Wolves Better Than Their Record Says

VIDEO: Kevin Love leads the Wolves over the Sixers

The List

Biggest difference, Pythagorean wins vs. actual wins

Team Wins Losses Win% PWins PLosses Diff.
Minnesota 17 17 0.500 23 11 6
Toronto 16 17 0.485 18 15 2
Golden State 24 13 0.649 26 11 2
L.A. Clippers 24 13 0.649 26 11 2
Atlanta 18 17 0.514 19 16 1
Orlando 10 24 0.294 11 23 1
Sacramento 11 22 0.333 12 21 1
Denver 17 17 0.500 18 16 1
Chicago 15 18 0.455 16 17 1

Pythagorean wins = Number of games a team should have won based on its point differential.
PWins = PTS^16.5 / (PTS^16.5 + OppPTS^16.5)

The Context

The Wolves have the point differential of a team that’s 23-11, a mark which would be good for fourth place in the Western Conference. But they’re 17-17 and 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot. No other team comes close to matching Minnesota’s differential between their Pythagorean wins and actual wins and only two teams – Oklahoma City and Houston – had a bigger differential over 82 games last season.

How did the Wolves manage to underachieve so much in 34 games? By going 1-9 in games decided by five points or less and 8-1 in games decided by 15 or more. In the last two weeks their four wins have been by 22, 22, 12 and 31 points, while their two losses have been by two and four. After Monday’s blowout of the Sixers, the Wolves’ average margin of victory is 16.9 points and their average margin of defeat is 7.4.

So the Wolves are a better team than their record says they are. And though they’re 0-7 when trying to get back over .500 (since falling below on Nov. 25), their point differential says they should win 32 or 33 of their final 48 games. That would give them a total of 49 or 50 wins and, likely, a playoff spot.

Strength of schedule has to be taken into account. And it bodes well for the Wolves’ future as well. Of the 10 West teams at .500 or better, Minnesota has played the fourth toughest schedule. Eighteen of their 34 games have been on the road and they’ve played seven games with *a rest disadvantage vs. four with a rest advantage.

A rest disadvantage is when a team is playing the second night of a back-to-back against an opponent that didn’t play the day before. Only one team – the Clippers (4-5 in those games) – has played more games with a rest disadvantage than the Wolves (1-6). Cleveland (3-4), New Orleans (2-5) and Orlando (2-5) have also played seven such games.

Of course, while success or failure in close games is mostly arbitrary, the Wolves’ record in close games can’t be dismissed as just bad luck. Yes, a foul should have been called on Shawn Marion at the end of the Mavs’ 100-98 win on Dec. 30. And yes, Kevin Love doesn’t usually miss three free throws (that he was trying to make) in a row, like he did at the end of Saturday’s 115-111 loss to the Thunder.

But the Wolves have also had the league’s worst clutch-time defense, allowing their opponents to score almost 120 points per 100 possessions in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of five points or less. When the game has been on the line, they’ve been unable to get stops.

In that Dallas loss, the Wolves gave up 11 points in the final five minutes. In the OKC loss, they gave up 17. And only two of those 28 total points were a result of an intentional foul in the closing seconds.

Overall, the Wolves rank 13th in defensive efficiency. But in clutch time, they’ve forced (far) fewer turnovers, fouled (a lot) more, and rebounded (a lot) worse.

Minnesota defense

Timeframe DefRtg Rank OppEFG% Rank DREB% Rank OppTOV% Rank OppFTA Rate Rank
Overall 102.4 13 52.1% 29 75.3% 10 17.2% 3 .210 1
Clutch time 119.5 30 49.6% 30 65.1% 26 12.5% 18 .576 27

DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
OppEFG% = Opponent effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
DREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opponent FTA / FGA

So, while the Wolves can take some solace in their point differential, they still have things to clean up if they want to perform better in close games.

The Video

The bottom of the list

The team that has overachieved the most is the team the Wolves blew out on Monday. The Sixers are 12-23, but have the point differential of a team that’s 8-27, having lost 10 games by 15 points or more (four by more than 30). The Jazz also have a differential of four games and should be 8-29 instead of 12-25.

Next on the list are the Lakers (with 11 Pythagorean wins and 14 actual wins), the Nets (11 and 13), and the Cavs (10 and 12).

Trivia question

The Knicks led the league with 87 second-chance 3-pointers last season (25 from league-leader Carmelo Anthony). This year, they rank 11th with only 23 (Anthony has just six). What team has 13 more second-chance 3-pointers than any other team in the league?

