It’s the playoffs. At this point, every team still standing has a solid and effective starting five. Some better than others, obviously, but they’ve all been good enough this year to propel their squads past the grind of the regular season and into the even tougher grind of the postseason. There’s no shortage of homage being paid to the starting units of the playoffs.
But what about the rest of the players who will help guide the course of the title? What about the benches? Those inglorious, unheralded utility men who operate in the constant shadows of their starting counterparts — surely they deserve some recognition, right?
Well we’re here to give it to them, one way or another. Here are the best benches of the NBA playoffs:
5. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks averaged 37.2 points off the bench this year, good for 7th in the league, and their bench players played for an average of 20 minutes per game, which was the 4th highest mark in the NBA. Some might argue those numbers may partly be a case of the starters just not being much better than their backups. Either way, though, it’s still worth celebrating the production of OJ Mayo and the rest of the Bucks bench brigade.
They deserve just as much credit as their teammates for Milwaukee’s unexpected return to the playoffs this season.
4. Toronto Raptors
Led by Sixth Man of the Year Louis Williams with 15.5 points per game, the Toronto bench is a key to the Raptors’ winning ways. They’re a huge reason Toronto was able to enjoy their second straight division-winning campaign. They poured in the 5th most points per game of any bench in the league this season (38.7), and they drained an average of 4.5 threes per contest, which was the most in the NBA.
Not to mention, they had the goddamn Sixth Man of the Year in their ranks. ‘Nuff said.
3. Golden State Warriors
Who would’ve thought that the best team in the league would also have one of the best benches? What a jaw-dropping, head-scratching shocker. I can hardly believe it.
Seriously though, the Golden State bench ranked 3rd in the league in three major categories this year: assists (9.5), blocks (2.1), and steals (3.4). They’re one of the best defensive second units in the game. With a lockdown ace and former All-Star like Andre Iguodala leading the charge, it must make it easier to pull up your shorts and play some hard-nosed D, because these guys do it like it’s going out of style. They do a lot of the dirty work for the generally clean-cut Warriors.
2. Boston Celtics
The Celtics may be a bit of a surprise so high up on this list, but the green and white actually led the league in bench scoring this year at 41.6 points per game. They also led the league in free throws made off the bench with 7.2 per game, in addition to finishing in the top six in numerous other statistical categories, including rebounds (6th), assists (3rd), steals (2nd), and three-pointers made (3rd).
As it was with the Bucks, it may partially be a case of the Celtics bench being nearly as good as their somewhat mediocre starting five, but nevertheless, the contributions of Boston’s bench crew cannot be overlooked. With players like Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk, and Jae Crowder coming off the pine, the Celtics sport a number of reserve players who could easily be starters on other playoff teams.
If they can keep this crew together, the Celtics might be looking at a much higher seed than number seven next season. And if so, their bench will have a whole lot to do with it.
1. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs essentially invented the notion of resting healthy starters in regular season games. And here’s the thing: they kept winning those games.
That’s how good their bench is. I could give you the whole avalanche of statistics to back it up, but I don’t really find it necessary at this point. If you really feel the need to see them, then you’ve probably never seen the Spurs play. But here they all are anyway.