J.R. Smith congratulates Raymond Felton. The New York Knicks have one of the top benches in the NBA, but it’s not the best. (Keith Allison/Flickr.com)
One of the most important yet forgotten elements for championship teams is the production of bench players. Let’s take a look at the top 10 benches in the NBA as we head towards the home stretch of the NBA season.
1. Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz lead the NBA in bench point differential with 13.1 points. The bench performance for the Jazz is led by power forward Derrick Favors and shooting guard Gordon Hayward. Favors plays behind a starting frontcourt made up of center Al Jefferson and power forward Paul Milsap. However, Favors is more than capable of being a starting power forward on most NBA rosters. The 6’10” power forward leads the team in blocked shots and is averaging 9.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Hayward is the first person off the bench for coach Tyrone Corbin and provides an instant scoring punch, averaging 14.1 points per game, almost three points better than his scoring numbers from last season. The scoring guard could be in the running for the Most Improved Player award if the Jazz can prevent the Los Angeles Lakers from locking up the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Corbin’s faith in his bench places the Jazz bench as No. 3 in NBA in bench minutes at 20.3 minutes per game.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
Any bench that has Jamal Crawford on the roster is going to have one of the best benches in the NBA and the Clippers roster is no exception. Crawford is frequently in the race for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year, winning the award in 2010 while a member of the Atlanta Hawks. This year is no different, with Crawford averaging 16.9 points per game and once again in contention for Sixth Man of the Year honors. Crawford can also create some moments for other players (see video of his alley oop to Blake Griffin below). However, he is not the only player contributing off the bench for the Clippers. Small forward Matt Barnes brings his defensive intensity to the bench unite, while power forward Lamar Odom provides a scoring punch off the bench. Odom started the year off terribly averaging 3.7 points per game. However, after the All-Star break, Odom is averaging 6.7 points per game. Small forward Grant Hill has struggled to adapt to his role off the bench only averaging 3.5 points per game, but having a veteran like Hill coming off the bench can provide a calming presence to the team on the floor.
3. Dallas Mavericks
Dallas leads the NBA in bench scoring with 41.5 points per game and has most efficient bench in the NBA at 47.8. Leading the way for the bench has been shooting guard Vince Carter, who is averaging 13.8 points per game and is shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range. Elton Brand provides a stable post presence off the bench, averaging 7.8 points per game.
4. New York Knicks
It seems to be a neck-and-neck race between Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith and Clippers shooting guard Jamal Crawford for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Smith is averaging 16.7 points per game, but while Smith has been crucial to the Knicks’ success this season, the Knicks wouldn’t have one of the best benches if it did not have other contributors. Usually a starting power forward, Amar’e Stoudemire has been relegated to the bench due to the success of Carmelo Anthony at the power forward spot. After returning from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Jan. 1, Stoudemire has averaged 14.2 points per game, but the added bonus off the bench has been short-lived as Stoudemire underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his right knee and will miss the next six weeks of the season. Adding to the scoring load for the Knicks is small forward Steve Novak, who has been inconsistent this season, but is a capable 3-point shooter at 41.7 percent. Rounding out the bench contributors are veterans Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace.
5. San Antonio Spurs
Gregg Popovich has done it once again. His San Antonio Spurs have the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and a big contributing factor has been the bench. The Spurs lead the NBA in bench assists with 11 per game. Once again, shooting guard Manu Ginobili is the spark off the bench, averaging 12.3 points per game. Backup point guard Gary Neal has also been productive, averaging 9.1 points per game. Small forwardStephen Jackson has struggled offensively this season, averaging 6.3 points per game, but Jackson is still a solid one-on-one defender. Popovich has done a good job of changing up his bench all season. For example, on Thursday, March 14, Neal played 25 minutes and scored 16 points, but in the Spurs’ next game on Saturday, March 16, Neal played only two minutes. This shifting of bench minutes makes opposing coaches unsure which players are going to get playing time on a daily basis.
6. Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets have an explosive bench that keeps the team running even when the starters leave the floor. In his 13th season, point guard Andre Miller continues to be one of–if not the best–backup point guard in the NBA. Miller is No. 2 on the team in assists with 5.4 per game ,while still being able to post up smaller point guards to the tune of 9.1 points per game. Shooting guard Corey Brewer is having the second-best season of his career, averaging 11.3 points per game, and is still an a great defender, averaging 1.3 steals per game. Rounding out the scoring options off the bench is small forward Wilson Chandler who is averaging 11.2 points per game. The anchor for the bench on defense is center Javale McGee, the team’s leading shot blocker averaging 2 blocks per game.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
If James Harden was still a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder then they would be higher on this list. However, the Thunder still have one of the top 10 benches in the NBA due to the efforts of shooting guard Kevin Martin and power forward Nick Collison. Martin is now in the Harden role, coming off the bench averaging 14.3 points per game. Martin gives the Thunder another offensive weapon to deploy at opponents. Collison’s contributions extend beyond the stat sheet, whether it’s tipping a missed shot to a teammate to restart the offense or tracking down a loose ball, Collison’s effort spreads throughout the team.
8. Washington Wizards
The Wizards have one of the most surprising benches in the NBA. Prior to the trade deadline, Jordan Crawford was one of the offensive catalysts for the Wizards. However, since Crawford was dealt to the Boston Celtics, the bulk of the bench scoring has fallen to small forward Trevor Ariza, who is averaging 9.2 points per game, Ariza also provides a defensive presence off the bench. Point guard A.J. Price is a stable replacement for John Wall and is No. 2 on the team in assists with four per game, while chipping in 7.1 points per game. At 6’8″, Trevor Booker is one of the more undersized power forwards in the NBA. However, Booker is capable of being a tenacious rebounder, with his 13 rebound performance against the New Orleans Hornets on Friday, March 15, being his second consecutive game with double-digit rebounds.
9. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors bench is led by Alan Anderson, who is averaging 11.5 points per game. Anderson brings a scoring punch, but can go cold on occasion. Rookie shooting guard Terrence Ross is also capable of putting up explosive numbers, but when Ross and Anderson share the court the players tend to cancel each other out. However, with starting small forward Rudy Gay struggling with back problems, Ross has had his minutes increased and looked good on Friday scoring 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting. In the frontcourt, center Jonas Valanciunas is N0. 2 on the team in blocks with 1.1 per game, while also improving his scoring with 7.1 points per game. Valanciunas will continue to receive more playing time due to an avulsion sprain to starting power forward Andrea Bargnani‘s right elbow that will sideline him for the remainder of the season. Backup point guard John Lucas is an excellent 3-point shooter off bench shooting 42.5 percent.
10. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics have three players that average double-figure scoring off the bench. By acquiring shooting guard Jordan Crawford at the trade deadline, the Celtics have added an explosive, young scorer off the bench that is capable of putting up 2o points on any given night. Crawford is averaging 11.8 points per game and is capable of creating his own shot. Jason Terry is having a down year, but is still averaging 10.4 points per game. However, the biggest surprise has been power forward Jeff Green. Green is averaging 11.2 points per game, but his biggest advantage on the teams has been the added athleticism he brings to an aging Celtics roster.