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Transition Scoring Blues: A Team Problem or a Teague Problem?

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.

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5 thoughts on “Transition Scoring Blues: A Team Problem or a Teague Problem?

  1. Pace of play could also be slower because with Tyus, the players pass the ball more and get more open shots even if they shoot them about the same time on the shot clock or even a little later. The Spurs are a great example of a team that doesn’t shoot quickly, but passes the ball around and looks for the best, most wide open shot. Jeff Teague isn’t a functional player unless he is shooting the teardrop or can hit a three. I think he would benefit from joining Tyus in the back court and getting more plays that allow him to do his own thing.

    Thibs should be horsewhipped for paying Teague this much money after picking Kris Dunn last year to replace Rubio. I realize that he wanted to get rid of Rubio, and Ricky hasn’t benefited from new surroundings, but this team is capable of getting out and running and that would give KAT and Wiggins some more quick shot opportunities and less iso ball. I wonder if you could trade Teague to the Bulls for Dunn straight up? According to the espn trade machine, you could do it, but why would Chicago want to? I wonder if you could trade Teague for Rubio and a future pick?

    Statistically, Teague is better than both of them, but does he make the rest of the team better?

  2. I’m not a Teague scholar, but it seems to me he likely knows how to push pace and play the transition game better than he’s been showing here. I’ve noticed and been made miserable by this pace/no transition thing from almost day one with this team. It’s like an itch you can’t scratch. I was convinced for a long time that it was all Thibs’ fault. Then came a time when Teague was out and Tyus was starting. The difference was quite remarkable. It’s not just that Tyus has a… less cynical style of play. Our pace and ability to play transition was quite different (better). It’s also of general note that if you CAN and DO play with fast pace and transition at times, it allows you more range of pace which to manipulate. When it suits the team you can use slower pace, or faster pace. Like when a player drives to the rim, the gear change in pace, on a larger scale can confuse or tire an opponent.

    In my mind, it is possible that Teague is way worse at playing at fast pace and in transition (and varying pace) than I ever imagined. But I think this is a shared responsibility between him and Thibs. I think Thibs doesn’t want us to play with pace and he’s groomed Teague to avoid it. Thibs likes every thing safe, predictable and above all under [his] control. His taste for control fuels a need to play at a slow pace where he can shout out every order he wants in real time, where he can easily break down and correct our mistakes in the film room (at least in his mind) with our already slow motion sets. Also, though it may seem like he’s oblivious or in denial, I think he realizes that he’s playing his starters a buttload of minutes and that fatigue might be an issue. Given the minutes he demands, can you imagine how gassed we’d be if we were a fast paced offense? Of course, this isn’t excuse making–if we played with pace and got more easy transition buckets with our great athletes we wouldn’t need to play the starters as many minutes.

    I’m not a stats guy, it’s just hard for me to break things down purely in that way. Andy’s analysis is impressive and interesting. I’m not sure what the pace of play numbers (in the 90’s) mean and how they were calculated. If Tyus is way better in amount of transition points than Teague, why would Tyus be the lowest in pace? (Also, PG’s have a huge hand in pace, while other positions have various, lesser roles, so counting them by the same pace number system can’t tell the whole story) Tyus also has the lowest pace number while having better points per possession. Why this seeming logical contradiction occurs in the numbers is beyond my ability to decipher. But it makes me leery. In my mind, Teague is not the kind of pace controlling, high gear type of PG we should have. This particularly has a bad effect on Wiggins who would be deadly in a more open game, but struggles with being a spot up and having Jimmy basically better at all his other non transition strengths. But it really effects the whole team–the margin of victory, dropping games we shouldn’t, making the game boring and laborious for fans and players. It’s a long term loser strategy. Yet Thibs seems set on it. Would it be a little helpful and nice to see more Tyus minutes? Sure. But that won’t really fix anything (and in a way this does look BROKEN to me). Thibs won’t make any philosophy or personnel changes to make this better. Rubio and Dunn are not coming back. If we get a PG it will be a 3rd string upgrade over Brooks. We have a throbbing need to get better depth on the bench, particularly at wing, and that may somehow be addressed before season’s end some. With pace and transition and starting PG Thibs has filled his pot and now has to stew in it. It might help him get fired as he likely will underachieve expectations here. But this will probably take more that this season (I think if he makes the playoffs even if we are swept in the 1st round, he’s 100% safe), and maybe more than next as well. We are looking at a slog.

  3. Pyrrol, I was joking about getting Rubio or Dunn back. Just saying that as Thibs made it a point of getting rid of Rubio, he replaced him with someone that hasn’t really been a scoring threat, a defensive glove, a three point assassin or a great floor leader. He did eat an additional $5 million a year in cap space from the previous PG and that $5 million would have been able to get us one or two bench players, which is your point.

    Teague was an all-star with Atlanta. However, when given the choice between keeping Teague or keeping Schoder, they choose the German jitterbug, because of his length, speed and pace. Teague goes to Indy and has a great statistical year, but as a FA, the Pacers were not interested in a guy they played every game and had some of his best numbers as a starter in the league. They preferred the FA market and got Darren Collison, a PG that like most UCLA players is fast, a scorer and floor leader. He also only makes $10 million instead of $19. Why do two playoff teams get rid of their starting PG? It would seem that IF Jeff Teague was that great a player, he would have been retained. If not, than why would Thibs feel compelled to pay him as much as he did?

    Let’s face it. Teague may be able to move the ball quickly, although his passing is not that accurate or sharp and although he has had some plays where he goes coast to coast and scores, there are just as many times when he gets his shot blocked, pass stolen or sometimes an alley-oop, that is more Oops and less alley.

    Worst of all, he doesn’t make other players obviously better. Maybe he spreads the floor a tiny bit better than Ricky did, but we don’t see to many probing and passing plays that were a staple of Rubio and would help every player on the roster. If you could trade him, you would. I would. I just don’t know if Thibs would.

  4. This is a good conversation; I’d like to add some other factors into this. From what I see, the issue isn’t exclusively about Teague and Tyus; much of it has to do with all these minutes being played, and about who’s playing them. Wiggins is the biggest culprit–he doesn’t sprint up the floor, he jogs, and he doesn’t have a 4th gear. Butler, too, for all his brilliance, is a slow-it-down guy who wants to play in sets. (In fact, I think some of the noise in those numbers for Teague is that he plays most of the 4th quarter minutes, when the Wolves play in isolation and burn the clock with Butler and sometimes Crawford handling the ball.)

    And some of this is related to minutes played–these guys are gassed late in games, late in halves when they’ve played 20 of the 24 minutes. Much of this goes to Thibs, who doesn’t trust his players and tries to micromanage every possession. Coach them during practice, then trust them to play during the games! And give them breaks; get some energy off the bench from whoever you’ve got there, find out what they can do well and let them do it. The lack of trust is killing this team; they aren’t having fun, they don’t play for each other. That will not work in the long haul.

    So I share the frustration with our pace of play but there’s more going on here than just Teague v. Tyus, in my opinion. And, one other thing: why doesn’t he play them together sometimes? I’d love to see that, having two ball-handlers operating, both good at P&R, getting into the paint.

  5. Tyus fan. Teague is the veteran leader. We will hope that Jones plays well until Jeff is ready to go again. We should be able to compete and the game experience good for Jones if the others step up their game. Hope it’s only a couple weeks.

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