More Wolves notes

  • The most important thing you can do defensively is defend shots, so it’s pretty amazing that the Wolves are an above-average defensive team (points allowed per 100 possessions) while ranking 29th in opponent effective field goal percentage. Ten of the 13 teams with an opponent EFG% over 50 percent are below-average defensive teams. The other exceptions are the Heat (who rank 24th in opponent EFG% and ninth in defensive efficiency) and the Hawks (18th and 11th). Miami is actually below average in defensive rebounding percentage and opponent FTA rate as well, but has forced more turnovers per 100 possessions (18.8) than any team in the last 15 seasons.
  • The Wolves are the third most improved offensive team in the league this season (behind only Portland and Phoenix), having scored 5.1 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season.
  • But they’re still a poor jump-shooting team. Last season, they ranked dead last in effective field goal percentage from outside the paint at 42.3 percent. This year, despite the additions of Kevin Martin and a healthy Love, they’re only slightly better, ranking 27th at 42.7 percent. They rank 30th in mid-range field goal percentage, 29th from the corners, and 11th on threes from above the break.
  • In games played between the 10 West teams at or above .500, Minnesota has the worst record. They’re 4-11 against the other nine, having gone 2-10 since a 2-1 start. Six of the 11 losses have come by four points or less.

Trivia answer

The Blazers lead the league with 53 second-chance 3-pointers, ahead of the Hawks (40), Warriors (33), Lakers (33) and Sixers (29). Damian Lillard and Kyle Korver are tied for the league lead with 14 apiece, and Lillard’s teammate Wesley Matthews ranks third with 12.


  1. Kamote says:

    I don’t really see how this stat matters. If a team folds and loses at the crucial moments of the game, that doesn’t make them better than what they really are. If they can’t win close games (against good or bad teams), then I guess they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs (yet). That’s what playoffs is about, each teams having that defensive grit and precise offensive executions from the start up until the end of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Wolves, but if they just crumble during crunch time, then they have no place in the post-season. They still have half of the season though to get this right.

  2. jdub455 says:

    the wolves need energy guys… they are a much much better team than their record… also, i dont think the love and pekovic is a nice combo. their both offensively solid but not defensively. pek shld come off the bench but must not lose his mins,,, turiaf and dieng must be given more playing time… their D can complement the offense. also, they need the services of budinger. their bench is just awful offensively while their first 5s’ defense is just so so… needs more balance… sa much scoring can only win games in blowouts,,, this is the reason i think why they lose close games. they have no defense on crunch time

  3. steven says:

    Their bench is bad, but if they get Buddinger back, that will help quite a bit.

  4. Fidelis says:

    I am Wolves fan since 2012. And it really breaks my heart for each game that they should have won. THE RETURN of Kevin Love is solid and Pek and Brewer is efficient as ever. And also Martin is great. But RUBIO is not doing what should he do for the team. Rubio had a decent season last year and in order for the Wolves to make it to the playoffs he must show better performance than last year.

  5. mbaaa says:

    I would love to see Kevin Love to leave Timberwolves. He is a stat chasing, boring player. It would be much more exciting to watch the Wolves then.

    • Big Bill says:

      I agree. I would Love to see Kevin leave the Timberwolves, and come to the Raptors. Leading the league in rebounding is so boring. PFs with 20+ppg and 4 apg are a dime a dozen. We’ll take Rubio off your hands as well.

  6. realtalk says:

    Pekovic is so terribly underrated – he puts 21/10 in average since the 1st December and he literally shuts down, or at least outplays the opposing C every time since then. What is he supposed to do to get more recognition – dunk more?

    Same applies for the Pek & Love frontcourt – they outplay opposing frontcourt every time.

    It’s also obvious that their starting 5 can hang with almost any other starting 5 – some games were close practically without any contribution from the TWolves’s bench.

    So their only real problem is clearly – BENCH – look no further. Now with Turiaf back, it’s their high time to consistently show that they are not on D League level… Not many teams could make the playoffs with bench scoring 5 points total every now and then…

  7. okc2014 says:

    Ricky Rubio is holding this team back,

  8. Sim says:

    Whatever u say… At the end of the day they are still 2 places off from playoff bracket.. No playoff this year too..

    • Dieter says:

      That’s exactly what I’m thinking. The team has some solid players in Rubio, Love and Pekovic, but solid ain’t gonna do it, not in the West. Do they really have a better team than the Suns? I think it’s very close… They tried to get Batum last season, but they missed out, hopefully they have someone else on their radar, because I don’t think Love and Pekovic will become the force that alot of people think they will become (or think they already are).

