Let's face it. Nobody wants to come off the bench.
Not that being a bench player is demeaning or anything. It's just that you're not a starter. You're not introduced to a roaring crowd game in and game out, you're not allowed to have a sweet pregame ritual to get the crazed fans even more excited and you're not gonna sell as many jerseys.
Yet, a solid bench is one of the most important benchmarks (no pun intended) of any successful team. Without a cast of able contributors ready to relieve a team's starters, it is nearly impossible for a squad to contend for a championship, no matter how talented their starting cast of characters may be (I'm looking at you, LeBron, Wade and Bosh).
For a well rounded team, bench players cannot assume the role of nervous, hesitant backup quarterback who is ultimately unable to gain his team's trust. Rather, his insertion into the lineup must be either: a) unnoticed, representing the smoothness of the substitution, or b) marked with an exclamation point, as the spark provided by the fresh legs provides an intangible not present amongst any of the starters.
With that, let's take a look at the league's top benches. Some contenders, some aspiring to achieve that title, all of these teams need their benches like a big time Wall Street executive needs his Blackberry.
If the 76ers' abysmal record has helped anything, its been the bench.
Backup PG Lou Williams has had a statistically successful year. His 11.8 PPG and 3.5 APG are not too far removed from starter Jrue Holiday's numbers, despite having played significantly less minutes. Fourth year forward Thaddeus Young and his 11.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG have probably gone unnoticed by everyone not a diehard Sixers fan, but his stats are fairly impressive for a reserve forward nonetheless.
Then of course, we have the Evan Turner situation. Turner has been in and out of the starting lineup (currently on the outs) but expect him to gain more playing time as the season progresses. His 7.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 2.1 APG are not too awful, but he has not exactly met the "franchise saver" expectations placed upon him just yet.
Also present on the same bench that Allen Iverson once refused to sit at are Andres Nocioni and Marreese Speights. Chances are you won't see their names flash across an NBA highlight reel anytime soon, but that doesn't mean they don't fill their roles nicely.
Thinking of the league's better benches, the Sacramento Kings are probably not the first team that comes to mind. Once the initial shock of "really? the Kings?" wears off however, their bench actually doesn't look half bad.
Led by Kentucky standout DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings' bench is one of talent and raw potential. Cousins, who was predicted by some to be a darkhorse Rookie of the Year candidate, has averaged 10.8 PPG and 6.7 APG over the first month of the season. Although Blake Griffin's ferocious, league-wide dunking rampage probably won't allow Cousins to land ROY honors, he has established himself as a future force to be reckoned with.
Backup point guard Beno Udrih, despite some inconsistencies this season, is a wild card who has shown the propensity to explode in the scoring department. Omri Casspi, the NBA's first Israeli-born player, has proven a reliable backup down low, putting up a workman-like 8.7, 3.5 this year.
Although it may be a temporary move, former starting power forward Carl Landry has moved to the bench. Landry, a productive and consistent player, has been a nice compliment to front-court teammate Samuel Dalembert.
The Kingdom may have disappeared, but he didn't bring all his serfs with him.
If you recall, the LeBron James era Cavaliers had a ton of competent players, but virtually no All-Star caliber players. Luckily for the purposes of the bench, competency is often misinterpreted to mean high quality.
The Cavs clearly don't have the best bench out there, but their reserves are arguably amongst the league's top half. The backup team, which consists of Ramon Sessions, Daniel Gibson, Jamario Moon, Antawn Jamison and Ryan Hollins, boasts quite a bit of talent.
Although Jamison's best days are behind him, his 11.6 PPG and 5.9 RPG are hardly pedestrian statistics. Sessions, a new acquisition that feebly tried to repair a minuscule portion of the damage brought about by Black Thursday, has proved his worth as a savvy backup guard with a nose for the basket, his 10.4 PPG is higher than over half of the starting lineup.
Last but not least, we have Daniel "Boobie" Gibson. Once considered to be the Robin to LeBron's Batman, Gibson's playoff explosion a few years ago is all but a distant memory. Gibson however, has been rather impressive with his scoring off the bench averaging 13.5 per contest, second on the team only to Mo Williams.
Unfortunately for the Portland faithful, the bench changes routinely due to the perpetual injury bug. Rest assured however, this crew is still talented.
Rudy Fernandez, Spain's NBA hero to all those who are not members of Iglesia de la Gasol, has been one of the few beacons of consistency for the Blazers in terms of stability. Fernandez's numbers are slightly down from last season, but the Spaniard still has nearly an entire season to up his production.
