Last night, Denver ran away from L.A. in the Staples Center because they dominated at points in the second and late in the third quarter. George Karl trusts his bench, almost too much in fact. His goal this year might be to coach this team like its intramurals. That’s just speculation, but with the way he hands out minutes, 11 guys all average double figures, we wouldn’t be surprised. Having a decent bench is always important, but it’s never been stressed like this. Five games in six nights will leave your team playing more up and down than a seesaw if the second unit can’t hoop.
The myth about being deep is it’ll help in the playoffs. Wrong. Teams win in the playoffs because they have the best players, and the best closers. Rotations shorten in the second season, and as the defense tightens, eighth and ninth men suddenly can’t make shots. But in the regular season? In a condensed season? The difference between a No. 3 seed and a No. 8 (especially in the West) will be a good bench.
We’ve already rated the 10 best Sixth Men. Now, here are the five deepest teams in the league.
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5. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
The fifth-most effective bench lineup, at least statistically, the Bucks don’t have a known commodity off the pine. There’s no Jamal Crawford here, or even a Leandro Barbosa. But this is one of the few teams that rolls with a team of 10 starters and gets away with it. Part of that is due to injuries for a number of their best players, but nine players on the roster have actually started at least six times this year. Mike Dunleavy (10.7 points) and Shaun Livingston (best A/T ratio among the team’s regulars) are silently having effective years. There’s also Ersan Ilyasova (7.4 rebounds per game) and Drew Gooden. Gooden’s currently starting but the former Jayhawk came off the bench for most of the year, and HE’S BALLING: 18 points, 7.8 rebounds on 57 percent shooting in his last five games.
With Stephen Jackson struggling, he’s come off the bench in the past five games, which only adds more fuel. Of course, Jack has been so bad this year (9.6 PER, 36 percent shooting) that maybe this isn’t a good thing.
4. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Their near comeback against Dallas last weekend was all the evidence I needed for this. 51 consecutive bench points. Honestly, that might be the most eyeball-popping stat I’ve seen this entire year. Of course, the Spurs’ bench is helped by the confidence Gregg Popovich gives them. No one has a firmer leash. I remember talking to Chris Webber at the start of the year about Rick Adelman, and he specifically said the former Kings’ coach will give guys the rope to either play aggressively or hang themselves. Pop is the same way, and with superstars who aren’t ego driven, he can ride a hot hand.
Whereas Ginobili once anchored this unit, it’s now a mashup of role players. Gary Neal isn’t a household name outside of NBA diehards, but he’s already been key in four or five close games. Tiago Splitter is quietly averaging 9.2 points and 5.5 rebounds. Danny Green, Matt Bonner and T.J. Ford have all played roles as well. And for now, Kawhi Leonard is starting to make up for Manu’s absence. Once the Spurs are at full-strength, the rook will move back to make the bench even deeper. Naturally, this bench takes and makes the second-most amount of treys in the NBA, the shot that’s become San Antonio’s calling card.