Everybody seems to be talking about the “big 3” in basketball these days. There have been many big-3’s throughout NBA history: Magic/Kareem/Worthy, Chamberlain/West/Baylor,Bird/McHale/Parish. More recently, the term re-emerged with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joining Paul Pierce in Boston, then again when LeBron, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh joined up in Miami.
Nowadays everyone is trying to build their own big-3 to compete with the trio of stars in Golden State of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson. Being back-to-back champions there is no denying the dominance of these 3 guys compared to the rest of the NBA. When we talk about other big-3’s in the NBA you can bring up groups like Irving/Hayward/Horford (pre-injury Hayward) in Boston, Harden/Paul/Capela in Houston, and now more recently, Simmons/Butler/Embiid.
These big names get all the headlines and notoriety, but when it comes down to it, which 3-player combinations are having the biggest impact this season. The resources available on basketball-reference.com allow us to isolate each 3-player combination and see their performance when they are on the floor together. For example, if we show a 3-player combination with a +10 in points, this means that per 100 possessions, they have outscored their opponents by 10 points. The League average for possessions in a game is 100.2 so far this season, so their performance per 100 possessions number can be thought of as how much they would outscore their opponents over an entire game.
I have rummaged through this data and pulled out the top 3-player combination for every Western Conference team that have played at least 100 minutes together so far this season and ranked them best to worst. No more headlines and media hype, who is getting it done on the court.
Western Conference Big-3 Rankings:
15. Houston Rockets: James Harden, Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker (+8.7 points)
This is not a good look for the Rockets being dead last since they have arguably one of the best theoretical big-3’s in the NBA. After being dominant in just about every way last season Houston has struggled to get it going so far this season. I am sure Mike D’Antoni and Darryl Morey would love to see Chris Paul’s name on this list before the season is out. Not much of a surprise, this trio shoots 17 more threes than their opponents per 100 possessions (second highest is +9), but aside from that they just don’t really stand out. The Rockets are not last in the standings, but this season they have the worst big-3.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns, Derrick Rose, Josh Okogie (+10.6)
This ranking matches where you will find Minnesota in the Western Conference Standings, 14th overall. When these three are on the floor they take 16 less 3s than opponents per 100 possessions! They make up for this by making the most free throws relative to opponents (+7.9). The whole dynamic of the Timberwolves will probably change now that Jimmy Butler is out and Covington and Saric are in. Hopefully those two will be willing to help them make up that 3 point disparity in a 3 point crazy league.
13. Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart (+11.4)
Here we go, the new LeBron James big-3 that he moved to LA to play with, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. A far shot from his trio including Wade and Bosh or Irving and Love, heck he might even take the Ilgauskas and Varejao days over this. They don’t stand out too much in these rankings except for their second highest number of assists relative to opponents per 100 possessions of +9 and their +4.1 in steals, ranking them 5th among big-3’s in this list. LeBron’s goal this year is to prove he can win in LA and attract another star to help him climb these big-rankings next year.
12. Memphis Grizzlies: Marc Gasol, Shelvin Mack, Garrett Temple (+11.5)
They take the second highest number of shots relative to opponents per 100 possessions and do this by taking the ball away and not turning it over. They are +7.2 in steals per 100, the highest, and -9.2 in turnovers per 100, the lowest. Combine these two together and the Grizzlies get to take 9.6 more shots than their opponent per 100 possessions. If they could do better on the boards, -10% rebound rate relative to opponents, worst among all big-3, they could have even more shots and be able to climb this list. But for now, they remain near the bottom.
11. Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Ryan Anderson (+13)
This trio is knocking down threes at an incredible rate relative to opponents, 19% better actually, good for second best among all big-3. Their +5.4 turnovers, lack of defense (last in steals and blocks), and terrible rebounding (last in offensive rebounding relative to opponents) have helped them put together their dreadful 3-11 start despite their hot shooting.
10. Utah Jazz: Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder (+14.3)
This group does their work by shooting more 3s (+8.7) and more free throws (+8.5) than their opponents, third highest in each. They also get a boost from the Stifle Tower by having the third highest blocks on the list at +3. They don’t do anything really bad, but they don’t do anything great either.
9. Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray, Trey Lyles, Miles Plumlee (+17.6)
I did not expect to see the Nuggets in the bottom half of this list with plenty of great young players and currently sitting 3rd in the Western Conference Standings. This is also not at all the big-3 I would expect with guys like Jokic and Harris doing major damage this year, but here we are. This trio wins by turning over their opponent, -8.4 relative to their opponent, second best in these rankings. This allows them to take the most field goals compared to their opponent (+12.1). The problem is, they struggle getting to the free throw line, second to last (-7.6), and they shoot the worst 3 point percentage relative to opponents (-7.4%). With all those extra shots, if they could knock them down at a higher clip they could shoot up these rankings.
8. LA Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Montrezl Harrell, Mike Scott (+17.8)
Rounding out the bottom half is this odd grouping. It’s funny, they take the least shots relative to their opponents than anyone on the rankings (-8.7) and they turn it over 3rd most (+3.5) yet they still have a decent showing here. Much of that just comes down to making shots. They have the second highest field goal percentage (+14%), fourth highest 3-point percentage (+15.8%), and fourth highest free throw percentage, relative to opponents in these entire rankings. Sometimes it just comes down to making shots.
