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|
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.