I noticed recently that ESPN’s Bill Simmons had been using the term “Third Banana” when referring to the third-best player on a team. A simple concept, but it did get me thinking. Who are the best “third bananas” in the NBA?
I decided to put together a list ranking every team’s third-best player, and then I’d put that player into an overall league ranking, from 1-30.
Ultimately I was hoping to stumble upon a correlation between how high a teams Third Banana ranked, and what their overall record was.
I have always been a big believer in having a tighter group of quality player depth over a large pond of average player depth. In any given NBA playoff series, it’s highly unlikely that anyone not in the first eight of the rotation will receive many major minutes whatsoever. Top talent reigns supreme, and the role players who were occasionally lugging 10 minutes a night in the regular season find themselves waving towels in May and June.
To make things as easy as possible, we are going to rank strictly the third best. I stress that it’s not a ranking of the most important players on a team but rather a ranking of the best players.
Andrew Bogut is important to the Warriors because they lack interior defense and toughness. That doesn’t instantly make him a better player than Klay Thompson. We are also going to assume that everyone on the roster is healthy and playing relatively close to their full potential.
Just for the fun of it, we are going to break down these bananas into three separate bunches. Tier 3 is Rotten Bananas, Tier 2 is Average Bananas and Tier 1 is Delicious, Ripe Bananas.
Tier 3 – Rotten Bananas. It’s banana bread or bust for this bunch.
30. Marvin Williams, Utah Jazz
29. Kendall Marshall, LA Lakers
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the backlash from this choice and start defending myself.
– I just couldn’t put Nick Young on the list. I couldn’t.
– Marshall is averaging 10.7 points and 9.8 assists and his flat-footed jumper is falling at a respectable rate.
– Steve Nash looks like an older version of Jackson Browne.
– Chris Kaman actually looks a little like a rotten banana.
– Jordan Hill only averages 18 minutes a night and his coach hates him.
– Steve Blake just got traded to the Warriors.
28. Jameer Nelson, Orlando Magic
Nelson is a warrior, perhaps over the hill. But Tobias Harris hasn’t come on like many thought he would and Victor Oladipo is still too raw and just misses out on the banana.
27. Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks
26. Danny Granger, Philadelphia 76ers
25. Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
24. J.R. Smith, New York Knicks
Granger instantly becomes Philly’s third-best player behind Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young even if he has to be carried onto the court every night. Big Sully is playing some decent ball for a team that lacks top-end talent and really only had Avery Bradley as his competition. Smith narrowly edged out Iman Shumpert for the title of most disappointing banana in the column.
23. Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
22. Gerald Henderson, Charlotte Bobcats
21. Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets
Three very likeable players and from what I can tell, three pretty good guys. It’s hard to imagine winning a championship with this bunch as your third-best player unless you have LeBron James or Kevin Durant.
Tier 2 – Average bananas. They might have been in your lunchbox a day too long, but they still taste okay.
20. Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers
19. Eric Gordon, New Orleans Pelicans
18. Jose Calderon, Dallas Mavericks
15. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks
14. Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings
A really talented group of players. Jennings and Gay are similar in the sense that they are both guilty of the Top Gun Rule: Egos writing checks your body can’t cash. Teague is a nice player but not much more, and Amir Johnson lands ahead of Jonas Valanciunas.
13. Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards
12. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
I really like Gibson and always have. As the changing minutes distribution and recent fourth-quarter playing time suggest, he is just a better player than Carlos Boozer. Jimmy Butler has threatened to take the leap but hasn’t, and no more Luol Deng means that Gibson is the third banana.
10. Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets
9. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
8. Kevin Martin, Minnesota Timberwolves
I had a really hard time sorting out this bunch of wing players. Let’s just say that Iguodala was lucky to bump out Klay Thompson as he still hasn’t looked totally comfortable in a Warriors jersey. His stock can be properly graded after a playoff series or two because ultimately, that’s why they acquired him. Finally, Joe Johnson is paid stupendous amounts of money but he is an underrated defender, can still score and is a proven clutch performer. So I’m happy with his relatively high positioning.
7. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies
He’s on the decline but he’s still a very smart player and a huge favorite of mine. Perhaps he’s too high, but just ask the Clippers how tough this guy can be in big games. Z-Bo deserves his own sub-section anyway, if only for the fact that he is Z-Bo.
Tier 1 – Delicious, ripe bananas. Ready to drop in your fruit salad or for consumption walking down the 16th fairway.
6. Chandler Parsons, Houston Rockets.
5. Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers
4. DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers
3. Lance Stephenson, Indiana
Again, you could press shuffle on your iTunes here and I wouldn’t have many arguments on where the players landed. All four are playing on teams that are ranked in the top seven in the league, and it’s no coincidence as to why. My love for Matthews gave him the slight edge over Nicolas Batum for the Blazers’ third banana.
1. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
The premier big men for the first- and third-ranked teams, respectively. Ibaka has been enormous this season and deserved to be an All-Star. He went through a stage in January where his mid-range jump shot almost never missed. The underrated aspect about Bosh is that people tend to forget the impact guarding bigger, stronger and more physical centers all season has on his offensive game. He does a terrific job and is Miami’s second-most important player.
See below for the correlation between the best teams win percentage-wise and the ranking of their Third Banana. Our outliers are Phoenix, San Antonio, Dallas and Sacramento. The first three teams are very even on paper, apart from one or two stars, hence the third player falling back in the bunch. The fourth team, Sacramento, has three decent players who account for more than half its offensive production. Behind them is very little depth, hence their horrible record.
Correlation between win percentage and ranking of third best player
Who ranks as among the best Third Bananas of all time? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Hit me up on Twitter or comment up top.
Jake Henson is an NBA writer who grew up in Australia and has recently joined the team at Sheridan Hoops. You can follow him on Twitter @jwhenson or email firstname.lastname@example.org