The Minnesota Timberwolves were supposed to be a team on the rise. Instead, they have lost six straight and 10 of their last 11. Their net point differential per 100 possessions (minus-3.9 net rating) is the eighth worst in the NBA thanks to an offense that generates fifth lowest points per 100 possessions (100.2).
Part of that problem is a lack of three-point attempts. The Timberwolves take the fewest percentage of three-point shots, launching just 18.8 percent from long range. They also connect at a below-average rate on those shots, particularly at the top of the arc, producing the fourth lowest effective field goal percentage in the league (47.7 percent).
That boils down to 4.9 three-point shots made per game. Their opponents, on the other hand, make 8.7 per game, so right away there is an 11-point deficit to make up.
Teams can overcome this type of offense — the San Antonio Spurs take the fifth fewest three-point shots (22.4 percent) and the Oklahoma City Thunder are seventh (25.0 percent), but Minnesota is only accurate when left wide open, which occurs on 1 out of every 6 shots.
And that brings us to the team’s other problem: their young players are struggling.
Andrew Wiggins has not taken a large step forward in his second year. He is averaging more points (20.6 per game vs. 16.9 last season) but a drop in rebounds, assists, steals has his worth below a replacement-level player. Among players with at least 1,000 minutes who use at least 25 percent of their teams possessions, only Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor and Chicago’s Derrick Rose have been less valuable.
Point guard Zach LaVine has improved from last season, but he ranks 74th out of 83 point guards in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus (minus-3.94), a player’s estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions, which takes into account teammates and opponents.
Gorgui Dieng, a key reserve, has seen his offensive rebounding percentage drop for the third straight year while not getting to the free throw line as often as he once did. Plus, his on-court impact is minimal: the Timberwolves see a net point differential of minus-0.4 when he is on the court compared with when he is on the bench. Last year that was at least in the black (plus-1.2).
Karl-Anthony Towns, however, has been solid. The 7-foot rookie from Kentucky is averaging 15.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game this year, while playing 29 minutes a night. Other rookies to meet 15-9-1 per game include David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Alonzo Mourning, Ralph Sampson and Dikembe Mutombo, so it’s no wonder that Kevin Durant is lavishing him with high praise.
“I see the progress,” interim Coach Sam Mitchell said. “Sometimes it doesn’t always translate into wins, like we always want. But I see the progress. I see our guys developing mental toughness. I see them learn how to fight through their struggles. And that’s part of growing.”