Some things never seem to change. We are only a handful of games into the season, and it is hard to gauge how good the Minnesota Timberwolves truly are. As usual, it’s difficult to tell how good a team will be based on the circumstances of the returning players, new additions, and what occurred last season. They haven’t developed chemistry, and there is still a lot to iron out regarding roles.
Last year was a roller coaster. Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell got injured, Malik Beasley had legal issues, and Anthony Edwards took half a season to adjust to the NBA. But the Wolves look like they’re headed in the right direction. Out are Juancho Hernangómez and Jarrett Culver. In is Patrick Beverley. However, it’s still too early to tell.
Minnesota’s first six games have come under strange circumstances. They played their season opener against the Houston Rockets, who traded James Harden for Victor Oladipo, Kelly Olynyk, and picks last year. Houston came into the season with Christian Wood, rookie Jalen Green and Cleveland Cavaliers outcast Kevin Porter Jr. as their primary scoring options. They are a team that’s rebuilding and prioritizing their youth. They’re expected to play poor defense and lose a lot. They’re not a complete team, just a roster full of potential talent.
The Wolves dominated Houston. It was an 18-point win with about eight minutes of blowout time. Ant, DLo, and KAT scored at will, combining for 81 points. It was a comfortable win, but that was expected.
The next two wins came against the New Orleans Pelicans, who have been in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons. Last year coach Stan Van Gundy struggled to adjust to the modern game, and New Orleans fired him. This offseason, they swapped Lonzo Ball for Devonte’ Graham and Steven Adams for Jonas Valanciunas. They freed up cap space by falling in the draft only to misuse it.
Not to mention, Zion Williamson already had a chaotic rookie season, missing a bunch of games due to a meniscus injury. Now he is recovering from an off-season foot injury and has looked overweight. They are depleted from last season when they went 31-41.
The Wolves split their two games with New Orleans, looking horrendous along the way. In the first game, they had 92.3 points per 100 possessions, a 13th percentile ranking, and a 96-89 win. They had 99.0 points per 100 possessions (26th percentile) and lost 107-98. Their half-court offense was broken, as it has been for most of the season.
On Monday, the Orlando Magic frequently went into a 2-3 zone, and the Wolves had no clue what to do with it. Orlando stifled their offense, too. Minnesota gave the ball to KAT in the high post, and he tried to manhandle his way to the rim. When he kicked the ball out, his shooters missed from deep.
The Positive End
After their games against New Orleans, the Wolves traveled to Wisconsin to face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the reigning champs. Although the Milwaukee Bucks game was just as chaotic, they were down a quality starter, Brook Lopez, and defensive star point guard Jrue Holiday.
The Wolves showed off their potential firepower in Milwaukee. They scored 44 first-quarter points and jumped out to an early lead. However, the Bucks mounted a comeback, and Giannis finished the game with 40 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists. Nobody has someone who can stop him, though.
It was still a game that fans didn’t expect the Wolves to win coming off the Pelicans game. But they bounced back and won 113-108 against a good team on the road.
They kept up with the Denver Nuggets three days later. Jamal Murray is still out, but they have last year’s MVP, Nikola Jokic. Minnesota held the lead for most of the game and should have won but fell 93-91.
For years they have shown the ability to compete with both of these high-quality teams.
There has been a drastic difference between the wins and losses.
The Wolves have to click offensively if they want to compete. However, their defensive improvement is a welcome surprise. The defense ranked drastically higher in percentile in connection to the rest of the league so far. If the offense can turn around, it will match up well with the makings of a solid team.
They must focus primarily on their half-court offense to dominate winnable games against teams like the Pelicans or the Magic. It is still early in the season, but the Wolves need to create an identity and build chemistry to become a more consistent team.