Return of Rose, Teague bolsters Wolves backcourt
By Andy Thayer
11 2nd Ave N, Unit 103 | Sauk Rapids, MN 56379
For a reeling Timberwolves team that had lost six of their past seven games, the return of point guards Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague to the lineup provided a much-needed boost. In the 130-120 win over the Los Angeles Clippers Feb. 11, the two veteran ballhandlers set a steady tone with their ability to consistently penetrate the defense and either create good looks for their teammates or get to the rim themselves.
There is no way to sugarcoat this – with their top three point guards missing extended periods of time this season due to various injuries, the Wolves have struggled to maintain any semblance of consistency at the position. Things have gotten worse lately – with Derrick Rose (right ankle soreness), Jeff Teague (left foot soreness) and Tyus Jones (sprained left ankle) all out of the lineup since a win over the Lakers Jan. 25, the team’s point guard play has been utterly putrid. The injury-decimated point guard position has prohibited the Wolves from realistically competing for wins on a nightly basis.
Jerryd Bayless was a throw-in player included in the Jimmy Butler for Robert Covington-Dario Saric deal with Philadelphia in order to make the salaries match. Many pundits predicted Bayless would be a buy-out candidate once he reported to Minnesota. Instead, because the team’s point guard depth has been eradicated by injuries, Bayless was thrust into a starting role in late January. He has routinely played 35-40 minutes a night for a team starved for competent point guard play, and to absolutely no one’s surprise, it did not go well. To put it bluntly, Bayless was not a starting-caliber NBA point guard in his prime back in 2011. The washed 30-year-old version of Bayless that is currently masquerading in a Wolves uniform is historically bad. Monday night, Bayless posted a ludicrous plus-minus rating of minus 25 in only 15 minutes of play. That number is so awful it feels fake. I am not convinced a team could get outscored by 25 points in 15 minutes if they played 4-on-5. Needless to say, it is nice having Rose and Teague back.
The Wolves looked like a completely different team in the win over the Clippers with healthy versions of Rose and Teague back in the rotation. Rose exhibited his usual burst and quick first step, and he was able to consistently get to the hole against slower defenders like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet. Teague was able to routinely slither his way into the paint by using screens and his patented combinations of hesitation moves. He managed to pile up 10 assists while only turning the ball over once. Other than the homie Dario Saric, the Wolves did not shoot well from beyond the arc (6-18), but because they were able to get good looks within the restricted area and converted 30 of 36 free throws, they did not need the longball to outpace a Clippers team that had no answer for the quickness of the Wolves’ point guards.
Perimeter defense is still going to be an issue for the Wolves until Robert Covington returns. Lou Williams put up 45 points off the bench against Minnesota’s band of perimeter matadors in the Clippers game. However, the Wolves should return to being one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league with Rose and Teague back in the mix.
It is tough to evaluate interim head coach Ryan Saunders’ performance thus far, because his best point guards have all been out of the lineup simultaneously for most of his tenure. That kind of position-specific roster decimation would wreck any team. Now that Rose and Teague are healthy, Wolves fans can get a better feel for whether Saunders deserves a chance to be this team’s head coach of the future, and hopefully enjoy a more competitive on-court product at the same time.