Written By Alex Berg (ZoneCoverage.com)
After Zach LaVine went down with a season-ending torn ACL injury last month, the Minnesota Timberwolves found themselves trying to replace 37.2 minutes and 15.1 shot attempts per game.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have both stepped up in the scoring department, as each has scored at least 22 points in the last 10 games LaVine has missed to lead Minnesota to a 5-5 mark. Towns is averaging 29.1 points and 13.6 rebounds while shooting 60.8 percent from the floor over 37.7 minutes per game, while Wiggins is averaging 30.2 points on 52.3 percent shooting while logging 37.2 minutes per night in those ten games.
As for replacing the minutes, head coach Tom Thibodeau has tried a variety of solutions. Brandon Rush has moved into the starting lineup, Shabazz Muhammad saw an uptick in minutes at times and Lance Stephenson was brought in on a 10-day contract before suffering an ankle injury on Feb. 14. Perhaps the most enticing solution has surfaced over the last three games after the All-Star break. Over the last three games, Tyus Jones has played 24.3 minutes per game and it has not come at the expense of Kris Dunn or even Ricky Rubio.
After trade rumors swirled regarding Rubio being moved before last week’s trade deadline, the Timberwolves have moved to a smaller lineup with two point guards on the floor for most of the game. Other than being able to find consistent minutes for Jones without comprising Dunn’s minutes, the experiment has appeared to pass the eye test and — in a very small sample size — looks good on paper as well.
In the 44 minutes Dunn and Jones have played together over the last three games, the Timberwolves have an effective field goal (eFG) of 51.2 percent while holding its opponents to 44.8 percent. Having the two young floor generals has also led to seven dunks in 81 shot attempts. Towns has played 31 minutes with the pairing and has scored 24 points on 70.6 percent shooting.
Rubio and Jones have played 30 minutes together and, again, Towns has reaped the benefits. He’s scored 28 points in 28 minutes while shooting 72.2 percent from the floor. As a team, the Wolves have scored 79 points on just 57 possessions, with an eFG of 59.2 percent with Rubio and Jones running the floor. Defensively, they’ve held opponents to just 62 points, giving the pairing a plus-17 together in just 30 minutes.
Rubio and Dunn have only played three minutes together in this time, so obviously the sample size is way too small. The two defensive-minded point guards could be an interesting fit that irritates opposing backcourts. Offensively there is concern, but it could be lifted by the presence of Wiggins and Towns.
Overall, playing small may be the best way for the Wolves to utilize their youth and athleticism. Playing two of their point guards with Wiggins and/or Towns, sprinkled in with a player like Muhammad or Nemanja Bjelica makes Minnesota a difficult team to match up with and even harder to catch up with in transition.
In the big picture, one could argue this would be Minnesota’s best lineup design even when LaVine comes back next season. Another argument is it’s not enough size on the floor to rebound or play interior defense. What’s not up for debate is in the current state of the roster, it makes sense to play two point guards together.
Not only has it been effective in a small sample size, it also gives the Timberwolves front office and coaching staff a good opportunity to view and evaluate each of their three point guards.