Timberwolves Lineup Combinations: Early Returns

Hannah Foslien

The bench struggles have become a topic of conversation over the last two losses. What's really going on?

Wow is it early. Five games in, and the Wolves are 3-2.  They've split their coin flips (Orlando and Cleveland), beaten OKC and the Knicks, and lost to Golden State.  That isn't too bad, so I don't want to hit the panic button just because the two losses have been in the last two games.

But there a lot of chatter about how bad the bench has been, so I wanted to take a look at it.  Let's start here:



J.J.


DWill


Ham


Shved


Turiaf


Dieng


Gm

Min

+/-

Min

+/-

Min

+/-

Min

+/-

Min

+/-

Min

+/-

ORL

20

+4

DNP

---

20

-9

16

+3

16

+5

DNP

---

OKC

19

+10

27

+6

15

+15

18

-5

3

+1

14

-10

NYK

18

-8

21

-15

15

-14

5

-3

DNP

---

DNP

---

CLE

22

+2

22

+2

15

-9

8

-12

DNP

---

3

-2

GSW

14

-14

19

-12

13

-14

4

-7

DNP

---

6

-4

That is raw minutes and +/- for each of the reserves who have played anything but garbage time. We can see that in the first couple of games, these guys looked alright. Since then, it's been ugly.  Shved has been terrible, but hasn't appeared in the 2nd half of any of the last three games.

The big problem with the bench unit(s) is their inability to score OR control the defensive glass.

We can pick apart the individuals as much as we want.  In fact, let's do that:

Derrick Williams is really struggling on the boards, with 0 offensive rebounds so far, and a defensive rebound rate way below his career average (14.6% vs. 19.5% career).  His usage is way down, he's scoring even less efficiently because he isn't taking or making threes, and he has yet to record an assist.

Dante Cunningham is a quiet killer.  He's not a good defensive rebounder, and hence when those two are on the floor together the team gets killed on the defensive glass.  He's not making his shots (39%) and his turnovers are up. The Williams/Cunningham pairing is a real problem for this team; hopefully Adelman is only using it due to Budinger's absence. Nevertheless, he needs to find an alternative, because those two just aren't going to work.

We could go on down the line with each of these guys.

However, as Nate pointed out, a better way to look at the problem is in combination. It isn't just the guys off the bench playing poorly, though they are, it's that without Kevin Love or Kevin Martin on the floor, the team can't play. They are averaging barely better than a point per minute and shooting under 30% when neither of those guys is out there, and collecting roughly 40% of the available rebounds.  In other words, the Wolves without Love or Martin is not an NBA team so far.

A big part of that problem is that neither Nikola Pekovic nor Ricky Rubio are playing up to their normal standards. Pek, whose signatures over the past two years have been efficient scoring and offensive rebounding, is doing neither early this season. It appears to me that he simply isn't converting shots he usually makes, and though explosive is not a word we would ever associate with him, it seems like he's slower in making his move and in reacting to the ball on rebounds.

Rubio is shooting even more poorly this year, and is exacerbating that by not getting to line as frequently. Though he's taking roughly the same number of shots, there are less rim attempts and more jumpers, hence fewer fouls. He appears more inclined to pull up for a long range two when the offense starts bogging down, as if he feels the need to get it jump started on his own.

As an aside, I wonder if both of those players are struggling more offensively because the team has gone away from the pick and rolls they ran so frequently last season.  The Rubio-Pekovic pick and roll took advantage of both of their talents, with Pek able to take the ball on the move and finish better than almost anyone his size, and Rubio able to deliver the ball where it needed to be on the move.

Be that as it may, I expect both of them to return to their career norms in, hopefully, short order, which is going to make the entire squad look a lot better. When Pekovic and Rubio are playing better, the units without the Kevins on the floor will not be nearly as bereft as they are now.

One of the things that inspired this article is that NBA.com now has lineup stats available. This allows us to see which combinations are working, and which aren't, in 2-5 man groupings. Before getting into it:

SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT! MAN YOUR BATTLE STATIONS! SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT!

The five-man groups aren't worth looking at this early in the season, the samples really are just nothing. However, the worst five man that has played: Rubio, Barea, Cunningham, Williams, Pekovic is -11 (per 48).

Somewhat more interesting, though still with sample sizes that are not large enough to mean much are the two and three man combinations.

All of the two-man combinations featuring Barea, Williams, or Cunningham are at best -5 in over 10 minutes of play. The three man combo of these players is -6.8 and is the most used negative 3 man combination the Wolves have, at over 12 minutes.  We've discussed the problem with this group: it never plays with Kevin Love, and these guys can't, at the moment, shoot or rebound their way out of a paper bag.  Hence, they are getting blown off the floor when out there together.

However, when Love is out there with Derrick Williams, it's a plus combination, and in the brief time Love has been out there with Cunningham, it too is marginally positive.

Although it's early, I would advocate some changes to the rotation Adelman is playing in order to avoid combinations where Williams and Cunningham are the two forwards out there, whether it be with Dieng or Pekovic. Also, as much as the combination of Love and Martin can be devastating to opponents, I would split them up more, making sure they are on the floor together at the beginning of each half and the end of the game.

My suggestion would be to sub out Pekovic and Martin fairly early and replace them with Williams and Barea (hurry back Bud!).  That way, Williams gets on the floor with Love, hence less pressure on the boards. I would bring back Martin and Pekovic to start the 2nd quarter in place of Rubio and Love. If you must play Cunningham, he can replace Williams in this lineup, and I guess Shved can give Brewer a breather at some point in there (hurry back Bud!).

As Nate's numbers show, at the moment, you have to try to have one of the Kevins on the floor at all times. Eventually Pekovic's game will come around to make it possible to go to other combos, but right now it's hurting them too much when both of them sit.

It's difficult because without Turiaf and Budinger, the team is just thin. You gotta have five guys out there, which means at the moment Shved probably has to keep going out there, as does Cunningham.  It's hard to get by with less than nine guys during the regular season, and our 6-9 guys just aren't that good.  Still, there are ways to mitigate it, and Coach Adelman needs to figure those out.

Groups with four subs on the floor, or three subs on the floor without a Kevin are putting this team in a deep hole.

Two of the starters need to be on the floor at all times, and one of them needs to be named Kevin.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Canis Hoopus

You must be a member of Canis Hoopus to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Canis Hoopus. You should read them.

Join Canis Hoopus

You must be a member of Canis Hoopus to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Canis Hoopus. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9347_tracker