On the Timberwolves’ improved offensive efficiency

It’s no longer a secret: the Timberwolves’ starting lineup is legitimately one of the best five-man units in the entire NBA.

The defense (or lack thereof) is a conversation for another day. We’re here today to celebrate just how surprisingly efficient the Wolves’ starters have been.

Since the All-Star break, that’s meant Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and Karl-Anthony Towns. And they’ve done some damage.

The play-making of the wings, above-average passing ability comparative to position of all five players (although Wiggins hasn’t full realized the passing part as of yet), impressive size, and overall solid shooting of this unit is outstanding. They get to the free throw line, can fast break with the best in the NBA, and have an average age of just over 22 years.

It’s insane, and those around the NBA are starting to sit up and take notice of exactly what this squad could become.

From ESPN’s Zach Lowe:

The problem, of course, has been the bench. The Wolves reserves were actually one of the better backup units in the league early in the season (yes, they were poor defensively), but have been raided due to injury, promotions, and roster moves.

Nemanja Bjelica? First ineffective, then hurt. Now scratching and clawing for minutes. Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng? Both in the starting lineup and both playing different positions than they were off the bench.

Kevin Martin? Ineffective, hurt, and waived. Andre Miller? Also waived. Nikola Pekovic even made an 11-game cameo, including nine games in which he came off the bench, but he’s once again out indefinitely with the future of his career admittedly in question.

Shabazz Muhammad is the only player remaining that both received significant minutes early in the year and continues to play with the reserves. He’s now running with previously little-used rookie point guard Tyus Jones, an aging non-factor on offense in Tayshaun Prince, largely clueless, 25 year-old second-year man Adreian Payne, 10-day contract addition Greg Smith, and occasionally, limited sharpshooter Damjan Rudez.

It’s a bunch that is more than suspect. Jones has played decently well of late, but Muhammad has seen his quality of play decline since his hot start to the season. Prince is a complete liability on offense. Smith is a very serviceable backup big man but is only a threat in the pick-and-roll and cannot shoot at all outside of three feet from the rim.

Bjelica should be playing; the Wolves have him under contract for two more years, after all, and he’ll be in just his age-28 season in 2016-17. Beyond that, they need a ‘three-and-D’ type to slot in Prince’s spot, and a healthy backup center. If Jones continues to improve and they figure out the best way to utilize Muhammad, that’s a solid unit.

Don’t rule out the possibility of a Muhammad trade this summer, either. Shabazz is a solid player, but something hasn’t quite clicked yet. He’s not finishing at the rim well any more and his three-balls aren’t falling. He’s not a very good defender, and his energy and ability on the glass are the only redeeming qualities that he’s offered over the past eight weeks or so.

There are plenty of teams that would take Muhammad off the Timberwolves’ hands, and if Minnesota can get a long-range marksman or a solid backup center, they’d be wise to consider pulling the trigger.

We’ll keep an eye on the final handful of games this year and how coach Sam Mitchell divvies up the minutes. It could be telling regarding what the front office thinks about certain players and who could potentially be on the trade block heading into the draft in June and beyond.