NBA: Each Teams Most Important Non-Starter
No waiting until Christmas this year.
Instead of waiting for Santa to ring in the new NBA season this year, we can tip off with Trick-Or-Treaters as usual.
Practices and preseason games are underway, which has shored up a few questions for teams as to who is going to be on the starting unit and who will be coming off the bench.
Using these so-called "up to date" depth charts provided by the teams, I have complied a list of who each teams most important reserve is this season.
This may not always be the "best" player coming off the bench, although it often is, but more the most important player to the team's success with their second unit.
Argue and enjoy.
Atlanta Hawks: Louis Williams
Louis Williams was a super sixth man in Philly, now he is playing the same role in Atlanta.
The Hawks, will begin the post-Joe Johnson era with Williams as their most important reserve.
Williams averaged 14.9 points per game last season in just 26 minutes per game. As of now, the Hawks list him as the back up two guard behind Anthony Morrow, but it is likely that won't last.
Either Williams will be starting sooner rather than later, or he will at the very least be getting starter's minutes.
Williams should be on the short list of sixth Man of the Year candidates come season's end.
Boston Celtics: Jeff Green
Call me crazy, but after all the hype surrounding the signings of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and the additions of Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, Jeff Green remains the most important non-starter on the Celtics.
I still stand by this even though it appears that Courtney Lee will be starting instead of the sorely-missed-in-the-playoffs, Avery Bradley, according to the Celtics depth chart.
Green, although coming into the league the same year as Kevin Durant, remains a bit of an unknown. He was drafted to the Sonics, a year before they moved to OKC, and that franchise's track record speaks for itself.
Green missed all of last season with a heart issue, and the previous season, played little for the Celtics after being traded for Kendrick Perkins.
So far in the preseason (of which I put very little stock), Green has looked superb.
He has all the tools to remain in Boston after the departure of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to form a solid duo with Rajon Rondo. Or, he could turn out to be an unproven player who got a bad contract.
The question facing the Celtics this year, however, is if their young legs can balance out their old legs.
Jeff Green plays a giant role in that.
Brooklyn Nets: MarShon Brooks
It is hard to believe MarShon Brooks will put up the numbers he did last year. Brooks, as a rookie, averaged 12.3 PPG, 2.3 APG, and 3.6 RPG, while attempting over 11 shots a game.
Brooks still has the ability to score like he did a season ago, but he most likely will not have the opportunity to hoist up 11 shots a night, with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace all demanding shots from the guard positions.
The Nets are not a very deep team, but are deeper than many expected them to be considering the money they spent on their five starters.
Brooks will be the number one option on the second unit, and could continue to shine.
Charlotte Bobcats: Kemba Walker
Even with the addition of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Bobcats are in for another long season.
Their first round draft pick last season, Kemba Walker, is currently listed behind Ramon Sessions on the Bobcats depth chart.
Walker had flashes of skills last season, averaging 12.1 points, 3.5 boards and 4.4 assists a game, but shot an abysmal .366 from the floor and turned the ball over almost twice a game.
I, for one, am still a believer in Kemba. I am not sure any point guard would have looked good with that Bobcats team last season, and if they continue to stockpile players, and make smart draft picks, like the Kidd-Gilchrist pick, Walker could very well be the great team leader he showed he was in college.
Chicago Bulls: Marquis Teague
This is an interesting season for the Bulls.
The team with the best record in the East the past two seasons is being picked by many to miss the playoffs entirely. This is, of course, due to the fact they are without 2010-2011 MVP Derrick Rose.
How long they are without him remains to be seen. In his absence, former-Bull Kirk Hinrich returns to Chicago and will likely be the starter. His backup could be the key to determining how long Rose is out.
If Marquis Teague can perhaps not only back up Hinrich for the first half of the season, but solidify the bench and even take over the starting job, the Bulls could be in a position where the return of Rose could be the difference between a top four seed, a seven or eight seed, or missing the playoffs all together.
If Teague can not be a contributor off the bench, and the Bulls get poor guard play, by the time Rose returns, it may be all but over in Chicago, and Rose's return will not mean a whole lot, standings wise.
That is a lot of pressure to put on Marquis Teague.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Dion Waiters
The Cavs have had some weird draft picks the last couple seasons.
Many people thought Kyrie Irving was not ready to be the number one overall pick. The Cavs did, and they were obviously correct.
Then, they really surprised everybody by taking Tristan Thompson so early in the draft.
