"With their best player out indefinitely, this team has managed to stay afloat and win some ball games."
That sentence applies to both teams in Sunday’s rematch of last spring’s first round playoff matchup. For the Bulls, we’ve gotten used to hearing this. Even before Derrick Rose suffered a knee injury against the Sixers last year, Chicago had played exceptionally well without their star throughout an array of injuries. Last year, they did it mostly on the strength of their “bench mob”; this year, many of the members of that unit are gone. How has Chicago’s reserve unit fared this year with a bunch of new faces, and how do they stack up with the Sixers’ bench corps?
**Note: Five-man unit numbers from 82games.com**
Bench Mob, 2.0
After losing CJ Watson, Omer Asik, Kyle Korver and a host of others, the only familiar face on the Bulls’ bench this year is Taj Gibson. Not surprisingly, Gibson has found himself playing on some of the team’s most effective units. On offense, Gibson is a member of the Bulls’ five best units in terms of points per possession. On quite a few of those, he’s joined by fellow reserves Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli. When paired with starting center Joakim Noah, Gibson helps to anchor the Bulls’ five stingiest defensive units, none of which have given up more than a point per possession.
Nate Rob has actually been one of the most efficient Bulls this season, despite seeming like the kind of player Tom Thibodeau would hate. He has the highest true shooting percentage (taking into account three pointers and free throws) of his career. He’s turning the ball over at a slightly higher rate than he has throughout his career, but that goes along with having a higher usage rate. Gibson, despite being involved in those high-scoring lineups, has actually struggled on an individual level on that end of the floor. In just about every metric - true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, offensive rebound rate, offensive rating, you name it - he’s significantly worse than last season. His defense, however, has been as good as ever. Gibson’s block and steal percentages (4.8 and 1.6, respectively) are both above his career numbers, and his defensive rating is right where it’s been the last two years.
Sixers shake up
Philadelphia has seen some turnover on its bench, as well. The unit’s top players from a season ago - Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Lou Williams - have changed roles. Williams plies his craft in Atlanta nowadays, and Young and Turner have been starting for the Sixers all season. Now playing the key reserve roles for Philadelphia are Nick Young, Dorrell Wright and Spencer Hawes, the team’s starting center for most of last season when healthy.
This season, an ultra-small lineup featuring both Youngs, Wright, and starters Jrue Holiday and Jason Richardson has been far and away the most efficient for the Sixers. That group is scoring 1.73 points per possession while giving up only .82. When subbing out Nick Young for Hawes, the Sixers are very nearly as good, scoring 1.17 points per possession, while allowing only .9. So, despite the reserves’ individual struggles throughout the season - Wright, Hawes and Nick Young are all having among their worst seasons in terms of TS% and eFG% - they’ve still found themselves on units that are crushing the competition.