By the numbers
Nets Bench: 20.1 MPG, 38.5 PPG, 16.9 RPG, 7.4 APG, 3.6 SPG, 1.6 BPG, .456 FG%, .360 3P%, .687 FT%
Raptors Bench 16.3 MPG, 26.2 PPG, 14.0 RPG, 6.4 APG, 2.4 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 423 FG%, .372 3P%, .749 FT%
Brooklyn has boasted all season about its depth, and they’ve needed it: with Brook Lopez sidelined for the season, Kevin Garnett missing nearly 30 games, and a variety of bumps and bruises affecting rotation players, the Nets have benefited from an 11-deep rotation where any player can make a significant impact on any given night.
Though Jason Kidd’s said on many occasions he won’t change Brooklyn’s rotation come playoff time, it’s hard to believe there won’t be some limitation. Kevin Garnett’s played spare four-minute stretches of playing time since returning from his back spasms, but it’s one thing when you’re playing one of 82. It’s hard to imagine him sitting as many fourth quarters now that each one could count for 25% of the team’s final tally.
But make no mistake: when Kidd calls upon his backups, he’s got some of the best in the league. Brooklyn’s rookie Mason Plumlee has flourished with playing time, and his standard sales pitch of run-jump-dunk has energized Brooklyn’s offense and provided a big boost when Garnett needs to sit. Marcus Thornton and Mirza Teletovic both share the three-point acumen to change a game’s complexion in an instant and the motivation to show they belong, with a combined one playoff minute (by Teletovic last season) between the two of them. Alan Anderson and Andrei Kirilenko are both solid wing defenders, Anderson with a little touch from mid-range and beyond and Kirilenko an all-around game-changer who can both stuff a stat sheet and do all the little things, even if that doesn’t include free throws.
Brooklyn’s biggest weakness off the bench comes at the point guard position, ironically because of how strong they are there in the starting lineup. With Shaun Livingston’s insertion into the starting lineup in 2014, the Nets have been left with a rotating cast of young backups, from the mercurial (and since-departed) Tyshawn Taylor to the underwhelming Marquis Teague and Jorge Gutierrez. Brooklyn’s at their best with both Livingston and Williams on the floor, and at their worst when both rest on the bench.
Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Toronto’s best bench player is point guard Greivis Vasquez, who actually led the NBA in assists in the 2012-13 season with 704 — no small feat on a league-average offense in New Orleans. Vasquez, on the last year of his rookie deal, averages 15.9 points and 6.2 assists per 36 minutes, with overall per-36 numbers that look an awful lot like… *gulp* Deron Williams’s.
Luckily for Brooklyn, Toronto’s bench advantages mostly end there. They’ve got two solid big men off their bench in Tyler Hansbrough and the stretchy Patrick Patterson, but other than random game-winning jumpers, the Nets hold an edge in the frontcourt department. John Salmons is a 34-year-old space filler, who is what Alan Anderson will be when Alan Anderson is 34.
Playoff matchups don’t often come down to the benches, but in a series that doesn’t have the star power of MVP candidates playing 40 minutes a night, the second unit’s importance could magnify. If it does, Brooklyn’s got the edge.
That said, if Livingston or Williams gets into foul trouble… This could swing the other way quickly.