Timberwolves

Minnesota's Early Schedule Was A Trojan Horse

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves have gotten off to a 5-5 start, which is disappointing given how easy their October schedule looked. However, a little context is warranted here. Yes, the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Utah Jazz beat them, but their opponents are a combined 26-13 this year.

Many experts expected the Spurs, Thunder, and Jazz to tank this year, but those teams have been surprisingly competitive. As the season continues, those teams will likely fall in the standings and trade some top performers to tank for Victor Wembanyama. That means those teams will fall out of their playoff spot as the standings normalize.

It’s always important to look at circumstances. The Wolves are shooting 32.6% from three-point range. But that isn’t concerning ten games in because those numbers will jump up soon enough. Only 2 out of 11 Wolves’ players are shooting above their career averages. As the rest come back to form, the team’s number will jump. Since the Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns pairing is uncommon, it’ll be the common take to blame it, but they’ve meshed well early on. Above all else, guard play and poor rotations have hindered the Wolves the most this season.

Luckily for the Wolves, multiple playoff teams have struggled out of the gates this season, allowing more time to catch up. If the Wolves can clean up their game, they could find themselves near the top of the Western Conference in the coming weeks.

Many pundits had the Los Angeles Clippers winning the West, and they have also started slow. Between Kawhi Leonard struggling to stay on the floor, playing only two games so far this season, and most of the team struggling when they are on the floor, their season has been sluggish.

The Golden State Warriors (3-7), Dallas Mavericks (5-3), and Los Angeles Lakers (2-6)have all played less-than-ideal basketball to start the season. Not all of them dug themselves a huge hole. But all those teams were playoff locks, and all but one sit outside the playoffs early on in the season.

The “easy” start the NBA’s schedule-makers gave the Timberwolves turned out to be a Trojan horse. Minnesota has played the second-hardest-ranked schedule so far. Even with the tough schedule, the Wolves are ranked third in rating percentage index (RPI). The Timberwolves are off to a slow start, but their schedule has done them no favors.

Unfortunately for the Wolves, the worst time to play teams like the Thunder is early in the season. For tanking teams, the first 10-15 games are the only time you’ll see their roster completely healthy, and they haven’t shut their star players down yet.

On the other hand, teams like the Clippers and Warriors have struggled with an easy schedule. The Warriors (3-4) rank dead last in strength of schedule, while the Clippers (5-4) have had the third-easiest schedule.

It’s been a tough start for the Wolves, but they’re still an incredibly talented team. Once their shooters start knocking down shots more consistently and start to fit in better with Gobert, this team’s record will improve.

These next couple of weeks might prove to be the most crucial stretch of the season for the Wolves. They just faced the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks and will soon play the Philadelphia 76ers and the Memphis Grizzlies. Can the Wolves hang with the best teams in the league? We’re about to find out.

Through all of the concerns, there is one silver lining for the Wolves.

All of their problems are fixable.

The three main causes of teams declining around the league are injury, lack of depth, or regression in play.

A team like the Clippers has all the depth in the world, but many of their players struggle to stay on the court. There’s no fixing Kawhi’s injury management. But with the expedition of Kyle Anderson, the Wolves have been healthy so far.

The Wolves have also done an excellent job assembling a roster of players who are still or will soon be playing the best basketball of their careers. Taurean Prince has gotten off to a blistering start, leading the team in three-point percentage at 52%.

Teams like the Golden State and Miami are seeing some key players regress. Whether it is long-term or not, Klay Thompson and Kyle Lowry’s decline have been major clogs to the start of the season. Both declines are directly related to age and serious injuries, something no one on the Wolves roster suffers from.

The Dallas Mavericks have managed to stay almost entirely healthy, but they simply just don’t have enough talent. Once the starters leave the court, mainly Luka Doncic, the production drops significantly. This is not a problem for Minnesota. Their bench has been better than their starters some nights.

In a vacuum, Minnesota’s slow start is concerning. But when you broaden the view and realize what other playoff-caliber teams are experiencing, it’ll make you feel that much better about their season.

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