The bench production in Minnesota is arguably the worst in the NBA. Game after game, head coach Tom Thibodeau relies heavily on his starting five to carry the scoring load — which is a main reason players such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are playing such heavy minutes.
The Wolves’ bench tallies 21.4 points per game, ranking dead last in the NBA. By contrast, the starting unit tallies 82.3 points per game, which is second only to the Golden State Warriors.
Entering the season, it was clear that Thibodeau would rely on his fifth overall pick, Kris Dunn, to lead the second unit as a rookie at the point guard position. The 22-year-old was touted by many as the most NBA-ready prospect in the 2016 draft class.
However, Dunn has looked more uncomfortable than me talking to girls in middle school. His assist-to-turnover ratio sits at a mediocre 1.9 while his net rating of -2.5 is currently 10th on the team. As a scorer, Dunn’s efficiency has been less than stellar, coming in at 11th on the team in effective field goal percentage (41 percent) and true shooting percentage (44.5 percent).
As is the case with every rookie, Dunn’s performance during the regular season is almost a complete 180 from his summer league display. In two games before going down with an injury, he averaged 24 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals per game while hitting over 54 percent of his shots.
Dunn spent a majority of his summer league playing off-ball because Tyus Jones was operating the offense and we all know how that worked out. Jones led the Wolves to the Las Vegas Summer League championship game and earned the tournament’s MVP honors.
Now, to be clear, I’m not oblivious to the difference in competition between summer league and the regular season. But there is a trend that developed in Las Vegas that has continued into the regular season. And that trend is that Tyus Jones runs an offense much better than Kris Dunn does.
Sure, Jones has only seen limited action and thus provides a smaller sample size to evaluate. But the numbers suggest Jones has been a plus player virtually every time he has seen the floor and deserves more action.
In 20 games, Jones has recorded an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.38, which is not only just shy of Ricky Rubio’s 3.46 mark, but also ranks 11th in the NBA among players recording over 10 minutes per game. Furthermore, Jones’ 39.1 assist ratio is third in the association among players at double-digit minutes per game. Rubio’s 43.6 mark is second, for what it’s worth.
It’s clear that the former Blue Devil knows how to operate an offense and has proven it when he has received the opportunity this season. He can run the pick-and-roll and he delivers passes on time in a similar manner as Rubio.
But Jones can also stretch the floor and score, something Rubio is relentlessly knocked for. Jones’ 41.7 percent mark from beyond the arc is actually second on the Wolves, barely behind LaVine at 41.8 percent. Overall, the Apple Valley native has recorded an effective field goal percentage of 53.1 and a true shooting percentage of 59.4 percent, which rank fourth and second on the team, respectively.
And of course, Jones is likely an upgrade in the pick-and roll-game. While the sample size is extremely small (14 possessions small), Jones has produced an efficient 1.21 points per possession as the pick-and-roll scorer (Edit: the PPP stat measures possessions with said player either shooting or turning the ball over. Thus, these PPP numbers mostly indicate the effectiveness of each player as scorers off the pick and roll). Meanwhile, Dunn is at 0.75 and Rubio is at 0.67 for the season. Both Dunn and Rubio fall well into the bottom half in the league in terms of efficiency in the pick-and-roll.
This isn’t to say Jones is an elite pick-and-roll ball handler because, again, that sample size is way too tiny to make any serious declarations, but this does show the ineffectiveness of Dunn and Rubio taking advantage of scoring opportunities in the pick-and-roll game.
On the defensive end of the floor, Jones has some clear weaknesses. At his size and athleticism, his ceiling is probably that of an average defender for his position. He is overpowered easily by bigger or quicker guards and opposing teams have taken advantage of it during his career.
Despite this, Jones has produced a net rating of 6.3 this season, which dwarfs Nemanja Bjelica’s 1.4 mark for best on the team (yes, I know, sample sizes and such). And this brings me to my initial point: Why not give him a shot? Why not at least try the back court combination of Jones and Dunn that worked so well during the summer?
The numbers strongly suggest Jones should be an established part of the Wolves’ rotation. The fact that Thibs plants Jones on the bench implies a couple of things about the new head coach. First, maybe Thibs isn’t much of an advanced stats/analytics guy. Sure, this is only one example, but he has made little reference to it in the past.
Secondly, and this is a narrative that most of us have been aware of already, but it appears as if Dunn is “his guy” and giving Dunn reps in games is a priority for Thibodeau. But doing so at the cost of Jones, who is 26 months younger than Dunn and has shown upside in his own right as a valuable rotational player at the least, seems hasty.
No, Tyus isn’t the long, athletic, defensive-minded point guard that fits Thibodeau’s mold the way Dunn is. But adapting to the strengths and weaknesses of the personnel is something coaches should be able to do, right?
At the end of the day, it’s not as if the bench production can get worse. Given the
10-22 11-23 record, maybe an adjustment in the rotation could be the spark the Wolves need to get on track for a playoff push.
If it was my decision, I’d look to the young man who has provided that spark on the most consistent basis when he has stepped onto the floor this season.