Pivot Points: Is The L.A. Lakers' Bench Overrated?
The reserves have failed to live up to their "bench mob" moniker, and have instead been one of the weakest parts of the defending champion's team.
In two out of the first three games the bench has been responsible for blowing double-digit leads, and forcing coach Phil Jackson to re-insert his starters on short rest.
In last night's win over the Atlanta Hawks, the Lakers held a 20 point lead in the fourth quarter. Within a six minute span, the reserves allowed that lead to be whittled to eight before Jackson recalled the cavalry.
Honestly, I can't understand why so many people have fallen in love with the bench in the first place. Everyone from the media to the fans have been singing the praises of the Laker bench, and it's largely undeserved.
In reality the bench is deep, but it's filled with mostly unremarkable players that are talented, but don't excel in any particular areas. Well, that's not entirely, true because they are very good at some things.
One of them is not being able to produce points when needed. The bench consists mainly of Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton, D.J. Mbenga, and Sasha Vujacic, and that group is responsible for a whopping 17 points per game.
How can a bench be considered elite if it can't even get you 20 points in a game between five players? Out of that group, only Brown and Walton are hitting any shots with consistency, while Farmar and Vujacic remain prone to horrible shot selection.
While Walton is steady, Farmar and Vujacic seem to have regressed, with Sasha barely able to find many minutes at all. It seems the self-proclaimed "machine", has fallen out of favor with Jackson.
Who can blame him? Sasha hasn't been the same since signing that contract extension, displaying a shot with perfect mechanics and very little results. It seems he can't buy a basket these days.
Another thing the bench does extremely well is allowing opponents the opportunity to get back into games. The opener against the Clippers was bad enough, but last night was absolutely horrific.
The Lakers had largely redeemed themselves from a poor defensive effort against Dallas by suffocating the turnover prone Hawks. When the starters went to the bench, it was safe to assume their evening was over right?
Wrong. The bench came in and immediately started firing jumpers, and allowing the Hawks unimpeded trips to the rim. Hawks reserve and rookie, Jeff Teague virtually outplayed the entire Laker bench by himself.
Jackson was forced to call on Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum to put the Hawks away. With the exception of Shannon Brown, the laker bench was once again ineffective.
All is not lost though, because the return of Pau Gasol will relegate Odom to the bench, and immediately upgrade their production. Brown's play has been a hidden gem, as he has been the only reserve to command playing time.
It should also be noted that the idea of a "second team", is largely superficial, because most teams leave a starter or two in the game with the reserves to provide cohesion, and to preserve continuity.
For the Laker bench, this not a death-knell, and there is plenty of time to correct whatever ailments there may be. Glancing around at the rest of the NBA elite makes you wonder though.
Every probable contender gets very valuable minutes from their reserves besides the Lakers. Most of the teams even have benches that are capable of closing out games, or even better yet, maintaining advantages that starters have incurred.
The Lakers have the talent on their roster to make this NBA season as successful as the last, but at some point they are going to need a significant contribution from their reserves.
The question remains, will the reserves eventually be able to live up to their lofty expectations, or is the Laker bench we have seen the first three games a harbinger of things to come?
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