Coming away from this week with an optimistic view feels like a bit like having a loser’s mentality, but this week could’ve been disastrous for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Going 2-2 in one of their tougher four game stretches has kept the Timberwolves at .500 and in the eighth seed (tied with the Los Angeles Clippers on record but losing the tie breaker).
The Timberwolves narrowly escaped against the Damian Lillard-less Portland Trail Blazers because of the singularity that is Anthony Edwards. Edwards finished with 40 points, nine rebounds, three steals, three blocks, and zero assists, one of my favorite stat lines of all-time. The Timberwolves then proceeded to fall to the Golden State Warriors on one of their few opportunities to dazzle on a national stage, but there were plenty of positive takeaways from the loss. Karl-Anthony Towns and Edwards produced in major ways, but a D’Angelo Russell injury and a combined 0-13 from three from Jaylen Nowell and Malik Beasley proved to be insurmountable as the defense couldn’t contain the Warriors’ shooting and cutting.
Less than 24 hours later, the Timberwolves proceeded to fall to the Suns in a game that they were likely never going to win. From the start, this looked like a schedule loss. The Timberwolves’ offense kept the margin respectable, but their tired legs failed them on defense as six Suns scored at least 14 points.
To cap the week off, the Timberwolves battled with a beleaguered Jazz team that was missing their two best players and then lost Joe Ingles to what looked like a season ending knee injury. Momentarily, it looked like the Timberwolves were going to yet again let a great opportunity slip by by underestimating the depth of the Jazz, but as the game progressed, the Timberwolves pulled away behind Towns’ second career triple double.
Big Mac Back?
After a breakout rookie campaign, Jaden McDaniels has seemingly taken a step back. This isn’t an entirely uncommon occurrence for young players to have a sophomore slump, but as someone who rapidly became a fan favorite due to his versatility and defensive brilliance, it was concerning. It was proving difficult to keep McDaniels on the floor early in the season as he was fouling at a higher rate than anyone in the league and his shot had abandoned him.
As the season progressed, McDaniels has slowly reigned in his foul rate as he’s risen from the 0th percentile to the 10th, per Cleaning the Glass. It’s still an issue, but hey, baby steps, right? More importantly, though, McDaniels is starting to figure out how to contribute at a more consistent rate on the offensive end.
Over his last five games, McDaniels is averaging 11.4 points while shooting 62 percent from the floor on 7.4 attempts and 50 percent from three on 3.6 attempts. McDaniels is slowly improving his consistency from the corners, but more importantly, he’s finding easier ways of scoring that aren’t simply chucking up every three-point attempt that comes his way.
The most meaningful way McDaniels has begun to alter his offensive impact is with his off-ball movement. Instead of just standing in the corner, McDaniels is being more active on cuts and attacking closeouts. McDaniels has always been an effective cutter, but early in the season he looked unsure of when and where to cut. Now, he looks more comfortable and has a better sense of what his teammates are doing and how he can effectively complement their actions. McDaniels is currently shooting 68 percent at the rim (74th percentile) because he isn’t settling. By finding the open pockets to cut into and aggressively attacking closeouts, McDaniels is finding ways to get into a rhythm that aren’t reliant on knocking down threes.
Prince And Repeat
Similar to McDaniels, Taurean Prince got off to a concerningly slow start to the season. Over his last five games, though, Prince is averaging 8.8 points on 67 percent shooting from the floor on 4.8 attempts and 50 percent from three on 2.4 attempts. Despite being on nearly identical volume, Prince’s efficiency has skyrocketed from his season average of 43 percent from the floor and 34 percent from three.
Prince currently has the lowest usage rate of his career, so the slow adjustment shouldn’t be a surprise. Some players rely on that consistency and rhythm, and Prince has had very little of that this season. Over his last five games, though, Prince’s rhythm has started to come back. He is now in the 70th percentile among forwards in points per shot attempt and over his last five games, he has a net rating of plus-11.9.
Prince’s combination of shooting, size, and defensive versatility is something this team desperately needs. Hopefully, Prince’s early season struggles were a symptom of a new environment and him finding his footing in the smallest role of his career. If what Prince has produced recently is a sign of things to come from him, then the Timberwolves’ depth becomes much more scary and impactful come playoff time.