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The Big Three: Analyzing the Wolves’ Best Pairings Thus Far

The Wolves have bounced back from an embarrassing road loss in Atlanta, and it’s largely due to the play of a few different lineup combinations Chris Finch likes to find in games. We’ll look at the root of a couple of them.

Utah Jazz v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Depth and cohesion are the two things that get the Minnesota Timberwolves to the promised land if the season goes the way many hope it’s going to go.

There’s not real downside to having cohesion; but there are, although small, a few downsides of depth. The main one being the importance of precision in rotations, and the difficulty in finding the right combinations early in the season. It’s hard to be an elite, deep team if you don’t hit the high notes with specific lineup combinations, and ones that compliment each other on both sides of the floor, unlike rotations of Wolves past.

While most of it ended up being lazy play which led to the massive downfall, some of the aforementioned lack of sharpness in rotations were shown in the second half against the Atlanta Hawks. We could write about that, but that was a week ago, and the team is rolling. Let’s look a the good and take a look at three of the best pairings for the Wolves so far this season.

NOTE: Pairings have been filtered by duos that have played 50 minutes or more together, to avoid dilution of the data.

Miami Heat v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Two Quick Things...

1) Karl-Anthony Towns is a common denominator in a lot of positive lineup net ratings across the board. He’s quietly had a great start to the season. A lot of people, myself included, often correlate KAT’s effectiveness and success to how much he’s scoring, or how well he’s shooting the basketball. And certainly, that will get better as the year goes on with his colder than usual start. But he’s been assignment-sound on defense and really effective there. His driving ability and spacing has been excellent in paving way for others. It was an initial surprise of mine in looking at this.

2) Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert have continued their magic. They aren’t a top three pairing on the team as of right now, but carry a +15.1 net rating with them. Gobert is a different offensive player with Conley on the floor, and it meets the eye and analytics tests.

The Pairings

Minnesota Timberwolves v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

1) Karl-Anthony Towns and Jaden McDaniels (+27.8 net rating in 51 minutes)

Towns and McDaniels together post the best offensive rating of any pairing on the Wolves together. Similar to what I mentioned above about Towns, both he and McDaniels are excellent spacers and knockdown shooters.

But I think a differentiator is the awesome defensive scheme the Wolves are running, and how great it’s been executed. Minnesota currently has the best defense in the league for a reason, and the early performance of these two is a big reason why. Even though it resulted in a make by Utah Jazz forward John Collins, I thought this is an awesome example of how they force an opponent into tough shots with their length and ability to switch. I also want you to imagine that it’s McDaniels at the point of attack as opposed to Conley. You get the drill.

(Editor’s Note: If you are reading this on Apple News, please click here so you can view embedded videos important to the analysis, and enjoy the best overall reading experience.)

Towns plays up at the level of the screen and forces Talen Horton-Tucker to make a quick decision. He has Gobert to cover right behind him who pretty much covers the entire paint, a massive luxury. THT dumps it off to Collins who is forced to make a low-percentage shot over Gobert.

McDaniels also holds opponents to the lowest shooting percentage around the rim (less than six feet) on the team, at just 33.3%. Towns is second (41.2%), right above Kyle Anderson (44.4) and Gobert (48.3%).

2) Anthony Edwards and Naz Reid (+27.7 net rating in 69 minutes)

(nice, by the way.)

This is not a new storyline. Ant and Naz Reid have had some of the best chemistry on the team since Edwards came into the league in 2020. Ironically, in Edwards’ first half of the season as a rookie, they both played a lot of minutes on the second unit together. Edwards now has a next-level understanding of how Naz moves on the floor after setting a screen for him.

Naz also makes a lot of hay out of the corner. While Ant has the tendency to turn the ball over in making corner passes that are over 10 feet in length, he has a really good understanding of where Reid is on the floor and uses his gravity to get him open looks.

Do yourself a favor. Go to Twitter and search “Edwards Reid pnr”. It’s LOADED with clips over the last couple seasons of Edwards and Naz just being on the same page. It’s a cool thing to see, and it’s something hopefully Finch can find for a couple more minutes a game.

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3) Anthony Edwards and Kyle Anderson (22.2 net rating in 91 minutes)

I think the best part of said depth for the Wolves is the amount of options that Finch can deploy Kyle Anderson in off the bench. Slow-Mo as the first sub is such an amazing luxury to have.

But I think it also illustrates how important it is to have another ball-handler on the floor with Ant at all times. While Edwards has proven proficient, and even elite, in a multitude of things, situational playmaking is not one of them. Anderson on the other hand has made his Wolves career on it thus far. It’s hard to find a smarter player on the entire roster.

Ant places in the 84th percentile in pick and roll effectiveness as a ball-handler, and further than his ability to play make, Anderson checks in as the best player on the Wolves at the rim, shooting 77% inside of five feet (Daishen Nix, Troy Bown, and Josh Minott are at 100%, but, you know).

It certainly seems this far that the depth the Wolves have in being able to find money combinations has been more of a luxury than it is a problem that needs solving. But then again, when you start out with the league’s best defense, you’ll have a lot more strengths than weaknesses.