A Few Intriguing Potential Wolves Lineups

The NBA season is fast approaching and, with the Wolves’ roster nearly cemented and training camp just right around the corner, I figured now would be as good a time as ever to take a look at a few intriguing potential lineups. I emphasize “potential” because, although some have a higher likelihood to appear consistently than others, many of these are a hodge-podge collection of starters and bench players that would fit together in theory, though there may not be much evidence to suggest they’ll be seen all that often (i.e. everyone knows about Tom Thibodeau’s love for his bench disables sarcasm font). Without further ado, a few potential lineups of intrigue.

The Probable Starters: Teague – Wiggins – Butler – Gibson – Towns

This lineup is intriguing for a few obvious reasons: 1. We’ve never seen it before and 2. It may just be one of the best and deepest starting fives the Timberwolves’ franchise has ever fielded. Sure, there are questions about spacing (four of the five players are just league average from 3 overall and Gibson took a whopping 71% of his shots last season from within 10 feet of the hoop) and redundancy at the wing, but what can’t be denied is just how potent each individual player is on offense, save for perhaps Gibson.

Where most of the intrigue about this lineup comes from (at least for me) is on the defensive side of the ball; all five players complement each other very well. Butler will be asked to defend the opposing team’s best wing option, meaning Wiggins will now be delegated to whoever is deemed the second best. Gibson and Butler will bring tenacity and communication that was deeply missed last year without the influence of Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince; Towns and Wiggins, who have shown bright spots in man-to-man situations, but are overall bad team defenders, will grow under their tutelage. Teague can be hidden on opponents weakest offensive wing. Don’t be surprised if the Wolves take a major leap forward on defense in their second year under Thibodeau.

The Catch-And-Shoot “Snipers”: Jones – Wiggins – Butler – Dieng – Towns

One of the biggest question marks revolving around this iteration of the Wolves is their lack of shooting from beyond the arc. While this “problem” is an important one and should be monitored closely, it may also be overstated, at least a little bit.

Every player listed above excelled last year in catch-and-shoot three-point situations, albeit in limited attempts.

Player C&S 3FG% C&S 3FGA Overall 3FG% Overall 3FGA
Tyus Jones 39.6% 0.9 35.6% 1.2
Andrew Wiggins 40.9% 2.1 35.8% 3.5
Jimmy Butler 40.7% 1.5 36.7% 3.3
Gorgui Dieng 42.9% 0.4 37.2% 0.5
Karl-Anthony Towns 39.1% 3.0 36.7% 3.4

The league average 3FG% on catch-and-shoot opportunities was 37.1% (Jeff Teague also shot a technically-above-average 37.6% on catch-and-shoot threes on 1.4 attempts per game last season with the Indiana Pacers). Wiggins’ (and likely Jones’, should this lineup ever see the light of day) attempts figure to increase as Butler most likely takes over the “point wing” role, and one would think Dieng’s attempts may increase after showing good efficiency and production last year. Although each players’ catch-and-shoot three-point field goal percentage would likely drop with an increase in attempts, I’m not sure it would drop below average for any of them.

Nevertheless, there is, admittedly, a lot of conjecture here. The Wolves ranked 27th in catch-and-shoot threes (and 30th in three-point attempts overall) last season with 16.3 attempts per game (the Houston Rockets, unsurprisingly, led the league with 26.2 attempts per game) and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them in the bottom 10 again this year. However, it may behoove Thibs and company to increase the amount of catch-and-shoot threes to take advantage of the increased spacing it would provide.

The Bullies: Teague – Butler – Muhammad – Gibson – Towns

This lineup would be fun if only to watch them grind opponents into a fine powder on both sides of the ball for probably no more than 5 minutes at a time. They probably wouldn’t be an offensive juggernaut as, like, 80% of the offense would go through the post, but it would be a real throwback to a bygone era (and a nice homage to the recently departed Grit-and-Grind Grizzlies; too bad Tony Allen signed with the New Orleans Pelicans).

Towns is one of the best players on the block in the NBA. Shabazz Muhammad is a power guard and is chiseled out of marble. Butler can be extremely physical when need be. Gibson has made a career of banging on bodies in the post. Teague can body up smaller, less physical guards. Just let these guys loose and they will pound opposing players into submission. It wouldn’t be pretty, but it would probably be pretty effective.

