Timberwolves

The Wolves Need Another Facilitator To Avoid Playoff Heartbreak

Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves have struggled with stagnant stretches of basketball throughout the Chris Finch era. That’s where the word “immaturity” became a term that Finch used to describe the team, and it followed the organization throughout its rise to prominence. The Wolves are the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, but stagnant basketball remains an issue that could hold them back from achieving playoff success.

On Media Day, Tim Connelly said he expects the Timberwolves to win a playoff series this season. That looked like a possibility for a large part of the season. But Minnesota’s offense has been unstable late in games, so it’s reasonable to doubt the chances that Connelly’s expectation will be met.

The Wolves average 15 turnovers per game, which is 28th in the league, one spot worse than last season. Mike Conley remains among the league’s leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio, but few of his teammates can match his basketball intelligence.

Despite their invaluable role in Minnesota’s 32-13 record, Anthony Edwards (7th in turnovers per game) and Karl-Anthony Towns (17th) have been catalysts for Minnesota’s offensive inefficiencies.

The Timberwolves rank 19th in offensive efficiency. It’s been one of the primary reasons they have struggled to close out games lately. Typically, the Wolves rely on Edwards and Towns to create for themselves down the stretch, and it doesn’t always work out. Towns delivered against the New Orleans Pelicans on November 18, and Edwards closed out the Boston Celtics game on November 6. But the Wolves have since paid for their reliance on isolation basketball. After Monday’s 128-125 loss to the Charlotte Hornets in what Finch described as a “disgusting performance,” they’ve now lost sole possession of the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.

Edwards missed 11 straight field goal attempts in Minnesota’s win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, and it allowed the Nets to make it close in the end. Finch said he felt the Wolves performed well for most of the game, but they continued their late-game habit of turnovers and poor shot selection in the fourth. As ESPN Insider Bobby Marks indicates, it’s become increasingly clear that Minnesota needs a backup point guard. Stagnant basketball is still one of the problems Finch has yet to solve.

“That’s why things are snowballing against us,” Finch said after Minnesota’s 96-94 win over the Nets. “We’ve got to fix that, or we’re not going to be able to take the next step as a team.”

The Wolves need another facilitator next to Conley. At 36 years old, Conley is playing his 18th season and has already missed three games this season for resting purposes. Conley has been a stabilizing veteran, but his absence highlighted their dependence on him. It’s time the Wolves invest in a facilitator to take some of the workload off Conley and preserve him for playoff basketball.

None of the current options surrounding Conley at point guard possess the ability to operate the offense efficiently besides Jordan McLaughlin. Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been a spark plug for the Wolves on both sides of the ball, and he’s replaced Conley in his absence. But Alexander-Walker plays better off of others instead of regularly dictating the offensive flow.

The Timberwolves can also count on McLaughlin to provide a spark, especially when his shot falls. But it’s hard to keep him out there for extended periods when it’s not, given his size. Minnesota’s lack of depth in this area is a concern because it’s made defending the Wolves easier. Ultimately, it has contributed to them being one of the most turnover-prone teams in the league throughout Finch’s tenure. The Timberwolves won the turnover battle by a significant margin in their 118-107 win against the Washington Wizards. But they stepped back in that department against the Nets on Thursday night.

Therefore, the Timberwolves may best address this problem in the trade or buyout market. Ideally, the Wolves wouldn’t have to lose vital rotational players in a trade. Losing a developing star like Leonard Miller would also hurt the Wolves long-term. Minnesota hasn’t shied away from trading extra draft capital to retain their talent, and they may approach trades like that again. Ultimately, the Wolves must make changes to be a serious contender in a loaded Western Conference.

Minnesota should have several intriguing options to fill its backup point guard void. Tyus Jones is one of them. Like Conley, the former Wolves point guard from Apple Valley prides himself on being careful with the ball. Although he’s on a struggling Wizards team, Jones effectively ran a second unit for a playoff team with the Memphis Grizzlies. While this might be a misleading stat, the Grizzlies had a better record when Jones replaced Ja Morant as the starter in 2021. Morant was an All-Star starter and First-Team All-NBA that season.

The Wolves could go in a few different routes, with teams soon expected to make it known where they stand ahead of the trade deadline. One thing is certain for the Wolves: isolation-heavy basketball and low-percentage shot selection will lead to their demise this season if they continue with this trend. Finch and the players appear accountable, but the same problems persist. The intensity will only heighten come playoff time. Therefore, the Wolves should look inward and bring a player in to address an area of concern.

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Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

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