Every NBA season is a grueling undertaking, with 4000 minutes of action before the playoffs even begin.
In order to survive and generate balance throughout the winter and into the spring, a contending squad must have a dynamic, dependable bench.
To find the top five reserve units in the Association, we did more than tab the highest-scoring groups or biggest names. We based our power rankings on how effective these teams are per possession on both ends of the floor, and we also accounted for shooting efficiency and defensive contributions.
Which squads are versatile and explosive enough to crack our exclusive list?
5. Phoenix Suns
Key Reserves: T.J. Warren, Alex Len, Mirza Teletovic, Jon Leuer
Key Stat: Bench leads the league in three-point shooting (43 percent)
It’s not the most airtight defensive unit, but Jeff Hornacek’s bench is one of the highest-scoring outfits in the league.
Four of its top seven scorers are reserves, a claim that few teams can make. The reinforcement onslaught is led by sophomore T.J. Warren and Bosnian shooter Mirza Teletovic.
Warren was a gifted weapon as soon as he stepped into the Association, and he’s only polished his repertoire since then. He’s a top-tier slasher, cutter and close-range scorer, and his three-point jumper has improved drastically from last year (from 24 percent to 37 percent). Meanwhile, Teletovic has drilled 44 percent of his triples, a huge reason why Phoenix’s bench leads the league in three-point shooting.
The Suns also have a pair of high-impact bigs relieving Tyson Chandler. Alex Len has made steady progress in every major category the past two-plus seasons, and his scoring touch and rebounding effectiveness have both noticeably improved this season. And although Jon Leuer has made some starts in favor of Markieff Morris, he’s delivered some seamless production off the bench throughout the season.
4. Charlotte Hornets
Key Reserves: Jeremy Lamb, Jeremy Lin, Cody Zeller, Spencer Hawes
Key Stat: Five different reserves with an offensive rating of 109-plus
It looks like Charlotte pushed all the right buttons in its effort to reshape the bench this offseason.
The Hornets brought in veteran playmaker Jeremy Lin, wing scorer Jeremy Lamb and two stretch bigs in Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky. This new quartet has transitioned smoothly to their new home in Buzz City, joining forces with Cody Zeller to form a formidable and versatile reserve unit.
They’re not all explosive athletes, and none of them are known as outstanding defenders. But they’re collaborating fluidly on offense while effectively implementing Steve Clifford’s defense. Lin and Lamb aren’t shooting torridly from long range, but both are creating dynamically for themselves and teammates.
In the frontcourt, Zeller has exhibited continued progress on defense while churning out the Hornets’ highest offensive rating of 115 (minimum 10 minutes per game). His deep post production is complemented by Hawes and Kaminsky, who space the floor with silky smooth range.
Lin and Zeller have made a couple of starts recently, but their predominating roles off the bench help boost Charlotte to this top-five ranking.
3. Chicago Bulls
Key Reserves: Joakim Noah, Doug McDermott, Taj Gibson/Nikola Mirotic
Key Stat: Four bench players have 105-plus offensive rating, five have defensive rating at or below 102
Fred Hoiberg has tinkered with the lineup and rotation during the first quarter of the season, so forwards like Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson have switched between starting and relieving. Nevertheless, Chicago’s bench has almost always shown up ready to defend and work for high-percentage shots.
While Joakim Noah’s offense has been unsightly for much of this season, his new place as a backup has galvanized the second unit’s defense. His activity, footwork and tenacity have helped cover for some of his teammate’s shortcomings, and he leads all Bulls reserves with a defensive rating of 93.
The bruising frontcourt work of Noah and Gibson is complemented by a strong perimeter scoring attack. Doug McDermott, E’twaun Moore and Kirk Hinrich are all shooting better than 40 percent from long range, and consequently the Bulls’ bench has the second-highest three-point percentage in the league at 41 percent.
This isn’t an electrifying group by any means, but they’re polished pros who hunt for good shots and exert themselves on defense. They’ve picked up the slack magnificently when the starting five (see: Derrick Rose) wavers.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Key Reserves: Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, David West, Boris Diaw
Key Stat: Bench has a combined 10.1 win shares already
Everyone is busy enjoying Kawhi Leonard’s dominant emergence to stardom this season, and for good reason. But if you can spare a few seconds, soak up the brilliance that is San Antonio’s veteran bench.
Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili are the savvy backcourt orchestrators that reignite the Spurs’ offense when Tony Parker and Co. are resting. Ginobili’s per-36 minute numbers are absurd: 19.7 points, 5.8 assists, 1.8 steals on 47 percent shooting.
Mix in Mills’ creativity and shooting, along with the interior decorating of David West and Boris Diaw, and it’s no wonder San Antonio’s bench leads the league in field-goal percentage (48 percent). When Gregg Popovich’s backups enter the game, the Spurs offense and ball movement rarely skips a beat, which is why the bench can routinely put up 40-plus points per night.
Is San Antonio’s outside-inside reserve talent potent enough to outsell the likes of Golden State’s bench in the postseason? That’s hard to say, but they’re certainly capable of helping buoy the starters to within an arm’s reach of the Finals.
1. Golden State Warriors
Key Reserves: Andre Iguodala, Festus Ezeli, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa
Key Stat: Top five reserves average 114.6 offensive rating, 102.8 defensive rating (+11.8)
With a commitment to defense, ball movement and quality field goals, Golden State’s bench does a magnificent job keeping the Warriors’ ruthless machine humming.
Andre Iguodala is one of the most versatile sixth men you’ll find in the history of the game, and this season he continues to be a stout stopper and exemplary offensive catalyst. He’s scoring, rebounding and dropping dimes while shooting 40 percent from three-land.
The Dubs’ reinforcements go far beyond guys like Iggy, Festus Ezeli and Shaun Livingston. Less-heralded wings like Ian Clark and Brandon Rush have provided scorching bursts from the perimeter, and they’re both shooting better than 40 percent from distance.
Sean Deveney of the Sporting News notes that it’s this deep cast of efficient contributors that boosts Golden State from “contender” to “potentially historic”:
It’s in the deeper part of the rotation, the kind of guys who fill in the small cracks. Those guys are the difference between a great but mortal team with a few scattered losses, and the already legendary juggernaut the Warriors have become.
If the Dubs are to match or exceed the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ 72-10 record en route to a title, Stephen Curry and the lead dogs will need consistent relief from their loaded bench.