On Tuesday, I wrote about first quarter grades for the Timberwolves starters. The overall impression? Very below average with an average grade of 72%, or a “C-”. The story of the starting unit so far is that they’ve lacked identity, leading to aimless, and at times frustrating, play.
Did our bench players fare any better? Did they play well enough to save the team grade as a whole? Let’s find out.
Kyle Anderson First Quarter Grade: 76% (C)
Mid Quarter Check-in: 89% (B+)
Slow-Mo is a lot like duct tape. He’s usually the first sub off the bench and can come in for a variety of players based on foul trouble, matchups, stagnant offense, etc… He comes in and helps plug holes.
As you can see from the two advanced stats above, the team has had too many holes to plug to see his value as a glue player. Duct tape is only useful when there’s a mostly-functioning duct to begin with. Specifically, the Wolves could use a little more Slow-Mo fixer in rebounding - during his time in Memphis he averaged over 5 per game, while currently he is just grabbing 3.8 for Minnesota.
Jaylen Nowell First Quarter Grade: 79% (C+)
Mid-Quarter Grade: 79% (C+)
Microwave Sixth Man scorer is always going to be a tough role to track via stats. Ideally, Nowell develops into a consistent 15 point per game scorer who offers you the same thing every night. Realistically, that just is not the norm for this role on the bench across the NBA. Thinking of Jordan Clarkson in his Utah days, or the great Jamal Crawford in league history, the Sixth Man role is one of boom and bust.
Going forward, I’m going to track his “boom” games as its own separate category with his PPG. To me, a boom game means scoring 18+ points, something he has done 3 times so far this season. Using Clarkson’s season last year in Utah as a reference point, I’m going to set a “boom” game expectation of 1-in-4 as an “A” marker.
Taurean Prince First Quarter Grade: 73% (C)
Mid-Quarter Check-in: 84% (B)
You could almost copy and paste Anderson’s write up down here. Prince’s value on the court is as a glue guy to keep everyone organized and make the right play. This team just has too many holes right now for him to thrive. Ironically, he and Slow-Mo are the two leaders in 3-point percentage, but if that continues to be the case by season’s end, this team will be in a lot of trouble.
Special shout-out to Taurean for being one of the vets who seems to take an off-the-court leadership role. Stories of him calling out players in the film room as a voice that everyone respects will continue to be essential to this team turning it around.
Jordan McLaughlin First Quarter Grade: 94% (A)
Mid-Quarter Check-In: 90% (A-)
If there is anyone on the team that deserves an “A” right now, it’s J-Mac. Everything that needs to be said about him was said here, but needless to say, I don’t think it is a coincidence that some of the team’s most aimless moments have come with him (and Prince) off the floor.
Going forward, I’m going to try and find a way to highlight McLaughlin’s AST ratio - a stat that correlates basketball actions and how frequently they assist. J-Mac is currently 2nd in the league only behind Chris Paul, something that seems pretty notable.
Naz Reid First Quarter Grade: 75% (C)
Mid-Quarter Check-in: 86% (B)
Well, stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Naz’s season has just been pretty meh by his standards, though the biggest reason for a drop in his overall numbers is due more to his lack of minutes. Breaking his stats down into per 36, you see that Reid is basically the same player as last year: High scoring, high fouling (6.3 per 36!), and quick decision making.
Over the next couple of weeks, Reid is going to get a chance to step back into the backup center role, a spot he’s seemingly more comfortable with. With that in mind, I’ll add a scoring statistic to what I’m tracking, as he’ll need to step in and help fill some of the KAT absence.
Bryn Forbes First Quarter Grade: 55% (F)
Mid-Quarter Check-in: 55% (F)
He’s a shooter who isn’t shooting well, and were it not for injuries, he’d probably be completely out of the rotation. From my eye, he’s a little too undersized to keep utilizing if he’s not making shots, but the team is going to continue to be desperate for some consistent outside shooting.
Austin Rivers First Quarter Grade: D (65%)
Mid-quarter Check-in: 55% (F)
Due to injuries, Rivers has seen a recent jump in playing time which has helped move him out of the failing category. If his role was meant to be a defensive stopper, it’s hard to quantify that in statistics. Eye-test wise, I saw a bit of it during the Golden State game as he was maybe the only guy in the starting lineup working his tail off trying to make life at least somewhat difficult for Steph Curry (albeit ultimately not that successfully).
With the increased playing time, River’s role as a veteran spokesperson for the team does seem to be coming more to light. There isn’t any clear way to quantify that in what I’m tracking, but it is an important part of what he is doing.
Minnesota Timberwolves First Quarter Grade: 50% (F)
Mid-Quarter Check-in: 59% (F)
The bench lineup finishes with an average grade of 74%. Add that to the 72% of the starters and you may be wondering why this team is straight-up failing.
The answer is that the Wolves are so much less than the sum of their already-underperforming parts. 50% feels like an apt grade because it matches the coin-flip chance that they are going to show up as a team, ready to play on a given night.
In my season preview article, I wrote that this team’s final grade is going to be all about the postseason. And that remains true! The problem is, the West is as deep and talented as maybe anytime in league history, and 1/4th of the way through the season, some contenders are out of the playoff picture.
It feels pretty unbelievable to say, but at this point, even the play-in game is not a certainty.