Does Heat's James-Bosh-Wade Trio Guarantee a Title?

| by David Berri

As David Biderman noted in the Wall Street Journal, King James, Flash, and Chris Bosh (who needs a nickname) are maybe one of the best trios in NBA history.  Last season, James, Wade, and Bosh produced 56.7 wins [James 27.2, Wade 17.8, Bosh 11.7].  That mark – as the following table indicates — would have ranked 5th all-time for the top three players on a team since 1977.

Player performance is impacted by age.  If we factor in the impact of age – and how many games these players have played across their respective careers – we would expect this trio to produce 54.5 wins next season [LeBron 27.9, Wade 14.4, Bosh 12.2]. That would also be the 5th best mark for a trio. 

One might think that having a top trip guarantees a team a title (and certainly I am inclined to favor the Heat in 2010-11, although we still don’t know everyone’s roster). Only six of the top 20 trios, though, actually won a title.  All but one of these (the Lakers in 1980) employed Michael Jordan.  Five additional teams lost in the NBA Finals. So having a top trio does seem to lead to playoff success, although perhaps not as much as fans of Miami might like.

That being said, this trio is much better than anything we saw last year. The top trio from last year was employed by the Cavaliers (James, Varejao, Mo Williams). This trio combined for 40.1 wins. The Lakers — who won the title — were led by Gasol, Odom, and Kobe. This trio produced 40.0 wins (ranked 2nd in the league).

And here is one more observation, that may or may not be applicable (but I like histoy, so I am throwing this out there).  As I noted in the comments just moments before we learned of LeBron’s destination, the construction of the 2010-11 Heat  reminds me of the 1996-97 Houston Rockets.  For those who don’t remember, the Rockets allocated a bit more than $19 million to Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and Charles Barkley.  The remaining eleven players were paid about $7 million, with eight players earning the NBA minimum.  In 1995-96, Hakeem, Drexler, and Sir Charles combined to produce 45.2 wins.  And Drexler only played 52 games in 1995-96.  If you believed Drexler could play an entire season in 1996-97 – and maintain his per-minute performance – then one would expect this trio to combine for 50 wins. 

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.  In 1996-97 this trio produced only 38.9 wins (Barkley  16.4, Drexler 12.4, and Olajuwon 10.0).  The remaining members of the team only produced 14.2 additional wins.  And the Rockets eventually fell to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference finals.

It is important to note that Houston’s trio were all at least 33 years old. So unlike the Heat’s trio, age was a very big factor back in 1996 for the Rockets.  So perhaps what we saw in Houston 15 years ago is not entirely applicable.  Still, I thought I would just toss that historical episode out there for discussion.

- DJ