I searched for comparisons and things to liken what is currently going on with the Minnesota Timberwolves starting five this whole week, and I might have come up with it. The chemistry and wherewithal of the starting five is pubescent, and wow, before Sunday did it look like the sixth or seventh grade stage of things. Not. Good.
But I came out of this week legitimately encouraged believe it or not, because the problems look more pinpointed than they previously did.
Chris Finch: "Rudy’s absence had zero to do with our performance here in any way shape or form. Offensively we were starting to move the ball really well [Friday]. We just have to do it multitude of times and then I think Rudy will be the beneficiary of that ball movement too.”— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) November 6, 2022
Let’s go back to the ugly. I’ve been writing pieces on a weekly basis for the last couple seasons, mainly to document the peaks and valleys that can happen during a massive stretch of games, and the solves that come with them. I’ll share a couple thoughts from last season from my piece on November 16 last season, when the Wolves started 4-9 and looked to be headed towards disaster.
“At the end of the day, this is simply the on-court product that everyone has to get used to until a trade is made for the team to get bigger.
Locker room and leadership questions aside, the Timberwolves are entirely reliant on shooting, off-ball movement, and defense in order to win games. One of those three things is incredibly volatile, the other two are not consistently happening.
A dead giveaway in lack of effort. One example stuck out the most.
I don’t care what the score says. This is pretty brutal from KAT.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) November 14, 2021
What we are seeing on a night-in and night-out basis is not a team. It’s a collection of some really good, good, and not-so good players acting as hired guns in a freeform offense. A devastating path to nowhere (and 80-100 points on a nightly basis).
The game last night against the Phoenix Suns illustrates this perfectly. Karl-Anthony Towns played extremely well offensively. D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards did not. Phoenix left the door open, and then decided to close it themselves.”
Even down to the Suns being the opponent discussed, it feels EERILY similar to what we have seen, and some of the common sentiments that were being widely discussed through the first 13 games, up until the Wolves defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night.
No, the Timberwolves still don’t have the look of a team near its potential right now, but it’s getting closer. The other light at the end of the tunnel is having the benefit of being able to look back on a successful team with same same coach, and a slow, anger-mongering start to the season.
I’ll start with the play from KAT above, and compare it to Edwards’ viral body language against the Houston Rockets.
I didn’t catch this watching in real-time but this is concerning to see from Ant. He’s pouting when his team is up. It’s a designed ATO play which he’s not involved in but his actions (absolutely none) speak pretty loudly. pic.twitter.com/GTVT2loiBy— John Meyer (@meyerNBA) November 7, 2022
Making Shots Helps
I’ll again preface that this is not the same team as last year. But one common theme that has contributed to the struggling are issues with hitting open shots, and that can just be a problem with rhythm.
Currently, Minnesota sits in the bottom ten in open 3-point percentage (defender within 4-6 feet) at 32%. They also find themselves in the bottom half of the league in wide open three point percentage (defender 6+ feet away) at 37%. For context, the streaking Denver Nuggets lead the league in this category at a blistering 45%.
For reference, the 2021-22 Timberwolves started out the season 4-9 in their first 13 games, and were dead last in the league in the wide open category, shooting a dastardly 31%. They would turn it around and go on to win their next five games.
Another Shot At Points
Another common denominator has been the amount of second chance points allowed.
In the dismal 4-9 stretch in 2021-22, the Wolves ranked 25th in the league in second chance points allowed, with more than 14 given per game. What ended up turning this around was not exactly tightening that up, but making up possessions by causing turnovers and getting out in transition.
As we sit after Sunday’s game in Cleveland, the Wolves rank dead last in this category, giving up more than 18 per game. It didn’t get much better against the Cavaliers either, as they gave up 22 with no Jarrett Allen in the lineup.
That’s something that has to change, because it’s not the same defense as last year. It’s the reason you brought in a 7-foot-1, three-time Defensive Player of the Year as well.
Timberwolves defensive rating in the second half last night: 151— Jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) November 14, 2022
Rudy Gobert on what has to change on that end pic.twitter.com/7a4GbZRhMj
Friday night marked the 13th game of the season, and the Wolves “bested” their 4-9 mark last year with a 5-8 finish. As mentioned, they went on to win five straight.
A win Sunday in Cleveland got the next chapter off on the right foot, and a runway awaits in Orlando...