The impact of roster depth and bench players for ASU men's basketball

Despite slumps from its leading scorers, ASU's bench has provided a much needed spark

No. 21 ASU men’s basketball has exceeded expectations this season, and many critics believe they are a year ahead of schedule. The Sun Devils have been ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation, while receiving a few first-place votes, and the hype surrounding the team includes the meticulous play of their three senior leaders – Shannon Evans II, Kodi Justice and Tra Holder – who anchor the team’s success. Or do they? 

Last season, ASU’s weakness was undoubtedly its lack of roster depth and size. Their sixth man was then-sophomore forward Ramon Vila, who averaged 2.6 points per game (2.9 points per game in Pac-12 play) and recorded the sixth most playing time on the team. 

Head coach Bobby Hurley turned his team’s main weakness into, arguably, its biggest strength – bench depth. It has been rewarding and has saved the Sun Devils from disappointment this season as they sit at 15-4.

ASU’s three senior guards have each slumped in Pac-12 play, but the team's bench has risen to the occasion. In its three conference wins, ASU outscored its opponents in bench points, 86-24. 

In three of its four conference losses, ASU was outscored in bench points 88-33. 

Highlighting the Sun Devils' bench are freshman guard Remy Martin, junior forward De’Quon Lake and sophomore forward Mickey Mitchell, who have played an integral role for the Sun Devils' second unit. 

“[Remy Martin] been great all year," senior guard Tra Holder said. "Personally, I think he can start on many teams in this league. He’s a great player, he has a great future … he’s tenacious and in a way, I kind of look at him and try to pick things from his game that I can improve on."

Martin is averaging 10.1 points per game in conference play off the bench, but his most impactful performance came against then-No. 2 Kansas, where he dropped 21 points. His hunger defensively has frustrated opposing point guards this season due to constant ball pressure from baseline to baseline.

Coming off the bench was a change of scenery for Martin, who started alongside Duke’s freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III in high school and has been a starter for most of his playing career. However, Holder said Martin has handled the situation with class and maturity.

“I just think who he is as a person, he is a very confident young man," Holder said. "Me, Shannon and Kodi, we are not those seniors who pick on freshman and say, ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that’, we aren’t those type of people. Everyone has a voice, everyone has freedom, and (Martin) has much importance to this team as any of us do.”

Mitchell missed his first eight games as a mid-year transfer from Ohio State, but he has averaged 7.3 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game since joining ASU. He started the first six Pac-12 games, but came off the bench against California on Jan. 20 and led ASU in rebounding for the fifth time in his 11 games. 

“Mickey has been so valuable, and I thought back to his Vanderbilt game," Hurley said. "He came off the bench and had 13 rebounds and made a lot of impact plays. He had some blocks, a nice dunk and just energized our team coming off the bench."

Part of retooling for ASU was adding not just depth, but size, too. Mitchell, who is 6 feet 7 inches tall, adds a layer of size on the perimeter. Lake, however, adds a low-post presence the Sun Devils previously lacked. 

De’Quon (Lake) just does something that we need," Hurley said. "He’s unique, he’s a bouncy athlete that has great timing as a weak side shot blocker. He goes and gets some very key rebounds for us … he adds an athletic dimension to our front-court that we need.”

Lake leads the team in blocked shots with 1.4 per game, while adding 5.4 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game off the bench in the Pac-12. Lake is shooting 69.1 percent from the field, and ASU is 8-0 when he gets at least seven rebounds.

The three players combined for an average of 22.8 points per game in conference play, which accounts for about 29 percent of ASU’s scoring in Pac-12 games. The team averages 78 points per game. 

Many spectators and writers will agree that the Sun Devil’s senior leadership is the heart of the team’s success this season. Nevertheless, if ASU hopes to make a deep run into the postseason, it will have to depend on its bench to continue producing. 

Up Next:

No. 21 ASU vs. Utah

When: Thursday, Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m. MST

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Reach the reporter at or follow @felipecorraljr on Twitter.  

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