Week two is in the books for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and it unfortunately followed suit with the performances we were subjected to in week one.
The Timberwolves started off the week by getting run off the floor by a young San Antonio Spurs team. They followed up that lack luster performance with hard fought wins over the shorthanded Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers before putting a bow on the week with another inexcusable loss to a very shorthanded Spurs team.
The Timberwolves currently sit at 4-3 which isn’t too shabby when you look at the standings and see the Memphis Grizzlies at 4-2, the Dallas Mavericks at 3-3, the Golden State Warriors at 3-4, and the Los Angeles Clippers at 2-4. As long as you don’t actually watch the games or know anything about the teams Minnesota has played, the 4-3 start can be seen as acceptable in comparison. Unfortunately, I have watched all of these games and a 4-3 record feels extremely lucky given the state of play.
Here are the biggest takeaways from week two:
Third Quarter Woes Continue
So far this season, the Timberwolves have outscored their opponents in just one third quarter, and it was only by three against the Lakers. The third quarter is a great representation of a team’s ability to adjust, sustain momentum, and put opponents away. The Warriors have been notorious during their run for absolutely eviscerating teams in the third quarter. Instead of showing their determination to ascend into the contender tier of the Western Conference, Minnesota hs looked like a team full of rookies.
Through seven games, the Wolves have a net rating of -26.6 in the third quarter, per NBA Stats. Somehow this isn’t even the worst in the league as the Brooklyn Nets rank 30th at minus-31.6. Obviously, it is still very early, and these numbers won’t remain as horrendous all season, at least I hope not, but it is a clear sign of where the Timberwolves continue to fail on a nightly basis. For comparison, the worst third quarter net rating last season was -9.7. Their offensive rating of 92.9 ranks 29th (ahead of the Lakers), and their defensive rating of 119.6 ranks 23rd. These numbers are abhorrently bad as no team had an offensive rating under 100 for any quarter last season (the overall worst offensive rating was the Oklahoma City Thunder’s at 103.8).
What makes this continuing trend so frustrating is that Chris Finch’s group has been starting off and ending games well for the most part. It’s just the middle two quarters that have turned into a dumpster fire. Their first quarter net rating of 19.9 ranks fifth, their second quarter net rating of -4.8 ranks 19th, and their fourth quarter net rating of 27.4 ranks first.
This is a bit of a rudimentary way of comparing the Timberwolves’ numbers, so don’t take it as gospel, but instead as a suggestion. Above are some advanced numbers for the Wolves for each quarter compared to the rest of the league’s numbers overall, not segmented by quarters. The green would rank 1-10, the yellow would rank 11-20, and the red would rank 21-30.
As we can see, the second and third quarters have been brutal. As the game progresses the ball moves less, the turnovers rise, and the effort on the boards drops. The Timberwolves aren’t a young team anymore. They are a team that is all in on these next couple years being their window. They have veteran talent throughout the lineup, and yet they still have the bad habits of inexperienced kids.
Entitlement and Lack of Execution
There are a few words in sports that will cut to the core and shouldn’t be lightly thrown around. Words like soft, lazy, and washed up would fall into this category. These words aren’t super uplifting in any other sector, but they tend to cut a little deeper in sports. I use that preface so you know I’m not just throwing out the label “entitled” loosely. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other words that best describe this team’s current state.
The Timberwolves have been entering every game like a team that read way too much about themselves in the offseason. They saw the reviews on how they should win a ton of regular season games. They saw the “easy” start to their schedule against teams that will inevitably be tanking. They took it all for granted and just assumed these teams would roll over for them. Whoops.
Instead of capitalizing on big first quarter leads, they abandon everything that got them that lead. They assume that after one strong quarter, the team full of other professionals is simply going to chalk it up as a loss.
A very entitled, unserious approach tonight from the Wolves.— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) October 31, 2022
Tough 3-point shooting night or not, there is zero excuse for losing to a Spurs team down Vassell, Sochan and Richardson.
Minnesota has the approach of a team that looks content coasting to a .500, play-in season
This team has an immense amount of talent on its roster, but the Wolves aren’t playing like it. Instead of using their size and athleticism to dominate the glass, they turn and watch shots as their opponents gain the superior rebounding position. Their transition defense continues to be appalling as they are too busy admiring their layup or complaining about not getting a call. Giving up layups in transition on defense after a make has become a common occurrence. That is an event that should never happen in a game, and yet, we see consistently it multiple times a game.
From a numbers and performance standpoint, the Timberwolves can improve once their shots start falling more and they stop turning it over as much. Those issues are just as much mental hurdles, though. This sense of entitlement that the Timberwolves carried into the season is their biggest obstacle. Once they realize that shots aren’t just going to go in, that the other team isn’t just going to rollover, and that they actually have to fight for rebounds, then we’ll see this team start trending in the right direction. Until then, though, I’m afraid we’re going to get a lot more performances that make us question what the hell we just watched.
Are They Taking the Leap?
Well, this has been a bummer of a recap, so let’s end on something a little more chipper. So, uh, Jaden McDaniels and Jaylen Nowell are pretty good, huh? Both young players have improved tremendously year over year for the Timberwolves, so their emergence this year shouldn’t come as a surprise to fans. To everyone else, though, I think they’re in for a rude awakening.
Let’s start with Jaylen Nowell who is well on his way to getting paid next summer. Through seven games, Nowell is averaging 12.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and shooting splits of 41/27/75 in 19.9 minutes. For sake of comparison, lets extrapolate those numbers to per 36 minutes where he is averaging 23 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.3 steals. He has been a walking bucket that compares beautifully to some of the league’s best combo/scoring guards.
Typically, I hate taking a role player’s numbers and extrapolating it to per 100 possessions or per 36 minutes or any other form of measurement you prefer. The reasoning is that some players thrive in more limited minutes, while others take some time to get going. The translation of statistics isn’t linear as every player performs differently in the minutes/role they are given. The reason that I presented that extrapolation, though, is to compare where Nowell is right now to where Jordan Poole and Tyler Herro finished last season. Both of those players got new contracts before the season and play similar roles to Nowell.
Last season, Poole averaged (per-36) 22.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 0.9 steals on shooting splits of 45/36/93. Herro averaged 22.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 0.7 steals on shooting splits of 45/40/87. Poole just signed a four-year, $128 million contract, and Herro signed a four-year, $120 million contract. If Nowell keeps this up all season, he is going to get paid handsomely — potentially beyond the maximum allowed four-year, $60 million extension he could sign with the Wolves.
When Minnesota was consistently mocked by national media for saying McDaniels was untouchable in the Gobert trade, it really opened my eyes to how few people outside of Timberwolves fans have actually watched him play. He’s really fucking good.
During the playoffs last season, we saw McDaniels’ game take a step forward. He shot really well from outside and started attacking more off the dribble. This season, McDaniels’ ability to attack closeouts, pass out of drives, and finish with floaters has been really impressive. It is a vital skill that he needs to continue to develop. Towns, Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell are going to get the bulk of the usage, which relegates McDaniels into almost a purely off-ball role. Now that McDaniels is more comfortable and consistent at creating off the bounce, he can really unbalance defenses with a variety of attacks when they closeout or rotate.
As a defender, there’s nothing new there. He’s still one of the most versatile and effective all-around defenders in the league. He still fouls too much, but his foul rate is down from 4.9% last season to 4.1% this season. More impressively, though, his steal rate of 2.0% ranks in the 84th percentile, and his block rate of 2.6% ranks in the 97th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. McDaniels is defending less with his hands and is constantly making brilliant off-ball rotations.