Sep 7 2012 12:00PM

Golden Bench

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Everybody makes a big deal about the Los Angeles Lakers' new starting lineup and how the quintet of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard has more star power than any other NBA team.

And rightfully so.

Those five Lakers have already played in 33 NBA All-Star Games and counting.

But what often gets lost in the shuffle is how good their backups have become, with newcomers Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon joining Steve Blake, Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill on L.A.'s bench.

I was talking to Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak Wednesday and told him I thought this bench may top any group of subs he has assembled in his 12 years of running Showtime.

Kupchak wouldn't go that far, pointing out several benches featuring Lamar Odom as sixth man were pretty special in their own right.

When I think about it, Kupchak is correct.

The 2012-13 Lakers' bench may be deeper than any of the past dozen, but it's way premature--and probably untrue--to say they are better than most of the past Laker dozen.

I decided to look at the past 12 Laker second-string squads to see how many win shares each got.

Do you see the common theme on the list below?

Four of the top five super-sub squads featured either Odom or Robert Horry as their sixth man.

Anyway, here are the comparisons.

2012-13 TBD Steve Blake, Chris Duhon, Devin Ebanks, Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison, Jordan Hill
2011-12 8.7 Matt Barnes, Troy Murphy, Josh McRoberts, Steve Blake, Devin Ebanks
2010-11 18.4 Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, Devin Ebanks
2009-10 15.9 Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, D.J. Mbenga
2008-09 19.1 Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Vladimir Radmanovic
2007-08 19.7 Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, Andrew Bynum
2006-07 11.2 Ronny Turiaf, Maurice Evans, Kwame Brown, Sasha Vujacic, Brian Cook
2005-06 15.1 Brian Cook, Devean George, Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Ronny Turiaf
2004-05 8.3 Jumaine Jones, Brian Cook, Horace Grant, Slava Medvedenko, Luke Walton
2003-04 11.2 Slava Medvedenko, Derek Fisher, Bryon Russell, Horace Grant, Luke Walton
2002-03 9.6 Robert Horry, Devean George, Mark Madsen, Brian Shaw, Slava Medvedenko
2001-02 20.3 Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, Devean George, Mark Madsen, Slava Medvedenko
2000-01 9.6 Robert Horry, Brian Shaw, Derek Fisher, Mike Penberthy, Mark Madsen
SOURCE: Basketball-Reference

That said, L.A.'s role players really will play a big part in the Lakers' success this year.

Perhaps the main thing they can contribute is allowing the Lakers' starters some rest time.

Steve Nash, at age 38, is used to playing 32 minutes per game, but one of the Lakers' problems has been overplaying 34-year-old Kobe Bryant and 32-year-old Pau Gasol in the regular seasons, leading to both of them wearing down at playoff time the past two years.

Did you realize Pau Gasol was second in the league in minutes player last year? A big man was second?

Howard coming off back surgery may also need to take down his minutes--he averaged 38 minutes per game last season--and this fine class of subs can finally give these stars that well-deserved rest, which should translate to fresher legs come playoff time.

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His Role: It was a pleasant surprise to many when late-season acquisition Hill joined the Lakers from Houston and took the big-man role in the second-to-last regular-season game from both Troy Murphy (now a free agent) and Josh McRoberts (now with the Magic). Hill then showed the world why he ranked ninth in the league in rebound rate (19.5 percent) when he finally got the playing time in those games and the playoffs, averaging 10 rebounds in 24.5 minutes per game the next six contests. Pair Hill with Dwight Howard, whose 21.9 rebound rate ranked second in the NBA, and you have two guys who may control 40-plus percent of the rebounds. Amazing.
His Emergency Role: Even though Hill is coming off the bench, expect him to get at least 24 minutes per game because the two men he backs up--Howard and Gasol--both can play center, which means Hill can spell each and take their resting minutes. Should one of them go down, I expect we shall see the true potential of Hill shine through. Remember, he was a 2009 lottery pick whose per-36-minutes stats last season were 14.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game. Also, the light switch went "on" last season as Hill's defensive problems and fouling tendencies declined dramatically. The 6-10, 235-pound forward's Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus improved from -4.1 in 2010-11 to -0.4 in 2011-12. Hill really may be a star in the making.

