Timberwolves' boards are impressive but not producing wins

Categories: Sports
Kevin.Love.jpg
Image via Wiki
Love continues to dominate the glass, averaging the NBA's most boards in 15 years.
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.

And with the 2010-11 NBA regular-season nearly half completed, the Timberwolves (9-27) do indeed vie for the league's worst record. Entering Thursday play, only three teams -- Sacramento, Cleveland, and Washington -- own lower win percentages.

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.

Shawn Marion.jpg
Image courtesy of Keith Allison
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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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8 comments
duke
duke

good on the boards, and awful in the 4th quarter. could be the worst team i have seen with the game on the line.

Dern Tootin
Dern Tootin

Rebounds? Rebound leaders? Who cares? Timberwolves? Who cares? How about a name change to the Timberwhos? Rebounds. Please, that is like talking about defense in the NBA. Defense, NO ONE plays D in the NBA. That is why you get scores of 120-to 117.

Mark Gisleson
Mark Gisleson

I've been hearing people say that all my life, but it hasn't been true since I started paying closer attention when KG started playing. No, not all teams play D, and the Wolves aren't very good at it, but if you look at the teams with the best records, you'll find some teams that know how to play defense.

Judd
Judd

Well, some teams still play D (nine teams allow under 95 points per), but of course ours doesn't. The Wolves rank last in points allowed, at a guady 108.6 a contest. Last season, they finished 29th in the league, giving up 107.8 per.

paul
paul

I still applaud Kahn's decisions this past off season.Obviously the team needs to learn to close games at the end. I do think the refs screw them more often than help them.

Judd
Judd

What I'm vibing is that, with each passing week, more of the critical focus is coming upon Rambis' handling of those situations. Given this team's youth and the fact that most of these guys have still barely played together, I think the he still gets a long leash, but we'll see how far that extends if these dudes keep losing by three.

myles
myles

You analysis is good. The only slight glimmer for the Wolves is they have a couple of young players whoo MIGHT become the nucleus of a bettr team in the future (although the competition is fierce in this league). Just getting "competitive" puts them in the middle of the pack and still mediocre. Getting to the top is a huge struggle, but give them credit for making the effort.

Judd
Judd

You're right in that the competition is so very fierce in the West. While some of the teams in the Conference are/will soon start evidencing their age, it's concerning that the Wolves -- despite their own young talent -- are trailing the progress of the up-and-comers as well.

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