All title winning things have (at least) one thing in common. Of course they have multiple superstars (except for Hakeem in the mid ’90s), they have a great head coach, and get lucky once or twice throughout the playoffs. But the most common theme among all title winning teams is not any one of these, but instead one other crucial aspect: a quality bench.
This year’s Heat squad had Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, and Birdman Birdman off the bench. The 2010-11 Mavs team featured J.J. Barea, Peja Stojakovic, and Deshawn Stevenson. Go back to the last Lakers title teams which featured Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, Lamar Odom, and Sasha Vujacic.. The bench players often offered a change in pace from the slow, plodding offense of Fisher-Bryant-MWP-Pau-Bynum. When the young kids came in, it was up-tempo, fast-paced, attack where they pushed the ball and utilized their athleticism.
The Bench Mob, as they would become affectionately known as, was integral in the Lakers back-to-back titles. If you think back to some key or memorable plays – Brown’s alley-oop in Game 6 of the Finals, Vujacic’s title-clinching free throws in Game 7 – they were all made by bench players. And that’s not even necessarily accounting for the production by Odom, who won 6th man of the year. Unfortunately, the Bench Mob was eventually scrapped as the players moved on; Farmar and Brown in free agency,Vujacic and Odom in trades.
For this year’s Laker squad, the offense likely won’t be a fast paced one with Bryant, Steve Nash, and Gasol all 33 years old or over. Whether they use the more plodding attack or switch to the offense D’Antoni’s pick and roll offense, it won’t be done fast. Last season, the bench would come in and replicate the offense run by the starters, mainly due to the lack of talent and the specific skill set of the bench players. This season, however, the Lakers have a bench that is talented. They departed with Chris Duhon and Darius Morris and brought in Jordan Farmar and Nick Young. Devin Ebanks and Antawn Jamison left and were replaced by Wes Johnson and Nick Young. Chris Kaman will step in to help replicate at least some of the production of Dwight Howard last season. And with the additions of younger players Ryan Kelly and Elias Harris, this Lakers squad got significantly better on the bench.
That very likely means we could see a return of the Bench Mob. A group of players off the bench who know and accept their roles willingly and bring 100% each night. The camaraderie among those title winning teams is what made them so enjoyable to watch, and this season may produce a similar emotional connection.
This squad, as we’ve said before, is one that you’ll be proud of. But it’ll also be a squad that could rekindle the joy that the title winning teams gave. The Bench Mob was big in making those teams lovable.