It's far too early to draw any hard conclusions about this year's Timberwolves, particularly in relation to disappointing Wolves teams in the past. That said, we can attempt to understand a little more about what has gone wrong in their 0-2 start heading into Tuesday's home opener to better gauge A) what needs to improve and B) how easy that will be.
1) Last season, the Wolves made 287 fewer three-pointers than their opponents (3.5 per game) and made them at a lower rate (33.8 percent for the Wolves, 35.5 percent for opponents).
New coach Tom Thibodeau has noted the disparity between threes made and threes allowed last year, saying in the preseason that the gap basically meant the Wolves were starting every game 10 points behind. Improving on that is a point of emphasis. In three of Thibs' five seasons in Chicago, the Bulls made more threes and shot a higher percentage than their foes. The other two years, they were basically even.
With the Wolves so far this season, though, it's been more of the same thing we saw over the balance of last season. Minnesota has made 13 of 40 (32.5 percent) threes, while opponents have made 20 of 50 (40 percent). If you're scoring at home, that's exactly 3.5 more threes per game for opponents, and again that 10-point starting gap Thibodeau referenced.
That said, it's also the kind of thing that might be correctable as the Wolves get more comfortable in Thibodeau's system — both offensively and defensively.
2) Speaking of Thibodeau's system, he has a reputation of being a defensive-minded coach. The Wolves, outside of three-point shooting, were a capable offensive team last season — but they were often a brutally bad defensive team. Remaking these Wolves in his defensive image will be Thibs' toughest task, and so far it's not going so well.
Through two games, the Wolves rank in the top half of the NBA in the "offensive four factors" (effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, offensive rebound percentage and free-throw/field goal attempt percentage). But they're in the bottom half of the NBA defensively in those four categories.
Combined with the three-point numbers, this is where the "same old Timberwolves" narrative picks up steam. But again, remember: This is a sample size of 96 minutes under a brand-new coach. We can reasonably expect the defensive numbers to improve because Thibodeau won't put up with players who don't or won't play defense.
3) Free throws. This is a new wrinkle from last year, when the Wolves ranked fourth in free-throw percentage (nearly 80 percent) and second in free-throw attempts per game (27) — real strengths of the offense. So far in two games, the attempts are robust (30 per game), but the Wolves have made just 42 of 60 overall (70 percent). If they were making at the same rate as last year, they would have about six more points to spread over two games — points that could have made a difference in one or both games considering they lost by three and four points.
Of the things that have gone wrong so far, this one is the least worrisome long-term. This is a good free-throw shooting team. They're still getting to the line. Those misses were costly, but they should turn into more makes long-term.