After a 3-1 start, the Minnesota Timberwolves have lost four-straight games. The jubilation that many fans felt to start the season was swiftly replaced with a familiar emptiness. But worry not, folks! The season is young. Even if the Wolves are 3-5, there is plenty to cling to. Malik Beasley has finally found his stroke after starting the year 4/19 from beyond the arc. Beas has knocked down the 3-ball at a 41% clip the last four games. The Timberwolves are leading the league in turnover percentage. And, of course, Anthony Edwards is awesome.
But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I only focused on what was going right for the Timberwolves. Anyone who listens to the CnD NBA Show knows that I’m a serious journalist, and serious journalists ask the hard questions. Last week, I wrote about the Timberwolves’ defense and the flaws with their shot profile. This week I’m taking a look at the Wolves’ 27th-ranked offense.
It’s been a struggle on the offensive end, specifically in the halfcourt. The Wolves are generating only 82.6 points in their halfcourt sets, which ranks 28th in the league. For a team that many thought was bursting with offensive talent, this is not the start to the season that I imagined.
The biggest issue to point out is Minnesota’s shooting struggles to start the season. They are shooting 32.6% from beyond the arc. But as Phil Ford wrote, their shooting woes will get better. Early in the season, field goal percentage, specifically 3-point percentage, is wildly non-predictive for the rest of the season. We can expect the Timberwolves’ players to creep toward their career averages as the season progresses. We’ve got years of data that tell us about how well they shoot the ball for most of these players. We have eight games of data for this current Timberwolves team.
The more predictive issues that will be addressed this season are the types of shots that the players are taking. Currently, the Wolves are leading the league in 3-point attempts, taking 44 per game. Specifically, 77% of those 3-point shots are coming above the break. The Wolves are repeatedly being forced into hard shots because they cannot put pressure on the rim.
Anthony Edwards had an illuminating quote after the Los Angeles Clippers game on Friday.
“If I ain’t going, all the coaches looking at me like ‘go to the rim,’ and I’m like ‘I’m the only one going to the rim.’”
So, I looked at the numbers, and he’s not wrong. Using Cleaning the Glass, Edwards takes 38% of his shots at the rim, leading all Timberwolves perimeter players who have taken at least 30 shots this season. If the Wolves cannot put pressure on the rim, opposing defenses can focus on forcing difficult shots, keeping the Wolves’ offense from flourishing.
Edwards also mentioned on Friday that it’s hard for the Wolves to win without D’Angelo Russell. DLo has a lot of valuable offensive skills. His 3-point bombing can help act as a release valve for Karl-Anthony Towns when he’s doubled. However, Russell is far from a solution to the Wolves’ rim problems. He’s got a strong handle and the ability to break down a defense using his dribble, but his lack of speed and explosiveness has limited him from attacking the rim throughout his career.
Are the Wolves doomed to being overly reliant on jump shooting to win games? Will the offense struggle the whole season? CAN BEN SIMMONS FIX THE WOLVES RIM PROBLEMS? I don’t know. However, I know that some players on the roster can help take some pressure off Ant.
First, Josh Okogie. He loves to attack the rim. Although he struggles to shoot the ball, as we’ve seen this season, jump shooting is not the end-all-be-all of efficient offense. Throughout his career, he’s been in the 90th percentile in shots at the rim and free throw rate. He’s also a quality rebounder, which is an area where the Wolves are also struggling.
Honestly, I never thought I’d say this, but maybe it’s time for some Jake Layman minutes. Layman’s time with the Wolves has been underwhelming, but I think he can help. Now, he certainly won’t be some magic key that fully unlocks the Wolves’ offense, but sometimes all you need to do is grease the wheels to get things going.
Layman may be the best cutter on the team, and when he gets the ball in motion, boy, can he throw it down. He won’t be a consistent answer on the offensive end, but with so much defensive attention on Edwards, Towns, and Russell, having a low-usage slasher on the floor can help put pressure on opposing defenses.