5 NBA Bench Players Who Should Be Starting
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In the NBA, there exists a tier of players beloved by those who appreciate the rare combination of selflessness and tremendous talent. It takes a special type of individual to humble himself to where, despite his ability, he takes the bench role in stride and understands his job rather than seeing it as a demotion. Affectionately known by fans as the “sixth man,” this type of player is expected to energize the second unit and sustain the tempo established by the starting five.
However, there are some sixth men who are so talented that considering they come off the bench, it’s essentially like having a player of starter-like quality ready to hop in and make an immediate impact.
It should be noted that while some coaches opt to strengthen their bench by having a better offensive player sit, sometimes there are guys who simply should be starting.
Let’s acknowledge five solid players who deserve a starting role.
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One of the league’s premier sixth men (and former winner of the Sixth Man of the Year Award), the talented Argentinian is a fan favorite for his ability, despite coming off the bench. Manu is a crafty player whose deceptive ball-fakes, dazzling euro-step drive and swift left-handed jumper compose a well-balanced and potent arsenal of offensive moves.
That being said, it’s crazy to think that Coach Popovich has him sitting on the bench, but if you’re familiar with Pop’s system, it isn’t a shocker. Pop’s disciplinarian approach and the San Antonio Spurs’ philosophy involve having a ton of well-balanced players on the team, and that also means a mutual understanding of everyone’s individual roles.
Manu is arguably the league’s best off-the-bench player, and to have someone like him on the bench is hard to fathom. Over his career, he has averaged a solid 15 points, four boards and three assists per 27 minutes of action. He also shoots 45 percent from the field, and he is a dead-eye marksman beyond the arc with a 37 percent three-point stroke. Considering his production and ability, there’s no way he should be sitting on the bench.
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What if I were to tell you that one of the league’s top 20 scoring leaders doesn't even start? It might sound crazy, but it’s true. Among the current points per game leaders this season, Jamal is ranked 19th. In fact, right now, Jamal Crawford is averaging more points than the guy who starts ahead of him, Willie Green. Crawford is averaging 18 points per game, whereas Green is scoring a mere six points. So, yes, you read that right—a guy averaging three times Green's scoring output sits on the bench. To be fair, Crawford is averaging 28 minutes per game compared to Green’s 18 minutes, but still, Crawford deserves to start.
Crawford has arguably the best handles in the league, and his legendary shake-and-bake move is likely imitated by kids in playgrounds. Not only is he an incredible ball-handler, but he is extremely skilled at knocking down shots off the dribble. He is a remarkable 40 percent shooter behind the three-point line, and he also shoots 93 percent from the free-throw stripe. All in all, it’s pretty remarkable that the former Sixth Man of the Year from 2009-10 isn’t starting.
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Often overlooked is the fact that great off-the-bench players don’t necessarily have to be scorers. Case in point: Taj Gibson of the Chicago Bulls. His career average of seven points and six rebounds may not jump off the page, but a stat sheet doesn't do his game justice. Gibson is a phenomenal on-ball and off-ball defender.
He rarely leaves his man, but he still manages to survey the floor on defense and change or block shots. He is a bruising force on the boards, and his explosive athleticism at times can dominate or swing the momentum in crucial situations. His improved midrange jumper has also shown that he has added some polish to his game, and Chi-town fans are no stranger to his rim-rattling dunks.
He’s still young, and considering he can’t score like Carlos Boozer (17 points, 10 boards per game over his career), the Bulls elect to have Gibson on the bench. However, there are certainly times when Boozer’s abysmal defense are a detriment, and considering how solid a defensive player Gibson is, it would be wise to give him the starting nod despite the fact his stats aren't as pretty as Boozer’s.
Sometimes, stats are deceiving, and despite Boozer’s ability to snatch defensive boards and score, championships are ultimately won by having an anchor like Gibson on your squad.
Moving Gibson in the starting lineup alongside Joakim Noah would make for a youthful tandem of hustle and grit and could potentially be a two-headed nightmare for opposing offenses that would try to capitalize on an undersized pivot man like Boozer.
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Although the New York Knicks have had a fairly solid season, moving Steve Novak into the starting lineup would be a great move, despite shaking up the lineup. Novak is nothing short of a sharpshooter. He is shooting a remarkable 40 percent from three-point range, and despite his ability to score in bunches when he gets the rock, he’s on the bench in favor of Ronnie Brewer.
Now, admittedly, Novak is a poor defender. His 6’10" frame means he’s not laterally quick enough to stay in front of a lot of people in the league, but he would be a big upgrade over Brewer. Brewer is known in the league as a tough defender and an athletic finisher, but his broken jump shot and inability of create shots for himself means he’s not going to have much of an impact on offense.
Novak and Brewer are splitting minutes at around 20 minutes per game, but Novak’s phenomenal shooting ability would further stretch the floor for the Knicks. Novak may not be a tremendous defender, but he is too lethal a shooter to be sitting on the bench.
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Although he’s been a solid scorer in the league for years, Kevin Martin hasn’t been on a team of this caliber throughout his career. He is on a legitimate title contender, and considering his ability to flat-out score, he really should be upgraded to a starting role.
A common strategy utilized by a lot of coaches in the league, head coach Scott Brooks of the Thunder opts to have a better offensive player like Martin come off the bench instead of a defender like Thabo Sefolosha, the current Thunder starting 2-guard. Although this type of strategy isn’t a bad one, Martin is by no means a mediocre scorer. Martin’s quick-hitched jumper, brutally deceptive pump fake, and cunning triple-threat moves allow him to score at will.
He’s getting a solid 30 minutes per game and averaging 15 points, but he has yet to start a game this season. This season alone, Martin is shooting an ultra-reliable 49 percent from three-point range, although that stat comes as no surprise if you’re familiar with his game. A player like Martin who started in all 40 of the games he was healthy last season for Houston should get his traditional role back, despite being on a new team.
He isn’t a creator like James Harden was for this Thunder team, and considering his ability in the past (23 points a game back in 09-10 and nearly 20 points a game last season), he deserves a starting role. A player of Martin's caliber is at his best when he's allowed to get in rhythm from the start of the game, rather than coming off the bench as a sixth man. Whether he’s getting 30 minutes or not, it’s surprising that Martin isn’t starting.