The Minnesota Timberwolves have many issues right now, but they all stem from one big problem: chemistry.
Passes are off the mark, player movement is not in sync with ball movement and there’s a collective lack of energy and communication in transition offense and defense. All of that snowballs really, really fast in the NBA. Teams are too athletic and too talented to not capitalize on strings of lackluster possessions like the Wolves have put on the hardwood over the last few games.
It would be much more comforting to sit here and say that Minnesota is just in a 3-point shooting slump (27th in the league at 32.7%, per NBA Stats) or that the sudden onset of injuries to arguably the most impactful players on the team has taken the wind from the sails of “the deepest bench in the NBA”. Neither of those propositions is false.
But things are much worse than that below the surface. Only two teams in the NBA have spent more time this season trailing by 20 or more points than Minnesota: San Antonio and Charlotte, a duo combining for a 12-30 record. The Wolves have been on the wrong side of garbage-time margins for 7.6% of all minutes this season and somehow are 10-11. You could look at that two ways. Managing to win half of your games with a stat like that on your back is impressive; it’s also not sustainable.
So what do we expect to change in the short term with this team?
Roster shakeup from an external source doesn’t seem to be high on the priority list at the moment for President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly or Head Coach Chris Finch. The head man himself might be in for a philosophy change on both ends of the court based on what we’ve seen from the starting lineup specifically, but I wouldn’t bet on that yet.
Furthermore, key absences have stacked up fast. Jaden McDaniels is the best defender on the team and has missed two games fighting illness over the last week. Taurean Prince’s shooting shoulder was dislocated, a huge hit to the team’s shooting beyond the arc and general wherewithal on the court. And the MVP of the second unit that has played so well all season, Jordan McLaughlin, has missed six games with various nicks. Not to mention Kyle Anderson’s back spasms make him a possible question mark of availability day-to-day.
None of those players I just listed are the ones taken with number one or two overall draft picks or traded for in exchange for costly draft capital hauls.
Rudy Gobert, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards have all disappeared or disappointed for multiple-game stretches in this bleak first quarter of 2022-23. Karl-Anthony Towns seems to have adjusted to Gobert’s adjacent silhouette best so far, but his shooting has been in a slump leading into what we can expect to be a lengthy recovery from a severe right calf strain. It’s hard to believe none of these four have explicitly been labeled X-factors to the Wolves success this season; we’re more often found to be praising the aforementioned role players.
That’s an issue hopefully preparing to resolve itself with McLaughlin, McDaniels and Prince being closer to a return than they were a week ago, but it’s not going to bring the Wolves to their ceiling as a high-level Western Conference contender.
This falls on the stars, politically or otherwise, to be thermostats of the locker room and the timeout huddles.
With Towns sidelined, maybe it’s Edwards’ time to pull out all the stops and be the force he’s flashed in mere moments. Or maybe Gobert’s freed-up paint will give him the confidence needed to make it his domain once again. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Russell continue his upward-trending efforts by doubling down on defensive intensity and smart shot-making, either.
However it shakes out, Minnesota can’t be desperately waiting for a combined annual $16 million in contracts to keep their heads above water. The tone in the present needs to be set by the players they’ve cemented as their past and their future.