Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
They say three's company.
I don't know about that, but in the NBA, that's about how many superstars it takes to win a championship nowadays.
Welcome to the Big Three Era, folks.
Take a look around. First came the Boston Celtics, who devised a brilliant scheme to take over the NBA by pairing superstars Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett together with Paul Pierce.
After Boston hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy in 2008, the Miami Heat used a similar model to form their own Big Three of Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Now even the Lakers are giving it a try. Maybe the trio of Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Steve Nash won't be quite as dominant as Los Angeles' first incarnation of the Big Three (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy), but it still makes them an instant contender and a real threat to win the Western Conference.
That is, if they can somehow get past Oklahoma City's Big Three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. And who knows, maybe San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker still have a little left in the tank too.
If Dwight Howard's wish comes true and he is traded to the Nets (that probably won't happen until January at the earliest now that Brooklyn has signed center Brook Lopez to a max contract), he'll be teaming up with Joe Johnson and Deron Williams to form yet another formidable Big Three.
It doesn't look like this trend is going away anytime soon and as usual, the Big Three movement comes with its own set of fantasy repercussions.
For the third season in a row, the Thunder's Kevin Durant led the NBA in scoring in 2011-12, this time finishing with an even 28 ppg. The season before, he averaged 27.7 ppg.
Those scoring totals may seem fairly high at first glance, but if you compare them with some of the scoring leaders the NBA has had over the past decade, Durant's 28 ppg is child's play.
If Durant put up those numbers in 2005-06, he barely would have cracked the league's top five in scoring. That season, Kobe Bryant (35.5 ppg), Allen Iverson (33 ppg) and LeBron James (31.4 ppg) all averaged over 30 ppg, while Washington's Gilbert Arenas finished just below that mark with 29.3 points per contest.
We're just scraping the surface here. Durant has now led the league in scoring twice in a row without reaching 30 ppg. His league-leading 27.7 ppg in 2010-11 broke a streak of six seasons in a row in which the league's scoring champion averaged at least 30 ppg. The last scoring champion before Durant to average fewer than 30 a night was Tracy McGrady, who posted 28 ppg as a member of the Orlando Magic in 2003-04.
Before that, Shaquille O'Neal had been the last scoring leader to finish the season under 30 ppg back in 1999-00. O'Neal tallied 29.7 ppg and went on to earn MVP honors that season.
From 2000-10, six different players won scoring titles (Bryant, Durant, Iverson, James, McGrady and Wade) while averaging 31.1 ppg. During Durant's recent two-year tenure atop the NBA's scoring leaderboard, he has recorded only 27.8 ppg.
Here's another startling statistic that underscores the league's trend toward lower scoring outputs: last season only 12 players registered 20 or more points per game. Since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976, the league has never had fewer 20-point scorers than it did in 2011-12.
McGrady and Iverson are probably the best examples of how things have changed over the past couple of seasons. Both players were essentially one-man shows for their respective teams. Neither one had a strong supporting cast around them and if the Philadelphia 76ers needed Iverson to score 50 points to have a chance to win, he would do it. It might take him 35 shots to get to that number, but he'd do it.
Iverson and T-Mac headlined the age of "volume scoring." When Iverson notched a career-best 33 ppg in 2005-06, he fired an incredible 25.3 shots per game. During McGrady's best year in 2002-03 when he led the NBA with 32.1 ppg, he chucked up 24.2 attempts per game. Bryant was the only player in the league to average more than 20 shots per game in 2011-12 (23 attempts per game).
Now that stars like Wade and Bryant are surrounding themselves with equally talented teammates, the do-it-yourself model perfected by free-shooting players like T-Mac and Iverson has been replaced by a more efficient, team- oriented model.
Take LeBron James for example. Over his last five seasons in Cleveland when he was the team's only real weapon on offense, James averaged 29.4 ppg while throwing up 21.1 field goal attempts per game. During his time in Miami, he's been scoring just 26.9 ppg on 18.8 shots per game.
Balanced scoring might win championships, but it doesn't lend itself to terrific individual efforts like the ones we used to see from Iverson and McGrady on a nightly basis. Look at Paul Pierce's scoring totals before the formation of the Big Three. Between 2000-07 when he and Antoine Walker were Boston's top scorers, Pierce averaged 25 ppg in 531 games. In 373 games playing alongside future Hall of Famers Allen and Garnett, Pierce has scored an average of 19.3 ppg.
With more and more teams giving in to the Big Three model, individual scoring numbers throughout the league will continue to fall, meaning that volume scorers will hold more value than ever next season. Durant and James will still be plenty productive next season, but if you're looking for pure scoring, you're better off going with a player outside the realm of the Big Three like Kevin Love in Minnesota or LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland.
There's no "i" in "team" but there should be one in "fantasy." You can preach teamwork all you want, but in fantasy hoops, it's the greedy, shoot-first types who get the job done.
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