This can be a cruel league for certain players who just can’t seem to move up the depth chart. They were the best player who ever came from their high school, and were probably stars in college. Now they’re relegated to meaningless minutes off the bench for an NBA team, hoping that they can catch the attention of anybody who can recognize quality play despite an absence of quantity.
The good news is that I can empathize with their plight. While others may call them “bench warmers,” I call them “garbage time stars.”
I compiled a ballot of my “All-NBA Garbage Time First Team.” These are the best players at each position who thrived in very limited roles, usually only getting to showcase their skills at the end of blowouts.
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To be eligible, a player had to play in over 40 games this season and average less than 10 minutes per game. These qualifications ensured that they were a frequent contributor to the team, yet never in huge doses.
These guys not only cheered on their teammates from the bench, but also put up impressive numbers relative to how many minutes they played. Their recognition has long been overdue. Here are my selections at each position.
Young is the 3rd string point guard on the Indiana Pacers. While George Hill and Ty Lawson were called upon more often by Frank Vogel to orchestrate the action on the floor, Young put up some nice numbers when he did see the court. Per 48 minutes, he averaged 19.3 points per game, which was 7th on the team for any player who played in at least 40 games. Per minute, Young was a better scorer than both Hill and Lawson. Young also averaged 8.1 assists per 48 minutes, which lead the team for players playing in over 40 games. Young makes the most of his opportunities to contribute on offense.
Clark is buried on the depth chart in Golden State, and while the Splash Brothers garner most of the headlines, Warriors fans are well aware of Clark’s explosive scoring that he can provide as a 3rd string shooting guard. In a lineup full of talented scorers, Clark ranks 6th on the team with 19.6 points per 48 minutes amongst players with over 40 games played. He also has the 6th highest 3-point field goal percentage on the team amongst players with over 40 games and an average of at least 1 attempt per game. Clark can light it up from the perimeter, and he’s used the Warriors’ propensity to blow out opponents to showcase some of his skills.
Jones is the former winner of the NBA 3-Point Shootout, and has long been one of the most dangerous catch-and-shoot players from downtown. Jones is provided with many of his open shoots from the penetration of other teammates, including his long-time friend LeBron James. After James left Miami, Jones decided to follow him to Cleveland, where he’s remained a terrific shooter despite the lack of meaningful minutes. Jones averaged 18.7 points per 48 minutes, which ranked 6th on the team amongst players who logged over 40 games in a Cavaliers jersey. Jones shot about 39% from 3-point range, which was good for 3rd on the team amongst guys who played over 40 games and averaged at least one 3-point field goal attempt per game.
The Atlanta Hawks are an impressive franchise, and so much of their success has been due to their depth. Muscala can play both power forward and center, but he’s losing out on significant playing time off the bench to guys like Mike Scott, Kris Humphries, and Tiago Splitter. Despite his lack of opportunities, Muscala provides imposing scoring and rebounding numbers in his sparse minutes. Not only can he score inside, but also has a nice mid-range touch. Per 48 minutes, he averaged 16.6 points, which ranked 8th on the team for players who played in over 40 games for the Hawks. His rebounding totals were even more striking, as he averaged 9.9 rebounds per 48 minutes and ranked 3rd on his team in that category amongst guys who played in over 40 games.
The fact that only Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant had a higher Player Efficiency Rating during the regular season than Marjanovic makes him perhaps the easiest selection to this list. Marjanovic averaged a gigantic 28.1 points per 48 minutes, which ranked 3rd on an extremely deep San Antonio Spurs roster. He also lead the team with 18.3 rebounds per 48 minutes. It’s very intriguing to imagine what Marjanovic can do with significant minutes considering the output he had with such small playing time. Marjanovic can safely be called the Most Valuable Garbage Time Player for his rare sightings during a Spurs game.