FIBA, the governing body of international basketball, is toying with the idea of including 3 on 3 basketball as an Olympic event as soon as the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. As a veteran of many, many Hoop-it-Up tournaments over the years (and division champion twice thank you very much, in the old, paunchy white guys division), I am all for more Olympic basketball, and would find a 3 on 3 tournament of NBA-level players fascinating. So fingers crossed that this actually happens.
Which got us thinking around SB Nation -- who would win a 3 on 3 tournament among existing NBA rosters? Now, this question has little to do with the Olympics -- a Spurs-based 3 on 3 team would feature Tim Duncan (US), Manu Ginobili (Argentina) and Tony Parker (France), three players that would be on three different teams in Olympic competition. Likewise, a Lakers-based Olympic team in 2016 could feature neither Steve Nash nor Pau Gasol, not to mention that Nash (42 in 2016), Gasol (36) and Kobe Bryant (38) would all be well past their primes by 2016.
But still, training camp is over a month away, and there's not a lot of basketball news out there, and it's always fun to speculate. So what would happen if there were a single elimination tournament featuring the best 3 on 3 teams from each NBA roster right now? Which teams would advance, who would win? Given that the reigning NBA champs feature a roster that is heavily dependent on exactly three superstars, it's clear that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would be favored in such a tournament. But would that team be susceptible to, for instance, an Andrew Bynum-led Philadelphia squad? Are there other teams out there that might present matchup problems? Who would come out of the West? Are there teams that would be surprisingly strong in the 3 on 3 realm in contrast to their results in 5 on 5 basketball?
So as part of our series of themed posts, today across SB Nation's NBA blogs, we're presenting the 3 on 3 teams to represent each NBA franchise in a mythical 3 on 3 tournament. After the teams are chosen, we'll build a bracket and run through the tournament on SB Nation's NBA site. Hopefully it will be a lot of fun.
The tournament itself will start next week, but first things first: who will be the three to represent the Clippers?
The first two players on the Clippers 3 on 3 team are pretty obvious: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul both started in the 2012 NBA All Star Game, Paul was chosen first team All NBA and Griffin was chosen second team All NBA, and no matter how you look at it, they are the Clippers two best players. They also represent a dynamic inside-outside combination that forms a solid jumping off point for a 3 on 3 team. So obviously Griffin and Paul are in. But who is the third?
In two different polls on Clips Nation this week, the citizenry has spoken, and Lamar Odom was chosen pretty decisively as the best complement to the Clippers big two. In a vote featuring Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford and Caron Butler, Odom received well over half of over 400 votes. In a separate poll featuring the above choices plus DeAndre Jordan, Grant Hill and Eric Bledsoe, Odom still pulled in 37% of the vote, quite impressive in a poll featuring seven choices. As of late Tuesday evening, with over 500 votes cast, Odom had received almost as many votes (187) as his three closest competitors combined (Grant Hill, Eric Bledsoe and Chauncey Billups receiving 188 between them) in the second poll. So there can be little doubt -- Clips Nation has chosen Odom to join Griffin and Paul.
And it's difficult to argue with the choice. With only three players on the court, versatility will be crucial for teams. In the Western Conference, teams may have to matchup with an Oklahoma City team that could potentially feature Kevin Durant as their tallest player, but might also face a Lakers team with Dwight Howard, not to mention teams featuring Marc Gasol and Andrew Bogut. Odom has played from small forward to center in his NBA career. He's an excellent low post defender with ridiculous length, but also has unusually strong ball handling skills for a player his size. In a competition format where each player has to do a lot, Odom can pretty much do it all.
With both Griffin and Odom possessing a rare combination of size and skill, playing alongside the best point guard in basketball and a legitimate top five player in Paul, few teams will be able to defend this Clippers 3 on 3 team. It's difficult enough to defend a Paul/Griffin pick and roll playing 5 on 5, with sophisticated coverage schemes designed to collapse on the primary options, leaving the least dangerous, least accessible attackers temporarily open while rotating to them. In 3 on 3, it will be next to impossible. It's the most basic play in basketball, and Paul is a master -- no matter what a three man defense does, something will be open. Paul will be getting layups or open mid range shots, or Griffin will be getting dunks, or Odom will be getting wide open looks. You can't stop everything.
Chauncey Billups might have been a better choice than Odom for his long range shooting, but would be a problem on defense on a team with Paul because of his size. Grant Hill would be the best choice as a versatile perimeter defender, but likewise lacks Odom's size for post defense and rebounding. Odom would clearly get a lot of space in this format -- the Clippers chances in such a mythical tournament would likely hinge on his ability to hit shots.
The team would clearly be very strong in the areas of ballhandling, offensive efficiency, post defense and rebounding. The biggest weaknesses would be three point shooting (where Paul would be the only real threat) and perimeter defense (where Odom or Griffin would be forced to defend players like Ginobili, Nicolas Batum, Danilo Gallinari and possibly even Bryant).
For what it's worth, this 3 on 3 format probably doesn't play to the strengths of the Clippers current roster. It's worth noting that seven separate players were reasonable options to become the third player on this 3 on 3 team. Assuming Odom, Crawford and Billups have bounce back years, next season's Clippers will have myriad choices for the third option behind Paul and Griffin on any given night. Their nine deep roster will surely pay dividends during the 82 game NBA regular season -- but only one of those guys can help on this 3 on 3 team.
And that guy is going to be Odom -- for his size, versatility, and playmaking ability. So the Clippers 3 on 3 entry in SB Nation's NBA 3 on 3 tournament will be Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Lamar Odom. Let's get this tournament started.