The Minnesota Timberwolves have seemingly cracked the code when it comes to their starting lineup, which remains the league’s best five-man lineup.
Just how good is the Timberwolves’ ‘Greatest Lineup Ever?’
Objectively, the starting lineup of D’Angelo Russell, Patrick Beverley, Anthony Edwards, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Karl-Anthony Towns has been the best five-man lineup in the entire league this season — and it hasn’t been particularly close. (The term Greatest Lineup Ever was coined by NBA.com’s John Schumann, by the way, in a mid-December power rankings article.)
Using the admittedly somewhat arbitrary number of 40 minutes played together for each five-man unit — which still gives us 169 different lineup combinations, by the way — the Wolves’ preferred starting five has a net rating of +50.5 in 142 minutes.
The next-best lineup is a Cleveland Cavaliers grouping that holds a +40.6 but only played 41 minutes together prior to Ricky Rubio’s season-ending injury. Next, a shockingly effective Detroit Pistons lineup that has only played 42 minutes together over the course of three games.
The closest lineup used with any regularity is the Atlanta Hawks lineup of Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Bogdan Bogdanovic, John Collins, and Clint Capela that has played 144 minutes together. They clock in at a +34.8 — a fantastic mark by any measure, but nowhere the Wolves’ still-otherworldly mark of +50.5.
The lineup is so good that Finch felt compelled to bring it up, apparently unprompted, in his media availability on Thursday.
Indeed, it’s a five-man group that has a fantastic mix of dynamic offensive players, each with the ability to score in a variety of ways and, on varying levels, create for others, as well as a pair of dynamic defenders who can serve in a specific role on offense.
The length of the lineup is disruptive, too. Even if Russell and Edwards remain average-at-best defenders — although they’ve both clearly improved this season — their size and length can disrupt opposing offenses.
How the Timberwolves’ ‘Greatest Lineup Ever’ got its start
The Timberwolves did not deploy their current starting lineup until Nov. 12, after Chris Finch’s squad had started the season with a 3-7 record over their first 10 games.
The result was a resounding road win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Although the team was blown out by the LA Clippers the very next night, they bounced back and only lost to the mighty Phoenix Suns by just three points next time out. Then, they ripped off five consecutive wins.
In the lineup’s first eight games played together, the opposing offense scored under 100 points in six contests.
Then, Beverley went down with an injury. When he returned, Russell went out with a sore ankle. Immediately upon Russell’s return, the Wolves blew out the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets in consecutive road games.
And that’s when the COVID-19 outbreak started for the Wolves. First, it was Edwards and Beverley missing time, but eventually, the entire starting lineup and eight members of the regular rotation came down with the virus and missed time due to health and safety protocols.
Wednesday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder saw the return of the Greatest Lineup Ever. Right on cue, the Wolves jumped out to a 30-10 lead while holding the Thunder to 18.8 percent shooting from the field in the opening frame and nabbing several steals, including four from Edwards alone.
The Wolves had a rough 30-or-so minutes after the hot start before closing the game strong, but the starters were generally quite good outside of Russell’s rough shooting night.
While a net rating of greater than 50 is surely unsustainable — it has to be, right? — this lineup has an undeniable synergy. The bench unit needs to gel, of course, especially with the new-ish addition of Jaylen Nowell to the rotation, but if they can do that, then the Wolves will have an extremely dangerous rotation and true depth up to 10 players.
Chris Finch has found his starting five for the foreseeable future — and it just so happens to be the league’s best unit nearly halfway through the season.