Three Kings: Best Hypothetical NBA Trios By Decade
Like peas in a pod, good things often come in threes.
Be it the comedic team of Mo, Larry, and Curly, the Kellogg's legends Snap, Crackle, and Pop, or the musical stylings of Earth, Wind, and Fire, its safe to say that trios maintain some pretty exclusive company.
OK, so you've probably heard by now—the Miami Heat have assembled quite the threesome this offseason.
As they are oh-so affectionately called, Miami Thrice have emerged as both the darlings and villains of the NBA world this offseason. Thus, they have accrued more headlines than John Calipari has recruiting violations.
Luckily for you, this article is refreshingly different.
In this piece, I will give my take on the best possible hypothetical trios in NBA History by decade.
Bad blood and old rivalries will be temporarily thrown to the wayside, giving way to the fusion of incredible talent. Had these trio's actually existed—well, let's just say that the rest of the league is glad that they didn't.
Talk about a three v. three tournament I wouldn't want to play in.
- A player can only represent a single decade.
- Each team needs to be balanced to a degree (i.e, there cannot be a team entirely made up of big men, but there does not have to be a true guard, forward, and center on every roster).
- Team chemistry is not taken into account (i.e, Magic and Bird may not have gotten along too well on the same team).
- Modern rules (i.e, there is a three point line).
1950's: Bob Cousy, George Mikan, Dolph Schayes
Guard: Bob Cousy (1950-1963, 169-1970)
A three-time NCAA All-American, "Cooz" was selected third overall by the Tri-Cities-Blackhawks in the 1950 NBA draft, but was picked up by the Boston Celtics following Cousy's refusal to report to the Blackhawks.
The move proved to be a tremendous pick-up for the Celtics, as the Hall-of-Famer led the team to six NBA titles. The twelve time NBA all-star, nicknamed the "Houdini of the Hardwood," was named the league's Most Valuable Player in 1957.
Cousy makes this squad due to his tremendous passing abilities—the Celtics' floor general led the NBA in assists for eight consecutive seasons between 1953-1961. With an uncanny ability to see the floor, there is no doubt that Cooz would keep the opposition guessing, perhaps luring them into a false sense of security before penetrating the paint. A double team would thus ensue, leaving either a wide open George Mikan under the basket, or a deadly Dolph Schayes ready to strike from the outside.
Furthermore, Cousy's basketball IQ was unusually high, even for a point guard. Possibly influenced by the legendary Red Auerbach, Cooz took up coaching following his NBA career, manning the sidelines for both Boston College and the Cincinnati Royals.
Truly a basketball mind, Cousy could provide some rare strategic intangibles that could possible undermine the more athletic trios of the later decades.
Forward: Dolph Schayes (1948-1964)
Another twelve time all-star, Schayes would be my go-to-guy on this team.
Simply put, Schayes did it all.
Dolph led the NBA in career scoring upon his retirement, totaling 19,249 points. In 1961, Schayes became the first player in NBA history to reach 30,000 PRA (points, rebounds, assists).
The 6'8" forward was truly a one of a kind player, and his stats are particularly impressive considering the era he played in.
Dolph's place on this roster is solidified by his durability, as Schayes' track record indicates that he would be able to withstand even the highest degrees of physicality—Schayes did not miss a single game from 1952-1961, a streak of 706 consecutive games.
Furthermore, Schayes' toughness could set a precedent for this team to follow: Prior to this Ripken-esque streak, Schayes broke his right hand, but played almost an entire season in a cast; in fact, he even learned to shoot lefty, making him extremely versatile and exceedingly difficult to guard.
And if all that weren't enough, Schayes also comes with a pretty high coaching pedigree. The Hall of Famer was named Coach of the Year in 1966.
Talk about a five tool player.
Center: George Mikan (1946-1956)
Aside from being one of the most dominant big men of all time, Mikan is one of those players whose mere presence could completely alter the outcome of a game.
In fact, Mikan's presence completely altered the future of the NBA, helping form the NBA as we know it.
In 1951, Mikan's Minneapolis Lakers faced off against the Fort Wayne Pistons. At one point in the game, the Pistons took a 19-18 lead. Mikan had scored 15 of the Laker's 18 points, as the Piston's clearly did not have an answer for him.