This past off-season, they pulled another draft-day surprise by reaching for Dion Waiters out of Syracuse.
Waiters, although listed behind C.J. Miles and Daniel Gibson on the depth chart, is obviously expected to be a starter alongside Irving.
If he can learn to slash and score on an NBA defense, he has rookie of the year potential.
If he can not, he has Marvin Williams/Corey Magette potential: A guy who did not start in college, is suddenly drafted really high and is expected to be a superstar in the NBA.
Knowing Cleveland's luck (curse), he has as good of chance of being the later (Williams) than the former, a ROY candidate like Irving.
Dallas Mavericks: Elton Brand
The Mavericks swung and missed quite a few times in the offseason, but did a pretty good job of recovering on the fly and building a respectable team.
Perhaps the biggest signing fell right into their lap when Philadelphia amnestied Elton Brand.
Brand, who was once thought of a franchise guy, both with the Clippers and Sixers, will now be a backup in Dallas.
Brand was not terrible last season, averaging 11 and seven in Philadelphia, but was not great either. I think a lot of that has to do with the Sixers style of play, which wasn't a great fit for Brand.
In Dallas, Brand no longer has the pressure of a big contract and a team on his back. This is quite obviously Dirk's team, and Brand is a role player.
A guy who has averaged 18.3 points and 9.4 rebounds a game, and is only 33-years-old, could be an awfully good role player.
Denver Nuggets: Wilson Chandler
Wilson Chandler only played eight games last season due to his strange contract situation involving playing in China during the lockout.
Regardless, Chandler is back in Denver and figures to be part of a very exciting and athletic Nuggets team.
Chandler averaged only 9.4 PPG and 5.1 RPG in his eight games last season, but has career averages of 13.8 and 5.2.
Chandler is 6'8" and can put the ball on the floor and score from the outside.
If Chandler shoots close to his career field goal average of .450 on about 12 shots a game, he has serious potential to be another borderline All-Star on the Nuggets roster.
Detroit Pistons: Andre Drummond
Two years ago, the Detroit Pistons took a chance on a Big East big man, of whom many questioned his drive, and found a star in Greg Monroe.
This past summer, they tried it again, by drafting UConn big man Andre Drummond.
Drummond has all the talent in the world, but failed to put it together for the Huskies. He is 6'10" (7'0" by some accounts), 270 pounds, can run the floor like a guard, and is only 19 years old.
If Drummond can figure it out in Detroit, perhaps helped by Monroe, he could be an All-star for years to come and make the eight teams that passed on him in the 2012 draft regret it.
Golden State Warriors: Jarrett Jack
Golden State has put together an exciting roster, led by young stars like Stephen Curry, David Lee and Harrison Barnes. With that said, it may come as a shock that their most important player coming off the bench is Jarret Jack.
Jack enters his seventh NBA season as, essentially, a career backup. He got a lot of playing time last season in New Orleans and made the most of it, posting 15.6 PPG, 6.3 APG and 3.9 RPG.
Now, Jack moves to the Bay Area to back up the always-injury-risky Stephen Curry. The Warriors are thinking playoffs this season, but can not do it without bench production. They also can't do it if Curry goes down and they don't have a point guard to come in and carry the load.
Enter Jarret Jack.
Golden State has the cool uniforms, and wild crowd, and the young talent. Now they just need to do on the big stage of the playoffs.
Houston Rockers: Royce White
So much has been said and written about Royce White since he led Iowa State to a first round NCAA Tournament victory and a battle with eventual National Champion Kentucky, that there isn't too much to say about his last seven months.
What is interesting to NBA fans, is his unpredictable future.
White is 6'8"/260 and plays like a point guard. I had the luxury of watching him a lot last season, as I live in Iowa, and was very impressed by his array of skills.
While a lot of people have remarked on his versatility and ability to be a nightmare matchup, more people have been interested in his anxiety issues.
White could miss some games for the Rockets because of his fear of flying. Despite this, White could be a steal at the 16th pick in the draft.
His stock rose and rose in the days leading up the draft, and the Rockets pulled the trigger. By doing that, they made White a big risk/reward guy for the franchise. In my own humble opinion, the risk is worth the potential reward.
Indiana Pacers: Gerald Green
Last season, especially in the playoffs, the Pacers second unit was a nightmare.
The trade that brought Indiana Leonardo Barbosa from Toronto paid dividends at times, but Barbosa was inconsistent, to say the least.
