Week one is in the books for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and we were exposed to a bevy of emotions. Simply having Timberwolves basketball back was a gift but entering the season with actual expectations was a new sensation. In typical Timberwolves fashion, though, the lead up to the season wasn’t entirely smooth sailing.
Their offseason acquisition Rudy Gobert played limited minutes after a prolonged FIBA run with France, and Karl-Anthony Towns battled another severe illness; resulting in a pairing that will take time to get comfortable with very limited live game reps.
Luckily, the Timberwolves start the season with plenty of opponents who, on paper, shouldn’t present much resistance. Well, we quickly found out that wasn’t the case as the Timberwolves struggled with the Oklahoma City Thunder, fell to the Utah Jazz, and then labored against the Thunder again before pulling away in the fourth quarter.
Here are the biggest takeaways from week one.
Third Quarter Woes
Despite having more talent, experience, and expectations than their first three opponents, the Timberwolves have performed like a team full of rookies in their third quarters. Through three games, the Timberwolves have been outscored by opponents by 24 points in the third quarter. Some teams thrive in the third quarter, but newly assembled and young teams, like the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, are not supposed to be one of those teams.
Minnesota started all three of their games incredibly well as they’ve outscored opponents by 41 points while averaging just under 36 points in the first quarter. Unfortunately, that same attention to detail, fire, and quick processing hasn’t carried over through the halftime break. Instead, the Timberwolves have continuously come out flat, allowed opponents to go on massive runs, and failed to pull away to put the game to bed.
One of the big concerns with the Gobert trade was the departure of leadership, defense, intensity, and versatility. I know it sounds tacky, but the emotional and mental impact that Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt provided last season was crucial to their success. Their play style made it impossible for others to not match their energy. That simple act of leading by example did wonders for the Wolves last season. So far this year, we haven’t seen anyone fill that void.
Simply put, the Timberwolves are fucking massive. One of the most exciting parts about the Gobert acquisition was how much he would immediately improve their rebounding, mainly on the defensive end. So far, Gobert has feasted on rebounds as he leads the league in offensive rebounds per game (6.3), is tied for first in defensive rebounds per game (11.7), and leads the league in total rebounds per game (18), per NBA Stats.
Those numbers are not just encouraging, but also sustainable for him. There will inevitably be at least a little bit of a drop off in Gobert’s individual rebounding numbers as they face teams that actually have a center, but he’s holding up his end of the bargain. Individual rebounding stats are important and revealing, but rebounding is a team challenge. Based on the raw numbers, the Timberwolves have been excellent at crashing the glass. They are second in offensive rebounds per game (15.7) and second in defensive rebounds per game (40.7).
Both of those are awesome numbers. Before we get carried away, though, it is important that we fact check it along with the team’s rebounding rates. First, the Timberwolves are third in the league with an offensive rebounding rate of 34.5%. What that tells us is that Minnesota is rebounding 34.5% of all potential offensive rebounds. They are using their size to full effect and generating extra possessions on a regular basis.
As we know from last season, though, offensive rebounding wasn’t the issue. Despite recording plenty of defensive rebounds per game, the Timberwolves have a defensive rebounding rate of just 68.4%. This ranks 22nd in the league. To make matters worse, Minnesota is allowing 21.3 second chance points per game to their opponents (28th). Instead of killing off possessions on a regular basis like their size suggests they should be, the Wolves’ opponents have an offensive rebounding rate of 31.6%, which would rank ninth in the league.
Free Agency Acquisitions
This offseason, the Timberwolves were able to sign multiple free agents who all had extensive playoff experience and were known by fans who aren’t just diehards of certain teams. The signings of Kyle Anderson, Austin Rivers, and Bryn Forbes got fans excited because all three provided important traits that were lost in the Gobert trade. They were signings that were an encouraging step in the right direction in terms of rebuilding last season’s depth.
Unfortunately, we’ve barely seen anything from these three. Kyle Anderson has been limited due to back spasms recently, but the point remains, we have yet to see any meaningful contributions from this year’s free agent signings. Of the available 745 minutes played this season, these three signings have combined for 51 minutes, or 6.8% of available play time. Additionally, they have a combined plus-minus of exactly 0.
At the time, all three of these signings felt like guys who would contribute regularly. Obviously not at a 20 minute a night level, but certainly more than the minuscule appearances to close out a half. Again, this will change in some form or fashion once Anderson is healthy. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if Forbes and Rivers end up relegated to the “break glass in case of emergency” role.
Given Anderson’s salary, size, and versatility, there is a clear path to minutes for him unlike the other two. Forbes has recorded 19 minutes this season in which he is a minus-five. If not for his lone turnover, Forbes would have an immaculate application for Club Trillion (where you get minutes but don’t record a single stat). Forbes utter lack of production (0-5 shooting) is not an encouraging sign. It won’t shock me when he inevitably makes five threes this week because he can get hot. The concern, though, is does that game come while he can still earn the trust of the coaching staff, or does it come too late once the rotation has been set in stone?
Rivers’ path to minutes was always more of a clunky one, but he knows how the game works. If he’s called on, he has to produce. So far, Rivers is a minus-two in nine minutes with zero points and one rebound. To be fair, the spot minutes that Rivers has been given have been more so for defensive purposes. Still, it is surprising that he hasn’t been given more of a look, especially in an attempt to subdue some of these horrific third quarters.
The expectation should never have been for any of these guys to be starters, especially after the Gobert trade. However, most of us thought they’d at least be contributors. As the season progresses, the opportunity for Forbes and Rivers to earn a regular rotation spot will likely diminish. Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell aren’t losing their starting minutes any time soon. Jaylen Nowell is on a warpath in a contract year, so good luck with that. Jordan McLaughlin is one of Coach Finch’s favorites and a steadying presence off the bench. Unless the injury bug starts striking, I don’t see many situations where Forbes or Rivers can find actual minutes.
Starting the season off at 2-1 is fine. This team should be 3-0, but given some of the adjustments they are still working to figure out, it could be worse. Anthony Edwards finally looked like the superstar we expect him to be against the Thunder on Sunday night. Jaden McDaniels continues to show an all-around improvement. Jaylen Nowell is out for blood as he pursues a new contract and potentially a Sixth Man of the Year award if he keeps this up.
There has been a lot to like on an individual level, but as a team, there is still so much to improve on. As we head into Week Two, keep an eye on how the team defends and rebounds. They have yet to look like a cohesive group, but it is still extremely early in the process.