From Ice Cube’s Big3 basketball league to the Olympics, 3-on-3 basketball has pushed to the forefront of sports conversation this summer. Former NBA stars are touring the country playing halfcourt, 3-on-3 basketball in the Big3 and the International Olympic Committee recently added 3-on-3 basketball to the 2020 Tokyo Games.
It’s a simplified version of basketball that doesn’t require full lineups or even a full court, making it relatable to the masses. Almost every basketball player or fan has probably played 3-on-3 at some point in their lives, whether it’s during gym class, recess or at the local playground on the weekend.
With that, here are the best all-time NBA 3-on-3 squads for each franchise. The requirements are that the players must have played on the same team during the same season (so also factor in the ages and skill levels of the players at the time).
In most cases, rosters are constructed with consideration of what combinations of players and skill sets are important in 3-on-3 basketball. The ideal team has a scoring point guard/lead guard who can penetrate and find open teammates, a knockdown shooter with good size who can defend on the wing (think of the trendy 3-and-D wing archetype that’s invaluable in today’s NBA), and a big who can protect the rim, rebound and score in the post.
G Doc Rivers + F Dominique Wilkins + F/C Moses Malone
Doc Rivers probably wasn’t the first name you expected to see in an analysis of the best three-man lineups in NBA history but here’s the rationale: during Moses Malone’s three seasons in Atlanta, when he played alongside another Hall-of-Famer in Dominique Wilkins, Rivers was probably their best teammate, at least in terms of fit in a 3-on-3 game. In 1989, when Wilkins averaged 26.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, and Malone averaged 20.2 points and 11.8 rebounds, Rivers recorded nearly 14 points and seven assists per night, while shooting almost 35 percent from three.
Putting two of the NBA’s top-15 leading scorers of all-time on the same team while both are in their prime is something few teams can replicate.
G Dennis Johnson + F Larry Bird + F Kevin McHale
With 17 NBA Championships, Boston has more than a few Celtics deserving of consideration spanning from their first title in 1957 to their most recent in 2008 with Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. However, it’s hard to pass up a trio of Hall of Famers in Dennis Johnson, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale that won two NBA championships together and two more apart. Johnson had good size (6-4), durability (he averaged 78 games played in 14 seasons) and vision (6.4 APG as a Celtic), Bird is one of the all-time great scorers in NBA history, and McHale followed up Boston’s 1986 championship with a season in which he averaged 26 points and 10 rebounds per game. A case could also be made for Robert Parish, who put up better numbers than McHale in the early ’80s.
G Jason Kidd + F Richard Jefferson + F/C Kenyon Martin
Since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976, the highlight of the Nets franchise was in the early 2000s, when the then-New Jersey Nets made back-to-back NBA Finals apperances in 2002 and 2003. Led by veteran, do-it-all point guard Jason Kidd, a peaking Kenyon Martin and emerging forward Richard Jefferson, the Nets had their most sustained success since winning a pair of ABA titles in the mid-70s.
G Muggsy Bogues + F Larry Johnson + C Alonzo Mourning
After a rocky entrance to the NBA – going 96-232 in their first four seasons – the Hornets made the playoffs in 1993 and 1995 thanks to diminutive point guard Muggsy Bogues, former No. 1 overall pick Larry Johnson and former Georgetown standout Alonzo Mourning.
G Michael Jordan + F Scottie Pippen + F Dennis Rodman
Jordan, Pippen and Rodman led the Bulls in minutes during Chicago’s second run of three consecutive championships. Jordan averaged more than 30 points per game during that run and it goes without saying he’d take an all-time NBA 3-on-3 competition as seriously as anyone. Pippen, also a Hall-of-Famer, averaged nearly 18 points per game during his Bulls career and would be an excellent secondary scoring option. Rodman was never much of a scorer but had a Hall-of-Fame career thanks to his elite rebounding and defensive abilities.
Horace Grant was Chicago’s third banana for the Bulls’ first three championships, so he could replace Rodman if you’re looking to add more offense alongside Jordan and Pippen.
