Timberwolves Winning via Defense; Despite Broken Down Offense

Photo: Jeff Wheeler – Star Tribune

Leading up to the 2021-22 NBA season, there was one thing Minnesota Timberwolves fans were sure of. This offense was going to be good. Top-10? Top-5? Only time would tell. But an offensive arsenal touting Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell all led by an elite offensive mind like Chris Finch, was sure to put up points in bunches.

Or maybe not?

Through three games, the offense has looked stuck in the mud. Especially whenever Towns, Edwards or Russell has touched the ball. The aforementioned “big three” has looked more like the “pig three”. The ball stops moving when they get it. Thus, the flow just hasn’t been there.

Anthony Edwards went off on this exact subject after their first loss of the season on Monday, showing leadership qualities we haven’t seen in this town for awhile. Finch agrees, saying this about the Wolves’ offensive struggles.

By the numbers

The offensive numbers tell the same story as what Timberwolves fans, coaches and media have seen with their eyes. Minnesota ranks near the bottom in most of the offensive statistical categories that anyone cares about. To make matters worse, the defenses they’ve gone up against (Rockets and Pelicans [x2]) won’t be remembered for their world-beating defensive acumen.

  • FG%: 41% (25th)
  • 3P%: 34.1% (17th)
  • TS%: 52.5% (24th)
  • Offensive Rating: 100.6 (23rd)

This offense may have been projected as a top-10 unit but they’ve opened the new season looking bottom-10. There’s some hope though, if you’re into that sort of thing.

It’s early.

Yes, all of these games are important and, when the dust settles, making the playoffs could very well be decided by one or two wins. But it’s highly unlikely that these offensive problems continue for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Not with the offensive fire power they possess.

The shooting issues should fix themselves

There’s a reason why the 2021-22 Chris Finch coached Minnesota Timberwolves were expected to play offense at a high level. D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and Patrick Beverley combine for a career 3PT% of 37.5%. D’Angelo Russell’s 36% is “dragging that down”.

Shooting 35% from deep is the floor for being a good NBA team or decent NBA shooter. The best shoot over 40%. DLo won’t continue his 30% from distance. Beasley, who’s a 39% career 3-pt shooter, won’t continue with his currently sad 17%. The offensive pendulum, as a whole, will swing back and the law of averages will kick in at some point. It’s just science.

Defense is keeping the Wolves alive

The offensive struggles have been buried a bit through three games because of how good the Minnesota Timberwolves have been on the defensive end. Yes, you read that right. Improving on defense was this team’s number one focus in the offseason and, so far, they’ve been noticeably better.

Defense is the reason the Wolves are 2-1 and the numbers and advanced metrics tell the story. Led by Okogie, McDaniels, Beverley and, at times, Anthony Edwards, the defense has been flying all over the place and forcing a ton of turnovers. It’s been jaw-dropping at times.

  • Allowed FG%: 41.7% (4th)
  • Allowed 3P%: 29.1% (4th)
  • Turnover %: 20.1% (1st)
  • Defensive Rating: 97.8 (3rd)

It’s even possible that the Wolves have focused so much on defense, leading up to the season, that it’s taken away from their offense early on. Take a look at this quote from Josh Okogie. He claims that most of the Wolves’ drills employ defensive scoring systems, not offense, and that 80% of drills are defensive.

Rebounding? What Rebounding?

Teams who are really good on defense can often survive poor shooting performances but not if they can’t rebound. If there’s been a struggle more real than shooting for this Timberwolves team, it’s been on the glass. Unlike the offensive struggles, however, this was a weakness that many foresaw entering play.

Minnesota doesn’t appear, on paper, to have the personnel it takes to be a good rebounding team and that’s what we’ve seen play out on the hardwood as well.

If personnel tells the story, rebounding will probably be an issue all season for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Shooting, however, should fix itself.

In the end, we’ll see what reality has in store.

Cooper Carlson | Minnesota Sports Fan