By: Dan Slaubaugh - 9 minute read
With the first pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select "Karl-Anthony Towns".
It was that exact moment when the Timberwolves' ceiling transformed from “let’s see how far Wiggins can take us in five years” to “we now have not one, but two building blocks to build around for the next nine years”.
Two years later, the Wolves have made a fury of changes to the franchise.
One of KAT’s best friends, Zach LaVine, was shipped to Chicago for two years of all-star wingman Jimmy Butler. Ricky Rubio is off to Utah. Jeff Teague is here to replace him but as a scoring-first point guard. Taj Gibson was brought in to accelerate the defensive progress. Jamal Crawford chose Minnesota hoping to play a healthy part of a franchise who hasn’t made the playoffs in 13 years. And last. Target Center is undergoing a renovation. The team sports a new logo. And most importantly, Minnesota now seems like an extremely desirable place to play, landing on several all-stars “preferred destination” lists over the 2017 offseason spree.
So there you have it. Although the team wasn’t able to win more than 31 games in each of Towns’ first two years in Minnesota, the culture has shifted.
With ample amount of talent, coaching experience, and veteran leadership, Tom Thibodeau has surrounded Towns with a team built to make a deep playoff run.
Now the pressure is on Towns to take the next step in his NBA career. What exactly does he need to do to accomplish that feat? Let’s take a look.
Expand an already lethal offensive skillset
Only 11 players in NBA history have put up 25 points and 12 rebounds the year after their rookie season, prior to Towns. Last season, he became the 12th.
As a sophomore, 'KAT' placed himself in elite company. However you want to look at the numbers he registered, he ranks right up there with the best rookie big men to ever throw on an NBA jersey, including the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
The statistics back up the claim, too. Towns is the first player in NBA history to register 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 100 three-pointers in a season. He did this all as a 21/22-year old, which, as a 21-year old myself, doesn’t make me feel to great considering my biggest accomplishment over the past year was growing a pretty trash mustache for which I get made fun of a lot. It is, sadly, not a beautiful caterpillar.
To dissect Towns’ game at a larger clip, I think it’s appropriate to take a dive into his unworldly second half performance last year.
To begin, Zach Harper (Fanrag Sports) had this to say about Towns’ performance over his final 41 games of the season in his season review over at A Wolf Among Wolves:
“For whatever reason, the basket just started looking like the ocean to Towns at one point. Check out his splits from the first 41 games of 2016-17 to the last 41 games:
1st 41: 64.0% Restricted Area | 32.9% Jumpers | 30.5% 3-pointers
2nd 41: 71.8% Restricted Area | 45.7% Jumpers | 44.4% 3-pointers”
Towns also excelled in the pick-and-roll last season, finishing second behind Anthony Davis with 5.4 points per game (57.5%) as the “roll-man”. Overall, Towns ranked 12th in OPA (offensive points added) with 286.4, further establishing himself as one of the premier offensive players in the game.
To help visualize how dominant Towns was offensively last season, let's compare his offensive numbers to Pelicans forward/center Anthony Davis, who is largely considered one of the NBA's most dominant big men on both sides of the floor.
While Davis bested Towns in a few areas, Towns obliterated Davis in others. At this point in their careers, Towns - with ample amount of offensive weapons - is assuredly the better offensive player out of the two, and it shows in this graph.
Another one of Towns’ biggest competitors for “most skilled big” in the NBA is Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. Finishing 3rd on the most-improved player ballot, Jokic suggests to be a poor man’s KAT but with a more diverse passing game. For example, Jokic finished the 2016-17 campaign with a 26.6 AST% with a 2.10 AST/TO ratio, while Towns finished with a 12.7 AST% with a 1.04 AST/TO ratio.
To be fair, Towns’ role is Minnesota’s offense is more triggered towards scoring and offensive rebounding, but chasing a desired skill that Jokic possesses is something Towns should strive for next season. Especially now with a team full of ball-dominant players like Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins, this is an area where Towns could certainly improve. This would not only expand his game to a greater level, but it would also take pressure off of Jeff Teague distributing within the offense.
