It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and then, somehow, the times got even worse. Such was the story Friday night as the Minnesota Timberwolves dropped their second consecutive game to the Los Angeles Clippers, 104-84.
However, while Wednesday’s loss was the result of a historic offensive performance by the Clippers, the loss on Friday was virtually the opposite. Los Angeles shot 6-for-28 from deep and 36-for-87 from the field, a far cry from their 21-for-36 and 47-for-78 deluge one game prior. On the flip side, the Wolves’ shooting woes continued as they converted only 31 of their 88 field goal attempts (35.2%) and scored an infinitesimally small 27 points in the second half. (No, that isn’t a typo.)
Contrary to what the final score and numbers may suggest, Minnesota actually began the evening like a team desperate to right their suddenly water-logged ship. They led 33-23 following the first quarter, propelled by proficient 3-point shooting from the starters (5-for-11; 45.5%), and in the second quarter, Malik Beasley erupted for three 3-pointers of his own, helping keep his team’s lead at 10 heading into halftime.
However, in what has become a troubling theme since the loss to the Orlando Magic, coming out of halftime, everything fell apart.
The Wolves were outscored 28-15 as the once verdant 3-point arc turned into a vast desert (3-for-13; 23.1%) and the Clippers' free throw attempts mounted; Los Angeles finished the evening with 32 attempts at the line compared to Minnesota’s seven. The ball became sticky as the Wolves pressed to choke off the bleeding, and, uncoincidentally, the quality of the team’s shot selection plummeted. Things only got worse in the fourth quarter as they shot 4-for-20 from the field and 2-for-10 three.
“We were just, you know that’s what we just addressed, we were just talking about it. Guys just trying to do everything by themselves,” Wolves head coach Chris Finch told the media following the loss. “You know when things get hard, and we have no flow, and we are not getting out in transition, getting easy buckets. Other than 32 free throws we held them to pretty good percentages, had opportunities to get out and run. We don’t have any pop in transition, made easy ones as much as we can possibly get. And too much hijacking of the offense.”
Chris Finch once again spoke about the Wolves need to improve their ball movement. Said that the Wolves need to take better shots as well. Said in one specific case: "Anthony needs to drive to the rim more."— Lucas Seehafer (@seehafer_) November 6, 2021
The need to get out in transition to help get the offense jumpstarted was parroted by Beasley, who, when asked by Canis Hoopus whose responsibility it is to do so, said, “It’s on everyone.” Beasley dove deeper, stating that the team’s lack of defensive rebounding, himself included, has hampered their ability to get out and run.
The Wolves are scoring a league-worst 0.94 points per possession in transition — though they rank 12th in frequency (17.1%) — and are 29th in defensive rebound percentage (67.5%), according to NBA.com. They also rank 26th in 3-point field goal percentage (32.1%) while taking a league-high 44.4 attempts per game, two whole attempts more than the second-place Utah Jazz (42.3).
Poor ball movement, even worse shot selection, and a lack of transition offense have been common talking points regarding the Wolves since they blew the barn doors off the Houston Rockets during their 124-106 victory to open the regular season. Even at this early stage of the season, it’s difficult to relay a grander point beyond, well, they need to move the ball better, take better shots, and get out in transition. In many respects, the key to the Wolves’ success moving forward really is that simple.
Getting D’Angelo Russell (ankle) back from injury may help the team’s 3-point shooting — he won’t shoot 28.9% all season — but he’s a point guard who likes to dribble, slowly bring the ball up the court, and weasel his way to the nail and elbow before beginning his riff. He also won’t do anything to address the team’s lack of rebounding.
Suffice it to say that Minnesota has gaping holes that desperately need to be packed, though, at this point, it seems unlikely that the packing agent will be provided from the current roster. The 3-point shooting will improve, but the rebounding — and thus transition offense — will remain an issue until acted upon by an outside force.
Luckily, it is still early in the season, and Finch, interim President of Basketball Operations Sachin Gupta, and their staffs have plenty of time to fix Wolves. But until they discover an antidote to the poisons that plague their offense, the Wolves are going to struggle to find wins.