Timberwolves

What Fixes Do the Wolves Need To Prioritize To Become A Playoff Team?

Photo Credit: Mary Holt (USA TODAY Sports)

We have been waiting for a couple of seasons to see the Minnesota Timberwolves put things together and make a push for playoff contention. However, injuries, a shortened season, young players, and front office turnover haven’t made things easy. Safe to say, things have not gone as expected.

But this year, the Wolves finally come into a season with no injuries, no legal issues, and a handful of players hungry to prove doubters wrong.

As cliché as it sounds, it’s true. Karl-Anthony Towns has been through a lot on and off the court. Now he can cement himself as a leader of a playoff squad. D’Angelo Russell finally has a home and is looking as healthy as ever in a Wolves uniform. Many other pieces have come a long way to get to where they are. They are all on the road to success together, but many things must go right if they want to earn a play-in spot, a realistic goal in a rugged Western Conference.

X’s and O’s

It was evident that replacing Ryan Saunders with Chris Finch was a positive move for the team. It coincided with Anthony Edwards taking his massive second-half jump, cementing him as a potential franchise player. The good thing with the near .500 ball played under Finch was that they held their own with a limited DLo coming off injury and KAT playing with only one fully-healed wrist.

When Ant made his jump, he made everyone around him better. If he has numbers anywhere close to where he was in the second half, things should be just fine. Defenses will have an offseason to adjust to his playstyle, but if Ant continues to improve, he will establish himself as one of the most promising young scorers in the league.

The biggest positive here? He isn’t the only player who’s expected to drive winning on this team.

Secondly, let’s look at team defense, which has been an issue recently. Starting in 2019, the Wolves implemented a drop scheme under David Vanterpool.

This seems silly considering the Wolves defensive personnel under Vanterpool. It often puts stress on KAT to defend two-on-one situations. It’s a primary reason he is regarded as a negative defender by many metrics. He is a pretty average defender, but he has been put into situations where he cannot succeed. If they are in a negative situation, help-side defenders will slide, making open 3-point looks too easy to pass up.

This season we are seeing the Wolves ditch the drop scheme and hedge hard with KAT.

This is a perfect example. KAT stays much higher than in the last couple of seasons. He stays higher instead of dropping back, getting back to his man once Jaden McDaniels gets around the screen back to the ball handler. The ball gets pushed out wide, and the pick-and-roll is ineffective.

It will be a significant step in the right direction for team defense with how many elite pick-and-roll players there are in the league. It will take the stress off Karl and allow his offensive game to flourish. All they have to do is get near league-average defense, and they should be more than capable of that with their new scheme.

Size Issues

Gersson Rosas’ teams always had three glaring flaws: they lacked size, a power forward, and rebounding. The Wolves ranked 27th in the league this past season in allowing offensive rebounds to opponents per Cleaning the Glass. The issue here is the players who are best at rebounding on the team — Jarred Vanderbilt, Patrick Beverley, and Edwards — are excellent, considering their position. But they are not the guys you want to rely upon when the opponent has a glass-cleaning center.

The way to combat the size issue is through a high-octane offensive game plan that takes advantage of mismatches. If the Wolves can effectively do this against teams, they can force the other team to use small ball to defend them, which plays into Minnesota’s strengths. They will always have difficulty guarding big men if they constantly face skilled bigs and teams that can attack these weaknesses.

There is no proven fix to the roster other than taking a swing like a Ben Simmons trade or acquiring a rim protector. Until that happens, defending bigs will always be a weakness.

Valuable Depth

The concept of this offseason was continuity. So how will bringing back valuable depth to the roster help out when injuries and fatigue strike the roster? Jordan McLaughlin, Jake Layman, Jaylen Nowell, and Nathan Knight are all players who will be fighting for minutes as end-of-the-bench reserves. At best, some of these players will only see minutes in a blowout. But they have enough experience to step in if injuries strike again.

Having some reliability for 5-10 minutes of any of them is much better than having to throw Leandro Bolmaro out to the wolves, no put intended. Having bench continuity and hungry players who want to make the most of their opportunity makes things much more straightforward. It drives a winning mentality and growth from top to bottom.

If they want to reach their playoff hopes, issues must be flexible, addressed immediately, and they will have to have some luck regarding the roster. All it takes is one solid season of having the gang together, a luxury they haven’t had in the past. Injuries, legal issues, and illness are taking away from KAT, DLo, Ant, Jaden, and Malik Beasley getting time to grow together. This year they have to put it all together.

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Photo Credit: Mary Holt (USA TODAY Sports)

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