Top 10 'Big 3s' of all time

Two current star trios make our ranking of the NBA's best since 1965

Originally Published: July 13, 2012
By Neil Paine | Basketball-Reference.com

With so many superstars teaming up over the past five seasons, you might be tempted to think the NBA's current "Big 3" era (touched off by the Celtics' acquisitions of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in the summer of 2007) represents a brand-new trend for the league.

However, while Boston's trio and Miami's subsequent LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh triad are historically great, many of the biggest 3s date back to long before the Pierce-Garnett-Allen combo was even a twinkle in Danny Ainge's eye.

Using a combination of Basketball-Reference's Win Shares and John Hollinger's Estimated Wins Added, prorated to 82 scheduled games in years like 2012, we can attempt to measure the greatest single-season Big 3s since 1965 (the first year we have statistics split out by each team a player played for).

The obvious approach would seem to be simple addition, summing the metrics for a team's three highest-ranked players, but that runs the risk of overrating a trio on the basis of its top player. It actually makes more sense to use an average called the harmonic mean to give less relative weight to a team's best player and more to its third-best player.

After doing that, you get the following list of the best three-man combinations in a season:


10. 1968-69 Los Angeles Lakers

Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor

In July 1968, Chamberlain was traded from Philadelphia to L.A., forming what was perhaps the NBA's very first modern-style Big 3 with West and Baylor. The result was a 55-win Lakers team that boasted three inner-circle Hall of Famers with PERs north of 20 -- although, oddly enough, the Wilt-infused '68-69 Lakers actually represented an offensive decline from the 1967-68 version, a team whose No. 3 player was Archie Clark.

Even so, L.A.'s 1968-69 team would meet expectations, eventually coming within a Game 7 Finals loss of being only the second team to topple the Celtics in a playoff series since 1958.


To read Neil Paine's full ranking of the top 10 "Big 3s," become an Insider today.

Neil Paine writes for FiveThirtyEight, the data-supported sports, politics and culture site coming soon from ESPN.