NBA's top trios

July, 31, 2008

First, it was about great teams -- the '60s Celtics, the '80s Lakers, Celtics, Sixers and Pistons.

Then, it was about great duos -- Jordan and Pippen, Olajuwon and Drexler, Kemp and Payton, Stockton and Malone, Duncan and Robinson, Shaq and Kobe.

Now, it's about trios, and Houston just created one. That's why the Rockets, assuming they're healthy and distraction free, suddenly are legitimate title contenders.

That being the case, here's my list of the league's top 10 threesomes. Remember, this is not a ranking of teams but of Big Threes:

1. Boston: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen
Three Hall of Famers. Two great closers (Pierce and Ray), one terrific defender and rebounder (KG). A 7-footer (KG), a slasher (Pierce) and a textbook jump shooter (Ray). A ring.

By the way, Pierce is nuts if he thinks he's the league's best player. I love his game and he was definitely the finals MVP. But Paul, don't get it twisted: You're probably not even in the top 10 (I feel like Roger Federer talking to Neil Everett): (In no particular order) LeBron, Kobe, Chris Paul, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire.

I like Paul's confidence, though.

2. San Antonio: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili
Duncan's aging, but I'm not ready to count these three out just yet. All three could end up in the Hall of Fame: Parker for being a key star on at least three title teams, and Ginobili for his success on the world stage.

3. Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol
If Bynum returns quickly to the form he displayed (17.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.1 bpg) in the three weeks preceding his injury, this will be the league's second-best trio, at least. And a fourth option like Lamar Odom only strengthens the Lakers' version of the Big Three.

4. Houston: Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Ron Artest
The main obstacles for the new-look Rockets are health and keeping Ron-Ron under control. If those two factors don't become issues, they will be sweet. We don't even have to talk about their defense. The league's second-best defensive team just added the best, most feared perimeter defender on earth, for goodness sakes.

And offensively, the Rockets now have three legitimate 20-point scorers. T-Mac's an old and weary 29 (entering his 12th season), so the addition of Artest will take some of the heavy offensive burden off his shoulders.

Plus, Artest gives them something some Big Threes lack -- an edge.

5. New Orleans: Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler
These three have tremendous chemistry. There's no doubt that Paul lifts West and Chandler to another level, and the whole here is probably better than the sum of the individual parts.

Paul is the best point guard on the planet (though D-Will is right on his heels). West is one of the most versatile power forwards in the game who can punish the defense inside, outside and on the break, and Chandler is a great rebounder, a forceful presence defensively and a nice offensive complement to Paul. And as with the Lakers, a fourth-best player like Peja Stojakovic only makes the Bayou's Big Three that much stronger.

6. Phoenix: Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Shaquille O'Neal
This may be a stretch, but I'm betting that Nash has one more splendid year in him and that Shaq has one more decent run in him. Amare was a monster next to Shaq, and I'm going to give Shaq the benefit of the doubt and say that pride will motivate him to play well next season.

The Suns' days as a title contender are over, but this threesome must still be respected.

7. Detroit: Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace
Could be another stretch because in my opinion the Pistons, as currently constructed, are no longer contenders. But they'll probably finish with a fairly strong regular-season record. If new coach Michael Curry can get Billups and Wallace to turn back the clock two years, they'll be in business. But that's a big "if." Also, like the Lakers and Hornets, the Pistons have something of a Big Four with Tayshaun Prince.

8. Dallas: Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard
Man, I'm giving the old trios lots of credit. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Rick Carlisle and an offseason of meditation will help these three mesh better. Like Phoenix and Detroit ahead of them, they're done contending for rings, but they can certainly play better than they did last season. Almost went with Washington and Philly over them, but I had to admit that in the East, Dallas would be a force.

9. Washington: Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler
The last time these three were healthy for a significant stretch of time, they sent Eddie Jordan to the All-Star Game as coach of the Eastern Conference. The main downfall of this triumvirate is that there's no dominant big man. Yeah, Jamison was one of only four players to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds last season, but as good as he is, Jamison's not an overpowering force on the frontline, and that's what you need to be elite. He's barely a power forward.

10. Philadelphia: Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller
They've got a low-post scorer in Brand, a versatile slasher in Iguodala, and a prototypical point guard in Miller. I'd have them ahead of Washington's three if they'd played together before. And with Iguodala improving, they could climb the charts in the upcoming months.

Utah: Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer are absolutely one of the league's best tandems (assuming Boozer's late-season tumble wasn't a sign of things to come). But there's no third star. If either Mehmet Okur or Andrei Kirilenko can return to their All-Star form, the Jazz will have a threesome worthy of the list.

Denver: Again, A.I. and Melo make a fearsome Big Two, but it's a reach to make Kenyon Martin the third piece of a Big Three.

Portland: Prediction: Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden are going to lead the Blazers to the playoffs this year, which is saying a ton considering they're in the West. Hopefully, Oden gets his game back quickly.

Orlando: Offensively, Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis are arguably the best frontcourt in the league. Gotta get better on the other end, though.

Toronto: A lot of questions here. Can Jermaine O'Neal still play at an elite level? Can Jose Calderon play like the All-Star caliber point guard he's shown signs of becoming?

Miami: I think Michael Beasley's going to be all that. Dwyane Wade already is. But Beasley and Shawn Marion pretty much play the same position. It's hard to put much faith in the Heat considering Wade's penchant for getting hurt, Beasley's youth and Marion's inability to create his own shot, but this crew's got potential.


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