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OKC tops future 'Big 3' teams

Who will have the best trios to come? Hornets, Jazz and Wolves in the picture.

Updated: July 12, 2012, 4:11 PM ET
By Bradford Doolittle | Basketball Prospectus

Editor's note: This is the fourth installment of a weeklong series examining how the "Big 3" model is used in the NBA and its short-term and long-term impact on the league.

A lot is going to change in the next four years, and that's as true in the NBA as it is in real life. By 2016, teams will be discussing whether to extend the contracts of the most recent draft class. Some kid will be finishing his freshman year of college, earning the attention and drool of NBA scouts targeting the next big lottery prize. Heck, by then Seattle might have a team again and some other town will be left in the lurch.

As part of our "Big 3" series, I was asked to identify groups who have the potential to grow into the equivalent of what we are seeing now in Oklahoma City and Miami. I thought projecting current rosters out to 2016 -- the length of a first-round rookie's contact -- would be the way to go.

This accomplishes a couple of things. It gives you a glimpse of the relative ages of each team's building blocks. The younger, the better. It also shows just how the league can change in a relatively short period of time, even in a theoretical world in which teams hang onto the same players year after year.

Using a basic aging pattern table, I forecast the playing time and Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for every player who will play or might play in the league this season. If a player is currently unattached, I placed him with his most recent NBA team.

Remember the 20/50 rule of thumb we established the other day to identify possible championship-caliber teams following a "Big 3" model? That was based on the percentage of scoring those teams tend to get from the top of their roster. Since I'm using WAR here, I'll offer you a new standard: 25/13. If a team has a combined projected WAR of 25 for its top three players and has a 13-WAR player on top of the heap, it has the kind of big three construction we've been talking about all week.

This is important to note, because the more interesting teams down the list have that potential 13-win player in hand. That, of course, is the most difficult piece to acquire, so those teams have a leg up in the rebuilding process, even if they are missing a key piece or two. Also complicating matters is the fluctuating fate of Dwight Howard, who would easily put a team into a "Big 3" state.

Keep in mind that projecting the value of players four years from now is great fodder for discussion, but these same projections could look much different a year from now.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder (49.3 Big 3 WAR)
Projected core: Kevin Durant (20.9) | Russell Westbrook | James Harden

No surprise that the league's youngest and most exciting core projects to lap the field in a few years.

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