The Wolves find themselves at 8-8 16 games into the season. There have been many ups and downs thus far. Lots of attention has been placed on the young Wolves’ performance, namely that of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Zach LaVine, rightfully so. Andrew Wiggins is putting up All-Star-Like scoring numbers. Towns has started the season in a historical fashion. Injuries have plagued Ricky Rubio early in that he has missed 5 of the 16 games. The Wolves have been the 2nd best team on the road, only behind the undefeated Warriors. They have also started slow in only winning two games at home.
All of that aside along with the talk about Sam Mitchell’s questionable rotations, the Wolves look like a decent team all of a sudden. You have to believe that the Wolves are doing some things right. One thing that is going unseen though is the bench play of the Wolves. The Wolves have the highest scoring bench in the league averaging 44.4 points a game. The Wolves bench also leads the league in minutes playing 1770. The Wolves bench is also the most offensive efficient bench and second in defensive efficiency. These numbers are surprising, being that the Wolves have historically had terrible bench play since the ‘Zoo Crew’.
So how is this made possible? First, there are a few fringe starters sitting on the Wolves bench. Zach LaVine has been playing in place of the injured Rubio when he is out and is continuing to prove that he can play in this league. LaVine has finally been able to stay in front of some guards as he had shown in the Hawks and Kings games. His passes and shot selection is still questionable. He also still struggles to get through picks. But he is proving to be a very reliable scorer, as he has become the second leading scorer on the team with 14.4 points a game. He has blossomed when in the starting lineup, but against the Hawks he was the leading scorer off of the bench with 18 points.
After that, the play of Shabazz Muhammed has been coming around to be the super efficient scorer he used to be. He was able to score 15 points in 15 minutes and is showing that he can shoot the 3 effectively again, bringing his 3pt% to 33% on the season after a slow start. He still remains fairly inconsistent and isn’t getting enough minutes to get in a rhythm, but he still remains a factor.
As much as Gorgui Dieng has bothered me this season, he is putting up some decent numbers as of late and is rebounding the ball well. It seems as if he has managed to lose some basketball IQ as his career has progressed, but he is developing himself into a good rotation player and maybe a starter eventually. He is winning the trust of Sam Mitchell and taking minutes from Towns as this point.
The Wolves then get help all-around from the likes of Adrien Payne, Andre Miller, Rudez, and Prince. The Wolves will get an even greater boost when Bjelica returns from his injury because he was the lone wolf early on in the season that seemed to be producing off of the bench. After a slow start for the Wolves in which leads would go to die when the Wolves bench entered the game, the last few games is showing how deep this team can be by actually extending leads. It will also be interesting when Pekovic makes his return, whenever that is. It would be ideal for him to play limited minutes and now he is in a position where the Wolves don’t need more than that out of him when/ if he returns.
While I don’t agree with Sam Mitchell’s minutes distribution and rotation, the Wolves have scraped their way back to .500. I personally don’t think an entire group of bench players should be on the floor at once, but it has worked. Many players have stepped up to get a three wins in a row, and many of them are guys off the bench. In the three games the bench has carried the team, Towns has struggled to get his game going. Its not a time to panic. The Wolves are winning and Towns seems to be the type of player that can manage adversity well. And in the event that he can’t, he has many veterans around him to guide him.
The question remains on what to do with the starting lineup nonetheless. Kevin Martin has looked less than mediocre, and even worse in the starting lineup. Many have to believe a move of LaVine to the starting lineup could occur sooner rather than later, being that Rubio can be decently healthy. Shabazz Muhammed could also be an option, but I get the feeling Sam Mitchell is not interested in that.
The Sam Mitchell critics will need to keep quiet as the Wolves have strung a few wins in a row with his bizarre rotations. It does, in fact, feel good to be back at .500. The Wolves play the Clippers in LA on Sunday before a few games at home.