Ranking Los Angeles Lakers' Revamped Bench Unit with the Best in the NBA

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterSeptember 18, 2012

Ranking Los Angeles Lakers' Revamped Bench Unit with the Best in the NBA

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    It's no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers upgraded their team across the board this summer, most notably with the additions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.

    Somewhat lost amidst all the hubbub about All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers donning purple and gold, though, was the way in which GM Mitch Kupchak managed to replenish his team's bench. The Lakers ranked dead last in bench scoring last season, per Hoops Stats, after shipping off Lamar Odom for a bag of peanuts—nosh that Kupchak later turned into Nash—and replacing the former Sixth Man of the Year with...ummm...Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy?

    No wonder LA's second unit stunk up the Staples Center last season.

    The additions of Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Earl Clark and Chris Duhon, along with the returns of Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks, don't exactly render the Lakers reserves a collective juggernaut, though they do (or should) signal a marked improvement over the previous state of affairs.

    But where do these upgrades place LA's bench mob in the NBA's hierarchy of substitutes?

7. Lakers

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    As it happens, the Lakers bench looks like it might be the seventh-best in the NBA, and even that might be pushing it.

    Antawn Jamison should be able to average double figures in scoring, though he's among the league's worst pick-and-roll finishers and is too often out-defended by his own shadow. Keeping Jordan Hill on the cheap was an underrated coup for Mitch Kupchak, though he'll likely be forced to start until Dwight Howard returns from back surgery, leaving Earl Clark to sop up minutes in the front court.

    On the bright side, sharpshooting could be a strength among LA's reserves. Jodie Meeks (36.5 percent from three) and Chris Duhon (42 percent) can both stretch opposing defenses, and if Steve Blake somehow regains his confidence from the perimeter, he'd be a prime candidate to join them.

    The Lakers subs won't exactly overwhelm the opposition, but a drastic improvement over last season's rock-bottom bunch is well within range and could be the key to the team's title hopes.

6. Knicks

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    The New York Knicks bench got deeper and (much, much) older this offseason. The question now is, can Mike Woodson mold his reserves into an effective and cohesive unit?

    By mid-March, the Knicks could feature two 40-year-olds (Jason Kidd and Kurt Thomas) and a 39-year-old (Kurt Thomas) in their second unit. Those three are all well past their respective primes, but are still smart and savvy enough to contribute to a winning cause, particularly on the defensive end.

    Throw in Ronnie Brewer on the wing, and New York's second unit could be the second coming of the Chicago Bulls' "Bench Mob" from last season, albeit a significantly more senior edition.

    Don't forget, either, about the sharpshooting Steve Novak, or JR Smith and Iman Shumpert, one of whom will wind up on the pine once Shump returns—perhaps as early as December.

5. Celtics

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    "If healthy" will be the buzz phrase for the Boston Celtics bench this season.

    Jeff Green is a versatile wing who can do any number of things well on the court...if his heart is healthy. Jason Terry and Courtney Lee can each man both guard spots and light it up from the perimeter and will have the opportunity to do just that in tandem...if/when Avery Bradley recovers from a pair of shoulder surgeries. Rookie forward Jared Sullinger figures to add some scoring punch up front...if his worrisome back doesn't give him too much trouble.

    That being said, GM Danny Ainge did exceedingly well to reload what had been a depleted second unit for a C's squad that nearly snuck into the 2012 NBA Finals despite a daunting lack of depth. In fact, only the Lakers squeezed less production out of their reserves last season than did the Celts, who lost Green, Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Wilcox to physical ailments along the way.

    If all (or most) of those aforementioned ifs don't prove to be too problematic, the Celtics may well wind up challenging the defending-champion Miami Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy once again.

4. Thunder

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    The Oklahoma City Thunder hardly have the deepest bench in the NBA, but when you can summon a player of James Harden's caliber from his seat, you don't really need that many options.

