Timberwolves' boards are impressive but not producing wins
Another season of ping-pong balls was readily anticipated for the league's youngest team, after last year's 15-win campaign and continued personnel changes.
Yet the Wolves are undoubtedly playing a more competitive and entertaining brand of ball, and that has seemingly kept the die-hards tuned in.
That said, based on attendance averages showing them to be 23rd of the NBA's 30 teams, the "Promise of Progress" at Target Center still suggests that those on the hoop fringes remain more interested in who's visiting Minneapolis on a given winter eve.
Even so, while the Wolves rank near the league's cellar in win count, the faithful will note that they're scoring the eighth most point in the NBA (102.8 per) and lead the league in rebounding. With 1,620 boards through 36 games, the Wolves are pacing for 3,640 on the season -- that would prove the league's highest total in seven years. Buoyed by Kevin Love's all-star worthy season and glass tenacity (21 points per game and a league-best 15.6 rebounds per), the Wolves are averaging an NBA-best 45 total boards per game. Per Love: at his present clip he'd conclude the year with the league's highest rebounding average since Dennis Rodman grabbed 16.05 per game back in 1996-97.
But does the rebounding mark signify any semblance of progress?
Well, the answer is a mixed bag. Since the NBA began keeping rebounding stats in 1950-51, the team that led the league in rebounding has made the playoffs 75 percent of the time (45 of 60 teams). Obviously, the Wolves will lessen that clip when this year is concluded. Since the onset of the three-point era in 1979-80, the NBA's top board bunch has made the playoffs with slightly less regularity, qualifying for the second-season 68 percent of the time (29 of 43 teams).
The rub, of course, is that a portion of the big board total comes via a team chucking up a wealth of shots, many of which are missed with possession retained. So it's no surprise that, at 86.1 per game, the Wolves lead the league in field goal attempts. Nor should it come as any shocking revelation that their field goal percentage of .443 charts 23rd in the league. Should they end the season with the same clip, the Wolves would own the eighth-lowest field goal percentage for a top board team in the 3-point era; that .443 mark would also serve as the worst for a top rebounding squad since the 2003-04 Cleveland Cavaliers.
Poor shooting marks are oftentimes the case for the league's top rebounding teams. Since 1950, the leading board squad has ranked in the top-3 in shot attempts 62 percent of the time (37 of 60 teams). On 21 of those occasions, the leading board team took the league's most shots. Of those 37 teams, 26 made the playoffs (70 percent). However, that number fades drastically when looking at the three-point era and the increase of teams that come with it. Since 1979-80, of the16 teams that have led the league in rebounding and have also ranked in the top-3 in shot attempts -- just eight of those clubs (50 percent) have made the playoffs.
Sticking that criteria, just one playoff team -- the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns -- has been a top board team and top-3 field goal attempt team in the last 20 years. And that Suns bunch serves as a ridiculous anomaly in this equation: not only did they lead the league in boards and finish second in shots -- they finished second in field goal percentage (.477). Hell, only eight top-board teams in the entire three-point era have finished in the league's top half of shooting percentage. And of course: all eight of them made the playoffs while five of them went on to win a championship.
What does all this mean? Well, the big board total is something of a misleading stat, akin perhaps to a pitcher's win count in baseball. And while it's a treat to observe Love's progress and watch he and Michael Beasley combine for 43 points per game, this crew needs to do two things before their record trends anywhere near .500: start playing far better defense and, simply, make more shots.
Until then, the backboard looking-glass to the future remains cracked and cloudy.
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