There are few things more frustrating in the game of basketball than being in a rut offensively. Just ask Anthony Edwards.
“Man, I don’t know. We couldn’t hit nothing. That’s all I got. We just can’t hit no shots right now,” Edwards said following the Minnesota Timberwolves 115-97 loss to the Orlando Magic in a game in which his team shot 14-for-51 (27.5%) from 3 and 36-for-97 (37.1%) from the field.
The loss to the Magic — who currently ranks dead-last in defensive rating (113.2) — represented the fourth game this season in which the Wolves registered an offensive rating of less than 100 (98.0), only seven fewer than their total from the 2020-21 season. While offense is down league-wide, and the Wolves are no exception, what is particularly frustrating for the Wolves and head coach Chris Finch is that they feel their overall offensive approach is sound.
“[We’re] getting to the right shots. We don’t have a lot of guys who can put their head down and just drive the ball to the hoop. We’ve got guys that can rise up and make some shots, and they’re just not making them right now. That’ll change. We know it will change. But we’ve just got to keep trying to get to the right things,” Finch told Canis Hoopus.
Minnesota ranks fifth in the NBA at generating open shots as defined by NBA.com (closest defender within 4-6 feet from the shooter), taking 28.8 attempts per game, including a league-best 21.0 3-pointers. Additionally, they’re taking a second-best 25.3 wide open (closest defender greater than 6-feet away) field goals per game, 19.2 of which are from deep.
But despite hoisting manifold open shots, the Wolves can’t find the bottom of the net. They’re a combined 77-for-241 (32%) from three and are converting catch-and-shoot opportunities at an astonishingly low 29.7% clip (54-for-182).
“I mean, you know, I thought we got good looks by good shooters. You know, I mean, I look at our shooters. They got good looks,” Finch said after the loss, but his sentiment carries across all of the Wolves’ first six games. “Yeah, of course, maybe go to the bucket here and there, but I mean, but we missed thirty-seven. I would probably bet you thirty-plus were still good looks. We gotta make more than that, but we didn’t...At some point, the dam will break.”
Perhaps nowhere on the floor is the dam more sturdy than in the corners. Minnesota has made only 12 of their 57 (21.1%) threes from the corners — including 1-for-25 (4.0%) from the right alone — which ranks 30th overall.
Jaden McDaniels, Malik Beasley, and Taurean Prince have taken the highest volume of attempts from the corners and are a combined 7-for-32 (21.9%), despite many of their looks being absent a defender, or, at the very least, one ardently trying to contest.
While the Wolves’ numbers from the corners, particularly from the right, are discouraging, the fact is that the team is currently suffering death by small sample sizes. Beasley has taken the most right-corner threes by a Wolves’ athlete this season (6). He’s also taken the most corner threes overall (13).
It is not uncommon for shooters to be mired throughout a season with several 0-for streaks from deep. It just so happens that all of the Minnesota Timberwolves — save for Karl-Anthony Towns (though, even he is 0-for-2 from the right corner) — are going through one such streak at the same time.
The Wolves’ offensive woes will normalize at some point this season, and perhaps even sooner rather than later; after all, it’s nearly mathematically impossible for the team to perform any worse. The shots will begin to fall.
However, the more significant concern from Monday night’s loss was the degree to which the Wolves’ defense collapsed under the weight of their brick masonry.
“Disappointed in the result of the fourth quarter. It’s one of those situations where our lack of shot-making, that was bleeding over into our defensive intensity. We can’t have that,” Finch said. “We played really good defense no matter what’s been going out there on the floor, but today we kinda let go of the rope a little bit there, and we, you know, then they got to the point where they came and made everything they threw up. We didn’t.”
The Wolves aren’t a good enough team to allow missed shots to impact their effort on defense. Doing so will result in more losses like the one to the Magic. While one game does not make a trend, the diminished defensive intensity from the Wolves has been a common theme when the goings got tough over the last handful of seasons. If they want to compete, Minnesota needs to nip their poor reaction to being punched in the bud before it devolves into a trend yet again.