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Riding the Bench

By Jeff Koch on January 9, 2011.

Minnesota 91, San Antonio 94  //  31-6  //  1st in the West

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

In my conversation with Jonah Steinmeyer from Howlin’ T-Wolf, he asked me about our bench and if the bench play could be the difference in the game between these two teams. Very prescient, indeed.

A quick look at the numbers will show us that our bench most likely won this game for us. We played four players off the bench a total of 97 minutes (for an average of about 24:15/player). The bench scored 41 of our 94 points (41%, about 10.3/player), grabbed 21 of our 48 rebounds (44% total, including 17 between Bonner and McDyess), and dished out 7 of 21 assists (33%). Collectively, our bench was a +26 for the game; our starters were -11 (Ginobili was the only starter positive, at +9).

Minnesota played five players off the bench a total of 99 minutes (for an average of about 19:48/player–this would have most likely been lower had Beasley played in the second half). Their bench scored 36 of their 91 points (40%, though spread out over 5 players, not 4, averaging about 7.2/player), grabbed 13 of 50 rebounds (26%), and had 4 of 16 total assists (25%). Collectively, their bench was a whopping -41, while their starters were a very good +26.

+/- is an inexact metric, especially in such a small sample. But a big picture snapshot of it from this game shows us that their starters outplayed ours, but our bench severely outplayed theirs. This passes the eye test, as well. The Timberwolves came out strong to start the game, holding as much as a 9-point lead in the first quarter before Hill, Bonner, and Neal came in and allowed us to surge ahead late in the quarter into the second quarter. Again, starting the second half with a 6 point lead, the Timberwolves quickly tied it up, before our bench came in and gave us a small working margin for the remainder of the game.

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

I love our bench, and I trust every player on it. In the past, I’ve warned of the perils of relying on your bench too much in the regular season, as rotations shorten and more must be demanded of your starters. But our bench is full of starting-caliber players (evidenced in the fact that several of them often close games for us), and their extended playing time helps to keep the minutes of our starters down, hopefully giving them more juice for the playoffs.

Deep benches our especially nice in the dog days of January against the bottom-dwellers of the league when you need a win but don’t want to push your starters to get it.

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