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The James-Wade-Bosh Big Three, Part II

Posted by Neil Paine on July 1, 2010

Following up on yesterday's post about newly-formed "Big Twos", here are notable "Big Threes" from throughout NBA history, formed by taking at least 1 established star from another team. Just to be clear, this is not a list of the Greatest Big Threes Ever; rather, this is a list of combinations featuring players who had been the biggest focal points of their teams the previous year, and then were put together on one team, with each having to adjust to not being the clear-cut alpha dog anymore. Let's go to the list: (note that none of these would even come close to matching the 97.3% combined possession rate the proposed LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh trio had in 2009-10)

1. Michael Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse, & Larry Hughes, 2003 Wizards
Previous Combined %Poss: 89.6% (Jordan - 34.6%; Stackhouse - 32.1%; Hughes - 22.9%)
Previous Team Offensive Rating: 104.8
New Team Offensive Rating: 103.0
New Split of Possessions: 27% (Jordan) - 27% (Stackhouse) - 21% (Hughes)

Comparability to James-Wade-Bosh: Low. We touched on this one yesterday, but it's tough to remember that Larry Hughes was also added to that Wizards team after being the primary facilitator on a Warriors squad that won just 21 games in 2002. The raw talent was certainly there for this group, but they were in the wrong place at the wrong time -- Jordan had peaked 5-10 years earlier, Hughes wouldn't peak until 2 years later, and Stack was what he always was, a high-volume/low-efficiency gunner.

2. Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, & Gary Payton, 2004 Lakers
Previous Combined %Poss: 88.6% (Bryant - 32.0%; O'Neal - 29.6%; Payton - 27.0%)
Previous Team Offensive Rating: 107.2
New Team Offensive Rating: 105.5
New Split of Possessions: 29% (Bryant) - 26% (O'Neal) - 21% (Payton)

Comparability to James-Wade-Bosh: Medium. On pure talent, this group is arguably better than James/Wade/Bosh (JWB), since you had one of the greatest big men ever, one of the greatest wing players ever, and one of the greatest PGs ever, all on the same team (and we're not even talking about Karl Malone yet). But unlike JWB, the timing was off: Kobe was in his prime, but Shaq and GP were on the way out of theirs. Throw in Bryant's legal issues, and this team didn't have as much going for it as you might have expected based on the names involved.

3. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, & Kevin Garnett, 2008 Celtics
Previous Combined %Poss: 85.0% (Pierce - 29.7%; Allen - 28.1%; Garnett - 27.2%)
Previous Team Offensive Rating: 103.2
New Team Offensive Rating: 110.2
New Split of Possessions: 25% (Pierce) - 25% (Garnett) - 21% (Allen)

Comparability to James-Wade-Bosh: Medium-to-High. Pierce, Allen, and KG were older than JWB when they arrived in Boston, but they were still close to their peak abilities. Garnett was probably the best player in the league in 2005, and all three were All-Stars in 2007. The key difference between them and JWB, though, is that Pierce/Allen/Garnett were desperate to win a ring before the window closed on their careers, whereas JWB are still young players with a longer future in front of them.

4. Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, & Marcus Camby, 2007 Nuggets
Previous Combined %Poss: 84.6% (Iverson - 35.1%; Anthony - 30.2%; Camby - 19.3%)
Previous Team Offensive Rating: 105.5
New Team Offensive Rating: 107.6
New Split of Possessions: 32% (Anthony) - 27% (Iverson) - 17% (Camby)

Comparability to James-Wade-Bosh: Medium-to-Low. I talked about this one yesterday, finding the pairing of two megastars like Iverson and Anthony moderately comparable to the proposed Wade/James duo (though 'Melo and A.I. are poor man's versions at best). The addition of Camby into the mix strains the comparison even further, because Camby and Bosh are alike only in the sense that they're both relatively skinny big men (Camby is worlds better defensively; Bosh is worlds better on offense).

5. Moses Malone, Andrew Toney, & Julius Erving, 1983 76ers
Previous Combined %Poss: 84.6% (Malone - 29.4%; Toney - 27.9%; Erving - 27.3%)
Previous Team Offensive Rating: 109.6
New Team Offensive Rating: 108.3
New Split of Possessions: 26% (Malone) - 26% (Toney) - 25% (Erving)

Comparability to James-Wade-Bosh: Medium. Like James, Malone in his prime was a devastating force capable of carrying an entire team on his back. Wade and Erving are also highly comparable in terms of all-around impact, though Erving was 3 years older in '83 than Wade will be in 2011. However, Toney-Bosh is something of an apples-to-oranges comparison, since Toney was a guard & Bosh is a F-C, and Toney was known for his memorable postseason moments while Bosh's playoff career has been forgettable as of yet. On paper, JWB looks like an even more dynamic combo than Malone/Erving/Toney, but you can't argue with the '83 Sixers' result.

Best of the Rest:
6. Dominique Wilkins, Reggie Theus, & Moses Malone, 1989 Hawks
7. Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard, & Drew Gooden, 2004 Magic
8. Chris Webber, Rod Strickland, & Juwan Howard, 1997 Bullets
9. Karl Malone, Jeff Malone, & John Stockton, 1991 Jazz
10. Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, & Clyde Drexler, 1997 Rockets
11. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Gail Goodrich, & Lucius Allen, 1976 Lakers
12. Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, & Juwan Howard, 2005 Rockets
13. Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, & Glen Rice, 1999 Lakers
14. Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, & Xavier McDaniel, 1991 Suns
15. Allen Iverson, Keith Van Horn, & Derrick Coleman, 2003 76ers
16. Jerry Stackhouse, Clifford Robinson, & Chucky Atkins, 2002 Pistons
17. Antoine Walker, Dirk Nowitzki, & Steve Nash, 2004 Mavericks
18. Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan, & Richie Guerin, 1964 Hawks
19. Pete Maravich, Gail Goodrich, & Truck Robinson, 1978 Jazz
20. Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, & Chauncey Billups, 2009 Nuggets

24 Responses to “The James-Wade-Bosh Big Three, Part II”

  1. Tracy Says:

    No Lakers of Wilt/West/Baylor? Seems pretty comparable at first glance.

