How quickly things can change in the NBA. After beating down the evergreen San Antonio Spurs, the Minnesota Timberwolves were tied for fifth place in the brutal Western Conference and feeling like a team that could steamroll anyone on their day.
Fast forward three days and that feeling has completely dissipated thanks to back-to-back bashing’s at the hands of the Washington Wizards and Houston Rockets. To make matters worse, they both came in front of a Target Center home crowd that deserved better than a couple of double-digit losses.
So what went wrong? Let’s take a quick look.
The Wolves were bad across the board, so there is no telling whether they would have improved with a complete roster. However, missing Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Napier for both games and Josh Okogie for game two was a tough pill to swallow.
While Napier and Okogie fill vital roles in Ryan Saunders’ system, they can’t compare to the importance of Wiggins. The 24-year-old was in the midst of a breakout season before missing the back-to-back, which was sorely missed. He was out with personal reasons related to a death in the family, so our thoughts are with Andrew and everyone completely understands his absence. That doesn’t change the fact that the Wolves needed every bit of his presence on the court.
Hopefully, Minnesota can get back on track with a few returnees.
Before the Washington game, the Wolves had been playing an exciting brand of defense. They ranked 14th in defensive rating and looked capable of clamping teams in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, they couldn’t carry that staunchness into the home stand.
They gave up a monstrous 139 points to the hapless Wizards. Allowing them to convert a thoroughly discouraging 54 percent of their field goals. They were butchered by Bradley Beal, who poured in 44 points on 15-22 shooting. They backed that up by handing 125 points to Houston, a night where the scoring machine known as James Harden dropped 49 points.
From the bottom of the roster to the top, most everyone was a defensive eyesore. After such a refreshing start to the season, this was way too reminiscent of the Wolves of old. Let’s hope that was just a small, traumatic flashback.
Lack of Karl
When a player scores 63 points on 66 percent shooting over two games, there usually isn’t anything to complain about. In this case, that man is Karl-Anthony Towns. And the complaint is that he didn’t shoot even more.
Put simply, there is no way Towns should be shooting 18 and 15 shots respectively. It’s an even more egregious error when you consider that Andrew Wiggins and his 28.2 percent usage rate weren’t on the court with him.
Sometimes it was Towns himself passing out of shots he should take or not working hard enough to get into advantageous positions. Although, most of the time the blame fell on his teammates and coach. There was far too much Treveon Graham, who couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean at this stage and refuses to stop trying, and Jeff Teague, whose court vision and shot selection are questionable at best.
In the Rockets game, James Harden shot the ball 40 times without his running mate Russell Westbrook. Even if it’s not as exaggerated, Saunders and his squad could learn something from that tactic.
Superstars win games. Especially the type who are sizzling offensively. Feed the KAT.
Roller Coaster Rook
There were a lot of players who didn’t string together any good minutes over the two outings, but Jarrett Culver wasn’t one of them. Sure, he still had the occasional moment that made your palm grasp your face, but he was looking more comfortable by the minute.
Over the two games, he averaged 12 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in a tick over 29 minutes. He also shot 42 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the 3-point arc — both well above his sluggish season averages. He is looking more controlled and calm with the ball in his hands every time he touches the hardwood, which is a great sign for a team that craves shot creators and ball-handlers.
He is still an absolute mess at the charity stripe, shooting just 10-29 (34.5%) on the season. Somehow, his form from the free throw line looks even more awkward than his form from 3-point distance. He shot 68.7 percent from the line in his two seasons at Texas Tech, so regression to the mean probably isn’t far away.
Inconsistency and mistakes are a rookie’s bread and butter, so don’t be surprised when you see more of it. On the other hand, his potential is starting to shine through more and more each night.