The Minnesota Timberwolves traded D’Angelo Russell‘s offensive firepower away and replaced him with Mike Conley, a lower-usage player. Therefore, we knew it would take Karl-Anthony Towns coming back from injury to see Tim Connelly’s full vision of the offense. That’s a rather large gap to fill without a firm timetable on the calf injury that has hindered KAT. However, they expect him back at some point in the regular season. As a result, the Wolves have had a tough go attempting to compete for 48 minutes a night.
Per Cleaning the Glass, the Timberwolves struggled on the offense in their four losses since the trade deadline. They ranked in the 15th percentile against the Golden State Warriors, 17th percentile against Washington, 31st percentile against the Charlotte Hornets, and 26th percentile against the Memphis Grizzlies on offense per 100 possessions. The Wolves ironed things out in their wins over the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers. However, we still saw their execution drop come the fourth quarter and clutch time. The offense operated primarily through Anthony Edwards still needs more structure to match the balance of player development and winning basketball. These are great reps for Ant, giving him time to shine, but he has had inefficient games. Those have affected the team more than it usually would without his supporting cast there as a safety blanket.
The Warriors game showcased this perfectly. The Timberwolves played a heavy dose of freelance offense in the fourth quarter with limited structure. As a result, the offense fizzled quickly, and their 12-point lead turned into a loss after an Austin Rivers three with 11:27 remaining. Edwards was shooting 4 of 16 from the field and 1 of 5 from three with 4 turnovers and 9 points coming into the 4th quarter. Still, Golden State proceeded to send timely double-teams and pressure, forcing the ball to move to others. While this occasionally created open looks for Minnesota, it was something that the Warriors could live with.
Here are all possessions where the Warriors doubled Edwards in the fourth:
Ant needs to work on his off-ball effectiveness, but that is not an overnight fix. However, adding more structure to the offense could improve his play off-ball, especially in late-game scenarios. That could come from more sets and who is on the floor in certain situations.
Chris Finch may have to get more creative with the rotation and minutes, making things more fluid depending on the matchup. We have seen Nickeil Alexander-Walker emerge as an impact player. He’s averaging 6 points per game on 41.4 FG% and 46.2 3P% in 14 minutes, operating as a ball-handling option who can space the floor. His length allows him to bring more to the table defensively. Alexander-Walker could push Jaylen Nowell’s spot because NAW counteracts some of his shortcomings. At the very least, the Wolves have more options on the bench.
Taurean Prince could play more of an important role, as evidenced by his return against the Clippers after missing two games for personal reasons. Prince’s ability to space the floor as a shooter, shooting 41.3% making 1.2 thees on 2.8 attempts per game on catch-and-shoot threes this season is vital for Minnesota’s offense. So is his ability to attack closeouts, using his shooting gravity to drive and kick or finish layups himself can serve a valuable purpose for the roster.
The team is shooting 34.7% (69/199) in the 6 games since the deadline, which would rank below their season mark of 35.6% and put them 23rd in the league. It’s a small sample, but giving TP and NAW more minutes over their counterparts in Nowell and Kyle Anderson could give the Wolves more of a threat around the perimeter. Doing so would open things up for Edwards drives and Rudy Gobert’s overall offensive presence, creating interior threats.
We have also seen some regression with Anderson’s game post All-Star break – he has had some tough misses and mental mistakes. Finch played Anderson 26 minutes and Prince 23 in the Clippers game, which feels like a great balance. Anderson played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter, but this felt like a good read from Finch. Having another ball-handler and defender on the floor is vital, not to mention that SloMo has 12 assists, the most in clutch time on the team. He’s shooting 9 of 13 (69.2%) in his limited shots with the game on the line.
The Wolves still have uncertainty with many core parts of their identity, and they’re still ironing out many facets. However, they have the benefit of knowing what doesn’t work. Using this to their advantage down the final stretch of games is vital. They have the fifth-most difficult strength of schedule per Tankathon and 11 of their final 18 games on the road. With how tight the conference currently sits, if they want to stay in the best contention possible, they will have to tweak their play to improve on these core downfalls slightly.