Harper: Wolves' five starters have played exceptionally well together
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Even with a 3-0 start to the young 2013-14 NBA season, there have been some troubling moments with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In two of the three victories, we've seen the Wolves give away most of, if not all of a big lead to their opponents. It took an incredible 3-point shot by Kevin Love to save the day against the Orlando Magic and it took the Wolves locking down on defense over the final five minutes against the New York Knicks to secure the victory with a 9-2 run. Some people might inform you that a win is a win, which is true. However, you can't keep blowing leads and expect it to win every time.
The majority of the Wolves' troubles seem to be in how they figure out their bench rotation and the offensive attacks of the second units. There are a lot of inconsistencies right now between JJ Barea, Dante Cunningham, and Derrick Williams coming off the bench. That's didn't stop the Wolves from winning the first three games though.
Success in the first three games was primarily due to the starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic running opponents off the floor like they're driven by Toonces the Driving Cat (is that still a reference people get?). This lineup has been perfection for the Wolves, especially in the first quarters of games in which the Wolves have scored 112 points in those 36 minutes. That's a spectacular scoring rate.
Thorough three games, the Wolves' starting unit outscored opponents by 16.3 points per 100 possessions (adjusted to 100 possessions to account for different tempos around the NBA). To put that in perspective, the Oklahoma City Thunder as a team led the NBA in net rating with a +11.0 points per 100 possessions last season. The Wolves' defensive rating with this unit is a stingy 90.9 points per 100 possessions.
This starting lineup's defensive effort just hasn't missed throughout most of their time on the court. Opponents can't make shots, aren't getting to the free throw line, aren't getting offensive rebounds, and are turning the ball over at a high rate. The Wolves are taking these missed opportunities by their opponents and cramming it down their throats.
This quintet of Wolves has scored 22.3 percent of their points on fast breaks and 24.2 percent of their scoring is coming off of turnovers. These quick and lucrative turnarounds have morphed their offense into a fast-paced display of excellence on the court.
But here's what's funny about this: the offense has been really good and yet there's still a lot of room for improvement.
Let's check out the shooting chart of the team and the individual players when these five are on the court together:
The starters made 45.8 percent of their shots when they were together in the first three games, which is good but not great. It can actually be improved quite a bit by looking at the way each component of the five-man unit performs.
-- Nikola Pekovic has been surprisingly bad around the basket. We saw this from him a bit at the start of last season, but he's struggling to make the bunnies inside when he has the opportunity. Part of that is the competition he's faced (Nikola Vucevic, Kendrick Perkins, and Tyson Chandler), but he's also simply missing a lot of shots he should be finishing. Expect that 47.1 percent rate to go up in the restricted area.
-- Corey Brewer has been getting a good chunk of his shots at the rim in transition. Eight of his 11 attempts in the restricted area come on fast breaks, showing that the defense isn't suffering when he's leaking out to the offensive end of the court.
-- Ricky Rubio has not made a high percentage of shots total, but he's finished extremely well (especially for him) around the rim. This is probably due to the great spacing this starting lineup has on the floor.
-- Kevin Martin and Kevin Love have just been stellar and that includes Martin's slow start in the first couple of games. Love has been playing about as well as you can ask on offense, which shows in his Western Conference Player of the Week nod.
One more important thing to note is how evenly distributed the shot attempts are with this unit. In 118 field goal attempts between these five guys, Love (28), Martin (24), Rubio (22), Brewer (22), and Pekovic (22) are all sharing the same load. Not only is this unit scoring at a high clip but they've made everybody an equal opportunity shot taker in this lineup.
That's how basketball is supposed to be played and it's how Rick Adelman loves to see his guys execute on the floor. Sure, we've seen issues past the first quarter in two of the three victories and the bench certainly has some kinks to get rid of while reserve players settle into roles. But the starters have carried this team when they're out on the floor and it's a big reason this team started 3-0.
Once Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf are back from their respective injuries that added depth could work out a lot of issues within the 48-minute effort. This also adds the bonus to the coaching staff to work Budinger back slowly and maybe even bring him off the bench until he gets healthy. Perhaps the Sixth Man role becomes his permanent look on the team.
After all, if this production can stay relatively consistent with the current starting unit as the season progresses, would you want to break them up?