The Minnesota Timberwolves have fallen on some hard times since the calendar shifted to 2016. The team is 0-7 and has been beaten by nearly 10 points per game on average. They haven't won a game since beating the, at the time, injury plagued Utah Jazz 94-80 on December. But this article isn't going to focus on the bad; that has been done enough over the last few weeks. This article will focus on the good that has been seen as of late, because, you know, everybody needs a pick-me-up every now and then.
After averaging only 17.5 minutes per game during October, November, and December, Muhammad's minutes have increased to 25.7 per game during the month of January. Along with his increase in minutes, Muhammad has seen an increase in his points per game, three-point attempts, three-point percentage, free throw attempts, and, most notably, assists per game.
It seems as though things are finally starting to click for Muhammad. Sure, he is still prone to have tunnel vision more often than you would like, but he is beginning to see the floor better and is looking for the extra pass. It is still a work in progress, but it appears as if he is starting to make strides, something that has earned him more playing time during the month of January.
Muhammad's three-point shooting also deserves praise, especially from the corners. As of writing this, Muhammad is currently 17/32 (53.1%) from the corners, including 10/14 (!!!) from the right corner. That's good for an eFG% of 107.1%. One hundred and seven point one percent.
Nemanja Bjelica has been playing great over the last three games and, man, is that great to see! After suffering a knee injury in late November that kept him out of four games, Bjelica struggled to find his shot and consistent minutes on the court really all the way up until the past three games (Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Houston). In the last three games, Professor Big Shots is 6/7 from beyond the arc and has played key minutes during the fourth quarter. It seems as though he is carrying himself with more confidence when he is on the court and isn't playing like he is afraid to make a mistake.
Improvements can also be seen, at least to an extent, on defense as well as on the boards. Over the last few games he has been a little stouter on defense, not allowing defenders to drive right by him and making them work for their buckets, and he has grabbed a few rebounds when it was imperative that the team get the board.
Bjelica's success and development is a crucial part of the Wolves' future as he is, at least in theory, a great complement to the games of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. He very well may be the stretch four that the Wolves desperately need, so it is very encouraging to see him play better and with more confidence as of late.
Nikola Pekovic is back in action! You can't not be excited to see the Peksecutioner on the floor again after being sidelined for nearly a year following surgery on his Achilles tendon. It is great to see him bruising opponents on the low block again, even if it is only for 15-18 minutes per game. The Wolves missed the enforcing attitude and physical play that Pekovic provides on the court and, really, it doesn't even matter what kind of production the team gets from him this season. Whatever he can provide in terms of box score stats is gravy; the main thing is that he is back on the court and grinding down the opposing team's bigs with his monstrous size and muscles.
Last Friday I wrote about Andrew Wiggins and a few concerns about his game going forward. Since that article came out, Wiggins is averaging 26.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game on 50.7% from the field, 37.5% from 3, and 76.5% from the free throw line. Now those are numbers that I would like to see Wiggins post at a more consistent level. His last four games have been a major improvement and something that he can build upon going forward.
It has also been nice to see him use a couple of other moves beyond his spin over the last few games. This is anecdotal, but Wiggins has used his Eurostep (or as John Meyer calls it: Maplestep) with a higher frequency this week and has been very aggressive moving towards the hoop. It has been nice to see him hit his jumpers (especially from deep) and free throws at a higher clip as of late, as well. If it weren't for his game against the Cavaliers, in which he only converted eight of 12 free throws, Wiggins free throw percentage for the past week would have been over 80% (18/22 in the other three games), a number that would help him make up for his average to below average three-point shooting and efficiency (a la DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors).
Other Wolves' Notes
Britt Robson, of the MinnPost, released a two-part Q&A with Wolves' interim head coach Sam Mitchell this week. It is a very enlightening conversation and I highly encourage you to read both parts if you haven't already. Mitchell is very transparent in the interview and sheds light on his thought process behind the team's development and overall workings. Part one can be found here. And part two here.