Second week in the books for Minnesota Timberwolvesand this unfortunately followed the performances we experienced in the first week.
The Timberwolves started the week with a young man running off the floor San Antonio Spurs team. They continued this lack of brilliant play with hard-fought wins over the depleted Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers before bowing out for the week with another unforgivable loss to a sorely lacking Spurs side.
The Timberwolves are currently 4-3, which isn’t too bad when you look at the standings and see Memphis Grizzlies at 4-2, Art Dallas Mavericks on 3-3 st Golden State Warriors on 3-4, and art Los Angeles Clippers on 2-4. As long as you don’t actually watch the games and know anything about the teams Minnesota has played, a 4-3 start might be considered acceptable by comparison. Unfortunately, I’ve watched all of those games and a 4-3 record seems extremely lucky given the state of the game.
Here are the highlights from week two:
The woes of the third quarter continue
So far this season, the Timberwolves have outscored their opponents in just one third quarter, and against the Lakers it was just three times. The third quarter is a great display of the team’s ability to adjust, maintain momentum and put opponents away. The Warriors were infamous during their run for completely destroying teams in the third quarter. Instead of showing their determination to climb into the ranks of Western Conference contenders, Minnesota looked like a team full of rookies.
After seven games, the Wolves have a net rating of -26.6 per in the third quarter NBA statistics. For some reason, it’s not even the worst in the league Brooklyn Nets rank 30thousand at minus-31.6. It’s obviously still very early and these numbers won’t stay this awful all season, at least I hope they won’t, but it’s a clear sign that the Timberwolves continue to fall short on a nightly basis. By comparison, the worst net rating in the third quarter of last season was -9.7. Their offensive rating of 92.9 ranks 29ththousand (ahead of the Lakers) and their defensive rating of 119.6 ranks 23rdrd. Those numbers are disgustingly bad, as no team had an offensive rating below 100 in any quarter last season (the overall worst offensive rating was Oklahoma City Thunderat 103.8).
This ongoing trend has been disappointing as Chris Finch’s side have, for the most part, started and finished games well. These are just two middle blocks that have turned into a dump. Their first quarter net rating of 19.9 ranks fifth, their second quarter net rating of -4.8 ranks 19ththousandand their fourth quarter net rating of 27.4 ranks first.
This is a somewhat rudimentary way of comparing the Timberwolves’ numbers, so don’t take it as gospel, just as a suggestion. Above are some additional numbers for the Wolves for each quarter compared to the rest of the overall league numbers, without segmenting by quarter. Green will be ranked 1-10, yellow 11-20, and red 21-30.
As you can see, the second and third quarters were tough. As the game progresses, the ball moves less, the turnovers increase, and the effort on the boards decreases. The Timberwolves are no longer a young team. They are a team that is doing everything to make these next couple of years their window. They have veteran talent throughout the lineup, and yet they still have the bad habits of inexperienced kids.
Law and non-enforcement
There are some words in sports that will cut to the core, and they should not be thrown around lightly. Words like bland, lazy, and washed up fall into this category. In no other sector do these words evoke an extraordinary mood, but in sports they touch a little deeper. I use this preface so you know I’m not just throwing out the “under the title” label. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other words that best describe the current state of this team.
The Timberwolves enter every game as a team that has read way too much into itself in the offseason. They’ve seen feedback about how they should win a ton of regular season games. They saw an “easy” start to their schedule against teams that will inevitably tank. They took it all for granted and just assumed these teams would roll over for them. Oh!
Instead of cashing in on a big lead in the first quarter, they’re giving up everything that led up to it. They figure that after one strong quarter, a team full of other pros will just write it off as a loss.
A very grounded, no-nonsense approach from Wolves tonight.
Rough 3-point shooting night or not, there are no excuses for a losing Spurs team against Wassell, Sochan and Richardson.
Minnesota has the attitude of a team that seems content to coast to a .500 playoff season
— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) October 31, 2022
This team has a ton of talent on their roster, but the Wolves aren’t playing that way. Instead of using their size and athleticism to dominate the glass, they turn and watch shots as their opponents get into better rebounding position. Their transition defense is still terrible as they are too busy admiring their layup or complaining about not getting the call. Refusing to stop in transition in defense after coming out was a common occurrence. This is an event that should never happen in a game, and yet we keep seeing it happen multiple times per game.
From a numbers and performance standpoint, the Timberwolves could improve if their shots start falling more and they stop turning it over so often. However, these challenges are just as much mental obstacles. That sense of entitlement the Timberwolves have brought into the season is their biggest obstacle. Once they understand that shots aren’t just going to be hit, that the other team isn’t just going to roll over, and that they actually have to fight for rebounds, we’re going to see this team start moving in the right direction. But until then, I’m afraid we’re in for a lot more performances that will make us question what the hell we just watched.
Do they make the leap?
Well, that was a bummer of a resume, so let’s end on something brighter. So, uh, Jaden McDaniels and Jaylen Nowell are pretty good, huh? Both young players have improved significantly year-to-year for the Timberwolves, so their emergence this year shouldn’t come as a surprise to fans. For everyone else, though, I think they’re in for a rude awakening.
Let’s start with Jaylen Nowell, who is on track to get paid next summer. In seven games, Nowell is averaging 12.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 41/27/75 shooting in 19.9 minutes. For comparison, let’s extrapolate those numbers to 36 minutes, where he’s averaging 23 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.3 steals. He was a walking bucket that could be compared to some of the league’s best combo/defenders.
As a general rule, I hate taking role player numbers and extrapolating them to 100 possessions, 36 minutes, or whatever form of measurement you prefer. This is because some players thrive in more limited minutes, while others take a while to get started. Stat translation is not linear as each player plays their minutes/roles differently. The reason I present this extrapolation is to compare where Nowell is right now to where Jordan Poole and Tyler Herra finished last season. Both of those players received new contracts before the season and play similar roles to Nowell.
Last season, Poole averaged (per 36) 22.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 0.9 steals on 45/36/93 shooting. Era averaged 22.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 0.7 steals on 45/40/87 shooting. Poole just signed a four-year, $128 million contract, while Herro signed a four-year, $120 million contract. If Nowell keeps this up all season, he’ll be paid well — potentially more than the $60 million, four-year maximum he can sign with the Wolves.
When the national media consistently mocked Minnesota for McDaniels being untouchable in the Gobert trade, it really opened my eyes to how few people outside of Timberwolves fans actually watched him play. He’s really damn good.
During the playoffs last season, we saw McDaniels’ game take a step forward. He was a very good outside shooter and started to attack more off the dribble. This season, McDaniels’ ability to attack close plays, drive passes and finish float plays has been truly impressive. This is a vital skill that he must continue to develop. Towns, Edwards and D’Angelo Russell will get the bulk of the usage, relegating McDaniels to an almost off-the-ball role. Now that McDaniels is more comfortable and consistently creating rebounds, he can really unbalance defenses with different attacks when they close or rotate.
As a defender, there is nothing new here. He continues to be one of the most versatile and effective defenders in the league. He still draws too many fouls, but his foul rate has dropped from 4.9% last season to 4.1% this season. More impressive, however, is that his 2.0% steal rate ranks 84ththousand percentile, and his 2.6% block rate ranks 97ththousand percentile, trans Glass cleaning. McDaniels is less defensive with his hands and consistently makes brilliant spins without the ball.