The 2017-18 version of the Timberwolves should be much improved over last year’s squad, but what specific areas should see the most improvement?
Looking at the Minnesota Timberwolves on paper, there are some obvious differences between this season’s team and last.
For one, they have a proven superstar in Jimmy Butler. Two, they added depth and plenty of weapons signing names such as Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson. But how will the additions fix the Wolves woes, and what exactly were the problems with last season’s team?
While watching Timberwolves games last year one thing was obvious: Minnesota was terrible in the third quarter and second half as a whole. The stats back this up in a big way, showing the young pups started with plenty of energy, but faded down the stretch. They went from tying the Warriors for the best field goal percentage in the first quarter by shooting the rock at 51 percent, to the 13th best in the third quarter and the 27th best in the fourth.
The Timberwolves also touted a 1.4 plus/minus in the first quarter that ranked them fourth in the league to begin games. By the time the game ended (the fourth quarter), only four teams in the entire league owned a worse plus/minus than Minnesota.
To pour more salt into the wound, the Wolves averaged the seventh-most points in the NBA in the first quarter and ranked ninth in the second. After halftime, those rankings dropped to 24th in the third period and 25th in the fourth with a pedestrian 25 points per quarter.
Last season, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine were the focal points of the offense. Wiggins and Towns averaged the third and fourth-most minutes per game in the league on the year. All of the run the young superstars received, along with the increased workload may have been the reason the team as a whole faded down the stretch.
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Wiggins, Towns and LaVine had substantially worse splits from the field in the first and second halves. Wiggins went from shooting 47.6 percent from the floor in the first half to 42.9 percent in the second. KAT’s percentages dipped from 58 percent to 50.3 and LaVine’s dropped from 49.9 percent to 41.7. It’s hard for a team to stay in games when they can’t sustain the pace of play that got them the lead in the first half.
The additions of Butler, Teague and Crawford will help these splits tremendously as the young stars aren’t forced to shoulder the load alone. Rather than going backward in the second half, Teague increased his field goal percentage by 4.4 percent, Crawford increased his by 2.9 percent and Butler increased his by a modest 0.1 percent during the back half of games. Although the three vets plus/minuses aren’t much to write home about, they are still an improvement upon the Wolves’ ‘big three’ last season.
Not a single player on Minnesota’s roster that averaged double-digit minutes in the second half last season had a positive plus/minus. Wiggins plus/minus went from 1.9 to -2.0, KAT’s from 1.5 to -1.7 and LaVine’s from 1.7 to -4.4. Not pretty.
As stated above, Butler, Teague and Crawford weren’t spectacular, but they did manage to stay positive or at least break even. Butler’s plus/minus went from 1.8 in the first half to 0.7 in the second, Teague’s went from -0.5 to 0.9 and Crawford broke even, going from 0.3 to 0.0.
Another significant difference between this season’s Wolves and the 2016-2017 version is the ability to spread the floor. Minnesota averaged the least amount of three-point attempts last season. To address this issue they brought in Crawford, who remains somewhat of a threat from beyond the arc even in his advanced age. Teague and Butler also have the ability to hit from deep, too, and add two more shooters who attempt 200-plus threes per season.
Last season was the first time since 2013-2014 (Kevin Love) that the Wolves had more than a single shooter attempt more than 200 shots from behind the arc in a season. With Wiggins, Towns, Butler, Teague and Crawford on board, the Timberwolves will have five shooters who attempt 200 or more three-pointers per season for the first time in nearly a decade.
Minnesota will have a chance to make history in multiple ways this season, but the one way that matters is winning. The last time the Timberwolves had a record over .500 was the 2004-2005 season. Now with veteran help and a totally revamped roster, there are no excuses for the Timberwolves. It’s playoffs or bust, with championship-caliber expectations on the horizon.