It’s early in the season, but there are a couple things that have shown a tendency to repeat in the Wolves’ first 4 games.
- Karl-Anthony Towns is really, really good.
- The Wolves can’t figure out the 3rd quarter.
The first one is obvious. It didn’t take long for the masses to accept the fact that KAT is going to be an All-Star soon. Maybe this year. Against human tree trunks Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, KAT was able to do basically anything he wanted in the post, had a double double, and also hit a few threes just for kicks. Despite the great size and (in Kenneth Fareid’s case) athleticism, the Nuggets weren’t able to contain KAT. In fairness to them, most centers cannot do this.
KAT finished the game with 32 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, shot 11-19 from the field and 2-4 from three-point land. Even Andrew Wiggins, whose perimeter game has looked much smoother early this season, shot the ball well and landed 25 points as well. On top of a seemingly improved shooting touch (2-3 from deep last night, and 6-10 to start the year), Wigs’ footwork inside looks improved, which is a scary thought.
But despite the great production from the team’s two best scorers, the Wolves still lost, and for a reason that they’ve grown more accustomed to than any Thibs-coached team would like. The Wolves are last in points per 3rd quarter (19.3!!!), point differential average (9.0), offensive rating (80.1). They’re second to last in overall field goal percentage (38.2) and net rating (-32.4), have the seventh worst defensive rating (112.5) and the fifth worst effective field goal percentage (44.1).
Last night was the third time in four games that the third quarter not only gave the Wolves’ opponent a lead, it blew it open. After a strong start in the first quarter, where the Wolves got ahead of Denver by as much as 15. By the second quarter, the lead was dwindling, as the Wolves desperately tried to trade makes with the opponent (something Thibs said he wasn’t a fan of after the game). By the third, the Nuggets blew it open.
Specific to last night, a few things were responsible here. After a sluggish first quarter, Jusuf Nurkic had a huge night. He looked to get position in the post early in the shotclock, and nobody on the Wolves had the size or the position to stop him from scoring. He’s been fantastic to start this season, and he managed to sustain that last night.
And as Nurkic started to find his stride in the post, it posted a perfect opportunity for Danilo Gallinari to set up from deep and start hitting. He missed a few in the 4th as the Wolves attempted to climb back, but the middle of the game was the main time where Gallo hit his 4 threes in 7 tries.
Worst of all, it was the Wolves’ starters that let the Nuggets back into the game. Then they were the ones that let them take a lead and let the lead grow. By the time the subs came in, who haven’t yet proven their reliability in large stints, the Denver lead had already grown to double digits.
To the bench’s credit, the Wolves started making their fourth quarter comeback with Nemanja Bjelica as the catalyst. It was his best game so far, as he was relegated to play point guard, even with Tyus Jones on the floor. Kris Dunn had played a fantastic first quarter, but turnovers and over-gambling on defense forced Thibodeau to keep him out in crunch time.
The question remains: why are the Wolves struggling in third quarters so much? Is it simply youth, inexperience, and not knowing how to play hard for 48 consecutive minutes? It’s entirely possible, especially after last night’s game, where blaming the bench wouldn’t be fair. That said, the depth could still be part of it. The bench managed to not let the lead completely fall from beneath them, but they have yet to help build much of a lead, either (Tyus Jones against a gift of a Grizzlies lineup on Tuesday being an early exception).
Whatever it is, you know that Tom Thibodeau is working right now, trying to figure out the best way to tackle this issue. He has weapons: Karl-Anthony Towns remains really good. Andrew Wiggins has improved. Zach LaVine (who I have failed to mention until now, somehow) has improved, noticeably on defense, even. But if this group can’t sustain their success and improvement in the third quarter, there will be more frustrating losses with awesomely good players.