HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — After Thursday’s 90-77 win in Minnesota, the Los Angeles Clippers are now 3-0 without MVP candidate Chris Paul.
All three wins have come on the road against good teams, and in none of them have the Clippers required a huge performance from one of their other starters. In fact, Blake Griffin has averaged just 16.3 points in the three wins. Eric Bledsoe, starting in place of Paul, has done a decent job of running the team, but has totaled only 11 assists.
The Clippers won the three games — and won them all comfortably –for the same reason that Paul has been able to sit the entire fourth quarter in nine of the 37 games he’s played in: They have the best bench in basketball.
Here’s all you need to know about the Clippers’ bench and why they’re a much-improved team: Last season, the Clips were outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions when Griffin was on the bench. This year, they’re outscoring their opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the bench.
That’s a 23.3-point turnaround and that’s really what it’s all about. A good bench should build on leads, not lose them. That’s why the Bulls’ bench was so good the last couple of years, even though it didn’t have anybody who could really score. When Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson were on the floor together, the Bulls shut down foes and scored enough to build on the lead the starters gave them.
With that in mind, here are the best benches in the NBA …
The Clips have a full, five-man bench unit that’s one of the best lineups in the league. In 243 minutes with Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf on the floor, L.A. is a plus-14.5 per 100 possessions.
Though Crawford is known for his offense, this is really a defensive unit that has only scored 102.8 points per 100 possessions, just a notch above the league average. But it has allowed only 88.3, making it the second-best defensive unit of the league’s 72 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes.
The question is how Grant Hill fits in. In Hill’s first game back, that unit only played six minutes together. And in the last three games, it hasn’t played together at all, though that may have more to do with Bledsoe starting.
Either way, it would be disappointing if coach Vinny Del Negro broke up such an effective unit. And it really could affect where the Clippers finish in the Western Conference standings.
Though Manu Ginobili has been neither healthy nor sharp, the Spurs’ bench continues to get the job done. It’s just tough to determine where the starters end and where the bench begins, because eight different guys have started at least nine games for San Antonio already. But coach Gregg Popovich‘s ability to mix-and-match lineups will little drop-off is part of what makes the Spurs’ bench so good.
The Spurs don’t have a full bench unit like the Clippers. Their latest starting unit is Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Their most-used lineup that includes at least three other Spurs has only played 38 minutes together, and that lineup includes Parker and Duncan.
This is why we’d rate the Spurs’ bench behind that of the Clippers. But San Antonio is still outscoring its opponents by a solid 5.7 points per 100 possessions with Duncan off the floor. That’s a very good thing.
Last season, the Thunder were a plus-4.7 points per 100 possessions with Kevin Durant off the floor. This season, they’re a minus-3.6, scoring a paltry 98.5. So, yes, they are missing James Harden. But Durant is the only starter they really miss when he goes to the bench, and they still have some strong lineups that include two or three reserves.
Kevin Martin (+257) and Nick Collison (+180) both rank in the top 25 in raw plus-minus this season. But both have played most of their minutes with Durant, who is, by far, the league leader (+407). Fortunately, he’s only 24 years old and doesn’t need to rest much.
Minor injuries here and there have kept the Knicks from having a consistent rotation of late, but they’ve kept a second-unit core of Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith and Steve Novak in tact. And they’re a plus-10.4 points per 100 possessions in 375 minutes with those three on the floor together.
More important, the Knicks have been decent offensively (103.8 points scored per 100 possessions) with Carmelo Anthony on the bench, and decent defensively (100.5 allowed) with Tyson Chandler on the bench.
The Rockets don’t have a true second unit, but they go nine deep and have been very good with some of their reserves on the floor. In fact, Carlos Delfino leads the team in plus-minus (+165). Houston is a plus-11.7 in 236 minutes with Delfino, Toney Douglas and Greg Smith on the floor together, strong both offensively and defensively. But they’re a minus-2.3 with Harden on the bench.
The Nuggets have basically gone eight deep this season. But though they don’t have a true second unit, they have three reserves — Andre Miller, Corey Brewer and JaVale McGee — that coach George Karl has been able to call on for reliable production. The trio is a plus-3.2 points per 100 possessions in 475 minutes together.
Wilson Chandler now gives the Nuggets a fourth reserve and can maybe help the defense from falling off too much when Andre Iguodala rests. Denver has allowed just 100.4 points per 100 possessions with Iguodala in the game and 108.3 with him on the bench.
Asik, Brewer and C.J. Watson are gone, but Gibson is still around, and the Bulls are still ridiculously good defensively when he’s on the floor. They’re a plus-5.8 points per 100 possessions in 306 minutes with Gibson, Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli on the floor together.
But the Bulls do miss Asik. His replacement, Nazr Mohammed, barely plays. And as a result, Joakim Noah is averaging 38.4 minutes per game, after averaging just 30.9 over the previous three seasons. It used to be that coach Tom Thibodeau had to lean on Luol Deng for ridiculously heavy minutes. Now, it’s Deng and Noah.
For the first month of the season, the Nets’ bench carried them. Brooklyn outscored its opponents by 11.3 points per 100 possessions in 159 November minutes with C.J. Watson, Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche on the floor together. Then December came, the Nets hit the skids and coach Avery Johnson got fired.
After shooting 15-for-28 from 3-point range in November, Jerry Stackhouse has shot 9-for-45 from beyond the arc in December and January. Evans, meanwhile, is now a starter. So, coach P.J. Carlesimo has begun to call on MarShon Brooks and Mirza Teletovic for some punch off the bench.
Joe Johnson continues to really anchor the second unit. Overall, the Nets have been better with Johnson and Watson together (+4.8 points per 100 possessions) than with Johnson and Deron Williams (+3.1), though the Johnson-Williams combination has improved of late.