COMMENTARY | Before I get into the matter at hand, the idea of a "Big Three" needs to be expanded upon.
In reality, not every team has a "Big Three." Obviously, before the 2007-08 season, the Boston Celtics traded for both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, whom joined Paul Pierce to create "The Boston Three Party" (which is a reference to that ESPN commercial if you didn't pick up on it).
In the summer of 2010, the Miami Heat brought in Chris Bosh and some guy named LeBron James to team up with Dwyane Wade to create the most dominant "Big Three" in recent history. Since Boston and Miami made those moves, NBA analysts world wide have begun to inaccurately call the best three players on the team they're covering the "Big Three."
To explain myself further, who was the "Big Three" on those Los Angeles Lakers teams that won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010? Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom all played big roles on that team, and to cut one of them out to make a "Big Three" would be doing an injustice to the team. I suffered through two Lakers titles (I've just always hated the Lakers; we all need to hate someone), and to say that Odom wasn't as valuable as Bynum or Gasol is outrageous.
While it has become trendy to drop the title of "Big Three" on every team's three best ballers, we're not playing video games here. The entire idea of a "Big Three" revolves around a team consisting of three stars (on max deals in this current salary-cap era), with the rest of the rotation consisting of complementary players.
In 2008, when the C's won the title, they had a "Big Three" in Pierce, Garnett and Allen, but the supporting cast of Rajon Rondo, James Posey, Eddie House, Kendrick Perkins, Tony Allen and Glen Davis all served a function for the team. Rondo and Perkins were both starters and provided the team with little on the offensive end, but still proved to be effective. The Celtics had the luxury of bringing top-flight wing defenders like Posey and Tony Allen off the bench, which was extremely valuable to a team that finished first in defensive rating that season. House and Davis filled out the bench for Boston, providing it with enough depth during the regular season to keep from overworking the team's stars (remember, we're talking function here).
With function in mind, it'd be hard to find a trio that does more for its team than James Harden, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons. Harden is the lead wing, who scores in the clutch, scores independently in isolation situations and in the pick-and-roll game, and also distributes (watch assist numbers soar near seven this year).
Howard is the team's only back-to-the-basket scorer and lead back-to-the-basket defender. He'll lead them in rebounds and blocks while serving as the second option offensively and the team's biggest defensive difference maker. Parsons will be the team's third scorer, who will score mostly within the flow of the offense, stretch the floor with his 3-point shooting, and also serve as the Rockets' best wing defender -- which is a duty that shouldn't be undervalued (although many struggle to understand this unquantifiable attribute).
My argument for Harden, Howard and Parsons creating a "Big Three" is based around the idea that Jeremy Lin doesn't serve nearly as important of a function as the other three. As a second-rate on-ball defender and shot creator, and a third-rate floor stretcher, Lin's function to the team isn't anywhere as important as Chandler Parsons', who covers the best wing on the opposing team and serves the third-scorer role.
Here are my top "Big Threes" in the West, and underneath the rankings are explanations as to why certain teams were excluded:
Top Four "Big Threes" in the Western Conference
Houston Rockets: James Harden, Dwight Howard, and Chandler Parsons
San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Kawhi Leonard
Memphis Grizzlies: Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley
Portland Trail Blazers: LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, and Nicolas Batum
Western Conference Playoff Contenders Excluded From "Big Three" Rankings (With Explanations)
Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the top two offensive options, but then Jared Dudley, J.J Redick, Jamal Crawford and DeAndre Jordan serve different, near-equal functions for the squad.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are head and shoulders above everyone else, and Jeremy Lamb is as important to their success this year as Serge Ibaka. Post-Harden, they'll need a "Big Four" to keep pace with the last two seasons.
Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry, Clay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut are all important to the squad; it'd be an injustice to exclude two of them because it'd diminish their importance to the team.
Minnesota Timberwolves: They have a "Big Four" in Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.
Dallas Mavericks: They also have a "Big Four" in Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Shawn Marion, and Dirk Nowitzki. My argument here is that Marion's importance on the defensive end is nearly equal to Calderon's on the offensive end.
While the Trail Blazers' "Big Three" was a step beneath the top three, my reasoning for having Houston over San Antonio is simple. I believe that at this stage of his career, and in Howard's current situation (that's a projection, which means it isn't a right or wrong thing yet), he's a better player than 37-year-old Tim Duncan (especially with Duncan coming off a 90-game season). Harden and Parsons versus Parker and Leonard is a wash in my book, which means that Howard's impact tips the scales.
My argument for Harden, Howard and Parsons being a better "Big Three" than Gasol, Randolph and Conley is this: In my opinion, if you put Houston's "Big Three" on a team that had a similar supporting cast as Memphis, the team led by Howard, Harden and Parsons would be the superior team nine times out of ten times.
Basically, I'm saying that if you threw the best defensive point guard in basketball next to Harden in the backcourt (the point guard equivalent of Tony Allen; maybe Patrick Beverley), the power forward equivalent to Tayshaun Prince next to Howard in the frontcourt (John Henson in two years), and fill out the bench with Randy Foye (equivalent to Jerryd Bayless), Carlos Delfino (equivalent to Mike Miller if healthy), Elton Brand (near equivalent to Ed Davis), and Luc Mbah a Moute (equivalent to Quincy Pondexter), that the hypothetical team I just created beats the current Memphis Grizzlies.
Now, the fact that I believe Houston has the best "Big Three" means absolutely nothing on its own, as I've argued all summer that improvement at starting power forward and point guard will be key to Houston's success. However, it's nice to know that the Rockets' "Big Three" could win an NBA-scale Hoop It Up tournament (Adam Silver, make it happen).
M. De Moor is an NBA junkie and the writer of The Daily Fix on Hoopshabit.com. He likes Bob Dylan just as much as James Harden.
- Sports & Recreation
- James Harden
- Dwight Howard
- Kevin Garnett
- Chandler Parsons
- Paul Pierce
- Tony Allen