Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (5) shoots as Atlanta Hawks forward Onyeka Okongwu (17) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Timberwolves coach Chris Finch noted numerous times last season that his team’s margin for error was not large. And that has proving to be the case again early this season.
The margin between Minnesota looking like a championship-caliber team — as it did in the first half of Monday’s loss to Atlanta — and it looking like a total train wreck — as it did in the second half — is razor thin.
It doesn’t feel like that should be the case for a team as talented as the Timberwolves. Last year they were without Karl-Anthony Towns for much of the season; now, he’s healthy. Rudy Gobert is healthy. Anthony Edwards is healthy. Jaden McDaniels was back from his calf injury on Monday, and played relatively well. Mike Conley was an all-star just two years ago.
On paper, there is too much talent to fail. And that’s the way it looks intermittently on the court in various games, as it did in the second half of Saturday’s home win over Miami, and for the first 24 minutes Monday in Atlanta.
But given their roster construction, the Timberwolves have to play a certain way to succeed. They must move the ball offensively, avoid turnovers and take smart shots. They need to rush back in transition defense.
Those are hallmarks of good basketball teams, and given the Timberwolves’ abundance of talent, that’s the type of play Finch should expect from his team more often than not. The game is generally easier when you play it alongside great players.
But this team too often, and unnecessarily, chooses the hard way — particularly when faced with resistance. Teams make runs in the NBA; it happens every game. The Timberwolves’ response to them is often to revert to bad habits.
Towns and Edwards start to force offense, which leads to bad shots and giveaways — gateways to opposing transition opportunities, something for which the slow-footed Wolves have few answers.
Edwards’ and Towns’ bad habits in big moments have reared their heads on numerous occasions. They played big roles in Minnesota blowing three big advantages in its first-round playoff series loss to Memphis in 2022. The Timberwolves’ tone-setters are prone to set the wrong tone at the wrong time.
The bad offense spills into bad defense, errors compound, and a bad five-minute stretch becomes a bad quarter — or half. The errors Minnesota makes during its worst stretches of basketball make life so easy for, and give so much confidence to, their opponents.
Finch has yet to find a solution for the issue, a common one over the past few seasons.
The thing is, there do appear to be solutions on the roster. The ball could go into the hands of Kyle Anderson or Mike Conley, who can better deliver the good possessions required to stem or turn the tide. Perhaps that’s who the coach will have to rely on on a more permanent basis when things start rolling the wrong way.
“They’re so good when they just stay in the flow of our offense and things come to them,” Finch said of his team Saturday before quickly adding, “and, of course, there’s opportunities to break outside of that flow, for sure.
“It’s incumbent on us to just keep putting them in the right position,” the coach said. “But if they can’t be trusted to do that, then we’ve got to put the ball in the hands of our vets like Mike and Kyle.”
Maybe the latter must happen if the Timberwolves are going to stop squandering so many large second-half leads.