After a Lakers' missed possession, the Piston's decided to hold the ball for the remainder of the contest, as they were afraid they would be unable to stop Mikan if he got the ball back.
The game is still the lowest scoring contest in NBA history and proved to be a major factor in the invention of the shot clock.
A year after this notorious incident, the NBA decided to widen the foul lane from 6 feet to 12 feet, thus doubling the distance from which big men were allowed to stay under the basket. The change was dubbed "The Mikan Rule"
With Cousy feeding him the ball, there would be no limit to Mikan's dominance.
One advantage this team may have over their successors may be their ability to rebound the ball: Schayes and Mikan ranked first and second in rebounds per game throughout the 1950's, giving them a dual threat on the boards.
Their ability to deny opponents second chance opportunities would be prove to be crucial against teams of similarly high caliber, especially in late game situations.
1960's: Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain
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Guard: Oscar Robertson (1960-1974)
The Big O is widely regarded as the most versatile players in NBA history. In every sense of the word, Robertson was a triple threat.
In the 1961-1962 season, the twelve time NBA All-Star became the only player ever to average a triple double, posting simply monstrous numbers. His 30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, and 11.4 apg remain the stuff of legend. During that year, Robertson demolished the single-season assists record (899), a mark which was previously held by Bob Cousy (715).
Robertson has 181 triple-doubles for his career, nearly 50 games more than the player with the second most, Magic Johnson (138)
At 6'5" Robertson has a sizeable advantage over the typical guard; being the smallest member of this roster, he could provide tremendous matchup problems for any opposition. As demonstrated by his career average of 7.5 rpg, the Big O was not afraid to rough it up with the boys down low.
Looking at the rest of his squad however, he probably wouldn't have to.
Forward: Bill Russell (1956-1969)
Like Mikan, Russell was one of those players who had the uncanny ability to alter a game by simply standing there.
A legendary shot-blocker, Russell's defense is what set him apart from the rest of the league's best big men. He averaged 22.5 rebounds per game for his career, a number simply unheard of these days.
Additionally, Russell is one of only two players to accumulate over 50 boards in one game and ranks second in NBA history in career rebounds.
The other player to compile over 50 rebounds, also the leader in career rebounds, is now Russell's teammate. Talk about scary.
Russell would be on this team even if his Celtics never made the playoffs under his courtship; fortunately for Celtics fans, reality was much, much, more favorable. Russell owns as many titles as the the lord of the rings himself (Phil Jackson), winning nine of them in the 1960's.
His is without a doubt the most decorated player in NBA history in terms of hardware.
Russell's impact on this team could be accurately summarized in one sentence: When you win the league MVP over someone that averaged 50.4 ppg and 25.7 rpg on the year, chances are that you're pretty good yourself.
Center: Wilt Chamberlain (1959-1973)
Where to begin?
Chamberlain is arguably the most dominant player in NBA history.
He is the all-time leader in rebounds (23,924), a six time scoring champion (1960-1966), four-time NBA MVP (1960, 1966-68), and 11 time rebounding champion.
"The Big Dipper" is the only player to average over 50 points a game in a season, let alone 40 per season. His 55 rebounds is a single game record, and his 100 points output in a single game is...pretty, pretty good.
Standing at 7'1", Wilt the Stilt gave a whole new meaning to what it meant to be a big man.
Sportswriter Hal Bock summarized Wilt's legacy by commenting that Chamberlain was "flat-out frightening...before he came along, basketball players were mortal size men. Chamberlain changed that."
Pairing him up with Russell down low would simply be unfair—Chamberlain would most likely play the role of a natural center, with Russell assuming more of a midpoint forward position.
Needless to say, this combo would about 100x be more unstoppable than Eli Manning's Citizen Eco-drive watch.
This team is so good, it's overwhelming. Statistically, this team is by far the cream of the crop.
It would be hard to imagine these guys losing to anyone.
This team really only has one potential downfall: They lack a true forward, which could cause some matchup problems defensively. Despite his notable defensive prowess, Russell may be lured to the three point line, perhaps limiting his effectiveness on the defensive end.