Frenchman Nicolas Batum, who began the year as a starter, now finds himself replaced in the lineup by Wesley Matthews. Despite the demotion, Batum's 11.6 PPG and 4.0 RPG are not exactly terrible numbers for a role player. With Matthews playing more, it looks like Batum will join the Blazers' bench party for at least the near future.
Trail Blazers' fan favorite Joel Pryzbilla has missed nearly the entire season thus far due to a freak injury, but made his debut yesterday, posting a modest four points and seven rebounds. Pryzbilla, if healthy, could provide a reliable and experienced presence during the second and early fourth quarter lulls.
Granted, there are teams with better records out there. There aren't as many, however, who have as deep a bench as John Kuester's squad.
Many of us are aware that Tracy McGrady joined the Auburn Hills this summer, but he is hardly the most talented player off the pine. Also on this "wow, we would be the best team in the league if this were 2005" cast of characters includes Ben Gordon, who was not anticipated to be a bench player once he joined the Pistons. Gordon has recently joined Detroit's increasingly popular injury parade, but has averaged a considerable 13.1 PPG thus far.
Hard-nosed guard Will Bynum gives the team some added toughness when in the game, and pesky forward Charlie Villaneuva has given opposing teams some headaches this year, some more politically correct than others.
Another contributing bench member is rookie Greg Monroe, the seventh pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Monroe, still adjusting to NBA play, is considered one of the best passing big men in recent memory. Expect the former Hoya's playing time to increase dramatically as the season progresses, as the team will likely enter rebuilding mode at some point or another.
The Mavs may not be on this list if it wasn't for Jason Terry.
Terry, an early favorite for Sixth Man of the Year, is not your run-of-the-mill bench player. The 2009 winner of said award is currently on his usual torrid pace, as his 16.1 PPG and 4.6 APG is a big reason why the Mavs are maintaining their position as a perennial NBA contender. Terry's numbers this season are nearly exactly on par with his career averages, showing that the eleven year veteran is showing no signs of slowing down.
Other members of the Mavs' B-line include feisty guard Jose Bereas, whose rise in both minutes and numbers has come as a pleasant surprise to Mark Cuban and company. The swingman position has been up in the air for the majority of the year, with high-rising DeShawn Stevenson and former all-star Shawn Marion swapping time at the starter spot, although Stevenson has maintained the position for the majority of the year. Both of these players have proved their worth over their successful NBA campaigns and are both considerable assets off the bench.
The last time the Knicks were over .500 this late into the season, Mario's "Let Me Love You" was atop the Billboard charts. For those of you who either don't know or care about Mario and his vocally soothing ways, the date I am referring to is January 4th, 2005.
There is no denying that the additions of Amar'e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, defensive specialist Ronny Turiaf and diamond in the rough Landry Fields (all starters) are partially, if not mostly, responsible for this sudden change of fortune in New York. With that said however, the Knicks would be nowhere near .500 without their consistent, productive and reliable bench.
Although not as deep as the other benches on this list, Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas are arguably two of the league's premier six and seventh men. Chandler, who was a starter last season, has adjusted to his role extremely nicely, and is an early favorite for Sixth Man of the Year. Averaging 31.9 minutes per game, the former DePaul Blue Demon ranks third on the team in both minutes played and points per game (16.8).
In only his second year, Douglas is also proving his worth. The former Florida St. standout has proved to be a reliable spark plug in terms of scoring, averaging 10.5 points per contest in 23.7 minutes per game. If the Knicks are to be successful in D'Antoni's fast paced system, the second year guard will need to keep providing the consistent productivity that has made him a mainstay in the rotation.
Other contributors off the bench include guard-forward Bill Walker, and center Timofey Mozgov. Mozgov, who enjoyed considerable success at the FIBA World Championships this summer, is a developing project who could turn out to be a formidable presence down low in the coming years.
After losing one of the most dominant big men in franchise history, the new look Suns haven't fared as badly as some experts had predicted. At 10-9, the Suns aren't enjoying the success of years past but are definitely still alive in the playoff hunt.
The Suns' bench is anchored by Hakim Warrick, who has adjusted nicely to his new home. Warrick is currently averaging 12.8 PPG and 4.8 rebounds per game, which ranks fourth amongst Alvin Gentry's metamorphic rotation.
Other contributors include agile guard and fiery spark plug Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley and Greek import Josh Childress, whose return to the states should continue to better the Suns' depth at forward. Look for Childress to improve as the season goes on, as it may take some time for Childress to adjust back to the pace of the NBA.
Admittedly, the Rockets have had better seasons. Their bench however, should be placed in the league's upper echelon.
