Why the Los Angeles Lakers' Bench Play Is a Concern for the Rest of the NBA

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Why the Los Angeles Lakers' Bench Play Is a Concern for the Rest of the NBA
Shannon Brown and Steve Blake

In the aftermath of the Los Angeles Lakers' playoff success last year, NBA analysts took note of the superior play of starters Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher.

And while the starting five had one of the highest plus/minus ratings in the league, the team’s bench mostly underachieved last year. Oftentimes those players would squander substantial leads built by the starters.

This year the Lakers have come back stronger by essentially replacing Jordan Farmar, Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga with Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff.

The team’s second-round draft picks of Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter were among the top performers in Summer League play.

In addition, Shannon Brown worked hard on his game over the summer, determined to become a better all-around player and be known for more than just highlight-reel dunks. 

What looks good on paper doesn’t always translate to on-court success (just look at the cross-town Los Angeles Clippers, for instance). But to the concern of the rest of the league, LA’s bench is actually performing rather well this season thus far.

For instance, last year the Lakers bench was outscored 25.3 ppg to 30.4 ppg and out-rebounded 11.9 rpg to 13.8 rpg. The reserves shot .427 from the field and .342 from three-point territory, while allowing opposing reserve units to shoot a .446 field goal percentage.

Although the team has played just four games so far, the reserves are noticeably better. Led by the “killer Bs” of Blake, Barnes and Brown, the bench has outscored opposing reserves 33.0 ppg to 31.8 ppg and has out-rebounded them by 15.3 rpg to 14.5 rpg.

While only shooting .413 from the field as a unit, the Lakers reserves have also shot .515 from three-point territory while holding opposing units to .412 field goal shooting and .174 three-point shooting.

Not only are the reserves defending quite well, but they have also enlarged leads built by the starters. They have done this mostly by a hunger to win, Steve Blake’s ability to stay within the offense, Brown’s improved overall shooting and Barnes’ hustle.

Some highlight performances include Steve Blake’s game-winning three-pointer against the Rockets on opening night, as well as Matt Barnes’ virtuoso performance of 16 points and 14 rebounds (including nine offensive rebounds) against the Memphis Grizzlies last night.

The improved bench play is crucial for the Lakers team as a whole because it has allowed the starters—especially Kobe Bryant, who is recovering from offseason knee surgery—to rest more down the stretch. This is especially important for Bryant as he will likely once again be the top shooting guard in the NBA.

What is even more striking is that Lamar Odom, who is one of the best sixth men in the NBA, will be joining the reserves once Andrew Bynum returns from his offseason surgery in about a month. In other words, the bench may actually play at an even higher level.

Over the first four games of the season, Kobe Bryant has played only 31 minutes per game. This type of rest is one of the best ways for the team to stay healthy, because injuries may be the biggest factor in preventing Los Angeles from winning a third consecutive championship.

By helping to keep the starters healthy and well-rested, the dominant play of the Los Angeles Lakers bench is definitely a reason for the other 29 teams in the league to be concerned.

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