1970's: Pete Maravich, Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Guard: Pete Maravich (1970-1980)
Arguably the greatest college player of all-time, Maravich was never able to maintain that same level of dominance as a pro; out of all the players on any of these squads, Maravich is probably the least impressive in terms of individual NBA success.
With that being said, Pistol Pete was probably the most talented pure guards of the decade, if not of all-time.
Simply put, Maravich had that "it" factor. His game was truly a spectacle.
The five time all-star, with his dazzling ball-handling and scoring abilities, was one of those players who made it easy for those around him to shine.
His showmanship enabled Maravich to make some spectacular plays. Such an intangible could be huge in terms of momentum, providing his squad with a huge psychological boost.
Forward: Julius Erving (1971-1987)
Dr J. was a revolutionary. A pioneer.
Prior to Irving, the high-flying, "above the rim" style of play that is now commonplace throughout the NBA was simply non-existent.
The duo of Erving and Maravich would be a very interesting one to say the least, as these two basketball innovators could potentially fuse to create a never before seen version of basketball with a strong affinity for the highlight reel.
Even if this team were unable to quell the holy trinity of the 1960's, they would at least hog ESPN's top plays.
Irving easily could have been placed on the 80's team, but it is both his pairing with Maravich (which, if it weren't for legal injunction that required him to return to the ABA, would have been able to join Maravich as an Atlanta Hawk in 1972) and his younger, more lithe physique that earns him a spot on this roster.
The eleven time all-star won his lone MVP in 1981, but one must also take into account his ABA accolades. The three time ABA MVP (1974-1976) was largely responsible for the merger of the two leagues.
Center: Kareem Abdul Jabbar (1969-1989)
It doesn't hurt to have the player with the most career points in NBA History on your team.
Kareem was arguably the most dominant player of the decade, racking up six Most Valuable Player awards between 1971-1980. Not to mention, the guy is a 19 time all-star.
In case you're counting, that's nearly a quarter of a season's worth of being significantly better than everyone else in the league.
His sky hook, a shot nearly impossible to block with his 7'2" frame, would give this team a sizeable (no pun intended) advantage over the rest of the squads.
Final Analysis: When it comes to pure dominance, this team is one of the weaker ones.
However, out of those listed thus far, this is definitely the most complete "team," as each member has a clearly defined role—Maravich as the playmaker, Irving as the athletic and versatile do-it-all body, and Jabbar as the dependable workhorse down low.
This team can hurt you in every way possible and will look pretty damn good doing so.
1980's: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Moses Malone
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Guard: Magic Johnson (1979-1993)
I don't think anyone could question this man's appearance on this roster. At 6'9", Earvin "Magic" Johnson was one of the NBA most unique players.
Be it at point guard or power forward, the man was the epitome of a double-edged sword—stop him one way and he'd just tear you to shreds with his other blade.
The 1980's were simply Magical—the Lakers' superstar was a nine-time all-star during the decade, racking up five NBA titles during that span. If it weren't for his bitter rivals (and hypothetical teammates) from Boston, he probably would have won even more.
A three time recipient of the NBA's most valuable player award, Johnson was the complete package.
A combination of Maravich's flashiness and Robertson's versatility, Magic's freakish talents would cause headaches for any individual matchup-—let alone a team with two very talented Hall of Famers.
Forward: Larry Bird (1979-1992)
His touch may not be as accurate as this McDonald's commercial makes it seem, but it's definitely pretty close. Bird was one of the best shooters in NBA history and he let everyone else know about it.
Bird was notorious for his trash talk: During one game, a rookie Reggie Miller tried to distract Bird while he was attempting free throws.
After he sunk the first free throw, he retaliated by telling Miller, "Rook, I'm the best shooter in the league right now. In the league. Understand? And you're up here trying to tell me something?"
The 12 time All-Star won three consecutive MVP awards from 1984-1986, racking up three championships along the way. His sweet stroke is the perfect complement to the razzle-dazzle of Magic Johnson.
They may have been fierce rivals, but they also would make quite the combo.
Center: Moses Malone (1974-1995)
Moses bounced around more than mobster on the run (nine teams in his 21 years of professional basketball), but his talent remains unquestioned.
The three time NBA MVP terrorized his opponents in the early 80's, culminating in an NBA title in 1983.
