Minnesota Timberwolves: Week One Surprises and Disappointments

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 27: Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns ran out during team introductions before an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn. (Photo by Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 27: Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns ran out during team introductions before an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn. (Photo by Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune via Getty Images) /

Following an undefeated start to the regular season, the Minnesota Timberwolves lead the NBA with a 3-0 record. After week one, surprises and disappointments are abound across a flawed roster.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves recover from a thrilling 116-109 victory over the Miami Heat, praise has begun pouring in from skeptics and fans alike.

Led by a dominant Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves completed an undefeated week one with victories over the Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, and Miami Heat.

However when given closer examination, this Wolves squad is likely an early season over-performer due in large part to the ridiculous performance of Karl-Anthony Towns.

Towns, named Monday as the Western Conference Player of the Week, averaged 32 points, 13.3 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks per contest. To summarize, teams have yet to find an answer for Towns’ all-around domination.

From Zach Lowe to Nick “Swaggy P” Young, NBA Twitter has been impressed with the surging Towns, who currently stands as clear-cut MVP candidate.

Offensively, Towns’ greatest improvement so far has been his 3-point shooting where he is hitting 52 percent of his 9.7 attempts per game. For comparison, Towns is tied for the fourth most 3-point attempts in the NBA with Luka Dončić at 29, behind only Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry.

While head coach Ryan Saunders and assistant coach Pablo Prigioni‘s pace-and-space system can be credited with opening the floor for Towns to shoot a greater number of threes in transition and within the flow of the offense, Towns’ development of a stepback three-point shot is fundamentally absurd.

At a listed height and weight of 7-feet and 247 pounds, Towns has introduced a shot eerily reminiscent of 2017-2018 MVP James Harden‘s patented stepback jumper. With a spaced offense that requires defenders to stay with their man or suffer Towns passing out of a double-team to an open cutter, KAT has been able to tap into a skillset unlike any other big in NBA history.

On defense, Towns has also made tremendous strides thanks to the defensive system of assistant coach David Vanterpool. In Vanterpool’s system, KAT is tasked with dropping in pick-and-roll situations, leaving on-ball defenders with the responsibility of getting through screens in order to force their opponent away from the three-point line and into Towns.

With six blocks on the season, KAT’s focus on protecting the paint has allowed him to avoid common fouls in defending wing players on switching scenarios and instead rely on his athleticism and verticality to disrupt driving guards.

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If Towns continues to replicate such ludicrous performances and stat lines, he will be guaranteed an All-Star nod as well as votes for MVP and All-NBA. However, to guide this current iteration of the Wolves, he is going to need greater support from his teammates.

One of those teammates is Andrew Wiggins, who is coming off one of the more exciting nights of his infamous career.

To close the fourth quarter, Wiggins went on an 11-0 run against the Miami Heat nailing some audacious threes that had his teammates storming the court in celebration. Despite his heroics, Wiggins has continued to flounder in his attempts to impact the game in any way other than scoring.

Thus far, Wiggins is averaging 0.7 assists per game, 0.3 steals, and 0.3 blocks per contest. As has been the criticism of Wiggins for years, unless he is scoring, he is not going to impact the game in any other facets.

While Wiggins has also seemed to make subtle improvements in his willingness to attack the rim and shoot more threes, his infatuation with midrange jumpers has only grown to infuriate viewers to a greater extent after the Wolves’ adoption of a modern offense.

As the Wolves’ coaches have continued to preach a greater emphasis on off-ball action and a free-flowing offense, Wiggins’ ability to stagnate an offensive possession is quite impressive in its brutality.

Unless Wiggins can improve on his efficiency and avoid such jumpers, hopes for a different Andrew Wiggins will be futile. While Wiggins has continued some of his unfortunate habits, he is not the only Wolves player who has accumulated a number of perplexing plays thus far.

Although common mistakes are admittedly expected of rookies, Jarrett Culver‘s debut has been less than inspiring thus far.

Outside of the occasional solid defensive read, Culver‘s inability to make an impact whatsoever off the bench has been a disappointment. Lacking playmakers following the offseason departures of Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones, Culver received hype during the preseason as a potential ballhandler for a second unit that lacked scorers.

However, as this play from his NBA debut nicely summarizes, Culver’s performance seems to be the result of a lack of confidence that will require time for development.

As Gersson Rosas continues to evaluate potential supporting options for Towns, the Wolves should allow Culver to play through his troubles, despite the repercussions it would have on the Wolves’ playoff chances and the playing time of positive contributors like Shabazz Napier and Josh Okogie.

An adverse effect of the Wolves’ hot start is that fans begin to feel hope for an improbable season that ends in a playoff berth. But the attitude of Rosas and Saunders for this season will continue to be set on developing systems that ultimately lead to future success.

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The Wolves have thus far only competed against two playoff hopefuls in the East and what is likely the worst team in the NBA in Charlotte. Until the Wolves can depend on supporting players such as Wiggins and Culver to support Towns in matchups against Western Conference heavyweights, fans should temper their expectations for the remainder of this 2019-2020 season.