- The NBA playoffs have been dominated by superstars delivering super-human performances, but bench scorers have been making an imprint as well. Meet the five best supersubs.
The NBA playoffs have already seen a slew of standout performances from the league’s top players midway through the first round. From Russell Westbrook’s triple-double binge to LeBron’s transition slams, the headlines have come primarily from the players who populate All-NBA rosters year after year.
But although these stars may look like Superman at times, they aren’t immune to fatigue. For some, this time can be maddening. Just ask Westbrook, whose Thunder are an astonishing minus-40 in the minutes he’s spent on the bench through four playoff games. However, some teams are able to stay afloat without their superstars, thanks in part to bench scorers with smooth strokes and the occasional Dion-Waiters-level heat check. These guys provide instant offense, capable of heating up at any moment to swing a playoff game. So without further ado, here is the NBA Playoffs's All-Microwave Team.
Joe Johnson, Utah Jazz
Considering Johnson has carried Utah to two wins in the first round, he’s an obvious choice to start our list. Iso Joe has been one of the league’s preeminent scorers throughout his career, currently ranking seventh on the career points list among active players. And he’s pretty good in the clutch, too. Johnson’s game-winning buzzer beater in Game 1 was his eighth in the past 10 years, while no other player has more than four in that span.
Johnson topped his series-opening heroics a week later, carrying the Jazz offense in Game 4 after leading scorer Gordon Hayward left the game due to food poisoning. Johnson erupted for a game-high 28 points, making his greatest presence felt in the final frame. Twenty-two of Utah’s 28 fourth–quarter points came via an assist or made basket from the 16-year vet, as the Jazz went on to tie the series at two games apiece with a 105-98 victory. At 35, Johnson’s minutes may have waned, but his ability to get buckets in crunch time hasn't slowed down at all.
Lou Williams, Houston Rockets
While Oklahoma City struggles to tread water without Westbrook, the Rockets have been just fine when James Harden sits. Houston sports an offensive rating of 127.3 through the playoffs’ first four games when the five-time All-Star is on the bench, a mark that would comfortably lead in the league during the regular season. And while part of that stellar rating may be due to the Thunder’s abysmal bench, much of the credit should go to Williams.
His scoring prowess off the bench has been noted for years, highlighted by a 2014-15 campaign in which he scored 15.5 points per game, won the Sixth Man of the Year Award and got name-checked in a Drake song. Williams now provides a perfect punch to the Rockets’ bench unit, filling in as Houston’s primary ball handler and the space-and-pace maestro without Harden on the floor. The former second-round pick has even replicated Harden’s propensity for earning foul shots on three-point attempts. Williams ranks second in the league at drawing shooting fouls from beyond the arc with 55, trailing only Harden, who racked up a whopping 149 during the season.
In addition to Williams, the Rockets also boast Eric Gordon, another explosive scorer off the bench. Gordon has been a perfect ingredient for Mike D’Antoni’s mad experiment, constantly gravitating toward the three-point line as Harden pushes the pace. He finished his 2016-17 campaign fourth in the league in made threes and third in three-point attempts, the only bench player in the top 15 of either category.
Channing Frye, Cleveland Cavaliers
The lone center on our list, Frye doesn’t compile points his in the paint. Rather, he is now one of Cleveland’s many mad bombers alongside James. Frye shot over 40% from three-point land this year for the first time since 2009-10, serving as a perfect pick-and-pop counterpart for James and Kyrie Irving.
Basketball Reference lists Frye’s nickname as “Buffet of Goodness”, which is pretty apt considering his performance in the Cavs' first four playoff games. Mr. Goodness shot 51% from the field and 47% from downtown, and sealed Cleveland’s Game 3 victory with a corner trey late in the fourth quarter.
Frye’s ability to space the floor from the five spot has earned him a prime role in Cleveland’s playoff rotation. The 12-year veteran is one of the Cavs' more versatile players, and can fill in as a rim protector when needed. If Cleveland can advance to the Finals and complete the Cavs-Warriors trilogy, Frye’s versatility will be critical.
Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
With a silky jumper and even smoother handles, Crawford is the definition of instant offense. He’s capable of pulling up and launching from 25+ feet, and more than comfortable slithering to the rim with a string of crossovers. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year is a spark-plug for Los Angeles’s second unit, often taking ball handling duties when Chris Paul heads to the bench. In the Clippers five-man lineups that registered 50 or more minutes together in 2016-17, groups that featured Crawford registered three of the team’s top five offensive ratings, including the No. 1 overall spot.
Crawford isn’t just another cog in the Clippers’ offensive machine. He’s capable of catching fire at anytime and unafraid to launch from anywhere past the mid-court line. Crawford is one of nine active players to score 50 points three or more times, joining the likes of Harden, Westbrook, James and Kevin Durant. And in Year 17 of his career, Crawford has shown little sign of slowing down. He went for 25 in LA's Game 4 loss to the Jazz, and was the only Clipper to cross the 20-point threshold other than CP3. With Blake Griffin now missing the remainder of the postseason, Crawford will be counted on to shoulder much of the Clips' scoring burden moving forward.
Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs
Mills has fit in perfectly with the NBA’s version of the United Nations since joining San Antonio in 2011. Serving as Tony Parker’s backup point guard, the Australian has seen an increase in minutes and responsibility over the past two seasons, able to satisfy the demands of running Gregg Popovich's system. And although he averages under 10 points per game—the only player on our list to hold that distinction—Mills’s points come quickly and efficiently. He shot 41.3% from three-point range during the season, averaging nearly two makes per game.