Timberwolves’ Towns and Dieng meshing, plus other rotation news

February 3, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) reacts after scoring a three point basket against Los Angeles Clippers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
February 3, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) reacts after scoring a three point basket against Los Angeles Clippers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Now that we’re into the unofficial second half of the season for the Timberwolves, there’s plenty to talk about regarding goals that the Wolves could realistically set for the final 33 games of the campaign.

Over at ESPN, Zach Lowe has a part of his weekly article dedicated to 10 things he likes or dislikes. In his last week‘s column, one of the things that he liked was “Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng, meshing.”

I talked about their great chemistry in the mid-season review, but a national writer taking notice of this is a great sign, especially one as widely respected as Lowe. It shows that, 1) people are paying attention to the Wolves in this growing phase, and 2) that NBA heads are seeing things they like in the Wolves outside of the potential of Towns and Wiggins.

Lowe didn’t dive into too much depth on the Towns-Dieng pairing, as the like/dislike section is fairly brief. However, he did have this to say about their game:

"Dieng and Towns can both guard either frontcourt position, they pass well, and they’re skilled enough to experiment with big-big pick-and-rolls — always a favorite here."

Starting with defense, both Dieng and Towns have shown that they are good defenders. When playing together, however, they have one of the worst defensive ratings among any combination of two players on the Wolves. This is surprising, as both Dieng and Towns can capably guard both frontcourt positions, as Lowe pointed out. They both are also pretty good rim protectors, so their low defensive rating is confusing.

However, when looking at their full games, it becomes clear that the Towns-Dieng pairing is one of the best on the Wolves despite their low defensive rating. This season, the Towns-Dieng frontcourt has poured in 110.7 points per 100 possessions.

That rating is the best of any combination of two players on the Wolves; better than Ricky Rubio-Towns, better than Towns-Andrew Wiggins, and slightly better than Rubio-Zach LaVine, which is (somewhat surprisingly) second best.

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Altogether, the Towns-Dieng frontcourt has a net rating of 1.3, which is good for the 10th best rating on the team among two-man units. The top-eight combinations feature at least one of Ricky Rubio or Kevin Garnett, and the only other unit ahead of Towns-Dieng is Towns-Tayshaun Prince.

Even better, in the eight games leading up to the All-Star break, the battery of Towns and Dieng hiked their net rating up to 8.6, which was fifth best on the team in that span. The Towns-Dieng frontcourt has been solid all year, but they are beginning to get even better as they play more together.

In addition, Dieng has started to get comfortable in his starting role. In that same eight-game stretch before the break, Dieng put up averages of 16.9 points (fourth on the team), 10.6 rebounds (second), and 3.4 assists (second).

As Zach Lowe said, both Dieng and Towns are willing passers, and that is shining through.

The Towns-Dieng combo recently had their best game of the season against the Bulls on February 6th. The two combined for 50 points, 30 rebounds, and four blocks, while Dieng threw in seven assists for good measure. Even as the Wolves have struggled this year, they have found a few combinations of players that make them highly competitive. The viability of the Dieng-Towns starting frontcourt is one of the best developments to come from this season.

As for news elsewhere in the rotation…

A lineup of Rubio-LaVine-Wiggins-Towns-Dieng started in the game against the Raptors before the All-Star break as Tayshaun Prince was in Detroit for Chauncey Billups’ jersey retirement. The starters scored 107 of the Wolves’ 117 points in that game and got the win against the fifth-best team in the league by win percentage.

Will this be a lineup that we’ll start to see more of? Possibly.

Sam Mitchell likes to start Prince to help set the tone on defense, and bringing in LaVine with the bench gives them a player that can create on offense. If LaVine is a starter, then Shabazz Muhammad is the only reliable scoring threat off the bench, which could be a major problem.

I think that the Wolves will continue to start Prince at the expense of LaVine for the majority of the remaining games so that the bench still has some scoring punch. Prince works in the starting lineup as a low-usage player that can hit open jumpers, but even if Prince continues to start, that doesn’t mean that LaVine can’t get any time with the starters.

That Rubio-LaVine-Wiggins-Towns-Dieng lineup is the future, so it would be wise to play them together now. LaVine can replace Prince early in the game and then run with the starters for the final five minutes or so of each half.

Aside from Prince, there’s one other veteran that complicates the starting lineup. Kevin Garnett was nursing an injury for the last several games leading up to the break, but will he return to the starting lineup when he gets back?

Probably. For as great as the Towns-Dieng pairing has been, lineups with KG-Towns have been even better. Starting Garnett won’t eat into Dieng’s minutes too much either, as he only plays about four minutes to start each half. If KG is inserted into the starting lineup upon his return, Dieng will come in pretty quickly to replace him and Dieng and Towns will continue to get plenty of playing time together.

Finally, will Andre Miller keep getting minutes at the expense of Tyus Jones?

Now, that was Milt Newton talking about Jones’ playing time, not Coach Mitchell himself, but the point remains that Jones will begin to play a bit more. Miller is a calming influence for a bench unit that can get a bit reckless at times, but Jones needs some playing time to continue his development. His play in the NBA hasn’t been great, but he also showed that he’s too talented for the D-League, as he lit it up while he was down there.

Jones will get minutes so that the Wolves can see what they have in him and decide if he’ll be a feasible backup point guard next year. He also may begin to earn some more playing time down the stretch as the Wolves “put themselves in better position for a high draft pick.”

Next: Timberwolves Mailbag: Mitchell, the Off-Season, and More

In any case, the rest of this season sounds like it will be managed in the same way as the first part: by placing development of the young players over winning. Hopefully those two things are not mutually exclusive and Wolves fans can enjoy both.