Believe it or not, we’ve just about reached the midway point of the 2012/13 NBA season. With the All-Star break right around the corner, many basketball heads are busy assessing the half seasons had by premier players in order to determine who deserves to make the trip to Houston for the association’s 62nd annual showcase. Here at NBA247365.COM, we’ll get around to that eventually… but today, I wanted to take a look at some of the league’s best reserves; more specifically, those who play fewer than 20 minutes per game.
In order to compose the following eight-man list — my “All Under 20 MPG Team” — I sorted the entire NBA by average minutes played and considered a variety of factors, including players’ individual numbers and the impact they’ve had on their respective teams. The impact of a player who spends over half the game on the bench can be a hard thing to measure, but in considering both my own observations and a variety of statistics I think I’ve used a reasonable system to reach my conclusions. The format of the team is G/G/F/F/C, just like any All-NBA roster, but with three extra “wild card” players tacked on as well.
Information listed: [minutes per game, net +/- per 48 minutes] & various stats (per 36 minutes).
G: Eric Bledsoe [18.9, +4.1] 16.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.1 APG, 3 STL, 1.3 BLK
Pound for pound, Eric Bledsoe might be the best athlete in the NBA. A defensive game-changer, Bledsoe is an energetic ball hawk and the league’s most effective shot blocker at his position. While his offensive game could still use some refinement, Bledsoe is hardly a loose cannon. He’s responsible in his shot selection (46.4% FG) and can be relied upon to make solid decisions with the basketball. Bledsoe is the ideal change of pace guard; he loves to push the ball in transition and just generally tends to make positive things happen when he’s on the court. His ability to do a little bit of everything at both ends of the floor is extremely unique and highly valuable, and he seems to have a knack for sparking Clipper runs by making momentous plays.
G: Will Bynum [16.8, -5.3] 17.2 PPG, 6.9 APG, 1.3 STL, .448 FG, .412 3FG
Will Bynum is the only player in my starting lineup whose presence hasn’t netted his team a positive +/-, which kind of surprises me as he’s been key in a lot of recent Pistons comebacks. Though he got off to a slow start and is definitely a hit or miss player, I can’t deny Bynum a spot on this team considering some of the huge games he’s had lately. Since exploding for 31 points against the Hawks on December 26th, Will has been averaging 14 a game and the Pistons have gone 5-4. In a win over Miami, he put on one of the most impressive performances by any reserve this season when he scored 13 of his 25 in the fourth quarter. In a three-point loss to Utah he single-handedly brought Detroit back to within a bucket from down 13 in under four minutes. Admittedly, these occasional instances of dominance occur rather randomly, but how many players who get under 20 minutes per game are capable of making such an impact even on an irregular basis? Overall, Bynum’s numbers are strong and efficient and he’s made a difference when he’s been on the floor.
F: Nick Collison [19.4, +10.9] 10.7 PPG, 8 RPG, 2.6 APG, .625 FG, .756 FT
I’m pretty sure most of us can agree that Collison shouldn’t even qualify for this team because he ought to play too much. Basically, Collison does the stuff that Kendrick Perkins is supposed to do — he rebounds, defends, sets screens without moving, and makes shots when left unguarded — but because he’s a little bit smaller, much more reasonably compensated, and totally unselfish, he doesn’t get to play as much. Simply put, Nick Collison is the consumate backup power forward.
F: Jared Sullinger [19.4, +5.3] 11.2 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 1 BLK, .508 FG, .750 FT
In his first NBA season, Jared Sullinger has already become a regular contributor for the Celtics. Selected in the latter part of the first round, he’s displayed a variety of characteristics that aren’t always typical of rookies, let alone 21st-overall picks. Most notably, Sullinger has had little trouble adjusting to the physicality of the league. While his defense could still use some work (he fouls a lot — over six times per 36 minutes), he’s very effective in mixing it up in the paint. He doesn’t shy away from contact, he rebounds the basketball, and he finishes 70% of his shots at the rim (first amongst all rookie PF/Cs). Additionally, Sullinger has displayed some impressive post moves as well as a respectable short-range jump shot. He’s good enough for a spot on this list right now and at age 20 he only figures to get better.
C: Andre Drummond [19.8, +1.8] 13.2 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 3 BLK, 1.5 STL, .601 FG
Despite his incredible physical gifts, Andre Drummond dropped to ninth in the draft because he was supposed to be a project. Instead, he’s made an immediate and sustained impact for the Pistons. Drummond is leading all reserves in double-doubles (6) and ranks second in blocks and rebounds. Impressively, he does all this without fouling all the time. Even on a per-36-minute basis, Andre is just 135th in the league in fouls. Additionally, while he isn’t the type of player you dump the ball to in the post, he has been a capable offensive contributor possessing more coordination and touch than anyone gave him credit for. How many centers can make this play?
6th: JaVale McGee [19.1, -0.1] 19.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 3.7 BPG, .559 FG, 1.000 3FG
JaVale McGee will still leave you scratching your head from time to time, but his otherworldly athleticism has made him a game-changer off the Denver bench. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, they pay JaVale like a quality starter… but that’s another story. In 41 appearances, McGee has recorded either 15+ points or 3+ blocks 23 different times. Coming from a reserve, those are the sort of numbers that can alter the course of a game. Take Denver’s 92-89 road win over the Pacers, for example, when McGee scored 20 points on 9-9. Without his barrage of slam dunks, do you think the Nuggets pick up that three-point victory? As frustrating as he can be sometimes JaVale has certainly won the Nuggets more games than he’s lost them.
7th: Jimmer Fredette [14.4, -6.4] 20.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3.3 APG, .431 FG, .435 3FG
Jimmer Fredette has the worst net +/- of any player to make this team, but to hold that against him would be to insinuate that he assigned himself to the Sacramento Kings. Jimmer has been a much-improved offensive player this season, shooting an impressive 43.5% from three-point range and a respectable 43.1% overall. While he still has his shortcomings — particularly on the defensive side of the ball — Jimmer has become capable of creating his own offense, something he couldn’t do at all last season. He’s scored in double figures every time he’s played 20+ minutes and has generally looked pretty good during his limited opportunities.
8th: Charlie Villanueva [16.3, +5.6] 17.2 PPG, 7 RPG, 1 BLK, .426 FG, .387 3FG
Charlie Villanueva is the second most highly paid player on this list, and by a wide margin. Clearly, his level of productivity doesn’t warrant anything close to the $8 million per season the Pistons are paying him. However, players’ contract situations were not taken into consideration in the construction of this team — only their on-court performance — and CV has been effective in stretching the floor since Lawrence Frank let him out of the doghouse in late November. He’s made at least one three-pointer in 20 of 26 appearances since then, and, amongst power forwards, only Ryan Anderson shoots as well from distance on as many attempts per game.
Honorable Mention: Houston’s Greg Smith has been an excellent complement to Omer Asik in 14 minutes per game for the Rockets. He’s had a couple of big showings in Rockets victories and tends to be a steady offensive contributor.