- The Washington Times
Monday, September 26, 2022

Big Threes are all the rage in the NBA

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons for the Nets. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green for the Warriors. Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton for the Suns. 

Ever since LeBron James coordinated his move to Miami — “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach” — to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, every NBA offseason is surrounded by talks of potential new trios. One of the new ones this offseason is in Los Angeles, as the Clippers signed John Wall to join Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. 

The Washington Wizards have built their own trio with Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis — one that isn’t established enough to earn the “Big Three” moniker but has the potential to get there. 

Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said Monday that he’s impressed by the early chemistry he’s seeing between the team’s three most important players. The first few days of training camp, which began Friday, have given Beal, Kuzma and Porzingis time to share the floor for the first time. Beal was injured for the final half of last season, so he didn’t play alongside Porzingis after the Wizards acquired the big man from the Mavericks at the deadline. 

“I like where it is right now, the synergy between those three,” Unseld said. “The ability for all those guys to be individual playmakers, scorers. We haven’t put in a ton of offense right now. They’re just playing out of some of the stuff we used last year. I think it’s been great.”

The three players gave the typical start of training camp platitudes when talking about the trio. Beal, for example, told reporters that the 7-foot-3 Porzingis is a “specimen” and “the best big I’ll play with in my career.” 

The way Beal gels with Porzingis will be crucial to the success of the Wizards. Beal and Russell Westbrook struggled to mesh for the first half of the 2020-21 campaign, while Beal and point guard Spencer Dinwiddie — who was traded to Dallas in the deal for Porzingis — struggled when sharing the court last season.

Unseld said his job is to allow all three players room to make their own mark on the game. 

“Give them a framework and let those guys play to their strengths,” he said. 

Kuzma said Monday that what’s helped the new trio is the fact that all three are veterans — Beal is 29, while Porzingis and Kuzma are 27 — who know what works on the floor. 

“It’s been great. We’re just all trying to figure it out, playing together. The easiest thing is that we all know how to play the game of basketball. The IQ is there,” Kuzma said. “We’re at that age where we’re pretty much established, so it’s just about making the right play and trying to win.”

The three players enter the season in much different situations, though.

Kuzma is coming off a career year in his first campaign with Washington. He averaged 17.1 points per game on 45.2% shooting and 34.1% from behind the arc. His biggest improvement was as an all-around player, setting career-highs in rebounds (8.5 per game), assists (3.5) and blocks (0.9). 

Beal, meanwhile, had arguably his worst year last season since becoming a star player. He scored 23.2 points per game — down significantly from the 30-plus points he averaged the previous two seasons — and was less efficient from the floor. Beal, who signed a five-year, $251 million max contract this summer, is also hoping to bounce back from an injury to his wrist, which required surgery and ended his campaign in late January. 

Porzingis is on his third stop in the league. He played well in his 17 games with Washington — averaging 22.1 points and 8.8 boards — after flaming out in Dallas. The problem for Porzingis, who was nicknamed “The Unicorn” early in his career with the Knicks, has never been talent. His issue is whether he can remain healthy — something he hasn’t done in over five years. Since 2017-18, his breakout season that earned him his first and only All-Star Game nod, Porzingis has played just 199 games — slightly under 40 per season. 

But in September, the questions about those players are still months from being answered. Now, Unseld said, is the time for them to build chemistry off the court as well. 

“It’s kind of cliched, but those relationships, it’s tough at times when it’s just work. When guys are in a more relaxed setting, I think they’ll open up and you learn a lot about each other,” Unseld said. “It’s a long season, you have eight months. You miss those windows if you just turn it and say it’s about basketball. That connection is strengthened when you have a personal relationship with people.”

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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