I was talking with a few friends of mine yesterday, and a simple discussion turned into a heated debate within minutes. We were talking about the NBA and what team we thought would win the championship come late June. I think nearly everyone was convinced that both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat are in the NBA Finals, so it was between those two teams. But this is where it started to get heated.
I made the claim that if the Thunder is to make it to the finals, James Harden will be the deciding factor no matter who the Thunder plays. I also said that Harden is the best player on the Thunder and that if he was on any other team he would be averaging 25 ppg. Maybe I went a little too far with the first part of that argument, but the dude can flat-out ball. Here is why I think the third-wheel player, not necessarily the third best player on a team, makes more of a difference on a team that already has two superstars.
Let’s go through every team that has two bona-fide superstars:
Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul
Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol
Miami Heat: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade
New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony and A’mare Stoudemire (but not if he keeps playing like he is this season)
Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook
We have five, count ’em five out of 30 teams, in the NBA that have two bona-fide superstars, and that’s with me giving Blake Griffin the benefit of the doubt because I don’t think he is a superstar, yet. Now, let’s go back to those five teams and look at their third best player (no Jeremy Lin is not the Knicks third-best player, so don’t bother giving me grief).
Los Angeles Clippers: Caron Butler
Los Angeles Lakers: Andrew Bynum
Miami Heat: Chris Bosh
New York Knicks: Tyson Chandler
Oklahoma City Thunder: James Harden
PER or Player Efficiency Rating and WS or Win Shares are two main factors that I will be using. PER measures a per-minute production of a player while he is on the floor. The league average is 15. Win Shares is an estimate of the number of wins that is contributed by a player.
Ask yourself, “Who is the best player out of these five players?
Caron Butler is a nice player. He knows his role and has the ability to knockdown the three-pointer. But when you actually look at his numbers, they are less-than impressive. His PER is 13.9, ranking 4th on his team and his WS is only 1.8. Meaning that Butler’s significance to his team is rather small. Chris Paul leads the Clippers in win shares with 5.1.
Andrew Bynum is one of the best centers in a league where there is one other dominant center, Dwight Howard. The game is played out on the perimeter more, but it’s nice to have an inside presence . But even when the Lakers won their back-to-back championships, Bynum was not much of a factor in the postseason. This season he has started to develop into what the Lakers wanted him to become. His PER is second on the Lakers behind Kobe Bryant at 21.9 and WS is 4.0. On a team that has three good players, like the Lakers, Bynum has more of impact because the other nine players are very, very suspect.
Chris Bosh was a stud in Toronto but not many people knew about him or paid attention to him. Since leaving Toronto for Miami, Bosh has endured a lot of criticism and has been labeled as “soft” and a “cry-baby” when Bosh cried after losing in the NBA Finals. He is viewed as the third-wheel and the newly named “Big Two and a Half” with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Last seasons, his WS was 10.4, but has dropped to 4.5 this season. I think that has something to do with this shortened-season. His PER is up to 19.7 from 19.4 last season and ranks third on his team. If the Heat makes it to the finals, and it happens to be against the Thunder, I could see him being the difference-maker.
When I looked inside Tyson Chandler’s numbers, I was surprised at what I saw. His PER is second on his team behind Jeremy Lin at 19.5 and his WS is an unreal 5.9, but yet the Knicks are only .500? I will agree that Chandler was significant reason as to why the Dallas Mavericks won the championship last season. His defensive intensity could not be matched by any other player on the Heat. But the reason Chandler’s numbers are outstanding is due to the fact that he takes six shots a game, four of them being dunks. In turn, his shooting percentage is at 70% with one block and steal a game. If the Knicks can get Anthony and Stoudemire to pick up their production and efficiency, the Knicks will become a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Lastly, James Harden. Harden is averaging 17 ppg off the bench with nearly four assists and rebounds a game. He shoots 47% from the field, 37% from three, 86% from the line and plays nearly 32 minutes per game. He is a shoe-in for the Sixth Man of the Year award. His PER is 21, third on his team, but his wins shares is second on the team behind Kevin Durant, 5.0. His usage rate is 21% and a reason for why it’s so low is because he is on the floor with either Durant or Russell Westbrook or both, at one time or another.
You know that superstars are going to get “theirs”, meaning that they will get their usual scoring, rebounding, and assisting totals throughout the course of the game. But it’s the production and consistency of that third player that can end up making the difference. A consistent third scoring option that can go above his average more times than not, can help make up for the lack of bench or (a) superstar’s production for that night.
Look at the past few NBA champions: Dallas had Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Chandler; Los Angeles had Bryant, Gasol, and Metta World Peace in 2010 and Bryant, Gasol, and Lamar Odom in 2009; Boston had Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen; San Antonio had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Two is a couple, but Three wins a ring.