In any sport, but especially in basketball, there’s nothing quite like having that spark off the bench—high-energy scorers that don’t make many mistakes and can replace a starter with well...a starter. That sixth or seventh man that can score a quick 15 points, bury a devastating trey, or play “this guy is grinding disgustingly hard on my hips” defense. Every winning team has one.The 1960s Boston Celtics had the scrappy, can’t stop hustling John Havlicek. Besides being quick and smart with the ball, the Ohio State alum averaged 20.8 ppg over a 16-year Hall of Fame career.Also, who can forget the Croatian Sensation Toni Kukoc for Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the '90s or Rasheed Wallace on the 2004 Pistons?There’s no getting around it. A deep bench is crucial to a winning formula. Below are five guys that could make or break their respective teams shot at a championship. Mind the pine.
Stephen Jackson, San Antonio SpursTalk about some fire off the bench. Jackson’s ferocity, aggressive play and ability to score at will are all extremely important ingredients to a Spurs’ championship. The former “Malice at the Palace” participant has also been known for his wild side, but a core group of guys including Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Coach Gregg Popovich seem to be providing a dynamic where Jackson can flourish (and lead). David Robinson should be proud.
James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder Harden seems to have brushed off the elbow from World Peace (maybe his beard took the brunt of the blow) and has helped the Thunder get out to a 2-0 lead against the defending national champion Mavericks. He scored 19 in the opening game and 15 the other night. He’s a young, versatile player that should probably be this year’s sixth man of the year. He could also be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Yeah, that’s what it’s called.
J.R. Smith, New York Knicks The Knicks need a miracle. But along with that, they also need points from their bench. They need that energy and power that makes their games at Madison Square Garden so daunting for opposing teams and so magical for Knickerbocker fans. Can J.R. Smith create this kind of atmosphere? With A’mare out for the playoffs and Jeremy Lin watching from the sidelines, he needs to try. Along with Novak, Smith can re-ignite the team with his ability to shoot the three. He can also fire up the crowd with his explosive drives to the basket and cocky attitude. Along with the bench, if Melo plays well, Chandler gets healthy and Baron Davis finds what youth is left in his wobbly body...folks...we could have a Knickershocker.
O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies The highly-touted USC alum is providing star-like power off the bench for Memphis’ young starters. He’s a great mid-range shooter and scored 17 points in game one, going four of six from three. Mayo is a spry 24-year old with fresh legs, a smart basketball IQ (averages only about two turnovers per contest) and the ability to take over an entire game if he wants to. He’s also got a great name.
Lou Williams, Philadelphia 76ersWIth Derrick Rose out, the Bulls looked very vulnerable in a game two loss to the Sixers. Lou Williams, a seven-year veteran, was a big part of the victory, scoring 20 points and dishing out six assists. Sweet Lou had an exceptional 2012 season coming off the bench for Philly and will be crucial to a deep playoff push. The Sixers just better hope Chicago doesn’t dig down into their bench. Two words. Brian Scalabrine.