Is Bench Scoring a Misleading Stat?
Earlier in the week, we discussed how bad the Celtics bench was last year, culminating in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals when the subs scored a grand total of two points against the Miami Heat. Jason Terry has vowed this won't happen to the Celtics this year. The Boston bench, he's suggested, will score oodles of points. Of course, it will be an interesting stat to evaluate if Doc keeps the starters and bench rotating on a nightly basis.
Still, the common perception is that the Celtics' bench was inept last season, and that perception is backed up by the fact that statistically Boston was 29th out of 30 teams in bench scoring. Interestingly, team number 28 was Miami, while team number 30 was those guys out on the West Coast who wear purple. Hmm. So three of the elite teams have the three worst benches in the entire league. OKC was 17th. The only elite team in the top three was San Antonio, whose bench scored an amazing 41.4 points per game, compared to 21.4 by the Celtics bench.
What might be going on here?
I think the obvious answer is that when you have a good team, a really good team, chances are high, especially since 2007-08, that several of your starters are NBA All-Stars. Once you have an All-Star in your starting line-up, two things are pretty clear. First, the All-Star will be getting the bulk of minutes at his position. Second, he'll be scoring a bunch of points for his team (you know, cuz he's an All-Star). Now if the starting unit has several All-Stars, then you just multiply these principles times two or three, depending on how many All-Stars your team has. So the more All-Stars, the less minutes the bench will play, and the less minutes you play, wa lah, the less points you score.
To test out this theory, I looked back at the Celtics bench scoring before Garnett arrived. Somewhat arbitrarily, I chose the 2004-05 season. Turns out that happened to be a year the Celtics won the Atlantic Division with starters that included Gary Payton, Antoine Walker, and Paul Pierce. The roster included both Mark Blount and Raef LaFrentz, and, quite frankly, I can't remember which of those two started.
This supports my underlying point, as the Boston Celtics were fourth in the league in bench scoring. Why? When there isn't much difference between your starters and your bench, there is less reason to leave your starters on the floor. And if your bench is comprised of young talent, the coach actually has incentives to play the worse players more to develop them. As you can see, the Celtics did have quite a few young players scoring between 5 and 8 points per game.
So while there is no greater advocate for bench strength than me, we need to take some of the commentary about bench scoring with a grain of salt. I expect to monitor our bench scoring this year, probably in the notes section for each game's box score.
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