5 Benches That Could Hold Back NBA Playoff Contenders

What makes San Antonio so frustrating for opponents and fun to watch for us, the fans, is the parallel personnel magic GM R.C. Buford and coach Gregg Popovich seem to always have working. It’s twofold: The Spurs’ core of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili still play as if they were men 10 years younger, while a rotating cast of reserves and spot starters keep the team’s unbroken chain of success alive. So well that even Sunday night’s win over Minnesota didn’t hit a bump when Manu Ginobili left the game with an injured hamstring that could keep him out two weeks. The Spurs’ reserves will suffer, to be sure, with the former Sixth Man’s absence but it won’t hinder the team’s playoff chances or viability as an NBA contender. San Antonio’s bench was already one of the best in the league by several measurements by Hoopsstats.com. Not all teams are so lucky. Here are a few contenders whose benches aren’t helping their case, whether it’s to just get to the playoffs or go deeper than the first couple rounds.

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Stephen Curry is a man who should not be crossed, averaging 21.9 points per game in the last 10 games, third-best among NBA point guards. The success spreads to the Warriors’ whole backcourt, which is in the NBA’s top five in efficiency and scoring per 40 minutes. The continued injury-rehab cycle of Andrew Bogut has thrown the Warriors’ bench into a mess, however, forcing rookie Festus Ezeli to start 31 games and leaving the reserves just undersized Carl Landry to fill the role of a big man unafraid to play strong down low (Andris Biedrins is not that player).

Landry is a bright spot, grabbing 6.5 boards per game on a reserves unit that collects the most defensive rebounds per 48 minutes and holds its opponents to one of the lowest averages, as well. Still the Warriors give up the fourth-most points per 48 minutes, with 19.1 and outside of Landry and Jarrett Jack, few options exist for the Warriors to choose from if they want offense from their reserves. One positive is that although the W’s are third-worst in shooting three-pointers, their reserves realize it and curb their attempts from deep, shooting the fewest per 40 minutes of any bench.

Four of Indiana’s regular starters (David West, George Hill, Paul George, Roy Hibbert) make both the Pacers’ offense and defense better when they play according to 82games.com’s plug-minus finder. It’s almost a clean sweep, too, among the team’s top five minutes getters: Lance Stephenson‘s defense is just 1.6 points per 100 possessions worse when he plays. All overall have a positive effect on Indiana, which has allowed the Pacers to stay near the top of the defensive rankings the past month and reel off marquee wins in the last two weeks.

But no one in the next five for minutes played — that would be Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Green, D.J. Augustin, Ian Mahimi and Sam Young — affects the Pacers’ offense and defense positively in both offense and defense when they play. Green and Augustin are the only players who can say they help when they’re on the court, and even in those cases their defense is barely one point per 100 possessions better. The point is their benefits are slim while some have big negatives attached to their game — the Pacers score 16.4 points more per 100 when Mahinmi is squarely on the bench, for one.

Just as Indiana’s top five can’t score, neither can its bench (it’s third-worst here), what with the second-worst shooting percentage of just over 38 percent. And that’s fine because as hard as it can be to watch, Indiana’s has absolutely stuffed opponents on defense recently. The bench can’t say that, allowing opponents’ reserves to score more, have more assists, rebound better and shoot better from the field, three and free-throw line all season. The reserves have to hold the line for Indiana and generally have. What is troubling, however, is that even small advantages for opponents are much more pronounced when the entire Pacers roster has trouble scoring to keep up.