From the hour-long delay to start the game due to a wonky rim until the final whistle, it was a disastrous night for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Without their leader in tow, nobody expected the Wolves to win — even with their surprisingly balmy buoying them to this point. Alas, the pre-game predictions were unerring, as they were swept aside by the star-laden Bucks 134-106.
So what stood out?
Towns and Out
After managing to pummel the Washington Wizards in Karl-Anthony Towns’ first game on the sidelines due to suspension, Minnesota simply didn’t have enough ammunition to take down a team that boasts plenty of talent, including reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Towns is the centerpiece of Ryan Saunders’ new and improved two-way scheme and without him, they simply find the keys, let alone get the engine running. While the players and coaching staff will undoubtedly be content with splitting the two outings without their fulcrum, it still would have been frustrating watching such a dire performance on both ends.
Offensively, they were a disaster. Without Towns to play puppet master, the fast-paced, five-out system ground to a halt. Instead, it was inefficiency that reigned supreme. Just two players (Robert Covington and Jordan Bell) finished the night making more than half their shots, which isn’t surprising when you gawk at the gruesome 35.9 percent field goal percentage put together through 48 minutes. Overall, Minnesota held a 94.6 offensive rating. The stuff of draft lottery winners.
Defensively, it was just as bad. Towns has been a rock in the paint this season, but there is no guarantee he would have made a tremendous difference as he doubtlessly would have on the other side of the ball, the Bucks are just too talented with ball in hand. With The Greek Freak attacking the rim like it’s pre-game antics had angered him, Khris Middleton displaying his silky stroke at every opportunity and Eric Bledsoe knocking down everything that came his way, Milwaukee looked the polar opposite of the Wolves offensively.
Giannis and his Eastern Conference warriors amassed seven players who hit more than 50 percent of their field goals, including all five starters. They also finished with a ravishing 118.6 offensive rating. It’s tough to stop that no matter how well Karl-Anthony Towns has begun the season defensively.
Let’s hope things change when the KAT pounces back into the fold.
Injury Bug Bites
The last thing the Timberwolves, or any team for that matter, need early in a season is injuries. Luckily, none of them seem to the sort that can derail a campaign, but it’s a sour note to an equally bitter game nonetheless.
Robert Covington (hip) and Jordan Bell (shoulder) both picked up knocks and had to head back to the locker room for treatment momentarily. However, they both returned and didn’t make an appearance on the injury report ahead of their next game in Memphis.
However, Shabazz Napier, twinged his hamstring and did not return to the game, looks like his ailment is a bit more serious. While it isn’t anything that is going to keep him out for an extended stretch, he is doubtful for the Grizzlies tilt on Wednesday night. Napier had been quietly impressive as the second-string point guard thus far. He has run the offense commendably and his shot had begun to look like it was ready to start falling again, so it will be painful to see him miss any games if he does.
To put the brussel sprout on top of the toxic cake, news also came out after the game that Jeff Teague is in doubt for the Memphis game with an illness. If he and Napier do happen to miss time, the Wolves will be left without a healthy true point guard on the roster. That leaves Jarrett Culver and two-way player Jordan McLaughlin as the options for offense initiating.
Wealth of Wiggins
Losing Karl-Anthony Towns for a two-game stretch has had plenty of downsides, but the form of Andrew Wiggins in the wake of his star’s absence hasn’t been one of them. Once again, Wiggins was the standout against the Bucks and looks like he could genuinely be in the early knockings of a renaissance season.
After posting 21 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists against the Wizards, he played the role of an offensive talisman with legitimate competency against Milwaukee. He ended with 25 points, 3 rebounds and 2 blocks and was the only capable scoring option for long stretches of the night.
Perhaps the most impressive part of his two-game hot streak has been his shot selections, which in turn is leading to increased efficiency. Wiggins has avoided overloading on the mid-range jumper and has opted for rim-attacks and 3-pointers. The results have been pleasing. Wiggins is shooting 17-37 (45.9%) on all field goals and 8-16 (50%) on 3-pointers.
For those with a penchant for advanced stats, the same ones who have rightfully torn Wiggins down for the majority of his career, Maple Jordan is hitting a career-best level. Early sample size warning, he is posting his best marks ever in player efficiency rating, 3-point attempt rate, offensive, defensive and total rebound percentage, turnover percentage, win shares per 48 minutes, box plus/minus and value over replacement player, per Basketball Reference.
Okay, Mr. Wiggins. We see you.
Theme of the season: the Timberwolves are going to shoot a whole lot of 3-pointers.
Unfortunately, they probably aren’t going to make that many. That sentiment rang true again in the bashing the Bucks doled out. Minnesota shot 43 long-balls on Monday night, making only 13 of them (30.2%). That puts their season average to a tick over 40 per game, good for third in the entire league. They have shot over 40 3-pointers just nine times in the franchise’s history, three of them have already come this season.
The modern NBA requires teams to shoot and shoot a lot. If not, you’re at risk of being out-mathed on a nightly basis. If you’re a Wolves fan, you know that feeling all too well, Minnesota spent the vast majority of the 3-point shooting era struggling to deduce that very equation. At some stage, they will probably need to start making them, but with the personnel they currently have, it’s probably not going to be this season.
While they are in the upper echelon in 3-point volume, they rank 24th in percentage. Karl-Anthony Towns and Robert Covington are both reliable gunners, but outside of that, the cupboards are bare. If they want to climb the efficiency ladder, they will need some unforeseen internal improvement or a trade that brings in another sniper.