Minnesota Timberwolves: A tale of two halves

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

So far this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been a much better team in the first half of games than the second. Let’s take a look at how and why that’s happening.

It has been a largely successful season thus far for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

They sit tied with the San Antonio Spurs for the third seed in the Western Conference with an impressive 36-25 record at the All-Star break. It’s a far cry from looking ahead to the draft lottery at this time of the season like the front office and fans have for over a decade.

Despite the solid record, if the Wolves were as good in the final half of games as they are in the opening two quarters, they could actually be challenging Houston and Golden State in the race for first seed.

Minnesota has posted the second-best offensive rating in the league (112.4) in the first half of games, trailing just the sizzling Houston offense (115.9). The Wolves shoot a blistering 49.3 percent from the field in the first half, although they do only make a below par 34.4 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, and according to NBA.com/stats, they post are 3.9 points better on average than their opponents – a mark that ranks them third best in the league behind Houston and Toronto.

The Timberwolves have been pretty much elite on offense throughout the entire game on most nights, it’s the defensive end that they excel in only in the first 24 minutes of a game.

The 105 defensive rating the first half Wolves post is the 11th best league-wide, a huge difference from the 26th-ranked mark they have posted for the season overall. Minnesota also holds their opponents to 47.3 percent shooting, and while that isn’t great, it is still prettier than their second half efforts.

The Jimmy Butler/Zach LaVine return game in the week leading up to the All-Star break was a premium example of the Timberwolves ability to get off to a blazing start. They led 67-56 after one half, shooting the ball at 57.4 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from downtown. The offense was clicking (126.5 offensive rating) and the defense was stout enough to get by (105.5 defensive rating).

The ‘Big 3’ of Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins were clicking, netting 38 points on 15-22 shooting. It’s not only the scoring chops however, hustle plays like this have become a staple of the Timberwolves first half performances:

The Wolves let the game slip away in the second half though, the Bulls won the half 58-46 to take a heartbreaking 114-113 win away from Minnesota. In the final two quarters, the offense vanished and the defense followed, shooting a putrid 35 percent from the field and 30 percent from long range with a 93.2 offensive rating and giving up a massive 118.1 defensive rating.

The defense seems to completely give up at times — maybe it is partly due to fatigue and maybe not — but it is certainly a lack of effort defensively that kills the team in big moments far too often.

Watch here as Zach LaVine cruises to the hole off of a simple inbounds play, with little to no resistance offered by Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins:


These kinds of second half soilings aren’t just isolated to just the Chicago game, they have been hampering the Wolves throughout the entirety of the season. They still rank third in offensive rating in the final half, although the 112.4 mark they post over the first stanza drops down to 109.9 and although the 48 percent shooting is still good for fourth overall, it’s not quite as efficient as the 49.3 percent they put up over the first term.

So despite being slightly worse for wear than the first half offense, the Wolves are still pretty reliable on the flashier end of the court over the final 24 minutes. Just like the Bulls game however, it’s the defensive end where they seem to fall off a cliff in the second half.

The Timberwolves 11th-best defensive rating plummets to dead last (111.5) over the final half of games, a hefty distance back on the 29th placed Phoenix Suns (110.2) who have the worst record in the West. Teams also shoot 47.9 percent from the field, which ranks the Wolves 29th overall.

Plays like this one below seem to happen much more often in the second half of games, as Andrew Wiggins inexplicably turns around to watch the ball while his All-Star opponent DeMar DeRozan sneaks in for a clutch bucket:

Fatigue may play a part, but there is no excuse for not keeping tabs on your man in the biggest possessions of the game — especially when they average 23.7 points per game like DeRozan.

Next: Analyzing the Timberwolves pick-and-roll defense

It truly has been a tale of two halves thus far, if the Minnesota Timberwolves can return to the court post All-Star break with a better disposition in the final halves of their remaining 21 games, they just may be able to give the playoffs a fair shake.