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Stats Don’t Lie: The Point Guard Thieves in Minnesota

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Stealing is an art and the Wolves’ point guards are all thieves.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Screaming “Ball Don’t lie” after a bad foul call, followed by a missed free throw, was popularized by Rasheed Wallace over a decade ago. Stats, while they can be deceiving at times, don’t lie either.

Which leads me to the first entry in a recurring series we are going to start here at Canis. Whenever one of our writers has #numbers they find interesting or revealing or under the radar, we will bring it to you in the form of this Stats Don’t Lie column.

An interesting statistic to consider when discussing the point guard trio in Minneapolis — which Britt Robson did an amazing job of covering in his latest article titled “The best person to fill Ricky Rubio’s spot on the Wolves’ roster? Ricky Rubio” — is steal percentage. This is an estimate of the percentage of opponent possessions that end with a steal by the player while he was on the floor.

In short, Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn, and Tyus Jones all boast awesome steal percentages. Rubio is certainly the best of the bunch and one of most potent swipe artists in the game over his entire career — leading the league in steal percentage for three of his six seasons, including an insane 4.2 percent steal rate at age 22 during his sophomore campaign — but Dunn and Jones are also no slouches in this department.

For as different as the three are on the court, they all share the unique and valuable ability to create steals. Each of them ranks in the top 15 in steal percentage among guards who have played 100 or more minutes this season (credit: the outstanding basketball reference).

If we change the filter to guards that have played over 400 minutes, the Wolves point guards all find themselves in the top ten. That is ridiculous if you consider that 123 guards have played over 400 minutes this season. Rubio has 97 steals (third among guards, only behind Steph Curry and John Wall) while Dunn has 48 (44th) and Jones has 26 (82nd).

Basketball Reference

Why is this important? Plenty of people smarter than me have written about the value of steals over the last handful of years, but to put it simply: steals often create quick, highly efficient offense since defenses are often scrambling and don’t have the time to get set up or matched up after flushing the possession down the drain.

In the words of Seth Partnow, who went from basketball writer to Managing Editor of Nylon Calculus to Director of Basketball Research for the Bucks, “No single play better epitomizes this self-reinforcing of good [1. Or bad, depending on who’s doing the stealing] play than the steal.”

In his piece linked above, the SportsVu data he references shows post-steal effective field goal percentages skyrocketing across the league. Early offense, unsurprisingly, is very good offense, which Partnow also wrote about here a year ago.

Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) is going to be through the roof between 18-24 seconds on the shot clock because most of the attempts are likely going to be uncontested or lightly contested dunks and layups. Thus, teams are hyper focused on transition defense. Steals, then, should be thought of as a perfect way to blow an opponent’s transition defensive strategy to pieces.

The Wolves have three point guards that rank among the NBA’s elite in this category which is positive and important to note. As Tom Thibodeau continues to reshape the defense, currently rated 24th of 30 in defensive rating at 110.9, at least he can rest (he never will) knowing his point guards are going to create extra possessions that often lead to quick-hitting transition offense.

Stats don’t lie. Stealing is an art and the point guards in Minnesota are all thieves.