Towns’ passing ability is alive and well, but this is an area where marked improvement would help both his overall development and the well-being of the Timberwolves offense. Operating out of the high-post enough to watch the offense develop in the half-court, Towns will have every opportunity to hit slashing Wiggins’ and Butler’s for easy two-handed dunks.
With the ability to post-up, handle the ball, and shoot, the 2016-17 all-star snub has established himself as one of the top offensive forces in today’s game.
What will truly lift Towns to All-NBA and All-Star level is on the other end of the court.
Time to play some defense
In case you forgot one of the primary negative themes of last season, I’ll run a few quick numbers by you:
-112.8 This was the Wolves defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). It ranked fourth worst in the league.
-107.1. This was their D-rating without Towns. Instead of playing at a bottom-5 NBA level defense, the Wolves defended at a top-6 rate in the NBA.
-113.6. Their D-rating with Towns playing. This was just a hair better than the Lakers, who were the league’s worst defensive club.
KAT’s defensive rating was 110.8. As the numbers above make clear, this is awful, meaning the Wolves defended at essentially a league-worst level whenever Towns was on the floor. Nemanja Bjelica’s defensive rating was 103.4, which is a mind-boggling difference. For example, the Nuggets and Hawks were about 7.5 points apart in D-rating, with Atlanta ranked 4th in defense and Denver ranked 29th; a jump from the top of the NBA down closer to the bottom. Sure, this may be a testament to Bjelica’s defensive progression last season, but it still says a lot about how far Towns needs to come.
Above, I compared Towns' and Davis' offensive value by play type. Now, I'm going to compare them in regards to defensive value. It's not pretty.
Comparing a a second year center to an All-Defense First Team center may seem silly, but if you wanted to showcase how far Towns has to go defensively, here's your graph.
In reality, Karl-Anthony Towns was expected to be a major part of last years projected defensive improvement with an alien-like wing span, speed to contain pick-and-rolls and athleticism to be a serviceable rim protector. That, obviously, did not happen, as Towns showed very little effort on defense and finished with 35 fewer blocks than in his rookie campaign. Additionally, he seemed to lack the defensive IQ needed to excel on that end as well, seemingly always being a step to late on basic defensive rotations.
In today’s NBA that boasts a surreal amount of electric playmaking guards, it is of vital importance for bigs to adjust defensively in pick-and-roll situations. Like I said above, Towns has the speed to contain pick-and-rolls, evidenced on multiple occasions by switching onto a guard and putting the clamps on. Just ask Bradley Beal.
or two-time league MVP Stephen Curry…
Towns has the physical tools to succeed as a defensive stopper, but he has a long way to go. Exerting more effort and pure desire to be great on that end next season is the recipe for KAT to round into a more-complete player.
Following after his OG
As KG once said “defense is our backbone,” and young Mr. Towns needs to play like he’s fighting for his life on that end. This year he has the fortune of going to war with a defensive-minded power forward by his side in Taj Gibson. Combine that with the cruel tutelage of Tom Thibodeau and improved perimeter defense spearheaded by Jimmy Butler, Towns SHOULD become at least a respectable defender and rim-protector in year three. All things considered, Towns should not have to worry so much about providing last-minute help defense as he did in 2016-17. This will allow him to lock his focus on his assignment every night.
In a season that will be undoubtedly labeled “playoffs or bust”, Towns has a chance to officially rise into “superstar” status and help a franchise return to the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04. With an offensive skillset that has opposing coaches scurrying for ways to slow down the generational big, the simple, but complex, next step in ascending into one of the league’s top 10 best players all starts with one word: defense.
In 1995, Kevin Garnett was drafted by the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves, and he was dubbed “the Kid.” That kid would grow to become one of THE greatest defenders of his generation, if not all time. Two decades later, Karl-Anthony Towns was drafted by the equally as cellar dwelling Wolves. Only time will tell if KAT can follow in his mentor’s footsteps.
