Fans are excited (and rightfully so) about the Washington Wizards' starting rotation this season, but the production the team gets off the bench will be just as important as the performance of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Wall, Beal, Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat are all solid starters, but players like Al Harrington, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and Eric Maynor will be the ones to get them over the 40-win mark and presumably into the playoffs.
If Otto Porter, Jr. is ever able to come back healthy this season, the Wizards will have incredible depth at small forward with Porter, Martell Webster and Glen Rice, Jr.
In the frontcourt, the Wizards will presumably have Nene, Seraphin, Jan Vesely and Booker to rotate in at center and power forward as well (assuming health isn't an issue).
But without looking too far into the 2013-14 season, it's important to see how the Wizards bench performed last season, and in the 2013 preseason.
In order to accurately see what kind of production the Wizards need out of their bench, it's important to look at the bench's play in the second half of last season, when the team most closely resembled their roster this year.
The Wizards were ninth overall in the league last year in points off the bench, out-scoring opposing benches by over four points per game, according to HoopStats.
But in the second half of the season, Wall essentially took over all scoring duties, and the bench struggled.
|Post-All Star stats for Wizards bench players (2012-13)|
Chris Singleton only shot just over 38 percent as a backup small forward, and Ariza (who only started in 15 games) averaged 9.5 points in 26.3 minutes for the season.
In the frontcourt, Vesely led the team in shooting percentage, but only managed to score just over two points per game. Seraphin (who only started eight games) did score over nine points in 21.8 minutes but only picked up a little over four rebounds per game.
When A.J. Price and Garrett Temple were forced to start in place of John Wall during the first part of the season, neither were able to score enough to keep Washington in games.
So far this season, the bench has been fairly disappointing. In the Wizards' first game of the season against the Detroit Pistons, the bench scored just 23 total points.
The newly acquired Harrington played just over 18 minutes, but finished with a plus/minus of -6, only attempting one three-pointer, and missing it.
In the preseason, backup point guard Eric Maynor played in six games, playing about 20 minutes per game, only averaging four points and 4.5 assists, while Webster (who seems to be the backup small forward at this point) shot 33 percent from the floor in six preseason games, according to RealGM.
Knowing what bench players have struggled with in the past 10 months, the Wizards should do these three things off the bench to improve their chances of making the playoffs.
What to do in the future
Eric Maynor has shown so far this year that he is a fairly weak shooter. He is much better at distributing the ball than he is shooting, so the Wizards should focus on his ability to put up assists rather than points.
On the second line, having Maynor on the floor with Martell Webster and Al Harrington, the Wizards can play some quality small ball, with Maynor leading the offense and Webster and Harrington patrolling the perimeter.
There's no doubt that Maynor isn't afraid to put up some shots when he has to. But he is at his best when he's not the No. 1 scoring option, and he can drive to the basket while dishing the ball to the outside.
A career 39.9-percent shooter, Maynor will often take shots before passing, as he did a few times against the Pistons Wednesday night.
Harrington played exceptionally well in the preseason, averaging 11.4 points in 16.6 minutes, according to RealGM.
Having Maynor, Webster and Harrington running pick-and-pop plays, running up and down the floor, would allow the Wizards to put up some points when Wall isn't on the floor.
In the frontcourt, the Wizards should find some complementary players to have on the floor together to maximize their depth.
If Nene and Gortat are the starters at the four and five, good pairings off the bench would be Seraphin and Vesely, along with Booker and Harrington.
Seraphin is a poor defensive player, but he is able to score from mid-range, shooting 46 percent between 16 and 23 feet, according to Hoopdata.
Seraphin could play center, while Vesely blocks up the middle and plays defense. The other pairing is similar, in that Harrington could play around the perimeter, while Booker can play the low post.
At the small forward position, Webster looks to be the best bench player Washington has.
In Friday night's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Webster came off the bench, playing 26 minutes and scoring 13 points, making three of his seven attempted three-pointers.
However, Webster isn't likely to get crunch-time minutes. Ariza is a significantly better defensive player, so Webster's role is best served at this point as a second rotation player who can score from the perimeter.
Against the Sixers, Webster finished with a plus/minus of -13, while Ariza finished with a +1.
When (and if) Porter comes back, he will also add some shooting depth to the small forward position.
With his exception length, Porter could be a better defensive option than Webster, and he showed in college he can shoot from mid range while developing a solid three-point shot.
The Wizards are serious about making the playoffs this season. But in order to do that, they'll have to beat out the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons, two teams who will compete for likely the last two or three seeds in the East.
Washington's starting five can hang with any team in the East outside of the top four or five teams, and the play of the bench will really set the team apart from the rest of the pack.
Cleveland strengthened its bench in the offseason by drafting power forward Anthony Bennett, and signing point guard Jarrett Jack to play behind Kyrie Irving.
The Pistons strengthened their bench as well, adding veteran Chauncey Billups and drafting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
At this point in the season, Detroit still seems to have strongest bench. Bringing back Billups adds a strong leadership presence to the roster, while KCP is already averaging 11 points per game.
However, Washington's bench is more promising than Cleveland's. Kyrie Irving has had injury issues in the past, so Jack may be forced to start double-digit games this season.
Andrew Bynum, Cleveland's big signing in the offseason, is also a proven liability with his injuries, and the rest of its bench falls off after shooting guard C.J. Miles.
The starting five for the Wizards is impressive, but if the bench can improve over last year and from the preseason, the Wizards will be a significantly better team than last year.