Timberwolves 117, Bucks 95: Do the Splits

William Bohl —  December 29, 2013 — 6 Comments

Love Splits

You can make the argument that “quarters” are arbitrary segments in a basketball game, and that statistics broken down according to neat, rigid quadrants of time should be approached with caution. Sure, how a team performs late in the 4th quarter tells you important things about their execution and ability to make clutch shots; but truth be told, pockets of production or stagnation don’t necessarily coincide with quarterly breaks. Reality is messier, due to staggered rotations, bursts of energy, random factors, and in-game adjustments by coaching staffs.

On the other hand, an NBA game is 48 minutes long, there are four 12 minute quarters, and it can be kind of fun to play around with splits, even if they can be problematic. Minnesota’s 22-point victory over Milwaukee on Saturday night featured a roughly competitive first half, followed by the Timberwolves trucking the poor Bucks in the third quarter, and concluded with a fourth quarter than was damn near unwatchable. Certain statistics can tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the game, such as the quarterly field goal percentage numbers:

TEAM

1st Quarter

2nd Quarter

3rd Quarter

4th Quarter

Minnesota

54%

52%

50%

23%

Milwaukee

59%

52%

30%

39%

As you can tell, the first half was rather entertaining; both teams went up and down the floor and shots were falling. Giannis Antetokounmpo had a pair of transition slams and Khris Middleton compiled a 13-5-4 line, but Kevin Love was doing his thing (18-8-3) and Minnesota still held a nine point halftime advantage. Did the Wolves “clamp down” on defense in the second half, causing the Bucks’ shooting woes? Maybe. But more likely, Milwaukee just regressed to the mean. The Bucks have the third-worst effective field goal percentage in the NBA, and have managed to shoot 45% from the floor (as they did Saturday night) just 8 times this season, going 4-4 when they shoot that well (and 2-20 when they do not). So their second half fall to earth was hardly unexpected.

Speaking of unexpected: the Timberwolves’ bench was 8-for-15 in the first half, scoring 24 points and turning the ball over just twice. Instead of hemorrhaging points with the second unit, they held their own. Barea facilitated (six first half assists), Cunningham hit his patented midrange jumpers (3-for-3), and Mbah a Moute crashed the offensive glass, moved effectively without the ball, and got to the free throw line. They, too, were a victim of (familiar) regression in the second half: as a group they made 3-of-15 shots, for 8 points, and 2 of the 3 field goals came from the deep bench (Hummel and Dieng) when the game was finally out of reach. As a team, the Timberwolves opened the 4th quarter 1-for-17 from the field, forcing Rick Adelman to put the studs back in to ice it once and for all.

The 4th quarter was ugly, and it doesn’t just fall on the second unit, either. Take a look at the assist-to-turnover ratio, broken down by quarter:

TEAM

1st Quarter

2nd Quarter

3rd Quarter

4th Quarter

Minnesota

10/3

11/3

11/3

3/7

Milwaukee

8/7

6/2

4/7

7/4

Minnesota forgot to take care of the ball in the final frame after sporting a splendid 32-to-9 assist-to-turnover ratio through three quarters. Even when the starters came back in to stop the bleeding, the sloppy play continued. Between Alexey Shved’s layup at the 7:29 mark and Nikola Pekovic’s layup with 2:10 to go, the Wolves shot 0-for-3 from the floor with seven – SEVEN – turnovers in ten possessions – almost all of them (15 0f 18) committed by a member of the starting five. The outcome was never really in question, but the Timberwolves’ fourth quarter sleepwalking was a tad disconcerting, nonetheless.

Disconcerting, but not unexpected. Zach pointed out the Wolves’ varying degrees of success by quarter in Friday’s recap; here’s the information in a handy visual aid:

QUARTER

Net Rating

NBA Rank

1st

+12.3

2nd

2nd

+1.4

13th

3rd

+2.7

11th

4th

-7.5

27th

TOTAL

+2.2

11th

Coincidentally, Kevin Love’s season-long per-36 minute averages, by quarter:

QUARTER

Shooting Splits

Points / Rebounds / Assists

1st

49/41/87

26.3 / 14.7 / 4.5

2nd

46/44/81

30.9 / 14.4 / 4.2

3rd

49/38/84

25.5 / 12.9 / 3.5

4th

38/32/85

21.1 / 11.8 / 3.9

So what’s the point of all these quarterly breakdowns? To show that the Wolves go as Love goes, that the second unit is still prone to fits of ineptitude, that for long stretches of games Minnesota’s offense can look sublime, and that the team still has issues closing. All were present in the Bucks game, all are common knowledge to those of us who follow the team closely, and all are worth keeping an eye on as the season moves along. The Wolves are a much, much better team than the Milwaukee Bucks, and an incomplete effort was still enough to get the victory. (And for the record, I’m not saying Love was at fault for the Bucks making a rally – he did more than his fair share to put the game out of reach. What I’m saying, is, there’s a lot more weight on his shoulders than we probably realize, and I wonder if it’s sustainable.)