By: Louie Vicchiollo - 14 minute read
With free agency beginning to wind down and rosters filling up, NBA fans everywhere can begin to analyze their new teams. Whether a team added just one new player in the draft, or made a complete overhaul like the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves, it is time to start getting used to players in new jerseys. Although it is very exciting to have a new name (or a couple new names) on your roster, then go and watch all of their YouTube highlights and get even more excited, it is important to know what your new players really bring to the table.
The Timberwolves had one of the biggest off seasons in the NBA this year, even though they didn’t sign any “big” name players in free agency (cc: Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap) but regardless, the roster has changed quite a bit. I highlighted what roster continuity means for a team and how it affects winning, but that is just a general look at a changing roster; what will our Wolves really look like this year?
Shot charts are awesome. They help highlight how and where a player excels, and struggles, on the offensive end of the floor. Of course this doesn’t illustrate their passing abilities, off ball movement, or rebounding, but it can give us great insight on arguably the biggest part of offense, shooting. This is what I want to look at in this piece, how will the Wolves look on offense this year? Will they rank last in three point shooting again? Will Jimmy Butler fit in? Let’s dive in.
(*Note: when I reference rights and lefts, it is the player's right or left; opposite of right and left on the shot charts)
As I mentioned before, the Wolves sucked at three point shooting last year. They were last in three point attempts and makes, and shot the 10th worst three point percentage. With fans pleading for “three and D” players in free agency, what have the Wolves done to solve this issue?
Trading Ricky Rubio may have left many Minnesota fans heartbroken (including myself), but one thing that was evident about Ricky was that he had very limited range. Looking at his shot chart below, you can see that when he shot from three, he usually wasn’t shooting it well. He hit from a decent percentage at the left and right wings (38% and 35%, respectively) but he didn’t shoot frequently enough throughout the season for that to take effect (56 attempts and 23 attempts, respectively). He shot an abysmal percentage from the top of the key at 25%, and when shooting from the left corner he was even worse, just 21%. When looking at the chart, his right corner shooting looks great, which it was at a mark of 44%, but he only shot 18 times from that corner; eight shots made for a total of 24 points last season, not nearly enough to make an impact.
Ricky Rubio 2016-17 Shot Chart
So Mr. Teague, what can you do to solve this issue? The first thing you will notice with new-Timberwolf Jeff Teague’s shot chart is that he hardly ever takes midrange jumpers, which is a good thing. His favorite spot in the midrange is the left elbow, and he hit 54% of his shots from there last season, so when he is shooting the inefficient midrange jumper, at least he is making them. Although many Wolves fans will miss boy-wonder Rubio, Teague is a step up when it comes to three point shooting. He took a lot, and hit a decent amount of three point shots from the top of the key (34% shooting on 134 shots), and he shot 38% from both wings, a respectable percentage. He took only a combined 23 shots from the corners last year, which is probably a good thing; having your point guard, the player who is supposed to orchestrate the offense sitting and shooting from the corner isn’t ideal. Similar to Ricky, Teague struggled around the basket (note: this is compared to the league, when comparing him to guards only his percentages compare much more favorably), but as you can see he has a “hot spot” just outside of the restricted area, where guards often get their floater shots off from. Teague also had the 13th most drives per game last year, and was the ball handler in pick and rolls 41% of his plays; this will help him get to that hot spot and knock down floaters, or drive and dish. You can also see on the left side of the floor he had great percentages, especially just outside of the paint. The bottom line is if Teague is shooting the ball, he is taking efficient three point shots or is shooting at the basket.
Jeff Teague 2016-17 Shot Chart
A quick note on how “efficient” shot types are, the expected value for a midrange shot (defined here as non-three pointers 10 feet or further away from the basket) is 0.815; that means for ever midrange shot taken by the league last year, we can expect 0.815 points to come from each shot. To compare, the expected value for a three point shot in the league last year was 1.074, and close range shots (less than 10 feet from the basket) expected value was 1.045, both much more “efficient” than the midrange jumpers.
