When the Timberwolves traded Jimmy Butler to the Sixers in mid-November, much of the attention on the return package was centered around Robert Covington and his first-team all-NBA level defense. Since then, Covington has, somehow, completely turned the Wolves defense around. Covington, in addition to KAT, is getting a ton of credit for the recent turnaround, and deservedly so. He’s been great.
The piece of the puzzle that has been lost in the shuffle a bit, though, is the immense talent that is Dario Saric. His shooting, passing, and overall offensive creativity have been on display, even if he hasn’t gotten the playing time we’d hoped for.
Even if Saric isn’t going to be in the starting lineup this season, there’s still something that needs to happen: Super Dario needs to be paired with KAT as much as possible. Even if Taj Gibson is going to remain the starter, the two versatile big men need to share the floor together more often.
There’s nothing wrong with bringing Saric in with the first round of substitutions in order to pair the two for longer periods of time.
Why do we want to see these two play together more often? Well, it comes down to a few things.
For one, the chemistry they’ve already displayed on offense is truly exciting. Saric seems to be the only guy on the Wolves roster who really knows how to cut off of Towns’ post-ups. While the rest of the league may be moving away from the post, the Karl-Anthony Towns post-up is currently the Wolves best option in terms of running consistent offense when considering the absence of a reliable wing initiator. To maximize this type of offense, they need to surround Towns with guys who know how to move and cut off of those post-ups.
There we go. KAT gets a bit stuck after some sturdy defense from Durant, which is followed by Saric making a strong cut to the basket and Towns finding him for the easy two. The Towns post-ups are good options for this team, but they can’t solely rely on these post-ups to end with Towns shooting. Other guys have to get involved and make themselves available like Saric did there. Here’s another look from the Warriors game.
This pairing has immense potential. Saric knows when to space and when to cut... pic.twitter.com/ZcKzjdMlv5— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) December 11, 2018
Beautiful. The double comes on Towns, leaving the middle of the lane a bit vulnerable. Saric sees it, and runs straight to the rim. Towns sees it and makes an accurate pass to set Saric up for another easy two.
If the Wolves want Towns’ passing to “improve,” they need to put him in situations to set his teammates up. Towns isn’t going to drive and kick like a guard in order to improve his assist numbers. If those numbers are to improve, it’s going to happen by finding his teammates and taking advantage of opposing defenses sending double teams.
John’s tweet above actually leads into the other big reason why this duo should share the floor more: spacing. It’s kind of become a buzzword in the NBA now, and sometimes it can definitely be overused, but a front court pairing of Towns and Saric would arguably be the most spacey pairing in the NBA.
For reference, Towns is making 40% of his three-pointers on over 4 attempts per night, while Saric is at 35% on just under 4 attempts per night. For Saric though, there’s reason to believe that his shooting can improve even further based upon the 39% he shot from three on over 5 attempts per game last year. Even if he doesn’t improve from that 35% shooting clip, that’s still more than respectable enough to make opposing defenses respect him from the perimeter.
For a lot of teams, that spacing in the front court would be a really nice bonus for their offense. For the Wolves, that extra spacing is a necessity. With the likes of Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, and Derrick Rose occupying the majority of the backcourt minutes, Minnesota needs to open up the floor some other way.
I realize Rose is hitting on a fantastic percentage of his threes, but with the extremely low number of attempts, defenders aren’t honoring it quite as much as they otherwise would for someone with a similar three-point field goal percentage.
Due to all of this, Minnesota should to look to space the floor in a flipped manner compared to traditional NBA teams. An offense with KAT and Saric involved in pick-and-pop situations and spacing on the perimeter for the Wolves slashers seems to make too much sense.
With a more spaced out offense, that feasts on these pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll scenario, there should also be more opportunities for KAT and Saric to get a smaller player switched onto them that they can take advantage of in the post. Saric, especially, has shown a great propensity for sealing off a smaller player and getting easy baskets underneath the rim.
Put simply, this pairing gives Minnesota the ability to not only be more efficient offensively, but also to be more creative. Yes, since the Butler trade, Minnesota’s defense has improved immensely. The offense has slipped a bit, however, and pairing KAT and Saric together more often could help bolster that end of the floor.
The biggest concern with this pairing is on the defensive end of the floor. Many wonder whether two below average big men playing together for extended periods of time would be too much for this team to overcome. This skepticism would be correct, if they were actually two below average defenders.
Saric is certainly not a world beater on the defensive end, but he plays with effort which is about all you can ask from someone who is not as athletically gifted as the players he’s being asked to guard.
Towns, once a punch line on the less glamorous end of the floor, has developed into a solid (if not good) defender. Since Covington and Saric came over, Karl-Anthony Towns has a strong defensive rating of 101.9.
He is contesting shots at the rim at a much higher rate than years past, and he no longer looks like completely out of place in pick-and-roll coverages. To read more about KAT’s defensive improvements, take a peak at Jake’s article here.
A lot of this has been theoretical so far, so how about some concrete numbers for this pair? When the two share the court, they boast an offensive rating of 110.3 and a defensive rating of 95.9, which is good for a net-rating of +14.4. The only two-man lineups among regular rotation players with better net-ratings than that are Robert Covington/Tyus Jones (+18.4) and Dario Saric/Tyus Jones (+14.5).
This is a topic for another day, but the four-man combination of Tyus/Covington/Saric/Towns has only played 27 minutes together this season. It certainly feels like, given those two-man pairings, those four should share the floor more often.
Regardless, Minnesota has begun to figure out the defensive end of the floor in the post-Butler era. For them to reach, or raise, their ceiling, they need to find ways to excel and be more consistent on the offensive end of the floor without bleeding points defensively. To me, it seems that pairing KAT and the Homie unlocks that potential.