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On the NBA Beat Ep. 2.6: Patrick Fenelon: “There’s Nothing Wrong With (the Timberwolves’) Offense Right Now”

The 2-5 Minnesota Timberwolves may be on the cusp of something very promising, but they’re awfully young. Under new head coach and president Tom Thibodeau, that inexperience has likely already contributed to three losses by a combined 10 points. Close losses notwithstanding, the offense, led by Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns, all 21 years old or younger, has been electric, as has the 3-point shooting in particular. Timberwolves expert Patrick Fenelon was gracious enough to join the show to discuss these three phenoms, the prospect of Minnesota improving its team defense, rookie point guard Kris Dunn’s strengths and weaknesses, and a whole lot more. Get teased with some excerpts below:    

2:53 – 3:21: Fenelon begins by explaining what has been causing the Timberwolves to blow leads in the third quarter of games: ”You wonder if it’s just a weird quirk of youth thinking that they can just sit back and play prevent defense. It’s just a layup line really is what happens in that third quarter. If you look at shot charts, you’ll see that one guy is coming in there and getting layups over and over again. They just stop playing defense. And then turnovers happen.”

5:46 – 6:22: Kris Dunn has captured Fenelon’s attention as a defensive force, but our guest acknowledges where the rookie must improve: ”I’ve been really impressed with [Dunn] defensively. He’s held his own right away. He just doesn’t know exactly what to do on the offensive end…It’s a really steep learning curve for point guards. When Dunn is on the court, their offense is [heavily] based on trying to be scrappy on defense, get a turnover and run the other way. Their pace is a lot faster with Dunn out there.”
9:08 – 9:28: Fenelon also gushes over Zach LaVine, comparing him to arguably the best shooter in the league and placing him firmly in contention for NBA’s Most Improved Player award: ”He just needs to be not a huge liability on defense, because he’s just such a flamethrower on offense. He’s not going to shoot 50 percent from 3 for the year, but it’ll be Klay Thompson-level. He’s that good of a shooter. He was hitting them at about that clip for the whole second half of last year.”
11:30 – 12:29: Lest we forget Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, our guest clarifies who is now and will always be the leader of the Timberwolves: ”In terms of his mentality and charisma on a roster and in a locker room and being outspoken, he’s always going to be secondary to Towns. Towns might be President of the United States for god’s sake…Wiggins is by nature very shy… Wiggins is not a playmaker at this point. He’s really, at this point, just a scorer and a solid individual defender. And he’s getting better as a team defender.”
18:31 – 19:23: But with all these freak athletes, why aren’t the Timberwolves better on defense? And how is new coach Tom Thibodeau ensuring progress in this crucial area? Tell us, Patrick: ”They have the talent to actually be a good defensive team. They’re just young and inexperienced and weren’t coached within a decent structure…What you can tell with Thibodeau is that he’s got a long leash and there’s definitely a system in place. He’s supposedly such a good teacher and will stop a practice if you’re out of position and break down where you have to be.”
21:22 – 21:49Fenelon cautions that reaching the playoffs this season is not necessarily the most important goal: “You can get frustrated when you have expectations. This team hasn’t made the playoffs for 12 years, so I really want wins. And I have to calm myself down and (remember) that this is a process. If a championship is the eventual goal with the core, you have to focus on the long term of everything and not just getting to the playoffs by any means this year.”
Music: “Who Likes to Party” by Kevin MacLeod