Ranking all 30 NBA bench units: Celtics, Raptors, Clippers boast top reserv
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Gradelo Staff
2 months ago
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NBA bench units may not get the glory, but they can make all the difference. Just ask the Toronto Raptors, whose five-man reserve lineup was among the best — starting or otherwise — in the entire league last season.

We’ve already ranked all the starting lineups for opening night, so with the regular season just days away, it’s a good time to check in with the subs — those less recognized than their teammates who get introduced to fanfare and pyrotechnics, then get to take center-court for the jump ball.

Ranking bench units is tricky. You can’t just look at them as another five-man team, because they’re often playing with at least one starter. Therefore it’s best to evaluate the players on how well they play their role, rather than how good of an overall player they are … if that makes sense. How about an example? Doug McDermott wouldn’t be considered a strong player by most metrics. But if he’s on a team that only needs him to make 3-pointers, nothing else, than he’s actually perfect for his role.

So it’s not as simple as saying, “these five players are better than these five players.” Be sure to keep in mind the players’ roles as you scroll through our ranking of all 30 NBA bench units.

30. Minnesota Timberwolves

Top five bench players 

Granted, the Wolves bench situation will likely change once Jimmy Butler is dealt, but for now it’s not pretty. Derrick Rose will move into the starting lineup without Butler, which depletes an already-starving bench unit. Luckily none of these guys will play much if Tom Thibodeau holds true to form, but they’re going to need rookies Okogie and Bates-Diop to contribute immediately to avoid being a total disaster as a unit.

29. Atlanta Hawks

Top five bench players 

If Dewayne Dedmon’s ankle isn’t ready for opening night, Len — who’s stretched his range out to the 3-point line this preseason — will start in his place. Lin will provide a much-needed veteran leader backing up Trae Young, probably playing alongside him at times. Huerter and Spellman are both unproven shooters, and Anderson is a do-everything energy guy off the bench. Believe it or not, 41-year-old wonder Vince Carter might actually get significant playing time. This is pretty much exactly the type of bench you’d expect from a rebuilding team like the Hawks.

28. Sacramento Kings

Top five bench players 

The Kings could choose to bring Marvin Bagley III off the bench, but at this point Randolph is better suited to a bench role. He’ll stabilize the unit, which lacks playmaking outside of Ferrell. The Kings are hoping Giles will be a nice surprise, while Bjelica will add some much-needed shooting. Mason is a solid backup to De’Aaron Fox, and Justin Jackson is a potential 3-and-D guy, but overall this bench is not impressive.

27. Portland Trail Blazers

Top five bench players 

The Blazers let Pat Connaughton and Shabazz Napier go, replacing them with Curry and Stauskas. Clearly they’re going for more shooting, and Curry proved himself to be a strong offensive player before injuries hit last season — Stauskas … not so much. The biggest loss is rebounder/human ball of energy Ed Davis, who signed with Brooklyn. Replacing him with Leonard just isn’t going to cut it against most teams.

26. New York Knicks

Top five bench players 

The Knicks are going to be bad this season, but their bench isn’t the main reason why. Even if Ntilikina or Mudiay starts, Trey Burke is a strong addition to the New York bench. Lee is a proven vet, while Hezonja still has potential as an athletic playmaker capable of making 3s. Robinson is a rim-running, lob-catching big in the mold of DeAndre Jordan, so his skill set should translate immediately. We can also expect to see a big contribution from Joakim Noah this season … just kidding.

25. Detroit Pistons

Top five bench players 

Smith has been a solid backup for years, while Galloway and Kennard will provide shooting, but this is a pretty weak bench. That could change if Robinson realizes the potential he’s displayed at times during his career, and if Leuer can become an impact player, but we’re not holding our breath.

24. Orlando Magic

Top five bench players 

Isaac will probably end up starting once his legs are under him, which will bring Jonathon Simmons to the bench, probably where he’s more suited to thrive. If Ross can stay healthy he can be an effective heat-check guy off the bench, while Bamba possesses potential as limitless as his off-the-charts wingspan. Grant has starting experience, so he should be able to contribute immediately. Overall it’s not great, but they’re far from the worst in the league.

23. Oklahoma City Thunder

Top five bench players 

Andre Roberson’s injury hurts the starting five, but it also hurts the Thunder’s depth. Assuming Dennis Schroder moves into the starting lineup, that leaves Felton as the primary playmaker off the bench. Grant continues to improve — he may even end up starting — and we’ll see how the Noel reclamation project works out. Abrines can shoot and Ferguson has freakish athleticism, so there’s certainly potential. We’ll just have to see it before we believe it.

22. Memphis Grizzlies

Top five bench players 

Assuming Garrett Temple earns the starting two-guard spot, that pushes Selden and Brooks to the bench unit — not necessarily a bad thing for Memphis. Parsons is one of the biggest question marks in the entire league, as the Grizzlies are desperately hoping he can return to even a shell of his former self. Jackson Jr. is chocked full of potential, and his shooting ability means he might be able to contribute sooner than expected.