Ok, boring math and expected values, I know. But it’s a great statistic and it’s very important in explaining the trend toward three point shooting in the league. Back to the charts.
Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler virtually play the same position, but I’m going to start with Jimmy at the shooting guard position (he played 36% of his minutes at SG compared to Andrew’s 3% last season). The first thing anyone will see when they look at Butler’s shot chart is how right heavy it is. In fact, in the 2015-16 season, 61% of his shots came from the right side according to this awesome site. What causes Jimmy to tend towards the right so much? Breaking news: Jimmy Butler is right handed, and he drives to the basket when he is orchestrating the offense. In the NBA last year, there were two non-point guards who drove to the basket more times a game than Jimmy G. Buckets: DeMar DeRozan and LeBron James. Jimmy drives to the basket 9.4 times a game, and he passes out of those drives 38% of the time, which means he is getting fouled, turning it over or taking a shot 62% of the time (he only turns it over 5% of the time). The great thing about Jimmy when he drives is that he is a great finisher, netting 52% of his drive shots last season. Butler also relies a lot on his pull up jumper coming off of those drives, especially from the right side midrange area; he attempted 7.4 pull up jumpers a game last year, one of the highest rates in the NBA, and only hit 36% of those pull up shots - this is something he will need to improve on. Since Butler attacks the basket frequently, he also gets to the line frequently; in fact, he took the 3rd most free throws in the NBA last season, and netted the 4th most. Jimmy isn’t a great three point shooter, making 37% of his three point field goals last year, but he has a respectable enough shot that defenders have to guard him close on the three point line, giving him more opportunities to drive by them with his elite athletic ability. He also shot really well from the corners last year, netting 55% of the corner threes. Jimmy is an elite athlete and utilizes that on the offensive end, especially when driving the ball. He is unselfish, and I can already envision the passes Jimmy is going to make from his drives to the right side over to the left side open shooters when the defense collapses down on him on a drive.
Jimmy Butler 2016-17 Shot Chart
Now onto one of the most widely regarded “high ceiling”, “unlimited potential”, “next superstar” players in the league. Step up to the plate, Mr. Andrew Wiggins. Andrew took 22% of the Timberwolves shots last season, a mark that is more than likely going to decrease this year with many people thinking he will be the third scoring option for the Wolves, but regardless he is a very important player within the offense. Each year Wiggins has been in the league, he has increased his three point percentage, and hopefully he can continue to do that to help solve some of the long range issues the Wolves have had the last couple of years. The first thing that jumps out at you when you see Maple Jordan’s shot chart is his three point shooting from the top of the key and left wing. Hitting 38% of the 203 attempts from those two areas combined last year, this is one of Andrew’s biggest strengths; and with Butler driving to the right side of the floor, this will create many more open looks for Andrew in these high efficiency areas for him when defenses' weak side helps down on Jimmy's drives. Wiggins also is a fan of pulling up and taking midrange jumpers, taking the 11th most pull up shots in the NBA last year. He hits these midrange shots at a decent from the left elbow and right baseline, especially when he elevates on his shot; regardless, the midrange jumper is inefficient, and if Andrew is going to continue pulling up from there he will have to hit those shots at a higher rate than he did last year (37%). Using his elite athletic ability also allows his to score well around the rim, where he hit 56% of his shots last season. Attacking the basket also led Andrew to attempt the 10th most free throws in the NBA last season, and he shot 76% from the line, just about average. We are going to see Wiggins’ attempts decrease this year, but with less defensive focus on him and more on Butler, this should create more opportunities for Andrew to get good looks at his favorite shots.