  2. Neil Paine Says:

    Wilt actually only used 21.3% of possessions in '68... West had 24.7%, Baylor had 26.4%, so combined they had just 72.4%, which is akin to Amare Stoudemire/Shawn Marion/Quentin Richardson on the 2005 Suns. Also, the '69 Lakers' "Big Three" by this measure wouldn't even have included Chamberlain, since Mel Counts had a higher usage (22.6%) in 1968. And that Baylor/West/Counts triad didn't qualify for this list, because nobody in that group was new to the Lakers in 1969. In fact, Chamberlain was only 4th on the Lakers in possession % in '69 -- he used 19.4% when on the court, behind Baylor (26.1%), West (25.9%), and Counts (21.6%). I'm sure the Baylor-West-Counts-Wilt group would count as a "Big Four", though.

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    One more dissimilarity: Chamberlain (32), Baylor (34), and West (30) were all over 30 in 1969, while Wade will be 29 and James/Bosh will be 26 in 2011.

  4. Jason J Says:

    So is there any statistical model to even vaguely predict how the usage rates would likely adjust for each player if the Bron-Wade-Bosh combo actually got together?

  5. Neil Paine Says:

    That's a great question, I'll have to look at that at some point.

  6. Casey E Says:

    Umm, no Bird/McHale/Parish????? Probably the best "Big Three" of all time??? this website is a friggen joke

  7. Neil Paine Says:

    I think it's fascinating that Ray Allen was the 2nd-biggest usage guy of the big 3 in 2007, but he was by far the 3rd banana when those guys actually got together. That's why any model to predict the usage of a previously-unseen Big 3 is going to have to take into account all of the players' skills, and even who they might be playing with (Mario Chalmers and 8 scrubs?). This makes the question exceptionally difficult to answer, but also fun, because basketball requires pieces to fit together in a lineup. In baseball, A-Rod doesn't need to change his game or sacrifice on-base percentage to fit into a lineup with Jeter. But a Wade-James pairing (to say nothing of Bosh)? Those guys would have to alter their styles to make it work. That's one of the beautiful things about basketball.

  8. Kanuto Says:

    How about McDaniel/Chambers/Ellis or maybe even RUN-TMC if we're talking about firepower and/or possession rates? And if you guys aren't considering Bird/McHale/Parish,how about Bird/McHale/Johnson?

  9. Neil Paine Says:

    Hey Casey, Bird/McHale/Parish came up together as a "Big Three" (Parish came from Golden State, but that was McHale's rookie year, so for all intents and purposes that was a home-grown Big Three)... This post is about Big 3s that were formed by taking existing stars from other teams and putting them together. Like the Wade/James/Bosh combo would be.

  10. Neil Paine Says:

    Okay, hopefully I made that more clear in the intro (I described it yesterday, but not today)... These "Big Threes" were made by taking established stars from other teams and putting them together. Also, just to be clear, this is not a list of the Greatest Big Threes Ever, this is a list of combinations that had been the focal points of the offense the previous year, and then were put together on one team, with each having to adjust to not being the clear-cut alpha dog anymore.

  11. james Says:


  12. andrew Says:

    jordan/ pippen/ rodman

  13. David in Toledo Says:

    Regarding @5, try Malone/Bosh, Erving/James, and Toney/Wade. This is an interesting idea. Thanks for carrying it through.

  14. tehdinj Says:

    dur, Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell, Ray Allen?

  15. jRo Says:

    No Magic/Kareem/Worthy? are you kidding me?

  16. k-dub Says:

    what about Zeke, Joe D. & Microwave (I. Thomas, J. Dumars & V. Johnson)

  17. JP Says:

    So, I see no Magic/ Kareem/ Worthy here.
    Or, add Magic (LeBron), Byron Scott (Wade) and Worthy (Bosh).
    Or, consider DJ/ Bird/ McHale

  18. HRN Says:

    The author has sort of made it clear that this list is regarding only big threes with new pieces (acquired via trade or free agency) and this list isn't so much the best as so much usage of the ball, so saying like jordan-pippen-rodman isn't accurate b/c rodman wouldn't possess the ball much on offense

  19. Nashville Says:

    I enjoyed the article. NP did his homework and has some valid arguments. He went all the way back to the '64 Hawks, so if he overlooked your trio, let it go...breathe and go post your own article and let people rip it apart.

  20. thawk Says:

    Jordan, Pippen, Horace Grant

  21. Jason J Says:

    Sometimes you really do need to read the post, not just the list.

    7. Neil - That's very true. Play-style is huge. When I picture Bron and Wade together, I have a 90-91 Jordan / Pippen picture in my mind with Wade taking on the lead scorer role (lesser Jordan) with LeBron as the lead playmaker (greater Pippen). Maybe that's simplifying it too much. They might be more likely to split it right down the middle, but that's what occurs to me.

  22. mo Says:

    kemp/payton/schrempf (or hawkins)

  23. kyle Says:

    Great article! I dont understand how people can argue with it. First, it's usage rate. It's MATH, not opinion! And of course the hilariousness of "what about bird, robert, kevin" when you obviously stated the terms of the list prior.

    People really don't read anymore, do they? Anyways, very interesting piece.

  24. Sandy B Says:

    Gotta love bing, very cool website. Thanks alot.