clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Nine at a Time, Part VIII: Timberwolves Season Review

Let’s look at the key takeaways from games 64-72.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Miami Heat Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

I was, in as honest and objective an assessment as I can possibly provide, an OK basketball player growing up. Like, strictly OK in the mediocre sense of the word. I was pretty good at off-ball defense and I absolutely sucked at rebounding. Otherwise, I didn’t stand out. I was a 5’10” wing for a pretty bad high school team in suburban Connecticut. I could shoot and pass and dribble in a totally average-ish kind of way.

But the great thing about being not very good is that the few moments that I did well really shine through, even in my increasingly foggy memory.

I have two memories where I could claim to be unconscious, shooting wise. Neither effort ended up in a box score.

One was on a visit to the basketball hall of fame with my old man. They had this one room with baskets at varied heights and distances and you could take shots at them while traveling on a very slow conveyor belt that moved you from one end of the gym to the other. I probably had time to take ten shots or so and didn’t miss. While standing on a freaking moving sidewalk. MJ never did that, to the best of my knowledge.

The second moment came in my senior year when we were playing a pre-season scrimmage against a much larger high school. I hit damn near everything, mostly on well contested shots, to the point where I could start to hear murmurs from the handful of parents watching from the sidelines. It was that “zone” where the defense didn’t really matter and I knew every shot was going in before the ball left my hands. Never had that feeling since.

I guess my point is this: What if the Minnesota Timberwolves are really, really good but their best moments are not during games and stuff?

Let’s get to the numbers…

(All stats for the period 4/28/21 – 5/16/21)

  • Timberwolves Win/Loss: 4-5
  • Average Points Scored: 123
  • Average Points Allowed: 119
  • YTD Win/Loss: 23-49
  • Postseason odds (538): 0.00%
  • Minutes leaders:
    Anthony Edwards (36.3)
    Karl-Anthony Towns (31.6)
    D’Angelo Russell (30.7)
    Ricky Rubio (26.8)
    Jarred Vanderbilt (21.7)

The Four Factors

Metrics Off eFG% Off TOV% ORB% Off FT% Def eFG% Def TOV% DRB% Def FT%
Metrics Off eFG% Off TOV% ORB% Off FT% Def eFG% Def TOV% DRB% Def FT%
Wolves 0.548 11.7 27.6 0.214 0.563 14.0 78.2 0.200
Rank 14 17 1 5 24 1 13 20
NBA Avg 0.541 11.7 22.2 0.191 0.541 11.8 77.7 0.191

Remember that all stats and commentary are confined to only the stretch of games noted above, unless specifically noted otherwise.

Item #1: The rookies.

In a nutshell, the end of the Timberwolves season can be boiled down to this — with the youngest roster in the league and essentially nothing to play for, the Wolves won eleven out of their final 22 games. Is that great? No. Is it encouraging progress? Absolutely. As ever, we look to our beloved rookies for signs of growth.

Mr. Anthony Edwards:

Edwards’s Progression

Metric Games 1-9 Games 10-18 Games 19-27 Games 28-36 Games 37-45 Games 46-54 Games 55-63 Games 64-72
Metric Games 1-9 Games 10-18 Games 19-27 Games 28-36 Games 37-45 Games 46-54 Games 55-63 Games 64-72
TS% 0.503 0.405 0.523 0.432 0.521 0.583 0.518 0.650
Reb% 5.2 7.1 7.9 8.5 8.6 7.6 8.9 8.5
Ast% 12.6 8.9 15.2 15.6 13.0 14.3 14.8 20.1
Stl% 1.2 1.4 1.3 1.6 1.8 2.5 2.4 1.1
Blk% 0.7 0.1 1.7 1.9 0.3 2.0 1.2 1.9
TOV% 11.7 11.5 5.9 12.5 9.4 13.8 8.8 11.9
USG% 26.8 26.8 22.7 26.6 31.2 26.9 28.2 26.4
WS/48 -0.043 -0.116 0.067 -0.095 0.000 0.044 0.049 0.161

How does one manage a 65% true shooting percentage? 41% from three on 7.8 attempts per game, 61% from two on 10.3 attempts per game, and 78% from the stripe on 5.7 attempts per game.

This is where, maybe, the per game stats are a bit more instructive, since they invoke a certain milestone that gets some attention from time to time. Over the last nine games, playing 36 minutes per game, Edwards has averaged 27/5/5. It’s nine games, but the chart above demonstrates, in my opinion, that our #1 pick has been learning on the job. There’s a burgeoning star in the room.

