On Wednesday in New Jersey, the Chicago Bulls trailed by seven when Omer Asik entered the game in the first quarter, and by four when Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson checked in a couple of minutes later. When Asik checked out in the second quarter, the Bulls were up four. When Gibson checked out, they were up eight. And when Brewer checked out, they were up seven.
As great as Derrick Rose is, the Bulls’ bench has been absolutely critical to their success.
The Bulls rank 23rd in the league in points per game off the bench, but in Thursday’s StatsCube analysis of Sixth Man Award candidates, I wrote that the Bulls have the best bench in basketball because of how strong their second unit is defensively.
A day later, I’m going to admit that the “best bench” proclamation was made a little hastily — and with a big emphasis on defense. According to NBA.com StatsCube, the two best defensive lineups in the league (with a minimum of 100 minutes on the floor together) are Bulls’ lineups that include Brewer, Gibson and Asik.
But the No. 1 offensive lineup in the league is also a bench unit. The Spurs‘ lineup of George Hill, Gary Neal, Manu Ginobili, Matt Bonner and Antonio McDyess barely meets the 100 minutes requirement, but has been amazingly efficient.
That Spurs lineup edges out the Bulls’ lineup of Rose, Brewer, Luol Deng, Gibson and Asik as the best bench lineup in the league overall. And yes, Ginobili, Rose and Deng are all starters. I’m defining a “bench lineup” as one with at least three players who don’t normally start for their team.
Bench lineups with positive plus-minus
|Team||Lineup||GP||Min.||Off. Eff.||Rank||Def. Eff.||Rank||Diff.||Rank|
|SAS||Hill, Neal, Ginobili, Bonner, McDyess||23||101||129.2||1||93.6||14||35.6||1|
|CHI||Rose, Brewer, Deng, Gibson, Asik||37||126||113.7||25||83.2||2||30.5||3|
|DAL||Barea, Terry, Marion, Nowitzki, Mahinmi||20||102||117.8||10||97.3||28||20.5||9|
|PHI||Williams, Turner, Iguodala, Young, Brand||31||108||108.8||56||92.3||11||16.6||15|
|LAL||Blake, Brown, Bryant, Odom, Gasol||31||108||118.6||8||104.0||67||14.7||18|
|LAL||Blake, Brown, Barnes, Odom, Gasol||36||175||109.4||49||95.5||20||14.0||20|
|OKC||Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Ibaka, Collison||39||130||109.7||47||96.7||26||12.9||26|
|DAL||Barea, Terry, Marion, Nowitzki, Haywood||44||341||113.2||27||102.2||58||11.0||35|
|CHI||Watson, Brewer, Deng, Gibson, Asik||32||111||86.5||132||77.0||1||9.5||40|
|OKC||Maynor, Harden, Green, Ibaka, Collison||25||130||116.3||13||108.6||100||7.7||47|
|LAL||Blake, Brown, Walton, Odom, Gasol||21||127||103.1||91||95.5||21||7.6||49|
|DAL||Maynor, Harden, Durant, Ibaka, Collison||35||106||104.6||83||100.0||44||4.6||65|
Off. Eff. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Eff. = Points allowed per 100 possessions
Rank is among all 133 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes together.
There are a lot of stars mixed in with those lineups, but that’s the way it goes in this league. Lineups comprised of five reserves are rare in this league. The Suns had a very effective one last year, but with all their roster changes, they haven’t been able to capture that same magic.
So even though they’re coming off the bench, it’s critical for bench players to complement their team’s stars and fit the coach’s game plan. The Bulls’ reserves obviously do that. Tom Thibodeau‘s squad ranks just 15th in the league offensively, but is at the top of the Eastern Conference because of its No. 1 defense.
No Miami Heat lineup is listed above, and it’s been said often that a lack of depth is one of Miami’s biggest issues. They rank dead last in the league in bench scoring at 22.2 points per game.
The Heat have five lineups that have played at least 100 minutes together, and they all have a positive plus-minus, but they all include Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Amazingly though, each of Miami’s 15 most-used lineups have a positive plus-minus. That’s a lot of mixing and matching, and it’s all been relatively successful. And though the Heat don’t have any great lineups with at least three bench players, they do have a lot of guys on their roster who have contributed.
Bench players with a positive plus-minus (see notes below):
7: Miami (Chalmers, Jones, Anthony, House, Dampier, Haslem, Howard)
6: Oklahoma City
5: Chicago, Denver, L.A. Lakers, Orlando, Utah
4: San Antonio
3: Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia
2: Charlotte, Golden State, Houston, Memphis
1: Atlanta, Indiana, New Jersey, Portland, Toronto, Washington
0: Cleveland, Detroit, L.A. Clippers, Minnesota, Phoenix, Washington
1. Only players who have played at least 300 minutes and have started less than 50 percent of the games they’ve played in were counted.
2. Players are counted for their current team. For example, Nate Robinson is counted for the Thunder.
So while Miami doesn’t have any reserves who have consistently put points on the board, Erik Spoelstra has managed to find ways to use them effectively.