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Ranking the Western Conference’s Second Units

Eric Saar breaks down and ranks the Western Conference’s second units.

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The NBA is a league driven by star power. It’s what many fans care about. That’s how it’s marketed to the masses, and usually fans are more interested in teams with one or more established superstars.

But that’s not how basketball is played. While only five guys are on the court at a time, each team is afforded 15 roster spots for a reason. Basketball is a team game, and it’s important that teammates work together in a cohesive and effective way. It is true that superstars can take a team to the next level and even play more as the playoffs roll around, but depth is very important too. In a 48-minute game, the starters usually play around 32 minutes each (with superstars sometimes averaging a bit more) and that even bumps up a few minutes by the postseason. But those 16 extra minutes can easily be the difference in a game, and can have a cumulative effect throughout the grueling 82-game regular season. .

What if your star players get hurt or have a bad game? That’s when a bench needs to pick up the slack. Needless to say, a team isn’t going anywhere in the NBA without a top-20 player or two, but it similarly won’t go far without an effective bench. The NBA season is a grind and when the stars aren’t feeling up to the task, the reserves needs to provide a spark.

In this article, we rank the Western Conference’s second units. The teams will be divided up into three tiers. The top tier includes teams that are deep and can rely on production from their reserves. The second tier features teams with reserves that are inconsistent or just average. The third tier consists of teams whose benches are a major weakness and will likely be a liability throughout the upcoming season. The following list ranks the West teams from worst to first.

Third Tier

  1. Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks’ bench is a disaster. When DeAndre Jordan made his U-turn, things started going downhill for Mark Cuban and his team. They were able to re-sign J.J. Barea, but lost Richard Jefferson. The rest of their backcourt consists of Raymond Felton, John Jenkins, Devin Harris and rookie Justin Anderson. If you thought this was going to be top-heavy team before, just take a look at the roster now. Their best player off the bench might be the 2015 version of Harris, or perhaps Anderson. Their frontcourt consists of some relatively unknown players that most casual fans have never heard of, including Dwight Powell, Maurice Daly Ndour, Satnam Singh Bhamara, Jarrid Famous.

  1. Portland Trailblazers

The Trail Blazers lost a whole bunch of players in free agency this summer. In addition to losing 80 percent of their starting lineup, they also lost depth. Their second unit is basically a host of young, promising, yet unproven talent… and Chris Kaman. At this point, their best bench player is probably C.J. McCollum. The rest of the rotation consists of Noah Vonleh, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless, Pat Connaughton and Tim Frazier. It looks like it’s going to be a rough year for the rebuilding Blazers, though, to their credit, they did well in acquiring some young talent after losing LaMarcus Aldridge to the San Antonio Spurs.

  1. New Orleans Pelicans

Compared to other Western Conference teams, the Pelicans have very little depth and will again likely rely on the monster production of the “The Brow,” also known as Anthony Davis. While Quincy Pondexter and Ryan Anderson aren’t bad players, the rest of the bench is a little thin. While New Orleans will likely be healthier next season compared to 2014-15, their bench will likely be hit and miss throughout, especially considering Luke Babbitt, Dante Cunningham, Alonzo Gee and Toney Douglas will probably be relied on for meaningful production.

  1. Utah Jazz

The Jazz’s starting lineup is certainly maturing and starting to mesh as a unit, but the rest of their roster is comprised of relative unknowns. As of today, the Jazz’s best bench player is probably Alec Burks. Rodney Hood has shown some promise and rookie Trey Lyles could be special. The problem is everyone on the bench is young and inexperienced, which could lead to inconsistent production. Utah’s roster rounds out with Trevor Booker, Grant Jerrett, Jack Cooley, Tibor Pleiss, Joe Ingles, Chris Johnson, Elijah Millsap, Bryce Cotton and Raul Neto.

  1. Los Angeles Lakers

While the Lakers have certainly upgraded their roster both in the starting and second units, they still have a lot of unproven players. Jordan Clarkson had a great summer league, Julius Randle has some serious potential and Lou Williams is a potent scorer, but apart from that they don’t have much. Robert Sacre isn’t really a league average backup center at this point and everyone else are unknowns. The roster is rounded out with Ryan Kelly, Larry Nance Jr., Tarik Black, Anthony Brown and Jabari Brown.

Second Tier

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves have the last three number one draft picks in Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. Towns and Wiggins will be in the starting unit, which leaves Bennett, who hasn’t lived up to his draft position, along with high-flyer Zach LaVine and bruiser Shabazz Muhammad as reserves. While there is young talent here, the bench will likely struggle against opposing second units featuring several veteran players. Tyus Jones, Lorenzo Brown, Damjan Rudez, Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic, Adreian Payne and Nemanja Bjelica finish out the roster.

  1. Sacramento Kings

The Kings have taken a slightly different route than many of these teams. When other free agents spurned the Kings, they had to move to Plan B. They’ve signed older players as backups that have already hit their peak in the NBA. These veterans won’t make as many mistakes, but also their ceiling is limited. Their bench is headlined by sharpshooter Marco Belinelli and big man Kosta Koufos, both of whom were acquired this summer as free agents. They also have Caron Butler, Omri Casspi and Quincy Acy coming off their bench with Eric Moreland, James Anderson, Seth Curry, David Stockton and Duje Dukan rounding out the roster.

