Discussion

Playoff benches in play

Compacted schedules, injury makes backup units inordinately valuable

Updated: April 30, 2012, 5:33 PM ET
By David Thorpe | ESPN Insider

NBA teams that have potent benches on offense or a particularly stifling rotation on defense are typically very likely to make the playoffs. Obviously, if a team has great talent coming off the bench, then the starters should be correspondingly superior.

Think of the Oklahoma City Thunder and James Harden, or the San Antonio Spurs with Manu Ginobili, or even the Denver Nuggets and their throng of energy guys/scorers/passers. The compressed schedule this year made having a good and deep bench even more valuable, both for earning wins and keeping the team fresh over a longer period of time. It might also help insulate that team from injury.

The top five teams in PAR (points plus rebounds plus assists) this season -- Denver, San Antonio, the Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, and Utah Jazz -- all are playoff teams. But historically, once the playoffs start, coaches allow their top players to play far more minutes than they did in the regular season, so the bench transforms from a big unit to a second unit made up of a few individual players who get solid minutes. However, after this "crazy" season, which teams have benches that can help carry them to win a series or two, and who are the players from the bench who can change the outcome of a team's playoff chances for the better?

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