The start to the 2022-23 NBA season has already been an up-and-down one for the Minnesota Timberwolves, something that was to be expected with an injection of new players on the roster to begin the new year.
With the addition of Rudy Gobert in the starting lineup and other key players spread throughout the rest of the roster, the Wolves and their fans entered the season with high expectations that are still more than obtainable just a handful of games into the regular season.
But before those expectations can be met, the team still has to properly gel together to begin to form any resemblance of a complete product many hopes arrives. That objective has resulted in some early-season bumps, with Minnesota clearly working through those hurdles on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
Among some of the early areas of concern that have become present for the Wolves has been the performance in the third quarter, with the team resembling what some recall used to be referred to as the “Turd Third” frame for Minnesota.
In past seasons, we’ve oftentimes seen the Timberwolves come out of halftime slow, leading to opposing teams either extending leads out of halftime or quickly erasing any lead the team entered the break holding.
In a small sample size that has been the 2022-23 campaign thus far, that “Turd Third” occurrence has reared its head once again. And it’s becoming an early trend that will need to be fixed before Minnesota can become a serious contender.
The Wolves have been outscored by 53 points in 3rd quarters through five games.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) October 27, 2022
Following Wednesday’s win over the San Antonio Spurs, the Wolves are one of the worst teams in the NBA when it comes to third-quarter performance. Minnesota ranks near the bottom of the NBA in multiple key statistical categories, including last in overall plus/minus (-10.6), 29th in points given up to opposing offenses (35.0), 27th in third-quarter points per game (24.4) and field goal percentage (42.5%), and 18th in three-point percentage (32.6%).
Yes, it’s a small sample size consisting of five games, but it’s a trend that is a complete flip from what was seen even a year ago.
“A lot of times, you know, if you exert a lot of energy and then you rest, you gotta get cranked up again. It’s hard to find that second wind sometimes,” Wolves head coach Chris Finch said after Wednesday’s win about the team’s third quarter issues. “With the preseason that we had, it was all chopped up with guys in and out. So, that’s on me mostly. We’ll get there. Guys are working hard to try to get in shape, but it’s one of the reasons we left them in the other night. We left them in just so they could get some match fitness.”
During the 2021-22 campaign, Minnesota ranked in the top half of the NBA in the third quarter statistical categories mentioned earlier. The Wolves ranked third in points per game (29.2), fifth in three-point percentage (38.9%), eighth in average point differential (+1.1), 17th in field goal percentage (46.2%) and 19th in opponents points per game (28.0).
Over the last five seasons, as seen in the table below, Minnesota has gone back and forth in performance out of halftime. It appeared that trend was steering in the right direction just a year ago, but it has regressed in the very early stages of the new season this year.
Some may point to this trend as a coaching issue rather than a player issue, or the schemes that are instilled coming out of halftime. That might not be wrong in pointing fingers in that direction, but it’s interesting the third-quarter performance improved in 2021-22 with this current coaching staff and system in place.
Of course, the new faces on the roster this season compared to last throws a curveball into things and every roster plays and needs to be handled differently annually, but it might not be as much of a coaching issue as some initially assume.
Wolves HC Chris Finch says he thinks part of his team's third quarter woes are conditioning-related.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) October 27, 2022
Mentions the team playing its third game in four nights, and expects that to get better as the year progresses
Could it be as simple as the team still needs more time to gel together and learn how to deal with the ebbs and flows and runs that occur throughout every game?
Is it workload related and either the team taking part in a busy stretch to begin the season or some players being gassed by the time the second half rolls around?
Is it on the coaching staff figuring something out to shake up the rotation at points in the game, notably coming out of halftime?
Is it on the players to take it upon themselves to come out with more energy that has oftentimes been seen in the first half of games so far this season?
This team, although it had a different roster, was a much better third-quarter team a season ago than it is now a year later. The answer to the third-quarter performance question is a puzzling one, but it’s certainly one that needs to be answered sooner rather than later. The Wolves and their fans don’t want the “Turd Third” term to return, because if it does, that might result in the team falling below its high expectations set before the year began.