Lifting the Bench

Before the season started, I thought the depth of the Nets bench was going to be the team’s strongest asset. Veterans like Rafer Alston, Keyon Dooling and Jarvis Hayes would provide shooting and leadership, while big men like Josh Boone, Tony Battie and a healthier Eduardo Najera were hypothetically going to provide a little grit and toughness, especially on the defensive end. And rookie Terrence Williams was potentially a jack-of-all-trades player who could fill a stat-sheet in a number of categories.

But a funny thing happened. A bunch of injuries to the team’s starters forced guys like Alston, Boone and TWill into bigger roles than expected, exposing them as below average, bordering on awful rotation players. Injuries to Dooling, Hayes and Battie kept them out of action for prolonged periods. And Eduardo Najera looked to be all but finished in the NBA.  A perceived strength was now the team’s biggest weakness.

In a recent post, Sebastian mentioned that the Nets may have one of the weakest 6-12 guys in the league, referring to the bench, but through a series of roster moves and health upgrades, I’m starting to see positive signs with the bench again.

For starters let’s look at some the recent moves that have bolstered the bench:

Going: Rafer Alston (contract buyout), Sean Williams (waived), Eduardo Najera (traded).

Coming: Kris Humphries (trade), Chris Quinn (trade), Chris Douglas-Roberts (moved to bench in favor of Jarvis Hayes).

Out of the rotation: Josh Boone.

So here are some of the primary changes…

Kris Humphries replaces Josh Boone and Eduardo Najera as F/C: This may be the most dramatic upgrade for the bench. Humphries, who was a “per 48 minute” star with his previous teams was finally getting legitimate playing time, and has even replaced Yi Jianlian at PF in crunch time of games. Hump has rewarded the Nets loyalty by going for double-digits in scoring four times since he joined the team in mid-January, including two games with 20+ points. He’s also had 7 or more rebounds five times. Compare that with Josh Boone, whose season high for points has been 11. Humphries has a slightly lower rebound rate than Boone, but he also turns the ball over a lot less. This has definitely been a move for the better.

Chris Quinn replaces Rafer Alston: Quinn only seems to be getting into games when either Devin Harris or Keyon Dooling are injured, but when you look at some of his numbers, he’s still an upgrade over the 2009-10 version of Alston. In his limited time this season, Quinn has compiled a better True Shooting percentage, assist ratio, turnover ratio and Player Efficiency Rating than Alston. He’s also fits in the team’s mold of building around youth, and seems to be steering clear of some of the locker room issues that were periodically connected to Alston’s name.

Terrence Williams is starting to get it: This is a big assumption, but TWill has been a revelation on this homestand ever since Rod Thorn reportedly threatened to demote him to the D-League if he didn’t get his act together. He’s still not shooting the ball all that well, but he’s backing away from the exorbitant number of jumpers he was taking in November and December, and he’s been rebounding the ball and collecting assists at a better rate than he was earlier this season when injuries forced him into more playing time.

Chris Douglas-Roberts is the wild card: I honestly think the play of CDR off the bench will go a long way towards determining his long-term value with the Nets.  His first game off the bench was not much to get excited about, going scoreless and missing his one and only shot attempt. However, he looked a lot more into the flow last night, and it showed as he was on the floor when the team made its big run in the second quarter. If CDR can build on last night’s performance, he’ll be a major asset off the bench, capable of scoring 10-15 points a game and getting to the foul line at a nice clip – similar to what he demonstrated at the end of his rookie season.