Lack Of Depth Creates Challenges

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The Minnesota Timberwolves severely lack the necessary bench players to hang with the rough and tough Western Conference.

Before the season began some experts predicted the Minnesota Timberwolves to sneak into eighth place in the Western Conference.

A lot of fans were hoping this would be the year the Timberwolves ended their 12-year playoff drought as well, which is the longest active streak in the NBA.

With only 12 games remaining in the Timberwolves 2016-17 NBA season, their playoff chances look very bleak. They are now 28-42 and are five games back of the Denver Nuggets for the last spot in the playoffs, a  deficit that feels like it’s growing every single day.

The Timberwolves, who are 4-6 in their last 10 games and have lost four straight, look like a tired bunch. The Fox Sports North announcing team, as well as many fans, have begun commenting on how players, such as Andrew Wiggins, seem to have lost their legs.

Wiggins is unable to get to the same spots on the floor as he was during his 20-point scoring streak. Due to his fatigue, he is settling for a lot more contested jumpers that are farther away from the rim.

One of Wiggins’ favorite spots on the floor is the short corner. From there he likes to go with the patented MJ turnaround fade.  During the past eight games, he has not been able to consistently get to that spot on the floor.

This first table is his shot chart during his 20-point scoring streak from Jan. 19-March 1.

This second chart his is his shot selection the past eight games, from March 4-21.

As you can see Wiggins has struggled to get to the short corner during the past eight games, making only 2-of-14 shots.

Wiggins is also struggling to score at the rim, shooting 54.2 percent from that area over the past eight games. That is far below the 62.4 percent he shot during his 20-point streak and even lower than the league average of 57.1 percent.

Wiggins’ overall shooting percentage has plummeted as well. Over the past eight games, he is only shooting 36.5 percent from the field, including 23.8 percent from downtown. Those numbers are extremely depressed from his previous 20-point scoring streak.

During that streak, he shot 50.1 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from downtown.

It is hard to place the blame on Wiggins for the fatigue he appears to be experiencing this late into the season. He is, after all, averaging 37.1 minutes per game, ranking fourth in the NBA.

Even though that is the most minutes he’s averaged in his career, it’s not too far off from his previous two seasons. The main difference is that a lot more of the offensive burden has fallen on Wiggins’ shoulders, especially without the services of Zach LaVine.

Tom Thibodeau has a propensity for playing his players a lot. And I mean, a lot. This year alone there are three Timberwolves’ who are in the top seven of the NBA for minutes per game: Karl-Anthony Towns (seventh), Wiggins (fourth) and LaVine (third).

Add in the actual games played and Wiggins has played more minutes than anyone else in the NBA this season, with Towns playing the third-most.

Even with LaVine being out with an injury since Feb. 3, the Timberwolves starting five is still the second-most used lineup in the NBA this season:

Part of the reason that Thibodeau was run out of Chicago was because of the injuries that began piling up to his star players. While these injuries cannot be completely blamed on Thibodeau, his tendency to play his star players a lot of minutes certainly played a factor.

He’s not off to a good start in Minnesota either with a LaVine ACL tear.

Even with the way Thibodeau has allocated minutes this season, it is hard to blame him for the way it has gone down. The Timberwolves may have one of the shallowest benches in the NBA.

According to NBA.com’s stats, the Timberwolves’ bench ranks 28th in the NBA in points per 100 possessions. Given Minnesota’s inability to score outside of Towns and Wiggins, this is a major concern.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are in a process of developing their team into a championship contender. At this point, they have hopefully completed the most difficult aspect of that build; acquiring stars at the top of the roster to carry your team.

Now it is time for Thibodeau and the Timberwolves to balance out the rest of their roster.

The great teams are able to rely on their second unit on nights when their starters don’t have it. In order for the Wolves’ to take that next leap in their development, they must acquire the second-level talent. And do it smartly. Their future will depend on it.

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