Journeyman Brad Miller, the fiery Chase Budinger and Western Kentucky standout Courtney Lee lead the Rockets B-team, providing some solid backup to nearly all positions. Kyle Lowry, a quick point guard with considerable court vision, will return to the "other" lineup once Aaron Brooks returns from injury, which, as reported by ESPN, should be some time in the next week.
Together these four, along with former Knick Jared Jeffries, make quite an interesting dynamic. Lowry, the able point guard, Lee, a defensive stalwart, Budinger, a developing yet explosive scorer, Jeffries, the consistent role player and Miller, the veteran who still has much game as he does energy, could make a fairly competitive starting squad.
If the Rockets continue to struggle, maybe Coach Rick Adelman should think about doing a little switch-aroo.
For purposes of this list, it's hard not to include the team with the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.
On the basketball court, Jamal Crawford's career motto has been: "shoot first, answer questions second." For the scoring minded Crawford, the Atlanta Hawks have proved to be a great fit. A sixth man who is just as much a part of the family as any of the starters, the former Knick has continued to be instrumental to the Hawks' success, obnoxiously tough division and all.
Other contributing members of the Hawks' reserve squad include Wake Forest standout Jeff Teague, powerhouse forward Josh Powell and the unanimous winner of coolest first name in the league contest, Zaza Pachulia. Teague is likely to usurp Bibby as the starting point guard at some point in time, and Powell and Pachulia are exemplary backup forwards, though their services are not called upon as frequently as they might be on other rosters (When J-Smoove and Al Horford are your starting 4-5 combo, that'll tend to happen).
Rounding out the bench is rookie Jordan Crawford, who you might remember making this ridiculous shot in the NCAA Tournament, or for this dunk on the King (or Queen, whatever your royal preference may be). As demonstrated by both highlights, Crawford is an impact player who, despite receiving limited minutes, has a HUGE upside.
It's common knowledge that the OKC would be nothing without their two star players right? Without Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder would barely beat the Sooners, right?
Despite the ever so important presence of rising star Russell Westbrook and Kevin "everyone's new favorite player" Durant, the Thunder bench is more than able. In fact, they are one of the primary reasons why OKC, today's darlings of the league and apparent antithesis to the evil empire down in Miami, is considered a legitimate championship contender.
The Thunder bench is led by Arizona State standout James Harden, the third pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Harden would likely start for most teams, but comes off the bench for the OKC given the fact that Our Savior himself occupies his position. Harden is a rather versatile player whose talents and hustle work together to create a rather interesting dynamic with his game.
Down low, second year stud Serge Ibaka has proved to be more than an adept backup, establishing himself as a solid contributing force. Through 18 games, Ibaka has averaged 10.9 PPG and 6.9 RPG, whilst averaging borderline starter's minutes (27.7).
Last but not least, speedy guard Eric Maynor's considerable abilities have given coach Scott Brooks a secondary option to Westbrook. In other words, Maynor ensures the team doesn't fall apart when the floor general, Westbrook, is off the court.
The bench also includes rookie and resident behemoth Cole Aldrich, former Kansas star Nick Collison and forward DJ White. Both deep and well rounded, this bench is one of the league's best.
Despite an aging Tim Duncan and Tony Parker's mini Tiger Woods episode, the Spurs find themselves with the league's best record. George Hill, Matt Bonner and the rest of the San Antonio bench are some of the primary culprits of this pleasant surprise.
After a breakout year last season, George Hill has continued to prove his reliability. Averaging 10.1 points per contest, Hill has been a consistent option in the backcourt, helping carry the load on the ball-handling front. The bench also features the young Tiago Splitter, a spunky Brazilian with a lot of uncultivated potential. Matt Bonner adds some razzle dazzle on the shooting front, shooting an astonishingly accurate 56.1 percent from beyond the arc.
The talented bench is completed by Antonio "ol' reliable" McDyess and rookies Gary Neal and James Anderson, two impact players who look well on their way to establishing themselves as NBA mainstays.
One of the more well rounded benches in the league, the Spurs' talented front line has been supplemented nicely with incredible depth.
Loaded with former All-Stars and impact players, there is never rest for the weary when facing the Boston Celtics.
Primarily a three-headed monster--Nate Robinson, Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels have teamed up to create both a well rounded and talented bench that sufficiently serves the needs of Coach Rivers' squad.
With as much spunk as the Energizer Bunny, Robinson is the epitome of an off the bench spark plug. As Orlando Magic fans may remember all to well, the 5'9" point guard has been known to take over games, as his explosion during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals propelled the Celtics to their second NBA Finals appearance in three years.
