Ranking the Top Superstar Trios in the NBA Entering the 2021–22 Season

By Patrick Hayes October 11, 2021

Ranking the Top Superstar Trios in the NBA Entering the 2021–22 Season

The Los Angeles Lakers won an NBA championship in 2020 without a big three – LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined with several tough and defensive-minded role players propelled them to that title. 

After barely making the playoffs and being eliminated in round one in 2021, the Lakers shifted their approach and went back to a three-superstar model that several teams have won or contended for championships with in recent years. The Lakers brought in Russell Westbrook to play alongside James and Davis, giving the NBA another “big three” and making the Lakers arguably the most intriguing team in the NBA odds space as fans will definitely be interested in how Westbrook meshes with James and Davis.

With the Lakers adding a third big name, here’s a look at how we would rank all of the big threes in the league entering the season.

1. Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday

Jul 17, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward P.J. Tucker (17) celebrates with forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34), guard Jrue Holiday (21) and forward Khris Middleton (22) as Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) walks off the court following game five of the 2021 NBA Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Holiday and Middleton might not have as big of names as some of the players on this list, but they delivered a championship playing with Antetokounmpo, who is probably the best player in the league right now. Holiday’s defense, in particular, was a key part of Milwaukee winning a title as he made Chris Paul’s life a nightmare at times in the Finals. Middleton is a quiet, tough-shot maker and his all-around game has consistently improved each year he’s been in the league. There are bigger stars on other teams than these three, but they delivered a championship last season, so you can’t argue with results. The team also signed head coach Mike Budenholzer to a contract extension in the offseason and brought back key reserve Bobby Portis, so they should be in good position to defend the first championship the organization has won in 50 years.

2. Brooklyn Nets – Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving

Oct 8, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (13) and forward Kevin Durant (7) during warm ups before a preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center. Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Talent is unquestioned for the Nets. They have two former MVPs and a third player in Irving who has already won a championship and is a perennial All-Star. Health is the only question here. The Nets had a hard time getting all three players on the court at once last season as all three had significant injury issues. When they’re healthy, though, they’re nearly impossible to stop. They had the Bucks down 2-0 in the playoffs last season before injuries to Harden and Irving cost them. If they can get to this year’s playoffs healthy, look for the team to have its breakthrough and make the Finals. Harden is reportedling doing well in his injury rehab, and the Nets also added a bit of insurance for both Irving and Harden by adding Patty Mills. Mills is a good bench scorer and can help at either guard spot. Coming off of his strong performance for Australia in the Olympics, Mills told Newsday, “It’s exciting for me to know there’s an opportunity there for me to try to be who I am like I am with the national team. Obviously, the Olympics is one thing and the role and the leadership and the position I’m in with the Australian team is one thing. I think after a good Tokyo Olympics campaign kind of being able to ride the wave of that momentum and take it into Brooklyn is something I’m looking forward to. That style and freedom of what Steve [coach Nash] does such a great job with and being amongst the best players in the world is really exciting [and] I think I’ll be able to thrive.” The big question mark here is how Kyrie Irving’s decision not to vaccinate himself will impact Brooklyn, especially if he cannot play home games.

3. Los Angeles Lakers – James, Davis, Westbrook

There might not be a more athletic trio in the league than this one. Westbrook and James are both still lightning in the open court and Davis is one of the best finishers in the league, so expect the Lakers fast break to be a thing of beauty. The weaknesses could be shooting and defense. Westbrook isn’t a perimeter threat, and Davis and James can certainly hit threes but it isn’t their forte. Spacing could be an issue with all three on the court. Westbrook also isn’t a good defensive player, and James isn’t always fully locked in during the regular season. Los Angeles is hoping it has the right role players to balance out those weaknesses, but the rest should be fun to watch.

4. Golden State Warriors – Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green

October 6, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates after making a basket during the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Chase Center. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors had actually hoped to make this a big four in the offseason by dangling Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman, and their two lottery picks in an effort to get a star like Bradley Beal. Instead, Beal wasn’t put on the market and the Warriors selected Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody in the draft. If Thompson is healthy and at least reasonably close to the offensive and defensive threat he was two years ago, the Warriors will easily make the playoffs, and if any of their young players make a big leap this season, they could even content for a title again. One of those rookies, Moody, has already expressed admiration for how good Thompson looks in workouts. Yahoo! Sports reported that Moody said, “But watching that repetition, that exact same shot every one, I mean I sat there and watched him shoot for 20 minutes, and it didn’t touch the rim a lot, I can say that. He is a very consistent shooter and just seeing that repetition of the same shot over and over again.” Don’t sleep on the Warriors making a trade during the season, too. If Beal or Damian Lillard suddenly become available, Golden State still has intriguing assets to make something work.

Jun 14, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and guard Shake Milton (18) and forward Tobias Harris (12) show dejection after a loss against the Atlanta Hawks during game four in the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at State Farm Arena. Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

5. Philadelphia 76ers – Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris

Yeah, yeah. I know. Simmons has been a fixture in trade rumors since a disappointing playoff performance. But he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere for now, and with him, the Sixers were very good last season. In fact, with Embiid as an MVP candidate, Harris providing secondary scoring, and Simmons as a playmaker and defensive star, Philadelphia had the best record in the East. Simmons still could end up getting traded, but if he stays in Philadelphia, even with his lack of confidence as a scorer, expect the Sixers to be among the East’s elite teams again. Simmons has real issues with the organization, but there’s something to be said for keeping a core capable of contending together even through rough patches. Sixers legend Julius Erving told CBS Sports, “here’s a lot of controversy with the Ben Simmons situation, but it seems like the team is staying pat with their big three of Joel [Embiid], Ben [Simmons] and Tobias [Harris]. I think if they add pieces, get another year in with Doc Rivers, because you know last year was his first year on the job with the Sixers. Sometimes you need time with people to really know how to bring out the best in them.””

The Best of the Rest

There are several other teams in the conversation for this top five. The Heat have Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Kyle Lowry. The Nuggets should get Jamal Murray back this season to go along with reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and up-and-coming scorer Michael Porter Jr. Utah returns Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and a re-signed Mike Conley Jr. 

As last season proved, there are several teams capable of contending for a championship on any given night, and this ranking could look completely different by the time the season is over.

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