Why the Twolves have to be better in 2011

THEY CAN’T DO MUCH WORSE

Despite losing C Al Jefferson, I’ve got the Timberwolves improving by about 11 or 12 games next season.  There’s three main reasons why.

1.  Kevin Love should play a full season.  That’s (+3.0) extra wins right there.

2.  Last season they got -0.6 wins out of 35.5 of their “player games”.  That’s almost impossibly bad, and I’m not joking.  They cannot possibly repeat such a stunt. 

3. Building on point two;  Historically, it’s almost impossible to have a player of Kevin Love’s win productivity on your roster and still win only 15 games.  Thus just by switching out their roster as they have, they ought to get more win productivity than they got last season.  

For those who don’t follow, when I refer to a “player game”, I mean 241 minutes of court time.  In 241 minutes of court time a bench level player, meaning a player who is easily obtainable, should deliver 0.34 wins for his team.  Yet if you add together the 2010 court minutes of Ryan Hollins, Nathan Jawai, Oleksiy Pecherov, Brian Cardinal, Sasha Pavlovic, Darko Milicic, Jonny Flynn, and Corey Brewer, you get 35.8 game responsibilities that somehow produced only -0.6 wins for the team.

That is a grand total of 13.3 wins below bench.  Below bench!  Below the amount you should be able to get out of easily obtainable players.  Terrible.  It’s actually hard to do that bad.  You should be able to fall ass backwards into at least 6.0 wins in that amount of court time.

The good news for the Twolves is, with yesterday’s trade of the non-productive “SF masquerading as a F/C” Ryan Hollins, they’ve now cleared out four of the seven non-producers, and I don’t think Nathan Jawai is really in their plans for next season.  Just by replacing those players, the team should improve by at least 5 more wins.  That’s 8 wins.

Then when you consider that the team was not only bad but unlucky by 2.5 to 3.0 wins last season, you have to project them to win around 27 games in 2011. 

The caveat is this.  They must play better defense, especially at the rim.  Last season the Timberwolves allowed the highest FG% at the rim in the NBA, 60%.  That’s ridiculous.  Yet they did not add length in the draft… so their defense has no chance of substantial improvement.  But they must show some improvement.  Improved effort alone should do that.

In fact, improved effort in general would net the Timberwolves a few extra wins on top of the wins I’m projecting.  One area I look at when I’m looking at a team’s effort, particularly its defensive effort, is “Opponent Assists”.  The NBA average assist per made field goal is 56%.  It has stood at that percentage for some three decades. 

Last season Minnesota allowed assists on 62% of made field goals.  That indicates to me, or at least suggests to me, that the Timberwolves perimeter defenders were applying ZERO ball pressure on the outside.  You cannot give up that many extra assists without completely free passing lanes.  That has to be tightened up. 

And the team needs to pass the ball.  Their 52% assist rate on made baskets harkens back to the 1960s.

In fact, when you look at Dean Oliver’s “Four Factors” (which are really just a different way of stating “Win Score”), the Timberwolves were terrible in three of them, eFG%, FTA/FGA, and Turnover%, and the only reason they were competitive in rebounding was because they employ the best rebounder on the planet in Kevin Love.

So I expect an 8-11 game improvement from the Wolves this season.  But, if the team’s defense and ball movement don’t improve immediately, I would fire Kurt Rambis before Christmas.  The team’s overall performance and effort level last season was so bad, I don’t know how he remains as head coach.  I have no idea how he survived the off-season.

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12 Responses to “Why the Twolves have to be better in 2011”

  1. robbieomalley Says:

    Ty,

    Really great article. I was wondering where you got the opponent statistics – The 60% FG at the rim and 62% assist rate. Those seem really specific statistics. They added a lot of insight to this post.

  2. badgerbucco Says:

    Ty,

    If you are right about the relationship, it should really be phrased that Win Score is just another way of stating the Four Factors, since the Four Factors were published first.

    BadgerBucco

  3. David St. Hubbins Says:

    Taking a lack of equal data an playing time into consideration, how would you compare two of the younger, less experienced rebounding talents in the league today (Dejuan Blair & Jon Brockman) to the slightly more experienced premier rebounder – Love?

    • tywill33 Says:

      DeJuan Blair is definitely in Love’s class… they may be equals.

      I’m going to be a little less enthusiastic about Brockman, but let me quick check his overall record, including college, and I’ll supplement this.

  4. Greg Says:

    The T Wolves signed Pekovic. He looks like a guy who defend the paint. Plus Flynn’s out until mid season. Ridnour takes his spot. Love gets all of Jefferson’s minutes. I think these changes will result in more wins than you have projected.

    • tywill33 Says:

      Flynn’s out??? That does make a huge difference! Pekovic? Who’s that?

      It seems almost certain they will fall into at least 26 wins, and probably more as you suggest.

  5. artreddin Says:

    No, sorry, it doesn’t work like that. You can’t “fall into more wins” any more than you can win more games at a poker table just because you “lost so much last time and it’s gotta get better, right?” If you’re dealt or drew (i.e., traded) for bad hands you can only make so much of them.

    The TWolves problem is still the same as last season: too many projects and unknowns, no proven recipe for a satisfying result.

    BTW, I got crapped on by almost everyone at CanisHoopus in the frenzied “remake” days of Rubio and Khan for predicting what turned out to be exactly the total wins on last year’s season. I don’t see anything this year that makes me think this 2010-11 version is any better… but then again, I’ve pretty much stopped looking.

    • tywill33 Says:

      Sorry it has taken me so long to reply and approve your comments.

      I agree with your comment that you can’t just fall into wins. I did use that phrase, but that wasn’t the point I was trying to make. My writing has been sloppy all summer long, and I apologize.

      What I was trying to say was that the statistical production of a handful of players on last season’s Timberwolves team was so far below the norm for NBA substitutes — even for third string substitutes — that the simple act of replacing them with almost any other available NBA talent would likely result in more wins for Minnesota.

      That’s all I was trying to observe. Of course you can’t blindly get more wins. But if you’re driving a beaten down jalopy that doesn’t start, you could probably safely say that if you chose any other car in the lot it would constitute an improvement. That’s what I meant. If the productive talent on your NBA roster is grossly substandard, then a mere blind turning over of that roster ought to lead to a few more wins. That’s all I was suggesting.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • artreddin Says:

        Fair enough, and thanks for taking the time to write back. You’ve done a good analysis of why the TWolves are defence challenged and maybe some substitutes will play smarter or at least harder.

        However, I’m not as optimistic as you that there will be an improvement of so many games – you’re talking an 80% improvement, and this without Sessions, Gomes, and Big Al, and with Flynn out for a couple of months.

        There are a few other teams in major rebuilding mode and our games with them will be a coin toss. Even with this, I’d project 22 or 23 wins tops… which could well lead to Glen Taylor’s patience running out mid-season and some major additional turbulence on the horizon.

        Despite this gloomy forecast, I think Pekovic, Beasley, Brewer, and Wellington may surprise in their individual play. I do share your appreciation of the talents of both Kevin Love and DeJuan Blair.

  6. artreddin Says:

    P.S. Maybe the poker analogy doesn’t click with most readers since luck has such a role in card playing. I suppose the TWolves problem is more a matter of their bringing a D League-quality team plus a couple of ringers to an NBA court.

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