    Harden should be in the mix for a spot in the All-Star Game this season after taking home the league's Sixth Man of the Year award and helping Team USA capture gold at the 2012 London Olympics.

    Not to mention the pivotal role he played in OKC's thunderous march through the Western Conference last season, wherein he averaged 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists.

    Aside from Harden, the Thunder can boast at least two other players—Eric Maynor and Nick Collison—who'll contribute to the cause. Maynor will be back after tearing his ACL early last season, and though he's not exactly budding-starter material, he's a significant upgrade over the dregs who backed up Russell Westbrook at the point last season.

    As for Collison, he's a solid energy guy and offensive rebounder who, aside from being a favorite of many a stat geek for his plus-minus numbers, is a steady defender who takes charges and competes in the pick-and-roll.

3. Clippers

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    Having two former Sixth Men of the Year is better than employing "just" one, isn't it?

    The Los Angeles Clippers certainly hope so. They brought in two such decorated veterans—Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford—this offseason.

    Both are coming off dismal seasons in 2011-12 and should be plenty motivated to bounce back as a result. Odom's return to more comfortable climes in LA looks like reason enough for recovery, while Crawford's escape from a disaster zone in Portland portends its own measure of remuneration with regard to his skills.

    Then again, both players, at 32, are at an age where one's basketball skills tend to decline, in some cases precipitously so.

    Speaking of age, Grant Hill will be 40 by the time the season starts, though his perimeter defense and outside shooting should render him a credit to the Clips reserves. So, too, will Willie Green's microwave scoring and Ronny Turiaf's energy and defensive intensity.

    Throw in the continued improvement of Eric Bledsoe as Chris Paul's backup, and the Clippers may well have the most complete second unit in the league.

    Though, truth be told, it all hinges on better years from Odom and Crawford.

2. Nuggets

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    Facilitating the Dwight Howard deal was a net positive for the Denver Nuggets, though the loss of Al Harrington, along with Rudy Fernandez's return to his native Spain, won't help the reserves any.

    Not that the Nuggets' second unit won't still be among the NBA's best this season. Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov will provide plenty of beef up front behind JaVale McGee, Anthony Randolph's talents should finally flourish under George Karl's tutelage and Andre Miller, even at the age of 36, might still be the craftiest point guard in basketball.

    But the ultimate quality of Denver's bench rests with Wilson Chandler. The 25-year-old forward flourished in China during the lockout and would've truly taken off in the Mile High City if not for a hip injury that ended his season in mid-April. Assuming he's fit for the start of the season, Chandler has the potential to challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors, if not establish himself as the Nuggets' best player before long.

1. Spurs

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    No bench mob executes as crisply or as efficiently as that of the San Antonio Spurs. They were the second-most prolific second unit in the NBA, scoring 41.4 points per game on an eye-popping 47.5 percent shooting, including 39.3 percent from beyond the arc.

    This crew should be right up there once again in 2012-13 after returning the same constituents with which it finished last season. As always, the Spurs' reserves will be led by Manu Ginobili, who's still as menacing as ever on the hardwood, but at 35, is almost always at risk of injury. He missed 32 games with persistent ankle problems after the lockout, but was brilliant from nearly every statistical perspective when he was healthy enough to play.

    The rest of San Antonio's second unit ain't too shabby, either. Stephen Jackson's game is slipping, though he stepped it up in the playoffs and still brings a measure of grit to the game that's tough to match. Gary Neal should be a superb sub once again after shooting 41.9 percent from three for the second year running. Matt Bonner, too, figures to stretch defenses with his outside shot and take care of the ball in the process.

    On the interior, Gregg Popovich will turn to Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair to clean the glass and lend some physicality to the front line.

    What makes the Spurs reserves special, though, is the way they blend together. The whole of their efforts is far greater than the sum of their parts and should keep San Antonio near the top of the Western Conference, even as Tim Duncan approaches the close of his Hall of Fame career.