By: Drew Mahowald
Interim head coach Sam Mitchell's rotations have been a talking point among Timberwolves fans through the first 20-some games of the season. Many fans have been perplexed and/or frustrated with some of his tendencies, and sometimes with good reason.
However, those fans frustrated about Tayshaun Prince having a starting role and playing 19.4 minutes per game are in the wrong. Prince's leadership and experience make him a valuable situational player for the Wolves.
Sure, Prince is limited physically and it hurts him sometimes. I can't argue that. But what I CAN do make a case for him keeping a starting role and continuing to play roughly 20 minutes per game, which isn't a popular idea in Wolves land.
To begin my case, I'll explain how/why Prince still plays defense at a high level despite being on the verge of turning 36 years old. First of all, the eye-test says a lot for me. Try to think of a time when Prince had a noticeable mental lapse of even a small capacity on either side of the ball. Go ahead, I'll wait. You can even rewatch every game to search for it if you please. Seriously, I'll wait.
You won't find one.
Defensively, he's always in the right position, and it seems to rub on his teammates when he's on the floor. The entire unit seems plays terrific team defense when Prince is on the field, especially with the starters.
Offensively, to be frank, he doesn't do much. Mitchell knows full well that he has never been a terrific scoring threat and definitely isn't now at age 35. With that said, Prince knows his role and he fulfills it well. He hits the open mid-range jumper at a high-rate off kick-out passes from teammates who penetrate the paint.
Again, he doesn't do much, but what he does do is positive. He's not turning it over or clogging things up with bad spacing. He knows his role and he does what he's asked to do.
Now, should you trust some lame college kid's "eye-test" and suddenly believe Prince's minutes are valuable? Well, if you want to, sure. But I assume you'd like to numbers to back this up a little bit.
To begin with, Prince is one of the few players on the Wolves roster who has managed to stay positive in the +/- category all season. In fact only four players on the Wolves roster have managed a positive +/- number this season: Prince, Kevin Garnett, Ricky Rubio and Andre Miller. Prince's +0.6 is third on the squad behind Rubio's +2.7 and Miller's +1.2.
Next, another stat that does an excellent job of looking at a player's impact is the offensive, defensive and net rating statistic. Oddly enough, the same four players are the only guys with a positive net rating for the Wolves. Prince's 4.4 net rating is third on the team behind Rubio's 4.8 and Miller's 5.0.
Lastly, I'd like to throw in some numbers that show just how well the current starting unit performs on a nightly basis.
Among five-player lineups that have played at least 100 minutes this season, the lineup of Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Tayshaun Prince, Kevin Garnett and Karl-Anthony Towns has recorded the best defensive rating (83.3) and the fifth-best net rating (13.3).
So if it seems like the Wolves consistently get off to a good start in games, it's because they do when those five guys (Rubio, Wiggins, Prince, Garnett and Towns) are in the starting lineup.
If you take Prince out and replace him with Kevin Martin, who had been starting in Prince's place before Mitchell's latest change, that net rating falls abruptly to -5.6.
Coincidence? I think not.
One more thing I'll add is this: Yes, this season is all about development of the young players. But that doesn't mean those young players should ALWAYS play over the older guys. Playing Prince alongside Wiggins, Towns, LaVine, Dieng, etc. is certainly a good thing because of that leadership and experience he brings. Remember, this guy has NBA Finals experience.
You can't tell me that playing a guy that has NBA Finals experience with the young guys won't help their growth and development as NBA players.
If you're a fan that likes to look exclusively at stats like points, rebounds or blocks to judge a player's performance, than you won't like Tayshaun Prince. However, in just about every other way, Prince makes a positive impact on this young team on when he's on the floor.
So before you keep bashing Mitchell for playing Tayshaun Prince a respectable 20 minutes per game, take a second to realize what exactly you're wishing for.
All stats used courtesy of nba.com/stats