The Minnesota Timberwolves have experienced some rough patches over the past week during their current three-game losing streak; however, it is not yet time for everyone to hysterically freak out like a young Kristen Stewart in Panic Room.
Don’t get me wrong — there are definitely multiple problems that need to get fixed if the Wolves want to right the ship and end their current skid. As Karl-Anthony Towns described in his postgame media availability on Wednesday night, he (and Minnesota fans alike) are well aware that a three-game losing streak can quickly morph into a losing streak of eight, ten, or even nineteen games.
Karl Anthony-Towns on 3-game losing streak— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) November 4, 2021
"We have to come in and put the work in. We’re on a three-game slide right now in the NBA. If I know one thing about slides here in Minnesota, it could go from three to 18 to 19, 20 really quick. We got to put an end to that right now"
One of the biggest problems is clearly late game execution, specifically in the fourth quarter of games. In each of the the last three losses, the Wolves either led or were narrowly trailing towards the end of the third quarter, yet found themselves giving each game away in the final twelve minutes.
The Wolves’ defense, which at times appeared truly elite throughout the first handful of games, has experienced some serious lapses in the last three games (especially the second halves of those games). It seems as if there is a metal strongbox clamping down on the Wolves’ rims in the second half as well, as they have found trouble in converting on many good looks at the basket.
There are some good trends though to be gleamed as well from the losses to the Nuggets, Magic and Clippers that need to be maintained throughout all four quarters going forward, in addition to the several tweaks that will need to be made by Chris Finch and his staff to get the Wolves back in the W column.
One of the biggest concerns from this last week of play has been the surprising lack of offensive touches for Karl-Anthony Towns. In the loss to the Clippers on Wednesday, KAT did technically take a season-high amount of field goal attempts, yet he only finished with 20 total shots. Chris Finch has repeatedly told the media that he acknowledges the lack of touches for Towns and that they need to get him the ball more. In each of the last three games, KAT has had less than ten shots in the first three quarters.
The Wolves collectively as a group have struggled all season on the offensive end with making shots, but maybe if they were to focus on more efficient shot attempts they would have better overall offensive success. A good place to start to give the offense a jolt might simply be feeding one of the most efficient shooting big men in NBA history (Towns).
With a player like KAT and his overall talent/skill level, he should be getting the ball and driving into the paint much, much more than he currently is. I personally love shooting threes, and think the Wolves are not bad this year at that department; however, with a team that lacks on size and has struggled mightily with rebounding, they cannot afford trips where they go one and done. Getting the ball to KAT more often and letting him either take his man off the dribble or work down in the post area could provide the entire team with better shots, and would help their offense flow more smoothly. Even if KAT doesn’t get 20-25 shots on a nightly basis, just having him handle the ball more will lead to better shot opportunities for not only him, but also his teammates as well.
It seems that the same point in each of these three losses are where the tone and momentum for the Wolves shifts towards the opponent’s favor. Towards the final three minutes of the third quarter and first three minutes of the fourth quarter, opponents have been able to close what were double digit leads in two of those games and cut them to 4 and 2 points respectively.
One major factor has been that the inability for good shot attempts to fall is then in turn leading to the Wolves lagging defensively, and it is expounded when those same good looks are made by the other team. The Wolves led Orlando by 12 approximately halfway through the third quarter on Monday, but despite a plethora of good looks to finish the quarter, the lead was trimmed to four by the end of the third (and the rest was history).
I personally do not think the lineup combinations are generally the issue either. I think that it is possible that the absence of D’Angelo Russell vs. the Clippers and being without both Russell and Patrick Beverley for the majority of the Orlando game forced a shift in lineups and made the second unit much thinner. However, it should be noted that Malik Beasley and Jared Vanderbilt both seemed to perform very well when placed in the second unit.
There are some things about the Wolves in these games that just cannot be fixed without roster reconstruction, such as their inability to win the rebounding battle each night. However, if the Wolves can regain the defensive intensity they showed in the first five games and can get some of these shots to fall, they can give themselves a much better chance at stopping this current skid. The issue is that they have performed well in the first half of every game they’ve played, as they have only trailed at half in two games, and one of them only by four points.
Because of the high volume of missed (good) shots and the perpetual tendency for several key players to find themselves in foul trouble, the Wolves aren’t able to maintain big leads once they build them up. If the Wolves can take care of the ball and start making their shots and show the defensive intensity they showed earlier in the season, they should be able to get the ship righted sooner rather than later.