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The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Four Factors

Timberwolves fans can be forgiven if they were expecting an article about the Four Horsemen but alas I am only planing to write about the notorious Four Factors of basketball. I'll leave the deep philosophical and theological topics for other, more thoughtful, pundits.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Howdy folks, I was thinking the other day that this might be a good point in the season to take a step back and check out how our favorite team is doing in some key statistical areas. It also occurred to me that there was already a list of such categories assembled into a neat little package called "The Four Factors." It will come as little surprise to most readers that I did not remember what any of these four factors were. Did you? Be honest.

Anyway, it seems to me that a few years ago there was regular talk of these factors and then, as suddenly as they appeared on the analytical landscape, they were gone. Were they discredited or simply cast aside in favor of something newer, bigger, faster, stronger...? Regardless, it occurred to me that I'm unlikely to be the only one with a faint memory of there being some kind of list of factors that may or may not contribute to NBA teams winning basketball games. It also occurred to me that two number one picks and raising expectations have brought some new fans into the fold so there may be readers out there who are not yet familiar with these four factors.

This is where I come in. I'm going to take it upon myself to review the meaning of the four factors and then take a look at how some of the Timberwolves players are contributing to the teams success or failure in these important statistical categories. Now, admittedly, some of you may be thinking that learning advanced statistical analysis of basketball from AverageJer is like learning culinary skills from a newly hired line cook at the local Applebee's. Fair point. Still, I will try to make this worth your while and at the very least we can learn together.

First let's take a closer look at the four different statistics that comprise the Four Factors: Effective Field Goal Percentage, Turnover Percentage, Offensive and Defensive Rebounding Percentage, and Free Throw Rate.

Effective Field Goal Percentage

Effective Field Goal Percentage, or eFG%, is a pretty simple metric that combines primary field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage in an attempt to better account for the fact that threes count for more points than twos. This is good news for Steph Curry, bad news for Kenneth Faried and, sadly, somewhat meaningless for the Minnesota Timberwolves who take to three point shots about as eagerly as typical house cats take to water. Because of the emphasis on three point shooting in the league these days, it makes sense to think about shooting percentage in a way that accounts for the extra point when shooting behind the curved line. Of course, all shooting is important in a sport who's primary goal is to make baskets, so we can see why a statistic that combines general field goals and three point field goals makes sense here. For comparison sake let's look at how a few notable NBA players are doing: Stephen Curry: .630 ; Greg Monroe: .521 ; Trey Burke: .510. The NBA league average for eFG% this season is .496

Turnover Percentage

Turnover Percentage, or TOV%, seeks to measure a player's impact on his team's offensive efficiency by calculating the number of turnovers he is responsible for per 100 possessions during which he was on the floor. All this magic is done with some kind of wizardy math tricks, or maybe with a calculator. How it's figured out is not my business. It stands to reason, however, that turning or not turning the ball over would in fact effect how a given player impacts his basketball team. Possessions count and turnovers are a good way to squander them. Some notable comparisons: Stephen Curry .14.0 ; Greg Monroe: 10.5 ; Trey Burke: 12.1. The NBA league average for TOV% this season is 13.6

Offensive and Defensive Rebounding Percentage

In keeping with the above idea that possessions are important we will now move into the next of the Four Factors which is Rebounding Percentage, or TRB%, which is a calculation of the percentage of available rebounds a given player gathers while he is on the court. Now, as you might imagine, this statistic is further complicated by the ability to be split into offensive (ORB%) and defensive (DRB%) categories. This also seems like a good time to inject the caveat that comparing these numbers from player to player probably requires a wiliness to look at positionally and other expectations relative to each individual player. It's not fair, for example, to consider the TRB% for rookie point guard Tyus Jones in relationship to Adrien Payne simply because Payne plays in the front court and is absolutely expected to gather rebounds when he is in the game. It would be more interesting, and more informative then, to measure Jones' ability to rebound against other point guards such as Andre Miller and Ricky Rubio. I couldn't quite track down 2015/16 league averages so I will list a few players for reference: Kevin Love: ORB% 8.3 DRB% 28.4 TRB% 18.4; Harrison Barnes: ORB% 4.7 DRB%12.8 TRB% 9.0; Deron Williams: ORB% 0.9 DRB%  9.8 TRB% 5.4

Free Throw Rate

Another statistic highlighting the importance of putting the basketball into the hoop, the Free Throw Rate (FTr) attempts to determine the number of free throws attempted per field goal attempt. It's become clear that the art of getting to the free throw line is an important NBA skill which impacts the overall game and helps a team preform efficiently on offense. We can imagine that this is true not only from a scoring standpoint but also because drawing fouls also has some residual effects such as getting your team into the bonus (more free throws!) and disrupting the opponents preferred substitution patterns when fouls are called on key players. As with the rebounding percentages I wasn't able to find this season's league averages so I will again list a few players for reference. Deron Williams .255 ; James Harden .532 ; Michael Carter-Williams 2.57

The Minnesota Timberwolves

Let's take a look at how some of the Minnesota Timberwolves players are doing this season according to these four factors. Because this season is mostly designated for exploration and growth I am not going to include all of the players in my investigation. I am also neglecting some of the players because there is a limit to how many number charts I can look at before my brain starts to overload and smoke begins streaming out of my ears like I'm some kind of cartoon character. I've included some team numbers in the charts with the league rank in parenthesis after each one for comparison.







Ricky Rubio







Kevin Garnett







Karl-Anthony Towns







Gorgui Dieng







Zach LaVine







Andrew Wiggins







Shabazz Muhammad







Tyus Jones







Nemanja Bjelica







Adreian Payne








.479 (23)

13.8 (20)

23.3 (20)

76.4 (17)

.327 (3)


So here is where the extent to which I am in way over my head with all of this numbery stuff will really come to light. In fact, I am hopeful that I will get some help in the comments not only in terms of interpretation but also regarding how I have set all of this up. Still, a few things stand out to me here. Perhaps the most noteworthy is that there are no major surprises. I kind of expected going into this that the Timberwolves were poor at shooting and rebounding and these numbers seem to reflect that. Unless scientists find a way to turn back the clock for Kevin Garnett rebounding will continue to be a problem for this team (thank goodness for KAT).

Much ado has been made about the shooting difficulties of Ricky Rubio so his low eFG% was not shocking, what is dismaying is the general poor shooting of those who are surrounding him. Seeing both Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins find some improvement in this regard could be a major boon for the Timberwolves offense over the next several seasons. I was surprised to see Rubio's high TOV% considering that he is currently second in the league in Assists to Turn Over Ratio (3.67) I suppose this could be explained some by how much he has the ball in his hands as he works to initiate the offense but still, along with shooting, this represents a clear opportunity for improvement for the Timberwolves now veteran point guard. Getting to the line has been a strength for this team which is nice to see. Hopefully this trend will continue into the future.

So where do the Wolves currently stand according to the Four Factors? I would say they stand on shaky ground at best. The team needs to have a serous talk with itself regarding the importance of obtaining and securing the basketball. It's possible that the only way for the shooting to improve will be the addition of new players who are better shooters (or the emergence / advancement of young players still finding their way) but it seems like this current collection of guys can, and perhaps should, look at these factors as motivation to improve on their collective rebounding and turnover numbers as these are areas that can likely be improved with some increased focus. Every possession is important in the sport of basketball which is why possession statistics make up half of the four factors. Shots are going to be missed, we fans can understand that, but rebounds and turnovers can become a point of emphasis and perhaps help the team win a few more games.

What do you think Wolves fans? Anything in particular stand out to you as you review these numbers?

Please enjoy this classic Neil Young performance: