Save Money in this Sunday's paper

comments

Charlotte Hornets’ ‘Big 3:’ How do Jefferson, Walker, Stephenson stack up?

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/17/21/33/fdBaK.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - Composite from Getty and Observer file photos
    Center Al Jefferson, left, shooting guard Lance Stephenson and point guard Kemba Walker give the Charlotte Hornets a shot at winning an NBA playoff series.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/17/21/30/14kUF7.Em.138.jpeg|223
    FREDERIC J. BROWN - AFP/Getty Images
    LeBron Jame, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat look toward their coach following a timeout against the San Antonio Spurs during the NBA finals.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/17/21/30/TXMU5.Em.138.jpeg|500
    Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson scores against Los Angeles Clippers.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/17/21/30/T5KmQ.Em.138.jpeg|461
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Charlotte Bobcats guard Kemba Walker (15) drives to the basket for a shot.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/17/21/31/EspLh.Em.138.jpeg|422
    Andy Lyons - Getty Images
    Lance Stephenson celebrates after making a basket against the Miami Heat during the Eastern Conference Finals.

For decades now, some NBA executives have espoused the “theory of three” as the baseline for team-building.

In essence this is the theory: To be viable to win playoff series, an NBA team needs two stars and at least one other player on the fringe of stardom.

At its best this theory evolved into the label “Big Three.” First it was Larry Bird-Kevin McHale-Robert Parish with the Boston Celtics or Magic Johnson-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-James Worthy with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Later it was Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen-Dennis Rodman with the Chicago Bulls.

Most recently it was Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen with the Celtics and LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat.

About half the NBA’s 30 teams have something akin to this 21/2 stars combination. With the signing of free-agent shooting guard Lance Stephenson, the local NBA franchise will come closer to this than at any time since the Charlotte Bobcats’ inception in 2004.

Center Al Jefferson, point guard Kemba Walker and Stephenson give the Hornets a shot at winning a playoff series. The closest the Bobcats ever came to that mix was Gerald Wallace-Stephen Jackson-and … and really nobody.

For whatever reason, center Tyson Chandler never worked out here the way the front office hoped, and he was eventually traded for Erick Dampier’s unguaranteed contract in a salary dump.

You have to go back to the original Hornets to come up with anything approaching a legit Big Three in Charlotte. The first was Alonzo Mourning-Larry Johnson-Kendall Gill. That never had much chance to jell because Mourning forced a trade to the Miami Heat in the fall of 1995.

The other Charlotte Big Three was Glen Rice-Anthony Mason-Vlade Divac from 1996 through 1998. The two seasons those three were Hornets, they won 54 and 51 games and beat the Atlanta Hawks 3-1 in an opening-round playoff series.

Key thing about building a Big Three – the parts have to be different enough to be complementary. You can’t just collect pieces that form statistics in the aggregate, like in fantasy sports. Example: Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have never complemented each other with the New York Knicks because their skill sets are too similar.

So how will Jefferson-Stephenson-Walker stack up as a Big Three? The obvious plus is each plays a distinctly different position, so minutes for one wouldn’t cost another playing time. Also center Jefferson and point guard Walker cover the two toughest positions to fill in the NBA.

Newcomer Stephenson is coming off his best of four NBA seasons statistically: Playing for the Indiana Pacers, he averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists. He also shot 49 percent from the field, on the high side for a shooting guard.

Stephenson’s ball-handling skills should be a good supplement to Walker, who was tied for 13th in the NBA in assists at 6.1 per game. Power forward Josh McRoberts, who left for the Heat, was the Bobcats’ key secondary ball-handler last season.

The question on how well this threesome will do could hang on how Stephenson plays off Jefferson. Coach Steve Clifford and general manager Rich Cho have said consistently the Hornets’ offense will run inside-out. That means whenever Jefferson is in the game, the offense runs through his touches in the lane.

To turn your back on Jefferson’s 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game would be a mistake. Stephenson’s shooting can make Jefferson more effective by making it harder for teams to double-team in the lane.

The potential question is how much Stephenson needs the ball to be effective and content. He’s been known to handle the ball a lot and there was some grumbling last season when Pacers big men Roy Hibbert and David West weren’t getting it much.

Bottom line: Jefferson, Walker and Stephenson must learn how best to collaborate. Last summer Jefferson and Walker convinced teammates to devote August and September to improving in Charlotte. The sooner Stephenson learns his new teammates, the better.

Best of the Big Threes

Following is look at the Big Three on NBA starting lineups. The player rankings are based on the Observer’s listings of the NBA’s Top 100 players, which was published in June.

Team Player 1 Rank Player 2 Rank Player 3 Rank Avg. Rank
1Oklahoma CityKevin Durant2Russell Westbrook16Serge Ibaka3718.3
2LA ClippersChris Paul3Blake Griffin6DeAndre Jordan6023.0
3HoustonJames Harden5Dwight Howard10Trevor Ariza6426.3
4PortlandLaMarcus Aldridge9Damian Lilllard22Nicolas Batum5328.0
5MemphisZach Randolph26Marc Gasol27Mike Conley3529.3
6IndianaPaul George14Roy Hibbert32David West4731.0
7ChicagoJoakim Noah8Derrick Rose29Pau Gasol5731.3
8WashingtonJohn Wall17Bradley Beal38Marcin Gortat4232.3
9San AntonioTony Parker11Tim Duncan12Manu Ginobili8134.7
10MiamiChris Bosh28Dwyane Wade33Luol Deng5137.3
11ClevelandLeBron James1Kyrie Irving18Anderson Varejao9638.3
12Golden StateStephen Curry4Klay Thompson52Andre Iguodala6139.0
13CharlotteAl Jefferson20Lance Stephenson48Kemba Walker6243.3
14AtlantaJeff Teague36Paul Millsap45Al Horford5043.7
15BrooklynDeron Williams34Joe Johnson41Brook Lopez5844.3
16MinnesotaKevin Love7Nikola Pekovic59Kevin Martin6844.7

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell
Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more



Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more


Quick Job Search
Salary Databases
CharlotteObserver.com