G Kyrie Irving + F LeBron James + F Kevin Love
Cleveland’s selection of Kyrie Irving No. 1 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, signing of LeBron James in free agency in 2014 and trade for Kevin Love resulted in the franchise’s first championship. Irving averaged a career-high 25.2 points per game last season and continues to display arguably the best touch at the rim among NBA guards, James has unquestionably entered the greatest of all-time debate, and Love – a bit of an afterthought in Cleveland – has the ability to average 20 and 10.
G Steve Nash + F Michael Finley + F Dirk Nowitzki
Nash and Nowitzki both arrived in Dallas in 1998, playing together for six seasons that saw the Mavericks improve from a 19-win team to a Western Conference Finals participant. With Nash running the point, Finley (a career 37.5 percent three-point shooter) on the wing and Nowitzki spreading the floor, this Dallas trio would be potent offensively.
G Allen Iverson + F Carmelo Anthony + C Marcus Camby
Carmelo Anthony played with several supremely talented point guards in Denver, including Allen Iverson, Andre Miller and Chauncey Billups, but we’ll take Iverson’s 2008 season when he averaged 26.4 points per game. Melo wasn’t far behind at 25.7 points per game, giving the Nuggets two go-to scorers, along with Camby, who finished second in the NBA that season in total rebounds and first in blocks. Camby also peaked as a passer that season, averaging 3.3 assists per game as a center.
G Isiah Thomas + G Joe Dumars + C Bill Laimbeer
Thomas, Dumars and Laimbeer won back-to-back NBA championships in 1989 and 1990 after losing in the 1988 Finals. With two Hall-of-Fame guards in the backcourt and anchored by a defensive enforcer in Laimbeer, Detroit’s 3-on-3 team would be as physical and intense as any.
Golden State Warriors
G Steph Curry + F Draymond Green + F Kevin Durant
If every NBA team’s best 3-on-3 squad played in a tournament, which of course is impossible and completely hypothetical, there’s a good chance the Warriors’ trio would be the favorite in Vegas. With the winners of three of the last four MVP awards and the 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Golden State would play efficient basketball on offense and defense. The Warriors could arguably replace any of the above players with Klay Thompson and still have one of the most dangerous 3-on-3 teams ever assembled.
G Clyde Drexler + F Charles Barkley + C Hakeem Olajuwon
If you’re a loyalist to the Rockets’ back-to-back championships in 1994-95, feel free to replace Barkley with Kenny Smith, Otis Thorpe or Vernon Maxwell, but for the sake of this exercise we’re going with Barkley. Sure, there’s no point guard on this three-man squad but put three Hall-of-Famers on the court together and chances are they’ll figure out how to play together.
Consideration was given to an Olajuwon-Ralph Sampson-John Lucas trio, as well as a team including Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming – a great combination in NBA Street Vol. 3, for the record – but the ’97 edition of the Rockets gets the nod.
G Reggie Miller + F Ron Artest + C Jermaine O’Neal
This trio was part of the 2004 Pacers team that won a franchise-record 61 games in the regular season. Miller was in the back half of his career when Artest and O’Neal entered the league, but at his peak, he was one of the best shooters in the NBA. Artest could also shoot a high enough percentage from outside to keep opposing defenses honest. This group wouldn’t lack toughness or competitve spirit.
Los Angles Clippers
G Chris Paul + F Blake Griffin + C DeAndre Jordan
Sorry, Clippers fans. The wounds are still fresh from the Chris Paul trade and there’s a chance Blake Griffin leaves L.A. as a free agent this offseason, but there’s no denying that Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan comprise the strongest three-man unit in Clippers history.
Los Angeles Lakers
G Magic Johnson + F James Worthy + C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
When your third option – James Worthy – is a former No. 1 overall pick and a Hall-of-Famer who averaged almost 18 points per game in his career, that’s a pretty good lineup. Magic Johnson was one of the league’s greatest point guards who famously started at center in the NBA finals as a rookie and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
The Lakers could assemble some incredible three-player teams from multiple decades. Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, who won the 1972 NBA Finals together, all averaged more than 20 points per game in the same season. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were also given consideration, but who’s their third player? Glen Rice? Derek Fisher?
