Eye test observation:
The Timberwolves have a really slow-moving offense, except for when Tyus Jones plays.
Put differently, when Jeff Teague runs the point, the Wolves don’t push the ball in transition.
This dual trend was on display in last night’s win over the Lakers, when the team seemed to play better — and FASTER — when Jones was in the game instead of Teague. And a few days ago, Michael Pina of VICE Sports addressed the Wolves slow pace of play in his “Outlet Pass” post.
What I wanted to do is quickly fact check this notion that Tyus improves the offense by pushing the ball. All data below comes from the nba.com stats page.
Question 1: Do the Wolves score better with Tyus than they do with Teague?
Answer: Yes, slightly more. With Tyus they’re scoring 111.0 points per 100 possessions. With Teague they’re scoring 110.0.
Question 2: Does the difference increase when you compare the times that each plays with the other starting players (as opposed to much of the Jones minutes spent with backups like Jamal Crawford and Gorgui)?
Answer: Yes, definitely. The sample size of “Jones plus the other starters” is pretty small; just 93 minutes. In that time, the Wolves have absolutely killed the opposition: they’ve scored 115.0 per 100 and allowed just 102.5. In the much-more-reliable sample of 693 normal (read: with Teague) starters minutes, they’ve scored 110.2 and allowed 103.6.
To increase the sample a bit, we can trim them to 3-man lineups that include Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, the best two-way players on the team, so far. The trio of Teague-Butler-Gibson is scoring 110.4 per 100 (809 minutes) while Jones-Butler-Gibson scores 113.9 (150 minutes).
Question 3: By pace of play, do the Wolves play faster with Teague or Tyus?
Answer: This one surprised me and counters the eye test. Of all regular players, Teague has the fastest pace measure (99.54) while Tyus has the lowest (96.13).
Question 4: Like with overall scoring, is this affected by their usual lineups?
Answer: Not really. If we group them with the same trios as above, the Teague-Butler-Gibson lineup has a pace of 98.32, while Jones-Butler-Gibson comes in at just 94.6.
Question 5: Okay, so Teague lineups have faster pace. Does that mean that they score more in transition?
Answer: No. When Teague is on the floor the Wolves score 9.0 fast break points per 48 minutes. When Tyus is playing point, that number goes up to 11.3 points per 48. Jones ranks ahead of all regular rotation players in this category.
Question 6: Once more, how do things change when Jones mixes in with the best players on the team?
Answer: It skyrockets up to 17.2 fast break points per 48 minutes when Tyus plays with both Butler and Gibson. When it’s Teague-Butler-Gibson, they score just 9.3 per 48.
Question 7: What is a typical amount of fast break points per 48 minutes in the NBA today?
Answer: Golden State is an outlier, in first place at 21.6. The range of the other 29 teams is Portland in last at 5.5 and the Lakers at 16.0. The Wolves overall are at 9.5, good for 19th in the league. So, the 17.2 figure, in the last question/answer, would be better than every team but the Warriors, and Teague’s 9.3 would be tied with Philly for 22nd in the league. It’s a pretty major difference.
Question 8: Are there any factors that might explain this disparity other than Jones pushing the ball faster than Teague? Steals? More defensive rebounds?
Answer: Teague-Butler-Gibson collect 32.5 defensive rebounds and 9.3 steals per 48 minutes. For Jones-Butler-Gibson, those change to 35.4 and 11.2. Against the Teague trio, opponents are shooting 46.6 percent from the field, versus 41.3 percent when Jones subs in for Teague. So yes, it is possible that the the combination of more missed shots/defensive rebounds and more steals help boost up the fast-break scoring when Jones subs in for Teague with the best Wolves lineups.
Question 9: What to do with all of this information?
Answer: I guess this is a question for Thibs and not me. I would suggest that, for starters, he do everything he can to motivate Jeff Teague to push the ball when a rebound is collected instead of doing what he normally does, which is crouch down into a really-low dribble and allow the other 9 players to (more or less) get in front of him so that he can slowly enter the halfcourt offense in full control. Thibs should encourage a faster pace where Teague probes the scrambled transition defense and looks for a quick hitter before everything is settled down. Even if it doesn’t lead to an immediately good shot (it usually won’t) it will rattle and tire opponents and help initiate early ball movement. It will help avoid the all-too-common scenario where Teague or Butler is stationary with the ball for most of the shot clock, at the top of the key.
If that doesn’t work — and maybe even before we have to wait to find out — I would suggest playing Tyus Jones more minutes with the other starting players. The numbers suggest it’s a good idea, even if Teague is the more gifted scorer. That normal starting unit that includes not only Butler but also Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns has so much fire power that it often seems counterproductive to have Teague dribbling so much, moving so slowly. When Jones plays, the defense seems to improve a bit and he does whatever he can to ensure that: a) the ball gets all the way up the floor, asap, and: b) he isn’t touching it too much.