The combination of inaccurate shooting, poor perimeter defense and getting clobbered on the offensive glass will be the nightmare fuel for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season.
Tonight, the New Orleans Pelicans brewed up one heck of a batch that had Wolves faithful feeling the all too familiar demoralization of getting blasted on the offensive glass while trying to mount a fierce comeback.
A disjointed first half during which chirping with officials, missed 3s, rushed possessions, no energy and a lack of offensive flow put a cloud over the Wolves entering the break down 11. Karl-Anthony Towns sparred with franchise rival Ed Malloy over a few questionable calls (that drew the loudest boos I’ve ever heard at Target Center), and the Wolves’ starting back court combined to score four points on 0/11 shooting (including 0/8 from 3) and registered two assists in the opening 24 minutes.
3-point shooting:— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) October 26, 2021
• Pat Bev + Towns: 4/7
• Everyone else: 2/15
The more eyebrow-raising performance of the two was D’Angelo Russell, who struggled for a third straight game. Perhaps the biggest on-court, player-based question moving forward is how long Russell’s slump will last. The All-Star guard holds averages of 14.3 points on 31.8/30.4/80.0 shooting splits, 4.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 4.0 turnovers, 1.0 steal and 0.7 blocks over three games. He was playing at a very high level after returning from injury last season and again in the preseason.
“Every player goes through a slump at some point in the season. His just happens to be right now,” Finch said. “He’s not the only one that’s not particularly shooting the ball well. He’ll be fine.”
That’s true. Only three rotation players are shooting better than 40%: Jarred Vanderbilt (66.7), Towns (52.5) and Patrick Beverley (50.0). The offensive cohesion and rhythm we witnessed in the preseason hasn’t been there to start the season.
“It’s still hard to watch. There’s not a lot of rhythm out there,” Minnesota Head Coach Chris Finch said about the team’s offense after the game. “Guys are trying to do too much by themselves, not letting the ball do the work, things we talked about, getting that flow. I thought we did it a little bit early and then we didn’t get the results that we wanted and then we kind of went away from it.”
Anthony Edwards agrees.
“Preseason everybody is sharing the ball. Everybody happy. So when the season starts everything changed. I. I. I. I want to shoot this. I want to shoot that,” Edwards said. “Like coach said in practice the other day, JO playing his balls off on defense, don’t get no shots on offense. Jaden plays his balls off, don’t get no shots. Beas runs the floor hard, don’t get no shots.”
Edwards took responsibility, partly, for the struggles the team as a whole has had offensively, doubling down on the important of him, Towns and Russell sharing the ball.
“Me, KAT and DLo got to do a better job of getting them the ball, because Coach draws everything up for us. We’ve got to do a better job of getting them involved, making them feel wanted in the offense, not just on defense, know what I’m saying?”
But that didn’t happen down the stretch, so Edwards took matters into his own hands.
The former No. 1 pick came out in the second half with that look in his eyes. He left his usual smile in the locker room and didn’t say a word to any of his teammates before stepping onto the floor.
When the ball was inbounded, the show began.
STOP JUMPING WITH THIS MAN pic.twitter.com/ybFwqUcTjb— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) October 26, 2021
The sophomore sensation exploded for 21 points in the third quarter alone on 8/13 shooting (3/6 from deep) including a firestorm of ferocious dunks, transition attacks and moves to free himself for looks from 3. Edwards blew the roof of off Target Center during an 18-4 run — spanning four and a half minutes — with 13 points almost solely off transition rim rocking and 3-point shooting.
ANTHONY EDWARDS HEAT CHECK pic.twitter.com/NgTQR6tesl— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) October 26, 2021
He and Towns combined for 28 of the team’s 30 points in a dominant showing that put on full display just how dynamic the team’s star duo can be when the crowd gets behind them and the Wolves play their game. The Wolves got it back to within four before a triple from Devonte’ Graham just before the third quarter buzzer ballooned the lead back to seven.
The New Orleans lead remained at or above that seven-point mark for nearly the entire fourth quarter because of what will be this team’s achilles heel: a lack of consistent defensive rebounding and perimeter dribble contain.
Jonas Valanciunas corralled 23 rebounds — nine offensive — and consistently made life a living hell for opposing Wolves players, who were fighting for their lives to try keep him off the boards. Even when Valanciunas didn’t get an offensive rebound, his activity enabled more opportunities for other Pelicans to crash the glass, which made finishing off each defensive possession a tall order.
Graham got around Russell off the dribble more times than he failed to in the fourth quarter, creating plenty of scramble situations and open looks for Valanciunas, Brandon Ingram — who had an easy 27 and 9 on 11/21 shooting — and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
New Orleans got too many clean looks in the fourth, but even when they had empty offensive trips, the Pelicans did a terrific job of keeping the Wolves’ offense out of rhythm and the Anthony Edwards missile from destroying their hopes of pulling out their first win of the season.
Minnesota squandered another fantastic offensive night from Edwards and Towns, especially, who poured in 32 points on 10/24 shooting (4/10 on 3s, 8/8 on free throws) to go along with 14 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks. The All-Star center is averaging 29.0 points on 52.5/50.0/100 shooting splits, 9.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 3.7 turnovers, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 steals per game through his first three contests.
While tonight’s performance was a disappointing one, it is encouraging that it is looking like a next-to-impossible task to hold down both Towns and Edwards, who have had excellent starts to their 2021-22 campaign.
Despite his start to the season (and play tonight), Edwards wasn’t happy in a brutally honest and enlightening postgame media session, especially about leadership.
“Offense is easy, and we’re making it hard. Us three. It’s all on us. We’re making it hard, because we think we can win the game, and we can’t win the game. We’re not good enough. So once again, we’ve got to trust our teammates, get them the ball. Get them in open spots, open shots, because that’ll make the game easier for us.”
When that doesn’t happen, I asked Edwards who is the one to try and help get the train back on the tracks.
“PB. Taurean Prince. Jordan McLaughlin. Everybody instead of me, KAT and D-Lo,” he said.
I replied quickly questioning if it needs to be one of him, Towns or Russell, and if he can be the one to hold those two accountable.
“For sure. Because we take all the shots. We gotta be willing to lead and speak up and correct each other when we wrong, for sure,” Edwards said. “It do because I don’t really talk too much as far as on the court. I let my game lead. But now I see that I’m gonna start talking more as far as, ‘you need to lock in, bruh. Pass the ball. Four people on you, pass the ball, know what I’m sayin?’”
His frustration with how tonight revealed the Wolves difficulties have — both on the floor and with its player leadership structure — was evident. His final note on the matter struck a chord.
“I’m finna start talking a lot more. It’ll be better coming from me, know what I’m sayin?”
Don’t be surprised if you see — and hear — more from the second-year superstar in the making as the Wolves go to battle on Wednesday in Milwaukee with two of the toughest foes they will face this season: the World Champion Bucks and accountability.