Ersan Ilyasova and the NBA’s best-ever three-teamer seasons

Ersan Ilyasova checks his teammates' jerseys to make sure he is in the right huddle. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Ersan Ilyasova checks his teammates' jerseys to make sure he is in the right huddle. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports) /

A few weeks ago, I discovered that, out of the four weary souls who played for three NBA teams this season, Ersan Ilyasova had, exponentially, the best season. In fact, despite being in the miserable wanted-yet-unwanted limbo inherent in any three-teamer year, Ilyasova tallied a personal career high for most points scored in a season.

Given that the majority of three-teamers are cut at some point during their wearying season, mostly relegated to end-of-game cameos, I wondered if Ilyasova had just put together the most productive three-teamer season in NBA history. The answer is: no, but he was a lot closer than you might think. Organized by cumulative Win Shares (regular season and postseason combined), here are the five best-ever three-teamer seasons:

5. Mickey Johnson / 1982-83 / 4.1 Win Shares
Milwaukee Bucks / New Jersey Nets / Golden State Warriors

From the looks of this highlight tape — from Johnson’s second tenure with the Nets, in 1986 — Johnson could have regularly notched slick points/assists double-doubles as a 6-foot-10 power forward if his teammates didn’t chuck up bricks whenever they had open layups:

Back in his three-teamer season, Johnson was traded from the Nets to the Warriors along with Sleepy Floyd. The move set the stage, many years later, for Floyd’s famous 51-point outburst in the 1987 playoffs.

4. Ersan Ilyasova / 2016-17 / 4.2 Win Shares
Oklahoma City Thunder / Philadelphia 76ers / Atlanta Hawks

It’s nice that Ilyasova wrapped up his season playing so well for the Hawks, because the hidden truth is that he never should have been moved off of the Sixers. Ilyasova and Joel Embiid had real potential to be the league’s most unlikely playoff-caliber buddies since LeBron James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas: the Sixers went 11-7 when they were both in the starting lineup, which would absolutely be a playoff berth over a full season.

3. Don Otten / 1950-51 / 5.1 Win Shares
Washington Capitals / Baltimore Bullets / Fort Wayne Pistons

Don Otten’s career basically took place on a different planet. They had cut the bottoms out of the baskets, yes, but that was about all that looks recognizable. Not only was there no shot clock, but that season’s Pistons were one of two guilty parties in the infamous 19-18 game that spurred the shot clock’s invention. One of Otten’s teammates on the Capitals was Earl Lloyd, making 1950-51, shamefully, only the first season that professional basketball was racially integrated. The Capitals’ coach was named Bones McKinney. Then the Capitals folded in the middle of the season. Otten was also able to rack up these Win Share numbers, equivalent to the season Ryan Anderson just had, while shooting 33.8 percent from the field as a center.

Different times, indeed. But still, in such a foreign landscape: we still had the three-teamer.

2. Brandan Wright / 2014-15 / 6.1 Win Shares
Dallas Mavericks / Boston Celtics / Phoenix Suns

By never turning the ball over and converting a huge percentage of his scant field goal attempts, Wright has been the league’s quietest advanced-stats star for a long time. In fact, among all players with at least 200 career games played, Wright has the very highest Offensive Rating since the stat was first tracked in 1977-78. Little surprise, then, that Wright was picked up by John Hollinger’s Memphis Grizzlies in free agency after this three-teamer whirlwind.

In 2014-15, Wright got caught up in the tornado that was Danny Ainge, who was in the midst of legitimately one of the greatest Trade Deadline performances in league history. First Wright was moved from Dallas to Boston in exchange for Rajon Rondo — the wizard move that also netted Boston Jae Crowder and a first-round pick (eventually Guerschon Yabusele). About three weeks later, Wright was spun off to Phoenix in exchange for draft picks, including No. 37 overall in this year’s draft.

This three-team season has been, somewhat tragically, the only time in Wright’s 10-year career where he was healthy for more than 70 games. This one season is also responsible for about a quarter of his career Win Shares (24.9).

Next: The 20 different emotions of Gregg Popovich

1. Rasheed Wallace / 2003-04 / 8.5 Win Shares
Portland Trail Blazers / Atlanta Hawks / Detroit Pistons

Of course! It’s so beautiful that the best three-teamer season ever — and by a wide margin — is also one of the most underground-iconic seasons ever. From the Jail Blazers to the one-game tenure with the Hawks to very literally swinging the NBA Championship in the Pistons’ favor, Rasheed was writing sweet early-aughts history every step of the way here.

I always think that the three-teamer experience is such a totally exhausting one. But look at Rasheed walking into the Pistons locker room for the first time here. He looks like he’s rejuvenated off a vacation, even though he’s just been traded twice in a week:

That’s the kind of easy-going mindset that makes Wallace’s 2003-04 season a three-teamer record that is — if you ask me — as untouchable a record as John Stockton’s mountain of assists or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s mountain of points.