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Monday Musings: Usage Rates

How will the Wolves share the ball between Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns?

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

With this recent offseason, the Wolves suddenly have a new and improved “Big Three,” between Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, and Andrew Wiggins. This is a fairly common team structure across the NBA and was seemingly popularized by recent super teams of the Boston Celtics, with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, and the Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh.

However, of course, there is also the common refrain that “there is only one basketball,” and teams need to create the right system in order to accommodate all of their star players.

To find out how the Wolves will compare to the rest of the league next season, I took a look at the top three usage players on each team in the NBA last year, discounting players who were there due to small sample sizes (which is somewhat subjective).

The average usage rate for the first, second, and third options are as follows:

  1. 29.6
  2. 25.8
  3. 23.2

A few notes before we jump into Wolves talk:

  • It was amazing what Zach LaVine was able to produce on a relatively low usage rate. His combination of three-point shooting and transition opportunities really made for efficient offense.
  • Two players were in the top three in usage on two different teams, DeMarcus Cousins and Jusuf Nurkic
  • We need to get some help to Kemba Walker out in Charlotte. Jeremy Lamb and Nicolas Batum were the next two highest usage rates on the team.
  • Russell Westbrook’s sky high usage rate of 41.7 moved the average of the first option on each team up by .64 points all by himself
  • Sean Kilpatrick was out there killing it in Brooklyn with a usage rate of 23.8. Good for him.
  • The Orlando Magic probably have the worst three highest usage players, of any non-Brooklyn team, with Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, and Elfrid Payton

As for the Wolves, their three highest usage players last year were Andrew Wiggins at 29, Towns at 27.5, and LaVine at 21.7. That is pretty in-line with the league averages.

Next year, the Wolves are swapping out LaVine for Jimmy Butler. I was surprised to see that Butler did not lead the Bulls in usage last year, that honor belonged to Dwayne Wade at 29.6 (and MCW was third, oof). But Butler carried a respectable usage rate of 26.5, which is certainly much higher than what LaVine’s was last year.

The other interesting thing is that the Wolves also brought on two players in Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford that were either fourth or fifth on their team in usage. In fact, both Teague and Crawford have career usage rates well above what LaVine’s has been. That means there is going to be a lot of players on this team who are used to having (and shooting) the basketball.

As for Jimmy’s usage rate, it is actually not that odd to have a third option that has that high of a usage rate. There are a few teams that skew towards the high end with their third player and several of those teams are a few of the best in the NBA. Particularly, they are the Warriors, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, and then the Bucks.

Now, some of that makes sense. The best teams are often the deepest teams and thus their third options are quite good, such as Klay Thompson, Mike Conley, and Kevin Love. Where Michael Beasley as the Bucks third option fits into this, I have no idea. But it is not as if these teams are creating systems that facilitate a more-used third option, they simply have better players in those spots.

The odd part for the Wolves is that their first and third option should probably be switched. Andrew Wiggins has been deemed by many as the “third option” behind Butler and Towns, which would theoretically help out his game as he is not as relied upon as the primary scorer.

However, Butler has never carried as high as a usage rate as Wiggins has. In fact, Wiggins sophomore year usage rate is still above what Butler’s career high.

It will certainly be interesting next year, as this implies that the Wolves are theoretically having their best player play with the third highest usage rate, which is already an odd situation, while at the same time they will be working in Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford, who may see career lows in usage rates.