A monster down low, Malone was the first player to lead the league in rebounds for five years running (1980-1984); he is also the all-time NBA leader in offensive rebounds (slightly skewed, as this was not a stat in the Russell/Chamberlain era).
Malone provides an imposing figure down low, again serving as a great complement to the styles of Bird and Magic.
I'd envision his role on this team more of a very, very, thorough garbage man—whatever Bird and Magic threw at the basket, Malone would likely gobble it up.
Final Analysis: A solid all-around team and very tough to criticize. With both superstar talent and solid fundamentals, this potent combo would be extremely difficult to contain.
1990's: John Stockton, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Guard: John Stockton (1984-2003)
He may not have looked the part an NBA superstar, but Stockton certainly was a force to be reckoned with out in Salt Lake City.
The 10 time All Star's career averages of 13.1 ppg and 10.5 apg put him in elite company, making him one of the few players who averaged a double-double in assists for their career. Stockton is the league's undisputed assist champion, as his 15,000+ career assists are over 5,000 more than any other player in league history.
If there's anyone that would be able to keep up feeding the ball to both Jordan and Malone, Stockton would be the man.
Guard/Forward: Michael Jordan (1984-93, 1995-1998, 2001-2003)
Widely regarded as the greatest player in NBA history, Jordan's unparalleled skill set remains the standard for every aspiring basketball player.
Simply put, his legend has transcended the sport of basketball—besides, how can you ever doubt the star of Space Jam?
The six-time NBA Champion is perhaps the most clutch performer ever to step on a basketball court; as his six NBA Finals MVP awards prove, he is an incredible asset when it matters most. His career scoring average of 30.1 ppg tops even Chamberlain, and the 10 time scoring champion holds the record for most career playoff points.
Talk about "Mr. June."
His offensive prowess is obviously impressive, but his defense is what always set MJ apart from the rest of the superstar pack. Air Jordan grounded his opponents season after season, making the NBA All-Defensive team nine times.
Jim McGinty told us all "that winners always want the ball when the game's on the line." With Stockton dishing out dimes to Air Jordan above and below the rim, he'll have all the necessary means to make that happen.
Forward/Center: Karl Malone
If there's one guy that never failed to deliver throughout his illustrious career, it'd be the mailman. Even on Sundays.
Bad humor aside, Malone would be the perfect final piece to the 1990's puzzle. His productive pairing with Stockton speaks for itself. Add a guy named Michael Jordan and you've got yourself quite a ball club.
Jordan may wear the pants in this team's relationship, but Malone is no pushover. In fact, the mailman has scored more career points scored than MJ, ranking only behind Abdul-Jabbar in that category.
Final Analysis: This team may be lacking in size compared to some of their counterparts, but they are certainly not lacking in skill.
MJ brings the Stockton and Malone duo to the next level, creating a statistical behemoth. It'd be interesting to see how this team would gel compared to the others—unlike the previous teams, there is a clearly defined go-to-guy on this roster.
2000's: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan
Harry How/Getty Images
Guard: Steve Nash (1996-Present)
The primary cog in the Suns' high-powered machine has emerged as arguably the league's best point guard in the past ten years.
The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player recipient has quietly ranked among the NBA's elite: Amidst Jason Kidd, new superstars Chris Paul and Deron Williams, and steady talent Tony Parker, it's easy for Nash to get lost in the shuffle.
In the end, however, it's Nash that I would want on my team.
Nash is a creator—if it looks like an offensive possession is about to go to waste, Nash will consistently produce scoring opportunities out of thin air.
It is this ability that merits him a spot on this roster.
His offense skill set is extremely consistent, as Nash is one of only five players to shoot 50% from the field, 40% from beyond the arc, and 90% from the charity stripe for an entire season. In fact, the seven time All Star has more 40-50-90 seasons (5) than any other player in NBA history.
Guard/Forward: Kobe Bryant (1996-Present)
The 12 time All Star, eight time All-NBA first teamer, and five time NBA Champion is widely regarded as the most competitive player in the modern era.
"The Kobe scowl," more or less Bryant's "game face," looks just about as intimidating as fighting Mike Tyson.
