Following the Minnesota Timberwolves’ best performance of the year against the Indiana Pacers, my phone lit up with a text that simply said: “Wolves back.” Optimism was beginning to swirl again as the Wolves were at the peak of their 5 game win streak.
Sunday afternoon, in the midst of the Golden State Warriors’ 47-27 first quarter explosion, I got a text that said “Not even watching today because I already knew this was going to happen. Send this team to Seattle.” Welcome to the roller coaster that is the 2022-2023 Timberwolves season!
Wolves fandom is an eager hopefulness that can be quickly dashed by the familiar mire of disappointment. If the team is having a hard time finding its identity, fans are feeling that same frustration. Neither the team nor the fans know who is going to show up or not on any given night.
A truth that long-time Wolves fans may know even better than the younger members on the team is that aimlessness can become your identity. Fans see the shadow of that writing on the wall when we have season stretches like this. This current conversation about Target Center booing the home team needs the reminder that boos are sometimes just pleas for an aimless team to wake up before it is too late.
Report card time. While the mid-quarter grades were just a check-in, the grades below are officially being sent out to parents and will be part of the end of the year story that we tell about this team.
Check out the previous article for more about why I chose these stats for this first quarter and how I structured this grading system. Two important reminders:
1. These grades are roles-based, so the stats I’m looking at for each player are different.
2. Roles on the team can change as the roster and playing time changes—I may alter or add some statistical categories as we see more of this team step into their identity.
D’Angelo Russell 1st Quarter Grade: 70% (C-)
Mid-Quarter Check-in: 64% (D)
Since the mid quarter update, D’Lo has put together some of his best efforts on the season. Both his assist numbers and TS% have been slowly ticking up out of career lows and settling into more respectable ranges. If the first 11 games were a “D”, he’s probably been at a “C+” the last 10.
Defensively, Russell continues to be a negative, even taking into consideration lower expectations. That being said, his only other year where he was better defensively in his career (according to DBPM) was his all-star season in Brooklyn.
Looking forward, I’ll be replacing his defensive box plus/minus with turnovers per game for quarter two. Turnovers are becoming a huge part of this starting unit’s identity, so he’s one of three players where I’ll be tracking that stat over the next 20 games.
Anthony Edwards 1st Quarter Grade: 77% (C+)
Mid-Quarter Check-in: 72% (C-)
“3-pointers are going to come and go, but getting to the rim and drawing fouls will last forever”. That is going to continue to be my mantra for grading Edwards this season. When Ant is mixing in aggressive drives to the basket with his outside shooting, it makes the offense that much more dynamic. Since the mid-quarter look in, Edwards has been driving and getting to the free throw line a lot more, averaging an extra trip to the line each game. The problem: He’s shooting 73% from the line, a pretty big drop off from his first two years.
On the defensive side of the ball, his off-ball engagement continues to be an issue - even by his own estimation. Stocks show engagement as a stat, and placing him at this quarter-end in the low “C” range seems pretty fair to me.
Looking forward, I’ll be replacing his FG% from 0-3ft with turnovers per game, just like Russell. Ant is currently 19th in the league in TOs per game, averaging 3.2 a game. For the Timberwolves to grow as an offense, Edwards needs to be more careful with the ball.
Jaden McDaniels First Quarter Grade: 73% (C)
Mid-Quarter Check-in: 65% (D)
McDaniels had the biggest jump up from the mid-quarter check-in to where we are now. Originally I was just tracking Jaden’s corner 3s thinking that would be a good majority of his outside shooting (last year, just under 50% of his 3pt attempts were from the corner), but he has been shooting from a variety of places around the arc. With that in mind, I’ve broadened his 3pt stat to include all shots, which is more reflective of his solid outside shooting season thus far.
Defensively, McDaniels’ advanced stats haven’t been great. Part of that may have to do with him guarding the other team’s best perimeter player every night. Digging a bit more into his defensive activity, he is 15th in the league in pass deflections and 27th in shots contested. The only other players in the top 30 for both categories are Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokić and Draymond Green. If Jaden can get his fouling under control, the seed of a DPOY caliber player is ready to bloom.
Going forward, I’ll replace McDaniels’ defensive box +- with a combo of pass deflections and contested shots, something I think will be a better indicator of his role defensively.
Karl-Anthony Towns First Quarter Grade: 73% (C)
Mid-Quarter Check-in: 82% (B-)
KAT is our first starter to have a drop in his grade since the mid-quarter - mainly because Towns’ play just isn’t leading to winning. While he’s passing the ball more, he’s also turning it over 3.1 times per game, top 25 in the league. His fouling issues have resurfaced over the last handful of games - he’s currently averaging a career high of 3.9 fouls per game. He’s shooting a career low from the 3-point line at just under 33%.
Karl remains the same incredibly gifted and flawed player that we have seen in previous seasons. For the team to take the step we all want, he’s got to improve his flaws - foul less, turn the ball over less, and shoot like you are the best shooting big man in the league.
Going forward, I’ll be tracking KAT’s turnover numbers, replacing the win share percentage. I’ll also change out his 3-point attempts for 3-point percentage as his poor shooting has a chance to become a much bigger story if it continues.
Injury Update: With the news today that Karl is going to miss the next 4-6 weeks, that means that the Wolves will be going most (if not all) of the next quarter of the season without him.
Rudy Gobert First Quarter Grade: 69% (D+)
Mid-Quarter Check-in: 78% (C+)
Gobert’s tough quarter one grade may be more of an indictment on my grading system than anything, but I chose a team-based stat to lead the way based on the magnitude of the trade. We hoped Gobert would turn the Wolves into an elite defense, but they have a worse rating than last year.
This of course is not Rudy’s fault alone, but his blocks (career low outside of his rookie year) and advanced defensive numbers are bad - according to his DBPM, he’s a negative defensive player for the first time in his career. Gobert has not been the worst player in the starting lineup, but this grade is an amalgamation of both his role and team expectations, fair or not.
Going forward, I will move off the team’s overall defensive rating for Rudy, and add opponent FG% at the rim to his blocks-per-game category to hopefully give a better picture of his impact defensively. This should be more fair to Gobert - taking the weight of the trade off his back and just looking at the player that he is.
The Summary So Far
If you average out all the “grades” of the starters here, you’ll finish with a 72.4%, a “C-” for their first quarter of the season effort. That feels about right.
From a housekeeping standpoint, quarter 2 “grades” will start fresh, meaning I’ll just track the stats from Wednesday’s game against Memphis to the midpoint of the season. This team needs a little bit of a hard-reset after the uninspiring start. While the statistics of quarter two will be fresh, the aimlessness of quarter one is now part of the season story.
May the next twenty games bring this team some direction.
Check back later this week for the bench grade and overall team grade!