So far this season, the Wolves have accomplished their goal of being one of the fastest-paced teams in the league.
They average 104.1 possessions per game, fifth in the league and a jump from their No. 13 ranking (100.9) a season ago.
It might naturally follow, then, that the Wolves would be at the top in fast-break points. But surprisingly, they are one of the worst teams in the league in that category. They average just 10.1 points per game — 29th in the league.
How can that be? If the Wolves are playing so fast, how come they can’t find success in transition? To coach Ryan Saunders, it has to do with what happens when the Wolves get near the basket.
“We are not a great finishing team at the moment,” Saunders said.
To Saunders, the Wolves are getting out and running a decent amount, but they haven’t been strong at making shots in those situations, whether they’re from the outside or at the rim.
“We’ve gotten some looks; we just haven’t been able to convert,” Saunders said. “That’s something we’re addressing on practice days, shoot-around days or off days, and we plan on getting better at that.”
To Saunders’ point, the Wolves are in the bottom half of the league when it comes to finishing at the rim, whether in transition or from their set offense. They are 19th in the league in shooting percentage in the restricted area at 60.5%. In the paint outside of the restricted area, they fare a little better compared to the rest of the league — 15th and 40% — but still not where they’d like those numbers to be.
“It will progress. I’m very confident in that,” Saunders said. “I believe you make your own luck, and we got to do what we can do to control things that are hurting us right now. The fast-break points and then converting the fast break is something we need to improve upon.”
It also doesn’t help their fast-break points that the Wolves shoot such a high volume of threes, including in transition, but are hitting only 33% of them, 27th in the league.
“I feel like we’ve gotten great open looks in transition, and when you’re taking in the high 30s for threes and sometimes 40-plus, you need to convert some of those,” Saunders said.
Not helping is that the offense can get sped up if the Wolves are playing too much in the half-court, Saunders said. Sometimes they will then take ill-advised shots, all in the name of playing fast.
The Wolves also rate just 21st in defensive rebounding percentage at .724, so it’s not as if the Wolves are making it easy on themselves by getting rebounds, throwing outlet passes and running. Just getting the rebound has been enough of a chore.
“We’ve got to rebound for us to get fast-break points,” guard Shabazz Napier said. “At the moment we’ve got to do better trying to implement those moments in a game where we can get a rebound, get some stops and are effective in transition because we have a lot of great open-court players.”
But they haven’t been able to utilize those skills to the maximum.
Chris Hine covers the Timberwolves and the NBA for the Star Tribune.