7. San Antonio Spurs: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Marco Belinelli (+18.7)
Spurs fans will be happy to see their two stars included in their big-3 lineup so far this season. They do well in the turnover battle (-5.5, 6th), rack up assists (+8.6, 4th), and knock down 3s at a high percentage (+17.9%, 3rd). All of these stats point to one thing, head coach Gregg Popovich. Same old Spurs, winning games and taking names.
6. Sacramento Kings: Nemanja Bjelica, De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson (+19.7)
This is the surprise team of the season so far, and they found their way to the top half of the big-3 rankings as well. This big-3 take 12 less 3s per game than their opponents when on the floor, second biggest differential behind the Wolves. However, they are very efficient, they are 9% better than opponents on all field goals (4th best) including 10.9% better shooting from 3 (5th best). They are shooting a ton more free throws than opponents (10.4 per 100 possessions), if they could just convert on these free throws they could really do some damage, shooting 16% worse than opponents from the line.
5. Portland Trailblazers: C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu (+23.4)
This combo knocks down shots better than any other trio on the list. First in field goal percentage difference (16%), and first in effective field goal percentage difference which takes into account shooting percentage on all shots. They take the least amount of free throws relative to their opponents, 9.2 less per 100 possesssions but they shoot so well from the field it doesn’t matter. They are also top ranked in defensive rebounds difference (+20.6) and total rebound percentage (+19.8%). What keeps this team out of the top tier of big-3 lineups are their turnover issues. While on the floor they have the worst turnover difference at +6.4 per 100 possessions. Take care of the ball and continue to knock down shots and this big-3 will be elite.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder: Steven Adams, Terrance Ferguson, Jerami Grant (+24.3)
No Paul George, no Russell Westbrook, no problem. These 3 guys are dominating their opponents on the boards. They are first when it comes to offensive and defensive rebound percentage relative to their opponents. This leads to them taking a third-best 8 more field goal attempts per 100 possessions than their opponents in which they are converting 6% better than those they are matched up against. Better get a body on this big 3 when they come to play.
3. Golden State Warriors: Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kevon Looney (+27.4)
No surprise to see Steph and KD in the top 3. They have the highest plus-minus as a team this year so you would expect that they have a lineup near the top. It is a surprising to see that with these 3 on the floor together, the Warriors shoot 2.6 less 3s per 100 possessions than their opponents. To make up for this they just shoot an absolutely unfair 28% better on 3s than their opponents! This is by far the biggest 3P% outperformance of their opponent by an 3 man combo (2nd being the Phoenix trio at +19.1%) but they make 7.3 more 3s than their opponent. This speaks to the 3-point efficiency that these players experience with Steph Curry stretching the defense to 30 feet with his unprecedented range and accuracy.
2. New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Elfrid Payton (+29.8)
This ranking will provide a lot of hope for Pelicans fans. Elfrid only played 5 games this year, but while he was on the court with AD and Holiday, they were dominant. Since they amassed these 103 minutes together in just 5 games, I would expect that this trio will spend a lot of time on the court together once Payton returns from his ankle sprain. One area that really stands out for this group is that they have 15 more assists than their opponent per 100 possessions, the second-best rate being +9 by the Lakers. Also, they get after it on defense, they have the second highest plus in steals (+7) and the second highest plus in blocks (+3.7). Finally, they also lead these rankings in free throw attempts relative to opponents with +12.7. If they can come even close to this level of productivity when he returns, the Pelicans should be in great shape to return to the playoffs.
1. Dallas Mavericks: Jalen Brunson, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell (+30.0)
There is no 3-player combination in the NBA that has played 100 minutes together that has been as effective as these 3. This big-3 has played 112 minutes together so far this season and Jalen Brunson himself has only played 183, so much of his time spent on the floor has been with these two big men. The more we see of Brunson the more he looks like the Mavericks point guard of the future (I see Dennis as SG and Luka as SF/PF). With these three on the floor they have the highest plus in block (+4.5), lowest foul differential (-2.9), third highest plus in assists, second highest plus in offensive rebounds, and second highest plus in 3s attempted than any other big-3 in this list. This is a very exciting result for Mavs fans as these are seen as three of your rotation pieces in the future that have shown a commitment to improving their game. I was already excited about the Mavericks future with young stars Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr, but having this kind of production from other team building blocks is truly amazing.
Big-3 Lineup Rankings Summary:
|2||New Orleans Pelicans||Davis/Holiday/Payton||103:15:00||29.8|
|3||Golden State Warriors||Curry/Durant/Looney||117:28:00||27.4|
|4||Oklahoma City Thunder||Adams/Ferguson/Grant||196:44:00||24.3|
|5||Portland Trail Blazers||Aminu/McCollum/Turner||105:30:00||23.4|
|7||San Antonio Spurs||Aldridge/Belinelli/DeRozan||106:28:00||18.7|
|8||Los Angeles Clippers||Alexander/Harrell/ Scott||105:15:00||17.8|
|10||Utah Jazz||Crowder/ Gobert/Ingles||200:57:00||14.3|
|13||Los Angeles Lakers||Ball/Hart/James||125:10:00||11.4|