Andrew Wiggins 2016-17 Shot Chart
Since signing Taj Gibson, many fans assume he will be starting and that Gorgui will be coming off of the bench, which I guess only Tom Thibodeau knows (personally I'm a Gorgui truther). I want to start with Gorgui because of the large role he played within the offense last year, and because his shot chart is short, sweet, and to the point. There are four main areas that are immediately evident in Gorgui’s shot chart: the top of the key, midrange baseline shots, corner threes, and restricted area shots. Any Timberwolves fan who has watched Gorgui play more than 10 games can picture him setting a screen, rolling to the top of the key, bringing the ball way behind his head, and sinking the long midrange jumper. This has been his bread-and butter play since his rookie year, and although the amount of three point shots he takes has increased every year, this will always be his go to play. When he was on the floor last year, 18% of the time he was the roll man in a pick and roll, and he scored on 54% of those plays. It is also evident from his shot chart that he takes a good amount of his shots from the baseline, around the 15 foot mark; he is given a lot of these open shots off drive and kicks to the corner, where he can take one dribble and step into his shot. Since Gorgui is a good offensive rebounder (14th most in the NBA last season), he is often under the rim putting back misses, where he earns most of his points. Although we will almost certainly see his offensive role decrease this year with the new scoring additions to the team, we can still expect to see the catapult-like shooting style from him at the top of the key.
Gorgui Dieng 2016-17 Shot Chart
Taj Gibson is a simple man when it comes to offense, and there seems to be a general consensus that he was brought to Minnesota to help anchor the defensive end, not the offense. Regardless, he can be valuable in some of the same ways Gorgui is, especially in the restricted area. He grabs offensive rebounds at an 8% rate, and over 70% of his shots come from within 10 feet. He doesn’t venture out past the midrange, and he can be used to bang down low. Similar to Gorgui, he is the roll man in pick and rolls 16% of the time, but he is used more of a “hard roll” and looks to crash the glass off of a miss or get a fresh shot clock for the offense. Like I said, he is a simple man offensively, but that does not mean he will not make a positive impact on that end of the floor. It also should be noted he shot 100% from beyond half court last season, one for one, the most accurate shooter in the league. Check out his range!
Taj Gibson 2016-17 Shot Chart
Now, for the golden child. The pride of the pack that is the Minnesota Timberwolves; Karl-Anthony Towns. I can bore you with how everyone in the league thinks he is the next best thing, or how he is the last player since Shaq to average 25 points per game and 12 rebounds per game (that still feels so ridiculous to say), but I won’t do that. Karl isn’t a big midrange guy. In fact, he took less than 20% of his shots from midrange last season, and that is one of the reasons why he is so damn efficient. If he is going to shoot from midrange, he is going to take two dribbles out of the low post and shoot that pretty fadeaway from 15 feet that we all know and love. Otherwise, he is going to punish you under the basket, where he shot 62% (!!) from last season on 867 shots, which was good for third best in the NBA last year. He took less than 100 shots from the midrange wings and top of the key last year, and when he did get the ball at the elbow he elected to drive rather than shoot - this led him to be in the top 20 for free throw attempts and makes. Perhaps the most exciting thing about KAT is his ability to stretch the floor and hit threes. Last year his favorite three point shot was at the top of the key, where he shot 134 times and hit 38% of those shots, not bad for a big man. He also shot well from the left wing (35% on 33 shots) and was on fire from the left corner (52% on 27 shots), which was the opposite from his right side of the floor three point shooting. From the right wing, he took 33 shots and only hit 21% of them, and the right corner only shot 27% on 26 shots, not ideal. Like Rubio, there may not be enough attempts to get excited about his left side shooting, or to be worried about his ride side range, but it is something to be noted nonetheless. Another thing that should be noted, is that at the time this article is being written, he is only 21 years 245 days old. Something to look forward to this season is Karl coming up from the left block to the wing on some of Butler’s drive and having open threes to look at when Jimmy is looking to drive-and-dish.