      The real problems are gonna start after next season (i guess?) when Love’s contract expires, he probably wants a max contract, and I hope the Wolves will know what they’re doing, because they already gave Pekovic a better contract than he deserves… less is more.

  9. jim says:

    Wolves’ 1-8 reflects their inability to put people away, so no I don’t think they’re better than their record. They seem to have the record they deserve, given good teams will at least go .500 in the close ones.

  10. Roy says:

    Nice article!

  11. I think the Wolves are just fine and about to get on a hot streak. New teams always have a hard time at the end of games.
    When Budinger gets back that will add the scoring off the bench. and help Brewer love his defense though.
    and the ways he gets down for the quick hits. and with fans like that one guy no wonder the place is not full. talk about lame get on board moron. this team is that good!!!!! the Suns are playing above there heads and talent!

  12. Shawn Kemp No. 1 says:

    ^^ Rubio sux

  13. dustydreamnz says:

    I think Rubio is overrated but no doubting it’s a good starting 5. If they can improve their bench they can make the playoffs though they still have a chance. The main reason they fail to close out games is when someone gets in foul trouble they lose momentum because of the bench. Will Budinger make a difference?

  14. k says:

    Rubio is so underrated player..

    • mortished says:

      are you kidding me ??? is the most overrated pg in the nba … he’s the main cause of the wolves underachievement

  15. RJ says:

    I think they’re a playoff team healthy. They could use help from Shabazz and Budinger. I figured they’d be more like 19-15 this far into the season, but they’ll finish ahead of the Mavs, Pelicans, and maybe even the Suns in the 7 or 8 seed if they stay pretty healthy. This is not a 23-11 team, though. If they could close those tight games, then I suppose they would be, wouldn’t they.

  16. Frozen N MN says:

    While I do like that someone is writing about the timberwolves and that their record doesn’t prove how good they are, I disagree. They are exactly the team their record says they are. They are not a top tier team. They are a team that is good enough to beat the bad teams, but not good enough to beat the good teams and will never beat the elite teams. Sure they might squeeze out a victory here and there against good teams, but I don’t see them advancing past the first round if they make the playoffs (I would be surprised if they even MADE the playoffs) That being said, I guess as a wolves fan, I should be happy that they aren’t having another miserable season thus far and I am. Though after several losing seasons and top picks, I guess I would have liked to see a more promising roster but I don’t. I look at this roster and I see exactly what it is. A team that will never be elite and probably never even considered a top tier team. It’s a middle of the pack team. I’m sure other timberwolves fans can relate.

    • Tucker says:

      The guy who wrote this article never said that he thinks Minnesota is a top tier team. Just better than their record says. I disagree with you and I think that Minnesota is much better than their record indicates. The fact that they’ve lost so many close games and yet are still on the cusp of the playoffs says something. Obviously yes it does say that they are very bad at closing out games, but it also says that they’re not far off from being able to close out games consistently. They can get themselves in prime position to win the game so that’s most of the work right there. They just have to remain focused and driven in the final minutes. That and they need players off the bench. If they could get a decent offensive punch off the bench that might be all they really need to make the playoffs comfortably. That’s how close I think they are. I agree that they probably won’t get far in the playoffs though, but nobody’s predicting a Wolves’ championship this year are they? One step at a time my friend. Maybe if they become a legitimate playoff team in the west they can lure more talent to play in Minnesota. Love, Rubio and Pekovic are still improving too. Rubio will get his shot figured out at least to the point where he can shoot 40% and not disrupt the team with his complete lack of scoring ability. I’m saying the Wolves are going to make the playoffs this year and most likely be bounced in the first round. Hopefully they’ll get rid of JJ Barea and Alexey Shved in the offseason and get a couple of guys that can shoot. Or maybe actually let Shabazz Muhammad play. I couldn’t imagine him being any worse of a scorer than JJ or Alexey. Maybe he is though, I don’t watch their practices so how would I know?

  17. hahhahaha says:

    Been a wolves fan for years (loved the under dog spirit).breaks my heart as a wolves fan every time they lose a game they should have won… and the BENCH! wow. the BENCH.. wolves not a playoff team because their bench is just terrible (bench scored 5 points in 2 of the last 3 games).guards of other teams attack the rim without fear because pek and love are terrible shot blockers, better team defense must be played to compensate for lack of shot blockers. funny also how they have the worst of luck when it comes to getting calls too. Hope things work out. go wolves!

    • theun says:

      nice to read this. i agree on everything u say. and i also try to stay opportunistic. with an over-my-dead-body attitude, they might win more close matches. go wolves!