Are the Minnesota Timberwolves this Year’s Milwaukee Bucks?


Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images
Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Minnesota is 4-3 so far. The Timberwolves already have one quarter of the wins they finished with last season, and for the first time since 2013-2014, they have a record over .500. Milwaukee was in a very similar situation in 2014 – 2015; they had the worst record in the league during the 2013 – 2014 season, and then the Bucks got Jabari Parker in the draft and made the playoffs. Minnesota, after finishing with a league-worst 16-66 record, got Karl-Anthony Towns in the draft, and they now have the 5th best record in the Western Conference.

Minnesota has the talent to maintain their record with young stars like Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammed, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and Towns. Minnesota also has veteran presences with a winning background like Tayshaun Prince, Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller, and Kevin Martin. Nobody doubted their talent, the questions came from the Timberwolves’ youth, defensive willingness, and overall lack of experience. Minnesota is 10th in opponent points per game, and 4th in opponent field goals. While the three point defense can improve, this is nonetheless massive progress from Minnesota’s statistically worst defense in the NBA last season. Milwaukee did very similar things themselves last year. The Bucks played at a slower pace, and they grinded out victories with an 8th ranked defense.

Rk Player G GS MP FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST STL BLK PTS ▾
1 Brandon Knight 52 52 32.5 .435 .409 .881 4.3 5.4 1.6 0.2 17.8
2 Michael Carter-Williams 25 25 30.3 .429 .143 .780 4.0 5.6 2.0 0.5 14.1
3 Khris Middleton 79 58 30.1 .467 .407 .859 4.4 2.3 1.5 0.1 13.4
4 Giannis Antetokounmpo 81 71 31.4 .491 .159 .741 6.7 2.6 0.9 1.0 12.7
5 Jabari Parker 25 25 29.5 .490 .250 .697 5.5 1.7 1.2 0.2 12.3
6 Ersan Ilyasova 58 36 22.7 .472 .389 .645 4.8 1.0 0.6 0.3 11.5
7 O.J. Mayo 71 15 23.9 .422 .357 .827 2.6 2.8 0.8 0.3 11.4
8 Zaza Pachulia 73 45 23.7 .454 .000 .788 6.8 2.4 1.1 0.3 8.3
9 Jerryd Bayless 77 4 22.3 .426 .308 .883 2.7 3.0 0.8 0.2 7.8
10 Larry Sanders 27 26 21.7 .500 .500 6.1 0.9 1.0 1.4 7.3
11 Jared Dudley 72 22 23.8 .468 .385 .716 3.1 1.8 1.0 0.2 7.2
12 John Henson 67 11 18.3 .566 .569 4.7 0.9 0.4 2.0 7.0
13 Kendall Marshall 28 3 14.9 .455 .391 .889 1.0 3.1 0.8 0.0 4.2
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/12/2015.
Rk Player MP FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST STL BLK PTS ▾
1 Andrew Wiggins 32.2 .402 .375 .692 3.8 1.7 0.5 0.5 19.8
2 Kevin Martin 29.2 .425 .286 .844 2.0 1.3 0.3 0.0 17.7
3 Karl-Anthony Towns 29.0 .489 .250 .913 10.4 1.3 0.3 3.0 16.0
4 Ricky Rubio 30.8 .393 .200 .903 4.3 9.0 2.3 0.0 13.0
5 Zach LaVine 20.7 .444 .308 .923 3.0 4.6 0.9 0.0 10.3
6 Nemanja Bjelica 28.7 .500 .444 .667 7.4 3.0 0.6 0.4 8.9
7 Shabazz Muhammad 17.3 .472 .167 .737 2.3 0.3 0.1 0.1 7.0
8 Gorgui Dieng 19.6 .487 .800 4.6 0.4 1.0 0.6 6.0
9 Adreian Payne 10.3 .667 1.000 1.000 2.8 0.8 0.3 0.3 5.3
10 Tayshaun Prince 24.3 .400 .250 .571 2.7 0.7 0.6 0.1 3.6
11 Kevin Garnett 15.5 .333 .333 5.2 1.2 0.7 0.3 2.3
12 Damjan Rudez 5.0 .667 .500 0.7 0.3 0.0 0.0 1.7
13 Tyus Jones 13.0 .000 .500 1.0 1.0 1.0 0.0 1.0
14 Andre Miller 4.0 .000 0.0 0.7 0.7 0.0 0.0
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/12/2015.

The 2014 – 2015 core Milwaukee Bucks and 2015-2016 Minnesota Tmberwolves stats are shown above. Remembering that the Milwaukee Bucks, dealing with injuries and trades during the season, have had more players in their rotation throughout the season, the stats are very comparable. Each team played their starters about 30 minutes per game, had pretty even scoring distribution through all of their players, and had veterans getting some minutes with the young players.

The comparison is based, however, on the idea that both of these teams have been able to use their similar strategies effectively. Both new coaches Sam Mitchell and Jason Kidd (in 2014-2015) took teams that played horribly in the year prior to their takeover, and created results.

Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP
Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

The similarities are even more shocking. In terms of per 100 possession effectiveness, both teams played very similar with a defensive rating among the best that countered a lower end offensive rating. The Timberwolves have the 24th best offensive rating and 7th best defensive rating while the 2015 Bucks had the 26th best offensive rating and 4th best defensive rating.

The teams similarities go beyond basketball even, the Timberwolves have had the 28th ranked attendence thus far, and the Bucks had the 29th best. This isn’t some magic coincidence; both teams play in small markets and most casual basketball fans attending the games probably expected a repeat of their team’s previous season failure, but it is still very similar, and still surprising since they are not the only small market teams in the NBA.

As the stats get more advanced, the similarities remain there. The Timberwolves so far are 3-0 in games playing off one day of rest compared to 1-3 in games they aren’t. Meanwhile, the 2015 Bucks were 26-18 in games with one day of rest compared to 15-22 in games with different amounts of rest. This similarity touches on other similarities in age, style of play, and responsiveness to different situations and adversity like games in back to back nights.

So Why does this matter? Why does it matter that one random NBA team that probably won’t win the championship is similar to another team that didn’t come close to winning one? It matters because this makes the Timberwolves easier to predict. Minnesota is not as much of an enigma as most other teams, especially younger ones. The Timberwolves now have a basis for comparison, especially if they make a bad trade like last year’s Milwaukee Bucks.

Just because they are strangely similar, doesn’t mean this limits either team in any way. Even in this scenario where Minnesota follows Milwaukee’s path one year behind, we still don’t know what Milwaukee will do this year. Both teams are young, talented, and can very easily gain a new sense of control that comes with the experience they gain each and every game.

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