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Minnesota Timberwolves starters can’t win games without bench help

We all want the Minnesota Timberwolves to win more games and compete for the playoffs after not making it there since 2004, but do they have enough firepower to do so?

It’s fair to ask this when they only have four productive players on a fifteen-man roster. There are a few factors that have led to the team not winning, and the one that needs to be focused on is their bench.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have four of the best up-and-coming players in the league in center Karl-Anthony Towns, small forward Andrew Wiggins, shooting guard Zach LaVine and power forward Gorgui Dieng. After that, the rest of the team seems to be just a little bit better than your local YMCA MVP.

Now you might think that is being a little harsh/ridiculous, but the numbers speak for themselves. Here is the average production from the three most used players on the bench through the last five games:

SF/SG Shabazz Muhammad: Age 24, 13.4 minutes per game, 4.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 0.6 assists

Nemanja Bjelica: Age 28, 14 minutes per game, 5.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 0.4 assists

PG Kris Dunn: Age 22, 15 minutes per game, 2.2 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.0 assist

Source: Harry How/Getty Images North America
Source: Harry How/Getty Images North America

The Wolves seriously need some bench help. Teams need to have All-Star caliber players, but they also need a supporting cast if they want to make any serious run at the playoffs or win a championship. To put this in perspective, let’s compare the Wolves bench to the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers three most used players on their bench through the last 5 games of the season;

PF/C Channing Frye: Age 33, 14 Minutes per game, 8.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists

SG Iman Shumpert: Age 26, 20 Minutes per game, 5.2 points, 2.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists

SF Richard Jefferson: Age 36, 19.6 Minutes per game, 4.2 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists

What stands out most to me about the two teams bench players is their age. The average age of the Timberwolves three most used bench players is 25 years old, where the Cavaliers top three have an average age of 32 years old.

How in the world are these “old heads” out-performing these young Timber-Pups!?

One key reason could be that they are out on the floor longer. The Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau refuses to utilize his bench more than he has to. He has had a history of doing this from back when he coached his former team the Chicago Bulls. Towns, Wiggins and LaVine averaged 35.5 minutes per game out of 48 possible minutes through the first 16 games. That means they are getting just above 12 minutes of rest per game, which is equivalent to one quarter of rest and playing the other three quarters in full.

So by the fourth quarter, the Wolves bench players have mostly been paid to take a few laps up and down the court while the starters are drinking their own sweat.

Whether the bench players aren’t performing up to expectations or the coach isn’t giving them a chance to do so, there have to be some changes made. The two things that can change are;

  1. Trade and sign new players –The Wolves clearly don’t have the role players they need to get the job done, so trading a player or two and looking to free agency would be a great option. Point guard Ricky Rubio apparently doesn’t want to be here based on comments he has made lately so trade him for someone who does. A free agent like power forward/center Tyler Hansbrough would be an excellent fit with his heart and rebounding; the team needs more of both.
  1. Change the rotations – Start rookie Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones at the guard positions and move Zach LaVine to the bench. The young guys get more experience and LaVine provides a spark off the bench. The coach also just needs to use the bench players more overall.

 If the bench doesn’t play more or perform better, we are in for another long season.

Alex Chavez is a contributing writer for Howlin’ T-Wolf. Follow him on Twitter: @acXhtw.