NBA teams with two great players are at a massive advantage when it comes to winning basketball games. Every once in a while, though, a team with three great players comes along and looks unstoppable.
Today’s task is figuring out which trios, or Big Threes, as many people call them, are the best in NBA history. As was the case with the duos list published on Thursday, success, overall talent and longevity are the key criteria in determining this ranking.
1. F Larry Bird, F Kevin McHale & C Robert Parish
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (12 seasons): 3 championships, 2 Finals MVPs, 3 MVPs, 12 All-NBA Teams, 9 All-Defensive Teams, 27 All-Star Teams.
Bird and McHale earned the No. 7 spot on my all-time list of duos, but it didn’t feel right to mention those two guys without including Parish, their anchor under the basket. Parish was there all 12 years that Bird and McHale played together and made the All-Star team an impressive nine times.
In the 1980s era of the NBA where teams valued strong inside play over perimeter shooting and quickness, the Celtics easily had the top frontcourt in the NBA. Bird was more of a perimeter threat, but he also was an amazing interior passer and rebounder. McHale and Parish played lockdown defense near the basket and both scored frequently and efficiently.
One of the most impressive statistics from these three players in their 12 seasons is the fact that they combined for 27 All-Star appearances in 36 total chances to do so. In five different seasons, Bird, McHale and Parish all made the All-Star team.
2. F/C Tim Duncan, G Manu Ginobili & G Tony Parker
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (14 seasons): 4 championships, 3 Finals MVPs, 1 MVP, 16 All-NBA Teams, 10 All-Defensive Teams, 19 All-Star teams.
Like Bird and McHale, Duncan and Parker also ranked very high on my teammates list (No. 6). Also like Bird and McHale, there’s a third member that you could just have to include with Duncan and Parker: Manu Ginobili. Ginobili rarely put up the counting stats of a star, but he definitely had the impact of a star with his all-around scoring, playmaking and perimeter defense.
The Spurs remained a great team for so long with these three players playing star, or at least key, roles. San Antonio won at least 50 games in every season that all three guys were on the roster. In the early and mid-2010’s, the trio unselfishly took pay cuts to allow the franchise to maintain a deep roster.
The peaks of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker didn’t overlap very much, which is why they end up second on this list instead of first.
3. G Magic Johnson, C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & F James Worthy
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (7 seasons): 3 championships, 3 Finals MVPs, 2 MVPs, 11 All-NBA Teams, 1 All-Defensive Team, 18 All-Star teams.
The Magic/Kareem/Worthy trio played only seven seasons together, which admittedly lowers their status. The fact that each of them won at least one Finals MVP in that stretch is just perfect. It speaks to each player’s ability to come through in crunch time.
Worthy’s scoring from the wing was a nice complement to Magic’s playmaking and Kareem’s low-post dominance. He was extremely agile for a 6’9” forward and had great touch around the basket.
Unfortunately, the Lakers didn’t draft Worthy until 1982, which means he missed out on two of the championships Magic and Kareem won together.
4. C Bill Russell, G Sam Jones & G/F John Havlicek
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (7 seasons): 6 championships, 2 MVPs, 13 All-NBA Teams, 2 All-Defensive Teams, 15 All-Star teams.
The Celtics of the late 1950s and 1960s were just ridiculous. With Russell and Jones as the main staples throughout the dynasty of 11 titles in 13 years, they kept on churning out excellent players. Early on, it was Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman and Tom Heinsohn. Later, Havlicek, Bailey Howell, K.C. Jones and Jerry Siegfried became major pieces.
Overall, though, Havlicek is the best choice for this Big Three. In the second half of the Celtics’ dynasty, he took over as the team’s best all-around player, complementing Russell’s all-world defense and rebounding and Sam Jones’ scoring expertise.
5. G Michael Jordan, F Scottie Pippen & F/C Horace Grant
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (6 seasons): 3 championships, 3 Finals MVPs, 3 MVPs, 8 All-NBA Teams, 1 Defensive Player of the Year, 10 All-Defensive Teams, 9 All-Star teams.
Jordan and Pippen are the best teammates in NBA history. They were consistently the top two players throughout the Bulls’ run of six titles in eight seasons.
