As important as the starting five is when it comes to winning NBA games, the impact of the bench cannot be overlooked. Without the bench contributing significantly, it is nearly impossible to go on and win an NBA title.
Even last season, when the Toronto Raptors were crowned champions, a big part of their glory was due to their much superior bench. The Golden State Warriors had no answer to Fred Van Vleet and Serge Ibaka off the Raptors' bench, and their substitutes struggled to even score in double figures.
Most importantly, a responsible bench takes some pressure off of the starters and allows them to play with much more freedom. Also, in any given game, the superior of the two teams' benches often influence the outcome of the said game. Coaches often try to take advantage of physical mismatches when the two benches are in play, and it gives the trailing team a great chance to barge back into the game.
5 NBA players who could have a massive impact off the bench
As always, the bench units, led by the team's 6th man, will play a huge role once the NBA resumes on the 31st of July, in Orlando. Let's have a look at five such players whose inputs off the bench will be critical to their team's potential success.
#5 Alex Caruso (Los Angeles Lakers)
Alex Caruso's importance to the Los Angeles Lakers' title bid increased manifold when Rajon Rondo fractured his right thumb, ruling himself out for 6-8 weeks. Rondo brought a lot to the table - incredible playmaking, leadership, championship experience - the list goes on.
Caruso, on the other hand, is a very different player. He is nowhere near Rondo when it comes to ball-handling and passing. To be frank, he possesses a skill-set nowhere close to Rondo's.
However, his desire to contribute is something one can't quantify. He gives everything in his tank when he's on the court. He hits open shots, can create for himself and is an underrated passer as well. Caruso plays defense earnestly and can attack the rim willingly. He has a very decent culmination of a number of qualities.
The Lakers will hope he can up his 35% shooting from 3-point range to the 48% he was shooting last season. Caruso himself will be raring to go, now that he will get the chance he was looking for all season.
#4 Goran Dragic (Miami Heat)
Even at 33, Goran Dragic remains one of the most consistent scorers in the NBA. After enduring an injury-ravaged 2018-19 season, Dragic is back to his very best, posting a solid 16/3/5 with a 52.6% effective field goal percentage.
Dragic is on par with Bam Adebayo as the Heat's second scoring option behind Jimmy Butler. He's also their second-best playmaker, alongside Adebayo and behind Butler. Most importantly, he is the leader of one of the best benches in the NBA.
Under the coaching of Erik Spoelstra and the leadership of Jimmy Butler, the Heat will field a number of very young players in the playoffs, to go with some NBA veterans. In such a situation, it is vital that the experienced players guide the rookies and the sophomores in what will be their first post-season.
Dragic is the star of a bench unit that includes some vastly talented players like Andre Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Herro, and Jae Crowder. That in itself is huge praise aimed at the Slovenian, whose performances will majorly impact how deep the Heat go into the post-season.
#3 Hassan Whiteside (Portland Trail Blazers)
Whiteside may not be actively chasing a ring this season, as the Blazers are 9th and out of the playoff spots as we speak. Having said that, Whiteside is a starting-caliber center who will likely be demoted to a 6th man since regular starter Jusuf Nurkic is back from a long-term injury. With that, Whiteside will automatically become one of the best 6th men in the NBA.
The former Miami Heat is one of the best rim protectors in the NBA, and statistically the best shot-blocker in the league this season with over 3 a game. He's also scoring over 16 points and grabbing over 14 boards a game while shooting an impressive 62% from the field. While those numbers are certainly going to take a hit once he is dropped to the bench, his impact will still be gargantuan.
Portland will try everything in their power to make yet another post-season, and Whiteside will be crucial to their chances of qualifying. It will be virtually impossible for other teams' bench centers to counter Whiteside's ability, and coach Terry Stotts will definitely try to exploit that. A free agent this summer, Whiteside would love to show his future suitors that he can lead a bench unit just as well as he can dominate the paint as a starter.
#2 Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers)
It is uncanny for a 6'7" man to opt to play center, let alone do it so well. Montrezl Harrell's lack of height for a 5 seems to create zero troubles for him, at least offensively, as he's had his best scoring season so far. Harrell put up over 18 points from off the Clippers' bench while grabbing 7 boards and blocking 1 shot per game.
He's the second-best scorer behind Lou Williams on the Clippers' bench and fourth-best overall. He also leads the team in blocks per game. His array of moves while attacking the rim makes him one of the most difficult-to-guard centers in the NBA, and he holds his own defensively as well. Although his lack of vertical certainly restricts him from shutting down some of the NBA's elite centers, he does better than one could expect from a man of his height.
Together with Williams, Landry Shamet, JaMychal Green, and Reggie Jackson, Montrezl Harrell forms what is probably the NBA's best bench currently. To be such a consistent scorer despite playing with so many offensively gifted teammates even in the bench unit is no mean feat. If the Clippers are to win the NBA title, Harrell would have to be at his usual best.
#1 Dennis Schroder (Oklahoma City Thunder)
The favorite to win the NBA's 6th Man of the Year award, Dennis Schroder is having the best season of his 7-year-old NBA career thus far. The 26-year-old German is scoring 19 points per game to go with 4 assists. He's also shooting the ball more efficiently than ever before. Most importantly, he's finally putting up numbers that are turning to wins, having posted 'empty' stats with the Atlanta Hawks for a couple of seasons before moving to OKC.
Schroder is one of three Thunder players to score 19+ a game, alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. Under the leadership of legendary point guard Chris Paul, the Oklahoma City Thunder have focused heavily on team basketball, instead of running their offense through any dedicated 'first-option'.
Schroder has thrived under these circumstances as he's getting the ball a lot more than he did when Russell Westbrook and Paul George were in town. He has repaid coach Billy Donovan's faith on him by being a very dependable scorer off the bench.
More often than not, opposition teams have failed to find a solution to contain Schroeder without overplaying their starters. As a result, OKC has often steered clear of the opponent when the bench units go up against each other.
Schroder's boost at shooting from beyond the arc has been timely, as his 38% is only behind Danilo Gallinari's 40% in the entire OKC roster. They wouldn't be as good as they are without the German's outside scoring, since there is a scarcity of sharpshooters in their roster.
Heavily deserving of the 6th Man of the Year award, Schroeder will look forward to replicating his regular-season production in the NBA playoffs as well.
Published 13 Jul 2020, 22:30 IST