Karl-Anthony Towns 2016-17 Shot Chart
The next player that needs to be addressed is Jamal Crawford, Minnesota’s new sixth man and crowd pleasing shooting guard. Crawford can be one of Minnesota’s biggest cures for the three point shooting woes they have had, and can be a spark plug coming off of the bench. Last year, he shot 42% and 45% from the left and right wings, respectively. From the top of the key and the corners he shoots relatively average, but as I have mentioned before, regressing towards the average should be Minnesota’s three point goals this year. Being a highly respected three point shooter creates a frequent scenario of defenders rushing out to contest Crawford’s shot, in which he loves to take one dribble in and knock down a long two (16 feet or longer, not a three pointer). He was 19th of all players, and first of bench players in long two attempts last year, taking 254 shots and hitting 43% of them. While this shot is extremely inefficient, if he keeps knocking it down or uses rushing defenders to create four point play opportunities (which he is the NBA all time leader in). Crawford isn't the most efficient player. shooting well below the league's average eFG%, but with a new team, the vet has a chance to rework his game a bit. The Wolves needed to add depth on the offensive end this year, and JCrossover will definitely help the bench on the offensive end, along with making the fans “oohh” and “aaahh” a couple times a game.
Jamal Crawford 2016-17 Shot Chart
The final player we will look at is Nemanja Bjelica. BJelly time. If you thought Taj Gibson was a simple man, let me tell you about Mr. Bjelica. If he is shooting, it is going to be a three point shot, or from within 10 feet. I’m not even sure if Bjelica knows that midrange shots exist, he only took 6.2% of his shots from midrange last year (the league's average is 25% of shots); optimal expected value efficiency. There is speculation about how much playing time Bjelica will get with Gorgui and Taj ahead of him, but once again, only Tom Thibodeau knows. If he continues to come off the bench and hit threes, it is hard to imagine him not getting significant minutes next year.
Nemanja Bjelica 2016-17 Shot Chart
We are entering an exciting, unknown, and hopeful era of Timberwolves basketball. The offense is going to look drastically different with someone else at the controls other than Ricky Rubio, which Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler will attempt to fill that hole in the hearts that Ricky left. With Tom Thibodeau pulling the strings as puppeteer of these Timberwolves, Minnesota fans can set their sights on the playoffs.
All of the shot charts in this piece come from the absolutely amazing StatMuse, check them out!
All other statistics come from NBA and Basketball Reference.
By: Jonah Sprinkel
Free agency for the Minnesota Timberwolves can be compared to going for a run; it’s slow, slightly painful and most of all, disappointing. After acquiring Jimmy Butler via trade, it appeared to many that the Timberwolves would continue to make big moves. The hope was that these prospective moves would set the Wolves up to compete at a high level in the wild, wild Western Conference. The move that would catapult the team to a top four seed never came to fruition.
My inspiration for this piece came from Wolves fans as well as other writers. As a whole we seem to have worked ourselves into this sort of, mini frenzy. We're worried about the bench. shooting, the fit of some players and even to a slight degree, the direction of this team. Those worries or frustrations are justified. We want to see the Wolves succeed and perform to the best of their abilities. But, if I can have your attention for just a few minutes I want to invite you to simply enjoy basketball.
I’m not here to discuss what went wrong, or to guess as to what Thibs plan could be, or even to speculate the level of success the Wolves will achieve. No! I’m here in this this string of text to tell you that the Minnesota Timberwolves are going to be fun! Really and truly fun! And yes, I wrote these words with a clear mind.
Sadly, there is no statistical way to measure fun. Maybe in 20 years we can peer into history at the 2016-17 Timberwolves and know without a doubt that this team ranks in the upper echelon of my obviously made up Fun Above Replacement Team statistic. In the meantime, we can still enjoy the thunderous dunks, veteran craftiness, buzzer beating buckets, flashy dimes, infectious smiles and the moment that can’t come fast enough; a playoff game at Target Center.
Anyone who has tuned into a Wolves game recently already knows how fun Andrew Wiggins is. However, let’s remind ourselves very briefly.
