Had the original Minnesota Timberwolves Big Three of Gugliotta, Marbury, and Garnett stayed together, they could have formed a dynasty.
Too often, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are considered the original Big Three. Some might say Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker or, even further back, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.
While each had their moments of greatness, the original Big Three began with the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Tom Gugliotta, Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett.
It’s easy to forget that Gugliotta is one of the best power forwards to wear a Timberwolves jersey. But had it not been for injury, his NBA career could have turned out very different.
Before Dirk Nowitzki revolutionized the stretch-4, the only big men in the NBA who regularly and effectively utilized the mid-range game were Toni Kukoc and Tom Gugliotta.
Affectionately known as “Googs”, he played nearly five season with the T-Wolves with averages of 17.1 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. In 1996-98, he posted back-to-back seasons averaging over 20 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Gugliotta was also an exceptional passer, averaging 4.1 assists per game. For as great as Nowitzki is, he never averaged four assists per game.
Gugliotta was a consistent elbow scorer. In 1996-97, he took 30.8 percent of his shots from 16 to 23 feet and shot 47.6 percent on those attempts. The following year, those numbers increased to 40.9 percent field attempts and 51.9 percent makes, respectively.
In 1996-97, Gugliotta was an All-Star reserve and teamed with Marbury and Garnett to lead the surging Wolves to their first ever playoff appearance. Gugliotta was the leading scorer and second behind Marbury in assists while producing 6.7 Win Shares, according to Basketball-Reference. Injury caused him to miss much of the following season as the organization decided to move forward with Garnett as the centerpiece.
Marbury only played two-and-a-half years with the T-Wolves before he was shipped out of town. Marbury was drafted No. 4 in 1996 and was a score-first point guard who also had a knack to get others involved.
During his career in Minnesota, he averaged 17.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game. He shot above 32.5 percent on 3-pointers as a Wolf, which was above-average at that point in time. Marbury contributed 5.3 Win Shares during the 1997-98 campaign, his only full, non-rookie season in Minnesota.
Plenty has already been said about the newly-minted Hall-of-Famer, Kevin Garnett. The Big Ticket was drafted straight out of high school and would go on to become one of the game’s greatest power forwards. In his first go-round with the Wolves, Garnett averaged 20.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He was the league MVP in 2004 and an All-Star almost every year while in Minnesota.
In Garnett’s rookie campaign, the T-Wolves finished 26-56. The next season, they drafted Marbury and traded for Gugliotta. They won 14 more games to finish the year 40-42 while also making the playoffs and rising from 26th in attendance to 14th.
With the emergence of Garnett and Marbury, the Wolves had two college-aged players that were legitimate cornerstones of the franchise and an All-Star third option in Gugliotta. If the Wolves had hung onto the trio and surrounded them with Kyle Korver-type knockdown shooters, we may be talking about more than a perennial one-and-done playoff contender.
This would be a dream for any executive but for T-Wolves fans, it is also where the mismanagement began. Marbury was only 21 years old when the T-Wolves traded him to New Jersey. Gugliotta’s career fizzled out in part due to injury and he was released by Minnesota.
The T-Wolves, built solely around Garnett, would go to have seven consecutive first-round playoff exits. Garnett would eventually be traded and win a title in his first season with the Celtics.
No one will know what could have been had the original Big Three never been disbanded.