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Time to look at this year’s Bench

Click for a full-sized interactive version

Click for a full-sized interactive version

We now have enough data to make some observations about Houston’s bench usage this season. The chart above is now updated with data through January 12, 2015 and shows the percentage of playing time occupied by everyone’s bench, and the net ratings of those benches.

Immediately noticeable is that bench usage for the entire NBA has increased. The current average playing time for a team’s bench is over 38%. At the end of last year, it was less than 36%. The net ratings of the benches, meanwhile, have seen practically no difference. It seems that more and more teams have hopped on board the rest-your-starters bandwagon.

The Rockets, like last year, are tied for 2nd to last in bench usage. The big difference is that there are quite a few teams occupying the same space as the Rockets. Five teams are tied for last, playing their benches 33% of the time, while two teams are tied with the Rockets, playing their benches 34% of the time. At the end of last year, the Rockets played their bench 31% of the time, so there has been a nominal increase in bench usage, if not a relative one.

Last year Houston’s bench was one of the best in the league in terms of net ratings. This year it’s decidedly middle of the pack, with a slightly below average net rating of -1.8.

Of course, Houston’s bench has undergone significant change in a short amount of time, making aggregate evaluations difficult. It lost its two primary contributors (Asik and Lin) and started the season with KPop as its 6th man. An early injury to Terrence Jones also pushed DMo into the starting lineup, further depleting the bench. Mid-season moves brought in Corey Brewer and Josh Smith to fortify the unit. Once Jones returns, the bench should be further strengthened (and hopefully not because DMo becomes demoted).

At the top, the Rockets are still riding their horses as hard as anyone. Both Harden and Ariza are top 10 in the league in terms of minutes played. That combination is also second in the league in minutes played out of all 2-man combinations (Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are first). Howard’s injury scare (still somewhat mysterious) apparently didn’t incentivize the coaching staff to take it easy on the other players.

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About the author: Richard Li is an independent researcher and consultant. He likes numbers and pictures.

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