FanPost

About that bench...and why I would play Chris Johnson alongside LaMarcus

Okay, I wouldn't play Chris Johnson for very long, but this post is really about a different idea

I've always intuitively thought about team management in a different way than the norm, and being an outlier usually means that one is wrong, because over time a good strategy will migrate from outlier to norm, and the following idea really hasn't.


The idea is essentially this: why do teams have usually short but significant stretches of time that their worst players (that make it in the game) are on the court together?

There's the idea of second unit chemistry, I suppose. There's the idea of first team chemistry too, and I'll admit that that's compelling. But any player on the bench is likely to be more successful when playing with better players as opposed to playing with lesser ones. So one has to consider the trade-off: how much better is a team because the starters play at the same time (and thus bench players play mainly at the same time as each other, too)?

Now, admittedly, every team has overlap, and there's a big statistical data-crunch needed to analyze what the actual breakdown is between the groups and their degree of separation. Still consider the following scenarios:

What if one played Craig Smith at the same time with Camby, a first rate rebounder, rather than lumped with the also short, also can't jump Kurt Thomas? Let Camby play high-low with Smith, who is a handful in the paint with the ball (though I don't really much value otherwise).

What if Elliot Williams played on the same unit as shot blockers like Camby, where he could get out on the break and use his athleticism? Also, he could gamble a bit more on defense and have some back up in the paint.

Throw Chris Johnson in for two or three minutes for Camby, in the first period, when he's surrounded by four other guys who like to shoot the ball, rather than with Jamal and three other guys who can't create a shot. This of course would also keep Camby fresher and hopefully lead to more blocked shots and that fast break that was supposed to be the key to our success. A guy like Chris Johnson is not going to develop into much of an offensive player, and thus his shortcomings become much clearer with the second unit. But if he was down low, on the opposite side of the block from LaMarcus, and crashed the boards or cut to the basket during a double team, and all he had to do was catch the ball and dunk it, he might get 6-8 easy points a game. He's certainly not going to do this when Craig Smith or Kurt has the ball, and he's probably not going to have the hands or savvier movement to catch Jamal's passes. (yes, I know the last two words may induce chuckles among the crew). Maybe the kid has value that is not being unlocked unless he plays with the best players.

Why not play Gerald Wallace a bit more with the second team, since his ability to crash the boards would be more important (we're missing more shots) and again we've got weak rebounding with Smith/Thomas? He could become the post option when LaMarcus is out.

Why not play Batum more with Aldridge, where he can spot up when Aldridge has the ball, as opposed having Gerald spotting up, where he's a low percentage shooter and then also not near the rim for a rebound?

Obviously there are some reasons why the above doesn't happen that much; my point, though, is not so much to suggest particular scenarios as much as to consider the ways that players's strengths might be leveraged vis a vis their teammates, and to suggest that starter/reserve dichotomies can blind teams to the best combinations.

Clearly this is part of what Nate had in mind a couple of years ago when he handed the starting job to Batum, who could defend and didn't need a lot of shots. Travis Outlaw, bless his country boy heart, was the far better offensive player at that point, but he was the focal point of the 2nd Unit offense. We do a somewhat similar thing this year by having Crawford on the second team (though I'm not convinced he's better than Wesley when you look at defense, certainly not when Wesley wasn't going through a horrid slump). But what about other players, too?

I do think that previous commenters about the weakness of the bench have a point. Still, we're going to have to get good contributions from these guys, because they're going to play whether it's in a systematic way or when our first unit collapses from injuries due to fatigue. I'm not claiming this is a miracle fix--I think we're clearly a PG and a big man short of a championship team--but if we can squeeze five more wins out of it and have a more rested team on the whole, it would be worth it.

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