10 NBA Players Who Should Move to the Bench ASAP
The NBA's 82-game schedule is more than a marathon.
It's also an endless process of evolution.
Teams change. Players change. Coaches change.
Starting lineups change, too, though not always as quickly as they should. Let's speed up the process then and spotlight 10 current starters who should be switched to the second unit for statistical reasons or disconnected timelines between themselves and their teams.
Deni Avdija, Washington Wizards
If the Wizards were simply playing for the future, then it would make sense to let Avdija loose and live with his growing pains. Of course, if that were the case, they would have never forked over a quarter-billion dollars to Bradley Beal this summer nor surrounded him with pricey, win-now support players like Kristaps Porziņģis or Kyle Kuzma.
Since Washington has designs on winning sooner than later, it should limit Avdija's exposure or hand over his starting spot to a more consistent contributor.
Avdija occasionally intrigues with his defensive versatility and playmaking, but he doesn't make a major impact on either front. He doesn't crack the top 100 in Defensive RAPTOR metric (tied for 119th), and his assist-to-turnover ratio is less than two-to-one (2.6 and 1.4 per game, respectively).
If Washington wants defense and playmaking, it could turn to Delon Wright once he's ready to return from injury. If it wants spacing, then Corey Kispert can get the nod. If the Wizards simply seek more scoring, it could promote Rui Hachimura or even Will Barton, who's had a rough go so far this season but has a long track record as a fiery scorer and shooter.
Patrick Beverley, Los Angeles Lakers
Does Beverley have some dirt on Lakers coach Darvin Ham that the rest of us don't know about? Or is L.A. so desperate for defense that it feels Beverley's play on that end overshadows his myriad issues on offense?
That's hard to tell from the outside looking in, but we do know this: If the campaign closed today, Beverley would be just the ninth player in the three-point era (which dates back to 1979-80) to log at least 500 minutes while shooting below 30 percent from the field.
He's shooting a grotesque 29.8 percent overall and has misfired on all but 23.4 percent of his long-range looks. Despite nearly tripling his 0.9 turnovers with 2.6 assists, his shooting woes are so destructive that he's tied for 245th among 251 players in Offensive RAPTOR.
L.A. doesn't have to live with Beverley's shortcomings. Not when Austin Reaves looms as such an obvious replacement.
Mike Conley, Utah Jazz
The deeper the Jazz probe into this season, the closer they appear to the rebuilder we all expected to see when they jettisoned Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Bojan Bogdanović this summer.
Since opening the season 10-3, Utah has stumbled to a 5-11 mark over the last month. It ranks 21st in net rating over this stretch and would be in even worse shape if not for a miracle comeback against the Golden State Warriors last week.
Maybe none of the above nudges the front office even further toward a teardown, but it should serve as a clear reminder that the franchise's future outweighs the present in importance several times over.
Even before this recent swoon, the Jazz clearly knew Conley wasn't a long-term keeper. He is 35 years old and has only a partial guarantee on his 2023-24 salary, per Spotrac. His days in Salt Lake City are almost assuredly numbered.
So, why not clear his starting spot for Collin Sexton, who is nursing a hamstring strain—and not just as a way of easing Conley back into the fold after a knee injury but as a permanent (and literal) changing of the guards?
The Jazz are pot-committed to Sexton by way of the four-year, $70.1 million deal he inked this offseason. Now is as good a time as any to determine what type of return the franchise should expect on that investment.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Dallas Mavericks
Conjure up a mental picture of the ideal backcourt mate for Luka Dončić. What would that player bring to the hardwood? A reliable outside jumper, an ability to impact the offensive end without dominating the basketball and gobs of defensive versatility, right?
Well, how many of those boxes does Dinwiddie check? Here's a hint: It rhymes with zero.
He's hitting threes (41 percent) at a decent volume (6.4 attempts) so far, but his career 33 percent conversion rate says it's only a matter of time before regression gets the best of him.
Splitting up Dončić and Dinwiddie—perhaps by swapping in the ascending Josh Green—could be a boon for both Dallas' first five and its reserve unit. As the spark leader of the second team, Dinwiddie could be an asset.
As an ill-fitting starter, he's a massive liability, ranking in just the sixth percentile in net differential at a whopping minus-15 points per 100 possessions.
Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets
Can a contending club spring Gordon out of Space City already?
There have surely been times in Houston's post-James Harden rebuild where the front office and especially the coaching staff appreciated having Gordon around as the proverbial adult in the room. But, seriously, how much more wisdom does the 33-year-old have left to dispense at this point?
There just can't be much to gain from keeping him in such a prominent role when he's so clearly not part of the long-term plans. He's not merely an every-night starter, by the way; he also happens to be logging his most minutes in four seasons (30.1).
This can't be about building up his trade value. Last season should've taken care of that, as he rebounded from a few rocky, injury-riddled campaigns to shoot 41.2 percent from distance and a career-best 47.5 percent from the field. His shooting has slipped since (44 and 34.7, respectively), but not to the point of seriously worrying any interested contenders.
Given his injury history, this is the perfect time to cover Gordon in bubble wrap and let one of the other young Rockets—Tari Eason and Kenyon Martin Jr. are prime candidates—hasten their take-offs by joining the starting five.
Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
Herro won't want to hear this since he had been angling for a starting spot since last season. The Heat won't want to, either, since they just committed $130 million to the scoring guard before the start of this campaign.
Still, something clearly isn't right in South Beach. Miami was the East's No. 1 seed last season and was a Jimmy Butler triple away from booking its second Finals trip in three years.
