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Golden State's Championship Bench

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The Warriors' bench means more for their playoff aspirations than many realize. In fact, they've secretly become Golden State's secret weapon.

Shaun Livingston is one of many Warriors who have flown under the radar this season.
Shaun Livingston is one of many Warriors who have flown under the radar this season.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Since a midseason "swoon," the Golden State Warriors are back to crushing spirits and running opponents off of their home court in three quarters or less. But pundits and a smattering of M-V-P free throw chants can be deceiving: it hasn't just been the splash brothers filling the bath tub: it's been the other guys.

In the last two games and 72 hours, Harrison Barnes has gone from afterthought to exciting prospect. An exciting development for a guy who was a bust just five months ago - 47 points on 26 shots in 48 minutes will do that for you. While Barnes will draw much-deserved praise for going nova, his performance is just another brick in the wall for Warriors roster (and bench in particular) that has quietly become the deadliest in the NBA.

For the season, the Warriors bench has posted very respectable numbers in regards to efficiency and total production. As of March 20, they rank 10th in points per game (35.8), first in field goal percentage (.482%), and second in assists per game (9.4). Those numbers may come as a shock to long time Warriors fans, who have the mental image of the bench squandering a fourth quarter lead heat-pressed onto their brains. But despite seemingly adopting your youth league's blowout rules every other fourth quarter, the bench has contributed quality minutes throughout the season when compared to other bench units in the NBA.

Recently, the bench has been even more spectacular than usual. While the offensive numbers remained excellent, the defensive numbers took a huge step forward: rebounding jumped from 13th to 7th, and the team moved to first and second in blocks and steals, respectively. Meanwhile, the unit shot .510 from the field in that span (basically lapping the field and the starters - second-best Minnesota's subs shot .473% in that span, and the Warriors' starters .470%.

Per stats.NBA.com, the efficiency numbers look even better. On the season, Warriors reserves are ranked a tidy third in both offensive and defensive efficiency (or points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, respectively). The net result has been a 6.6-points per 100 possessions differential, which is best among NBA benches by a healthy 1.2 points margin. Only four benches in the entire league boast a differential as high as 4.0 points per 100 possessions, and none of those teams are a threat to the Warriors in the playoffs. The fact that the numbers are similar both before and after the all-star break is proof of their overall (relative) consistency.

The artists formerly known as Dubstitutes also boast a bench-league high in both assist rate (a staggering 66% of bench hoops are assisted), as well as effective field goal percentage (51.7%). Each of these numbers speak to the strength of Kerr's motion offense, which has allowed a gaggle of lengthy role players to execute good offense on a regular basis, unlike early in the season.

Golden State Warriors: League Ranks

Among Starters

Reserves

Offensive Efficiency

111.3 (2nd)

105.9 (3rd)

Defensive Efficiency

96.6 (1st)

99.3 (3rd - tie)

Net Efficiency

14.8!!! (1st)

6.6 (1st)

Assist Rate

65.8% (2nd)

66.0% (1st - tie)

Leading up to the playoffs, talking heads will opine that depth accounts for little, as teams play superstar players for 40-or-more minutes a night, knowing full and well that there may be no tomorrow. There but for the grace of stars may your team tread, and Golden State's path to the Finals is absolutely littered with them. Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka in round one; Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in round two, and a potential matchup with LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference Finals.

The only problem is an obvious one (no, not my sarcasm): all of those guys are hurt, have just been hurt, and are being run into the ground every game in between. The cruel twist that some fans fail to notice is that the best team grows deeper as its bench gets more playing time, confidence and experience; it gets healthier as its players play fewer minutes and suffer fewer stressful game situations; and the team's overall performance improves as both of these things happen.

Put more simply: the superlatives that are heaped upon Champions may often be the result - not the cause - of their greatness. The San Antonio Spurs' role players didn't step up in the Championship so much as they were just better than they were given credit for, as heaps of minutes acclimated them to coach Greg Poppavich's offense, and the team's overall awesomeness gave them plenty of opportunities to hone their skills in wins. That kept the old stars' legs fresh and spry for another deep playoff run, which resulted in a much-deserved NBA Championship.

Just as our favorite Black Falcon, Harrison Barnes has slowly learned to fly under new head coach Steve Kerr, we should consider that there's more to player development than drafting early in the lottery or making a splashy deadline-day trade. One can readily see that Draymond Green has singularly special skills, but can the same be said for Marreese Speights, Justin Holiday, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa, Shaun Livingston and JAMES MICHAEL McADOO? Perhaps not.

Perhaps the Warriors finally, belatedly stumbled onto the best advantage money can't pay for. Consistency and experience (as well as a starting group good enough to buy them those minutes, and a coach willing to endure growing pains) have turned a group of unassuming rank-and-file ‘other guys' into a star unit. And regardless of their future playoff performance, their contribution all year long has put the Golden State Warriors at the front of the Championship line.

*Note: this article was finalized March 21st, and statistics do not include the result of Utah at Golden State.