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Saric And Gibson Both Excel In Starting Forward Swap

by Julian Andrews
Web Editorial Associate Follow

In Monday night’s win over the Clippers, the Wolves’ starting lineup looked a little different. Dario Saric, who had come off the bench for the Wolves since being acquired in a trade, took the floor with the first unit while Taj Gibson came off the bench.

Making changes to a team’s starting lineup can be a fraught decision. Feelings can be hurt. However, the early returns on Saric’s move to the first unit seems to have happened without any ruffled feathers and the early on court returns look very promising. He finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals in 33 minutes.

Saric gives the Wolves’ starters much-needed shooting from the outside. Saric is a good enough shooter to where defenders can’t leave him alone to double-team Karl-Anthony Towns. That’s especially critical because Saric plays power forward—his man is the one who would usually help on Towns. If Saric can make opponents pay for leaving him alone, it gives Minnesota’s offense a great new look. That happened on Monday night—Saric tool full advantage of Towns’ pull on the Clippers’ defense and made four-of-five three-pointers.

If defenses are going to try to pick between the lesser of two evils with Towns going to work in the paint and Saric getting good looks at threes, nine times out of 10 they’re going to go with defending Towns and leaving Saric open. In Saric can shoot even as close to as well as he did last night on a more consistent basis, it has the ability to transform the Wolves’ offense. Towns and Saric playing together makes sense. It was great to see more of that last night.

But what about the other guy?

Gibson has been the consummate professional his entire career but he’s more than a locker room leader for this Wolves team. Gibson is the Wolves’ second-leading rebounder, their best post defender and their most efficient scorer. He’s a guy you want on the floor. He does things that help the team win.

However, Gibson’s skillset might be served well in a reserve role. He’s a guy who makes an instant impact in the game, he’s capable of getting his own shot in the post and he isn’t a big three-point shooter. Having Gibson as the anchor for a reserve unit that has been in constant flux the entire season could go a long way towards stabilizing that group. Gibson can also play the center spot with Saric to give the Wolves a different look when Towns is on the bench.

Luckily, Gibson is also a guy who is willing to make a sacrifice for the good of the team.

“It’s really not a big deal,” Gibson said. “I’ve come off the bench my whole career, I’ve started. I know how to maneuver and play off the bench. It’s no pressure. I’m just doing whatever it takes to help my team win games.”

Having a guy who is willing to take on a bench role to allow his team to create better lineup combinations is nice but having someone who can do so without sacrificing any of their production is even better. Gibson was excellent on Monday. He had 14 points on perfect five-for-five shooting, three rebounds, an assist and a steal. Gibson might not be that productive every night, but he’s not going to let a bench role stop him from playing his game.

“I can’t say enough about him,” Interim Head Coach Ryan Saunders said of Gibson after the game. “When I brought him the idea, it was actually yesterday, he was all for it. It just shows his professionalism, the fact that he has 14 points off the bench playing both the four and the five. You can’t say enough about him.”

With Saric looking like a star in a starting role and Gibson giving the Wolves toughness and leadership off the bench, this move could pay dividends for Minnesota.