I’ve been a Minnesota Timberwolves fan since 1998, a Minnesota sports fan that came alive following the 1998 Minnesota Vikings season who didn’t know what to do after Gary Anderson’s missed field goal and subsequent heartbreak. One night, I turned on the television and started watching a random, regular season game, not knowing what to expect. This is how I witnessed my favorite Minnesota athlete of all-time, Kevin Garnett.
There was no better player to make you fall in love with the game than KG. Every game mattered when you watched him. He was going to give all he had on the court, and like an infectious disease, that energy spread to his teammates and fans in the Target Center. I began to care about basketball because I saw how much it meant to KG.
Passion. Loving the game. Respecting your opponent. Giving a piece of your heart to the fans that pay to see you play. I was hooked.
Here is something I’ve been pondering: If my fourth grade self turned on the television and this 2022-2023 Wolves team was his first experience with the game of basketball, would he have fallen in love with the sport?
Letting that question linger is the biggest indictment I can give to this team right now.
Let’s get to the bench grades.
Jaylen Nowell Mid-Quarter Grade: 79% (C+)
One of the most encouraging parts of the first five or six games of the season was the emergence of Jaylen Nowell. The last five or six games have been a bit more mediocre, but ups and downs are expected of a microwave player off the bench.
Nowell was the only player that I was specifically tracking scoring for because that was always going to be his role for this team: go out there and get a bucket. While he isn’t quite scoring at a clip where he would be considered a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, he’s been living up to his role off the bench.
The reason I’m ultimately ending with a C+ is that I’m weighting the traditional stats more than minutes per game for each player. Through 12 games, the Jaylen that we’ve seen has developed as a player from last year, but not in the way that solidifies his place as a necessary roster piece of a playoff team.
Kyle Anderson Mid Quarter Grade: 89% (B+)
When you are already working with a pretty small sample size, cutting that in half due to injury makes it pretty tough to get a good read on a player’s start. Slo-Mo’s play the last three games has given him a big boost to all his advanced stats - currently 2nd on the team in win shares per 48 minutes, just a tick behind Rudy Gobert.
Once again, small sample size warning here, but while Slo-Mo has been on the court, he’s been a good player for this team. A straight up “A” felt too high with such a small sample size, but if his numbers continue through the next 10 games, he’ll finish the quarter there.
Taurean Prince Mid-Quarter Grade: 84% (B)
To further stress how small of a sample size these games are, I’m going to leave my rough draft version for Taurean in from about four games ago:
“Reliable Taurean Prince. On a team whose general consistency is about as reliable as a canoe in a hurricane, Prince has come in off the bench and offered a steady hand. His hot shooting start will most likely slow down, but it’s nice to have one guy on the team shooting better than his career averages. He’s the only player on the team that has been a positive player offensively and defensively (Box Score +/-). Along with our next player, one of those guys you just trust on the basketball court.”
My general sentiment about TP is the same, but over four games, his PER dropped from 13+ to 10.2. His hot shooting has slowed down, and as the team’s defense has crumbled, so have his numbers. I’m going to ignore a little bit of the stats on this one and lean more into the eye-test and what we saw through the first seven games.
Jordan McLaughlin Mid-Quarter Grade: 90% (A-)
The biggest barrier for McLaughlin right now is his minutes, and that could be more of a Chris Finch problem. D’Angelo Russell is in a terrible slump; but by every measure, J-Mac deserves to be eating up more of his minutes. The advanced stats show it, but more importantly, the eye-test shows it. This team just needs someone on the floor who isn’t careless with the ball.
His assist-to-turnover ratio is currently fourth in the league. Please plug that into this offense’s veins before its dead!
Naz Reid Mid-Quarter Grade: 86% (B)
Copy and paste the minutes issue to Finch - though with Reid it is more understandable because of roster fit. As in the preview article, I think the story of Naz’s season is going to come down to the minutes he gets in this new look lineup. When he’s on the floor, he’s been great - currently second on the team in PER just behind Karl-Anthony Towns.
The problem is, he isn’t seeing the floor consistently. Naz deserves playing time in this league, and finding minutes for him despite lineup fit is one of the many tough decisions that Finch needs to make.
Bryn Forbes Mid-Quarter Grade: 55% (F)
When you are brought in to be a shooter off the bench and you get off to a cold start, it’s hard to see much in the way of positivity. He’s too good a shooter to keep shooting at this low level, but the question will be if his shots come before he loses his playing time. With nine guys above him carving out clear roles, Forbes is in danger of being left behind as a consistent rotation player.
Austin Rivers Mid-quarter Grade: 55% (F)
Just like Forbes above, Rivers just hasn’t brought any of the elements the Wolves signed him for. In the preview article, I wrote that there was a hope that he could turn into Patrick Beverley-lite. He may be offering the needed leadership behind the scenes (and sometimes front and center through thoughtful responses to questions), but in terms of on-court energy, he hasn’t proven that will be his role for the team.
Minnesota Timberwolves Mid-Quarter Grade: 59% (D)
To fail or not to fail… that is the question. This Wolves season will be defined by the playoffs and thankfully, those aren’t in November. But if they were to start today, I don’t think anyone would feel confident about winning back-to-back play-in games from the 10th place position. So many have rightfully questioned the team’s heart (along with myself above) that I won’t replay that here.
There is enough cynicism in the world. So I’ll let my inner teacher and optimist come out here. One bad test grade does not define the year. Last year’s Wolves started the season 4-9 before finding their groove with some lineup and scheme tweaks. The best team in franchise history, ‘03-04 Wolves, were a middling 9-8 before kicking it into another gear on their way to the western conference finals. We are only 12 games into an 82 game season. There is still time.
I just pray to the basketball gods that the team and the fans find a way to have fun again this season.