The NBA landscape is composed of trends that come and go from dominant seven-foot centers and over sized point guards, to the current trend of the NBA threesome. Some of the most winning teams in league history have utilized the “big three” format, some of which resulted in Larry O’Brien success and others who came short in the ultimate goal of champagne showers and parades.
Rob Base said, “it takes two to make a thing go right”, and conversely since LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade teamed up in Miami to win two-straight championships for the Heat, there’s been a league-wide consensus that it takes three to acquire a ring. It’s an equation based on a simple idea that proves there’s a statistical advantage to three superstars carrying the load, removing the pressure on role players to step up in clutch moments like Steve Kerr or Robert Horry (for example). It’s one of the more fair systems in the NBA that says one man can’t do it alone, while dispelling the notion that an equal across the board team concept is a necessity.
Similar to the disparity of championship caliber talent seen this season between Eastern and Western Conference squads, there’s a clear difference between teams that are consistently mentioned in NBA Finals conversation. Once thought to be Western Conference favorites, the Los Angeles Clippers have thrived with an upgraded coaching staff and roster, notwithstanding key injuries and inconsistent starting lineups. Their record currently sits at 40 wins and 20 losses, and although they’ve filled some roster inadequacies with the free-agent acquisitions of Glen Davis and Danny Granger, the question of whether a third superstar is needed to help push the franchise over the top remains.
As the Clippers have transcended from infamous league cellar-dwellers to one of the more attractive player destinations, the reigning Pacific Division champions are in win-now mode. Their moves to trade for Chris Paul, extend Blake Griffin and bring in Doc Rivers as head coach are proof of just that. While the more popular rumors have been various trade scenarios for Griffin, there have been far too few rumors of a third superstar joining the Clippers to bring home their first ever NBA championship. Rivers previously coached the combination of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett with the Boston Celtics, and already believes he has a big three in Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Earlier in the season, Rivers was quoted in reference to his current trio saying: “That’s our big three, I like our big three. I like what DeAndre gives us. He gives us something a lot of the guys in the league can’t do. He can block shots, he can run the floor, he can defend, he’s talking and he’s in the best shape of his career. He’s doing a lot of great things for us.” Although Jordan is a most-improved player of the year candidate and has frequently been campaigned by Rivers to be crowned the defensive player of the year, is Doc’s inclusion of Jordan in his “big three” more of a ploy to boost confidence, or a factual statement?
Griffin has been playing huge for the Clippers with the best statistical season in his four-year career. When paired with Chris Paul there’s been no shortage of highlights in addition to an up-tempo playing style that produces 73 points per game when on the floor in tandem. That’s 21 more points than LeBron and Wade, and four more than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Add DeAndre Jordan to the equation, the Clippers put up 63.1 points with their “big three” on the court, versus Miami’s 47.3 with Chris Bosh, Wade and James, however while Miami’s big three combine for a 62.8 point-per-game average compared to the Clippers 53.2, L.A.’s point differential with Jordan, Griffin and Paul on the court stands at 18.6. While there’s a need for improvement on the defensive side of the ball, the Clippers threesome still posts respectable numbers in spite of being currently ranked 15th in opponents points per game. With the Clipper trio on the court together they manage to put up 11.5 points off turnovers and hold opponents to 44.3 percent in field goal shooting compared to 44.8 percent by the Heat top three.
The statistics definitely favor Rivers’ position, and there’s room to argue that those numbers are at the mercy of the Clippers big three playing at an optimum pace, but with Paul being previously sidelined due to injury and starting to gain his momentum back, we could see the Clippers big three become the best trio in the league. While it’s still unknown as to whether they’ll need to add a third player who draws the same type of attention from the opposition as does Paul and Griffin, for now they’ll continue to play at a high level – and will continue to entertain.