Fast-forward to the present, and the Heat are 10th in the conference standings with losses to the Victor Wembanyama-chasing Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs in the last week alone.
This slide can't be solely tied to the summer departure of P.J. Tucker. The Heat don't have any special qualities. The defense is fine (13th in efficiency), the offense is abysmal (24th), and the consistent inconsistency is maddening.
This isn't all on Herro, obviously, and he's essentially been the same player as last season. A touch better on the boards and defense, too. Yet, he's not spectacular as a starter, whereas he was literally the best bench player in the business. Miami's bench, meanwhile, has tumbled from seventh to 27th in net efficiency since making the change.
Herro operates best within an offense that revolves around him, and the Heat can't give him that with Butler and Bam Adebayo on the floor, too. However, they could give him back the keys to the bench group and promote Max Strus, who's helped compile a colossal plus-30.2 net rating over 76 minutes in Herro's place alongside Miami's four other starters.
Mason Plumlee, Charlotte Hornets
Even before LaMelo Ball's ankle injury derailed the Hornets' season, they knew what thing about this team: It needed a new interior presence.
That's why Charlotte has been routinely connected to any and all trade talks involving available bigs. It's why the club spent this summer's 15th overall pick on Mark Williams, a 7'0", 240-pounder out of Duke.
It's also why Plumlee, the Hornets' starting center for this season and last, has passed the point of utility in Buzz City. They wouldn't be shopping for the position if he was their answer, right?
He has some offensive skill, and his numbers aren't terrible (9.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists), but they don't matter. Charlotte isn't going anywhere with or without him. If winning was the aim, though, then it might be worth noting the Hornets have fared 2.4 points better per 100 possessions when he's on the bench.
Since this season is all about talent development, it makes no sense to have Plumlee as a roadblock in the path of Williams and Nick Richards. One or both of those players might have a real future with this franchise. Plumlee obviously doesn't.
D'Angelo Russell, Minnesota Timberwolves
Don't let Russell's recent mini-scoring surge fool you. His ability to get buckets has never been questioned.
Rather, it's his ability to get them consistently and efficiently that's long been the worry. Oh yeah, and the same goes for bringing anything to the table other than scoring and moderately effective table-setting (career 5.6 assists against 2.8 turnovers).
If the Timberwolves are honest with themselves, they can probably admit Russell isn't the answer at point guard. In some ways, they already have.
With their 2022 playoff run on the brink, they benched Russell for the closing stretch of their Game 6 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. They followed that up by not extending his contract this summer, setting him up for unrestricted free agency next offseason.
Either they don't think Russell is the best option at point guard, or they haven't seen enough to call it one way or the other. The numbers, though, say Minnesota can do better.
Russell has one of the league's worst net differentials (minus-11.2, 11th percentile). Meanwhile, his backup, Jordan McLaughlin, ranks among the very best (plus-21.1, 99th percentile) and aces the eye test as well.
"McLaughlin plays at such great pace," Hunter Phillips wrote for Zone Coverage. "He knows when to speed it up, when to slow it down, and how to run an offense in myriad situations. ... McLaughlin's high basketball IQ often leads to low or zero turnover games with a high total in assists."
McLaughlin's cerebral approach and floor general-type traits could help him make sense of this super-sized, awkwardly fitting roster. Russell, meanwhile, could skewer second-team defenses and still potentially play his way into the closing group more often than not.
Lamar Stevens, Cleveland Cavaliers
Remember all those training camp talks about which Cavaliers player would snag the starting small forward spot? Well, nearly two months into the campaign, the debate still isn't settled.
Stevens has been the preferred choice of late, starting the last 11 games in which he suited up. He is, at best, an imperfect solution—perhaps even a placeholder until Dean Wade gets healthy.
Stevens, who didn't even have a rotation role through the first dozen games, is an energizer. He routinely empties his fuel tank on defense, often against the opposition's top perimeter threat. He's not the type to get outworked or outmuscled.
Playing hard only goes so far, though. He can't effort his way into a reliable three-ball, for instance. While Stevens is shooting a career-best 38.5 percent from range so far, he isn't even taking two attempts per game. He was also a 24.4 percent shooter his first two seasons, so don't be shocked if his rate goes into a tailspin at some point.
If he can't stretch out opposing defenses, he probably can't help this starting group on the offensive end. There's no reason to give him touches at the expense of Donovan Mitchell or Darius Garland, and there's only so much room for off-ball cuts when Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley share the frontcourt.
Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls
Life would be so much simpler in the Windy City if Williams was the two-way wrecking ball the Bulls hoped he'd become when drafting him fourth overall in 2020.
If you took away the draft pedigree, though, you might wonder why Chicago keeps trying to shoehorn him into a starting spot.
He lacks consistency, both with his production and his aggressiveness. Even his approach can be hard to follow. Near the end of November, he told reporters, "I'm starting to feel like I have what it takes to be a star and a superstar in this league."
Not even a week later, when a few near-silent outings had cost Williams his starting spot, he said of the demotion, "I kind of expected it."
Williams was only benched for one game, but it might have lasted longer if not for his replacement, Javonte Green, suffering a knee bruise. Williams might be looking over his shoulder already, knowing that any type of prolonged skid could cost him his starting spot.
The Bulls haven't been good in general, but it's been disastrous with Williams on the floor. During his 682 minutes, Chicago has been outscored by 11 points per 100 possessions. Not even the league's most transparent tankers have been that bad.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.