Mitch Hedberg's excellent and hilarious comedy routine about what happens when escalators break down aside, there is a certain strangeness and discomfort I encounter in those exact situations.
It happened to me (again) Wednesday afternoon, approaching an "up" escalator in downtown Minneapolis that was immobile. As Hedberg notes, it was not really out of order. It was just "temporarily stairs." Even so, walking up an escalator that isn't moving feels twice as hard as walking up normal stairs. My experience 99 percent of the time is that I won't have to do any work on an escalator. Now I'm being asked to do all of it.
Anyway, I of course made it to the top and — this is the 100 percent truth — immediately started formulating an analogy between a broken escalator and the Timberwolves' offense.
Where Hedberg's observational humor really connects, of course, is in the fact that a broken escalator is still quite efficient in the grand scheme of things. If the alternatives are, say, pole vaulting up to the second level or using some sort of pulley system, the temporary stairs will do just fine.
The Wolves' offense, too, was actually quite efficient this season. Minnesota finished fourth in the NBA during the regular season in offensive rating. The problem is, the offense, much like a broken escalator, doesn't look like it operates in an efficient way. It often, in fact, feels like the Wolves work twice as hard as they need to order to achieve their objectives.
The way this really bears itself out statistically is this: During the regular season, Wolves players took a higher percentage of shots while being closely guarded than any other NBA team. They also had the lowest percentage of overall field-goal attempts that came from three-point range — shots generally considered efficient. So how in the world were they so efficient at scoring?
Part of it is attributable to the offensive gifts of their best players who were able to make contested shots. Part of it was their success at getting to the free-throw line. As a whole, though, it also can be explained thusly: The Wolves were relatively efficient this season on inefficient shots. They shot 43.6 percent on shots five to nine feet from the hoop (second best in the NBA) and 44.3 percent on shots 10 to 14 feet from the hoop (sixth best in the NBA).
They had to work hard and climb those metaphorical broken escalator stairs to get there, but the Wolves often got there on offense.
In two playoff games, though, the offense has been downright ugly. The Wolves are dead last in offensive rating in the postseason (95.5), and even though it's only a sample of two games, the offense has often looked as bad as the numbers would indicate.
They're shooting only 13-for-42 on shots between five and 14 feet in the playoffs, a dismal 31 percent mark that ranks near the bottom among playoff teams and is way lower than their aforementioned season mark.
Part of the inefficiency has to do with who is shooting the ball. Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns have shot the ball fewer times, respectively, than Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford. Butler and Towns combined to take 30 shots per game in the regular season. In the playoffs — again, only two games — it's a paltry 17.5.
Forget about climbing up a broken escalator. The Wolves right now are falling down one. They might never achieve the smooth automation enjoyed by the likes of Houston and Golden State, but they can at least be competitive with the standard they became used to over 82 games.