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Second unit has been key to Wolves’ success

MINNEAPOLIS – On Wednesday night the Minnesota Timberwolves were leading the San Antonio Spurs 28-25 after the first quarter of their game. To that point, there was nothing that had stood out during the matchup that gave thought the game would end in a blowout victory in favor of the Wolves.

Then, the bench unit for Minnesota opened up the second quarter and the rout was on. The Wolves opened up the period on a 22-4 run, pushing what was a 3-point lead to a 21-point advantage.

As of late the bench unit for the Wolves – comprised of Derrick Rose, Tyus Jones, Dario Šarić, Gorgui Dieng, and the group’s only starter, Robert Covington – has routinely decimated the opposition. That five has been a group of bears carrying flaming chainsaws and obliterating opponents.

That group has only been available in seven games now, playing 55 minutes together, but in that time, they’ve been the best five-man lineup in the entire NBA (minimum 40 minutes played). They’ve got a net rating of 35.5 (!!!) per NBA.com/stats.

“It’s been very fun,” Covington said after Minnesota’s win in Cleveland this week. “Guys come in playing very hard following behind what the starting unit is doing. They’re just bringing that extra energy. Guys come in and they’re putting it all on the court. That’s what’s allowing us to be really, like you said, triumphant lately. They keep bringing that energy, bringing that same thing we can turn this thing around real fast.”

This unit is one of the reasons that the Wolves have been able to turn things around as quickly as they have. After a 4-9 start to the season filled with turmoil, things have been stabilized thanks in large part because of the play this unit has been able to consistently put forth.

Rose is a big reason why. He’s been the leader of that group and he’s experiencing his best season since he was the league MVP in 2011. There’s no doubt he’s the healthiest he’s ever been since then, as well. Tom Thibodeau brings up that this resurgence can be directly correlated to the fact that this summer was the first one in five years he didn’t spend rehabbing a previous injury.

Aside from Rose, Covington and Šarić have been great since arriving. Šarić hasn’t had quite the impact that Covington has had but he’s still been good. The Wolves are outscoring opponents by 11.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor, and it’s plausible to think that he’ll get better. Šarić has shown in the past that he’s a better shooter than what he’s displayed so far in Minnesota. Since the trade he’s only shooting 43.1 percent from the floor and 31.3 percent from 3-point range. There’s room for growth there, but his sound fundamental ability and quick decision making on both ends has elevated the play of those around him in a way that didn’t exist prior to his debut.

As for Covington, the numbers favor him slightly as his individual net rating with the Wolves is 13.5. The thing that sticks out more about Covington isn’t his individual rating, but rather the rating of some of the lineups that he’s been involved in. For example, Covington and Tyus Jones have played 88 minutes together so far and the Wolves have outscored their opponents by 36.3 points per 100 possessions in that time.

That’s absolutely ridiculous.

What may make it even more impressive is the fact that this group was thrown together on the fly. Covington and Šarić are still getting acclimated to things with the Wolves. That means there’s the possibility that this group can improve still. That’s a scary thought considering just how dominant they’ve been.

“They are playing well off of each other,” Thibodeau said. “They give us a little bit of everything. We have the dribble penetration with Tyus and Derrick. We have the three-point shooting with Robert. We have Gorgui with the shot blocking and putting pressure on the rim. We’re getting a lot of good things. Dario does a little bit of everything; he can shoot it, he can put it on the floor, he goes to the boards hard, he hits people, there’s a physicality to his game without fouling.”

This group has been a pleasant surprise for the Wolves. It’s one that’s been able to propel them to success and right back into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

“I’m not sure, maybe Rob and Dario and those guys coming over, giving us that boost of energy,” starting point guard Jeff Teague said of the team’s defense and second unit. “Guys just wanting to win, those two guys brought a winning mentality on the defensive end.”


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