There is a correlation between bench production and team success in the NBA.
Last year, the team whipping around passes, causing Miami all types of confusion in the NBA Finals, was, unsurprisingly, the one whose starting group came into the playoffs with one of the oldest, yet freshest legs of any team. The San Antonio Spurs' bench averaged a league-high 20.8 minutes per game last year, including the postseason, and its 44.2 points per game overall was the highest in the league.
The Wizards, on the other hand, ranked 26th in bench minutes per game (15) and 29th in bench scoring (24.8) through the playoffs. This includes ranking dead last in points per game among all playoff teams (15), while the championship-winning Spurs were getting nearly 42 points per game from their bench during the postseason.
This season, with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards' bench is contributing 19 minutes per game and more than 36 points, ranking 11th in the league. At the moment, all eyes are on the hot shooting of Rasual Butler -- but he's not the only reason the bench is playing better. Before him, Otto Porter established himself as a solid rotational player with his defensive work and occasional offensive outbursts. And in between, Kevin Seraphin has shown on a more consistent basis that he has the toughness to bang down low and provide a scoring punch as well. Kris Humphries and Andre Miller, after slow starts, have more than shown their worth to this team's second unit, even if Humphries is acting as a starter in Nene's absence for the time being -- a role filed by Trevor Booker last season -- and doing a heck of a job at it.
Take a look at the lineups of the Wizards' starting group (when healthy), and the all-reserve group that has gotten the most run together per game this season:
They're small sample sizes, as coach Randy Wittman has been forced to use a bevy of mix-and-match lineups due to injuries and suspensions, but the idea is there. The lack of a strong bench unit is not anymore a built-in excuse for poor results. The bench is producing now. Their current league-leading 43.3-percent shooting from beyond the arc, despite the absence of spot-up specialist Martell Webster, is proof of that.
That's right. These Washington backups are leading the league in three-point shooting percentage off the bench.
They have consistently been giving the starters time to rest on the bench without Wittman counting down the seconds until he yanks them all after blowing a sizable lead.
But with this group, it's about more than just the statistics. It's about what each player brings to the team and the niches they are carving for themselves when they step on the floor. All these players have high basketball IQ's: a much-desired trait after years of incomprehensible mistakes game after game from certain players.
They also rank seventh in assists per game, an added reminder that they are unselfishly moving the ball around and, more importantly, putting themselves in the right spots to be successful.
Porter has been masterful at times in his cuts to the basket, acting rather than reacting to where the ball will wind up, and he's been rewarded for it. Humphries and Seraphin are benefitting as well from two of the best-passing big men in the game in Nene and Gortat, when they are paired with one of them. They all are understanding one another and how to put themselves into good spots both offensively and defensively.
Again, it's very early in the season and the bench had a 15.3-point per game boost from Beal when he came off the bench in his first four games back from injury. With or without him, though, these guys are staying engaged and ready for when their time comes each game.
Most importantly, the bench unit is playing with a ton of confidence and, if sustained, can be the boost that this team needs to push it deep into the playoffs.
The Wizards' starters, when healthy, feature three 30 year old players that can't be relied upon to play heavy minutes game-in and game-out. They need their rest and that's where this team's bench will need to continue to step up and help transform this up-and-coming team from good to great.