Bryant has only won one Most Valuable Player Award, but many NBA experts have consistently ranked him the NBA's premiere player over the past half-decade or so—a title that Kobe has backed up on both sides of the court. His explosive offensive numbers are thoroughly complemented by his defensive skill set, as the Black Mamba has made the NBA All-Defensive first team eight seasons, including the last five in a row.
Bryant has a knack for the buzzer beater and his scoring versatility is arguably unparalleled in today's game. Kobe could hurt you from anywhere on the floor—be it above the rim, through the lane, or five feet behind the three point line, there is not a moment that a defender can fall asleep on this man.
His explosiveness manifested itself in his 81 point performance against the Toronto Raptors a few years ago, the second most single game point total in NBA history.
Forward/Center: Tim Duncan (1997-Present)
The first pick in the 1997 NBA draft has certainly lived up to the hype.
He may not be the flashiest player, but Timmy is the beacon of consistency.
The two time NBA MVP has made a living off of the bank shot, dominating with fundamentals in an era where everyone else has seemingly forgotten how to execute a simple pick and roll. A 12 time All Star and four time NBA Champion, Duncan has anchored the Spurs mini-dynasty throughout the past decade.
Like Kobe, Duncan's place on this roster could be attributed just as much to his defense; he also is an eight time All-NBA Defensive first teamer.
It is important to note the magnitude of these accolades, especially considering the caliber of big man Duncan has consistently had to guard: Over the past decade, the Western Conference has featured the likes of Shaq, Yao Ming, Dirk Notwitzki, and Kevin Garnett, most of whom usually appeared in the playoffs.
To triumph against those players on the defensive end is no easy feat. He has averaged 21.1 ppg and 11.6 rpg for his career, a double double.
Final Analysis: They may not look as legendary as some of their predecessors, but this team is perhaps the most consistent of the bunch.
Their combination of inventiveness at the point, uncompromising skill and competitiveness on the wing, and reliability down low would be extremely tough to beat. Their defense should not go unnoticed, as Kobe and Duncan may be the best candidates in a game of "stop this NBA legend."
I figured this modern-day team would stir the most debate, so I have listed reserves at each position
Guard, Jason Kidd: A triple double machine, easily could have made this roster. Nash made the cut over Kidd because of his two MVP Awards
Forward: LeBron James: Probably the most dominant player right now, but Kobe had a better decade. Plus, LeBron didn't enter the league until 2003.
Center: Shaquille O'Neal: Shaq should have been on one of the rosters, be it the 1990's or the 2000's. The big diesel is simply a victim of time. His most dominant years were more or less between 1995-2005, which makes him an odd man out for the purposes of this list.
Final Power Rankings
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1. 1960's: Robertson, Russell, Chamberlain: They pose too many matchup problems to even think about losing. I don't think any other team would even get a rebound. Not to mention, they have the most collective championship experience.
2. 1980's: Magic, Bird, Malone: They may be the most talented team out of this bunch. Ranked second due to the fact that Bird would not be able to guard Russell.
3. (tie) 1970's: Maravich, Erving, Abdul Jabbar: My surprise pick (if that's even possible) at number three. Maravich wouldn't be able to handle Magic or the Big O, but his flair for the dramatic could elevate his teammates' games ten-fold. Kareem could play with anyone and his sky hook could mitigate Russell or Chamberlain's defensive effectiveness.
3. (tie) 2000's: Nash, Bryant, Duncan: A true "team," this squad could hurt you everywhere. I think they would match up very well against the 70's trio, but they wouldn't have enough firepower to challenge the top two slots
5. 1990's: Stockton, Jordan, Malone: It's tough to put a team with Michael Jordan this far down the list, but I think there are just too many questions here. Stockton and Malone were never able to get the job done on their own. Having only one player with championship experience certainly raises doubts.
6. 1950's: Cousy, Schayes, Mikan: I think its really tough to judge this team comparatively, just because the era mandated an extremely different style of play relative to the modern era. This ranking is attributed to their lack of athleticism juxtaposed to these other squads. However, they would probably have the best shot of taking down the 60's team simply due to Mikan and Schayes rebounding, the only duo that could possibly challenge Russell and Chamberlain.
Disagree? Let the debate begin!