  1. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have a very balanced roster overall, which in this case is not a great thing. Most of their players are basically on the same level talent-wise. No one necessarily stands out. They have a bundle of decent role players dotting their roster, but no superstar, at least yet. Headlining the Nugget’s bench is the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft, Emmanuel Mudiay. As of right now he is behind experienced veteran Jameer Nelson, but probably not for long. Also on the roster riding the pine are Gary Harris, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, J.J. Hickson and a few others. The players ahead of them are only marginally better than them, which means their bench is decent, but their starters arguably are not when compared to the rest of the league. They can hold their own, that’s for sure. The rotation also includes Nick Johnson, Erick Green, Joffrey Lauvergne, Nikola Jokic, Joey Dorsey and Kostas Papanikolaou.

  1. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have a very nice starting lineup as well as some high caliber players coming off their bench. Brandan Wright, Jeff Green (though he starts occasionally), the old man Vince Carter and Beno Udrih, have a good mix of talent and skill along with the rest of the second unit to keep the team afloat until the starters can come back in the game. Matt Barnes, Jarnell Stokes, JaMychal Green, Jarell Martin, Jordan Adams and Russ Smith round out the roster.

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have a great starting lineup but was demolished by injuries in 2014-15. The upside is their bench players gained valuable experience with the extra playing time. D.J. Augustin, sharpshooter Anthony Morrow, Andre Roberson, Kyle Singler, and Steven Adams can certainly hold their own on the court until Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are done resting. The rotation is rounded out by Nick Collison, Steve Novak, Cameron Payne and Mitch McGary. However, they probably aren’t going to win you too many games by themselves or make up deficits without some help. That’s what top tier second units do.

First Tier

  1. Phoenix Suns

The Suns have locked in their core for the future and bolstered their shooting and defense as well as their leadership through the draft and free agency. Their bench unit will be quite good in 2015-16. Adding Tyson Chandler sends the budding Alex Len to the bench and gives him even better mentoring as a defensive anchor. They drafted one sharpshooter in Devin Booker and they signed another one in stretch-four Mirza Teletovic. Plus, they opened the door for the effortless scoring of T.J. Warren in a salary dump that created time at the backup small forward spot. They also have Archie Goodwin and signed Sonny Weems. The future is bright for this bench. Look for them to win some games single-handedly when the starters don’t have it going next year.

  1. Houston Rockets

The recent trade to acquire Ty Lawson took a little depth and some longer-term prospects from Houston, but what they lost in quantity they gained in quality.  Lawson will likely take over as the starting point guard (subject to his off court issues), which slots former starter and defensive stalwart Patrick Beverley as the backup point guard. Beverley is a pesk on defense and can knock down shots from three-point range, so he could potentially be one of, if not the best backup point guard in the Western Conference next season. Along with Corey Brewer, Donatas Motiejunas and draft picks Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell, the Rockets have some serious firepower coming off the bench. Rounding out their rotation is Clint Capela, Jason Terry and K.J. McDaniels as the backup small forward.

  1. San Antonio Spurs

Of course the Spurs are ranked this high. They have a knack for picking great players from a low draft position and developing players effectively. This offseason they landed star forward LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency and convinced David West to turn down millions in guaranteed money from Indiana for a chance to win a championship. West, along with Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills along with some young talent like Ray McCallum and Kyle Anderson will sway many games back in the Spurs’ favor when San Antonio’s starters are off their game. The roster is rounded out by Matt Bonner, Reggie Williams, Boban Marjanovic, Jonathan Simmons and Jimmer Fredette.

  1. Los Angeles Clippers

Boy did the Clippers’ free agency period go from bad to amazing! They lose DeAndre Jordan, then get him back and also sign Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Wesley Johnson and Josh Smith. The Clippers bench is basically a starting unit for an average NBA team all by itself. The rotation is rounded out by Jordan Hamilton, C.J. Wilcox, Cole Aldrich, Austin Rivers and Branden Dawson.

  1. Golden State Warriors

The defending champs won their ring on the back of their versatility and depth. The Warriors retain Draymond Green, which leaves the starting unit intact. They also re-signed Leandro Barbosa and drafted Kevon Looney, who could be a steal as the 30th overall pick. With a championship run under their belts, the bench will likely continue to dominate moving forward, led by finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who stepped up big time when his name was called. A former All-Star, he rode the bench and contributed where he could. Then, when he called to guard LeBron, he performed admirably. The roster is rounded out by James Michael McAdoo, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, Shaun Livingston and Brandon Rush.

Let us know how you rank the Western Conference benches in the comments section below!

Based in Arizona, Eric Saar is an analyst for Basketball Insiders. He has covered the league for several years. He loves to converse about the NBA on Twitter, so follow him at @Eric_Saar. Eric graduated with honors from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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