The Unknown Big Three
The Big Three.
It’s a concept we’ve been talking about in basketball since around 2008, when the Boston Celtics brought in Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to team up with Paul Pierce. The Celtics, of course, ended up beating the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals that year. Eventually, that group was broken up. Pierce and Garnett were traded to the Brooklyn Nets, while Allen signed with the Miami Heat and won another ring. So the Celtics went into a long rebuilding period that has finally come to an end with the emergence of Isaiah Thomas.
A couple years later, another Big Three was formed; this one was even bigger. The Heat signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade, making them the easy favorite to win the Finals. That group would end up making four straight Finals appearances and winning two championships. But just like in Boston, that Big Three didn’t last long, either. James, the anchor, returned home to Cleveland in free agency; Bosh was forced to step away from the game due to health concerns; and Wade signed with the Chicago Bulls. Now the Heat appear to be rebuilding.
Today, there are a couple of Big Threes in the NBA. Fresh off a 2016 Finals victory, the Cleveland Cavaliers are in search of another title with their trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Then there is the underachieving threesome of Chris Paul, Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin for the Los Angeles Clippers. The Golden State Warriors have their ‘Core Four’ in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. But there’s one Big Three no one is talking about, and it’s on a team that is currently dead last in the Western Conference. That’s right: the Lakers have a Big Three. You just don’t know it yet.
It might seem like a stretch now, but D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram are the next trio to wreak havoc in the NBA. Russell has emerged as one of the league’s legitimate threats from beyond the arc, shooting 35% this season, along with elite ball-handling skills and solid passing. Randle’s post moves have been developing steadily and his jump shot is coming along, as well. And Ingram is just a rookie who showed tremendous potential at Duke and is starting to show flashes of what everyone expected from him as the second overall pick in the 2016 draft. The best part about this Big Three? Its average age is less than 21 years-old. All the other groups in recent history have never been close to that youthful.
If the Lakers want to develop the trio of Russell, Randle and Ingram and help them become a threat similar to 2008 in Boston or 2010–2014 in Miami, they need to surround the players with solid veteran leaders. Currently, they are surrounded by the likes of Nick Young, Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng and Corey Brewer. Newly hired President and Laker great Magic Johnson will need to go into free agency in search of well-respected veterans like David West or Andrew Bogut in order to support his young stars. This shouldn’t be a difficult task, as Los Angeles is already a desirable destination for free agents and having Magic in the front office only makes it better in the eyes of most players.
As this piece is being written, the Lakers are losing 77–67 to the New Orleans Pelicans late in the third quarter. The good news? Ingram and Russell are both in double figures. Randle has had some bad luck so far.
Perhaps in 2–3 years the Lakers will be the ones up by 10 late in the third. For now, their Big Three is just getting started.