The Pacers almost totally revamped their bench this season, bringing in Ian Mahinmi, D.J. Augustin and Green, and also by drafting Miles Plumlee and Orlando Johnson.
Green is the most important of these acquisitions. He is more often than not going to be the number one scoring option off the bench.
The Pacers starting unit of Hibbert, Granger, West, George and Hill were fantastic in the playoffs.
For them to take a step forward, it may fall to the bench to not only give the starters a rest, but to provide a spark and keep the Pacers in games, while not surrendering leads.
Welcome to Indiana, Mr. Green.
Los Angeles Clippers: Lamar Odom
Call me crazy, but I think Lamar Odom was one of the biggest signings of the off season.
Yes, I understand it was nowhere near the caliber of a Deron Williams or Steve Nash, but adding Odom to the already improved Clippers team is very interesting.
Remember, last season the Clippers took a giant step up and made the playoffs with Chris Paul running the show, and they did it without a real training camp.
Now with Paul embedded in the offense, Odom brings a dimension to the bench the Clippers didn't have last year.
Odom's career averages of 14.2 PPG and 8.6 RPG were not even close to match last year in his turbulent stay in Dallas where he averaged 6.6 PPG and 4.2 RPG.
This year, the Clippers trot out Odom, Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Eric Bledsoe and Ronny Turiaf on their second unit. That may be the best bench in the league. I did not say it was, because it frankly has a lot of wild cards (see: Crawford, Jamal), but it COULD be very, very good, led by former sixth man, Lamar Odom.
Los Angeles Lakers: Antwan Jamison
Antwan Jamison has had a long, strange career, and now it gets more strange as he suddenly has perhaps the most important backup job in the NBA.
Jamison now has the huge responsibility of backing up Pau Gasol and the injury-risky Dwight Howard.
There are two caveats to that previous sentence. Yes, I do realize Jordan Hill is still in LA and will play a huge role as a backup as well, but I believe Jamison will get the important minutes when one of the other bigs needs a rest. And two: I know Howard has been relatively healthy throughout his career, but a back injury that requires surgery is always a huge risk, which is what Howard is fighting back from.
Antwan Jamison finds himself being a very important backup for the team that may have stolen the mantle from Miami as the most media-covered team in the league.
Welcome to Hollywood.
Memphis Grizzlies: Jerryd Bayless
Things get kind of ugly for Memphis when they have to go to their bench. Their most vaulable non-starter is Jerryd Bayless. Nothing against Bayless, but that hardly sounds like the recipe for a team wanting to take the next step.
Bayless put up decent numbers last season, 11.4 ppg, 3.8 apg, and 2.1 rpg, but he is hardly a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
The Grizzlies remain an exciting team with a good starting cast, but that are going to be very reliant on those starting five this season.
Miami Heat: Ray Allen
Scoring off the bench has always been the issue for Miami over the last two seasons. After seemingly "figuring it out" last year and rolling to the NBA Championship without much bench production, the Heat went out and shored up their bench.
The biggest of these signings, and the most important reserve for the Heat, is Ray Allen.
The former Celtic, comes to Miami with a chip on his shoulder after a not-so-friendly breakup with Boston.
Allen has always been able to score in bunches. He is one of the best shooters in NBA history, and can also still put in on the floor to go to the hoop. The problem with Allen over the last year or two has been injuries.
Allen has been slowed by injuries and has lost a step due to the mileage he has put on his body, but he continues to be a threat.
If Allen can just knock down the three ball regularly, which he has always done, it will be a huge coup for the Heat.
We all saw what happened when Mike Miller kept defenses honest in the Finals last season. If Allen can do the same, nobody will be able to dethrone the Heat.
Milwaukee Bucks: Ersan Ilyasova
It is hard for me to believe that Milwaukee will have Drew Gooden starting over Ersan Ilyasova, but every depth chart I have seen has the same thing. He did start 41 games last season, so I don't quite understand these charts. But, for the sake of not discrediting those depth charts, I will go with it.
Ilyasova has a real shot at being Sixth Man of the Year. I understand that will be very hard with James Harden still coming off the bench, but Ilyasova is really good.
Last season, the native of Turkey scored 13.0 points a game and grabbed 8.8 boards a game.
Ilyasova is such a threat offensively because he is 6'10", 235 lbs, and can knock down threes. He raised his three-point average to .455 last season, up from his career average of .357.
