“We got to get off this load management crap. Latrell Sprewell averaged 42 minutes for a season.”
That’s New York Knicks head coach David Fizdale, defending his choice to play rookie RJ Barrett deep into a blow-out loss. Barrett is among the league leaders in minutes, averaging around 37 per contest.
The merits of load management are worth discussing, but at the end of the day, an NBA team’s starting unit can only do so much. Even with Barrett playing 37 mins per game, that leaves 11 more minutes needed at the point guard position - almost a full quarter of gameplay.
In the 82-game marathon that is the NBA regular season, a competent bench unit is a critical tool. This insulates against stagnation, injury, cold-streaks, and many other problems that can undermine a starting five.
Let’s find out who has the best bench unit in the NBA:
San Antonio Spurs
Last year marked the 22nd straight season the San Antonio Spurs qualified for the NBA playoffs. With a Western Conference as crowded as ever, though, that streak may be in danger this year. Counting the Spurs out, though, is always a fool’s errand.
Though San Antonio lacks modern basketball weaponry, the team is deep and versatile. Championship-caliber veterans can’t be overlooked, underscored by Patty Mills’ recent 32-point outing against the Warriors. He, Marco Belinelli, DeMarre Carroll, and Rudy Gay anchor a seasoned crop of reserves.
At the time of this writing, San Antonio’s bench unit is third in the NBA in both points and net rating. The Spurs reserves also rebound and share the ball at a high-rate, while shooting the ball at an effective clip.
San Antonio doesn’t have the firepower to truly contend this season. But come hell or high water, the Spurs will be a tough out all season long, thanks in large part to its phenomenal bench.
Los Angeles Clippers
Like the Spurs, the Clippers bench features veteran, professional role players. Lou Williams and his 20.3 points per game underscore the kind of firepower Los Angeles has coming off the bench. The Clippers’ reserve currently lead all bench units in three point percentage.
It was largely on the back of some of its grizzled veterans that LAC was able to snag a spot in the postseason last spring. Head coach Doc Rivers deserves credit here too.
The Clips, though, have needed heroics from newcomer Kawhi Leonard this season. This will likely persist until Paul George returns from injury. All the same, LA’s tremendous bench gives the team important, tide-turning flexibility.
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Credit where credit is due, the Mavericks bench has been the real deal so far during this NBA season. Fifth in scoring and first in overall net rating, Dallas’ reserves have been a huge part of the team’s early success.
In a recent victory against the Nuggets, nine Mavs players scored in double-figures. This was only the second time in franchise history and the first since 1986 that this has happened.
Importantly, Dallas’ bench unit is in the top-10 in terms of turnovers committed, despite logging the most playing time per game.
Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle has been impressed with the poise and flexibility his team has shown. Twelve different players are averaging north of ten minutes of game-time.
“Having flexibility is always something that sounds great and simple,” Carlisle said. “But you’re dealing with human beings with feelings and emotions. We have great guys who are doing a great job with it.”
The expectations for the Washington Wizards are tepid at best, but the team’s bench clearly didn’t get the memo.
Second in points per game. Third in field goal percent. Third in three point percent. Fourth in assist rate. Fourth in net rating. The Wizards reserves are balling.
Davis Bertans and Mortiz Wagner in particular have led the charge. Thrust into a starting role, Isaiah Thomas deserves a fair bit of praise for his high-level of play, too.
The Wizards are unlikely to be real players in the East. But if their reserves continue to play at such a high level, the team will be a tough out on any given night.