3 Timberwolves who are underperforming, 3 exceeding expectations at the midseason break

Minnesota Timberwolves v Portland Trail Blazers
Minnesota Timberwolves v Portland Trail Blazers / Alika Jenner/GettyImages
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The Minnesota Timberwolves are far exceeding expectations this season. At 39-16, the Timberwolves sit atop the Western Conference standings. Minnesota ranked eighth in the West a year ago, with a 31-30 record at the All-Star break.

Thus far, the defense has been elite. The Wolves allow the least points per game and rank first in the NBA in defensive rating. Led by perennial Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, the Wolves are stout from the inside out.

All five Wolves starters rank in the top 50 in the NBA in defensive rating, defensive box plus-minus, and defensive win shares. Minnesota is truly a defensive juggernaut which typically coincides with being a powerhouse squad in today's NBA.

An offensive explosion has taken over the league recently, but quality team defense remains king. Nine of the 10 best defensive teams in the NBA have won at least 30 games this season. Only one of the past five champions have placed outside the top 10 in defensive rating, and that champion came in at number 15.

Superb on the defensive end, Minnesota is no slouch on offense. Despite being a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to points per game, the Wolves rank in the top 10 in both field goal and 3-point percentage.

It's no aberration, Minnesota's combination of efficient offense and league-best defense have catapulted the squad into the upper echelon. Several players have outperformed preseason expectations, pushing the Timberwolves over the edge.

However, other players have stagnated or declined in the 2023-24 season. Here, we'll analyze three players who have exceeded expectations and three who have vastly underperformed.

Underperforming: Jordan McLaughlin

The first underperformer, Jordan McLaughlin, was counted on to step into the backup point guard role. Although the Timberwolves signed Shake Milton in the offseason, the 27-year-old is more of a true floor general, thus capable of playing alongside the former Philadelphia 76er.

While Milton is an obvious underachiever, he only played 38 games in Minnesota before being shipped out alongside Troy Brown Jr. and a second-round pick for Detroit Pistons' guard Monte Morris. Therefore he's excluded from the list.

Acquiring Morris wasn't just to ditch Milton, it was also to improve the backup point guard spot behind starter Mike Conley Jr. McLaughlin just wasn't cutting it. This season, the diminutive guard is averaging a measly 2.5 points and 1.6 assists in 8.9 minutes per game.

After numerous DNPs to begin the season, head coach Chris Finch opted to play McLaughlin instead of the now-departed Milton. In 16 appearances in January, McLaughlin averaged 3.6 points and 2.3 boards per game.

The veteran point guard is a dependable third-stringer, but his porous offensive efficiency makes him an iffy direct backup. This season, McLaughlin is shooting an abysmal 39.5 percent from the floor.

Throughout his career, he's a solid 43.5 percent shooter. However, his 3-point percentage leaves much to be desired at 34.8 percent. McLaughlin has shown some intriguing playmaking chops, but his scoring has held him back.

This year provided the perfect opportunity for McLaughlin to seize the lead reserve guard spot. But halfway through the season, it was obvious an upgrade was needed.