He will obviously draw comparisons to a young Dirk Nowitzki, because of his height and outside game, but he is not at that level yet. He will likely never get to that level, because few ever have, but Ilyasova will try to prove he was worth the $40 million the Bucks gave him this summer.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Derrick Williams
Remember when there was a lot of people saying the Cavs should have picked Derrick Williams number one overall instead of Kyrie Irving? I'd say Cleveland did the right thing. However, do not label Williams as a bust just yet.
Williams will likely start the season as a starter, due to Kevin Love's pushup injury, but he will still be considered a reserve, most likely, when Love returns.
Williams did not look as NBA-ready as a rookie as the Timberwolves were hoping, but he has reportedly been impressive in camp. Williams had a much better second half of the season last year, finishing with averages of 8.8 ppg, and 4.7 rpg, but showed the athleticism that everybody saw when he was at Arizona.
The Wolves are trying to make the playoffs in the West, and Derrick Williams will have to elevate his game in his second season for that to happen.
New Orleans Hornets: Austin Rivers
I tell you what, I am excited to watch the Hornets this season.
Anthony Davis was the jewel of the draft, but Austin Rivers may have been the overlooked pick of the draft.
Rivers will begin the year backing up Greivis Vasquez at the point, but will probably see a lot of time on the court. If Rivers can get on the court a significient amout of time, he could be part of developing core in New Orleans.
Rivers, Davis and Eric Gordon could be a very potent trio. Eric Gordon, when healthy, is really good. Rivers will step into a situation where he is not the focal point of the offense (Gordon) and not the focal point of the media (Davis). Ideal situation for a talented 20 year old.
New York Knicks: Jason Kidd
What an interesting team the New York Knicks are. They never cease to be entertaining.
After not resigning Jeremy Lin, the Knicks brought in Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. Felton is the starter, and the 39-year old Kidd is his backup.
Last year, Kidd showed obvious signs of slowing down, only putting up 6.2 ppg, 5.5 apg, and 4.1 rpg. His defense, which was once All-NBA caliber, has slipped, a lot.
The catch here is, with all due respect to Steve Novak, Kidd is the most important guy coming off the Knicks bench. With guys like Amare and Carmelo, Kidd will be called upon to be not only a veteran leader, but also a facilitator, spreading the ball around. That job is easier said than done with this bunch.
Oklahoma City: James Harden
This is the most obvious selection on the whole list.
If James Harden wasn't so good coming off the bench, he would be too good to come off the bench.
Confusing sentence, but it is the truth.
Harden is a super-sixth man. He was a superstar last season for the Thunder, he made some huge playoff shots, won a Gold Medal in London, and is still not a starter in the NBA.
Harden scored 16.8 points last season to go along with 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
Harden was just getting the attention of the casual fan after his great series against San Antonio, when he no-showed the finals against the Heat.
While die-hards know Harden is much better than he showed in the finals, he, and the rest of the Thunder, have something to prove this season. Expect another All-Star caliber year from The Beard.
Orlando Magic: JJ Redick
The Magic look a lot different without Dwight Howard in the middle. This has become a strangely built team.
One guy who still wears a Magic uniform and should be recognizable by the fans is J.J. Redick. Redick has gotten better in each of his six years in the NBA. Last year, Redick scored 11.6 points a game and was over two rebounds and assists per game as well.
Redick has changed his game from just an outside threat to a guy who can take defenders off the dribble and get into the lane.
The Magic probably will not make the playoffs this season, but Redick could be poised for a career year.
Philadelphia 76ers: Kwame Brown
This really seems strange to say that Kwame Brown is the Sixers most important reserve, but it's true.
Brown has drawn the job of backing up Philly's franchise center, Andrew Bynum. It is widely known that Bynum is an injury risk, and has already been sidelined in the pre-season.
If Bynum misses any time, the hopes of Philly making the playoffs may rest on the former number one overall pick's shoulders.
Brown only played nine games last year for the Warriors, and joins Philly, his seventh NBA team, avergaging only 6.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 0.6 bpg for his career. None of those numbers are too impressive, especially for a guy who was supposed to be a superstar, but his 0.6 blocks per game is especially unsettling. He is 6'11"/290 and can't average a block a game?
Regardless, Philly made a big investment in Andrew Bynum, and let Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams leave Philadelphia, so they need production from elsewhere.
Kwame Brown has had pressure on him his whole career, but being the big man off the bench in a place like Philly may be more pressure than he is used to.
Phoenix Suns: Jared Dudley
Phoenix sure does look different with no Steve Nash running the point. Their starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat should look very unfamiliar to Phoenix fans.
