Mavs & Bulls: Best Benches in the NBA
Winning is a difficult task in the NBA. Some teams can boast star power while oOthers rely on high-level depth. Regardless of style, at some point over a 48-minute game each and every team is going to need bench support.
Through the postseason the Dallas Mavericks proved to have the best overall team while getting a tremendous boost from Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and even Peja Stojakovic in stretches. When Caron Butler went down with injury, the Mavericks had a deep enough bench to start a player like Shawn Marion for 26 games (and all of the playoffs).
The Los Angeles Lakers may have had the league’s Sixth Man of the Year in Lamar Odom but, as they saw their three-peat hopes dashed, L.A. just didn’t have enough true depth.
Looking ahead to the unknown, with no Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), an unclear start-date for the league and a mess of free agents yet to find homes . . . which team can boast the best NBA bench for the upcoming season?
Dallas Mavericks *
Free agency would be the only reason to discount the Mavericks. Returning Tyson Chandler is a must. He’s the defensive-minded, hard-working center Dirk Nowitzki has always needed to play with. Brendan Haywood is under contract for the next five years at $45 million (although the last year isn’t fully guaranteed). Roughly $9 million a season is too much for what he does for Dallas and if there’s an amnesty clause worked into the new CBA, he could end up a casualty. If so, the Mavs will certainly need a reserve in his place but Chandler and Haywood is a rock-solid pairing.
With Jason Kidd, Nowitzki and Chandler, the team next has to decide on the fate of small forward Butler. Do they keep him and if so as starter? Caron with Marion off the bench would help the Mavericks maintain their hopes to repeat.
Another crucial question is that of combo guard J.J. Barea, who proved to be a powerhouse through the postseason. His quickness and ever-improving outside shot complemented the slower-footed Kidd so well that he eventually moved into the starting lineup in the NBA Finals (in place of DeShawn Stevenson)
Dallas added Rudy Fernandez via trade around the draft but Rudy may be more of a Stevenson replacement. Fernandez may be better suited as a starter given his height (6’6″) since Barea barely hits his listed 6’0″.
As long as the team can stay relatively healthy, the lineup of Kidd, Jason Terry, Barea, Fernandez, Butler, Marion, Nowitzki, Chandler and Haywood makes a very, very powerful nine.
Additionally the team has Rodrigue Beaubois who, once he gets his legs fully healthy, has the potential to be another quick scorer. Corey Brewer has potential as a defender off the bench. Ian Mahinmi even found ways to contribute when called on in the postseason.
The Mavericks would be wise to bring back Brian Cardinal whose non-stop effort and general ruggedness added a different flavor through the postseason. Add in Dominique Jones and possibly Stojakovic (at the minimum) and Dallas will have everything they need to compete for a championship.
Nothing is guaranteed (including the season itself) but the Mavericks’ bench was a major reason why they won the title and why they may very well win it again.
* But what if they don’t bring back Chandler, Barea and Butler?
Chicago Bulls: Best Bench under Contract
Free agency tends to take some odd turns. If a hard cap is indeed instituted, the Mavericks may have to watch their spending. It’s also impossible to predict which teams bolster their roster once the lockout does end with a key signing or two.
Uncertainty aside, the Bulls have the top bench in the league currently under contract.
Chicago starts the current regular season MVP at the point in Derrick Rose along with Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Keith Bogans.
The team’s best reserve is Taj Gibson, a capable power forward who would start on any number of teams. Omer Asik is a solid, developing big. When the team was looking around for a starting shooting guard last season (via trade), the requests were for Gibson or Asik and the Bulls instead opted to keep their power tandem.
Both Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver are small forwards but both can fill in at shooting guard as needed. Korver isn’t a guy capable of putting the ball on the floor but he’s one of the best long-ranger shooters in the league. Brewer is a strong defender and while he’s hardly a marksman, he always seems to shoot a high percentage from the field (48.0% through the playoffs).
C.J. Watson struggled in his first year with the Bulls, especially with his shot, but he’s a quick, feisty point guard who found ways to contribute. The team also added on guards Jannero Pargo and John Lucas III late in the season, both on non-guaranteed contracts for 2011/12.
Draft pick Nikola Mirotic (23rd) is expected to play overseas for at least a year or two, but the Bulls will also add on guard/forward Jimmy Butler (30th).
Given how thin the benches are around the league, especially with so many free agents in limbo, Chicago’s crew is the most solid across the board.
The Portland Trail Blazers have the potential to be a very deep team.
The biggest issue is the health of Brandon Roy who went from being an All-Star to a reserve because of chronic knee problems. If he can return to form, the Blazers will be a force in the Western Conference. Portland also has a strong reserve guard/forward off the bench in Nicolas Batum who can defend and hit the three.
If the team keeps Greg Oden (restricted free agent) and he recovers from his own knee injuries, the Blazers have a solid three-man bench . . . plus with players like Luke Babbitt, Elliot Williams, Nolan Smith, Patrick Mills (restricted), Armon Johnson, Chris Johnson and Earl Barron to work in.
The Atlanta Hawks have a decent bench if they keep Jamal Crawford, at least in the backcourt with Kirk Hinrich if Jeff Teague takes over as starter. Other than Zaza Pachulia, the Hawks need to bolster their bench’s size in the frontcourt.
The Detroit Pistons should have a good bench with players like a backcourt of Brandon Knight, Ben Gordon, Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey (if the restricted free agent is re-signed). Rip Hamilton may end up off the roster but that’s five very capable players for two positions.
Charlie Villanueva and Jason Maxiell should contribute more than they do. In fact the entire Detroit team should have been much better than what they’ve shown the past couple of years.
The Memphis Grizzlies, if they retain Marc Gasol, have a nice, deep roster. Darrell Arthur is an underrated, athletic big.
Between Sam Young, O.J. Mayo and Tony Allen, the Grizzlies have three solid players at two-guard. If Shane Battier returns as well, the team should be able to pick up where they left off last postseason . . . especially with Rudy Gay back to health (shoulder).
The Milwaukee Bucks aren’t bad with Drew Gooden, Beno Udrih, Shaun Livingston, Keyon Dooling and Larry Sanders off the bench.
If Ricky Rubio can make a quick transition to the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves would have a pair of capable point guards (with Luke Ridnour). In addition to Kevin Love and possibly Darko Milicic as starters, the Wolves have Michael Beasley, rookie Derrick Williams, Nikola Pekovic, Anthony Tolliver, Brad Miller and Anthony Randolph in the power positions.
Wesley Johnson may need to play two-guard if Beasley is the three. The Wolves would then have Martell Webster and Wayne Ellington in reserve.
The pieces may or may not fit together. They certainly didn’t last year (pre-Williams) but then new Head Coach Rick Adelman may be able to get the most out of what may be one of the league’s deeper benches.
Finally, the Oklahoma City Thunder are among the best with James Harden, Eric Maynor, Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed and rookie Reggie Jackson.
Some teams that were left off the list will undoubtedly improve via free agency, even if that means just keeping their own.
Regardless, the odds are high that Dallas will bring back enough talent to once again be able to boast the deepest bench in the league . . .