and out of the lineup. The overall ineptitude of OKC's supporting players didn't help either.

This three-man unit has already proven its playoff mettle, driving Oklahoma City to the Finals three years ago. It's loaded with star power, elite athleticism, space-creating shooters and an MVP.

More than anything, it just feels like the Thunder are ready. They're at a point in their organizational development where the training wheels have long since been removed, the hunger brought about by disappointment is growing and the combination of talent and experience are perfectly balanced.

Durant told Bleacher Report:

With the Thunder, we all have the mindset that we want to get better and keep growing, but we also know that we want to win championships. We know we have to continue to keep working and we're putting in that work to be the best.

I like what we got. Russell [Westbrook], myself and Serge [Ibaka]—I like our core. We added some young guys and added some vets. I like what we got.

It's hard to argue with that.

Durant snatched LeBron's MVP trophy last year, and now that James' exit from Miami has removed the league's former top trio, it's time for KD to usurp another of LBJ's thrones.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - FEBRUARY 23: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder react during a game at Chesapeake Energy Arena on February 23, 2014 in Oklah
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The Thunder, led by the best Big Three in the NBA, are ready.

The only question: Is the league ready for them?

All three-man lineup stats courtesy of NBA.com.


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