In the NBA, it's not just enough to have a solid starting lineup. The elite teams all get solid performances from their bench. This gives their starters a chance to rest, as well as an opportunity at extending the lead while their best players are watching.
Injuries are another reason teams need a solid bench, as nearly every team will face some significant losses due to injuries throughout the season. Therefore, they need to have someone who can keep their team treading water while they wait for players to get healthy.
When compiling this ranking, two main factors came into consideration. First, individual performance and the name recognition of members of each bench unit was weighed. Second, overall team bench production was taken into account. So, a team could be lacking name recognition or great individual statistics from its bench, but still be ranked highly because its overall production was solid.
Also, feel free to add any suggestions of teams that you think should be included.
(Note: all stats reflect games played through Jan. 1).
The Utah Jazz are without that one star coming off their bench like James Harden was for the Oklahoma City Thunder last season. While they may be lacking that one elite player off their bench, they boast one of the deepest reserve units from top to bottom.
Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter provide two of the best, young big men in the NBA. Favors, still only 21 years old, is averaging 9.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in only 22.1 minutes per game. Kanter averages 6.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in 15.3 minutes per game. He also shoots 54.8 percent from the field.
After starting at the beginning of the season, Gordon Hayward now comes off the bench. He leads the reserves with 13.2 points per game. He also adds in 2.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.
Utah's backcourt is also an embarrassment of riches. Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson are both excellent backup guards. The Jazz also have Raja Bell, who hasn't played yet this season because he couldn't work out a buyout of his contract with his Jazz. Utah seemingly doesn't need him, but it could trade him to add even more depth to its roster.
In JaVale McGee, the Denver Nuggets probably have the NBA's best backup center. McGee is a spark on offense, scoring 10.7 points in 19.2 minutes per game. He's also incredibly efficient, shooting 58.3 percent from the field. On top of that, McGee is a stalwart on defense, blocking 2.0 shots per game and hauling in 5.2 rebounds per contest.
Forward Corey Brewer provides a nice spark off the bench, pacing the Nuggets' reserves at 11.4 points per game.
We can't forget the ageless wonder in Andre Miller. All Miller's done over his 13 NBA seasons is produce, and this year is no different, as he's averaging 8.7 points and 5.6 assists per game.
Denver also has Wilson Chandler, who is expected to return from injury soon, and Evan Fournier, the team's first-round pick from the 2012 draft.
Kevin Martin is the main reason the Oklahoma City Thunder are on this list. Most thought the Thunder's bench production would take a big hit when the team traded James Harden. And while Martin certainly isn't as good as Harden, he's proved to be more than capable of lighting it up.
Martin's 15.6 points per game is fourth among all reserves. K-Mart is also on pace to set a career-high three-point percentage this season, as he's shot 45.4 percent from downtown.
His style of play fits perfectly with the Thunder because Martin doesn't need to handle the ball to be effective; he can simply catch and shoot, or create his own shot with only one or two dribbles.
Eric Maynor, who is averaging 2.3 assists in only 12.5 minutes per game, is a solid backup point guard. OKC also has Nick Collison, who is incredibly effective in his limited action (19.6 minutes per game), scoring 6.0 points, hauling in 4.5 rebounds and shooting 63.1 percent from the field.
Much of the Golden State Warriors' success can be attributed to the incredible play of their bench, most notably Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. Both players have spent considerable parts of their careers as starters, but they've both embraced their new role off the bench.
One thing both of these guys can do is score. Jack averages 12.3 points in 27.7 minutes per game; Landry averages 12.5 points in 25.4 minutes per game. In fact, they rank 11th and 12th, respectively, in points per game among reserves. No other team can boast two players in the top 12.
But it's not just scoring for these two. Jack is an excellent facilitator, averaging 5.1 assists per game. Carl Landry is a solid rebounder, hauling in 6.7 boards per game. Between the two of them, the Warriors have everything they need out of a bench unit.
But Golden State's also got some quality depth in rookie Draymond Green and veteran center Andris Biedrins. Not to mention center Andrew Bogut should return from injury sometime in the future (he's out indefinitely), which should lengthen the bench even more.
It's difficult to quantify the Spurs' placement on this list.
Outside of Manu Ginobili, they don't have any elite reserves. Furthermore, by looking at individual statistics, there are no reserves that stand out. Almost all of that can be attributed to head coach Gregg Popovich, who employs many different starting lineups, making it difficult for reserves to distinguish themselves statistically.
Of course, the Spurs' bench success as a unit can also largely be attributed to Popovich and his system.
The aforementioned Ginobili is clearly the best reserve the Spurs have. His 12.2 points per game is third on the team; first among reserves. Ginobili's 4.7 assists per game also paces reserves and is second on the team, trailing only starting point guard Tony Parker.
However, the real reason for San Antonio's inclusion can be attributed to overall production, rather than individual players. That shouldn't come as a shock considering it seems to be the M.O. for the Spurs: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The Spurs are second in bench scoring at 31.9 points per game. Their bench also leads the NBA in efficiency, assists and field-goal percentage. Simply put: it just gets things done.
Really, you could flip a coin in deciding between the Spurs bench and the Knicks bench. New York's bench gets the nod because of productivity and because of name recognition.
For one, the Knicks have J.R. Smith absolutely lighting it up off the bench. His 16.5 points per game leads all pure reserves (players who haven't started any games). But it doesn't stop there.
Amar'e Stoudemire just returned from injury and will be coming off the bench. If he embraces the role, he should provide the Knicks a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
New York also has Iman Shumpert, who has yet to play this season due to an injury suffered in the playoffs last season. When he returns he should move into the starting lineup, but his presence will lengthen the bench even more.
Between Steve Novak, Rasheed Wallace and Pablo Prigioni, the Knicks also have three players that would garner playing time on virtually every roster.
The Clippers have big-name players coming off their bench, and they also have the overall unit production to go with it.
Jamal Crawford's 16.3 points per game are third among reserves, and second among pure reserves, trailing only J.R. Smith.
Eric Bledsoe gives the team a valuable backup to Chris Paul, as he averages 8.7 points, 2.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game. He's also posting career highs in field-goal percentage (47.6 percent), three-point percentage (34.5 percent) and free-throw percentage (81 percent).
Matt Barnes is solid as usual, averaging 10.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 25.6 minutes per game.
L.A. also has three veterans in Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill that could provide some help. Billups and Hill haven't provided much because they've been battling injuries, but they should help when they're healthy. Nobody knows exactly what's ailing Odom, but if he gets motivated, he could be a quality reserve.
On top of the name recognition and individual statistics, the Clippers lead the NBA in bench scoring at 42 points per game, they're second in bench efficiency and they lead the NBA in efficiency recap difference, which measures the difference between the Clippers bench and that of their opponent.
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