On Wednesday, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ starters got a peek at their second quarter grades midway through the quarter; today is the bench’s turn. First, a check-in on the team’s estimated plus/minus numbers and how they are trending after the first quarter of the season:
The top three risers:
- Anthony Edwards (1.0)
- Mike Conley (0.8)
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker (0.4)
The bottom three fallers:
- Rudy Gobert (-1.2)
- Karl-Anthony Towns (-0.8)
- Jaden McDaniels (-0.5)
Keeping the big picture in mind, let’s switch up the order a bit and take a quick look at the current quarter grade for the team.
Minnesota Timberwolves: 76% (C)
At now 7-5 through this twelve-game stretch of the second quarter, the Timberwolves are facing their first real test of adversity - something that both the players and coaches were articulating after Wednesday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Ant: “We suck right now.”— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) January 4, 2024
Says they just need to come together and figure things out. He’s confident because of how they have played all season long.
“We know what we can be.”
Saying that the team sucks right now may be a little harsh, but do you know what is fair? The team has been average. Through this twelve game stretch, they are 15th in net rating, right smack dab in the middle of the league.
If this is truly a championship-aspiring basketball team, do you know what is a good thing to have in January? Adversity. They are learning that any team in the league is ready to knock you off your first place perch if you aren’t aren't ready every game to do the little things and play unselfish, team-first basketball. It’s very possible that we haven’t hit the lowest point yet of this January stretch, but these are lessons far better learned in January than in April.
Let’s get to the player grades.
A few brief reminders:
- Small sample size alert! A check-in is, by nature, a much smaller sample size. These are not final grades but just a chance to see where a player is tracking halfway through a quarter.
- These grades are roles-based, so the stats I’m looking at for each player are different.
- Roles on the team can change as the roster and playing time changes—I will alter or add statistical categories throughout the season as needed.
- The below stats are from the twelve games between 12-11-23 and 1-3-24, the 106-117 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Kyle Anderson: 79% (C+)
The “elephant in the room” of Kyle Anderson’s shooting struggle is now juggling and doing cartwheels. Anderson’s shooting ineptitude is now part of every team’s scouting report, and it is severely affecting his offensive effectiveness as teams are more able to pack the paint. That is leading to a bit of an increase in turnovers for him and his teammates.
Defensively, Slow-Mo has been awesome. He is a Swiss army knife defender - able to guard all sorts of players effectively using his unique blend of smarts and physicality. The question becomes: Does his defensive effectiveness offset his offensive limitations? The estimated plus/minus numbers say no - he’s a 32nd and 33rd percentile player in overall plus/minus and estimated wins added.
Because of last season, I am more optimistic than what those numbers point to (he was an estimated plus/minus darling last season) but thus far the story of Anderson’s season has been the shooting struggles.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker: 89% (B+)
Outside of Conley, is there another player on the roster that you can rely on night-to-night? He’ll do his defensive homework, give 100% effort, and on the best nights, knock down a pair of threes. Even with his shooting variance, NAW has been so impactful on the defensive end that he’s been one of the team’s five best players this season with an estimated wins added of 1.6 (ranks behind the starters minus McDaniels).
If NAW continues to shoot at the “green” pace above, he’ll be flirting with being a 20+ mpg player come playoff time.
Naz Reid: 78% (C+)
On the Dunks After Dusk podcast, I described Naz Reid as the “meat thermometer” for the team. Meaning, there is a really decent chance that if you look at Naz Reid’s statline after a game, it’ll tell you how the game went.
In wins during this 12-game stretch, Reid is averaging 14.6 points on 54.7/48.7 shooting splits and is a +8.6 in plus/minus. In losses, Naz is scoring 9.2 points on 42.9/40 shooting splits and is a -7.6 in plus/minus.
Every player’s splits tend to be worse in losses, but these numbers are pretty drastic and tend to be indicative of offensive flow and bench production/scoring. The Naz Reid experience has been a bit of a roller coaster this season, but one thing is for sure; when his stats are up, this Timberwolves team is hard to beat.
Troy Brown Jr.: 74% (C)
Troy Brown Jr. has seen a bit of a drop-off in his minutes as of late, but his skill profile still matches up with team needs: Effective outside shooting and great rebounder for his position.
What seems to be more visibly lacking (and is probably a reason for the loss in playing time) is this: He’s easily the worst defender on the team according to estimated plus/minus.
In a team that is built around a defensive identity, it will be hard to maintain a consistent role if his defense doesn’t improve.
Jordan McLaughlin: 83% (B)
Extremely small sample size alert! But with Jordan McLaughlin’s play during his minutes in this stretch, it is clear he is carving out a role as the 9th man.
The positives: An elite decision-maker with the ball on a team that has had some massive turnover struggles. He pushes pace and is an injection of energy.
The negatives: He’s an undersized defender and his outside shooting still leaves a lot to be desired.
The positives of J-Mac’s play outweigh the negatives in a team this desperate for an offensive jump start.
Shake Milton: INC
We have too little to go on with mostly garbage time minutes to give a real check-in, but I did just want to point out that all of Milton’s tracking stats have improved. There is still a chance he can find his role on this team and be a positive player; he’ll just need to wait for that second chance.
Check back in a couple weeks at the midway point of the season for first semester grades! And as always, if you are looking for some more Timberwolves content, check out the Dunks After Dusk podcast on both Apple and Spotify. We hop on the mics immediately after each game and offer a post game breakdown full of game awards.