The talk of the NBA offseason has mostly revolved around the death of the Big Three and the birth of super duos around the Association.
And with so many insane tandems now populating the league, how could that not be everyone’s focus after such an exciting, league-altering summer?
Nevertheless, we at HoopsHype decided to take a look at the NBA as it stands now from a different lens, and figure out who the Top 10 Big Threes currently are.
We did take injuries into account, which would explain why a certain former dynasty fell so low on the list, and why the Brooklyn Nets missed our list entirely, but overall, we mostly examined fit and current production as our biggest factors for the ranking.
Below, we present the Top 10 Big Threes in the NBA for 2019-20.
10. BOSTON CELTICS
Big Three: Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum
A newly formed triumvirate, the Boston Celtics’ Big Three heading into 2019-20 features one All-NBA caliber player and two wings with huge upside in their own rights.
Kemba Walker, who joined Boston via sign-and-trade this summer from the Charlotte Hornets, is coming off the best season of his career, one in which he averaged 25.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists nightly on 43.4/35.6/84.4 percent shooting splits, receiving 3rd Team All-NBA distinction for his efforts.
Tatum and Brown, meanwhile, are returning after less impressive campaigns, but poor team chemistry could at least be partly to blame for that. With the departure of Kyrie Irving, the two talented young forwards should be able to regain their 2017-18 confidence and form, and create one of the league’s top Big Threes.
9. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Big Three: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Hassan Whiteside
One of the best backcourts in the Association and a defensive-minded paint-protector at center form the next Big Three of our ranking.
Coming off the fourth All-Star campaign of his career and a 2nd Team All-NBA appearance, Damian Lillard established himself as one of the best ball-handlers in basketball last season. That’s without even mentioning his outstanding franchise-changing playoff run, either.
His backcourt mate, CJ McCollum, is the perfect running partner for Lillard, capable of taking over games in his own right, an elite pull-up jump shooter and a solid playmaker.
And the new addition to the team, Hassan Whiteside, has a lot to prove after getting benched as a member of the Miami Heat and getting traded this summer. When he’s focused, Whiteside can be a game-changer at the 5-spot thanks to his fantastic shot-blocking and rebounding prowess.
The issue is, he’s not always focused.
A change of scenery might do him well, though, and if it does, the Portland Trail Blazers could have a nasty Big Three on their hands.
8. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Big Three: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green
It obviously goes without saying, but were it not for Klay Thompson’s ACL injury, the Golden State Warriors would rank near the top of this list, if not at the very top.
Unfortunately for them, however, that injury is very real, and very much changes the dynamic for Golden State heading into next season.
If we had to find one positive out the NBA missing one of its best 2-guards for a chunk of next season, it’s that we may get to see a more selfish version of Stephen Curry, a version we haven’t seen since prior to Kevin Durant’s arrival three seasons ago. And back in that last (relatively) selfish Curry season we got, back in 2015-16, the two-time league MVP led the league in Value Over Replacement Player, Box Plus/Minus, Offensive Box Plus/Minus, Win Shares and Offensive Win Shares, as well as in scoring at 30.1 points per game.
It’ll be fun to see if we can get that rendition of a fire-spitting Curry again.
Rounding out this Big Three is the heart and soul of Golden State, Draymond Green, who, though not well-liked by many NBA fans, has been vital to the Warriors’ success over recent years. His mix of defense – both on the perimeter and in the paint – and playmaking on offense makes him a truly unique player and one that’s difficult to replicate.
7. DENVER NUGGETS
Big Three: Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap
A blend of thrilling up-and-comers and a more veteran presence on the floor, the Denver Nuggets’ Big Three has the chance to rocket up this list as long as they continue on the upward trajectory they’ve been on.
The team’s unquestioned top dog, Nikola Jokic, is one of the greatest playmaking centers not just currently in the league, but that the NBA has ever seen. The big Serbian put up astronomical numbers last season, averaging 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per contest, marks that can only be matched by Wilt Chamberlain (who did it twice), Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook. Couple that with Jokic’s much-improved defense and you have all the makings for a potential MVP candidate at some point down the road.
