LeBron James Will Thank His Bench for the Next Title

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2012

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 05:  Ray Allen #34 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Phoenix Suns at AmericanAirlines Arena on November 5, 2012 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Rashard Lewis dunked...twice. No seriously, I saw it with my own two eyes. In a matchup between the Miami Heat and the Brooklyn Nets, Lewis got above the rim and threw down two pretty good dunks in Miami's Wednesday 103-73 over the Nets.

It wasn't what the Heat thought they would get out of Lewis when they signed him in the offseason, but it was a testament to the strides he has made since being the most overpaid player in the league just a season ago.

More than a testament to Lewis' development, it's a testament to the bench that the Heat have thrown together over the past season, one that's looking more and more impressive as the days go along.

Miami's bench isn't a high-scoring machine, but their efficiency and improvement has been really impressive at this point compared to last season. They're no longer the laughing stock of the league's benches, bringing in a guy every once in a while to hit a three while he limps back on defense.

Miami rode to the title in 2012 on the wings of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, everybody else was a fill-in and would be classified as an average player on their best days. They had a bench punctuated by Shane Battier and Mike Miller, with Udonis Haslem coming in to play some defense.

Their bench was miserable, third-worst in scoring and in the bottom third in the league in field-goal percentage. Defensively, they might as well have not been there. Basically their only purpose was to come in and knock down a few three-pointers.

That trend has continued this season, but they've got a lot more weapons this around, the chief one among them being Ray Allen. Allen has immediately made himself a candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, giving their bench a much-needed scoring boost.

Rashard Lewis is running around well and knocking down his long shots, and Udonis Haslem, while struggling to score, still continues to provide a big body to stay in front of guys. 

Miami's bench mob isn't going to lead the league in bench scoring, and they won't be the most efficient defensive unit, but what they have is a group of guys doing more than was expected coming into the season.

They're right in the middle of the pack in scoring, averaging 34 points per game compared to just 23 a season ago, plus they're shooting a scorching 51.4 percent from the floor and over 51.6 percent from three-point land. They're also a unit that's not incompetent defensively.

Of course, the efficiency numbers will drop as the season drags along, but what they've been able to do already is undeniably impressive.

Between Allen and Lewis, Miami has had a bench player score in double-digits off the bench in every game so far this season, a type of consistency they absolutely couldn't rely on in their quest for their first title.

It's not like the Heat's bench was helpless last season (Mike Miller and his seven three-pointers in Game 5 of the 2012 Finals would have something to say about that), but with at least one player on their bench to contribute a dozen or so points, they're pathway to another NBA title just looks a whole lot easier.