One of my favorite non-PtR NBA writers is Zach Lowe on ESPN. He recently wrote a piece with the provocative title of “Is a Big Two better than a Big Three for NBA teams?”
Of course, here at PtR, any reference to a Big Three in an NBA article naturally conjures up images of the Tim Duncan, Manu Ginoibli, and Tony Parker. So I was naturally curious to see how Zach would treat the Spurs’ Big Three in his analysis, especially since they led the Spurs to a virtually unprecedented run of excellence.
Oddly, he did not mention our Big Three anywhere in his article. In fact, at one point, he made a statement that certainly should have included the Spurs’ trio:
“But there is nothing at present precisely like the Big Threes (and one Big Four) that dominated the league for a decade-plus in Boston, Miami, Cleveland and Oakland.”
We can assume that Zach’s reference to the “decade-plus” is to 2009 – 2019, a decade in which the 2014 Spurs turned in the most dominant Finals (and playoff) performance. And if we stretch the “decade-plus” to include 2003 and forward, you can add three more championships (2003, 2005, 2007) to the Spurs’ Big Three legacy.
The article correctly points out that the present NBA seems to have shifted to the Big Two model, with the Rockets, Lakers, Jazz and Clippers as the prime “two-star” teams with the best chances to win this season, and the Nets and Mavericks “two-star” teams as possible future contenders. I suppose we could add the present Spurs as a Semi-Big Two version, with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan leading the team.
However, Zach then assumes that the Big Three model is necessarily a short-term scheme which must sacrifice depth when constructing the squad:
“Will more teams choose two stars and legit depth over a real Big Three? * * * Teams strip to the studs to fit three superstars. They trade away quality depth and the draft picks that would help replenish that depth. They trawl for minimum-salaried graybeards and ring-chasers. The centerpiece stars can’t count on those guys for long.”
Once again, the Spurs disprove the hypothesis. The Spurs squad, with the Big Three in their primes, had great depth. Indeed, by the time they reached their pinnacle in 2013 and 2014, the Spurs could legitimately have been considered the Big Four in 2014, with Kawhi Leonard as the Fourth Musketeer winning the Finals MVP in 2014, or the Big Five in 2013, with Danny Green conceivably winning the Finals MVP absent some freaky stuff at the end of Game 6.
Beyond those two and the Big Three, those Spurs also received key contributions from numerous other players — Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and many others. The Spurs had similar depth throughout their decades of dominance, much of it “home grown,” despite never picking in the top 20 of any NBA draft after Duncan, disproving the theory that the Big Three model is doomed to a rapid flame-out.
Giving Zach Lowe the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he is saying that the Spurs model is no longer possible in “today’s NBA.” Indeed, I theorized in an earlier piece that perhaps the NBA has changed, and that players no longer feel a tie to a particular organization, Kawhi being a prime example. But I would like to think that a solid organization with good people will still be a place most players will want to stay, or come to. If I am right, the Spurs model may indeed rise again. If so, what better place for that to happen than San Antonio?