Denver’s ball-handling complement to Jokic, Jamal Murray, though he may not boast Jokic’s production, had a breakout season in his own right in 2018-19, putting up 18.2 points and 4.8 assists per game, and, most importantly, spacing the floor outside for Jokic’s sublime passing.
Jokic’s frontcourt partner, Paul Millsap, may not put up the huge numbers his two star teammates do, but his value on the defensive end cannot be overstated, a fact backed up by his +9.2 swing rating last season, +10.7 in the playoffs.
6. UTAH JAZZ
Big Three: Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley
So far, this is the third Big Three in our list that includes a new face in town – Mike Conley in this case. Conley has long been one of the league’s most underrated point guards, somehow never earning an All-Star bid despite putting up noteworthy numbers on various good-to-great Memphis Grizzlies teams throughout the years.
Last season, Conley had his best year scoring the basketball, averaging 21.1 points to go along with 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals per contest while shooting 43.8 percent from the floor and 36.4 percent from three.
Conley should provide a massive upgrade at the position simply for his ability to shoot the ball, which will give young stud Donovan Mitchell more room to operate and attack the basket.
Speaking of Mitchell, even though he may not have had the massive breakout second season many, including Dwyane Wade…
…predicted, he still possesses huge upside as a bucket-getting combo guard who can create for others and defend multiple positions. With a better fit sharing the backcourt with him next year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mitchell reach the next level in 2019-20.
Finally, finishing out this trio is reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who isn’t just the best point-stopper in the league, but also an elite screen-setting big man who flourishes out of the pick-and-roll.
5. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Big Three: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe
A Big Three that played a huge part in what was 2018-19’s best team in the regular season, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe form a group that features the reigning league MVP, an All-Star wing and an under-appreciated floor general.
Antetokounmpo was a force of nature on both ends of the floor last season, posting an unreal 27.7/12.5/5.9 stat line and finishing second in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He may lack a jumper, but his game is so well-rounded and dominant otherwise that it doesn’t matter as much as it should in the modern NBA.
Middleton, on the other hand, is a great running mate on the wing next to the Greek Freak, as a career 38.8 percent three-point shooter who can space the floor and make up for Antetokounmpo’s deficiencies as an outside shot-maker, and possessing the ability to take over the scoring load when he’s needed to do that.
And the once-maligned Bledsoe proved that he can play a huge role on an elite team last season, providing Milwaukee with elite perimeter defense (he was a 1st Team All-Defense member in 2018-19) and contributing 15.9 points and 5.5 assists nightly.
4. HOUSTON ROCKETS
Big Three: James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon
The Houston Rockets’ Big Three is more like a Big Two with a solid third piece to complement them. That’s not meant to be a slight on the sharpshooting Eric Gordon, by the way, but simply a reality when the team’s Top 2 pieces both have a league MVP trophy to their names.
James Harden, the season after taking home the league’s most valuable piece of hardware, followed that campaign up with one of the best offensive seasons ever, leading the league in scoring at 36.1 points per game and chipping in 6.6 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game. No player had averaged that many points nightly since Michael Jordan put up 37.1 points per contest back in 1986-87, proving what an insane feat Harden was able to accomplish.
Had Houston experienced better injury luck, which would have directly contributed to them winning more games in 2018-19, there’s a solid chance Harden would have repeated as MVP this past season, putting him in elite company as far as back-to-back winners of the award go.
His new backcourt mate next season, Russell Westbrook, earned league MVP honors in 2016-17 after becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire campaign, and he did it while leading the league in scoring that year, too. Westbrook has followed that up by averaging a triple-double each of the past two seasons as well,.
The explosive point guard may have his flaws, mostly related to focus on defense and flat-out porous shooting marks, particularly last season, and the fit between him and Harden could be tricky, even if they do have experience playing together from their Oklahoma City Thunder days.
Nevertheless, the Rockets pulled off a coup this summer, one that will allow them to pair two of the most productive guards in the league together in one backcourt; the Westbrook-Harden partnership should be among the most exciting to watch in the Association next year.
3. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Big Three: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris
An insane buzzer-beater and overtime were all that separated this trio from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last playoffs, and with an entire summer to continue meshing, more postseason success is very possible next year for the Philadelphia 76ers thanks to their Big Three.
Joel Embiid, a freakish 7-footer who can space the floor from the outside, face-up against opposing bigs, drive the basketball or post up with it, is one of the most well-rounded big men in basketball. His blend of offense and defense make him the complete package, and as long as he can continue improving upon his fitness, the sky is the limit for the Cameroonian center.
Ben Simmons, a 6-foot-10 point guard coming off his first All-Star appearance, can handle the rock, distribute it beautifully, floor it in transition as well as bully smaller defenders in the paint, all while possessing the ability to defend just about every position on the court. Unlike Embiid, his fitness isn’t a question; his issue lies within his complete lack of an outside jumper.
He seems to be working on it this summer, however…
…a scary proposition for opponents heading into next year.
Tobias Harris, meanwhile, complements Philadelphia’s two best young players well thanks to his ability to shoot, both as a spot-up option and when pulling-up off the dribble. His jumper may have abandoned him a bit after joining the 76ers in a mid-season trade last February, but we can chalk that up to a difficult team-to-team transition in the middle of the year.
Harris’ shooting form is too compact and pretty for him not to be knocking down threes with aplomb again for the Sixers next season.
2. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Big Three: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins
On paper, this looks like the most devastating Big Three in the entire NBA.
Arguably one of the two greatest players in league history, a perennial All-NBA candidate big man and one of the Association’s most productive centers since reaching the NBA.
LeBron James, for all the talk of him “slowing down”, still poured in 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists nightly in 2018-19, marks that few other players can match even in their career years; Anthony Davis, despite making the decision to basically throw away one of his prime years after demanding a trade last season, is still one of the scariest big men in the league, capable of dominating both ends of the floor every night; and DeMarcus Cousins, returning from a devastating Achilles injury last season, averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists as a Warriors, even though he was the team’s fourth, and sometimes even fifth, option on most nights.
Of course, games aren’t played on paper, and the Los Angeles Lakers will have issues to sort through in 2019-20.
James will be in his age-35 campaign next season with a million miles on his body, and was already showing slight signs of decline last year. He’ll have to be load managed going forward so he can be as effective as possible once the playoffs arrive.
Davis has never led a team past the second round of the playoffs, and has only reached the postseason twice. This year will be his first chance to prove he can be a top option on a truly elite team.
And Cousins had issues staying healthy last season, particularly in the playoffs once the games got more intense.
Regardless of those issues, however, if L.A. is able to operate at peak efficiency as a team next year, they absolutely have the talent needed, primarily at the top of the roster, to be a title favorite in 2019-20.
1. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Big Three: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Lou Williams
The Lakers’ aforementioned Big Three could have looked a bit different next season had they landed their top free-agent target.
Instead, he went to their cross-town rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers.
Oh, and he brought a friend with him.
Kawhi Leonard changed the entire NBA landscape not just by choosing the lesser brand in Los Angeles as his next home, but by convincing Paul George to request a trade and join him.
The reigning Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year is coming off a breathtaking campaign and playoff run, one that culminated with him helping break up Golden State’s dynasty and bring a championship to Canada’s team, the Toronto Raptors. Leonard then followed that up by becoming the first player in league history to switch teams the offseason after winning Finals MVP, much to the Clippers’ glee.
Alongside him in 2018-19 will be a Paul George that was able to finish third in regular-season MVP voting last year, and third in Defensive Player of the Year voting.
That gives the Clippers maybe the two best wings in basketball on the same roster, a tandem that will be among the scariest in the NBA on both ends of the floor.
Los Angeles’ third option offensively, and the player who rounds out their Big Three, will be Lou Williams, who has won each of the last two Sixth Man of the Year awards and is still in the midst of his bucket-getting prime.
This Big Three as a whole may be a bit different since one of the players will be coming off the bench, but Leonard and George are such an elite duo, and Williams is such an outstanding scorer, that it was still enough to help this triumvirate skyrocket to the top of our rankings.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.