Where Will the NBA’s Next “Big 3” Come From?

Entering the 2019-20 NBA season, there isn’t a true “Big 3” in sight.

There are plenty of teams with established duos, but none with an unbeatable trio. So where will the NBA’s next Big 3 come from?

Well, if we quantify a typical Big 3 as three All-Star players on the same team, then some squads have already achieved that level — the Lakers, Warriors and 76ers all have at least three former All-Stars on the roster — but having a trio of All-Stars doesn’t necessarily equate to having three legitimate superstars.

Here are some recent examples of a modern Big 3.

“Big 3” Players Span 1st Star’s PPG 2nd Star’s PPG 3rd Star’s PPG Championships
Spurs (T. Duncan, T. Parker, M. Ginobili) 2002-16 17.7 15.9 13.3 4
Celtics (P. Pierce, R. Allen, K. Garnett) 2007-12 19.3 16.7 15.9 1
Heat (L. James, D. Wade, C. Bosh) 2010-14 26.9 22.2 17.3 2
Warriors (S. Curry, K. Durant, K. Thompson) 2016-19 26.3 25.8 21.3 2

 

As we can see, the definition of a “Big 3” has changed over time.

The Celtics’ third scorer, Garnett, averaged the same amount of points per game in his span as Tony Parker, the Spurs’ second option, did. Fast forward a couple of years and Chris Bosh, Miami’s third star, almost averaged the same amount of points per game as Tim Duncan, San Antonio’s first option. That takes us to the Warriors, in which each member of the most recent trio on our list averaged more than 20 points per game.

We can reasonably say a Big 3 must have at least two players averaging 20 points per game, as the two trios who spent most of their time together during this decade had at least two players who met this designation. The third player should probably average double-digit points per game in addition to making other significant contributions.

Keeping that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the NBA franchises that could soon field their own Big 3.

Health Is the Big Question

In today’s NBA, the Lakers and Warriors have the best cases for superstar trios, but that’s largely dependent on health.

DeMarcus Cousins and Klay Thompson are both focused on returning from injuries, with the latter being out indefinitely with an ACL injury, but if Cousins regains his All-Star form for LA and Thompson makes a full recovery, the Lakers and Warriors will each have three superstar players on their roster next season — don’t forget that former Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green has improved on offense in recent years.

“Big 3” Players (Stats in 2018-19 Season) 1st Star’s PPG 2nd Star’s PPG 3rd Star’s PPG
LeBron James, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins 27.4 25.9 16.3 (30 games)
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green 27.3 21.5 7.4

 

And don’t forget about the 76ers, who could have their own Big 3 if Tobias Harris repeats his 2018-19 performance. While the addition of the 33-year-old Al Horford means there’ll be less shots to go around, Harris will still have the chance to prove that he’s on the same level of stardom as teammates Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

76ers 2018-19 Splits Joel Embiid Ben Simmons Tobias Harris
Points Per Game 27.5 16.9 20.0

The Answer Lies Within the Roster

The Nuggets are an intriguing case.

Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap have All-Star designations, but the latter hasn’t made an All-Star team since 2017 and likely won’t again in his career. Jamal Murray is the natural choice as Jokic’s top running mate, but after that, who could jump into the Nuggets’ third spot?

Gary Harris has developed into a strong offensive player, but will he ever get enough shots? Michael Porter Jr.’s talent is undeniable, but he can’t stay healthy. Denver has a chance to eventually build their Big 3, but it’s unlikely that their trio forms next season.

Denver’s 2018-19 Splits Nikola Jokic Jamal Murray Gary Harris Paul Millsap
Points Per Game 20.1 18.2 12.9 12.6

 

The Jazz currently have no All-Stars, but they deserve a spot on this list due to Donovan Mitchell’s potential alone. On top of that, Rudy Gobert is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and Mike Conley’s still a two-way force at point guard.

Mitchell obviously has the highest ceiling of the group, but will his potential second and third stars be able to keep their production up?

Points Per Game Splits Donovan Mitchell Rudy Gobert Mike Conley
2017-18 20.5 13.5 17.1
2018-19 23.8 15.9 21.1

We’re Closer Than You Think

The Rockets, Mavericks and Clippers have a path to obtaining their third star via trades and free agency, but they’re already lacking the assets traditionally needed to acquire a third, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see a Big 3 leading the way on any of these teams next year.

But the Wizards, Spurs and Nets possess a developmental path to having three stars.

For the Wiz, Rui Hachimura has the potential to become a frontcourt anchor for John Wall and Bradley Beal, assuming the backcourt sticks together.

In San Antonio, the Spurs have consistently developed late first-round picks into rotation players, but Dejounte Murray and Derrick White have the potential to be more than that.

Brooklyn has Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen as potential third stars to pair with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant — remember that there’s no telling how Durant comes back from his Achilles injury.

Take a closer look at the franchises that are just a star away from dominating with their own Big 3.

2018-19 Splits (unless otherwise noted) 1st Star’s PPG 2nd Star’s PPG
Rockets (James Harden, Russell Westbrook) 36.1 22.9
Clippers (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George) 26.6 28.0
Mavericks (Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis) 21.2 22.7 (2017-18 stats)
Wizards (John Wall, Bradley Beal) 20.7 (32 games) 25.6
Nets (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving) 26.0 23.8
Spurs (LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan) 21.3 21.2

 

The good news is that we’re only three months away from finding out if a new Big 3 emerges in the Association.

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