Now, Mr. McDaniels:

McDaniels’s Progression

Metric Games 1-9 Games 10-18 Games 19-27 Games 28-36 Games 37-45 Games 46-54 Games 55-63 Games 64-72
Metric Games 1-9 Games 10-18 Games 19-27 Games 28-36 Games 37-45 Games 46-54 Games 55-63 Games 64-72
TS% 0.715 0.360 0.568 0.450 0.634 0.574 0.590 0.604
Reb% 11.7 11.2 9.2 7.9 7.5 8.5 7.2 6.9
Ast% 15.6 4.9 9.0 5.5 4.1 7.5 4.6 7.1
Stl% 2.5 0.4 1.0 0.6 2.0 1.1 1.1 1.1
Blk% 2.3 3.9 5.2 4.1 3.5 3.4 1.8 2.7
TOV% 20.2 6.9 16.4 11.7 5.3 8.9 12.3 12.2
USG% 16.7 16.7 12.4 11.0 11.0 12.7 11.1 9.2
WS/48 0.116 -0.061 0.065 -0.017 0.112 0.049 0.039 0.075
Minutes Played 37 146 193 198 201 296 249 191

What I like is that McDaniels’ usage has dropped off a cliff, but he’s still providing decent (for a rookie) advanced metrics. Do people still use the phrase “glue guy?” McDaniels ends the year shooting 36% from three (full season) and showed a propensity for stocks on the defensive end. And he was an afterthought coming into the year. I like the platform McD is springing into the offseason from, even if it’s not quite as obviously ascendant as Edwards’.

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Item #2: Jarred flynning Vanderbilt

The Wolves are rarely #1 in the league for anything, save for front office blunders and porous defense, so my eyes perked up when I saw that the team led the league in two of the eight factors that kick off this article — #1 in offensive rebounding and #1 in defensive turnover percentage. That seems noteworthy. You’ll probably guess this based on the header of this section, but do you know who led the team in offensive rebounding percentage and steal percentage?

No, you idiot, it was Jarred Vanderbilt.

It would have been easy to miss Vandy’s contributions just looking at the typical per-game stats. With just under 22 minutes per game, and a comically low usage rate (10.4%), Vanderbilt posted per-game stats of 6.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.4 steals. Translated into the advanced metrics, however, he had a 12.7% offensive rebounding rate and a 3.2% steal percentage. Both numbers are elite. Contextually, Clint Capela led the league with a 17.5% OReb rate, but 12.7% would have been good for 6th best over a full season. The steal rate would have been 2nd best over a full season, just behind TJ McConnell’s theft rate.

The point is not to say that Vanderbilt is suddenly a hidden star, although this kind of under-the-radar value from a 21 year old is wicked hawt. Rather, I wanted to run this series to see exactly this kind of snapshot. Who (or what) matters at the margins during a particular stretch of games. The problem was that for far too long this year, the margins were way too far from being meaningful.

When the team is competitive, a few extra possessions per game is huge. Vanderbilt was those few extra possessions in the close-out run to the season.

Dallas Mavericks v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Item #3: The Tao of D’Lo

This section is perhaps an apropos way to close out the series, because it ends with a riddle.

We’ll start with some basic offensive context:

Team Offense Metrics

Metric PPG ORtg Pace TS%
Metric PPG ORtg Pace TS%
Value 122.6 117.9 103.0 0.583
Rank 5 9 6 13

Conservatively, the Wolves were an above average team on offense these last nine games. They pushed the pace, but were solid enough in scoring independent of tempo.

Let’s look at some individual shooting numbers:

The Shooters

Player FGA per game TS% Career TS%
Player FGA per game TS% Career TS%
D�Lo 15.3 0.503 0.529
Ant 18.1 0.650 0.523
Rubio 8.8 0.598 0.515
Naz 9.3 0.604 0.572
KAT 17.2 0.596 0.620

These are the five players who took the most shots in the final nine games. Two players shot insanely better than we’re used to (Edwards, Rubio), one player shot moderately above his career norms (Reid), and both Russell and KAT shot worse.

I’m focusing on Russell for two reasons. First, I feel a bit dirty dinging a guy who puts up a near-600 TS%. KAT’s the best shooter on the team and has been for forever. I’m not sweating this hiccup. I don’t feel the same way about a guy who put up a non-adjusted shooting percentage of 39%.

The second reason to focus on Russell is that he started seven of the last nine games, after having come off the bench for the prior several weeks.

The riddle, I suppose is this: If D’Lo is to be one of the Big Three, can he be consistently good enough to facilitate a winning team? Or is a healthy offense contingent on someone playing out of his mind, if D’Lo is to be a focal point? I liked the trend of the numbers when Russell was playing 6th man. I’m less impressed by the team being the 9th best offense or so despite Edwards shooting at Curry-like efficiency.

OK, bubba…that’s all for now. Thanks for letting me steer the good ship Canis for a couple of turns.