Through twenty-one games of the 2018-19 NBA season, the Minnesota Timberwolves don’t have many things to be excited about. Andrew Wiggins’ numbers are down drastically from last year, Karl-Anthony Towns is averaging less scoring on greater volume, and the Timberwolves hold a mediocre 10-11 record. Oh, and just to add on that bad news, their best player, who they traded for last season, requested to leave Minnesota. With all that being said, there is certainly one story trending in Minnesota’s favor and that is the performance of Derrick Rose.
Is Vintage D-Rose Back?
With a lot of eyes being on the Timberwolves due to the polarizing Jimmy Butler situation earlier this year, Derrick Rose has quietly been evolving back into the Windy City Assassin that we all know and love. This season, Rose is putting up career highs in field goal percentage and three point percentage, which is 10% greater than his previous career high, and he is putting up 19 points a game coming off of the bench. The highlight of the season has undeniably been his scorching of the Utah Jazz for 50 points, which is his career high, and a game-winning block. Not only has Rose been extremely efficient while shooting, but he is averaging the second least turnovers of his career, behind last season, when he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers before signing with Minnesota. These various achievements combine to give Rose the highest offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of his career at 118.
The three pointer used to be such a small aspect of Rose’s game, but it has taken a massive change for the better. His three point shooting percentage is up by a total of 16%. This improvement is an extreme threat for teams facing the Timberwolves, as Rose is obviously more well known for his driving ability. Now, with an improved 3-point shot, not only do defenders have to stay in front of Rose and not allow him to get to the basket, but they will also have to be wary of him taking a step back and launching a triple. This change of playstyle can be compared to LeBron’s improvement at the three ball. Just like Rose, James was not known for his long-range shooting earlier in his career.
This season has been so eye-popping for Rose that it is actually quite similar to his MVP season, if not better in some ways.
Derrick Rose hasn’t just been stuffing the statsheets. His value for the Wolves can not be understated. The Timberwolves rely heavily on Rose’s play, and the stats prove it. When he has a positive plus / minus rating (+/-), the Timberwolves have an 8-4 record. Meanwhile, the Wolves are just 1-6 in games where Rose has a negative plus / minus rating. Whether or not Rose plays well coming off of the bench is a key factor which often determines the result of the game.
The Timberwolves’ Troubles and Trends
Recently, the Timberwolves have looked much better, but that didn’t occur until after they began the season losing 9 of their first 13 games. In his 5th year with Minnesota, Andrew Wiggins hasn’t seemed to be the star Minnesota fans were hoping for when the team traded for him immediately after he was selected with the #1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. His first 13 games were spent shooting 41% from the field and scoring 17 points a game, 2 points less than his career average. Karl-Anthony Towns was not meeting the high expectations that he has as an All-NBA player either, averaging just 19.9 points per game on 45.9% shooting, which is 8% less than his career percentage. Jimmy Butler also may have contributed to the Timberwolves’ struggles early on. Butler finished with a negative plus / minus rating in eight of his ten games played for Minnesota, seven of which resulted in a loss.
Even with the troubles the Timberwolves have faced, Minnesota fans have a lot to look up to. After the trade that sent Butler to the 76ers for Dario Saric and Robert Covington, the Timberwolves have six wins over eight games. The most notable game of this stretch was their blowout win over the surging Portland Trail Blazers, in which Derrick Rose scored 17 points while shooting an efficient 53.8% from the field. Not only are the Timberwolves winning games, but their defense has improved immensely and now looks very menacing. According to NBA.com, Minnesota ranks #1 in the league in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) since the Butler trade, validating Thibodeau’s reputation as an elite defensive coach.
Derrick Rose is a key player to watch this season and with no injuries holding Rose back, this could be a scary Timberwolves team in the playoffs. Not only do they have multiple scoring options in Towns, Rose, a hopefully more consistent Wiggins, and spot-up shooting from their new additions of Saric and Covington, but their defense has also looked tremendous since the Jimmy Butler trade.