The Minnesota Timberwolves took a big step forward in 2021-22, jumping from 13th to 7th in the West before going down in six games to the Grizzlies. Unfortunately, they were unable to replicate that jump this season, winning four less games and being blown out by the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. But it’s not all doom and gloom in Minnesota. These are the three biggest fixes that the Timberwolves need to make in the offseason to help them to take the next step.
1. Add some bench scoring
In terms of total points output in the regular season, the Timberwolves’ bench wasn’t a complete disaster, contributing 46.5 points per game – good for 14th in the league. But those numbers masked the reality of what is a pretty mediocre bench unit. Kyle Anderson certainly has his strengths but scoring isn’t one of them; Taurean Prince can theoretically do some scoring but doesn’t do a lot of it; Nickeil Alexander-Walker wasn’t exactly the spark plug they hoped for since coming across from the Utah Jazz, and was moved into the starting lineup for four of their five playoff games anyway.
And sure enough, when push came to shove, that bench had very little to offer. In their five-game loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Timberwolves’ bench contributed a measly 18.8 points per game, the third worst of any team in the playoffs. Those points came on 34.6% shooting and 28.8% from three, and demonstrated this gaping hole in Minnesota’s roster. Clearly it’s the starting lineup that matters most, but Edwards, Towns and co can’t play 48 minutes per game, and when they’re sitting the Wolves need to be able to keep pace with their opposition.
2. Get KAT purring more often
It’s sometimes forgotten just how talented Karl-Anthony Towns is. He stands at 7’0” tall and for his career, shoots nearly 40% from three-point range. That is not particularly usual. His post game, too, is very strong when he wants it to be, making up one of the more capable offensive big men that we’ve seen. Say what you want about his defense, but KAT is an incredible offensive talent.
Too often, however, he doesn’t put that talent on show. Towns’ shot attempts have decreased in recent years, from 17.5 per game in 2020-21 to 16.4 last season and just 14.8 in limited games this season. In the Timberwolves’ recently concluded series against the Nuggets, that number dropped to 14.0. It’s an often under-utilized skill in the NBA to be able to give the reins to a teammate when necessary, and often that’s the case with Anthony Edwards, but Towns takes this concept to the extreme. At his best Towns was averaging over 26 points per game on efficient shooting, but this year he was down to 20.8 and just 18.0 in the NBA Playoffs. Too often, he’s the most efficient guy on the floor for the Timberwolves, but he just goes missing. Towns’ teammates can help out in this regard too by feeding him the ball a little more, but Towns needs to demand it. If he can learn to take the bull by the horns with a little more regularity, it will make the Timberwolves a better team.
3. Save extra points
The Timberwolves were a very good defensive side this year – at least in the half court. Over the course of the regular season, they gave up just 96.6 points per 100 half court plays, good for seventh in the league. However, they give up too many unnecessary points, and if they want to take the next step as a team they need to eradicate these points.
In the regular season, the Timberwolves ranked in the bottom half of the league for points conceded off turnovers, second chance points conceded, and fast break points conceded. This was a problem in the NBA Playoffs, too; the 16.4 fast break points they gave up to Denver was the third most in the postseason, while the 16.8 points off turnovers was also in the bottom half of playoff teams. These factors aren’t the only reason they lost and in isolation might not seem like the be-all and end-all, but the best teams in the NBA have few weaknesses and save points where they can. Basketball is a sport in which there are lots of close games, and if they continue to consistently give up these extra points, it will prevent the Timberwolves joining the top-tier of teams.
The Timberwolves have a lot of work to do to close the gap between themselves and the upper echelon of teams in the league, but there is some room for optimism in Minnesota. If they can address their bench problems, tighten up their defense and find a way to make Towns a more consistent offensive threat to complement Anthony Edwards, they’re capable of taking another step forward next season.
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