The Wolves Are Getting Killed In Transition Because They Can't Make Layups

Photo Credit: Geoff Burke (USA TODAY Sports)

Every year, the Minnesota Timberwolves seem to have a fault that’s unique to this star-crossed franchise. This season it’s been their inability to convert around the rim. Anthony Edwards has shown that he has an elite ability to go downhill and get to the rim, but now defenses are on to him. They have done a terrific job using help defenders to cut off his lanes, leading to a pass out or a nearly impossible shot.

Karl-Anthony Towns has faced similar difficulties. Teams have consistently put a smaller defender on him instead of their bigs. The Indiana Pacers put Malcolm Brogdon on him, and the Utah Jazz guarded him with Bogdan Bogdanovic, even though both teams have bigger guys on their roster. Teams are positioning their defenders in a way that allows them to bring help defenders on KAT quickly. As a result, Towns has been forced into extended touches and occasionally thrown the ball wildly across the court. It’s something that KAT’s teammates are well aware of.

Take it away, Ant:

D’Angelo Russell is the third piece of the equation. He lacks the supreme quickness and leaping ability that elite drivers like Ant have. DLo’s game is all about what comes to him and what he can create from those unique situations. We see this often in his midrange game, where he will get the defender on his hip downhill, crab-dribble down, and sidestep when a help defender protects the rim. Taking the ten-footer is a better shot than throwing up something wild at the rim.

Simply put, the team’s defensive coverages and gameplan are making this hindrance as detrimental as it has been.

Role Players Stepping Up?

If teams are going to focus on Minnesota’s largest point-producers, then the role players must pull their weight at cutting and making the most of easy attacks to the rim.

The graphic below vs. the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday should tell you all you need to know:

Jarred Vanderbilt is the Wolves’ best cutter who gets consistent playing time, but he can only finish well with his left hand. He consistently finds ways to get behind the defense or comes flying through when KAT or Ant are doubled. Few others have this ability, though, which limits the Wolves.

Jaden McDaniels doesn’t have the frame or muscle to make any contested shot. Naz can finish but rarely is in a situation where he can cut. Malik Beasley and Taurean Prince stay on the perimeter as shooting threats to spread the floor.

Someone needs to step up and put pressure on the rim because relying on shooters alone has not been an effective strategy so far.

League Comparison

Most other teams are more effective around the rim and from 5-10 feet. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Wolves are 26th in rim shooting percentage, converting 60% of their shots. They rank 26th from short-mid, shooting 36.8%, likely because few to none on their roster has a reliable floater game.

The Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, and Utah Jazz all lead the league in this category. They move the ball quickly, set off-ball screens, and play through each other.

Nikola Jokic uses his magical passing talents in Denver and finds everybody, including cutters like Aaron Gordon, Will Barton, and Jeff Green. Golden State has the most efficient offense. Their cutter matches perfectly with their passing ability, and their three-point threats open holes to the lane. Donovan Mitchell uses his downhill attacks to enable their cutters, and they have shooters on the outside that make life easy for him. The Jazz also have Rudy Gobert, one of the most efficient bigs in the game.

If the Wolves want to improve their offense as a whole, matching the high percentage at the rim with valid shooters is a great spot to start.

Lengthy Point Swings

Finally, Minnesota’s inability to finish around the rim leads to transition buckets for the opponent. The Wolves rank bottom of the league in every single defensive category despite their competent team defense on the season.

The Wolves rank 27th in points per possession off a live rebound, directly correlating the struggles around the rim. Often a player will fall after a miss, for some reason always Naz Reid or KAT,  putting the Wolves at a significant disadvantage on the other side of the court.

The Cleveland Cavaliers game was a perfect example where players were consistently contested at the rim, and someone was constantly leaking out.

The Wolves can cut those opportunities in half by making some more of their layups, finding more optimal cutting opportunities, and getting the ball out of the hand of players getting doubled-teamed ore quickly. A simple fix that could change the trajectory of their season.

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Photo Credit: Geoff Burke (USA TODAY Sports)

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