After the disastrous loss against the Orlando Magic, the Wolves have the opportunity to give themselves a sliver of breathing room if they can beat the Atlanta Hawks. It is no longer a surprise that the Wolves are a terrible basketball team without Karl-Anthony Towns, the question now remains of how bad of a team are they and to what end that is a reflection of the coaching staff, players, or roster construction. The blame game has begun as the team has a sole victory in the last 11 games.
The Wolves simply have to begin winning games or there are going to be significant changes, likely starting with the coaching staff. As hard as it is to believe, the Wolves have a stretch of 10 games where they can right the ship. That opportunity may have begun two weeks ago with the double-header against the Spurs, but the Wolves still have a chance, however small that possibility is.
We have seen how the Wolves can potentially beat the Hawks. Just a few days ago, the Wolve and the Hawks played an entirely lackadaisical game on Martin Luther King Day, with the two teams combining for a ridiculous 42 turnovers. The Wolves lost the rebounding battle (48-39), outrebounded in the game, and were dominated in the interior by Clint Capela and John Collins. Trae Young shot terribly, but he continuously got to the free-throw line and picked apart the Wolves to the tune of 13 assists.
Tonight, if the Wolves can rebound after the disastrous loss, the Hawks will give them opportunities to take control. The Wolves will likely need strong performances from some combination of Jarred Vanderbilt and Naz Reid to manage the paint. Maybe the Jaden McDaniels spark will prove to be a real thing.
But the Wolves' successes are largely determined by their highest-profile players. The team needs consistent production from D'Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley to have any semblance of an offense. Anthony Edwards needs to be able to provide a scoring punch to the second-unit or the group helplessly flounders.
Of course, these next few games may determine the fate of Ryan Saunders. Thus far, the players have demonstrably placed their support behind Saunders, but this respect has been more obvious in media scrums than in on the court execution. If the team believes in Saunders, they will have ample opportunity over the next few games to live up to the expectations of being a not-terrible team.
The bar for the Timberwolves is remarkably low, simply not being the worst team in the NBA. Without Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves have been the worst team in the league, which an unacceptable position for a team that has one other max contract player and has traded away its draft pick for this year. The Wolves have relied on the excuse of youth, but their wounds are self-inflicted from the top-down.
The trial awaits.
Projected Starting Lineups