However one stacks it, the statistics the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench has been acquiring are staggering. The team’s main reserve unit of Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams, Brandon Ingram, Tarik Black, and Larry Nance, Jr. has outscored teams by an average of 16.7 points per 100 possessions so far this season. That mark is far-and-away better than the 2.1 the starters have managed, and there’s more.
That bench grouping took their dominance to another level against the Atlanta Hawks in the Lakers’ win on Sunday night. The Energizer Bunnies posted an offensive rating of 124.2 (meaning they would have scored that many points per 100 possessions), and a ridiculously stingy defensive rating of 65.6.
The resulting net rating of 58.6 would obviously be by far the best mark in the NBA if extended over an entire season, and while Lakers’ head coach Luke Walton didn’t go as far as to say the backups have been that good, he does think they’re up there:
"They've been one of the best groups of five, starters or off the bench, in the NBA." - Walton said of his 2nd unit, back together today.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) November 28, 2016
Luke Walton: "the energy the second unit brought on the defensive end in the second quarter changed the outcome of the game." #lakers— Bob Garcia IV (@bgarcia90) November 28, 2016
Luke on that Lakers bench mob, said "groups build chemistry together & they have it..."big advantage when that group gets on the court."— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) November 28, 2016
Luke Walton said the Lakers defense in the 2nd quarter was their best stretch of the entire season— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) November 28, 2016
Walton isn’t wrong about how good the bench has been. That unit’s aforementioned net rating of 16.7 is ridiculous figure that would be better than the league-best Warriors’ 14.5 mark, with a defense stingier than the NBA leading Hawks and an offense that would rank third in efficiency.
Some of the bench’s success has come by virtue of the Lakers’ not starting all of their best players, who then feast on opposing reserves. What it has allowed the starters to do, however, is to merely make sure they stay in games against other team’s best lineups before their backups check in to dismantle the opposition and build a lead.
Such a strategy wouldn’t be possible if Walton didn’t have the buy in from players to accept their roles, something he’s gotten and appreciated:
Luke Walton: "It's been a lot of fun coaching these guys. They are all willing to take certain roles in order for us to win." #lakers— Bob Garcia IV (@bgarcia90) November 28, 2016
The unit’s success has been one of the pleasant surprises of the season, and a testament to Walton’s coaching ability. While many saw a unit with no traditional lead guard, an undersized frontcourt, and a raw rookie wing, Walton saw a band of rangy misfits whose talents would be better served together than as part of any other lineup:
Walton does not appear to be in any rush to break up this crew, even bending over backwards by starting Jose Calderon and Thomas Robinson to keep them together. It worked against Atlanta, which should be no surprise for one of the best units in the NBA.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here) where he talked about why the Lakers’ bench has been so successful and much more in our latest episode. You can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.