A year ago, the Timberwolves were a pleasant surprise. They won 46 games, knocked off the Clippers in the play-in round and took Memphis deep in an entertaining (albeit frustrating) first-round playoff loss.
The offseason addition of Rudy Gobert significantly altered the Wolves' lineup and chemistry, which has been evident in a clunky 4-4 start. It's also instructive to remember, though, that last year's team started 4-9.
As we think about these Wolves, offensive inefficiency — particularly from the starting lineup — seems to be the main culprit when things go poorly.
With that in mind, here are five numbers that jumped off the page as I took a deeper look into trying to explain the Wolves' lackluster start in a season of great expectations — some of which I talked about with Chip Scoggins on Thursday's Daily Delivery podcast.
- 1 and 26: Timberwolves bench players, per the NBA's web site, have the league's best assist to turnover ratio of any reserves at 2.67 to 1. The Wolves' starters, meanwhile, are No. 26 in that category among starters at 1.4 to 1. It speaks to many of the reserves being adept at playing the style head coach Chris Finch wants to play, while the starters are still adapting to the addition of Gobert, the elevation of Jaden McDaniels, the position switch of Karl-Anthony Towns and how all that fits together.
- 12: Wolves starting guard D'Angelo Russell has scored 12 or fewer points in five of his last six games, with a six-point game starting that streak and a five-point game in the most recent outing against Phoenix. His totals will likely fluctuate as the year goes on, but the Wolves need a lot more from D-Lo in a lot of ways.
- 44 vs. 33: Here's a good example of the "stickiness" Finch often refers to. Last season, 44% of Anthony Edwards' made field goals came off of assists from teammates. Through eight games this year, that number is down to 33% for Edwards. As the offense bogs down for the starting lineup, talented individual players try to take over instead of maintaining a flow. It works sometimes, but in general it's a tough way to sustain offense.
- 45 vs. 37: Last year, 45% of all field goals attempted by the Wolves were from three-point range (No. 3 in the NBA). This year, the number is down to 37% (No. 24). Some of that is natural with Gobert playing significant minutes, but if a team is going to go away from three-point volume it needs to be particularly good in three areas to make up for it: three-point accuracy, two-point efficiency and free throws.
The Wolves? They're No. 25 in three-point accuracy (32.6%), No. 10 in two-point accuracy (54.2%), 20th in free throw rate and No. 22 in free throw accuracy (75.3%). That's not good enough, and it's driving their No. 23 ranking in overall offensive efficiency.
- 17-7: Finally, though, we must recognize that their four losses are to teams with that combined record. Utah and San Antonio looked like lesser opponents to start the year, but they're a combined 11-6. Winning at Phoenix is tough even when you are at your best. The Wolves have done enough good things, particularly on defense, to tread water. They just have to hope that the clunky offense, particularly from the starters, gets smoothed out before it's too late.