Basketball is (maybe, hopefully) on the horizon. To help reintegrate us into a life of Giannis hammer dunks, James Harden dribbling for 24 seconds, and 76ers fans yelling at you for some reason, we’re rolling out top-five rankings in 20 different categories. All rankings were voted on by The Ringer staff unless noted.
Below is our list of the NBA’s top five microwave players: bench guys who bring quick points, hot streaks, and high energy.
5. Derrick Rose, Pistons
Personally, I would have given this spot to Marcus Smart over Rose. The technical issue with Smart is that he started more than half of the games he played in this season. Still, even when he doesn’t come off the bench, Smart maintains that microwave player modus operandi, where heating up can be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s what makes him fun, after all.
But where were we? Oh yeah, Rose. The Pistons’ sixth man (it’s been a long time since Rose was the face of the Bulls, but this still sounds weird) has a perfectly suitable case here, too. No player coming off the bench has scored more points per 36 minutes this season than Rose. With the Pistons not making the cut to return to play, the first year of Rose’s profitable prove-it, two-year, $15 million deal is over—but it’s gone exactly like he wanted it to. The league knows he can still play.
4. Davis Bertans, Wizards
However truncated this NBA season ends up feeling, I hope we do not forget that Bertans was a living flame from beyond the 3-point line. In San Antonio, Bertans was a specialist who never really found a consistent role or got enough shots. But in Washington, he’s been given a constant green light, and the league is better off for it. He was on pace to double his number of shots from the field this season and, frankly, he just didn’t miss. Bertans has averaged nearly nine 3s a game and made 42.4 percent of them—his effective field goal percentage is a ridiculous near-60 percent.
Look, I’m gonna be honest with you: I can’t say I paid close attention to every Wizards game this season. In my defense, the bottom of the East is a wasteland built for basketball masochists. But one of my favorite things about this season has been watching highlights of Bertans just pulling up from Latvia and swishing shots like he was put on this earth to drain 30-footers—which, after this season, I truly believe he was.
3. Dennis Schröder, Thunder
Schröder has been in the league for seven years now, but it seems he’s finally found his ideal role as the third guard in Oklahoma City’s rotation. That is, one that also has the potential to look like the second, or even the best, guard on any given night. The Thunder’s deadly three-guard lineup with Schröder, Chris Paul, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been one of the most effective units in the league this season, and Schröder’s personal numbers show just how much he has benefited from the new environment in OKC.
The former Hawk is posting career highs in effective field goal percentage (53.2—his first season over 50 percent) and 3-point percentage. Schröder may technically be a bench guy, but he’s averaging 31 minutes a game and putting together his most efficient season yet. Schröder has one more year left on his deal, so if he keeps this up, his numbers (and that fact that he’s still just 26 years old) will likely convince another team that he can be their lead point guard. In other words, Schröder may have a sweet deal coming his way, but he may never find a better situation than the one he’s in right now.
2. Montrezl Harrell, Clippers
In another NBA life, perhaps one just over a decade ago, Montrezl Harrell would have been a positional tweener without a solidified role. But because of what basketball has become, Harrell is now one of the most effective bench forces in the league. Gone are the days of the ground-bound center; we’re now in the era of the rim-running big man. With a player like Harrell, the big man becomes a pendulum, swinging from the top of the key toward the rim and back again. The result is a force that can strike on any possession, with Lou Williams usually flanking him in the pick-and-roll and dishing the ball with impeccable timing.
Harrell’s ability to marry his skill set with a very specific role has netted him stellar results and given him a chance to show he can do more (either in L.A. or elsewhere). Every time he enters a game, he sparks energy. That’s why even if the rest of the Clippers are struggling, Doc Rivers can always fall back on the double shot of espresso he has sitting on the bench in Harrell and his guard counterpart …
1. Lou Williams, Clippers
Lou Will was born to be a microwave player. He’s come to define the archetype so precisely that it’s often difficult to even remember what his career looked like before he became a sixth-man specialist. If the traditional big man—menacing and unstoppable within a few feet of the rim—is basketball of the past, then Lou’s slightly junky but somehow smooth perimeter game is basketball evolution personified. The modern NBA has fostered an environment where players like Williams can thrive, and Williams has taken every opportunity to maximize his impact. He’s honed his craft by doubling down on his premier skill—shotmaking—and that’s what makes him the league’s most valuable player off the bench.
Williams’s sweet spot is playing about 25 minutes a game, taking about 15 shots, and making just over half of them. And since getting to the Clippers in 2017, Williams has also found a complementary groove as a passer. In each of the last three seasons, Williams has averaged over five assists a game—in his prior 12 seasons, he had averaged over four assists only once. Part of that may be the system he’s in, but the rest comes from his commitment to his role as a microwave star.
Others receiving multiple votes: Marcus Smart, Buddy Hield, Spencer Dinwiddie if we’re counting him, Patty Mills