November 17, 2017, 5:45 pm
In an odd scheduling glitch, the Wolves have to head back out on the road for a one-game trip to Dallas after spending only one game at home. Luckily Minnesota faces a floundering Mavericks squad that they have already beaten once this season.
Sitting at 9-5 the Wolves have a really good shot at getting off to their best start in a season since the 2004-05 campaign, which is the last time they finished with a winning record.
Back then, Kevin Garnett was the undisputed leader of the Wolves; he was in his prime and laying waste to the NBA. Today the Wolves are still finding their identity, but Karl-Anthony Towns leads the way in most statistical categories.
With averages of 21.5 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.8 blocks, 0.6 steals and 1.4 3-pointers on 54.5 percent shooting overall, 38.0 percent shooting from 3-point range and 85.2 percent from the line, Towns has hardly missed a beat on the season with the new mouths to feed, but his numbers are down a hair.
It was expected that Towns and Wiggins’ stat lines would decrease when the Wolves added two primary ball-handling players in Butler and Teague because their usage rates would fall. Usage rate is basically, as the title insinuates, how often a player is involved in the teams’ possessions.
Last season, Towns saw a career-high in usage rate at 27.5 percent, while Wiggins also saw a career high 29 percent usage rate. Butler had a career-high as well with the Bulls at 26.5 percent. Teague had a five-year low usage rate at 22.1 percent.
This year Towns and Wiggins are down to 24.1 percent each, which lead the starters, followed by Jeff Teague at 21.3 percent and Jimmy Butler way down at 20.6 percent.
This partly explains the significant dip in Butler’s production as he’s down nearly nine points per game from last season. There’s also the fact that he’s shooting a career-worst 39.7 percent overall, and he’s also taking four less free throws per game.
Those numbers should increase soon as this looks more like a fluke than anything.
There are two oddities at the moment with the Wolves’ usage rates though. First, Jamal Crawford is second on the team with a 22.5 usage rate. Since he comes off the bench with a number of passive offensive players, he’s encouraged to take anything he can get, so the high number is expected. It does feel odd though.
Unfortunately this creates a problem of efficiency from the bench unit, with most of the bench scoring resulting from Crawford. With four Wolves’ starters seeing dramatically less usage rates, it might make sense for the Wolves to bring Crawford off the bench earlier than normal and play with the starters more often.
It would have to be matchup based, but if Butler were to come off the floor for Crawford early in the first, while the rest of the starters stay on normal minutes, when Butler returns to start the second quarter he would be able to take the shots Crawford is normally taking, which helps the entire bench.
Meanwhile Crawford’s usage would decrease and he would be limited to spacing the floor, but more shots would open up for Teague, Wiggins, Towns and Gibson.
Which leads to the second oddity, which is Gibson’s extreme efficiency. Gibson has the second lowest usage rate of all the rotation players, and easily the lowest of his career at only 14 percent. Yet he’s averaging the fourth-highest points per game in his career, the most rebounds per game and the second most assists per game.
Gibson is doing more with less on offense, and the team is dramatically better with him on the floor. When Gibson exits the game the Wolves are -11.7 points per 100 possessions worse than the opposition, which is the largest difference on the team.
So while the usage decreases have hurt certain players, thus far they have allowed Gibson to thrive. He has turned out to be a great addition.
Despite the 9-5 start, there are areas that can be improved. Some of those can be through slight lineup changes detailed above. While I don’t expect Thibs to start changing the lineups yet, it might be a good opportunity to experiment some versus the lowly Mavericks. Knowing Thibodeau, it will take much longer than that.
– Teague vs. Smith Jr.
– Wiggins vs. Barnes
Dennis Smith Jr. is slowly starting to take over for the Mavericks as the leader, which is miraculous for a rookie even on a 2-12 team. He’s averaging 19.6 points over his last seven games, second only to Harrison Barnes, with four assists, five rebounds and over two 3-pointers per game.
His usage rate has climbed to 33.2 percent over that time as well, which leads the team. He’s an electric player that has thrown down a number of thunderous dunks, despite standing closer to 6’1″ than his listed 6’3″
⬆️ Dennis Smith Jr! ⬆️ pic.twitter.com/AaEoEBjDgZ
— NBA (@NBA) November 15, 2017
Teague and perhaps Butler at times will have their work cut out.
Meanwhile Barnes is still the leading scorer for the Mavs and is the biggest threat against the Wolves. He’ll play both the wing and the forward position so Wiggins, Taj and Bejlica may all see time on him.
If the Wolves slow down these two, they should be able to coast to a victory.
Gorgui Dieng (finger) – ACTIVE
Justin Patton (foot) – OUT
Seth Curry (leg) – OUT
Dorian Finney-Smith (knee) – OUT
Devin Harris (chest) – ACTIVE
Josh McRoberts (knee) – OUT
Where to Watch:
8:30 ET/7:30 CT on Fox Sports North