Minnesota Timberwolves: 3 top lineup combinations

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 10: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves is introduced prior to a game. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 10: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves is introduced prior to a game. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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Minnesota Timberwolves, D'Angelo Russell
HOUSTON, TEXAS – MARCH 10: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets drives to the basket while defended by D’Angelo Russell #0 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Russell was the big acquisition this season and is supposed to be the second star alongside Towns. By changing just one player from the previous lineup, we see dramatically different results with a net rating of -22. Yikes.

Even though the minutes played for both these lineups are similar (still small), the results could not be more different. With Russell as the point guard instead of McLaughlin, the ORTG drops from 137.5 to 117.1 and the DRTG jumps from 97.1 to 139.

These numbers are beyond bad, especially for a prospective starting lineup, but this is also a great chance to bring up small sample sizes. We can concede that the opponents faced matters and the lack of chemistry comes into play, but there is still a major cause for concern here.

Let us start on the offensive end. In general, there isn’t all that much cause for concern. There will be an adjustment and could be clumsy at first, but Russell is a solid passer and can play away from the ball as well. In the end, the ORTG of 117, pick-and-roll potential with Towns, and the scoring versatility should be something to get excited about.

Now it’s time to get irritated. With Russell on the floor, the Timberwolves will continue to be one of the worst defensive teams in the league. While DRTG is generally a team stat, he is part of that team and has a career DRTG of 112. Individually, he has a career Defensive Box Plus/Minus of -1.4 (league average rate is 0).

We really shouldn’t think that Russell is actually a -60 net rating worse than McLaughlin. I also believe that given a bigger sample size both of those lineup’s numbers would come closer together, but it certainly appears as thoough the fit of Russell on this team is concerning defensively.

The final lineup we are going to look at consists of mostly role players which we will see for stretches in the middle of games. A good example from last season of this type of lineup is James Johnson, Kelan Martin, Jarrett Culver, Beasley, and McLaughlin which posted a net rating of -37.8.

There are a lot of pieces here to like, but they do not blend at all. We won’t see this exact lineup all too often, but the point is to look at how the Timberwolves will survive during stretches where both Russell and Towns are off the court.

This lineup is an example of the glaring holes the Timberwolves’ roster still has. This roster is still missing reliable defenders, consistent rebounders, and veteran leadership. The teams that continuously succeed have reliable pieces off the bench. These role players don’t necessarily have to win you the game, but they have to be good enough to keep you in it. Right now, the Timberwolves don’t have those pieces.

Unfortunately, we were deprived of any significant Towns and Russell minutes this season so we can’t be confident in how Ryan Saunders will use them. Based on the lineup data of their role players, though, staggering those two will be a must.

Next. Could Myles Turner be Wolves' third star?. dark

One of the few positives from this season was the myriad lineups the Timberwolves used. Some of them worked, most didn’t. There are pieces on this team that can lead to winning basketball, the coaching staff now needs to figure out the right combinations.