At this point, it’s well established that the Minnesota Timberwolves’ offense is in disarray. Through nine games — seven of which they have led by double-digits at some point during the contest — the offense ranks 26th overall with a 101.8 offensive rating and is among the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league.
Even after the games in which the offense operates fairly well on the whole, such as the team’s 125-118 loss in overtime to the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, myriad holes can be poked into their performance.
Poor shot selection when it’s winning time. Missing attempts in the paint, even if only moderately defended. No ball movement. No sense of urgency. Panic.
“We just slowed down way too much. Tried to bleed the game out and got static on offense and allowed [the Grizzlies] to get some stops,” Wolves head coach Chris Finch said of his team’s fourth-quarter offense following the game. “We kept imploring [the players] to push and move. We fell into their trap of they switched and we got slow.”
The tendency to slow down and play cautiously has been a troubling theme during the Wolves’ five-game losing streak, and, as pointed out by the Pioneer Press’s Jace Frederick during the postgame press conference, the play style also reared its ugly head during the win against the Milwaukee Bucks. Such passive play when the going gets tough isn’t uncommon among teams who are broadly inexperienced, lack report among teammates or have been immersed in a culture of losing.
In many respects, such is the case with the Wolves. They have had only one winning season since Karl-Anthony Towns joined the franchise in 2015 and their roster doesn’t contain any athletes who have played at least a decade in the league. (Patrick Beverley is currently in the midst of his 10th season, his first with the Wolves.) However, slowing down and playing cautiously is antithetical to the way Finch wants his offense to operate.
It’s a roster construction that is broken. We knew this.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) November 9, 2021
Because of that, to win, the Wolves have to out-talent teams with KAT/Ant/DLo to even win half their games.
And to do that, they need to play Finch’s free-flowing scheme on O. And they don’t understand that style yet.
The bulk of the blame distributed by the righteously frustrated Wolves’ populace regarding the team’s offensive struggles has largely fallen on the shoulders of Towns and D’Angelo Russell. And often for good reason. The two athletes are set to make over $63 million combined this season and are among the most veteran players on the team. In order for the Wolves to win games, both Towns and Russell need to play at a high level and grab the metaphorical bull by the horns when things start to go off the rails, something they have struggled to do this season.
However, there is a third member of the Wolves’ Big 3, and he is deserving of some criticism as well.
Following the loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, Anthony Edwards called on himself, Towns, and Russell to better involve their teammates offensively.
“We just got to be willing to share the ball. That’s it—just that simple. Just sharing the ball … We think we the only ones on the team. We got to be willing to pass the ball. There’s no ‘I’ in team,” Edwards said. “We can’t beat five people with three people. You beat five people with five people. So, we got to be willing to play with our teammates, trust our teammates, and, like I said, share the ball.”
Edwards was, and remains, correct. However, his hands have also been among the stickiest on offensive since his remarks. While the numbers aren’t without their flaws, Edwards is second on the team in frontcourt touches (367) and is fifth — the top four are the team’s primary ball-handlers — in average dribbles (3.16) and seconds (3.68) per touch, and by quite a wide margin.
Edwards is one of the primary culprits behind the Wolves’ tendency to slow down the offense when the game is beginning to slip through their fingers as he often turns to isolation plays (i.e. “hero ball”) in an attempt to regain control. However, Edwards has struggled mightily in isolation, averaging a paltry 0.80 points per possession with a 41.4% effective field goal percentage and 11.4% turnover rate, per NBA stats.
Additionally, his shot selection tends to wane as the time on the clock ticks away, trading in drives to the rim for step-back or ill-advised 3-point attempts.
These mistakes are emblematic of a second-year player learning how to win games while simultaneously shouldering the colossal weight of a struggling franchise, which is a lot of pressure to place on a 20-year-old guard. However, that is the price one pays for being the first-overall pick with unparalleled athleticism and a ceiling as high as Edwards.
Edwards has lived up to the promise he displayed during the second half of his rookie season, but he needs to play better, and smarter, if the Wolves want to save their sinking ship.