By: Drew Mahowald
Through the first three games of the 2015-16 season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, one of the main stories, complaints, talking points, etc. has been the usage of Zach LaVine as the backup point guard to Ricky Rubio.
LaVine has played a total of 54 minutes through the first three games this season, and roughly 50 of those minutes have come at the point guard position while letting Rubio rest. So, basically, an overwhelming majority of the time he's been counted on to run the offense.
And, man, he has struggled in doing that.
Maybe it's just because we're comparing him to Rubio, but the offensive is incredibly stagnant when LaVine is running the show. He just doesn't appear comfortable in a point guard role, despite the fact that he's had the ball in his hand for a large portion of his career. The numbers support this, too, as the Wolves have generally been pretty pathetic when LaVine is on the floor.
For example, LaVine's total +/- rating through three games is -16 (-4 @ LAL and @ DEN, -8 vs. POR). That rating is the worst on the team, and he has recorded the worst +/- for the Wolves in each of their last two games.
On the bright side, the Wolves have managed to outscore opponents by a total of 13 points this season despite LaVine's -16 rating. Eventually, though, the Wolves won't be able to overcome this.
This idea has been voiced by Wolves fans loudly and clearly over the past week, and I tend to agree with it - Zach LaVine is not a point guard. LaVine's best chance to succeed is by playing shooting guard, and there doesn't appear to be a valid argument against that. However, head coach Sam Mitchell hasn't realized this yet. Or, he has realized it and is ignoring it. I can't tell you which one.
I'm going to plug in a stat here, and you guys can do what you want with it. I understand that it's an extremely small sample size. But, in the short span against the Lakers in which LaVine played shooting guard with Rubio at the point, the Wolves managed a net rating of +83.9. Again, extremely small sample size, but THAT'S REALLY GOOD.
According to Jerry Zgoda's column after the season-opening win against the Lakers, the Wolves were able to erase a 97-91 deficit and lead by one before LaVine was replaced with Kevin Martin. In that span, LaVine scored a fast break basket on a pass from Rubio and also played solid perimeter defense on Lakers shooting guard Lou Williams.
Why am I so sure about LaVine as a shooting guard over him as a point guard? It's the way he plays. He likes to score, and he doesn't appear to like setting up and offense. His assist/turnover ratio has never been particularly strong, and that's something that needs to be pretty solid at the point guard position. Additionally, his athleticism and scoring ability can be utilized much more effectively if he's playing the two-guard position alongside a true point guard such as Ricky Rubio, Andre Miller or Tyus Jones.
Moreover, playing the two-guard helps LaVine on the defensive end of the floor. Thus far in the 2015-16 season, LaVine has proven to be a solid on-ball defender when he isn't faced with a ball-screen. However, when he has to defend against a ball-screen, LaVine has had serious trouble both this season and all of his rookie season. If he's playing the two, he'll face far less of these situations as teams often don't run ball-screens for wing players as much as they do for point guards.
Overall, LaVine's a shooting guard. He just is. Not only has he struggled at the point, but in his short time at the two position in his career he has been impressive.
If I'm Sam Mitchell, I start to play LaVine at the two with Ricky Rubio as much as I can (well, not as much as I can, but, you know, a substantial amount). Additionally, I bring Andre Miller off the bench and let him run the second unit. He can't be much worse than LaVine has been.
Alas, I'm not Sam Mitchell. Instead, I'm just an average basketball blogger trying to use stats to backup a decision that should be somewhat obvious for Mitchell.