What are the Timberwolves missing?

The Minnesota Timberwolves are a team that, on the surface, seem to be brimming with talent and optimism, so it can be tough to really figure out what problem is. The Minnesota Timberwolves entered the year with a lot of excitement from fans but as the season progressed it became clear that this year’s team was going to suffer from a lot of the same woes as previous years. But what’s missing?

Three things: consistency, leadership, and bench play.

Consistency has been one of the largest issues for the team, especially at the point guard position. Ricky Rubio is the starting PG, but what Rubio is going to be doing on the court on a night to night basis is anyone’s guess. The young player shows spurts of brilliance in his passing but has still not found a way to consistently drain a shot.

At this point in the season he is sitting on his second best field goal percentage of his career but 36.6 percent just isn’t going to cut it for a starting point guard, especially one that is only averaging 10 points with that percentage.

Rubio has games where one can wonder how he’s even employed, then he reminds everyone with things like the March 11th outing versus Oklahoma City Thunder where he solidified the upset win with a three point buzzer beater. Or the March 14th game against the Phoenix Suns where he matched a season high by serving up 17 assists. The man oozes with talent, but he needs to show that more often.

In all likelihood, the eventual successor of Rubio’s starting spot will be Zach LaVine. While his troubles don’t come from scoring, they still come from inconsistency. While he can be a threat on any given night, what the ‘Wolves need from their starting PG is a person that is a threat on any given night. This may be turning a corner, though, as the last 10 games LaVine averaged 17.5 points off of a 48 shooting percentage. If and when he develops his ball handling skills a little more, it is safe to assume he’ll be at the forefront of the offense.

The offense doesn’t just need a consistent point guard at the forefront though, it also needs someone to be a leader. Last year veteran Kevin Garnett was brought back to Minnesota at the trade deadline and adds a much needed veteran leadership to this young team, but he’s currently playing a career low 14 minutes per game, and at a time where so many staples of the sport are retiring it seems like a looming inevitability that we’ll be seeing him on the court for the last time soon, and perhaps sooner than most fans want.

Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince were brought in at the start of the season to help fill that void, and Kevin Martin was already a member of the team. Two out of those three are now gone as Martin and Miller were allowed to pursue a chance with the San Antonio Spurs, and Prince has provided very little on court. Finding an effective and willing veteran that can provide both in the box score and teach the young pups the essence of the game could go a long way in advancing production.

Not only is there a need for veteran leadership, but there is a need for someone on the team to step up and claim the team as theirs. Who runs this offense right now? Is it Rubio? Last year’s rookie of the year in Andrew Wiggins? This year’s number one draft pick Karl Anthony Towns? It’s important that this question gets answered soon.

Having said all this, even if the consistency comes together for the point guard position, and even if a definitive leader steps up, there are still issues with the bench play. Head coach Sam Mitchell even commented on a need for more than just scoring after the loss to the Suns.

“At some point, we’ve got to get some kind of bench production and not just scoring,” Mitchell told the Star Tribune. “Play some defense. Get a rebound. Set a screen. It’s can’t just be guys coming into the game thinking they’re going to score all the time. We’ve got to get some toughness coming from the bench, something. It just puts so much pressure on the five starting guys.”
Guys like Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, and Nemanja Bjelica are all great talents, and even hold the potential to be starters on this or another team someday. However, at this point, they need to learn how to best provide in their role.

With just 12 games left to play in the season, it will be interesting to see if they end the dismal season on a high or low note.

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