“A team is only as strong as its weakest link.” – Mark Grey
As important as it is to have stars, a good team needs to have exceptional bench players as well. When substituting in, bench players are expected to pick up the game where the starters left it – in efficiency level, in speed, and in tenacity. Backup players don’t get enough recognition for all the work they do. Some teams wouldn’t be where they are without their bench players.
NBA champions don’t get there just by riding the coattails of their stars.
An impactful bench player makes a remarkable difference with the time he is given on the court (scoring, defense, etc.). The five most impactful bench players in the NBA, judged by the effect they have on their team’s overall performance are Andre Iguodala, Patty Mills, Enes Kanter, Corey Joseph and Jamal Crawford.
It may be surprising to the casual Warriors viewer that Andre Iguodala is a bench player. In times of stress, he’s always on the court. In 2015-16, he played 26.6 minutes per game and averaged 4 rebounds. In the Conference Finals, Iguodala helped the Warriors come back from a 3-1 deficit by holding down the much bigger Kevin Durant. Whether Iguodala starts or comes off the bench, it doesn’t matter. Steve Kerr will call on him to finish the game because of his defense and timely shooting.
Iguodala is ranked 12th among small forwards, according to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus. When the Warriors became champions in 2015, Iguodala became the first Finals MVP who did not start a single game in the regular season. He also was the runner up for the 2015-16 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award.
The Spurs are one of the top teams in the high-speed Western Conference, but they really can’t be described as a fast team. However, when Patty Mills is on the court, he single-handedly picks up the pace of their game. He’s one of the fastest players in the league as well as one of the most energetic. In the 20.5 minutes he plays per game, Mills can be seen hustling at even the slightest opportunity to score. When the opponents are on a fast break, he’s always rushing back on defense to end it. At only 6’0”, he is as capable as any point guard in the NBA. Mills is the 12th ranked PG, according to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, ranking even higher than starter Tony Parker.
Enes Kanter specializes in scoring, which isn’t a common role for centers nowadays. What also sets him apart from most other centers is that he can actually shoot; he shoots 79.7% in free throws and 57.6% in field goals. Against the Timberwolves this past April, Kanter became the first Thunder player to score over 30 points and grab 20 rebounds in a single game. An impressively large portion of Oklahoma City’s points in the playoffs were due to Kanter. In Game 4 of the series against Dallas, Kanter scored 28 points with 92.3% shooting. He outscored teammate Kevin Durant and helped bring the Thunder one game closer to eliminating the Mavericks. His stats reflect those of a starter and yet he only plays 21 minutes a game.
The Toronto Raptors bested their franchise record with 56 wins last season and also made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time. Their ascension in the Eastern Conference is due to a progressive roster change. Chiefly, Joseph, a free agent pickup, contributes to both the offensive and defensive strength of the Raptors. He takes full advantage of pick and roll plays. Although Joseph is a team player, he is capable of playing iso and driving past defenders who are taller. On defense, he hustles for the ball. His versatility is why the Raptors bench is one of the best in the NBA.
Besides the obvious reason for why he’s on this list (he was crowned NBA Sixth Man of the Year three times), Jamal Crawford is the principal shooter for the LA Clippers. He gets so much heat from Clippers fans for constantly “chucking” the ball that it’s hard to take a step back and appreciate the shots that go in. If he was more selective with his shots, then he would have never made 46 four-point plays in his career. Crawford is the type of player who is always ready for a buzzer beater play because he’s virtually practicing for it during each normal play. Scoring 14.2 points off the bench is just one reason the Clippers re-signed him. The other reason is that his ‘recklessness’ makes him a hustler on defense, as well.
photo via llananba