The Most Overlooked Part of the NBA

Last night enlightened me on one of the key concepts of the NBA, which is the value of a bench.

I recently wrote about which teams in the NBA have the best benches, statistically speaking.  Shockingly, the Milwaukee Bucks were the big winners, coming away as the number one bench in the NBA.  This was surprising as the Bucks are a .500 team that don’t have any star players coming off the bench, such as Manu Ginoboli or Jamal Crawford.  However, they are a strong offensive and defensive supporting unit, and that well-rounded approach to the backup players is the reason why this Bucks club is in the playoff picture in the East.

However, it still seemed a little tough to believe that the Bucks had the best bench without a little game evidence to support it.

Then came their game against the Miami Heat, in which Milwaukee won 109-102.

When I first looked at the box score, I had a reaction that I am sure most sports fans have had, where I wondered how in the hell Milwaukee actually won this game.

Mario Chalmers had 21 and 8 assists, Wade scored 12 points in 19 minutes shooting an efficient 5 for 9 from the floor, and Chris Bosh led the game with 26 points.  In fact, the Miami Heat starters shot 55.17% from the floor, 50% from three, had 29 rebounds, 16 assists, and totaled 89 points in 161 combined minutes.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks’ starting lineup scored 55 points on 51% shooting.  They gathered in 17 boards and 12 assists in a total of 139 minutes.  The Bucks didn’t have a single player score more than 17 points in the game.  Just looking at the box score, you become a little puzzled as to how the Heat lost this game by seven.

Then, you look at the benches.  The Bucks’ bench contributed 54 points on 59% shooting, 17 rebounds, and 13 assists in only 101 minutes of action.

That is some fantastic production from a bench unit, but let’s remember why they are the best bench in the NBA.  Being a good bench is more than just putting up solid offensive numbers.  They need to be dominant defensively.

The Heat’s bench truly failed them.  They shot 35.29%, 1 for 8 from long range, added 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and a pedestrian 13 points.  For a combined 77 minutes of action, those are some awful numbers.  The Heat’s bench wasn’t able to provide anything for Miami all night, which is the sole reason for the end result of the game.

This game was the perfect example as to why the NBA is such a phenomenal league.

The Heat have the star players on their roster.  They also had their stars play very well, putting up impressive statistical performances.  However, the Heat’s roster did not perform at the same level, which is the reason why this team fell to a roster full of role players and no name starters.

The league is built around star players.  Great teams become great when they have a couple of exceptional players performing up to their talent levels.  However, there is a change coming over the league which is opening up room for teams to build a strong roster, devoid of superstar talents, and compete for championships.

The Spurs laid the groundwork for this strategy last year and the Hawks are proving that it can be replicated.  The Bucks are still a few years away from being as competitive as either of those teams, but this game is proof that they are going about building their roster the proper way.  They are adding quality depth throughout their roster while still gaining players with superstar potential.

This game is a microcosm of a much bigger conceptual idea.  The idea that there is no greater statistic in the NBA than bench productivity.  A strong bench is the difference between a good team and a great team.  It is the difference between a fan base celebrating a championship or complaining about how their stars were overworked throughout the regular season.

A strong bench is the difference in today’s NBA. 

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