A win is a win, even when it’s expected, even when it’s a subpar opponent, and even when it’s not as overwhelming as the score indicates. But keep in mind: the upcoming “soft” part of the schedule won’t be as soft if Love, Pekovic and Martin have to bail everyone out by re-entering in the middle of the 4th quarter, having seen a 25-point lead reduced to 13. If the Wolves want to make the playoffs this season, it’s not only important for them to win, but to grow, to apply the tough lessons they’ve learned thus far. Against Milwaukee, I’m not sure they did.

William Bohl

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6 responses to Timberwolves 117, Bucks 95: Do the Splits

  1. To your point, love only averages 7 mins per 4th qtr. If adelman gave Gorgui the last 3 or 4 minutes of the third, along with DC, both Love and Pek could play the last 10 minutes of the game. Waiting till 7 minutes in is sometimes too long. A lot can happen in that span. I also wonder if players tired since he runs a 9 man rotation

  2. Is the dip in 4th due to fatigue? Do our players play heavier minutes than other teams? Our bench isn’t very good. Barea is very uneven, one game he plays well and the next he dribbles the ball until there is no shot and turns the ball over. Shved, even though he’s had a few points lately, still hasn’t evolved since he entered the league. Same crazy dribbling and high risk passing and bad shooting. Dante is ok, Mbah a Moute is ok, I think he fits this team better than Williams did. Hummel barely sees the floor anymore. anyone else only plays when a game is dead. So that is 3-4 players off the bench in the first 3 quarters which means little rest for the starters. Maybe it just makes sense based on this that we run out of gas in the 4th. Will it improve once Budinger is back? Statistically it should. Are Dieng and Shabazz so horrible that they can be on for a minute here and there? What I’ve seen of Shabazz hasn’t been very impressive. Dieng has been the better of the two.

    Assuming that Adelman has a system that he wants the players to execute and that the starters do that pretty well, it appears that the bench hasn’t understood this system because they seem to mostly play a pickup game with no coaching. Insert Barea in the starting lineup for Brewer or Martin and the play immediately changes like he can’t play a role in the system. I wish we had kept Ridnour instead.

  3. If Shabazz, with all his “pedigree”, cannot earn minutes over Robbie Hummel or Alexey Shved….then the pick was a total waste for this franchise. No franchise would choose Hummel or Shved with the #14 overall selection in any NBA draft. Therefore…we have the 2nd coming of Wesley Johnson. At least this time around, Adelman is not stubbornly committed to starting the horrible player in question.

    As bad as the Shabazz pick was….at least he won’t be setting a record for worst PER for a starting NBA player, ever. (a la Wesley via Adelman) I like Adelman’s past success, but I have major issues with his rotations (every year so far). He is guilty of that cute little saying: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results.” I think Adelman failed science in grade school, because he refuses to experiment with his rotations.

  4. I wonder how much influence Adelman has in the draft day war room. I know Adelman isn’t high on rookies, but I have to think that if he would have been satisfied with a big-man rotation of Pek, Love, DC, and Turiaf (assuming he would have been healthy) and a wing rotation of Martin, Brewer, Bud (assuming he was healthy), and Shved, then why the heck didn’t we keep Trey Burke? One useful player that plays the same position of your franchise’s anointed one (Rubio) is still better than two guys that only see the light of day when the Wolves are up by 30 and go right back to the bench if the opposing team gets within 15.

    I’d be interested to know the dynamic between Adelman and Flip. The signings of Pek, Bud, and Martin this off-season all point to Adelman being very involved, while the draft and the handling of the Derrick Williams situation seem to point to Adelman not being super involved.

  5. Those splits mostly matter if they’re filtered down to close games or games where they lose a double-digit 4th quarter lead. Those are troubling (and they probably don’t do well by that metric but that breakdown is necessary to get a true gauge); the only way a game like this is troubling would’ve been if a re-inserted starter got hurt/injured. The numbers don’t indicate that the starters play a ton of minutes; Love is #20 in the league in mpg, Pek is #47, and Martin is #54.

    This constant fretting over the rookies not getting enough time is amusing. Of the top 20 rookies in total minutes played, 2 play for teams .500 or better: Steven Adams and Hummel. Dieng has 3 fewer minutes this season than the #3 overall pick (Otto Porter). The only other lottery pick for an above .500 team, Alex Len, has played in 4 games this season.

  6. I have tried that argument gjk, Matt is on a quest to mention he does not like the draft after every article.

    Also rumor has it that he would have liked for them to draft giannis antetokounmpo.

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