Both of the Minnesota Timberwolves' games this week have ended in ignominious defeats: 98-75 to the Dallas Mavericks, and 105-80 to the Charlotte Hornets. In both games, the Wolves stayed close through the first period, losing each frame by three points, then gave up extended scoring runs to lose touch with the other team (22-7 over six minutes to Dallas, and 17-2 over six minutes to Charlotte). The Wolves' struggles to stay in touch with other teams in the second quarter have been a consistent theme this year.
Overall, the Wolves have a 98.8 Offensive Rating and a 109.9 Defensive Rating, combining for a putrid -11.1 Net Rating, second to last in the NBA (the 76ers have a -12.1 Net Rating). However, in the second quarter alone, this number balloons to a staggering -20.2 Net Rating, the second worst rating for any single quarter in the NBA this season (the 76ers have a -21.3 net rating in first quarters), so the Wolves are getting outscored by over twenty points per 100 second quarter possessions.
The difference isn't limited to just one end of the court either: O-Rating drops to 93.3 and D-Rating jumps to 113.5, a similar difference each way. Their field goal percentage drops from 43.5% over the full game to 42.4% in second quarters, their worst mark of any quarter. They average 4.1 turnovers per second quarter, also their worst mark of any quarter.
So we've readily established that the Wolves are abysmal in second quarters. Why is this happening?
Here are the Wolves' ten most used lineups in second quarters, by minutes (via NBA.com/stats).
Obviously, five of these ten still contain Corey Brewer, so they are no longer current lineups, same with the one featuring Jeff Adrien. A couple of things stand out:
- Assuming I haven't mis-run the stats, the fact that no single five-man lineup has played more than 18 second quarter minutes this season is astounding, and speaks to the amount of rotational flux the Wolves have played with this year. The Wolves have used 140 different five-man lineups in the second quarter, 71 of them for at least three minutes each. The lack of consistency speaks to how a lineup with Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin cracks the top ten in minutes, even though Ricky has been out since the fifth game of the year.
- Three of these ten lineups have a positive net rating. The one of the three which is still viable is the Zach + starters lineup (which could be possible by the weekend!) Passable on both offense and defense, although nothing compared to the still delightful wrecking machine that was the Brewer-Andrew Wiggins-Shabazz Muhammad-Adrien-Thaddeus Young with its +28.6 net rating.
- Two of the three lineups featuring Zach LaVine over Mo Williams have surprisingly competent offenses, registering an ORTG over 100. Only one of Mo's five lineups does so.
- The most common lineup is incredibly bad defensively, which I wouldn't call a surprise. Of the three worst lineups defensively, one is the most common lineup (LaVine-Wiggins-Muhammad-Young-Dieng) and the other two are essentially the same lineup, one with Wiggins, the other with Muhammad.
Firstly, as with most analyses of the Wolves' problems this year, they really need the starters back. Zach's best performance being with the four non-Rubio starters on the floor is not a coincidence. The stats from this angle don't show Zach being as much of a detriment to the Wolves' efforts as some others have. Secondly, the lack of lineup consistency cannot be helpful to running plays and being organized on defense. As Troy Daniels and Miroslav Radjulica become more consistent parts of the rotation and Rubio and Martin return, some of these numbers should stabilize, but through the first half of the season, the consistency has been a major issue.
Another possibility remains that the better teams simply turn on another gear in the second quarter. The foil to the Wolves, the Golden State Warriors, have the best net rating in any single quarter in their second quarters at +22.7, which is mindboggling. The other teams who have the top five second quarter net ratings bear this out as well: Dallas (+11.1), Milwaukee (+10.3), Atlanta (+8.4) and Toronto (+7.2). These teams, in addition to having better players than the Wolves have for most of the season, have kept relatively consistent rotations. The presence of the young Milwaukee team in that top five should be a sign to remain hopeful as the Wolves move into the second half of the season and prepare for next year. Meanwhile, if you are going to take a break to make dinner or something, the 2nd quarter is probably your best bet.
All statistics for this article courtesy of NBA.com/stats.
Editor's Note from EiM: This is ProfCedar's first article as a member of the Canis Hoopus writing staff. We're pleased to have him join us, and look forward to many excellent contributions. Please welcome him with your usual warmth. Or at least don't be too mean. Thanks, and welcome ProfCedar.