Let’s get this out of the way right away — I’m a stat junkie. I enjoy looking at different numbers and measurements while knowing that statistics only tell a portion of the story that results in either the success or failure of a team throughout the year.
With that said, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ five-game preseason sample size from the Minnesota Timberwolves provided an opportunity to start to dive into some of the stats and numbers of this year’s team on both ends of the floor. With a new-look roster, it was going to be interesting to see how the team changed its style of play and which areas of the game they would improve or take a step back in during the 2022-23 campaign.
Now with the preseason over, let’s take a look back at just a few statistics and things that stood out in the small sample size put forward by the team. With the games being just that — preseason games — it’s hard to fully read into how the performance seen during the preseason will carry over the regular season, but that’s all we have right now until the games to kick off the new year get underway this week.
Playing High Pace Continues
A season ago, the Wolves were a team that played one of the highest paces offensively among any team in the NBA. Minnesota finished with a pace measurement — the number of possessions a team sees per game — of 101.47 which led the league.
In the five preseason games, that recent trend continued for Minnesota, playing with a pace of 108.5 throughout the handful of games. That ranked second in the NBA behind only the Los Angeles Lakers with a pace of 108.58.
For a team that has finished at or near the top of the league in offensive production and points per game, notably finishing as the NBA’s top-scoring offense a year ago, it isn’t a surprise to see that pace measurement back near the top of the league. Minnesota has the ability to score early and often, and it looks like it will once again feature a high-paced style of play on that end of the floor once again.
Signs of Defensive Improvement
In five games, one thing that stood out was Minnesota’s early signs of improvement on defense.
During the preseason, the Wolves finished with a Defensive Rating of 101.7 in five games, which ranked 10th among NBA teams. A season ago, Minnesota finished 13th in the same category with a rating of 111.0 over the 82-game regular season. The Wolves also gave up 110.4 points (16th in NBA) while limited opposing teams to shooting 41.8 percent (fifth in NBA) from the field and 30.3 percent from three (eighth in NBA).
Obviously the likes of Rudy Gobert will help on defense this year, as well as the other additions made this offseason. The Wolves are also hoping the players who have carried over from last year such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, Jaden McDaniels and others will continue to improve defensively in 2022-23.
How the defense looks and evolves throughout the regular season with somewhat of a new-look roster is yet to be determined, but the Wolves showed some nice flashes during the preseason to create optimism for continued improvement when the “real games” begin.
Use of the Bench
It’s not uncommon to see players lower on the roster and pieces who will serve primarily in bench roles see an extended amount of time on the court in the preseason. Teams aren’t going to wear out their starters in the preseason and also want to see players on the fringe of making the roster a bit more during the games.
When it comes to the use of Minnesota’s bench this preseason, that group played an average of 24.1 minutes per game, which ranked 26th in the NBA. In that time on the court, the bench unit made the most of those minutes while averaging 54 points as a group per game (12th in the NBA).
In the regular season in 2021-22, the Wolves’ second unit logged 18.4 minutes per game (10th-most in NBA) while averaging 38.7 points per game (eighth-most in NBA). As more of a direct comparison year-over-year, Minnesota’s bench averaged 26.4 minutes (9th in NBA) with 59.3 points per game (fourth in NBA) in four preseason games in 2021-22.
Obviously minutes and production from the second unit will increase each postseason and will ultimately be higher than they will be in the regular season, but it’s worth noting the use of the bench could decrease a bit this year although that depth will be a vital aspect to the team down the stretch of the year and in the postseason when things matter most.
Amount of Shots From the Field and Deep
A season ago, Minnesota was a team that not only put up plenty of points on a nightly basis but also put up a ton of shot attempts both from the field and from three (yes, I understand that’s how you actually score those points, but still). With a few new pieces on the roster, notably the post presence of Gobert, it was interesting to see how Minnesota would change that mindset offensively, if at all.
In 2021-22, the Wolves finished fifth in the NBA in field goals attempted (91.0), managing to connect on 45.7 percent of shots which was 22nd in the league. From three, Minnesota led the league with 14.8 threes per game on 41.3 attempts, throwing up shots from deep early and often.
In the preseason this year, the Wolves took a step back in the number of shots taken both from the field in general and from three over the five contests. They finished with 89.8 field goals attempted (14th in NBA), although they did connect on 46.1 percent of those attempts which was the eighth-best mark in the league. From three, Minnesota attempted 34.8 shots (19th in NBA) from beyond the arc in five games, converting on 11.4 threes per game (18th in NBA).
The bit of a shift year-over-year in those two categories could be due to the new personnel on the team and the Wolves likely looking to work things inside out rather than focus on the deep ball like they did in 2021-22. Minnesota will still get its shots both from the field and from three this season, but it is starting to shift where and how those shots occur which isn’t that surprising given the look of the roster.
Not only did the Wolves stand out in a few areas statistically, but they also managed to finish with a nearly undefeated record in the preseason. Minnesota had a chance to conclude the handful of exhibition games with a perfect 5-0 record, but ultimately fell in the preseason finale Friday after winning the first four games.
Although it’s hard to read too far into the win-loss results in the preseason, the Wolves do have a recent history of strong preseason play carrying over into the regular season. In the last six seasons, Minnesota has finished with a winning record in the preseason three times (including this year). When doing so, the Wolves have gone on to reach the playoffs at the end of the regular season. They hope that trend continues in 2022-23 after a strong preseason performance.
The preseason was a success for the Wolves, but it is finally over. Now, the real games tip off this week with the regular season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday at Target Center. As always, the crew here at Canis Hoopus will have you covered all season long with content throughout what is one of the more anticipated Wolves seasons in recent history.