Big 3: Part 1

“All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall.”
Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers

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I’ll Count to 3…

In an earlier article I referenced the concept of a ‘Big 3,’ and the advantages that a team with 3 all-star caliber players has.  It’s about more than just having more talent or bigger talent than the opposing team: you have to exploit their weaknesses before they exploit yours.  You’re attacking them – you’re putting the ball through the hoop. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the ‘Big 3’ terminology, you need to get your life in order.  We’ve been worried sick, and you know that your mother and I aren’t mad, we’re just disappointed.  

You’re grounded.

The Big 3 with which most casual fans are familiar was the Lebron-era Miami Heat,  a team spearheaded by Lebron, side-kicked by Dwayne wade, and completed by Chris bosh.  If you don’t know who Chris Bosh is, you’re grounded another week.  That makes 2 weeks, don’t make me make it 3.

Brian "The Custodian" Cardinal

Brian “The Custodian” Cardinal

The good news is that you’re not in trouble if you don’t know the other players that made up that roster.  They’re all just different scraps of pizza crust and half-eaten subway sandwiches that were picked out of the garbage and put into NBA uniforms.  The monstrous salaries of the 3 aforementioned players who are actually talented, left very little money for component parts.  Such is the nature of collective bargaining: there is a limited salary cap and the strongest feed on the Brian Cardinal.

But that’s sort of the point.  In 2014-2015, the salary cap is $63,065,000.  The highest salary in the league is, hilariously, a Kobe Bryant that doesn’t understand how to bow out gracefully.  What Kobe was doing on the court this year before he tore his shoulder was the basketball equivalent of Brett Favre sending random women his dick pics in his Crocs.

Off the basketball court, everyone in Lakers’ management is sobbing uncontrollably, tearing apart their navy blazers, throwing themselves prostrate before the Black Mamba – their unholy lord, and begging him to restructure his contract or something I don’t know.

Expensive 3s

Kobe’s salary is $23,500,000.

$23,500,000 x 3 = $70,500,000.

You can’t have 3 Kobes without breaking salary cap ($63,065,000) and accruing luxury taxes.

highest salariesLuckily, there are apparently hundreds of other players in the NBA not named Kobe Bryant.  Until yesterday, I honestly didn’t know that was a thing.  These non-Kobe basketball players don’t demand the level of financial compensation that Kobe does, but they aren’t that much off:

In your head, you might be asking “okay, so what does this have to do with Big 3s and why do you keep having articles with graphs.”

The point I have in mind, Megan*, is that 3 star players on one roster is the realistic peak for any given NBA team.

*maybe so, maybe no

Oh Baby a Triple Oh Yeah

As much as outstanding individuals, the past three decades of the NBA have been distinguished by the dominance of star trios and the championships those Big 3 groups have accumulated.

“It’s real difficult to win the whole thing with just two superstars,” former Boston Celtics center Robert Parish said. “You need that third star, and then the opposing team has fewer answers. Somebody is going to have a mismatch.”

In this excerpt, snagged from this USA Today article, Celtics legend Robert Parish notes the primary dynamic which is in play: mismatching.

Like I said earlier, your team will win if you can exploit their weaknesses better than they can exploit yours.

3 on 5 on 5 on 3

lebron-james-stareImagine for a second that you are a deadly lion stalking a herd of gazelles out in the great plains of central Africa.

Wasn’t that cool?  Lions are really cool.

Okay, now imagine that you’re an NBA player on defense and Lebron James dribbles up to you and gives you this look:

Your adrenaline kicks in, but you can’t move.  You can’t look away either, utterly paralyzed by your fear.

Luckily, your teammate Ivan fought in the Yugoslav Wars, and he recognizes the look of pure terror in your eyes immediately.  He rotates over to you providing ‘help defense,’ and, with a gruff Eastern European accent, whispers into your ear: “Never again will I leave a comrade to die.  This is for you Vladimir.”  You lock eyes with your NBA team comrade for a brief moment before he disappears off into battle once more.  For the rest of your life you will spend sleepless nights wondering whether his eyes seemed glazed because he had been crying or because of the whiskey you smelled on his breath.

dwade?So, Lebron passes the ball away.  He’s not going to get a high quality shot with 2 defenders on him, so his teammates would be better off with the opportunity.  You and Ivan have both committed to stopping Lebron’s drive, and are now out of position on defense for a few seconds.  Dwayne Wade catches the ball and has this expression on his face:

Your teammate Bill was covering Wade before he had the ball in his possession, but another complication is facing your defense: when you and Ivan doubled Lebron, you left a gap in the defense open, which Wade sees.  He starts barreling towards the gap, intending to score off of the easy opportunity he has to drive to the hoop.  You realize he still has the same expression he had earlier and you feel extremely uncomfortable about this.

Ivan can’t help, as he is in a heated argument with the team’s head trainer about the unusually high alcohol content of the team’s Gatorade.

You are still out of defensive position from over-committing to Lebron’s offensive drive.  Instead, your other teammate, Ted, rotates from his position on the lower left block to stop Dwayne Wade.  Ted is playing low post, a position not particularly known for mobility and mind-shattering athleticism.

The good news is that no one has scored yet (probably); the bad news is that now Bill, Ted, Ivan, and yourself are all committed on defense.  There’s one defender left to cover three offenders, and you’re thinking, ‘well at least thing’s couldn’t get worse right?’

raptorYou bet Jurrassican.

Ball movement is some crazy business.  If you can get your offense moving fast enough, defenders don’t have time to react when they realize that a dinosaur has somehow arrived on the court.  Chris Bosh can score from anywhere on the court, meaning that he will be where you don’t want him to be once he catches D-Wade’s pass.  Maybe he’ll shoot, maybe he’ll hit yet another player with a well-timed pass; or maybe Lebron or Wade have already scored at this point because someone on defense screwed the pooch.

The point of this exercise is to demonstrate how scary it is when a team has 3 players who will probably score unless a defense throws more than just one man at them; Nearly as horrifying as the atrocities of war.  As long as this team plays something that vaguely looks like defense on the other side of the court, they are going to beat you 9 times out of 10.

In Part 2

Next up on the Agenda is the history behind the ‘Big 3’ phenomena.  It is a history both rich and turbulent.  Grown men cried.  Other grown men didn’t cry.  I’m not planning on covering all the Big 3s, just the most dynamic and interesting.  You’re going to like the way you look.  I guarantee it.

the prophet