The NBA has an obsession with the number three. The ultimate expression of dominance in this new era of basketball is the three-peat. Every team must have a three point specialist to space the floor in this age of unimaginably tall basketball players at every position. And now the rule of three is being applied to the championship equation.
The Celtics brought the championship back to Boston for the first time since the 1980s with three superstar veterans at the tail end of their prime, the Lakers became the dominant team in the Western Conference and repeat champions by keeping their big three together, and now the Heat have entered new territory by signing three superstars in their prime to begin a new dynasty in Miami.
So in this new age of the roster trifecta, who are the top contenders? Below is a list of the Top Ten three-man rosters in the league.
Number 1: The Miami Heat – SF LeBron James, SG Dwayne Wade, PF Chris Bosh
Every one of these players is coming into their prime and can score at will if covered by a single player. Remember basketball only allows five players per team on the floor at once, so even if the Heat can find D-League rejects to fill out their starting five at least one of these guys is going to be able to post 30.
Number 2: Los Angeles Lakers – SG Kobe Bryant, PF Pau Gasol, F Lamar Odom
Add on part ultimate competitor (Bryant), one part superb low post scorer with a midrange jump shot (Gasol), and one part versatile forward (Odom) and you have two championships in a row. Sure bail outs from Derek Fisher help, but this team is great because these three present match up problems for every team in the league.
Number 3: Boston Celtics – PF Kevin Garnett, SF Paul Pierce, PG Rajon Rondo
Garnett re-emerged as a defensive stopper this season and Pierce and Rondo took turns taking over games all season long. Yes, Rondo replaces Allen on the Celtics, but he has become a top-five point guard and that trumps the aging Allen’s sweet jumper.
Number 4: San Antonio Spurs – PF Tim Duncan, SG Manu Ginobili, PG Tony Parker
The Spurs are a perpetually understated team. They have perhaps the best power forward of all time in Duncan, a gritty and creative scoring force in Ginobili, and a quick point guard in Parker who can get to the bucket against anybody and manages to knock down big shots despite having a poor outside shot. These are three guys that just know how to win. They only finish below the Celtics because I’d rather have Pierce than Ginobili.
Number 5: Houston Rockets – C Yao Ming, PG Aaron Brooks, SG Kevin Martin
This one comes with a caveat, Ming – when healthy. Brooks blossomed last season, taking over the leadership role in Ming’s absence after T Mac was traded to the Knicks. Add a terrific perimeter shooter in Martin and this team is terrifying. Brooks drives, Ming dominates the post, and Martin will catch you sleeping on the outside. It is the perfect inside-out combo with a penetrating guard to poke and prod the defense.
Number 6: Orlando Magic – C Dwight Howard, PG Jameer Nelson, SG Vince Carter
Say what you will about the Magic and these three, but after the Rockets it is rather difficult to find a clear big three and this combo did go to the Eastern Conference Finals before falling apart. Nelson continues to prove he is a big time player despite my inability to accept such a reality. Howard may not be a gifted offensive player, but he is beast o the boards and blocking shots. On occasion he may even make a decent back-to-the-basket move using his freakish quickness. Then there is Vince Carter. While he is hit or miss, so is a third banana like Lamar Odom and the Lakers are listed at number two.
Number 7: Dallas Mavericks – PF Dirk Nowitzki, G Jason Terry, PG Jason Kidd
The big German is still a seven-foot shooting guard despite his declining ability to make plays in the post, and that means something huge in games often decided by mismatches. Add the sage-like play of Kidd this past season and the rejuvenated play of the microwave Jason Terry and this is a team capable of decimating clubs on the perimeter.
Number 8: Oklahoma City Thunder – SF Kevin Durant, PG Russell Westbrook, PF Jeff Green
League’s most prolific scorer, a point guard whose dominance defies his stats, and a glue guy who happily accepts his role – give this trio another season or two and they will be a top three combination. Right now they are too young and lack the nitty, gritty playoff experience for me to leapfrog them over the past three or four teams.
Number 9: Milwaukee Bucks – PG Brandon Jennings, C Andrew Bogut, SF Corey Maggette
Jennings is going to be a top-five point guard, Bogut is a low post scoring force with vision despite having no hops, and Maggette is a solid 20 point-5-board forward who is still a superb athlete. The talent here may be flying under the radar of casual NBA fans, but die hard fanatics know this is a team to be feared.
Number 10: Chicago Bulls – PG Derrick Rose, PF Carlos Boozer, C Joakim Noah
Rose came back from poor play early on because of a lingering ankle injury to shock and awe Bulls fans. Boozer is a 20-10 guy with a midrange jumper. Noah is an energetic center with a knack for rebounding and just getting in the way on defense (in a good way). If Noah had any kind of an offensive game, this trio could jump up a few spots, but he is only good for put backs and fast break dunks.