NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2016-17 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Minnesota Timberwolves, who got more from their back-up point guard when he wasn’t the back-up point guard anymore.
Last season, Zach LaVine had an effective field goal percentage of better than 56.4 percent with Ricky Rubio on the floor.
That mark would put LaVine among the best backcourt shooters in the league. Among guards who took at least 400 shots last season, only Stephen Curry, J.J. Redick and Klay Thompson had an effective field goal percentage better than 56.4 percent.
But LaVine’s effective field goal percentage when Rubio wasn’t on the floor was a below-average 48 percent. In the first half of last season, LaVine spent most of his time backing up Rubio, and the Wolves were bad on both ends of the floor in LaVine’s minutes. Prior to the All-Star break last season, they scored only 101.6 points per 100 possessions and allowed 108.9 with him on the floor.
But around the break, LaVine became the starting shooting guard. And playing more alongside Rubio, LaVine had an effective field goal percentage of 57.3 percent after the break, up from 48.2 percent before it. That was the third biggest increase among 136 players with at least 250 FGA before the break and 200 after it.
Interestingly, Rubio had the 10th biggest increase, from 40.2 percent before the break to 46.9 percent after it. Both guards took a lot more of their shots from 3-point range after the break, and they combined to shoot 41 percent from beyond the arc over the last two months of the season.
Rubio’s presence on the floor has long had a positive impact on the Wolves’ defensive numbers. Last season, his impact on the offense was clearer. Minnesota scored 112.3 points per 100 possessions in 904 minutes with Rubio on the floor with their young trio of LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. But in the 286 minutes in which those three played without Rubio, they scored just 98.3 points per 100 possessions.
The lineup of Rubio, LaVine, Wiggins, Towns and Gorgui Dieng scored 113.5, the fourth best mark among 53 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together. In more than 1,000 minutes with Rubio and LaVine on the floor together, the Wolves scored at a rate that would have ranked second in the league last season.
Of course, their defense was generally terrible. And that’s where new head coach Tom Thibodeau comes in. In Thibodeau’s last three years in Boston (as an assistant) and his first four years in Chicago, he had seven straight top-five defenses.
The Wolves’ other big addition was No. 5 pick Kris Dunn, another point guard. Eventually, a choice between Rubio and Dunn may have to be made. One decision that should be made immediately is that LaVine will only be a shooting guard from now on.
10 MORE WOLVES NOTES
The Wolves have been a below-average defensive team in nine of the last 10 seasons and in 20 of the franchise’s 27 seasons in the league. One of those seven years in which they were better than the league average was their inaugural season (1989-90), when Thibodeau was an assistant.
Last season, the Wolves were the only team with a better record on the road (15-26) than at home (14-27). They were also the only team with a better NetRtg on the road (minus-2.3 points per 100 possessions) than at home (minus-3.2).
Went 2-12 on the second game of a back-to-back. Only the Sixers (1-18), Lakers (1-17) and Nets (2-13) were worse.
Had the most losses after leading by 10 or more points, going 19-15 after leading by double-digits.
They outscored their opponents by 359 points at the free throw line, biggest advantage in the league.
Scored 1.30 second chance points per offensive rebound, the highest rate in the league, but only had 28 second-chance 3-pointers, tied for the league low with Milwaukee.
According to SportVU, their opponents had a league-high effective field goal percentage of 67.1 percent in the first six seconds of the shot clock.
According to SportVU, the Wolves were the most likely team to pass to the screener on ball screens, doing it 32.8 percent of the time. Rubio passed to the screener 40.5 percent of the time and LaVine did it 34.8 percent of the time, rates that ranked first (by a wide margin) and third among 93 players who used 500 ball screens last season.
Allowed only 96.4 points per 100 possessions in 556 minutes with Kevin Garnett on the floor last season. Every other player had an on-court DefRtg of at least 103.5.
Wiggins recorded assists on only 8.7 percent of his possessions, the lowest rate among 78 guards who played at least 25 minutes per game in at least 40 games.
NBA TV’s Timberwolves preview premieres at 6:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Oct. 12.
John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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