G Mike Conley Jr. + F Zach Randolph + C Marc Gasol
The Grizzlies’ three-man unit goes against the grain by featuring two big men – Randolph and Gasol. At his peak, Randolph was a bruising 20-point, 12-rebound-per-game performer, while Gasol is a former NBA Defensive Player of the Year whose offensive game has gotten better with age. Conley is a career 37.9 percent three-point shooter, providing an outside shooting threat to complement Randolph and Gasol.
G Dwyane Wade + F LeBron James + F/C Chris Bosh
If the Boston Celtics’ assembling of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett introduced the term “Big Three” to everyday NBA conversation, the Miami Heat popularized the term unlike any team before or after. Search the phrase “Big Three NBA” on Google Trends and the results shows the use of the term peaked in July 2010, when Wade, James and Bosh signed with Miami.
G Oscar Robertson + F Bob Dandridge + C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Oscar Robertson was the original Russell Westbrook, averaging a triple-double in his second year in the NBA. The Bucks averaged 62 wins in the regular season in the four years he spent in Milwaukee, where he played alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Dandridge to win the 1971 NBA championship. Abdul-Jabbar, who needs no introduction, averaged 31.7 points and 16.0 rebounds per game that season, while Dandridge chipped in 18.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Oscar Robertson averaged a cool 19.4 points, 8.2 assists and 5.7 rebounds in the regular season.
G Sam Cassell + F Wally Szczerbiak + F Kevin Garnett
It’s fair to wonder if Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns will develop into a better trio that the one listed above but for now, the early 2000s assemblage of Cassell, Szczerbiak and Garnett is Minnesota’s best. Garnett is the best Timberwolves player of all-time, averaging 19.8 points and 11.0 rebounds per game in 14 seasons with the team, and he led Minnesota, along with Cassell and Szczerbiak, to the Western Conference Finals in 2004.
Cassell averaged 19.8 points and 7.3 assists per game that year, while shooting almost 40 percent from three. Szczerbiak was among the five best three-point shooters in the NBA at his peak.
New Orleans Pelicans
G Chris Paul + F Peja Stojakovic + F David West
As a rookie, Chris Paul improved New Orleans’ win total by 20 games from the year prior, before leading the then-Hornets to 56 wins and three playoff appearances. Paul, a nine-time All-Star, could finish his career among the top-50 NBA scorers of all-time, Stojakovic averaged 17 points on 40 percent shooting from three for his career, and West’s best years of his career were in New Orleans. This group would fit really well together in a 3-on-3 setting.
New York Knicks
G Walt Frazier + F Dave DeBusschere + F/C Willis Reed
There’s a case to be made that the Knicks’ best 3-on-3 team could come from the 1990s, and while Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis would also be a scary combination, this group is responsible for both of the Knicks’ NBA championships and these three players, especially Frazier and Reed, are unquestionably among the best players in franchise history.
Frazier averaged 19, 6 and 6 for his career as a 6-4 point guard, while DeBusschere averaged a double-double in the final 12 years of his career. Reed averaged 21.7 points and 13.9 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the field during New York’s first championship season. All three players were inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Oklahoma City Thunder
G Russell Westbrook + G James Harden + F Kevin Durant
Now that Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant play for three different teams, it isn’t inconceivable for the trio to finish in the top three in MVP voting sometime in the future. It’s hard to believe that the Thunder were unable to keep them together long enough to win a title. Oklahoma City has had to watch to Harden and Durant become the faces of two of the top contenders in the Western Conference as the Thunder have fully hitched their wagon to Westbrook, and now, Paul George.
G Penny Hardaway + G/F Nick Anderson + C Shaquille O’Neal
After drafting O’Neal No. 1 overall in the 1992 NBA Draft and acquiring Hardaway, the No. 3 pick the following year, the Magic made a run to the NBA Finals in 1995. O’Neal averaged 29.3 points and 11.4 rebounds per game that season, while Hardaway added 20.9 points and 7.2 assists per game. Anderson averaged as many as 20 points per game in Orlando and shot 35.6 percent from three during his career.
