Tall Timberwolves lineup running up a good track record
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau has touted the versatility of Minnesota's roster since the start of training camp. Many Wolves players are capable of playing different positions, which gives Thibodeau options with the pe...
MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau has touted the versatility of Minnesota's roster since the start of training camp.
Many Wolves players are capable of playing different positions, which gives Thibodeau options with the personnel and style he wants his team to play on a given night.
It was easy to envision the Wolves "going small," with Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad and Karl-Anthony Towns running up and down the floor, playing with pace and scoring points at a rate that rivaled the Golden State Warriors' vaunted Death Lineups.
But the Timberwolves displayed a different type of versatility in their most impressive performance of the season, a 125-99 win over the Lakers on Sunday.
Minnesota showed it can play big.
Injuries to wings LaVine, Muhammad and Brandon Rush forced Thibodeau's hand to some degree when he went with a starting lineup of Rubio, Wiggins, Nemanja Bjelica, Gorgui Dieng and Towns.
The listed heights of that lineup are 6-foot-4, 6-8, 6-10, 6-11 and 7-0.
"I like it across the board," Thibodeau said. "Now, we're real long at the two, we're long at the three, we're real long with Karl - and Gorgui is long, as well. And Ricky is disruptive with the stuff that he does. So I really like the length and what it presents."
In 24 minutes this season, that lineup has bested Minnesota's net averages in just about every statistical category except for three-pointers and steals - dominant on the glass and better defensively on the interior, a problem area for the Timberwolves.
"We won the game with that lineup," said Wiggins, who scored a career-high 47 points. "I think it worked out good."
Wiggins has bounced back and forth between shooting guard and small forward early in his career. Thibodeau said he likes Wiggins at the two because he'll always be bigger and stronger than the opponent's shooting guard.
"I think he gives you some very distinct advantages," Thibodeau said.
Minnesota is slightly less athletic with Bjelica replacing LaVine, but the Wolves were more physical Sunday than they had been all season. On Sunday, Bjelica played the best game of his NBA career with 24 points and eight rebounds in 41 minutes.
Bjelica said the extended playing time helped, as he could afford to be patient. The larger lineup probably played a role, too. With Dieng and Towns banging opponents down low, Bjelica was free to roam the perimeter on offense and defense. He tied for the team lead with three steals Sunday.
"I thought he played a beautiful game," Thibodeau said. "He made really good decisions."
LaVine re-entering the starting lineup seems like a logical move when he returns to action, which figures to be sooner rather than later. Still, the Wolves could continue testing the waters with their big lineup, even if it's not at the start of the game.
Sunday's returns were likely too positive to ignore.
"We can play big, we can play small," Thibodeau said, "but I like the length."