But this season might be different. No top team has a true standout scorer off the bench who fits the mold of winners from seasons past.
The one exception could be Ryan Anderson of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Sure, New Orleans is only 9-9 and has been wildly inconsistent this season. Still, since Anderson’s return to the team, the Pelicans have gone 5-2 and looked very strong.
And with Anthony Davis out indefinitely, Anderson’s role will only increase. He is averaging 28.3 points in three December games – two wins – and has carried the Pelicans since Davis went down. He has started the past two games in place of Davis but likely will fall back to a bench role when The Brow returns.
Oh, yeah – Anderson is shooting 53 percent from 3-point range on nearly eight attempts per game and is second in the NBA in pulling down contested rebounds. The scariest part? He is only 25 years old and has room for even more growth.
Still, I felt it unfair to put Anderson into these rankings just yet. He missed the first nine games due to a broken toe, has logged just seven games off the bench and will be starting for the foreseeable future. He would also be bumping off Isaiah Thomas, who has played more than twice as many games and still leads the league in bench scoring.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference continues to struggle with worthy Sixth Man candidates. Dion Waiters has averaged 15.1 points since his demotion from Cleveland’s starting lineup, but the Cavaliers are just 2-5 in that span. Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey deserves some recognition for having the best start of his career; his 16.2 points place him fourth among all qualified bench scorers. But the Pistons are just 9-10.
Neither player has done enough to sneak into the top five. It looks as though it will come down to a four- or five-man race based on early season results. Topping the list are four guards who represent contending teams out West.
Now, on to the rankings.
|1||REGGIE JACKSON, G, OKLAHOMA CITY: Has been a huge factor for OKC this season. In his last five games, has averaged 14.8 points. Though plus-minus can often be a misleading stat, Jackson’s plus-9.6 is anything but. The Thunder are simply better when Jackson gets minutes.
|2||MO WILLIAMS, G, PORTLAND: The Trail Blazers are in first place in the West at 16-3 and coming off signature wins over Indiana and Oklahoma City. Williams won’t wow you with his stats, but his league-leading 4.6 bench assists have done a lot to boost Portland’s woeful bench from last season.
|3||JEREMY LIN, G, HOUSTON: Returned to practice Thursday after sitting out a week with a knee injury. His drop has more to do with Jackson’s and Williams’ strong play. Lin is still among the leaders for bench scorers and distributors and is shooting 51 percent.
|4||JAMAL CRAWFORD, G, LA CLIPPERS: Proved can still break ankles with the best of them, and with J.J. Redick out 6-8 weeks, his role will only increase. When on the court, responsible for nearly half the team’s made threes. Expect him to maintain the 19.8 points in four games since Redick went down.
|5||ISAIAH THOMAS, G, SACRAMENTO: Still leads in bench scoring with 17.6 points and is top three with 4.5 assists. His 21 points in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s loss to OKC were nearly enough to give the Kings the upset. But Sacramento is 4-12 and has lost five straight.||3|
FIVE TO WATCH: Ryan Anderson, F, New Orleans; Markieff Morris, F, Phoenix; Jared Sullinger, F, Boston; Taj Gibson, F, Chicago; Rodney Stuckey, G, Detroit.