Three Guard Lineup Working For Wolves

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Conventional wisdom suggests that in a game built for height and reach, playing three point guards simultaneously—generally the smallest of all positions—would yield unfavorable results for a team.

Timberwolves assistant coach Terry Porter says that’s not always the case. And when it comes to putting together a competitive late-game lineup, Minnesota has followed suit in using Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea on the floor at the same time.

“I learned a long time ago it’s not the size of the dog, it’s the fight in the dog,” Porter said. “I think all those guys have a lot of fight in them.”

It’s not a lineup coach Rick Adelman says he’ll use regularly; instead, it’s a situational combination that works when he sees a possible matchup with an opposing team. But when it’s usable—particularly at the end of games to help put sure-handed free-throw shooters on the floor—the Wolves are benefiting on both ends of the court.

The trio of point guards are opening up scoring opportunities offensively with their ability to use pick and rolls, find open shooters and take their own shots when available.

On the defensive end, they’re not giving up an inch. Rubio (6-foot-4), Ridnour (6-foot-2) and Barea (6-foot-0) haven’t backed down from forcing a defensive stop yet this season. Even facing small forwards—like Ridnour did against the Lakers’ 6-foot-7 Metta World Peace—each guard is showing the tenacity it takes to play together at the same time.

If anything, it’s a challenge.

“I think being undersized makes you dig in for rebounds; you’ve got to be scrappy when guarding bigger guys and you’ve got to use your hands and really just make things happen,” Ridnour said. “So all three of us have been there and had to guard someone bigger, and you’ve just got to be aggressive.”

Porter, a former standout NBA guard, said it’s enjoyable watching the three compete on the floor—even when they’re facing difficult situations on the defensive end.

“You love to see it; you love to see a guard who is not afraid to take on a bigger guy and just compete and make it difficult for him,” Porter said. “Although there may be a big size difference, they don’t care about the size. They’re going to push them out and be physical with them as best they can. That’s how you get respect in this league.”

Adelman attempted the three-guard lineup over the weekend, dabbling with it in New Jersey in the final minutes of the game and using it to ice Saturday’s 100-91 win over Houston. The trio played the final four minutes of the Rockets game together and were on the floor for parts of the final minute against the Kings on Tuesday.

Adelman said it’s a formula he’d like to run with more often.

“I’d like to try,” he said. “I think those guys are really effective. When you have Ricky with the ball in your hands and now he’s kicking it to Luke or JJ…You have guys who can hurt the other team, and it’s harder for them to guard us.”

Rubio said it’s fun playing with his two point guard teammates at the same time.

“You have two other players who can bring up the ball, play pick and rolls. It’s a different style, and you have your weaknesses and your strengths,” Rubio said. “You have to take control of the rebounds, too, because with three small guards it’s hard, but it’s fun to play.”

Barea said it has worked in particular because of the team’s dominant rebounders in the front court. Pairing forward Kevin Love and center Nikola Pekovic together poses a formidable duo on the glass, meaning the three guards can focus more on ball handling, passing and shooting.

From a free-throw standpoint, the trio provide the best late-game option for sealing victories. Barea is a team-best 90.3 percent shooter from the line, and Ridnour (82.4 percent) and Rubio (81.6 percent) are Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. Coupled with Love’s 81.8 percent efficiency and the Wolves have a core of players able to knock down late-game foul shots.

“There’s no doubt all three of them can shoot it out there,” Porter said. “That’s a plus when you have those types of guys on the floor.”

When the matchup is right, these three could get more opportunities to play alongside each other at the same time.

“You have guys who can hurt the other team, and it’s harder for them to guard us,” Adelman said. “If we have those guys on the court, it’s a lot harder on the other team.”

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