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Richard Jefferson: ‘Show me any big three that has been successful without elite point guard play.’

On ESPN’s daily NBA show, NBA Today, there was a segment about what will be the key to the Phoenix Suns winning a championship. Two-Time WNBA All-Star Chiney Ogwumike talked about the Suns’ center Jusuf Nurkic holding down the paint against the elite big men in the league. ESPN Senior NBA Writer Zach Lowe talked about the defense as a whole. 17 year NBA veteran Richard Jefferson closed out the segment by talking the lack of elite play-making on the Suns’ roster.

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Jefferson gave examples of other “big 3s” in NBA history and talked about who was the point guard for those teams.

1985-86 Boston Celtics

The first example he gave was the 1985-86 Boston Celtics. Their big three was Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. The point guard on that team was Dennis Johnson.

Bird was the leader in assists on that team averaging 6.8 assists per game. Johnson was second at 5.8 assists per game. This team won the championship behind their balance of offense and defense. They were third in the league in offensive rating and first in defensive rating.

2012-13 Miami Heat

The next team Jefferson used as an example was the 2012-13 Miami Heat. Their big three was LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. The starting point guard on that team was Mario Chalmers. The leader in assists for that team was James who averaged 7.3 assists per game that season. Second in assists on that team was Wade at 5.1 assists per game.

Their point guard Chalmers only averaged 3.5 assists per game. This team was also very balanced. They were fifth in points per game and fifth in opponent points per game. Elite on both ends.

2016-17 Golden State Warriors

When talking about the big three for the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson. Jefferson named Draymond Green as their elite play-maker. Green was the leader in assists with seven per game. Curry was a close second with 6.6 assists per game.

This team just like the Celtics and Heat was great on both ends. They were first in offensive rating and second in the NBA in defensive rating.

The Common Denominators

Richard Jefferson did point out that the big three of the Chicago Bulls second three peat, Micheal Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman were able to excel without elite point guard play. Jefferson said, “They ran the triangle offense, so their offense was the distribution.”

Scottie Pippen led the Bulls in assists at 5.9 per game. Chicago was first in points per game and first in defensive rating.

The 1995-96 Bulls, 1985-86 Celtics, 2012-13 Heat, and 2016-17 Warriors were all led by forwards when it came to their play-making. No matter if it was Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, LeBron James, or Draymond Green, it was a forward who orchestrated the offense. There was no need for an elite play-maker at point guard.

Another thing all of teams have in common was being great on both ends of the court. Each team was top five on offense and defense in their specific season.

2023-24 Phoenix Suns

The Suns do not have an elite point guard but they do have a big three that can all orchestrate the offense and get assists. Kevin Durant averaged 6.4 assists during the 2021-22 season with the Brooklyn Nets. Bradley Beal has averaged over six assists per game in two separate seasons during his career. Devin Booker has also averaged over six assists per game in two separate seasons. Phoenix will not have an issue with play-making during the season.

The big issue that the Suns may face is their defense. All of the teams that were mentioned by Jefferson were great on that end of the floor. This goes back to Chiney Ogwumike and Zach Lowe’s point about defense being the key for this team to win.

The cliche “defense wins championships” didn’t become a cliche because it was a lie.

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