7 NBA Super-Subs Ready to Crack the Starting Lineup After Quarter-Season Mark
A quarter of the way through the season, there are a sampling of bench players who are outplaying their starting counterparts and should have cracked the starting lineup by now.
In compiling this list, substantial consideration was give to include in terms of players like Kevin Martin of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs and Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers.
These are clearly "sixth man" players who have a defined role as leading the team off the bench. While they are technically bench players, they play starter minutes and starter roles.
There were two primary considerations in the selection: First, were the players outperforming the person starting in front of them? Second, were they filling a larger role off the bench than they would if they started? Those three players easily met the first of those criteria, but not the second.
Essentially, the aforementioned players aren't on the list because it would be giving them too little credit, so don't take it as a slight. Everyone knows they are good enough to start but are coming off the bench for the sake of the team.
They are more than super-subs. They may not be "starters," but they are "finishers," and they are clearly filling a defined role for their respective teams.
Those on this list either haven't had a chance to prove themselves as starters, or would improve the overall quality of the team if they started.
For this article, all statistics are for reserve minutes only and include data up through the games of December 10, according to basketball-reference.com. Starting stats are not included unless otherwise linked.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Andre Drummond has done an outstanding job when given the chance with the Detroit Pistons.
While he's only 26th in minutes played off the bench in the NBA, he's third in rebounds. His .585 field-goal percentage is also the best of any player with at least 100 attempts.
Further evidence is found in the fact that the Pistons are 12.1-points-per-100-possessions better while Drummond is on the court.
Obviously, Drummond has to contend for minutes with fellow teammate Greg Monroe, the current best player on the roster, as well as one of the best centers in the Eastern Conference. The solution, though, could be in moving Monroe to power forward and going with a twin-tower approach.
Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves
Alexey Shved is a remarkable young player who really should be starting for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Eventually, Ricky Rubio is going to come back, and the pair will make for a remarkable duo, as Shved has similar court vision to Rubio. He's averaging 15.4 points and 5.2 assists off the bench for the 'Wolves.
That's about five points and three dimes better than current starter Malcolm Lee. Furthermore, with an opponent's-player-efficiency rating of 10.6, Shved is a vastly superior defensive player to Lee's 22.8.
The only question here is why Shved isn't already starting.
Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks
Larry Sanders has had some enormous games this season off the bench for the Bucks. Among them was only the second triple-double with at least 10 blocks by a reserve in the last 25 years.
Sanders is not a great scorer, but he's a monstrous shot blocker, averaging 4.6 blocks per 36 minutes. He's also the Bucks' best rebounder, hauling in 11.6 missed shots per 36. He could be Milwaukee's answer to Serge Ibaka (although Ibaka is a much better scorer).
Defensively, he makes the Bucks a different team, as they yield a whopping 16.2 fewer points per 100 possessions when he's on the court.
It's little wonder that Sanders has just started to crack the starting lineup, gaining the start in his last three games. The Bucks need to keep him there.
Ramon Sessions, Charlotte Bobcats
With 431 combined points, rebounds and assists, Ramon Sessions has more production off the bench than any player in the NBA.
One would intuitively think that Kemba Walker is the obvious reason he isn't starting. After all, Sessions has played point guard most of his life, and the only Bobcat more productive than Sessions has been Walker, who is the Bobcats' starting point guard
However, Sessions has been more productive as a shooting guard this year, and a better defender as well.
His PER is three points better at the 2-guard, and his opponent's PER is 5.6 better.
Furthermore, while Walker is on the court without Sessions, the Bobcats are 6.5-points-per-36-minutes worse than their opponents. When Sessions is on sans-Walker, the Bobcats are 9.8-points worse.
However, when Sessions and Walker are on the court together they play nearly even with their competition, a mere 0.6-points worse. Granted that's slightly below average, but for Charlotte it's amazing.
When you take into consideration that, based on winning percentage, last year's team was the worst in NBA history, this is a dramatic improvement.
Carl Landry, Golden State Warriors
Only four players have scored more points off the bench than Carl Landry, and none have grabbed more rebounds. Landry is arguably the most unheralded candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year in the NBA.
The only problem is that David Lee is starting in front of him, and Lee is also having a magnificent season. However, Lee has also played 34 percent of the Warriors minutes at center this season, so it's not like he would be playing in unfamiliar territory if he were to move.
Nor is it like Festus Ezeli, who is averaging three points and four rebounds a game, is tearing up the league in the starting slot at center.
The icing on the proverbial cake here is that the Warriors are 6.1-points better per 36 minutes when both Lee and Landry are on the court, compared to just .2 points with only Lee, or a minus-8.1 with only Landry. The duo also combine for the Warriors second best pairing in terms of plus/minus at a plus-53 on the year.
The Warriors should move Ezeli to the bench and let Landry start for now. The conundrum of what to do when Andrew Bogut comes back is one that most teams would salivate over.
JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets
JaVale McGee provides an interesting conundrum for the Denver Nuggets.
On the one hand, he is, on a per-minute basis, easily the most productive player on the team. His PER is 23.6, which is 4.5-points better than any other Nugget.
On the other hand, when the Nuggets put him in the starting lineup, the team inexplicably suffers—a lot. When McGee plays with the other four starters, the Nuggets have been outscored by 43.5 points per 100 possessions.
Like I said, a lot.
Even so, one has to conclude that ultimately you're better off with your five best players on the court, and this is a matter of working things out. McGee has been relatively bonehead free this year (relatively), and the Nuggets should brunt the storm of integrating him in with the starters. Ultimately, they'll be better for having done so.
J.R. Smith, New York Knicks
The New York Knicks had plenty of doubters entering this season, present company included. To a reasonable basketball fan, those doubts have been quieted, and a big part of the reason why is the prolific scoring of J.R. Smith.
Smith leads all reserve players with 656 minutes, is 11th in rebounds off the bench, 10th in assists and fourth in scoring. He's also third in steals and 24th in blocks.
Furthermore, when Smith plays with the other four starters, the Knicks are a plus-18.3 points per 100 possessions, which is 4.4-points better than when Kidd is playing with the starters.
Beyond that, he's a natural shooting guard, whereas Kidd is a natural point guard, and evidence shows that especially on defense, Kidd is not as productive in the shooting-guard role.
In fact, what is surprising is that Smith, long a defensive liability, yields just a 10.7 OPER when playing the 2-guard compared to Kidd's 14.4.
On both sides of the ball, Smith makes for a better 2-guard. The Knicks should be just starting him and having Kidd come off the bench.