It was a quiet week with only two games, but the Minnesota Timberwolves extended their win streak to three games and moved to 8-8 on the season. Regardless of how ugly these games got, these have been three really important wins for the Timberwolves. The vibes seem to be trending in the right direction, and we’re starting to see some things click on the court. After a stretch of three blowout losses and only one win in their previous seven games, the success that accompanied week five couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Timberwolves are on a scintillating three-game winning streak. That is a fact and an accomplishment that cannot be taken away. However, all three of these wins came with their opponents missing significant contributors.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were missing Jarrett Allen, Donovan Mitchell, and Dean Wade. This trio has accounted for 32% of the Cavaliers minutes and nearly 39% of their total points. The Orlando Magic were missing Paolo Banchero and Cole Anthony, along with the extended absences of Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac, Gary Harris, and Mortiz Wagner. The Philadelphia 76ers were missing Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, and Tobias Harris who account for 35% of the 76ers’ minutes and 43% of their total points.
If we even look further back, Minnesota has yet to win a game against a team at full strength. The Houston Rockets were missing 2022 No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr., Jae’Sean Tate, and Bruno Fernando, the Los Angeles Lakers were missing Anthony Davis, Dennis Schröder, and Juan Toscano-Anderson, the San Antonio Spurs were missing Devin Vassell, and the Oklahoma City Thunder were missing Chet Holmgren, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Jalen Williams.
The point of this isn’t to necessarily discredit any of the Wolves’ wins because injuries are part of sports. You can only play who the other team puts out there. The point of this is to highlight the fact that the Timberwolves still have plenty to prove, despite how encouraging this three-game win streak has been. Whether you look at their wins or their losses, the Timberwolves have been the beneficiaries of the injury bug, and they’ve failed to fully capitalize on it.
One of the biggest frustrations with Anthony Edwards’s game can be his shot selection. Too frequently he seems to settle for jumpers instead of attacking the rim. As the season has progressed, though, Edwards is attacking the rim relentlessly as a tool to set up his jumper, and it is paying dividends.
So far this season, Edwards is taking 41% of his shots at the rim, per Cleaning the Glass. This is the highest mark of his career and ranks in the 83rd percentile. On these shots, he’s shooting 66% (67th percentile), which is also a career high. To make matters even more promising, Edwards is drawing a shooting foul on 11.9% of his shots (81st percentile) and earning a chance at an and-1 on 41.7% (88th percentile) of the shooting fouls he draws, both career highs.
It seems as if Edwards is finally recognizing the benefits of attacking the rim, especially now that he’s getting a whistle that wasn’t there his first two seasons. When Edwards makes it a priority to attack the rim, his offensive production ends up looking drastically different than when he settles for jumpers. It is an excellent way to get in a rhythm early, immediately unsettle the defense, and get opponents in foul trouble. By attacking the rim early and often, Edwards allows the Timberwolves to set the tone for the game. They can more easily impose their will, get good looks in an area they excel at, and dictate the pace and physicality for the night. The only reason that these numbers could fall off for Edwards is simply due to his personal decision making. He must keep it a priority to attack the rim, and when he doesn’t, the offense tends to stagnate.
For a few years now, Rudy Gobert has desired a more expansive offensive role that isn’t simply rim running, even though there are few in the league of his caliber at doing so. Unfortunately, Gobert isn’t a player who can create his own shot, which makes giving him a broader offensive role a bit tricky. Regardless, the Timberwolves must be more intent about getting Gobert a few looks, especially when he gets a switch in the post against a much smaller defender.
Against the Magic, Gobert became visibly frustrated as he was ignored under the basket when a smaller wing was on him. The next two possessions, Karl-Anthony Towns made it his priority to get Gobert the ball. Both possessions ended with a Gobert dunk.
During his time with the Utah Jazz, something that writers loved doing was to highlight how infrequently Mitchell passed to Gobert. Recently, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reignited that habit as he shared how infrequently Edwards has passed to Gobert. So far this season, Edwards is passing to Gobert only 1.6 times per game, which accounts for 4% of Edwards’s passes, per NBA Stats. Not ideal, but also, Edwards doesn’t really pass to anyone besides D’Angelo Russell and Towns who represent 39.4% and 20.2% of Edwards’s passes. The remaining 40.4% of Edwards’s passes are spread across ten other players ranging from 0.2 – 8.9%.
So, yes, Edwards is barely passing to Gobert this season, but to spin that as some slight to Gobert is nonsense. The main takeaway should instead be that Edwards has never played with a player like Gobert, and he’s still figuring out how to do so. Against the 76ers we saw Edwards drive and throw a lob to Gobert for the easy dunk when the defender rotated to the drive. It was simple and effective. As Edwards continues to attack the rim, that option is always going to be there for him as defenders rotate to cut off his drive. Once he adapts to utilizing the lob more frequently, his driving game will be nearly impossible to completely stop.
Edwards isn’t the only one at fault for the inconsistency in Gobert’s involvement. In recent games we’ve seen the Russell-Gobert pick-and-roll trend in the right direction, but there is still so much room to grow. So far, 10.8% of Russell’s passes have been to Gobert, about 6.7 per game. These passes are generating a shooting percentage of just 44.4% and only 0.8 assists per game. All of these numbers are far too low. Russell hasn’t played with a center like Gobert since his All-Star season with the Brooklyn Nets. Allen was a similar pick-and-roll partner to Gobert. Instead of constantly trying to thread pocket passes that Gobert has to go down and get, Russell needs to be more adamant about throwing the lob as he snakes through the lane. There are a lot of ways the Timberwolves can get extremely easy scores, they just have to keep reforming their habits to align with the talent that is on the floor.