Timberwolves

Three Potential Closing Lineups the Wolves Could Use

Photo Credit: Kiyoshi Mio (USA TODAY Sports)

With preseason in the rearview mirror and the regular season a few hours away, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch has left fans still pondering who will be stepping onto the court first as part of the starting lineup. But there is a much more vital question at hand that fans need to focus their attention on: Who will be in the closing lineup?

We’ve all heard the phrase, It’s not how you start that matters, but it’s how you finish. You’ve probably seen it written in a poorly chosen font on one of those crummy motivational posters at work. But in basketball, the way a team finishes a game can make all the difference between a triumphant win and a devastating loss.

When it comes to the closing lineups of Finch and Co., there are three individual players who we should all expect to be on the floor during crunch time: D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, and Karl-Anthony Towns. That shouldn’t come as a shock because they are this franchise’s cornerstones barring any Ben Simmons trade.

And for good reasons.

Throughout his six-year career in the league, Russell has proven that he possesses the necessary confidence and shotmaking ability to step up and make the final shot attempt in the closing seconds of a game.

Although he has no game-winning buckets on his NBA resumé, Edwards is precisely the kind of player you want out on the floor in the closing minutes of a game. He can score at all three levels and has an apparent willingness to give consistent effort on defense. Edwards is no longer the player Finch had sitting on the bench towards the end of multiple games last season.

And as for Towns, I think we can all agree that he should be on the floor in a close game.

The real question is who the other two players on the floor will be. Here are Finch’s three best options:

Lineup 1: The Safe Option

As we slide Edwards down to the 3, we insert Beverley out onto the opposite wing. It’s no secret that Beverley is one of the most fierce competitors in the league today. With his fiery leadership, ability to shoot from distance, and solid on-ball defense, he is a seemingly perfect and safe pick to be in between the war lines when it matters most.

But Brooks, where the hell is Jaden McDaniels?! On the bench, for now. Yes, Jaden is on his way to becoming an elite defender in this league, and I originally planned on having him starting at the power forward slot over the recently acquired Prince. But after watching Prince play in the preseason, I found myself wanting to see him play more alongside Minnesota’s best players, thus nudging out the second-year forward.

Plus, last year offered some evidence that McDaniels is a more desirable fit when defending on the perimeter due to his lack of strength, which became evident when he had to guard larger players. Prince has shown the ability to defend at both the 3 and the 4. He also has a knack for hitting consistently from beyond the arc.

Also, he’s been in the league several years longer than McDaniels has.

Experience matters in today’s game, and overexposing your players is rarely the wisest decision. (Also known as the Jarrett Culver Effect). Finch decided last season that it would be best for Ant to sit out towards the end of multiple games because he felt Edwards was not showcasing the necessary effort on both sides of the ball.

While McDaniels usually seems to give the team his all every time he’s on the court, withholding him from playing to allow him some time to study the mayhem at the end of the game could help him grow as a player.

Lineup 2: 4 Starters and A Prince

Due to his injury history, Beverley is likely to miss a fair amount of time this upcoming season. This lineup features Edwards moving back to his starting position as the team’s two-guard while inserting everyone’s beloved slender, yet silky, McDaniels as the 3-and-D wing. Pair McDaniels with another competent sharpshooting wing in Prince, and the floor is now wide open to allow the three-headed offensive monster of Russell-Edward-Towns to do what they do best: Score. This long lineup has the ability to score from virtually anywhere on the floor, while also possessing the potential of playing close to league-average defense due to the average size and length of each player.

Lineup 3: Cole Made Me Do It

This is what I like to call the “All gas, no brakes” lineup. Let me be clear, in no way, shape, or form do I want to see Finch and his team put out a lineup that even closely resembles this. The team’s backcourt defense becomes nearly unbearable to watch when both DLo and Malik share minutes. But wouldn’t it be must-watch basketball?

Although none of them are plus defenders, every player on the floor can score the basketball, especially from three-point territory. Oh yeah, and they can MAKE FREE THROWS. At the end of the shortened 2020-21 season, Minnesota placed just 21st in the league when it came to free throw makes as a team (76.1%).

In the 2020-21 season, this lineup put up the following numbers from the foul line:

And if Cole Anthony’s off-balance game-winning 3-pointer, which came off of an outlet pass from a missed Jarred Vanderbilt free throw, doesn’t still give you nightmares nearly a year later, then maybe this fast-paced sharpshooting team isn’t for you.

Could these lineups be absolute disasters? Yes. Could Finch run closing lineups that do not even remotely resemble any of these three? Damn right. To be completely honest, I could care less who is out on the court and at what times, as long as they have found a winning formula. And as we wait for one of the well-known Timberwolves media members to tweet out tonight’s starting lineup against the Houston Rockets, let us not forget that…

“It’s not about how you start that matters, but how you finish.”

– Dylan Carlson, probably.

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