The Minnesota Timberwolves are back on their bull shit as they somehow find a way to make their 4-3 record in their last seven games feel disappointing. The good news is that despite a few questionable performances, the Timberwolves have crawled back to the seventh seed and own the tie breaker against the Los Angeles Lakers (for now).
The Timberwolves have a tough three game stretch against the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, and Atlanta Hawks, which is followed by a palette cleanser against the Portland Trailblazers (this has a let down game written all over it). After that, the Timberwolves enter a brutal four game stretch against the Golden State Warriors (likely at full or near to full strength), Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, and Denver Nuggets. I run through all that not to just prove to you that I can read the schedule, but to show how important exceeding expectations in these next four games will be. Otherwise, we could see the Timberwolves slog through another depressing losing streak.
Even though the Timberwolves have won four of their last seven games, it feels like an immense let down. Even though they are playing with a different energy on most nights, this team still has a proclivity to walk into games with an unearned arrogance.
For the second time, the Timberwolves dropped a game to a really bad New Orleans Pelicans teams. Even though the score was razor thin at the end, the overall performance was rather pathetic. The offense looked fine enough as they ended with 125 points but allowing 128 to that anemic Pelicans offense is an embarrassment. The Pelicans made a handful of tough shots, including Brandon Ingram’s impressive game winner, but the Timberwolves were consistently late on rotations, missing assignments, and flat out lazy in transition. For the last few years, the Timberwolves’s transition defense has been one of the worst in the league, but this year we’ve seen a small step in the right direction. Against the Pelican’s, though, the Timberwolves made a giant leap backwards.
To round out their four-game road trip, the Timberwolves passed on another great opportunity. It was like they were walking through Costco and said “na I’m good” as they passed the free samples. Before tip-off, we learned that notorious Wolves killer Dillon Brooks would be sidelined. It was a major sigh of relief as dealing with MVP candidate Ja Morant, a surging Jaren Jackson Jr., and the rest of the hottest team in the NBA would be trouble enough. As the Grizzlies so frequently do, though, they found another player off the bench to absolutely emasculate the Timberwolves in John Konchar. If you don’t know who Konchar is, I don’t blame you, but he has carved out a nice role on the Grizzlies for the last few seasons. (Side note, go look up Konchar’s college numbers as they are pretty ridiculous). However nice a role player he is, though, giving up 15 points and 17 rebounds to Konchar is unacceptable.
The Grizzlies’ stars had good, not great games, but this was a huge, missed opportunity for the Timberwolves. The Timberwolves got outworked in nearly every facet of the game. Entering the road trip, this was the one game that the Timberwolves were expected to lose. While it was there for the taking, this game showed how big the gulf between the Grizzlies and Timberwolves actually is. On paper, the Timberwolves have significantly more talent than the Grizzlies. Here’s the thing, though, the Grizzlies don’t give a fuck what’s on paper. Every night they come out firing with an intensity and sense of determination that we only see from the Timberwolves in certain matchups. Until the Timberwolves start treating every game like a playoff game, they’ll struggle to close the gap on the best young team in the NBA.
Battle of the Sixth Men
The competition for first guard off the bench has continued to heat up as Jaylen Nowell continues his hot play. Among much of the fan base, the Bat Signal has been fully lit calling for Nowell to be the first guard off the bench. Based solely on recent performance, this may be the right call.
However, Malik Beasley has heard your (and mine) doubts and criticism and has reentered the debate in a roaring fashion. Over his last four games, Beasley is shooting 48.4 percent from three and has a net rating of 15.4. Beasley was lights out from three against the Grizzlies, and he was a significant factor in the Timberwolves pulling away from the Warriors as he shot 5-9 from three and was a game high +27.
This is where things get spicy, though. Nowell has been just as impressive over the same span. Over his last four games, Nowell has a net rating of 32.3 while shooting 68 percent from the floor, an absolutely ridiculous number for a guard.
Beasley regaining his outside shooting form is a necessity for a team that has oddly been devoid of outside shooting. At the same time, Nowell has provided more consistency and versatility off the bench over the last two to three weeks. Thankfully, I don’t think this is an either/or situation. Even though they frequently get pegged as the same type of player, off-ball scorers, they are incredibly different.
For example, Beasley takes 73 percent of his shots from three (89th percentile) and 16 percent of his shots in the mid-range (24th percentile), while Nowell only takes 33 percent of his shots from three (25th percentile) and 43 percent of his shots in the mid-range (84th percentile), per Cleaning the Glass. Beasley is almost exclusively a catch-and-shoot player on offense, while Nowell continues to show his ability to put pressure on the rim, get to his spot, and attack off the dribble. They are completely different players, and as we continue to progress through the season, it is becoming more evident that both are critical pieces who can significantly elevate the bench unit.