The first guy off the bench, however, is a familiar face. Jared Dudley may be the most loved player in a Suns uniform when the season tips off. Dudley thrived under Nash's leadership, scoring 12.7 points a game last year and grabbing 4.6 rebounds a game.
Dudley has steadily improved his game on the court and his work ethic off the court, transforming his body since he got to Phoenix. He now enters a new era of Phoenix Suns basketball as one of the key pieces to what Phoenix hopes is a surprise resurgence.
Portland Trailblazers: J.J. Hickson
J.J. Hickson has had a strange career.
Hickson continuies his career in Portland, where he will back up LaMarcus Aldridge and Meyers Leonard. Hickson is only 6'9" but can play inside as well as face up from midrange.
Hickson hopes to build on his last month and a half in Portland last season, where he had excellent numbers (15.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 0.9 bpg) instead of his dismal first half of the season in Sacramento (4.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 0.5 bpg).
Sacramento Kings: Thomas Robinson
The Kings are a strange team.
Obviously they have a ton of raw talent, with Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins two of the more talented guys to enter the NBA over the last three years.
So after taking two upside guys with personality question marks in Cousins and Evans, they took a shot last year on Jimmer Ferdette, which appears to be a bad move. Fortunately for them, they lucked out on Isaiah Thomas out of Washington late in the draft.
Finally, this summer, it looks like they landed a guy with both the physical upside and the mental upside in Thomas Robinson.
Robinson was a monster at Kansas last season, challenging Anthony Davis for POY honors. Robinson brings his 6'10", 237 lb frame to Sacramento to do all the dirty work.
Robinson probably will not be a 20 point a night scorer, at least this year, but he will hustle and bang with the best of them. He could be just the thing Cousins needs to lighten the load down low and allow the Kings to take a step in the right direction.
San Antonio Spurs: Stephen Jackson
Captain Jack is comfortable in San Antonio. After starting last season in Milwaukee, and getting traded to Golden State only to be released, Jackson is back alongside Duncan, Parker and Ginobili and loving every minute of it.
Jackson only averaged 9.8 ppg and 3.5 rpg last season, but he came alive in the playoffs when the Spurs needed him and provided that spark off the bench that Greg Popovich loves. That is why he went out and got Jackson last year when it appeared many teams didn't want him.
The Spurs were everybody's pick to win the title last year, until the Thunder went on a roll to come back and beat them in the Western Conference Finals.
I wouldn't count them out just yet. With the core they have, and with Jackson there all year coming off the bench, the Spurs may have one more run in them.
Toronto Raptors: Landry Fields
Probably the biggest head-scratcher of the off-season was the Raptors breaking the bank to sign Landry Fields. I know it was a play to go after Steve Nash, but they have put a lot of stock in the third year player from Stanford.
Fields was a 1st team All-Rookie selection as a Knick, but took a step back last year, only scoring 8.8 points and grabbing 4.2 rebounds a game. It appears Fields will be backing up Terrence Ross, but could thrive when in the game playing alongside Kyle Lowry, who may have been the steal of the summer.
Fields is a rich man, and he is also the most important guy the Raptors have coming off their bench. He will need to show he is worth the big check.
Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors
I really believe that Derrick Favors is the best player on the Jazz. I know that Al Jefferson is good and Paul Millsap has game. I even know that Enes Kanter has a ton of potential. I just think Favors is the most important of this core of Jazz big men.
And he is not even starting.
Favors had a better second year than his rookie season, as he improved his numbers to 8.8 ppg and 6.5 rpg last year. He also averaged a block a game. What really opened my eyes on Favors was his performance in an otherwise underwhelming playoff series against the Spurs last year. He showed why he was considered a potential number-one overall pick two years ago.
If Favors can take the next step, the Jazz may sneak into the playoffs again, and he may be in the running for either Sixth Man of the Year, or a starting role real soon.
Washington Wizards: Jan Vesely
Jordan Crawford shoots a lot, and A.J. Price is playing very well in the preseason, but Jan Vesely remains the most important reserve for the Wizards.
They took a big risk taking Vesley in the lottery two years ago, and he rewarded them by making out with his incredibly hot girlfriend on national TV, but he has yet to show his worth on the court.
Vesely had an underwhelming season as a rookie, and still looks overmatched in the NBA game, but he has also shown flashes of the talent Washington saw when they drafted him.
It may only be his second year, but Vesely needs to show Washington was right to draft him so high, and help the Wizards keep up with the rest of the Capital's booming sports teams.