The Wolves defense is a hot mess without Ricky Rubio, currently allowing 114.4 points per 100 possessions (via basketball reference). Only the Lakers rank lower in defensive rating (116.8). File this under: Another Reason Rubio's Worth $56 Million. Last night brought another terrible effort on the defensive end, this time in L.A. vs. the Clippers.
Saunders opted to start the game in a zone again last night, but after 12 quick points from J.J. Redick, including three straight triples in the opening minutes, he shifted to man-to-man. Neither worked whatsoever. Even if the Clippers are one of the best offensive teams in the league, and they certainly are (currently third in offensive rating at 112.2), that doesn't excuse the Wolves defensive performance.
They allowed 127 points last night and the effort was simply not there. Guys were habitually out of position and there was no grit, aggressiveness or physicality on that end; little determination to get a stop. The Clippers shot uncontested 3-pointers all night long. Redick, along with Spencer Hawes, Matt Barnes and Jordan Farmar, combined to shoot 13-of-15 from the arc. They were left wide open on the perimeter the entire night.
As for Chris Paul, whenever he got into the lane it was game over. The same goes for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, who finished everything near the basket. There was almost no rim protection, which continues to be an issue that plagues this team. The game stunk to watch, and as Britt Robson wrote this morning, the Wolves defense is on pace to be historically bad.
This was an ugly display. Yes, it came on a back-to-back with a slew of injuries and illnesses, but everybody on the team needs to step up defensively. They can't rely on Rubio to fix all of the defensive issues once he returns. He might be able to fix a lot of them, but he can't possibly fix all of them. To be honest, the Wolves need guys like Thad Young, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Corey Brewer to have a greater impact on defense. They need Pekovic to be healthy so he can wear down opposing centers, grab defensive rebounds, provide some muscle inside, and ultimately allow Dieng to come off the bench.
Even without Rubio and Pekovic in the lineup for much of the season, I've still been seriously disappointed with the team's defense. The Wolves finished 12th in defensive rating last year (106.2) but currently rank 29th in the NBA and find themselves last in opponents effective field goal percentage (56.1%). At the beginning of the season many folks imagined an improved defense due to the arrival of Wiggins and Young, but that hasn't been the case.