Determining their best teammate was a tough decision, since no one else was there with Jordan and Pippen for more than three of the six championships. Dennis Rodman joined for the last three championships and was probably their best teammate at any one time, but he only played three seasons in Chicago.
I believe the player who formed with Jordan and Pippen to create the most accomplished Big Three was Grant. He only made the All-Star team once Jordan retired for the first time, but he was close to that level of player for a few seasons prior. Grant provided the reliable inside scoring, midrange jumper, rebounding and post defense to help support the perimeter excellence of the Jordan and Pippen in their respective primes.
6. G Stephen Curry, G/F Klay Thompson & F/C Draymond Green
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (7 seasons): 3 championships, 2 MVPs, 11 All-NBA Teams, 1 Defensive Player of the Year, 6 All-Defensive Teams, 9 All-Star teams.
Here we have the first (and only) trio that is still intact. Curry, Thompson and Green didn’t play together this season because of various injuries, but their resume from 2012 until 2019 is very impressive.
The coming-out party for this Big Three came during the 2014-15 season. Curry won his first MVP award, Thompson made his first All-Star team and Green finished second in both the Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player voting. Golden State went on to win the NBA Finals in 2015 following a 67-win regular season.
Since then, the Curry-Thompson-Green trio has established itself as both a talented and perfectly fitting group. All-time great shooting from Curry and Thompson helps maximize Green’s passing ability and minimizes his own lack of shooting ability. Curry and Green are excellent playmakers on the ball, helping minimize Thompson’s ball-handling deficiencies. Finally, Thompson and Green are both among the best defenders in the league at their positions, helping to cover for Curry’s average defense.
One glaring hole in this trio’s resume is the lack of Finals MVPs. Defensive-minded wing Andre Iguodala won that award during the first championship series, and superstar free agent Kevin Durant took home the honors for his play in the second and third Finals series.
7. F LeBron James, G Dwyane Wade & F/C Chris Bosh
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (4 seasons): 2 championships, 2 Finals MVPs, 2 MVPs, 7 All-NBA Teams, 4 All-Defensive Teams, 12 All-Star teams.
When the Miami Heat brought in LeBron and Bosh to join Wade in the summer of 2010, it was one of the biggest events in NBA offseason history. On paper, it looked like arguably the best three-man collection of talent ever. Then, LeBron said at a nationally televised welcome party that the team was going to win eight or more championships with them at the helm. He may have been exaggerating, but he seemed honest in his feelings about how dominant the team would be.
The Heat didn’t achieve anything close to LeBron’s lofty promises, but two back-to-back titles is still a heck of an accomplishment for any team. The Heat also made it to the NBA Finals in the other two seasons. Another one of this Big Three’s most impressive accomplishments is that all three of them made the Eastern Conference All-Star team in each of the four seasons they played together.
Unfortunately, longevity is the weakness of this trio. LeBron left for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2014. The Heat were likely done with winning titles anyway — Wade’s injuries were quickly eating away his athleticism and Bosh developed blood clots that forced him to retire in 2016 at the age of just 32 years old.
8. G Isiah Thomas, G Joe Dumars & C Bill Laimbeer
- Combined accomplishments while teammates (8 seasons): 2 championships, 2 Finals MVPs, 5 All-NBA Teams, 5 All-Defensive Teams, 13 All-Star teams.
The “Bad Boy” Pistons of the mid-1980s all the way to the early 1990s are one of the most memorable teams in NBA history. They played rough and did unsportsmanlike things on the court at many times but boy, were they tough to beat.
Thomas, Dumars and Laimbeer were probably the three most vital members of the team. Thomas was the initiator of the offense as a lightning-quick scoring and passing point guard. Dumars was a solid shooter and penetrator who locked up opposing guards on defense and Laimbeer was also a reliable shooter for a big man who also intimidated opponents with his aggressive play under the basket.
If these three were more clearly the dominant forces for their team during the reign of the Bad Boys, they would be higher. However, those Pistons teams had so many important players who contributed during those years, including Dennis Rodman, Mark Aguirre, Adrian Dantley, Rick Mahorn, John Salley and Vinnie Johnson.