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Timberwolves aren’t the transition titans they hoped to be

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) dribbles against Los Angeles Clippers guard Derrick Walton (10) during the fourth quarter Dec. 13 at Target Center. Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- Fresh on the heels of Monday’s devastating collapse, coach Ryan Saunders was asked a trenchant question: What exactly is the Minnesota Timberwolves’ identity?

“I know what our team wants our identity to be,” Saunders responded.

Saunders listed a number of traits that would, in theory, make for a good basketball team. At the top of his list: “a team that plays fast.”

“We’re not playing fast right now,” Saunders conceded.

Monday’s overtime loss to Sacramento — they blew a 15-point lead in the last 2:05 of regulation — was Minnesota’s 10th straight, and marked the Wolves’ second double-digit losing streak in as many months.

Minnesota this season is seventh in pace — the mark most often used to determine whether a team is getting up and down the floor — but the Wolves aren’t turning that pace into production. They’re 28th in the NBA in fast-break points (10.4 a game) and 15th in transition frequency; only 14.8 percent of their possessions are in “transition.”

None of that is great for a “young” team that wants to, in old-time parlance, run.

Worse yet, the Timberwolves don’t convert the opportunities they generate. Minnesota scored on just 46 percent of its transition opportunities, per NBA.com — the worst mark in the NBA. It’s also 30th in points per transition possession (1.03). That’s an offensive rating of 103. Minnesota’s overall offensive rating is 106.4, meaning the Wolves are more efficient when not in transition.

That’s puzzling because you’re supposed to get easier buckets when you attack before a defense can get set.

“We’re trying to convert in advantage situations and disadvantage situations, and have guys read better in transition,” Saunders said. “Part of that is our finishing at the rim, and part of that is our decision-making in the open court.”

Robert Covington has said the Timberwolves simply need to get more stops to create more chances in the open floor. It’s hard to get out on the break when you’re pulling the ball out of the net. Jarrett Culver said Minnesota needs to keep its pace and finish at the rim.

After a recent game, Karl-Anthony Towns admitted he gets sick of getting to the locker room at halftime to find out Minnesota has two fast-break points … and sometimes fewer.

But can Minnesota be a successful transition team? It doesn’t always look like the Wolves have a hunger to run the floor.

The fact Minnesota is has been an outside shooting team without many 3-point threats has been heavily discussed, but in terms of pace, Minnesota’s best players have never been known for getting quickly into the open court.

That’s still the case this season. Towns gets out in transition on fewer than 10 percent of his possessions. For Andrew Wiggins, it’s fewer than nine percent.

Among rotation players, Wiggins and Towns average more fast-break points per 36 minutes than only … Gorgui Dieng.

A year ago, Saunders admitted running in transition wasn’t the first instinct for his star players. Apparently, it still isn’t. And those that are getting out in transition aren’t converting.

So much for running with the pack.

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