After the sky appeared to be falling at the beginning of the season in Minnesota Timberwolves land, a five-game win streak swung the pendulum sky in the opposite direction, before it fell once again. Now, I think we’re finally reaching a more stable level.
The Timberwolves might be okay!
Heading into a hard-fought loss against the Portland Trail Blazers that came down to a tough, game-sealing shot by Jerami Grant, the Wolves had been 6-4 in their last 10, and now sit at 5-5 over the same span.
What a shot by Jerami Grant. Only so much you can do if you're the defense pic.twitter.com/UNE6Cwo9sG— Itamar (@Itamar_17_10) December 11, 2022
There’s incremental improvement; and they have a good shot at besting their early season mark of 13-15 in their first 28 from last season.
Wolves 6-4 in last 10. People: “This team is an utter trash bin disaster.”— Seth Kaplan (@Seth_Kaplan) December 11, 2022
Wild 6-4 in last 10. People: “They’re playing really nice hockey right now.”
The First Nowell?
It may be me, others might agree, but I think Jaylen Nowell has been my most frustrating player so far this year. Mainly because you see what he can be capable of so often, only for him to disappear or fail to string that caliber of game together consistently. And that’s been the issue since he first got meaningful clock for the team.
He often takes the offense out of rhythm.
I wrote before the season in my breakout players piece about how he could potentially be a 2017-18 Jamal Crawford that passes a little more and doesn’t take the offense out of rhythm. I think that ship has mostly sailed. Nowell is a scorer, but sometimes to a fault. I would love to see him be a bit more of a catalyst for the ball movement this team so desperately needs when he’s in.
As a two-man pairing with Jordan McLaughlin this season, the Nowell-JMac duo has a positive net rating of 11.6 (169 minutes).
With Nowell on the floor and McLaughlin off, it drops to a -5.6. With Nowell on the floor, others have to be involved. McLaughlin can make that happen, but it doesn’t swing that way during the Jaylen Nowell show.
His FG% from five feet and in has gone down from 60% last year to 55% this year, and the jump that Chris Finch made public in hoping that he improves his playmaking has not happened. In fact, his assist number from last season has stayed nearly the same (2.1 to 2.2), and that’s with the potential for an increase in workload.
His true shooting percentage on the year is 52%, below league average.
He continues to be a prolific mid-range scorer, shooting nearly 58% from that area, but he continues to get inconsistent run in the Wolves rotation. In the last 10 games, he’s had four in which he’s played less than 20 minutes, and four in which he’s shot worse than 40% from the field.
When he’s rolling, he’s incredibly smooth.
Filthy cross and layup from Jaylen Nowell pic.twitter.com/BSvLK6HdZ9— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) December 11, 2022
But right now, the stretches in which he comes to a rolling stop are outweighing those times he’s in a groove.
On top of it all he’s in a contract year which has been mentioned plenty. After a strong start to the season, some feared his play would price the Wolves out of a contract extension, whether that comes during the season or once Nowell reaches free agency. However, that notion is firmly in jeopardy, barring a hot finish to the season.
With the deadline looming in two months, I think the question the Wolves need to ask is...
Do we continue to roll with someone who can carry offense inconsistently, OR should we use his raw ability and young age to bring someone in who tends to be a little more consistent shooting the basketball (for a team that already tends to be up and down)?
Currently, I would lean towards the latter. Contributing veterans have had a history of working wonders on this team in the last couple of years (Taurean Prince, Patrick Beverley). This team does not lack youth, even without Nowell.
The Bryn Forbes experience has failed. Nowell has struggled beyond the arc (31% this season). When Prince is unavailable, consistent three point shooting, especially off the bench, is lacking.
Time will tell if the front office agrees.
The KAT Slander is Insane.
This idea that the Wolves are better without Karl-Anthony Towns is batshit crazy.
It seems people are always trying to figure out what’s wrong with the team as opposed to what’s right. When Towns was healthy, Rudy Gobert was the issue. Now that he’s out and chemistry is better with Gobert alongside everyone else in the lineup, Towns is the scapegoat for an early season lull.
Wait, let me get this straight: when Gobert is the only big man in the Wolves starting lineup, he’s developing chemistry more quickly with an injury-shortened rotation? And, as a result, the team looks more connected? No. Way.
It was never going to be seamless from the jump. Especially with a preseason in which key cogs in the Wolves’ split rotation barely played together.
My one concession is that the team’s body language, particularly towards the officials, is slightly improved. The transition defense still isn’t where it needs to be (they still sit at 26th in the league, with 23.5 points allowed in transition per game), but less of the time it’s because players are arguing with the referees, a tone Towns sets as a leader.
Earlier in the season, the guards relied on the fact that two big men were out on the floor in order to rebound the basketball. Because of that, way too many rebounds were going to opposing guards. Over the last 5 games, the Wolves are 11th in the league in contested rebound percentage (per NBA.com).
Both “issues” (working with officials, proactive rebounding) I think can be mitigated by the better habits built without him. Trying to build the foundation with everyone at the same time didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Perhaps re-acclimation to a group that has found success could be the ticket to piling wins up with everyone.
The preface: Great news. It looked worse.— Andrew Carlson (@andrew_carlson2) November 29, 2022
The bad: They’ll need to be rolling by the time Towns gets back in January. There won’t be much margin for error.
Glass half-full: concentrated time for Gobert to further assimilate. Things looked comfortable in the 2nd half yesterday. https://t.co/lwGsf89WWh
But no, a team is not better off without an all-NBA player. Stop it.