Wolves starters have a lot to learn from bench players: ‘They don’t care who scores’

In the last two games, the Timberwolves bench has played a better brand of basketball than their disjointed starting unit.

After each of those games, coach Chris Finch was asked why he didn't stick with that bench unit at least a little bit longer to try and win a game.

"Listen, I think I'm going to go back with the guys at certain times," Finch said matter-of-factly following Tuesday's loss against Phoenix. "... I'm not going to sit here and second-guess every substitution I make in the last five minutes of the game."

This recent stretch of games has shown the dichotomy Finch is facing early in the season. His starting group needs to learn how to play together, since they are the ones that will raise the ceiling on how far the Wolves can go in the playoffs.

Related to that, the best teacher is experience, and there's no way this starting unit will develop chemistry if it doesn't get to play significant minutes in close games.

At the same time, that might be costing the Wolves a few wins as that group starts to feel its way forward and the bench continues to shine.

The offense has looked stagnant and sloppy, especially as Phoenix broke open Tuesday's win after the bench had helped cut the lead to two. The same pattern happened Sunday, when the bench cut a double-digit San Antonio lead down, only for the starters to relinquish the momentum.

"I think it starts with the want-to," Finch said. "They got to want to just not try to force themselves on every play. I think there's a little bit of that going on at the moment. They got to try to just execute and make the right play. Whatever the defense is giving us, we got to take that."

Anthony Edwards said the starters can learn from how the reserves move the ball. This was what happened last season when the offense finally clicked for the Wolves. A lot of the starting unit was out because of COVID protocols in late December and early January. The bench and reserves who were able to get on the court played a brand of basketball much different from the stifled look the Wolves starters had previously. The starters took note, and the Wolves had the league's most efficient offense from January onward.

"They're sharing the ball," Edwards said. "They don't care who scores. That's the biggest thing. They don't care who score. They all want to see each other shine in that second group."

This season is different than last, of course, because the Wolves have Rudy Gobert to incorporate into the mix. There's still much work to do.

Of 25 five-man lineups that have played 48 minutes together, the Wolves' starting lineup has the second worst offensive rating (97.4 points per 100 possessions).

"Sometimes we all want to win so badly, and win for each other so badly, that we all get a little [more] aggressive than we need to," Karl-Anthony Towns said Sunday. "Just got to play the game out. Just let the game play itself out and just play smart."

They just have to look at their teammates for the way to do that.