In the Wizards’ past two games against the Rockets and Mavericks, the Wizards’ bench was outscored 85-28. Their flop in Texas has renewed the debate about whether or not this is the worst bench in the NBA this season, and perhaps, whether or not this is the worst bench in recent NBA history.
Measuring a bench’s performance is tricky, because it comes with plenty of caveats. Bench stats can be skewed by injuries, when a coach chooses to sub their players, and perhaps most importantly, by how they determine who starts and who comes off the bench. Depending on how you take those factors into account, it will affect your final analysis.
That all being said, let’s try to get some sense of Washington’s place in history. For the sake of trying to simplify and streamline our findings, we’re going to use something from hoopsstats.com called NBA Efficiency Recap. You can read the full definition of how it works here, but in layman’s terms, it’s all the good things on a basic stat sheet minus all the bad things. Better yet, you can use the opposition’s Efficiency Recap to get a Net Efficiency Recap that gives you a fairly clear picture of which benches are playing well and which benches are not getting it done.
This season, the Wizards’ bench is posting a Net Efficiency Recap of -11.3 per 48 minutes of action, the worst mark in the league. The only other team with a bench that’s even close to being that bad this season is Minnesota, whose Net Efficiency Recap is -9.3 this season. Every other team is -5.4 or better, and 25 teams have a bench that’s -4.0 or better. In other words, the Wizards’ bench isn’t just bad, they’re significantly worse than almost every other team in the league.
So they’re very bad this year, but are they bad historically? Hoops Stats has been tracking Net Efficiency Recaps for benches since the start of the 1997-98 season, so we can compare them to some of the worst benches of the post-Jordan Era. As it turns out, the only benches that have posted worse Net Efficiency Recaps per 48 minutes than this year’s Wizards are the 2004-05 Suns (-13.1), 2009-10 Grizzlies (-12.6), and the 2012-13 Blazers (-12.8).
All three of those squads had strong starting lineups that stayed healthy and produced when they were on the floor together like the Wizards. However, the Suns were the only ones who were able to overcome their bench to make it to the playoffs, as they rolled to a 62-20 record. Unfortunately for the Suns, their bench still wound up holding them back once they got to the playoffs. Joe Johnson, who started all 82 games in the regular season, suffered an orbital fracture in the playoffs that forced him to miss the first two games of the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs. The bench couldn’t keep up, which allowed the Spurs to win both games in Phoenix and get enough momentum to hold off the Suns off once Johnson returned.
The good news is, there’s still time for the Wizards’ bench to turn things around. Internal development, a free agent signing, and/or a trade could change the bench’s fortunes and get them back to respectability before all is said and done. On the other hand, if things don’t change there’s still plenty of time for the bench to stagnate and get worse . They might not be the worst bench in NBA history right now, but there’s still plenty of time to get to that point between now and the end of the season if things don’t change.