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His Role: The Lakers starters may have played in a combined 33 All-Star Games, but don't sleep on Jamison, who himself is a two-time All-Star. The 36-year-old forward is no longer the former star who posted a career 18.3 Player Efficiency Rating over 13 NBA seasons. But he still has game, posting a 16.1 PER in 2011-12 as Cleveland's season leader in starts, minutes, points and rebounds. Not bad having an extra forward on your bench who was his previous team's leader, both on and off the court.
His Emergency Role: If either Metta World Peace or Pau Gasol get hurt, the 6-9, 235-pound forward is more than capable of playing 33 minutes per game in their stead, since that is exactly what he averaged in Cleveland last season, when he was putting up 17 points and 6 rebounds per game. Jamison is just a good team player who rarely makes mistakes and just makes an offense flow. Nash will love playing with him.

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His Role: With Matt Barnes likely gone, Ebanks steps up to the second-string squad in a role he really deserves. Remember, Ebanks actually was the Lakers' first-round starter in the 2012 NBA Playoffs when Metta was serving his six-game suspension. He's young (only 22), but has two years experience in the league and showed great improvement in team play, with his RAPM rising from -3.5 his rookie year to +0.1 last season.
His Emergency Role: The 6-9, 215-pounder is seen by many as a Trevor Ariza clone, and for what it's worth, Ariza didn't become a majority player until he turned 23. Should anything happen to Metta, this smart youngster may already be ready to fill in without the team missing a beat. He's the type of player who doesn't need the ball to contribute, which makes him a perfect fit on this particular Lakers' squad.

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His Role: The Meeks acquisition cannot be understated because he may be the player that Kobe Bryant allows to play for him. Surely by now, the 34-year-old Bryant is coming around to the realization that he'd have more gas in the tank at playoff time if he wasn't playing 39 minutes per game, like he did last season. Meeks may not inherit the Earth, but I wouldn't be surprised if he inherits 15 minutes per game from the shooting-guard slot this season, Kobe-willing, of course. What makes this situation ideal is that the former 76er is a really, good young player. The 25-year-old Meeks is an upgrade over every backup shooting guard Kobe has had since the 1999-2000 Lakers when Ron Harper, Derek Fisher and Brian Shaw played alongside and behind Kobe. Meeks is similar to those three players in size (6-4, 208), defensive instincts and knockdown 3 capability (37 percent on his 3s).
His Emergency Role: Should Kobe ever get hurt, Meeks has the qualifications to replace him as a starting 2 because that's precisely what he did in Philly, starting 50 of 66 games in 2011-12, while registering 64 starts in 2010-11. Meeks averaged 8.4 points in 24.9 minutes per game last season, while also registering a really impressive +0.9 predictive RAPM, with numbers that show he is becoming a stellar defender. Obviously, the Lakers would miss Kobe, but a lineup of Nash-Meeks-Metta-Gasol-Howard would still beat 80 percent of the starting lineups in the NBA.

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His Role: The 32-year-old Blake has been a solid backup point guard for the Lakers the last two seasons, but Coach Mike Brown would really love to see a return to Blake's old shooting ways last decade. The 6-3, 172-pounder has been an above-average three-point shooter with the Lakers, making 36 percent of his threes. But if Blake once again became the 39-percent trey shooter he was for his career before joining the Lakers, he'd be much more valuable in L.A. Nonetheless, Blake's -0.4 predictive RAPM shows he is well deserving of the 20-23 minutes per game he has received so far as a Laker.
His Emergency Role: The Lakers haven't used Blake as a starting point guard much, relegating the role to Derek Fisher and Ramon Sessions the past two seasons. But should Nash go down to injury, Blake has done more than his fair share in that role over his NBA career, starting 304 games over 11 seasons.

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His Role: You can't spell D without Duhon and whenever the Lakers need to get a defender on the floor at the point position, Duhon's number will be called. His 1.0 defensive RAPM was one of the better scores for a point guard, while his predictive RAPM of -0.2 shows he is not a liability offensively. Duhon has excellent playmaking skills--remember, he was the Knicks' starter two years ago. And even though he is not known for creating his own shot, Duhon did have one of his best career shooting years in 2011-12, knocking down 42 percent of his 3s and posting a .558 true shooting percentage.
His Emergency Role: Like Blake, Duhon has plenty of experience starting in the NBA--should Nash go down--with 310 starts over eight NBA seasons. Even though the play of the Lakers would suffer with a Nash injury, the pairing of Blake and Duhon at the point guard position could be similar to the Derek Fisher/Jordan Farmar time slot of the back-to-back Laker championships teams three seasons ago--with Duhon playing the role of Fisher and Blake playing as Farmar.