If you don’t care much about the outcome of a Wolves game, Andrew is reason enough to flip on your TV at night. He brings high energy, jump out of your leather recliner type plays to the court on a consistent basis. But, the quality I find to be the most enjoyable in Wiggins is his fluidity.
Seriously, watch that highlight clip and pay close attention to the way Wiggins’ body moves. He glides up the floor. He doesn’t jump, that would require pushing himself upwards. No, he levitates himself above everyone. The moments where Andrew appears to be straining or pushing himself are few are far between. Not because he doesn’t care, but because he is typically the most athletic guy in an NBA arena.
I’m of the mindset that Towns was deserving of an All-NBA nod last season. 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 100 made threes has never been produced by another player in the history of the NBA. Ever.
Quick reminder, Towns doesn’t turn 22 until November.
Rumor has it that Towns is a direct descendant of the Sphinx cat from Egypt. I can prove it. Watch Towns on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. His blocks, footwork, passing, heck even his shooting form are cat like. He's quick, efficient, powerful and even playful. Here's to KAT getting even more yarn this season.
Jimmy Gets Buckets. Somehow, he combines sheer power with a Downy soft touch. However, Butler doesn't make a living on his physical abilities alone. It's very rare to see Butler out of control. He's calculated yet fiery. He uses his physical abilities to compliment the thousands of hours he's spent on training. This allows Jimmy to just get buckets.
Jimmy’s talent is worthy of a second clip. This one is not so much a highlight, it’s more of a comedic testimony to who Jimmy Butler is. Sit back, enjoy, and I apologize in advance for getting this song stuck in your head.
If you don't think four-point play is fun then you're reading the wrong article. I don't know what else to say here. Of all the common basketball plays, the four-point play is possibly the most exciting outside of a buzzer beater. Jamal Crawford is the four-point play godfather. He’s also the closest thing the NBA has to a playground hooper.
Note, these highlights are from the 2015-16 NBA season. Because Crawford is the NBA’s version of Benjamin Button the Timberwolves will see the same type of highlights.
Passionate, energetic, motivated, high motor and emotional are just a few of the words that describe Taj Gibson. These character traits have been craved by Wolves fans since KG's departure. Gibson doesn't quite fill The Big Tickets shoe's but he is more than qualified to be the emotional backbone of this squad.
I’m not condoning kicking another NBA player but sometimes in playoff basketball a team needs shots of energy directly into their veins. Moments like Taj had against Cleveland are exactly that. Minus the ejection of course.
Let's just hope Gibson doesn't take his role too far and kiss another NBA player a la Tristan Thompson and David West.
By: Louie Vicchiollo - 7 minute read
The Timberwolves didn’t make the playoffs last year.
Or the year before that.
Or for the last 13 years.
With the addition of Jimmy Butler, many Wolves fans, and NBA fans alike, agree that this might be the year the thirteen-season drought is finally broken, and the Minnesota Timberwolves return to the NBA Playoffs. The addition of one player, even if it is someone as high-impact as Jimmy Butler, won’t get a team to the playoffs; it takes a lot of moving parts, and a little bit of luck to finish in the top 16.
What do the Wolves have to do this year to make that monumental leap? The way I see it, we need to improve in three main categories: defense, rebounding, and three point shooting. Let’s dive in.
The Wolves suck on defense. Bad. Last year, teams playing against the Wolves shot 47.5% which was the third worst opponent FG% in the league, just ahead of the Nuggets and Lakers. To give that some context, the average playoff team’s opponent shot 45.2% and the champion Golden State Warriors only allowed their opponents to shoot 43.5% from the field. The Wolves need to drastically improve their defense. Andrew Wiggins was recently on the hot seat for his defense when FiveThirtyEight released its NBA Haters’ Ball – showcasing the fact that opponents only shoot 0.3% worse when being guarded by Wiggins than when they are left alone. It isn’t just Maple Jordan’s fault though; of the 16 players who logged time for the Timberwolves last season, only seven of them had a positive defensive box plus/minus, and of those seven players, only three are still on the roster: Cole Aldrich, Gorgui Dieng, and Karl-Anthony Towns. The best way to wrap up the defensive struggles of the 2016-17 Minnesota Timberwolves is this: every single playoff team had a better defensive rating than the Timberwolves last season.
