As most observers expected heading into the season, the Wolves have been up and down through the first part of the year. It seemed time to consider a few of the things we’ve seen as we approach the quarter-pole.
Fans were promised a radically different product for this season, a leap into the modern era of pace-and-space. The Wolves have delivered on that promise, playing fast and shooting threes at a historic rate for this franchise. Unfortunately, the threes have not been going in, which was also to be expected given the personnel.
The good: They are 10-9, which at the moment is good enough for seventh in the Western Conference. They have an above league average defensive efficiency, which is the first time that’s happened in...I dunno. The Adelman years maybe? They have mostly been playing drop coverage, and doing so with enough discipline to deter too many easy shots. Unlike past seasons, when open dunks and layups for opponents were plentiful, this season the Wolves are 12th in fewest percentage of opponent attempts within three feet, and more impressively give up the 5th lowest field goal percentage on those shots. This, perhaps, more than anything else this season, is reason to rejoice.
They have a clear All-NBA player to build around, the atmosphere around the team seems much improved, and they’ve been a terrific and resilient team on the road, where they are 7-2 on the season.
The bad: They have actually been outscored on the season so far, against what will be the softest part of their schedule. As noted above, they are a very poor perimeter shooting team (28th in the league in three point percentage) which has led to a poor offensive rating. The defense is better, but plenty of nights is still a struggle. They allow opponents to shoot 37 percent from three, well above league average. (Bright side: Perhaps we’ll see some regression.) The roster is not built very well for the style of basketball they want to play, and the cap situation remains clogged. They’ve also been surprisingly bad at Target Center, with a 3-8 home record that has to get better.
Most Surprising Player—The Good: Only one possible answer here: Andrew Wiggins. He’s at career highs across the board. His scoring efficiency has improved dramatically, and while it’s still slightly below league average, it’s a major step forward. He’s done so by trading in most of his shots from 10 feet to the three point line for threes and shots in the paint. He isn’t getting all the way to the rim any more often, but he’s getting shorter paint shots with a less clogged lane. He’s also shooting by far a career high from that area, which might regress some, but the shot selection is much, much better. He also has a career high in assist percentage, thanks mostly to kick out passes that are significantly easier to come by in the current offense than they have been in the past.
Overall it’s been a major step forward for Wiggins. I’m one of the jerks who would still look to cash in on him before the trade deadline, both because I think regression will come in a couple of areas and because even at this level, he’s still not a guy you particularly want on a max contract, but I do believe a lot of this improvement is real, so kudos to him.
Most disappointing player: Treveon Graham. Graham is hurting the team in myriad ways and continues to get starts and playing time. I get there have been some injuries, but I don’t see how you can keep running him out there 24 minutes a night. He’s shooting an almost unbelievable 19.6 percent from three (and I would like to point out that he shot under 30 percent in a full season last year with Brooklyn.) His calling card is supposed to be defense, but the team is 10 points worse per 100 possessions at that end of the floor when he’s on the court.
It’s bad any way you slice it. Graham is a part of 5 of the Wolves’ 20 most used 2-man combinations, and every one of them is negative. With Towns? Negative. Wiggins? Negative. Covington? Negative. He’s been the team’s cooler, and really should see his minutes reduced in favor of more Keita Bates-Diop as long as he’s rolling, Jake Layman when he returns, or a second big.
Rookie Watch: Jarrett Culver has moved into the starting lineup in an attempt to get him jump started a bit. I was never a big proponent of the trade they made to go up and draft him, largely because I thought there were just as good options likely available at 11.
That said, I’m a fan of Culver. He looks like a smart player with some defensive chops. However, his offensive game is an absolute mess. He cannot shoot, from anywhere. He’s a bad three point shooter, as we might have expected at this point, but he also is struggling to convert around the rim, and he apparently has the yips from the free throw line. In some ways, I’m most concerned with his rim finishing, because watching it, it appears he lacks explosiveness and athleticism, which could be a real limitation going forward.
It’s certainly way too early to come to any conclusions about the player he’ll be, and I still have confidence he’ll be a contributor, but the idea that he’ll be good enough to be the second, or even third star on a contending team seems shaky.
What’s stuck out to you over the first 19 games?