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Did they Improve?

Let's throw away the last 2 games of the season against Detroit and Milwaukee and break up the season into 20 game increments. Here's how the Wolves fared:

  1. Games 1-20: 3-17 with wins against Sacramento, New Orleans, and Phoenix.  Opponent's final win %: .605.  Wins over .500 clubs: 2
  2. Games 21-40: 3-17 with wins against Indiana, Miami, and Golden State. Opponent's final win %: .402.  Wins over .500 clubs: 1
  3. Games 41-60: 6-14 with wins against Phoenix, New Jersey, Chicago, LAC, Philly, and Utah.  Opponent's final win %: .485.  Wins over .500 clubs: 3
  4. Games 61-80: 9-11 with wins against Sacramento, LAC, Seattle, LAC, Memphis, New York, Utah, Orlando, and Memphis.  Opponent's final win %: .344.  Wins over .500 clubs: 2 (Orlando barely counts given their effort in game #79.


On the surface, and with just the victory totals, I know it looks like the Wolves improved over the course of the season (especially considering the fact that their 6 win and 9 win streaks roughly coincided with the return of Randy Foye, giving the club a 15-25 record over the last 40), but the numbers within those victories are not as flattering as the W-L record...if such a thing can be said about a stretch of sub-.500 ball.  In order to get a handle on how things changed throughout the season, let's first look at how the Wolves' opponents' numbers changed before and after the allstar break. 

Before After
DFTA 27.8 27.4
DFTM 21.5 20.9
DOREB 10.6 10.7
DTREB 42.0 41.2
DAST 22.9 23.6
DSTL 8.0 6.5
DFG% 46.3 (36.5/78.7) 48.5 (38.5/79.5)

Now let's take a look at a few of the Wolves' stats:

Before After
FTA 20.7 20.5
FTM 15.0 15.5
OREB 12.3 10.8
TREB 42.3 39.9
AST 19.1 21.2
FG% 43.6 (36.4/83.3) 47.4 (39.3/82.9)
3P 5.4/16.3 5.4/13.9

All and all there's not too much to write home about here.  The two things that stick out the most are a) a the opponents' overall consistency (outside of an uptick in FG% after the ASB) and b) the Wolves' uptick in FG% after the ASB.  If you look even closer at the individual game stats, the uptick on both sides of the ball can be somewhat tied to a single event: the return of Randy Foye (I'll call it the Foye Effect).  Foye shot more, made more, and gave up just as much as Sebastian Telfair. Take a look at Foye's overall on/off numbers:

ON Court
OFF Court
Offense: Pts per 100 Poss.
Defense: Pts per 100 Poss.
Net Points per 100 Possessions

Now let's take a look at Bassy's numbers:

ON Court
OFF Court
Offense: Pts per 100 Poss.
Defense: Pts per 100 Poss.
Net Points per 100 Possessions

As much as I enjoyed watching Bassy play (he was my favorite player during the year), the numbers don't really play out in his favor as Foye matched his defensive ineptitude while helping the offense score nearly 5 more points/100 possessions.  Foye's increase in minutes nearly match the team's increase in offensive productivity and defensive downturn.  The Foye Effect was noticable and fairly significant. 

February was the Wolves best defensive month by nearly 4 ppg (96.9).  It was also the month where the Wolves scored the least amount of points (92 ppg).  Once Foye got his sea legs about him, the team's offensive and defensive numbers started to climb; 100/103.3 in March and 101.7/110.6 in April.  Here's a quick look at the Wolves' month-by-month performance:

Month PtsScored PtsAllowed Diff Record
Nov 93.9 101.5 -7.6 2-12
Dec 93.1 102.9 -9.8 2-14
Jan 94.3 100.6 -6.3 5-10
Feb 92.0 96.9 -4.9 3-9
Mar 100.0 103.3 -3.3 7-8
Apr 101.7 110.6 -8.9 3-7

By this account (and by looking into efficiency numbers) it's pretty clear that the Wolves improved in a pretty consistent manner between January and March before falling off a cliff in April.  In it's most generic overview, Foye's return brought about increased offense and decreased defense.  However, his and the team's play in March raises an interesting question: Do the Wolves play better with better defense or better offense?  In their current poor shooting, let's-not-get-to-the-line form, the Wolves are clearly a team that would fare better in a more up-tempo environment.  If they're going to win, they need shot volume, solid rebounding, to limit silly fouls, and gamble for turnovers.  In plain English (and with an eye on the upcoming draft): can a defensive minded center bridge the gap between 92.0 and 96.9 easier than a perimeter efficient wing player between 100.0 and 103.3?  As long as the defense doesn't fall off the deep end like it did in April, the Wolves have a fighting chance next season.  If they can hold their opponents within the range of 102-104 ppg, they have some nice developing offensive tools to remain in the game and keep things interesting.  Once you have a true-to-form 2nd scorer and another season or two of Foye and/or Shaddy showing that they can hit from 40%+ from range, then you add the center to help bridge any remaining gap in point differential.

Getting back to the main point of this post, it's pretty hard to say that the Wolves improved when they ended the season with such a terrible defensive performance.  While it was nice to see them end the season by getting 100ppg in the last 2 months, they also gave up 103 and 110 respectively.  That's not improvement.  That's going the other direction.  Outside of the 1st 2 horrible months, the Wolves went 18-34 while scoring 97 ppg and giving up 102.85.  Since Foye came back you can add about 3 points to each average.  And therein lies the big problem: there wasn't any real improvement; just an addition of a (relatively) important player who is better on offense than he is on defense.

If there is to be any consequences for this year's play (and there won't be) it would be that team development simply did not happen.  Player development may have gone forward with career years for Jefferson, Gomes, and McCants, but as a team, the Wolves were running on a treadmill. They lack an identity, an offensive or defensive system, the identification of a clear type of player skill set to fill out their personnel needs, and so on and so know, front office and coaching stuff.

As a team, the Wolves most certainly did not improve throughout the year.  Foye simply came back and played well enough for them to knock off a few more wins against the likes of the Clips and Grizz. Pace, DPace, FTM/FTA, DFTM/DFTA, eFG%, DeFG%...the list goes on and on; the Wolves had a series of important numbers that remained consistent throughout the year.  Outside of a slight uptick in eFG% after the ASB (which can be tied to a single player more than actual team play), they were the same team they were at the beginning of the year + Foye. They had the same issues, played the same style, had the same deficiencies, and so on and so forth.  I'm not sure if you can call this improvement.