Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau is still figuring out the best way to mix his bench with his starters over the course of the game. One thing he is looking for is the ability of a player coming off the bench to work well with the starters.
The latest example of that might be Tyus Jones.
In Wednesday night’s victory over San Antonio — one that broke the Wolves’ 12-game losing streak to the Spurs — Jones scored only four points in 14 minutes, 36 seconds of playing time. But the chemistry the Apple Valley product showed in the two-man game with center Karl-Anthony Towns was behind a good bit of the Wolves’ dominant second quarter.
Start midway through the second quarter, with the Wolves holding a two-point lead at Target Center.
On the first possession, Jones used a Towns screen to penetrate, drawing Spurs center Pau Gasol. Then he bounced a pass to a crashing Towns, who scored.
On the next possession, the Spurs guard went under the screen, but Jones still drew Gasol enough to set up Towns for a jumper from the free throw line.
Next time down it was a little more complicated, as Towns set a screen, then rescreened as Jones read the situation, then changed directions. The result was a wide-open jumper.
Finally, Towns took out a guard with a screen, Gasol again helped, and Jones set up Towns for a dunk. Those were four consecutive made shots, the end of a second-quarter stretch in which the Wolves hit 12 shots in a row.
“It’s fun when you’re in rhythm like that,’’ Towns said. “What’s not fun is Tyus gets to stand there and dribble the ball, and I have to come all the way back up to get him. That’s not fun.’’
But seriously: “We’ve known each other since high school,’’ Towns said. “We’ve had a great chemistry. And we play the same style of basketball. He has played with some very talented centers, like Jahlil Okafor [at Duke]. So I’m happy to call him a teammate.’’
Wednesday the Wolves reserves scored a rather modest 29 points, with Nemanja Bjelica getting 11 and Shabazz Muhammad nine — all in that second-quarter run. But the bench absolutely changed the momentum of the game. Thibodeau did a bit of mass substitution earlier in the season. As that has tightened up, players like Jones, Bjelica, Jamal Crawford, Gorgui Dieng and Muhammad, who can play effectively with the starters, will get more run.
Thibodeau started the second quarter with Jones, Bjelica, Crawford, Muhammad and Taj Gibson. Towns replaced Gibson just moments before he and Jones went on that run. When Dieng comes back from injury, he will be put back in the mix. But the chemistry that is evident between Towns and Jones means they will be on the floor more together going forward.
“Tyus was reading the defense really well,’’ Thibodeau said. “And when you can get two onto the ball, then you have to make decisions.’’
Jones’ decisions were spot-on Wednesday. It helped that the Wolves have been getting some good perimeter shooting; three-pointers by Crawford and Muhammad — his first of the year — came right before the Towns-Jones run, with defenders hanging tight outside, creating the space for the pick and roll.
“You have to read your man, whether he goes under or over the screen,’’ Jones said. “You have to read the screener’s man, whether he’s back or up. And you have to read the help-side defense. There are a few reads, and you have to make ’em quick.’’