21. New Orleans Pelicans

Top five bench players 

The Randle/Nikola Mirotic power forward combo means that one of them will be coming off the bench — at this point it looks like Randle, which probably works to his advantage. He can command the second unit, taking as many shots as he likes while continuing to push the pace off of rebounds. Clark, Miller and Hill are all solid role players while Diallo is a strong rim-protector, but this bench is putting the fear of God into most teams.

20. Milwaukee Bucks

Top five bench players 

Unless Matthew Dellavedova suddenly starts playing like it’s the 2015 NBA playoffs, the Bucks are going to need DiVincenzo to evolve quickly as a backup combo guard. Ilyasova was a nice pickup and should fit well alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Maker’s physical tools are unmistakable. They also have Sterling Brown and new acquisition Pat Connaughton to help out on the wing. Overall the Bucks are deep, but not especially potent off the bench.

19. Phoenix Suns

Top five bench players 

New coach Igor Kokoskov wants to space the floor, so that pushes Jackson to the second unit in favor of 3-point specialist Ryan Anderson. He’s a ball of energy that’s still yet to figure it out, but his shot has reportedly improved and he always gives maximum effort. Warren is a proven bucket-getter and Daniels is one of the league’s best shooters, but Bridges, a rookie whom the Suns traded for on draft night, could end up being the best of this group. 

18. Chicago Bulls

Top five bench players

The injury to Lauri Markkanen hurts Chicago’s bench, since it pulls Justin Holiday or Valentine into the starting unit. The backcourt of Payne and Blakeney is rough, but Valentine and Portis have both proven themselves to be effective bench players. The most exciting piece is Carter Jr., who some think could be the steal of the draft. He’s struggled this preseason, but could eventually take the starting job from Robin Lopez.

17. Dallas Mavericks

Top five bench players 

Once exemplary bench players, Barea and Harris are both on their last legs, but are still more than serviceable. Speaking of which, 40-year-old Nowitzki was surprisingly effective last season, and will look to do the same for the Mavs in what could be his final NBA season. Finney-Smith is solid and Powell wows you every four games or so, but overall Dallas’ bench just lacks pop.

16. Denver Nuggets

Top five bench players 

Mike Malone looks like he wants to start Will Barton, which severely depletes the bench. Lyles had his best season filling in for the injured Paul Millsap last year, but the real question mark here is Thomas, whose health continues to be a concern. If he returns at full strength and embraces his bench role, the Nuggets will have an explosive offensive player at their disposal. And if rookie Michael Porter Jr. can make his debut at some point during the season, he could have a tremendous impact off the bench as well.

15. Washington Wizards

Top five bench players 

Washington bolstered its bench by picking up Rivers this offseason in the Marcin Gortat deal, and he’ll add some scoring punch and defense. Replacing Mike Scott with Jeff Green is pretty much a wash, but the Wizards‘ big hope is that Oubre can develop into a go-to playmaker and scorer in the reserve unit. How he does will largely dictate the success of Washington’s second unit.

14. Philadelphia 76ers

Top five bench players 

The Sixers lost Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli, two integral pieces from their brilliant second-half run last season. They replaced them with Chandler and Muscala, who are both proven veterans who should help keep things afloat while the starters are on the bench. The curious move, however, was Brett Brown’s decision to start Markelle Fultz in the place of Redick, who provided necessary spacing for one of the most dominant lineups in the entire NBA last season. The move to the bench likely won’t affect Redick too much, however, and McConnell was arguably the Sixers’ best point guard at times last postseason.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers

Top five bench players 

The Cavs may be significantly worse this season without LeBron, but their bench is actually pretty solid. Sexton is a promising rookie, Clarkson is the prototypical irrational confidence guy and Korver is a proven knock-down shooter. Osman is a real wild card, who might actually make his way into the starting lineup given his skill set. Same with Nance, who could start at center or power forward depending on matchups.

12. Houston Rockets

Top five bench players 

Eric Gordon is as good a bench player as there is in the league, but it looks like Mike D’Antoni is leaning toward putting him in the starting unit. Anthony should come off the bench, which better suits his game, both offensively and defensively, at this point in his career. The Rockets hope Ennis can be a solid 3-and-D guy and that Chriss can flourish in his new environs, but they’ll usually have either James Harden or Chris Paul on the court with them, which takes a lot of the pressure off. Brandon Knight could be a wild card, since he hasn’t played a game since Feb. 2017.

11. Charlotte Hornets

Top five bench players 

The Hornets quietly have a pretty solid team, and the addition of Parker solidifies the backup point guard position, provided he can remain healthy. Lamb is a proven scorer, Kaminsky has shown flashes of being an effective stretch big, and Monk has the makings of a sixth-man bucket-getter extraordinaire. Bridges has played well in the preseason, so he should have an immediate contribution.

