DON’T be fooled by the standings. At the moment the Minnesota Timberwolves are sitting at 15-11 as the fourth seed in the West with their premier big man Karl-Anthony Towns one of only two players averaging over 19.5 points and 11.5 rebounds a game. Great! There are underlying issues for this team that doesn’t match their good start to the season though, with their defense and minutes rotation under enormous scrutiny. Which begs the question, should we be worried about Minnesota?
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THE arrival of Jimmy Butler in the offseason meant that Towns, Butler and the third stud Andrew Wiggins were going to have to adjust to playing alongside each other. It seemed like Towns would be the focal point of the team, but through the early going he has taken a back seat to Butler and probably to Wiggins as well.
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WITH his usage rate dropping, KAT is taking fewer shots than a season ago, but still has almost identical numbers shooting from the 3-point line. His catch and shoot numbers are up, his paint touches are down and the amount of time he holds onto the ball is also down. Translation: he is being ‘Victor Oladipo’d‘ on the offensive end’.
HOWEVER, most of Towns’ negative headlines are coming from his defensive game. The former prodigy almost looks disinterested and unmotivated to get back on defense to try to help his team get a stop. And the worst part is we don’t really know why. Is he sulking from getting fewer touches? Is he tired from playing too many minutes? Does he genuinely just not want to try hard? If yes is the answer to any of those three questions, Minnesota should be worried.
THE problem could simply be deriving from bad coaching as Towns isn’t the only culprit for bad defense wearing a T-Wolves uniform. Their defensive rating is sandwiched in between the Clippers and Kings sitting at the third worst in the league. Not exactly what you want to hear from a team who’s head coach is meant to be a defensive specialist. Tom Thibodeau’s appointment was meant to help Wiggins and Towns become superstar two-way players. It hasn’t happened. In fact, with the Timberwolves, defense amongst one of the worst in the league even Jimmy Butler, who is known for his stellar defense is posting his worst defensive efficiency of his career.
SO why is this happening? To get an insight into the nuts and bolts of Minnesota’s problems cast your eyes back to their 95-92 loss to the Grizzlies last week. Then have a look at the minute’s totals of the starters. Teague (32), Butler (40), Wiggins (36), Gibson (37) and Towns (38) ON THE SECOND NIGHT OF A BACK-TO-BACK. The night before against LA all five of the starters played 35+ minutes in a win over the Clippers and in both games Thibs only played eight players!
I understand that the other players on the roster like Aldrich, Brooks and Muhammad aren’t going to win you many games, but deploying each of them for maybe only five minutes could help keep the T-Wolves starters much fresher and hey who knows, maybe that will give them more energy to expend on defense. Their starters all rank high in minutes per game with Butler and Wiggins inside the top five and the others close behind. That means you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Minnesota plays their bench players for the fewest average minutes in the league by a wide margin.
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LOOK, at 15-11 it’s naive to say that Minnesota is in trouble, considering how open the West playoff race is from spots #4 through to #8. Yet, if the heavy workloads these players are shouldering continues, then there is a chance the losses will start piling up and Towns’ laziness and ineptitude on defense could become contagious. I will happily sing praises for Thibs roster moves he has helped to make, but if he can’t figure out this defensive nightmare then he could be the next coach to lose his job. And at this rate, so he should.
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