The New York Knicks’ bench is staking a claim as the best in the NBA, thanks mostly to Amar’e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith, backups who could easily start on most other teams. Even in the loss to the Washington Wizards, these two combined for 32 points (one-third the team’s total), eight boards and three blocks in 63 minutes.
The more Stoudemire plays, the more the Knicks win. He’s played over 20 minutes in the last 11 games now and during that stretch has averaged 17 points and 5.5 rebounds, and New York has gone 8-3, bolstering its hold on the No. 2 seed.
J.R. Smith routinely plays 35 minutes or more, necessarily spelling Jason Kidd—who is looking older by the second—and a struggling Iman Shumpert. Smith is averaging 13.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals over those same 11 games.
If Amar’e comes off the bench for the remainder of the season, both he and J.R. will be vying for the Sixth Man of the Year award, and the Knicks will have one of the more formidable second lines in the NBA.
But is it the best?
“I feel like we’ve got the best bench in basketball.” Tyson Chandler told the New York Post. “I really feel like when it comes down to it, people will see it come playoffs and down the stretch. Our bench is very deep, especially putting Amar’e in the lineup. I don’t think there’s any better than that.”
Over the whole season, the Knicks’ bench is averaging 39.4 points (5th best in the NBA), has the most three-pointers made and a well-rounded second-best defensive efficiency rating.
However, they are 18th in rebounding and 12th in overall efficiency. This last bit seems to burst the “best bench” bubble.
But if you look at the bench’s performance over the last 10 games (minus the Wizards matchup), which coincide with Stoudemire’s increased minutes, the statistical improvement is remarkable.
Suddenly the Knicks’ bench averages a league-best 44.5 points a game, 15.4 rebounds (7th) and are the third most efficient around.
As of now though, the reality is there are still better benches out there. By the end of the season, perhaps New York can claim the best bench crown. Not yet, for a couple of reasons
Too often, half the bench is either unavailable to play or deemed not part of Coach Woodson’s game-night plan. If you check out the Wizards game’s box score, Woodson kept Kurt Thomas, Chris Copeland, Ronnie Brewer and James White out.
On top of that, Rasheed Wallace, a surprising critical piece of the Knicks’ early-season success, has been injured since mid-December. Marcus Camby just can’t stay healthy either, out the last month himself.
Brewer had been fantastic subbing at the No. 3 with Stoudemire out. If only he could mirror that performance from the pine. It’s not happening.
Copeland and White have shown some ability but are not getting the minutes to make any impact of note
Oh yeah, the now easily-forgettable Steve Novak is down in every offensive category this year over last and plays no defense to make up for it.
Stoudemire and Smith can’t carry the bench alone. Novak needs to start hitting those threes again and expand his game a little. The Knicks need Camby to return to his role as Chandler’s primary backup. Woodson should give Copeland and White some more opportunity. Brewer needs to get his head back in the game.
And most importantly, Wallace has to bring back his early-season form and intensity. Who wouldn't love to see a Wallace technical foul now?
Even at full strength the Knicks’ bench will need to up its all-around game to contend with the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks. Those are the three best benches in the league right now.
The Mavericks’ bench is third in points, second in rebounds, third in steals and third in efficiency. The Spurs’ bench has similar rankings and is the best disher by a full two assists.
But it’s the L.A. Clippers who in the end will likely be cited as having 2012-13’s best backups. They are dominant and, as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann aptly puts, could be a starting team of its own.
“The Clips have a full, five-man bench unit that’s one of the best lineups in the league. In 243 minutes with Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf on the floor, L.A. is a plus-14.5 per 100 possessions.”
The Clippers’ bench is top three in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, efficiency and defensive efficiency.
And the Knicks, too. Their bench isn’t at the top yet, but it could be by the end of the season.
All Stats accurate as of Feb. 6, 2013. Stats courtesy basketball-reference.com, nba.com and hoopsstats.com.