There were legitimate things to grumble about even as the Timberwolves went 47-35 last season and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
And with the season set to begin Wednesday after the strangest preseason in recent memory, there are plenty of fair questions in play for this year’s team.
But one narrative from a year ago that didn’t make sense then and still doesn’t make sense is this: that the Wolves have a clunky, inefficient offense.
As a matter of fact, the Wolves had one of the best offenses in the NBA a year ago, finishing fourth out of 30 teams in efficiency. How in the world did they do that when they finished dead last in both three-pointers made and attempted — the modern metrics so often associated with an efficient offense?
Well, basically the Wolves were excellent in other, perhaps more old-fashioned ways — and they added up to an offense that hummed along quite nicely. Here are four things the Wolves did quite well last season offensively — things that in theory should continue this year:
• Free throws: The struggles of Andrew Wiggins at the line were well-documented, but the rest of the team shot free throws at a high clip and high percentage.
The Wolves attempted the fifth-most free throws, made the third-most and had the second-best percentage (80.4) in the NBA. It’s hard to get much more efficient than free points while the clock is stopped.
They were led by Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, who combined to shoot more than 12 free throws a game, and both shot them at better than an 85 percent clip. Point guard Jeff Teague (84.5 percent) was also a steady contributor.
• Two-pointers: The Wolves made the fewest threes, but they made the most twos. Three is bigger than two, of course, but within those makes the Wolves did some things quite well.
They made 69 percent of their shots from 3 feet or closer to the basket, the fourth-best percentage in the league. And though they took a lot of mid- to long-range twos, they were generally accurate with those shots.
In particular, they made 43.3 percent of shots from 3 to 10 feet away — second-best in the league. Maybe they shouldn’t get credit for efficiency by being good at typically inefficient shots, but those shots worked for them.
• Taking care of the ball: The Wolves averaged just 12.5 turnovers per game on offense, the second-fewest in the NBA last season. Fewer wasted possessions with no chance at scoring means a higher volume of shots that at least have a chance to go in.
• Offensive rebounding: Minnesota tied for third in offensive rebound percentage, grabbing boards on 28.9 percent of all opportunities a season ago.
Offensive rebounds often lead to good chances to score — either on close-range putbacks or kickouts to open three-point shooters. And when the Wolves shot threes, they were at least decent at making them (No. 19 in the league at 35.7 percent).
If Butler is traded, it would potentially negatively impact the Wolves’ free-throw efficiency and accuracy on midrange two-pointers, but it is also worth pointing out that Minnesota was 10th in the NBA in offensive efficiency two seasons ago before Butler arrived.
Long story short: It might not always look pretty, but the Wolves under Tom Thibodeau have their offense figured out. Now, about that defense …