On August 2, 2016 CBS Sports did a ranking of NBA benches, while rankings are hard to do (I have done a few myself), you could never please everyone. But as I went down the list it became clear to me that the writer may have asked his/her son what they thought. I mean for starters the Atlanta Hawks bench that features the awesome firepower of Kris Humphries and Jarrett Jack ranked ahead of the Orlando Magic and a bench that features Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green and D.J. Augustin. Like I said, no rankings are perfect but there are some that scream WTH.
The Pistons bench is ranked over the Nuggets bench, I just can’t anymore. I will give them their respect as a writer and leave it at that but as I scrolled down farther I couldn’t contain my frustration any longer. CBS Sports has the Cavs, Spurs, Raptors Celtics, Warriors and the Jazz ranked ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers. There are teams ahead of Portland I can maybe see as a little competition but let’s be honest here, I mean all the way honest here. The Spurs will throw out Patty Mills and his 9 points per, Ginobili who is one road trip away from retiring, Kyle Anderson and Dewayne Dedmon. I don’t know what they see, but when I see this bench checking into the game I’m thinking 24-0 run. There is no fear.
The Cavs have a so-so bench with Mo Williams, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and Mike Dunleavy but each of those players have an injury history as long as Hillary Clinton’s email list. The Raptors have a pretty formidable bench but Norman and Ross often end up on the wrong side of streaky players, to add to the fact that there’s not a real defender on that second squad. Next up we have the Celtics and their entourage of non- defensive and offensively challenged big men. No way they rank ahead of the Blazers, Ed Davis alone is better than all their players. The Warriors have the experience and versatility and may issue a real threat but their defensive presence in the post took a big hit during the offseason. And the team that’s ahead of everyone has one player with playoff experience and he’s on his last leg. How can you rank the Jazz as the number 1 ranked bench in the NBA? They have improved, but this is still the same bench that couldn’t beat Kobe in his last game to make the postseason and somehow they managed to creep ahead of 29 other teams?
As you can tell from the title my pick for best bench belongs to the Trail Blazers, here are my reasons. As it stands now the Blazers will have a starting lineup of Lillard, McCollum, Turner, Aminu and Plumlee, which will leave Harkless, Napier, Crabbe, Ezeli, Leonard, Davis and Vonleh as their 2nd unit. They may not be household names like Iguodala, Ginobili or West but their production last season helped propel the Blazers to new heights and the playoffs when many left the team for dead. Every team that was placed before them has a weakness, not saying the Blazers don’t but they do have the most complete bench.
Napier can hold the fort down for 10-15 minutes per game for Lillard, he may not be the most prolific bench scorer in the NBA but if he can direct the offense just a little, he has done his job. Crabbe was this close to becoming a Brooklyn Net but management knew his value off the bench and backed up the armored truck to let him now how much he meant to the franchise. Crabbe averaged 10 points in 23 minutes, Davis, 7 points and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes, Leonard, 8 points and 5 rebounds in 22 minutes and Harkless, 6 points and 4 rebounds in 19 minutes. But when it comes to this unit it’s not all about the points scored.
The Blazer have an advantage over the rest of the teams second unit due to their versatility. Where most teams lack either a scorer, facilitator or defender the Blazers have them all. It’s not showing favoritism towards them but facts are facts at the end of the day. Is Ed Davis not worthy of a starting position due to his ability to score, defend and rebound? The Nets proved that Crabbe was worth a $70M contract as he was about to be the main offensive weapon in Brooklyn. Harkless is 22, still learning but give him an additional 5-8 minutes on the floor and he will easily hit double-digits in scoring this season. As for Leonard, he brings a different skill set to the table than most big men. He is a true stretch 4 than can hit the perimeter shot, play defense and rebound. It’s not one thing these guys do great, they do everything good. You have your scorers, your rebounders and your defenders all in one unit.
As the 2016 season approaches many team will be forced to rely on heavy minutes for their starters while the Blazers have the luxury of a balanced attack where they had 8 players that averaged 20+ minutes per game. It’s no coincidence the Blazers were a success story in 2015, while all the praise will go to the starting unit, the starters looked to their bench many nights for that extra boost, that’s what makes a great bench, not name players, or 6th Man of the Year candidates, this is a team effort.
But as my friend Mike Olson, a die-hard Blazers fan from the Facebook group Blazers Nation said to me today “Mark, many of our bench players could be starters on other teams. The Blazers bench are just as hungry and talented as the starters, they have a chip on their shoulders too”. I couldn’t have said it better myself, Mike.