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Shaun Powell

Jason Terry (right) is one of the NBA's best scorers off the bench, helping the Mavs avoid a letdown.
Tim HeitmanNBAE/Getty Images

Best off the bench: Breaking down the top reserve squads

Posted Sep 2 2010 8:13AM

A great bench doesn't necessarily mean a team will win a championship, but how much can a weak bench hurt? Maybe the Miami Heat are about to find out.

After dumping millions into three members of the starting five this summer, the Heat had little else to shore up the bench. Most of the Miami reserves are players well past their prime (Juwan Howard) or never really had a prime (Eddie House) or are too young to get a read on (DaSean Butler). Does this mean Miami must play Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James until they pass out from exhaustion? Perhaps the Heat's second unit will pull a surprise or two, but it's safe to say there's a big difference between the starters and reserves.

That's not necessarily the case with the other contenders, who have a significant edge on the Heat in reserve. So here's an early look at the projected top 10 benches in the NBA for 2010-11:

Suns. The only thing missing here is size, which is why the Suns don't rate higher. But the second unit brings almost as much speed and shooting for the up-tempo offense as the starters. Goran Dragic (7.9 points, 3.0 assists) manages to spell Steve Nash very well. Jared Dudley (8.2 points) isn't shy about scoring. Josh Childress, rescued from a life in Europe, can only help.

Lakers. Lamar Odom is the captain of this unit, but reinforcements were found this summer in the form of feisty defender Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, who might be the best point guard on the roster. There's no true big man off the bench, however, although Odom can fill that role.

Celtics. Shrek and Donkey almost stole the show for the Celtics in the playoffs, and on most teams, Glen Davis and Nate Robinson could start. The Celtics are anxious to see what Shaquille O'Neal (Shrek II?) has left, and what Marquis Daniels can do when fully healthy.

Rockets. Although there's no major talent in reserve, this is the deepest bench in the league, no question. And almost every area is covered. Kyle Lowry is a top defender, Courtney Lee (12.5 points) can score, Chase Budinger (37 percent) can shoot the 3, Chuck Hayes and Brad Miller are rebounders and Jordan Hill brings all-around skills. The Rockets could win 50 games this season, largely helped by the bench.

Magic. Not sure who eventually comes off the bench, J.J. Redick or Vince Carter. Regardless, either player will be a boost to a unit that has everything. Marcin Gortat might be the best backup center around. Quentin Richardson can still play defense and shoot the 3, same for Mickael Pietrus. Chris Duhon was signed for point guard stability, while Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson can provide frontcourt help.

Nuggets. The big question with the Nuggets is swirling around one of their starters (Carmelo Anthony), not the bench. That unit is still expected to suit up this season in Denver. Al Harrington could supply scoring in the event Anthony is gone, same for J.R. Smith, one of the better scoring sixth men in basketball. Chris Andersen is a proven interior defender and Ty Lawson had a solid rookie season at point guard. They'll all help the Nuggets. Can't say the same for 'Melo.

Bucks. Strange thing: Wasn't it just a few years ago when the Bucks didn't even have a quality starting five? Now their bench is quality. What's not to love about Ersan Ilyasova and Carlos Delfino and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute? Then there's Earl Boykins, fan favorite and still able to amaze despite his size. Speaking of size, Jon Brockman might surprise folks this year, and Keyon Dooling is a quality backup for Brandon Jennings. The Bucks are headed up.

Trail Blazers. A good bench only got better when the Blazers spent lavishly for Wesley Matthews, heisting him from the Jazz. And the bench features one of the more underrated players in the NBA, Nicolas Batum, as high energy as they come. Add Joel Przybilla, Marcus Camby, Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez and this is why the Blazers will win 50-plus.

Spurs. The Spurs traditionally carry a quality bench and this season won't be any different. They'd rate No. 1 if Manu Ginobili was still a sixth man, but he's probably starting for now, if not forever. No problem; the Spurs still are deep in reserve. Antonio McDyess' career might be known more for his bench work than his starting role in Denver. George Hill (12.4 points) spelled Tony Parker nicely last season and DeJuan Blair (6.4 rebounds) was the steal of the draft.

Mavericks. Best. Bench. In basketball. In terms of talent and depth, no other team compares. It all starts with Jason Terry, always in the hunt for Sixth Man of the Year and a scorer (16.6 points) who can get you 30 points. And the drop-off from the Jet isn't steep, when you consider Jose Barea (7.6 points, 3.3 assists) and either Brendan Haywood or Tyson Chandler, whichever big man doesn't start. The Mavericks could pull five from their bench and beat Minnesota's starting five.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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