Could The Minnesota Timberwolves Have A Shot At Making The Playoffs?
Oct 30, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) passes the ball to forward Robert Covington (33) during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
After tough losses to the mighty Milwaukee Bucks and the Memphis Grizzlies, the Minnesota Timberwolves can take a more level-minded look at their performance two weeks into the regular season. This is also a good time for the team to examine the metrics and fix what needs fixing if they want to make a strong playoff run.
Before the Monday night loss at home against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Minnesota Timberwolves and their fans were feeling pretty good about themselves. And rightfully so, as they were sitting at second in the Western Conference behind the Los Angeles Lakers with a 4-1 record. Their only loss came courtesy of the excellent Philadelphia 76ers, one game after a win against the then-undefeated Miami Heat. Following Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns’ fight and their subsequent two-game suspensions, the Timberwolves managed to register an impressive 131-109 road victory over the Washington Wizards.
The Timberwolves certainly caught commentators and analysts who were “sleeping on them” off guard, but was this red-hot start a fluke? Let’s see what the numbers say.
First, the good. There is a lot of it, and no, those wins were not flukes. The Timberwolves are currently fifth in scoring with 116.7 points per game. They owe it in great part to Towns’ MVP-contending performance, as he is averaging a double-double with 26.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.
Shooting guard Andrew Wiggins is the team’s second-best scorer with a 22.4 PPG average. He is shooting 44.7 percent from the field, including 34 percent from three (after an 0-for-13 start). More importantly, he has been rather clutch at the end of games. His field goal percentage surges to 62.5 percent and 50 percent from beyond the arc in the last five minutes, plus he tallies an impressive 6.5 points.
On the other end of the court, the new Timberwolves members brought in for their defensive acumen are indeed having an impact, as the Wolves rank second in the NBA in steals per game with 10.7.
The improved Wolves’ defense ranks 10th in blocks but 21st in rebounds with 5.4 blocks and 44.5 boards per game. The main reason behind the rebounding deficiency is Towns, who takes the most three-point shots, leaving a void in the paint every time he does. The team leader in rebounds indeed is Towns (11.8), followed by Robert Covington (5.1), Josh Okogie 4.9, Jordan Bell (4.8), Wiggins (4.7) and Noah Vonleh (4.1).
The leaders in steals are Towns (2), Shabazz Napier (1.5), Josh Okogie (1.4), Jeff Teague (1.3) and Treveon Graham (1.1). While those metrics indicate a renewed commitment to defense, they fall short of guaranteeing the team a spot in the playoffs. In terms of turnovers (16.7) and personal fouls (21.3), the Timberwolves rank 19th-best and ninth-worst in the league, respectively. Though some of this could be attributed to the roster being young and needing more time playing together, seven new players joined the team this summer, and they do show a lack of focus that coaches will need to address soon.
Finally, several areas in the Wolves’ game are in need of immediate attention. The Wolves are 26th in points allowed (118.7) thanks to an allowed field goal percentage of 48.1 (third-worst). The Wolves’ opponents also shoot the three-ball at a rate of 40.3 percent (highest in NBA), making 12.7 of them per game. That might work for the Houston Rockets, but the Timberwolves’ offense can’t make up for it, as they only convert on 43.8 percent of their field goal attempts (22nd best) and 32.6 percent from deep (26th best).
In a league where teams are increasingly inclined to shoot from beyond the three-point line, the Wolves better come up with a plan sooner than later. That plan could involve trading for a three-point ace such as D’Angelo Russell, as rumors continue to circulate regarding the team’s interest in him, or simply stopping the roster’s worst offenders from attempting threes. Their names are Noah Vonleh (12.5 percent), Shabazz Napier (22.6), Treveon Graham (23.8 percent), Josh Okogie and Gorgui Dieng (25 percent each).
Exactly a year removed from the Jimmy Butler debacle, the Minnesota Timberwolves are once again a solid team. Young, energetic, well-rounded, and enjoying the best defense it has had in many years, the team can legitimately look to secure a playoff spot at the end of this season. However, achieving this will require attaining a new level of focus. Think personal fouls and turnovers, and finding a way to ameliorate the three-point issues experienced on both ends of the floor.
The ball, as the saying goes, is in the Timberwolves’ hands.