The National Basketball Association is all about superstars with gaudy statistics. It’s the reason why players with the craziest stats are paid the most money. Though it is often said how important a team dynamic is, casual fans can’t name more than a few players on the squad that they claim is their favorite. But oftentimes, the most important players on a basketball team comes off the bench.
Old school hoop fans will recall that Kevin McHale, a Hall of Fame power forward, did much of his damage off the bench for the Boston Celtics throughout much of his career. This season, much of the commentary has been about the incredible scoring feats of Stephan Curry, the faster overall pace of the game, and the wobbling nature of the Cleveland Cavaliers. But bench play is the single best predictor of post season success. This is further solidified when examining the bench of the last three NBA Championship teams.
The Golden State Warriors (2016), The San Antonio Spurs (2015) and the Miami Heat (2014) each enjoyed the luxury of having deep benches full of players who could be used in a variety of ways to cover up for the deficiencies of the starting units. Last season, the Golden State Warriors appeared to be vulnerable to skilled wing players who can score. This hole appeared ripe for exploitation by LeBron James in the NBA Finals before Andre Igoudala answered the challenge when inserted into the starting lineup. The San Antonio Spurs employed a myriad of players in a number of creative ways to cover up vulnerabilities due to age, attrition and stamina during their title run.
Yes, a great starting five is a key piece to a championship but so is having bench players who are willing and able to step up when there is a need to. It is to that end that we take a look at some of the best bench players in the NBA.
PG Corey Joseph is averaging a career-high 9 points per game backing up All-Star Kyle Lowery at the point guard position. A bigger than average point guard, Joseph can get to the rim on most defenders and has worked on his outside shot as well. A great insurance policy to have in a league that is dominated by point guard play.
SG Allen Crabbe seemingly came out of nowhere to average 10.7 points per game. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard is a big guard who can score in a variety of ways. Sometimes he is inserted into the lineup alongside PG Damien Lillard and SG C.J. McCollum to form a lethal three-guard offense up in Portland.
For opponents, C Enes Kanter is hard to look at. Heck, he might be a painful eye-sore to some fans as well. He’s slow and robotic at times, but he’s highly effective in the post. Kanter is averaging 12 points and 7.5 rebounds in 20 minutes a game off the bench. Those numbers are incredible considering his limited playing time.
SG Jamal Crawford might not ever be elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame, but man-o-man is he always exciting to watch. That off the dribble pull up jump shot never gets old. It’s hard to believe he has been doing his thing in the NBA for 15 years! Crawford is currently averaging 14.1 points per game at 35-years-old.
Another aspect of being a good bench player is being able to push the starters for playing time. If you’re not good enough to start over the guy ahead of you then at least be good enough to make him sweat. That’s what’s been going on all season between PG Dennis Schroder of the Atlanta Hawks and starting PG Jeff Teague. Schroder can do everything Teague can do except shoot consistently from behind the arc, and he has gotten better at that over his three-year career. A lockdown defender who is big on effort and slithers to the basket with ease, he’s averaging 11.1 points per game in 20 minutes of action.