2019-20 Season Recap: Minnesota Timberwolves

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann NBA.com


Jun 5, 2020 2:24 PM ET

The acquisition of D'Angelo Russell at the trade deadline was a key moment for Minnesota in 2019-20.

The 2019-20 NBA season went on hiatus on March 11 because of  the coronavirus pandemic. The season will return on July 30 and NBA.com's writers are taking an updated look at each of the league's 30 teams.

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Record: 19-45, No. 14 in Western Conference

Season summary: On Dec. 1, the Minnesota Timberwolves were 10-8 and in seventh place in the Western Conference, embracing a new identity in which they played faster and shot more 3-pointers. And then they lost their next 11 games, losing their best player -- Karl-Anthony Towns -- to injury along the way. When the season was put on hiatus, the Wolves were in 14th place in the West (having seen the league's fifth biggest drop in winning percentage from last season), a league-worst 9-37 since the start of December. After changing their identity in regard to style of play -- there's the higher pace (3rd in NBA), increased ball movement and the NBA's biggest jump in percentage of shots from 3-point range -- they did the same in regard to personnel. At the trade deadline, the Wolves overhauled half their roster, finally parting ways with former No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and bringing in former No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell. Alas, a real reset won't take place until next season and there's no guarantee that the new version of the Wolves is any better than the last one.

Breakout player: Russell was the big name that the Wolves brought in at the deadline, but Malik Beasley is the acquisition that has really taken advantage of his new environment. After averaging 7.9 points in 18.2 minutes over 41 games with Denver, Beasley has averaged 20.7 ppg in 33.1 mpg in 14 games with Minnesota. In his first game with his new team, he drained a career-high seven 3-pointers. He got to the basket more with the Wolves (28% of his shots in the restricted area) than he did with the Nuggets (17%) and he would score more than 20 points in nine of his 14 games after the trade, including a game-high 28 in a win in New Orleans on Mar. 3. The Wolves allowed a brutal 119.4 points per 100 possessions in Beasley's 463 minutes on the floor, and defense will remain a question up and down this roster. But the fourth-year guard (a restricted free agent this offseason) appears to be a great fit in the Wolves' fast-and-free offense.

The Timberwolves erupted from behind-the-arch in a big win over the Clippers.

Statement win: The Wolves' first game with their new players -- on Feb. 8 vs. the LA Clippers -- was their best game of the season. They dropped 40 points (with assists on 11 of their 14 buckets) on the league's fifth-ranked defense in the first quarter and didn't let up until the game was well within hand. They finished with 142 points on 106 possessions, making it both their most efficient game of the season and the most efficient game any team has had against the Clippers. The 26 3-pointers the Wolves made are the most in a game this season and one shy of the NBA record. With Russell still dealing with an injury, Jordan McLaughlin started at point guard and led the team with 24 points and 11 assists (without a single turnover). Towns, meanwhile, came one assist shy of his second career triple-double. The win ended the Wolves' 13-game losing streak, but was more an anomaly than the start of something big. They lost 10 of their 13 games between the win over the Clippers and the league's suspension.

Most compelling game: After the win over the Clippers, the Wolves dropped their next five games. And they were well on their way to a sixth straight loss, trailing the Heat by 12 points on Feb. 26 with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, having lost the last 28 games that they trailed by double digits. But a Juancho Hernangomez 3-pointer cut the deficit to nine and, after a Jimmy Butler layup, the Wolves ran off an 11-0 run, at one point turning the Heat over three times in 52 seconds, to tie the game. The teams traded leads in the final minute, with McLaughlin putting the Wolves up one with a strong drive past Bam Adebayo. The Wolves scored a season-high 29 fast break points, aided by 16 live-ball turnovers from the Heat. Russell led Minnesota with 27 points and it was when he was paired with McLaughlin (they played almost all of the last 5:07 together) that the game really turned. The Wolves essentially closed the game with four guards and Hernangomez at center.

Memorable moments: Wiggins missed his first 13 3-point attempts to open 2019-20 before catching fire vs. Miami on Oct. 27. He made four in a row as part of a 22-7, fourth-quarter run that turned a six-point deficit against Miami into the Wolves' third straight win to start the season. Then, on Jan. 27, the Wolves led by 27 points late in the third quarter, by 17 with less than three minutes to go in regulation, and by nine with less than 40 seconds left. And, somehow, they lost. The Kings scored the final nine points of the fourth quarter, with De'Aaron Fox putting back his own missed free throw as the Wolves stood by helplessly. Josh Okogie missed a layup and two free throws in the final minute of overtime, and the Wolves lost by four, the 10th defeat in their 13-game losing streak. 

The Wolves were able to hold off the Heat early in the season.

With the Wolves up two with 1.1 seconds left in Oklahoma City on Dec. 6, Towns was at the line for a pair of free throws. After he missed the first, Jordan Bell checked into the game with his jersey untucked. Thunder guard Chris Paul pointed out the delay-of-game violation and, because the Wolves had been warned for a previous delay of game, the result was a technical foul. Danilo Gallinari made the technical free throw, Towns made the second of his two to make it a two-point game again, and then Steven Adams threw a full-court pass to Dennis Schroder, who scored at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, where the Thunder outscored the Wolves, 17-5.

Team MVP: He played just 35 games, but Towns is, far and away, the best and most important player on the Wolves, both the pre-and post-deadline versions. He's a scoring threat both inside and out, ranking sixth in post-ups, but also the Wolves' best 3-point shooter. Towns is one of two players who have shot 50% or better on at least 500 field goal attempts and 40% or better on at least 200 3-point attempts, and his true shooting percentage of 64.2% is the highest mark among 40 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher. With nobody else at his level, the Wolves have scored 11.5 more points per 100 possessions with Towns on the floor (113.9) than they have with him off the floor (102.4), tied for the fifth biggest on-off-court OffRtg differential among 218 players who have played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team. Defense is another story; Towns has never made the most of his size on that end of the floor. But he remains one of the most versatile and efficient offensive weapons in the league.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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