Comparing the NBA Eastern Conference Superpowers Episode 3: Bench Mobs

Welcome back, folks. If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know that we have been comparing the four Eastern Conference teams that are most likely to advance to the second round. In the two previous articles, we compared the teams’ trade deadline moves and their starting lineups. In this article, we’ll be looking at the bench mobs for the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and Philadelphia 76ers. We’ll be looking at their rankings in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks per game as well as field goal percentage and Net Rating. Let’s get into it.

Raptors: Wish It Was Last Year

The 2017-2018 Toronto Raptors had arguably the NBA’s best bench. They were fifth in points scored, fourth in field goal percentage and rebounds, second in assists and blocks, first in steals and owned the NBA’s best bench Net Rating. It is no longer the 2017-2018 season. With about 20 games to play in the season, this Raptors squad ranks sixth in steals and 15th in blocks per game. Those are the only two statistics that crack the top 20. It’s no wonder that the Raptors use their bench sparingly, 25th in minutes per game.

It is a little strange, however, as the Raptors have several skilled players on the bench. Norman Powell, Fred Vanvleet, and OG Anunoby all remain from last year’s premier bench. The newcomers should have helped too, with Patrick McCaw, Marc Gasol, and Jeremy Lin all joining after the season had begun. However, the bench stats have only marginally improved after the trade deadline. It hasn’t seemed to slow them down, however, as the Raptors have the second-best record in the East and are winners of 8 of their last 10.

Bucks’ Paradoxical Bench

The Bucks’ bench statistics aren’t very impressive. Their rebounds (11th) and blocks (15th) per game are the only statistics that break the top 20. The key difference between the Raptors? They own the second-best Net Rating out of all NBA benches. Their stats have gotten better since the trade deadline acquisition of Nikola Mirotic.

In the six games since Mirotic has joined the team and the bench, the team’s points and assists have jumped 10 spots, their field goal percentage has jumped 7 spots, and every stat except for steals has gone up at least one rank. What does that mean for their Net Rating? Of course, it has slipped to 21st in those six games. Like I said, paradoxical. This past Sunday, the Bucks announced that they had signed the recently bought-out Pau Gasol. He brings championship experience and a calming presence to the Bucks bench. It remains to be seen what kind of impact he will have on them though, having appeared only in one game for a handful of minutes thus far.

Celtics’ Top Tier Bench

Man, the Celtics this past couple of weeks have made me contemplate replacing them with the Pacers. They were 3-7 in their last 10 including 1-6 in their last 7 before their big win recently. At the end of the day though, these Celtics truly can play better than they are right now and their ceiling projects to be higher than the Pacers. The Celtics’ bench doesn’t show many holes; they’re top 10 in the stats we have mentioned besides Field Goal percentage. They own the league’s fifth-best bench Net Rating. This is possibly due to some circumstantial star power on their bench.

Gordon Hayward has come off the bench for most of the season. This is obviously an unforeseen situation, but Hayward’s comeback from injury has been taking longer than expected. Until then, he’s a borderline star on the bench. Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown started most of the season last year (and excelled), but the return of Kyrie Irving and a necessity to start Marcus Morris have left them to bully other teams’ secondary units. Their bench stats have all slid considerably as a result of this 10-game stretch. Besides field goal percentage, which, of course (because nothing ever makes perfect sense), has improved. We’ll look to see if the team, including their bench, can return to their top marks.

(The day after I originally wrote this the Celtics blasted the Warriors, so I have no regrets)

Philly’s New Bench

Philadelphia made waves during the trade deadline (refer to Episode 1). The trades made big changes to their starting lineup (refer to Episode 2). But the trades also brought new players to their bench. In that big Tobias Harris trade, they also acquired Boban Marjonovic. He (when healthy) serves as their backup center. They also acquired forwards Mike Scott, Jonathan Simmons, and James Ennis in separate deals. That’s four new players added to the bench rotation.

So far this season Philly’s field goal percentage is the only stat that breaks the top 15. And yet, their Net Rating is 10th best in the league. It doesn’t matter much as the 76ers use their bench less than 26 other teams. In the past 10 games since their newcomers have joined, the stats haven’t changed much. We can’t accurately track their impacts to t, e bench however, as injuries to Joel Embiid and Boban Marjonovic have thrown the rotation out of whack.

That completes our look at the bench mobs. Again, there isn’t really one squad that stands out. The Bucks hold the best Net Rating out of the teams but trail the Celtics in nearly every other statistic. Philly’s bench can’t be fairly analyzed until everyone is healthy and Toronto’s bench has marginally improved with newcomers, possibly signaling a rejuvenated bench. In the next article, I’ll be comparing the superstar of each team (I said this last article too, but I wanted to save it. Sorry for bamboozling you guys). You can guess who I’m going to pick for most of the teams, but I myself have yet to choose one for the Sixers. After that, I’ll compare the death lineups each team may trot out come playoff time, where centers are as extinct as Toronto’s team name (I don’t care if this joke is too obvious, I chuckled). See you next time.

Agu is a Junior at Marquette University pursuing a Business Management Major with a Spanish Business Minor. He is a Milwaukee native and somehow survived 10 years of mediocrity from his hometown team, the Milwaukee Bucks, and is now writing about them in the midst of their best season. He is new on the scene with no credentials but hopes to have a light Wikipedia page in the future.

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