While the majority of the NBA has shifted to more of a small-ball style of play, the Minnesota Timberwolves have not. However, that changed — for much of the second quarter, at least — on Dec. 20 against the Denver Nuggets.
From the 9:18 to the 2:51 mark in the second quarter on Wednesday night at Pepsi Center in Denver, Karl-Anthony Towns was the lone frontcourt player on the floor for the Timberwolves. He was accompanied by Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford, Andrew Wiggins and a combination of Jeff Teague and Tyus Jones.
Suffice it to say that they were not common lineups that head coach Tom Thibodeau has used so far this season. Before last night, the lineup of Teague, Crawford, Butler, Wiggins and Towns had only logged 14.4 minutes together all season. A Jones, Crawford, Butler, Wiggins and Towns lineup had yet to be featured until last night.
During the 9:18 to 2:51 stretch in the second quarter, the Wolves outscored the Nuggets 15-7 and shot an impressive 53.8 percent from the floor. And ot only was the offense clicking, so was the defense. The Wolves held the Nuggets to 25 percent shooting and forced three turnovers, including a shot clock violation.
The below video shows game highlights from the Wolves-Nuggets game, but pay attention to the first two plays shown in the video. Those featured the two lineups mentioned above. (Video courtesy of
On the first play, Wiggins breaks down Torrey Craig on the way to a spinning and-one at the rim. Wiggins saw absolutely zero help defense when he drove the lane from the wing. The Nuggets defense is stretched completely out of the paint allowing Wiggins to penetrate the defense with ease.
On the second play, Teague blows by Jamal Murray and misses the layup, but Towns is there to cleanup the play with an offensive board and flush. Once again, the paint is wide open. The only Nuggets player in the painted area is Nikola Jokic who fails to come over and help on the driving Teague.
Another play during this stretch that wasn’t featured in the video above happened at the 9:00 minute mark in the second quarter.
knocked down maybe the most wide open 3-pointer in the history of basketball. If you record every Wolves game like me, go back and take a look or just watch the first play in the video below. (Video courtesy of
The primary reason those plays happen is because of offensive spacing. When the Wolves feature Towns as the lone big, who is a bonafide perimeter threat in his own right, it stretches the defense.
Those plays might never fully develop if Taj Gibson or Gorgui Dieng are on the floor alongside Towns. Gibson or Dieng’s defender would have likely been able to help onto Wiggins based on their location on the floor. They also may have been able to cut off the driving lane on Teague before he gets to the rim.
While the Jones/Teague, Crawford, Butler, Wiggins and Towns isn’t technically a “small ball” lineup, it is the Wolves version of one based on their personnel. They don’t have a wing player that can play inside like the Golden State Warriors have with Draymond Green or the Houston Rockets have with Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker.
There are some defensive deficiencies with a Timberwolves small ball lineup. However, based on Thibs’ minutes distribution this lineup may not see the floor long enough for the Timberwolves to allow a significant amount of points.
In my opinion, the reward of a small ball Wolves lineup outweighs the risk. The Wolves would be unstoppable offensively, featuring five players that can shoot from the perimeter and drive to the basket at times throughout the game. Let’s hope we see more of this from Thibodeau and the Timberwolves.