The next thing that has to be addressed is rebounding. Now of course, when you allow opponents to make almost half their shots, there aren’t going to be as many rebound opportunities, so the Wolves are already at a disadvantage there. This can be shown in the numbers as well, the Wolves ranked a very respectable 7th in offensive rebounds per game last year, but a lowly 29th in defensive rebounds. Even when there were shots coming off the rim on the defensive end, the Wolves weren’t grabbing boards nearly at the same rate they do on offense; their defensive rebound percentage was 75.9%, ranked 20th, compared to their offensive rebound percentage which was 27.2%, third best in the NBA. Not to pick on Wiggins again, but it should be noted his rebounding isn’t… well… great. In 2016-17, there were eight players who played more than 35 minutes a game and averaged less than five rebound per game; Wiggins was one of two non-point guards in that category. Oh, the other player? Harrison Barnes. With such a sharp drop from the Wolves top rebounder Karl-Anthony Towns (12.3 rebounds per game) to the second best Gorgui Dieng (7.9 rebounds per game), it only gets worse from there: Ricky Rubio was the next best rebounder, at 4.1 per game. The middle position players need to start rebounding more to take such a heavy workload off of Towns. This can be fixed partly by playing better defense which will lead to more rebound opportunities, but it also has to be a focus for the Wolves on the defensive end.
The final aspect I want to cover, and the other half of the elusive “three and D”, is three point shooting. Its no secret that the Wolves were really bad when it comes to three point shooting, so lets just get the stats out of the way.
As you can see in the graph above, the NBA average for three point attempts per game has (basically) increased every single year since 1999, and it doesn’t look like it will be stopping anytime soon. The Wolves need to get better, and that doesn’t mean jumping into the top ten for three point shooting, but moving much closer to the average in 3PA, 3PM, and 3P% will help. To praise Andrew Wiggins, his 3P% increased by 5.6% from his sophomore season to last season, and if it continues to increase that will significantly help the Timberwolves work their way towards the league averages. Karl-Anthony Towns also has increased his 3P% from his rookie season to last, and last season he shot 43.4% from three after the all star break. Something should be said about the league trend of shooting more and more threes, while the Wolves seem to be going in the opposite direction: big. The issue for the Timberwolves wasn’t their offense last season, they had the 10th ranked offensive rating in the league, and had the 8th best field goal percentage. If the Wolves needed to choose one half of the “three and D” to improve for next season, my hopes would be that they focus on the “D”; getting bigger will help with that.
While there are some obvious issues that need to be addressed immediately for the Timberwolves, there are also many positives that the fans of Minnesota can turn to. Karl-Anthony Towns’ career is quickly projecting into a “top 10 player in the NBA” type career, and he is only 21. Andrew Wiggins has one of the highest upsides in the NBA and he is also just a young pup at 22 years young. The Wolves have a highly regarded head coach, and a front office who seem willing to do whatever it takes to win. We got a new logo, new jerseys are on the way, and the rebrand looks exciting.
Oh, also, Jimmy Butler is a Timberwolf.
Yep, it still feels really good to say that. Just checking.
I do have one last issue to address, but it has nothing to do with the players, the coaches, or even the front office. It has to do with us, the fans. The Timberwolves had the second worst attendance record last year, only ahead of the Phoenix Suns. Maybe one of the reasons we lost more games at home than we won was because on average the Wolves played in front of 3,000 less fans at home than they did on the road. We have an exciting team, with one of the brightest futures in basketball. It is time we start filling the Target Center and giving our team the support, crowd and love they deserve.
After all, we’re going to have to show the NBA what a playoff crowd looks like in Minnesota this year.