10. Utah Jazz

Top five bench players 

True to the entire Jazz roster, none of these names jumps off the screen, but they’re all solid in the role they’re asked to play. The biggest breakout candidate is Exum, whom the Jazz gave a three-year, $33 million contract this offseason despite limited production in an injury-plagued four-year NBA career. You know what you’re getting from Crowder, O’Neale and Udoh, particularly on the defensive end, and Burks can score in bunches. Throw Thabo Sefolosha into the mix and you have a bench unit that can maintain the level of defense coach Quin Snyder demands. Rookie Grayson Allen should contribute as well.

9. Golden State Warriors

Top five bench players 

Despite their success over the past few seasons, the bench has not been a strong suit for the Warriors — they make it work because there’s usually at least one All-Star on the floor with them. Depending on who starts, the bench big men will be two of Bell, Kevon Looney and Damian Jones (as of now it appears Steve Kerr is leaning toward starting Jones). Veterans Livingston and Iguodala serve as steadying hands, while Cook earned a contract in increased minutes toward the end of last season. Jonas Jerebko is a hustling role player who shot 41 percent 3-pointers last season, so he should quickly find his way into the rotation.

8. San Antonio Spurs

Top five bench players 

It looks like Popovich wants to start Derrick White and keep Mills as a sixth man after the injury to Dejounte Murray. None of these players jumps off the page, but they’re all perfect for their roles. Mills provides energy and shooting, Belinelli is a knock-down shooter (so is Bryn Forbes), Cunningham is a versatile 3-and-D guy, while Bertans is a prototypical stretch-four. Poeltl is a mobile, skilled big man who seems tailor-made for the Spurs system. The bench will be even more daunting once Lonnie Walker IV, who was voted as one of the biggest steals of the draft by his fellow rookies, returns from injury. Gregg Popovich has done much more with much less than this group brings to the table.

7. Indiana Pacers

Top five bench players 

Indiana made two big additions to their bench unit this offseason — Evans, a playmaker, and McDermott, a shooter. Evans had a career year last season and fills a playmaking need off the Pacers bench. Sabonis averaged 11.6 points and 7.7 rebounds in largely a bench role last season and Joseph has been a solid backup for years. Leaf will have an increased role, and rookie Aaron Holiday could crack the rotation as well.

6. Brooklyn Nets

Top five bench players 

You wouldn’t expect the Nets to be so high on this list given their record over the past few seasons, but they have a surprisingly deep team. The addition of Davis, an energetic rebounder, was huge. Harris averaged 11.8 points and shot 42 percent 3-pointers last season, and Dinwiddie excelled as the team’s starting point guard for much of the season due to injuries to Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell. LeVert also showed tremendous improvement last year, and is poised to take a big leap forward.

5. Los Angeles Lakers

Top five bench players 

The Meme Team. Mizfits. MUD. Whatever you want to call it, this is a strange collection of players. It will be complete once Ball regains his starting point guard role from Rajon Rondo, assuming his knee recovers well. There’s no denying the talent, but how the bench mob will fit together is one of the new-look Lakers‘ most pressing questions. What’s not in question is the fact that Kuzma and Hart both had phenomenal rookie seasons and should play with even more confidence this year. Mo Wagner could also evolve into a legit stretch-five, while Svi Mykhailiuk’s sweet shooting stroke is already becoming somewhat of a legend in Laker land. It may take a while to figure out, but this is a strong bench.

4. Miami Heat

Top five bench players 

When Dion Waiters is healthy, either he or Wayne Ellington will shift to the bench, making this an even more impressive group. As it stands, Olynyk and Winslow are starting-caliber players, and Johnson and McGruder have plenty of starting experience. Adebayo emerged as arguably the Heat’s best center last season, and will continue to give Hassan Whiteside a run for his money. The Heat won’t lose much ground when this unit is on the floor, even against opposing starters.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

Top five bench players 

Any unit with the best bench player in the league was bound to be high on this list. Williams had his best season last year and anchors a bench mob full of proven role players. Mbah a Moute was an unsung hero for last season’s 65-win Rockets, and Scott was instant offense off the Wizards bench. Harrell took huge strides and should have a bigger role this season, while Teodosic had per-36 minute averages of 13.6 points, 6.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds in an injury-shortened rookie season. Speaking of rookies, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson are both lottery picks who are expected to receive playing time. Plus Wesley Johnson, Tyrone Wallace and Sindarius Thornwell all proved more than capable in increased minutes last season. This bench is as deep as they come. And, oh yeah … Boban.

2. Toronto Raptors

Top five bench players  

This lineup with Jakob Poeltl in place of Anunoby had a whopping plus-17.1 net rating in a decent sample size of 340 minutes last season. Poeltl is in San Antonio, but improvement from Wright, VanVleet, Anunoby and Siakam should make this unit just as successful this season. Not to mention that they added proven low-post scorer Greg Monroe and still have Norman Powell, who was once a starter for the Raptors.

1. Boston Celtics

Top five bench players

That unit right there could start for some teams in the NBA, and that’s not even including Daniel Theis, who played valuable minutes last season before a season-ending injury, and rookie Robert Williams, whom some have pegged the steal of the draft. Rozier, Smart, Morris and Baynes have all spent significant time as starters, which makes this the most intimidating bench in the NBA.

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