Latest Wolves' lineup change yields impressive results

Cleveland Cavaliers v Minnesota Timberwolves
Cleveland Cavaliers v Minnesota Timberwolves / David Berding/GettyImages

Since franchise stalwart Karl-Anthony Towns went down with a left meniscus injury, the Minnesota Timberwolves have gone 6-3 with losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Denver Nuggets—all playoff teams.

Through those nine affairs, the Wolves have used a different starting lineup five times. First, forward Kyle Anderson started in place of the injured Towns. In his six starts, he averaged 8.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and recorded a positive plus-minus in all but one appearance.

In the meantime, Anderson and starting center Rudy Gobert missed at least one contest due to injury. Both Wolves sat out Minnesota's battle with the Lakers. In that game, Naz Reid and Nickeil Alexander-Walker stepped into action. The duo combined for 40 points, 12 rebounds, and eight 3-pointers.

After the brief hiatus, Anderson and Gobert both returned to action. However, after just one game, another injury sidelined the French big man for an additional three contests. As Gobert missed time, Reid also was bitten by the injury bug. Subsequently, in the loss against Denver, the Wolves went small. They started Jaden McDaniels and Anderson as the two bigs.

Upon a three-day break, both Wolves' bigs recovered from their respective injuries. Coincidentally, head coach Chris Finch decided to pair Reid with Gobert in the opening lineup. Prior to last Friday's affair against the Cavs, Reid had only started alongside Gobert once before.

In the big men's first game starting together in over a year, they combined for 27 points, 18 boards, and two blocks. The duo also recorded a plus-minus of plus-10. While not eye-popping, the pairing flourished in their second start together.

In Sunday's affair against the Golden State Warriors, Gobert and Reid totaled 37 points, 24 rebounds, and three swats. The bigs also combined for an excellent field goal percentage. Between the two, they shot 14-of-21 from the field—67 percent.

Now 2-0 with Gobert and Reid starting alongside one another, it's likely Finch continues to trot out the dual-big starting five, and for good reason. In 202 possessions together, the combination of Reid, Gobert, McDaniels, Mike Conley Jr., and Anthony Edwards has recorded a plus-13.9 differential.

The fivesome has been phenomenal on the defensive end. The newest opening unit ranks in the 99th percentile in points per 100 possessions, allowing just 90.6 points per. In comparison, the most commonly used Wolves' lineup, swapping Towns for Reid, allows 110.3 points per 100 possessions.

Furthermore, the lineup including Reid ranks in the 100th percentile in the opponent's effective field goal percentage. Wolves' adversaries have recorded a paltry 41.5 effective field goal percentage with the inclusion of Reid. With Towns in the opening group, the lineup ranks in the 72nd percentile and allows a 52.1 percent effective field goal percentage.

Offensively, the grouping with Reid has performed below average. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Gobert-Reid-McDaniels-Edwards-Conley Jr. only ranks in the top-half percentile in one offensive category—offensive rebound percentage. However, it's increasingly likely with time this unit moves closer to average when it comes to points, effective field goal percentage, and free throw rate.

While the difference between Towns' and Reid's career arcs is vastly different, their difference in counting stats isn't all that different. On a per-36-minute basis, the four-time All-Star averages roughly four more points, two more rebounds, and one and a half more assists than the undrafted Reid. On the other hand, Towns averages nearly a 3-pointer less and commits one more turnover per 36 minutes.

To say Towns' and Reid's games are similar isn't a stretch. Both bigs are excellent when spotting up from beyond the arc and have enough off-the-dribble juice to get to the rim. Initially starting Anderson at the power forward spot made sense in today's NBA, as he's an excellent passer and above-average defender.

Nevertheless, Reid's archetype fits what's made the Wolves so successful this season. Starting the 7-foot Towns alongside the 7-foot-1 Gobert has worked wonders for Minnesota this season on both the offensive and defensive end.

Why not substitute Reid in for Towns to establish the same continuity that the Wolves had established earlier in the season? It seems Finch has taken notice, and it doesn't appear any lineup change will be made again soon.