Deflating Wolves: 5 Thoughts on a 2 Game Series

Credit: Any Clayton-King

“Deflating” is the best word I have to describe the Wolves back to back games against the Zion-less Pelicans. If my Wolves fandom is a balloon it was as big as it has ever been after the season opener, but the Wolves have let the air out of it a bit after 2 straight uninspiring games. In game 1 Minnesota escaped with a win, but signs of major issues with the offense and rebounding cropped up. Those problems were highlighted in bright neon yellow during Monday night’s ugly loss. Here are 5 thoughts on the 2 game series focusing more on the 2nd game against New Orleans.

Seriously, what are we watching right now in the Wolves half court offense? It seems like they are just taking turns between the “big 3” and hoping one of them gets hot. Well, we found out what happens when none of them are hot.

The 1st half of Monday’s game was a masterclass in poor offensive play. It had everything including missed open shots, ill-advised contested shots, not passing to open players, and general ball-hoggery that contributed to 43 points on a ghastly 25% shooting from the field and 3pt. line. They were only in the game because of their defense and ability to get to the free throw line.

So how do they fix it? The Wolves NEED to quit this “your turn, my turn” style. Offense is more than just having more scoring talent. You need creativity and right now the Wolves have very little of that.

I think Anthony Edwards hit the nail on the head after the game when he basically said it’s on him, KAT, and DLo to pass the ball and get others involved. That could not have been more obvious after Monday’s game. After the “big 3,” no other Wolves player is averaging more than 7 field goal attempts, and that is Malik Beasley who is definitely not happy with only 7 shots. Jaden McDaniels, a starter, playing 28 mins/gm. is averaging 5 shots per game.

There has to be a concerted effort to get these other guys going otherwise we will see more nights like both of the Pelicans games where the Wolves are left searching for one of their stars to get hot and save them.

Raw statistics do not always tell the whole story, but the rebounding numbers from the 2 games against New Orleans paint a pretty clear picture. The Pelicans snagged 121 rebounds to the Wolves 88 rebounds between the 2 games. That is an incredible disparity.

36 of the Pels 121 rebounds were on the offensive end. In game 2, Jonas Valančiūnas collected 9 offensive rebounds himself (23 total rebounds).

To be clear, I think Jonas Valančiūnas is a particularly bad matchup for Karl-Anthony Towns and the entire Wolves team. He is enormous, has veteran savvy, and plays exceptionally physical on both ends of the court. The domination of the Jonas was far from the most discouraging part however as the rest of New Orleans’ rotation players seemed to just crash the boards harder than the Wolves.

Outside of their hulking center, the Pelicans are not a very big team when they are missing Zion Williamson. Their guards (Graham, Alexander-Walker, Temple, and Lewis Jr.) are not physically imposing nor are they known for their rebounding capabilities. They do not play huge forwards either. Brandon Ingram is long but skinny, Herb Jones, Naji Marshall, and Trey Murphy III are wing-sized players that are forced into power forward minutes. They should not be dominating the Wolves that decidedly on the glass, but alas.

We knew rebounding would be an issue, but they have not even played a giant team yet and it is already a near emergency-level mess. Part of the problem was that neither one of Naz Reid or Jarred Vanderbilt seemed to be able to get their games going so Chris Finch opted to play others who just happen to be smaller. The big guys behind Towns will need to get up to speed, otherwise this is going to be a season-long problem.

I have never experienced a real tsunami, but in my opinion it seems like it would be one of the more terrifying natural disasters. The little warning tsunamis offer is what would frighten me most. Everyone knows the signs of an impending tsunami, or at least we have seen it in the movies. Basically the ocean water recedes far back off of a beach and exposes the sea floor. The issue is, if you are on the beach and see this happen it may already be too late.

That is what it must be like to play against Anthony Edwards. He can overwhelm you like a massive wave crashing into a seaside city. Ant also offers a surefire warning that he is about to wreak havoc. In Monday night’s loss to the Pelicans, that warning came with 8:34 left in the 3rd quarter as he finally, mercifully, splashed his first 3pt. shot of the night off a pass from Karl-Anthony Towns.

With that warning the tsunami would begin. On the Pelicans ensuing possession he snatched the ball away from Brandon Ingram and converted a fast break layup to begin the destruction. Ant would then speed down the court for consecutive transition layups where he converted over helpless defenders. Then, the big wave made landfall. Edwards sped down the court after a turnover, already a 5 alarm fire, and crossed over on Kira Lewis Jr. near the 3pt line, then Pels rookie Trey Murphy III got caught under the rim as Ant hammered a dunk on his head. The dam had completely broken loose.

via Minnesota Timberwolves

For good measure Anthony Edwards decided to splash a couple more 3’s before the quarter’s end and mixed in another tough transition finish. Altogether the 3rd quarter saw “Tsunami Edwards” net 21 points, 2 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and brought the Wolves back from the brink of a blowout to a single digit deficit. Special player.

I will admit I have never been the biggest Ingram fan. Just have not been sure exactly how he fits on a good team. But these past 2 games have been a bit of an eye-opener. That guy can shoot it.

The Wolves defended him well in my opinion alternating between Jaden McDaniels, Taurean Prince, Josh Okogie, and Jarred Vanderbilt. That is a gauntlet of long and tough defenders. Ingram did not seem to mind.

So far this season (4 games) B.I. is shooting 56% from the deep midrange (16ft-3pt. line) and 50% from the behind the 3pt. line. With his 6'9" frame and high release, it almost did not matter how well the Wolves defended him. Ingram was simply rising over them to hit tough jump shots.

In Monday night’s game he snuffed out the Wolves comeback attempt with difficult jump shots. Ingram had 8 points in the 4th quarter on 4/6 shooting, and each jump shot seemed to be defended very well. Having a player like that in close games is a real weapon, and he put the Wolves down on Monday night.

Ok, the Wolves are 2–1. That’s a fine record even considering they played teams they should beat at home! The beginning of the season is always weird for every team. Remember 2 years ago when the Wolves started 10–8? I sure do. They finished 19–45 in the COVID shortened year.

The issue is, the Wolves are sort of backwards right now. Most fans assumed this team would be able to score at-will but struggle to defend. So far the inverse has been true. Should that lead us to be confident that they can straighten out their ability to score, the one area we thought would be great, while maintaining this high level of defensive effort? Or should we be worried that the offense may never be fully optimized while the defense regresses and the poor rebounding drags the team down?

As usual, it’s probably somewhere in the middle. I predicted prior to the season that the offense would not quite reach elite levels but the defense would be near average leading to about a .500 record, and I still see that as a real possibility.

I just cannot imagine that this poor offense will sustain. We saw too much cohesion on that end to finish last year’s season and this team has too much firepower to be this bad at scoring the ball all season long. The defense may not be a top 5 unit, but it seems like it will not be bad either with talented defenders getting plenty of minutes. Unfortunately it does not seem like the rebounding deficiencies are going to be remedied anytime soon.

All of that probably adds up to a better team than we have seen over the past 2 games for the Wolves. The next couple of games may get bumpy facing off against powerhouses in the Bucks and Nuggets, but if this team can show some fight in those games or even steal a win I will have a much greater sense of hope for this team in establishing an identity and being different than past Wolves teams.

-Jerry W.

Analyzing the Minnesota Timberwolves and greater NBA from a fan’s perspective. Twitter: @balleyesnorth Email: balleyesnorth@gmail.com Website: balleyesnorth.com