The Bench: Jones – Crawford – Muhammad – Bjelica – Dieng

Much like the starters, the all-bench lineup is intriguing solely because we haven’t seen it before. The (presumed) addition of Dieng to the bench will provide a solid, competent, consistent player the quality of which was absent last year. The rest, though, is totally up in the air. Is Jones ready to be “the” backup point guard? Is Jamal Crawford totally cooked or will he have a resurgence in a new environment? Will we see the pre-All-Star game (9.4 ppg, 41.4% 3FG%) Shabazz Muhammad or the post (11.0 ppg, 17.4%(!) 3FG%)? Will Nemanja Bjelica bounce back from his foot injury and return to his post-All-Star form (8.4 ppg/6.4 rpg/1.8 apg, +29) or will he continue to flounder?

Although many of the Wolves’ wins this year will likely come as a result of strong play from the starters, it is probable that the bench will be the determinant of whether or not the team comes out on top simply in the fight for a playoff spot or in the fight for a middle or upper seed. They may not play many minutes in comparison to the starters, but it would be a major boon if the bench can simply hold their own and prevent the team from losing just a few games (something that was a major problem last year).

The Small Ball Squad: Teague – Crawford/Jones – Wiggins – Butler – Towns

The Wolves are one of the few (maybe only?) teams in the NBA that have not deployed a true small ball lineup on a consistent basis to this point. Part of this may be a conscious decision by Thibs, but it is also a personnel problem. The Wolves didn’t really have a wing that could play minutes at the four and hold his own on both sides of the court (Wiggins could handle it on offense, but would get bullied on defense; same with Muhammad): that is, until the acquisition of Butler.

Butler is solid as the roll man in pick-and-roll situations (82.5 percentile, only 0.6% frequency) and down low in the post (91.1 percentile, 5.9% frequency) and has the tenacity and mentality to stick with bigger fours on defense. He’s the perfect small ball four in today’s NBA.

Wiggins could function in a similar role on occasion and Teague and either Crawford or Jones would provide the floor spacing this lineup would need to function well. The only thing this lineup is really missing is a one- or two-guard who is longer and more defensively versatile.

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3 Responsesso far.

  1. gjk says:

    If they signed a 1/2 like Randy Foye (played mostly the 2 in his career) or CJ Watson (6’6 wingspan) and a defensive wing like Alan Anderson or Matt Barnes, they could also throw a decent switching unit out there, with 2 of those joining Butler, Wiggins, and Gibson or Dieng. Technically, Muhammad or Crawford would also qualify, but it kind of defeats the purpose if the opponent just uses their guy to screen and creates an iso against them.

  2. Tom says:

    I see that Dante Cunningham is resigning with Pelicans. So Thibs basically got one upgrade for a reasonable price, Crawford, to improve his team after the Butler trade. He overpaid for Teague and he overpaid for Gibson. He also overpaid for Aldridge last year, but who thinks he would have used that money to get someone and not just paid Taj and Teague more. He now he has guys like Melo (Trimble, not Anthony) and Jefferson (Amile, not Al or Richard) on his 14 and that means that our starting five better be healthy and in shape, because they are going to be playing a ton.

    What’s worse is that after Wiggins signs his contract, we will be in cap jail for three years. Our only assets will be a couple first round picks (which we will need for any improvement) and trading G and Cole, which will not get you much. If he would have used his cap better (Hill and Patterson leap to mind) he would have had enough money to fill bench seats with mid range contracts. Not that he will play them much, but better contract slots to trade if needed.

    KAT and Wiggins are the key to any movement into playoff contention. Jimmy will be the same and that is very good. Teague and Taj will be fine, but this looks like a roster bent on just making the playoffs in the west and not going for a championship.

  3. pyrrol says:

    I think it says something when an article about matchups we can use with our new roster immediately devolves into a discussion of missed personnel opportunities in the comments. It’s clear that some of the decision making in the organization has been a concern to the thoughtful, year-round type fan. I’m certainly in that boat. I find myself obsessing over unceremoniously getting rid of Rubio, and all the overpays or non-exciting acquisitions instead of drooling over our new team’s potential. Why? Part of it is just that being a MN sports fan generally ingrains pessimism. But I think there is more to it. It’s simply boring (and maybe not that smart) to get rid of Rubio only to over pay Teague. In a larger sense, when we landed Butler, that was supposed to be a game changer. I was stunned and impressed when it happened. But it was sort of supposed to be the floodgate opening, the boycott of stars and high quality vets coming to this organization would now be over because Jimmy came here. Not only did bringing in Butler not seem to encourage or ease bringing in high quality players to fill out the roster, but time and time again Thibs and Layden made moves that chipped away at their credibility. Picking up Butler was very unMinnesotan, but everything subsequent was classic Minnesota.

    I still am excited for this season, but there is the scent of danger too, which is always in the air when expectations make an exponential leap. This whiff of danger is only made stronger by the signs of incompetence from our off court leadership.

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