Timberwolves

Wolves Wired for Solid Season

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Optimism surrounds the Minnesota Timberwolves at the start of this season, but with a different feel than years past.

The Wolves acquired tone-setters in Patrick Beverley and Taurean Prince, have a legitimate big three, and young, energetic pieces that force Chris Finch to stay on his toes. Beverley has proven to be the voice Minnesota needs to push mental and physical limits.

And with the West looking much different, this could be the year we see the Wolves return to the postseason.

Silver-Lining Schedule

Injuries are plaguing the Western Conference to start the year, which are remnant from a tough 2020 season. It’s bad for the game to be without stars, let alone any player.

Only, while the bodies on the sidelines heal up, the Timberwolves can take advantage of their absences to get a jump in the standings.

Minnesota sits at 3-3 through their first six games. So far, the biggest knocks on this year’s roster have been the inability to grab boards and streaky shooting to close out games.

Against a Zion-less Pelicans squad we saw Jonas Valančiūnas dominate the boards, making the small-ball approach appear as more of a detriment than advantage. As for Saturday’s battle with the Nuggets, the ball simply wasn’t going in. Outside of Malik Beasley‘s solid second half, the Timberwolves shot 36% to close out the game. With Denver missing Jamal Murray, the 93-91 loss marked another loss to a team not at full power.

Let’s not even mention the game against the Orlando Magic. Just take a look at Franz Wagner‘s poster for explanation.

It’s no secret that the West is pegged as the more competitive conference. Within the next five games, Minnesota will face a short-staffed but solid Warriors squad, the Clippers twice without Kawhi, and a Lakers squad still trying to figure it out. If the Wolves are to have any chance at staying relevant, they need to take advantage of the absences and mismatches.

The Good and the Ugly

Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels are for real.

The 2020 first rounders are solidified in the starting five and frequently making impact plays on either side of the court. In Jaden’s case, the impact isn’t reflected on the stat sheet but in his defense. Ant has made a similar impact, only the inefficiency is rearing its ugly head again (Edwards has yet to notch a 50% or better shooting performance this year). His volume is high — as it should be for a No. 1 pick — but the stats are yet to reflect his improving shot selection.

In time this will surely trend upwards, just was we’ve seen with his rebounding this year (not to mention his added intensity on defense).

D-Lo Still a Long-Term Fit?

D’Angelo Russell has been a hot topic in Minnesota throughout the first cluster of games. Shooting only 30% from three and noticeably struggling to find any consistency, the Wolves point guard has been weighing down the offense.

Russell’s name has been mixed in trade rumors all offseason, and certainly remains so with Ben Simmons still unsettled in Philly. A positive that can be taken from D-Lo’s early-season struggles is they parallel his start to the 2018-2019– a season where he was an All-Star and carried Brooklyn to the playoffs.

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Physicality has been an obvious focus for this new squad. Karl-Anthony Towns devoted himself to getting bigger this offseason in effort of commanding the post. Though KAT is certainly a threat, his aggression (or lack-there-of) has put Minnesota at a disadvantage when rebounding.

Through the first three games, Minnesota was dead last in the league in allowing offensive rebounds at 31%. With Jarred Vanderbilt in the starting lineup, the Wolves have begun to remedy that. V8’s tenacity and willingness to make the tough plays are why fans and Finch are so high on him. With his efforts, he currently sits with the 17th-highest rebound percentage in the league.

While KAT begins to prosper from a bigger lineup, his natural playmaking abilities can really flourish.

Linear Focus

All eyes north simply isn’t a motto for this team– it’s a mindset.

The Timberwolves have already made noticeable strides under Chris Finch’s first official season as head coach. A third-ranked defense, improvements to playing up on picks, and twitchy hands are early factors to success, but the offense has a long way to go to find its groove.

Seeing KAT with a higher dosage of shot attempts, D-Lo having more of a presence off the ball, and Naz Reid playing a more pivotal scoring role are needs to be addressed. The defensive improvements alone are proof enough that this team comes to play. Paul George and the Clippers provide the Wolves with the next test.

As always, the key word is consistency, and once that becomes the focus, the road to the playoffs becomes much, much clearer.

Follow us on Twitter @TWolvesLead for the latest Timberwolves news and insight.

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