The Minnesota Timberwolves won their first game after a devastating injury to Jimmy Butler. Without him, here’s how they can run a solid offense.
Taj Gibson is the most efficient player (1.12 PPP) among those with at least 100 post-up opportunities so far this season. Minnesota’s young stars Karl-Anthony Towns (1.05 PPP) and Andrew Wiggins (1.01 PPP) have looked fantastic on this play type.
These three players join Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas and Cleveland’s Kevin Love in the Top 5 for highest scoring frequency on post-up possessions when looking at high-volume players.
It’s no surprise Minnesota has maintained the highest field goal percentage (52.2 percent) in the NBA when posting up so far this season. Note that they are the most efficient team in the league on this play type and it’s not because of Butler.
While he certainly helps as a scorer in various other capacities, including as a spot-up shooter and in a transition offense, the Timberwolves may be able to remain a powerhouse by doubling down on post-ups.
Wiggins, especially, should be utilized more in this role moving forward this season. The 23-year-old has dominated turning right in the shoulder when posting up, shooting 68.8 percent per Synergy Sports.
According to Ben Beecken, the presence of Butler is what kept him from utilizing this play more often (via Dunking With Wolves):
“[An] interesting change in Wiggins’ game thus far in 2017-18 is the lack of post-ups. The main reason for this is the addition of Butler, of course, and there simply aren’t as many plays called for Wiggins. And for as much as Wolves fans tired of Flip Saunders running post-up after post-up for Wiggins back in 2014-15 and 2015-16 … it’s turned into Wiggins’ most efficient play set in Year Four.”
It’s worth noting that he has been used as the ballhandler in a pick-and-roll and as a spot-up shooter far more often than he has been asked to post-up, which is where he has been the most efficient. He has averaged just 2.3 post-ups per game, drastically down from the 5.9 per game he had as a rookie.
Beecken described Wiggins as the player who has been “forced to make the most adjustments” since the offseason trade with Chicago.
Wiggins has averaged 16.8 points per 36 minutes when Butler is on the court. But without him, that rate has improved drastically to 20.2 points per 36. It’s not enough to make up for the loss of their star wing, of course, but it shows that he is capable of stepping up after the injury.
Towns, too, is not fed enough in the post, especially for how efficient has is in the paint. Among centers who have as many touches per night, Towns has the lowest total of post-ups per game.
While he and Joel Embiid have nearly the exact same field goal percentage on this play type, the Philadelphia big man gets triple his opportunities. Now that he and Wiggins will have the responsibility of leading the offense while Butler recovers, however, the team will have no choice but to rely on the area where they are most effective.