G Maurice Cheeks + F Julius Erving + F/C Moses Malone
The 76ers have had some incredible individual talents – Wilt Chamberlain, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson – but in terms of a three-player collection of fit and talent, Cheeks, Erving and Malone is Philadelphia’s strongest squad. Cheeks, who shot better than 50 percent in his first nine seasons and averaged 7.3 assists per game in Philadelphia, was the starting point guard for the 76ers during their championship season in 1983, while Erving and Malone were nightly double-double candidates in the frontcourt.
G Steve Nash + F Shawn Marion + F Amar’e Stoudemire
From 2005 to 2008, the Suns won 62, 54, 61 and 55 games in the regular season, but failed to advance past the Western Conference Finals. Under Mike D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” system, Phoenix ranked among the top four NBA teams in both offensive efficiency and pace in all four seasons. That style of play would translate well to the 3-on-3 format, making Nash, Marion and Stoudemire the Suns’ best group.
Portland Trail Blazers
G Terry Porter + G Clyde Drexler + F/C Clifford Robinson
It would be nearly impossible to create a list of the top 10 Trail Blazers of all-time and not include Porter, Drexler and Robinson. Porter, a 6-3 point guard, spent his first 10 seasons in Portland, where he averaged 15 points and seven assists while shooting 38.5 percent from three. Drexler was a Hall-of-Fame shooting guard who averaged 27.2/7.9/5.8 in the late ’80s and Robinson developed into a 20-point-per-game scorer who was also a three-point threat at 6-10. This trio made a pair of NBA Finals appearances in the early ’90s.
G Mike Bibby + F Peja Stojakovic + F Chris Webber
The 2002 Kings nearly toppled the might Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, before losing Game 7, in a season when Sacramento boasted both the league’s fastest and most-efficient offense. Chris Webber averaged 24.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists and more than one steal and one block per game, while Mike Bibby ran the offense and Peja Stojakovic averaged 21.2 points as a lethal three-point threat. With a pair of good outside shooters spacing the floor for Webber, the Kings’ threesome would fit nicely and play a very entertaining brand of basketball.
San Antonio Spurs
G Tony Parker + F Kawhi Leonard + F/C Tim Duncan
These three have won a collective five championships in San Antonio as the Spurs have won at least 50 games in every season since the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, when they won their first title. Each player has at least one NBA Finals MVP award to his name. At his peak, Parker averaged 22 points and seven rebounds per game, and his three-point shot has only improved with age. Leonard is one of the best two-way players in the league and he would succeed in any era of the NBA. Duncan, a five-time NBA champion, two-time MVP and 15-time All-Star, is had one of the 10 best careers in NBA history.
G Kyle Lowry + G DeMar DeRozan + C Jonas Valanciunas
It would be tempting to pair a 20-year-old Tracy McGrady with a 23-year-old Vince Carter from the 2000 Raptors, but instead we’re going with Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas, who have led the Raptors to 51, 56, 49 and 48 regular-season wins in the last four years, respectively, which are the four highest single-season win totals in Toronto’s history.
G John Stockton + G Jeff Hornacek + F Karl Malone
Anchored by two Hall-of-Famers in point guard John Stockton and power forward Karl Malone, with a career-40 percent three-point shooter on the wing in Jeff Hornacek, the Jazz could have assembled an absolute force of a 3-on-3 team in the 1990s.
G Earl Monroe + F Gus Johnson + C Wes Unseld
All three players were members of the franchise during its Baltimore Bullets days in the 1960s and ’70s. Earl “The Pearl” Monroe was a star as soon as he entered the league, averaging more than 20 points and four assists per game in each of his first four seasons, while Gus Johnson and Wes Unseld were two of the league’s best rebounders. Unseld averaged 18.2 rebounds per game as a rookie and shot better than 50 percent from the field for his career.