Glen Davis has established himself as one of the league's better big men, and would likely start on a slew of other teams. Davis, who is averaging a career-best 11.1 PPG this season, has been putting the ball in the basket at a torrent pace as of late.
New addition Marquis Daniels has also added some fuel to the Celtics' fire, proving to be a versatile and able backup to Paul Pierce and Ray "nobody told me i was getting old" Allen.
Also present is former All-Star Jermaine O'Neal. O'Neal has seen better years, but his talents have certainly served Boston well, as it appears likely that the Celtics may clinch the Atlantic Division title tomorrow by virtue of the mercy rule.
If and when Kendrick Perkins returns to the lineup, it is likely that this bench will clear some extra room for a Shaqtus-sized addition.
The "Killer B's" as they are called--Steve Blake, Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes--provide arguably everything a coach could possibly ask for in a bench.
Blake, who has replaced New Jersey Nets' castaway Jordan Farmar, is one of those level-headed players who, regardless of the situation, will always know how to execute. This point guard intangible is not only extremely rare, but is crucial for a backup point guard, as the attribute provides the team with some stability and reassurance that the world is not going to end when Derek Fisher goes to the bench.
Matt Barnes, another new import, has helped out in the shooting front. Averaging just under 10 points per contest, the UCLA alum is shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc, providing a great perimeter outlet for a slashing Kobe or Fisher.
Shannon Brown, the longest tenured member of the Killer B's, is also having the most successful season. The former Spartan is shooting rather well (48.8 percent), averaging 11.0 points per contest. Perhaps more importantly, Brown is, at the moment, lights out from the free throw line. His 92.6 FT percentage is one of the league's best, giving the Lake Show surefire points nearly every time he steps to the line.
Also manning the Laker bench are Derrick Caracter, Luke Walton, Devin Ebanks and Sasha Vujacic, all of whom play their part. Caracter and Ebanks fill the "young, ton of potential, perhaps future of the franchise when Kobe's gone" role, Walton is the knowledgeable veteran who is more there for guidance and leadership than actual playing time, and Vujacic has shottied the "fiery guy who barely plays, but always makes something happens when he's out there" part.
And for that, the Lakers' bench gets two thumbs ways up.
Having the Birdman fly head-first off of your bench is scary enough. Combine that with the electrifying talents of J.R Smith, the razzle-dazzle of Ty Lawson (one of the league's most underrated players, mind you) and the "it still seems like he's just out of high school" stylings of Al Harrington, and you've got yourself arguably the best bench in the league.
Looking at this bench alone, I find it completely baffling that Carmelo Anthony would want to leave Denver. The reserve team alone is tremendous, the starters are even better (obviously) and in terms of pure talent, this team is undoubtedly in the top 10, if not top five.
The Magic boast perhaps the deepest bench in the league. Consider the following players:
Chris Duhon (PG): A starter virtually all of his career, Duhon is one of the league's best game managers. His ability to control the pace and tempo of gameplay is not only rare, but highly coveted. Duhon is thus able to act as an extension of Coach Van Gundy whenever he is on the floor, making the transition between him and starting guard Jameer Nelson a seamless one.
J.J Redick (SG): If you haven't heard by now, he's no longer a bust. Aside from the obnoxiously large horde of superstars who entered the free agent market this summer, Redick was actually one of the more coveted free agents out there, as his 2010 playoff performance indicated that his extraordinarily high basketball IQ combined with his sound fundamentals are a valuable asset for any team. In fact, Redick was about to be headed to the Chicago Bulls until the Magic matched their offer, stipulating that the restricted free agent stay put in Orlando.
With Vince Carter out against the Heat, Redick fulfilled Vinsanity's starting role and them some. The former Duke superstar dropped 20 points and five assists while playing nearly the entire game (43 min), helping the team land a victory against their in state rivals.
Mickael Pietrus (G/F): Pietrus is a rare commodity in the NBA these days, serving as a defensive specialist. If you recall, Pietrus' excellent coverage on LeBron in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals was a major reason the Magic were able to upset the Cavs. Pietrus has also honed his game on the offensive front, averaging a solid 7.5 points per contest in 22.6 MPG.
Brandon Bass (F): Probably the most talented of this bench bunch, Bass has put up some steady numbers this year, as his 9.3 PPG and 5.0 RPG in 20 MPG would likely translate into a double double if he were given starter's minutes.
The bench also consists of big man Marcin Gortat, flash master Jason Williams and swingman Ryan Anderson. Stan Van Gundy's bench, both deep and talented, is a model that nearly all teams in the NBA would like emulate.