NBA Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves’ First Quarter Season Report

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Evaluating 5 Key Factors For Minnesota Timberwolves

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Rick Osentoski - USA TODAY Sports

Currently sitting at 11-11, the Minnesota Timberwolves are more than a quarter of the way through the 2013-14 NBA season. Already, this young season has had its share of momentum swings, as a hot start fell apart into a slump with an eventual return to mediocrity. The Wolves must be better than .500 to make the playoffs, however, and they’ll need to improve on their current performance.

Grading their performance so far will need to focus on five key pieces of the team -- the performance of their top players, the performance of the bench players, defense, contributions from rookies, and coaching are the most important factors for the Timberwolves to win games. In looking at these five things, it should be simple to identify what the Wolves are doing well, and what they need to improve on to make a playoff run.

While few things are likely to change with the Wolves’ lineup or coaching staff at this point, the team can still improve by taking advantage of weaker opponents, making comebacks, and winning tight games. They have struggled with these things so far, making their record far worse than how well they’re performing.

By not digging a hole early in the season, the Timberwolves are still in the position to succeed, but they must capitalize on this and get better as the year goes on. There are still new and intriguing pieces falling into place for the team, and at the end of the year, the Wolves have a good chance to make the playoffs.

Nick Guenther is an NBA Writer for Rantsports.com. Follow him on twitter @nickynicknickk or add him to your network on Google .

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5. The Starters

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Brad Rempel - USA TODAY Sports

The Timberwolves’ starting lineup is one of the best in the league. They are outscoring opposing start-up lineups by 18 points per game so far this year, which is insane. They are also collectively playing 13.1 more minutes per game than opposing starters, but still average fewer turnovers and personal fouls than their opponents (per hoopstats.com). Opposing starters did block more shots and shot threes at a better percentage (two of the Wolves’ main weaknesses), but overall, the Timberwolves’ starters have dominated. While this is good news for the starters, it hasn’t really led to victories. The starting lineup can only play so much, even if they’re already playing more than their opponents.

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4. The Bench

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Rick Osentoski - USA TODAY Sports

Having a solid bench to back up phenomenal starters would be a huge help for the Timberwolves. That’s not the case, however, and the Timberwolves’ bench performed worse than opposing benches in every category except free throw percentage, where they won by a narrow two tenths of a percentage point. Without a solid bench, teams can’t go far into the playoffs, and it’s unlikely that the Wolves will even make the playoffs without significant improvements. Adding Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has added another skilled defender, but the Wolves still lack scoring from the second unit in a big way. Right now, the bench is one of the worst in the leagues, but the return of Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf may take the bench from awful to below average.

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3. The Defense

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Rick Osentoski - USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since the Timberwolves fielded a decent defensive team. This year, they’ve been solidly mediocre. Good perimeter defenders like Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer and Mbah a Moute help things from getting too out of hand, but rim defense is still one of the Wolves’ main weaknesses. Trading for someone like Omer Asik would be a huge move, but with his big contract and Nikola Pekovic’s big extension this summer, that’s extremely unlikely. The Wolves’ offense will take them pretty far, but without improving their defense, there’s little chance at a deep playoff run.

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2. The Rookies

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Greg Smith - USA TODAY Sports

After getting a two for one on draft day by trading Trey Burke for Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, hopes were high. The Wolves had two promising young rookies, one with huge hype who excelled at getting to the rim, and the other who won a NCAA Championship and seemed like an NBA ready rotation player right away. Muhammad has been racking up the DNP-Coach’s decisions though, and Dieng seems more raw than was expected. They can still contribute this year, however, with the right development and opportunities.

The Wolves have another rookie in Robbie Hummel, who they drafted in the second round in 2012. Hummel played in Spain last year, but has looked all right in his limited NBA action this year. He has been a serviceable outside shooter and rebounder, which is more than can be said for the Wolves’ other rookies.

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1. The Coach

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Jesse Johnson - USA TODAY Sports

Coach Rick Adelman has made some interesting moves this season, but when you’ve won more than 1,000 games in your career, you have the luxury of doing that without many questions.

Derrick Williams came into camp lighter and quicker, preparing to take on the small forward role. Adelman must not have liked what he saw, however, and Williams barely played before being traded. Adelman has also been reluctant to play Muhammad, a lottery pick in this year’s draft, who could likely add a scoring punch off the bench if developed properly. Adelman also cut center Chris Johnson, a lanky shot blocker who had a guaranteed contract, during training camp. None of these moves needed much explanation, because Adelman is Adelman. His in-game decisions have been solid, and he’s ridden his starters as hard as he needs to. His presence has also helped Kevin Martin return to form.