Heat vs. Cavs: Which “Big 3” is Better?
The Miami Heat made four trips to the NBA Finals in LeBron James’ four years in South Beach, winning two of the four. There is no question that the Heat were the best team in the East, and one of the Best in the league, in each of the past four seasons.
However, with LeBron James leaving Miami to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, it appears the streak of Finals appearances for the Heat will end this season, and the Cavs could be the team that makes the trip. We don’t know yet. What we do know, however, is that LeBron was apart of a fantastic “Big Three” in Miami, with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and will be apart of another in Cleveland, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (assuming the reported trade with Minnesota does not fall through before August 23rd).
However, one question has been on the minds of many NBA fans: which “Big 3” is better?
On the surface, it would be very easy to say the Big 3 of the Heat is better. After all, Dwyane Wade was definitely a top-5 NBA player when they came together in 2010, and this is not something Irving or Love can undoubtedly make a claim to right now (though Love does have an argument, and some analysts believe he is top 5). Not only that, but Miami won two titles with James, Wade, and Bosh.
When one looks deeper, the talent discrepancy is very close. Obviously, the star and best player of each trio is LeBron James. There is no denying that. LeBron is the best player in the league, a ten time all-star, four time MVP, and two time Finals MVP. Not many players can boast that resume, and LeBron is still 29. But what about the other two? Irving and Love vs. Wade and Bosh. Since Irving and Wade are both guards, and Bosh and Love are both power forwards, those two pairings will be compared.
WADE vs. IRVING:
Kyrie Irving has electrified the NBA in his first three years in the league. His shooting, finishing, passing, and ball handling make Irving one of the more exciting players to watch in the league. While he is clearly a top-10 point guard right now, he still has a long way to go to be considered an elite player in the NBA. It is undeniable that, while Irving may get there one day, his track record is nowhere near that of Wade. Before teaming with James, Wade led the Heat to a title in 2006, and was widely considered a top 3 player in the league for a portion of his career. There also is no question that Wade was better in 2010 than Irving is now, each of their first year playing with LeBron.
But who’s better now?
In recent years, particularly in 2014, Wade has experienced a noted decline in skill, mostly due to health issues. While he is still a very good player, he is clearly a shell of his former self. Irving, on the other hand, is just 22, and still has four to five years before he even enters his prime. It’s scary to think about what Irving in his prime would be able to do with LeBron in his prime if they coincided.
Right now, one area Wade has a clear advantage in is defense. Despite his old age, Wade is much more active on that side of the ball than Irving, who has struggled. However, he has the ability to be a plus defender, and playing with LeBron and for new coach David Blatt should bring out the best of Irving’s defense.
On offense, Irving is probably a superior player to Wade at this stage in each of their careers, but he is definitely a better fit with LeBron. Wade was never known for his 3-point shooting, while Irving has already won a 3-point shootout (granted, it’s not the best measure, but you still have to be pretty good to win that). With LeBron, Irving will be able to spot up for many more open catch-and-shoot threes than he’s ever had before, which should raise his percentages even higher. While Wade is better at attacking the hoop, Irving is no slouch in that department, either. Lastly, Irving has better point guard skills than Wade. Irving is a better passer, and while Wade is a top-notch ball handler, Irving is elite in that department, which will also help take pressure off of LeBron.
Overall, Irving will be a better part of his “Big 3” than Wade was to his, at least in 2014. While Irving may average less points per game, this would happen because he will be the third option while Wade was number two, and the Cavs have another ball-dominant guard (Dion Waiters) who will be the best fourth option in the NBA this season. Not only that, but Irving’s skill-set is better suited to play with LeBron.
Advantage: Kyrie Irving
BOSH vs. LOVE:
At first glance, Chris Bosh and Kevin Love seem like they are very similar players. After all, both are notable for being “stretch 4s”, or Power Forwards who stretch the floor by shooting 3s at a high percentage (even though Bosh played mostly center for the Heat, let’s be real, he’s a power forward). However, when looking at the two, there really is no debate: Love is a superior player.
Let’s start with defense, the one area where Bosh has an advantage. Love has a reputation as a poor defender, and while that isn’t entirely false, it’s a bit misleading. As a rim protector, Love is very poor, whereas Bosh is respectable. But being a good defensive big isn’t all about rim protection. Defensive rebounding is a big part of defense, as limiting second chances for opponents goes a long way. Love is the best defensive rebounder in the NBA, and that alone almost makes him a plus defender. If he added any sort of rim protection to his arsenal, he would be a plus defender. This may or may not happen in Cleveland, but either way, Love is better than most people give him credit for. Bosh is a plus defender himself, but is not good enough to make up for the differences between him and Love on offense.
On offense, there is no competition: Bosh is a very good player, but Love is in another stratosphere, possessing an offensive skill set never before seen in the NBA. Last season, Love hit 3s at a 37.6% clip, which is phenomenal for a Power Forward who was constantly double- and triple-teamed out to the 3-point line. This season, teams won’t be able to do that, so his 3-point percentage could climb above 40%, an absurd number for a player of his position. On the other hand, Bosh was the beneficiary of many open looks off of passes from LeBron, and he only converted at a 34% clip. As the number one option this season, 34% from 3 would be a difficult task for Bosh. In this department, Love has the clear advantage.
Whereas Bosh’s offensive game has gravitated outside in the past few seasons, Love is incredibly efficient near the basket as well. He is an elite scorer overall. But his offensive game expands past that: Love is an elite passer for a big man as well, particularly as an outlet passer off of defensive rebounds (more on that in a minute). Last season, Love averaged 4.4 assists per game, which alone is insane for a big man, and when you account for the fact that he was not surrounded by other great players, that number is mind-boggling. Bosh, while a solid passer within the offense, only averaged 1.1 assists per game last season.
Now, about Love’s outlet passing. Love is the best outlet passer in the NBA, frequently grabbing defensive rebounds and passing the ball cross-court in one motion. These passes can create easy transition opportunities for his teammates. In Minnesota, Corey Brewer was the recipient of most of these passes. In Cleveland, LeBron James will be finishing many of these. While Brewer is a nice player and great athlete, he is no LeBron. Love could average 3 assists per game on outlet passes alone this season.
All in all, Bosh is a very good player who should see his numbers rise close to his numbers in Toronto. With that said, Bosh is no Kevin Love, especially considering Love is only 25. The best has yet to come for him.
Advantage: Kevin Love
Team Advantage: Cleveland Cavaliers
All in all, the Big 3 of the Cavaliers should be better than that of the Miami Heat. Once they adjust to playing with each other (which will probably take a while), the Cavs’ Big 3 will be truly unstoppable, and could potentially be the best offensive Big 3 in NBA history. Get excited, Cleveland fans. A championship could be coming to the shores of Lake Erie very soon.
*All statistics used are courtesy of ESPN.com
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