An outside, casual observer of the NBA would look at the Timberwolves roster, see former all-stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell and the this season’s No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft in Anthony Edwards, note their offensive prowess and make the assumption that the team is on the right track as a building franchise.
Those who watch the games and analyze the data feel differently.
You can’t win much of anything in the NBA if you cannot defend a lick.
And the Timberwolves, as currently constructed, cannot defend a lick.
That was the concern many had with this roster at the season’s outset. Yes, offensive weapons were abundant. But defensive prowess was not. Towns and Russell have been fairly knocked for their defensive effort and capabilities throughout their career, and it was a knock against Edwards coming out of college.
But it’s only fair to wait and see what a group does on the floor together, and Minnesota’s core trio hardly had a chance to play together until recently, when Russell returned from knee surgery.
The three have now played eight of the team’s past 10 games together. The results have been as expected — porous defense. The trio has played a total of 88 minutes together in that time, with a defensive rating of 136. For reference, the worst team defensive rating in the NBA right now is Sacramento’s 117.9.
Russell and Towns have a two-man defensive rating of 134.7 in 126 minutes together. The Wolves are being outscored by 12.5 points per 100 possessions when their two franchise players share the floor.
The offense has been generally good in that stretch, but the defense, or lack thereof, is leaving Minnesota in the red. You simply can’t be one of the NBA’s worst defenses if you hope to win consistently. You can’t give up 40-point first quarters in consecutive games against the slumping Kings. You can’t allow opponents to shoot 44% from 3-point range since March 16.
“It’s just, when are we going to give the effort?” Timberwolves center Naz Reid wondered. “We’re supposed to give it every night, and we don’t.”
And there lies the problem. Never was it more evident than at the end of Wednesday’s 128-125 loss at Sacramento. Minnesota was in prime position to win consecutive games for the first time since winning its first two contests of the season.
The Wolves led by 11 with six minutes to play, then surrendered 26 points in a half quarter as Sacramento scored on 11 of its final 12 possessions to roar back for victory.
Towns thinks the Wolves aren’t executing enough on that end of the floor.
“Just not consistent. I always say in these media moments after games, as a leader, you have to demand consistency,” he said. “Obviously, we haven’t won two games in a row (in a long time). I’m going to look at the man in the mirror first, and say maybe I have to do a better job of getting us to understand that the consistency is lacking. I talked about it yesterday with (coach Chris Finch), how important it was to set a standard. Obviously, tonight we didn’t set that standard. It’s unfortunate. We all have to do a better job, including myself.”