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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Minnesota Timberwolves

Hawks 116, Wolves 98: Plummeting Watchability Ranking

The Wolves have become tough to watch without Towns

Trae Young was playing against ghosts.
| Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — The lingering stench of that epic meltdown two nights ago grew a little bit stronger Friday night at Target Center.

By now, after all of these years, we know the Wolves can lose in any possible way. Take, for example, their historic loss vs. Sacramento last season. I was in attendance that unforgettable night, taking in the gorgeous and rare performance artwork. Ready for more, Cole Anthony delivered the goods with a game-winning buzzer-beater earlier this week when the Wolves’ win probability was 99.5%.

With the Atlanta Hawks in town eager to take another bite out of the lifeless Wolves, halftime didn’t even have to come before sending the home squad even deeper into the apathetic oblivion they’re stuck in. As for the details, those are simple. Trae Young and Clint Capela did whatever they wanted. Young had 25 points in the first half. By night's end, he had 43. The shot contesting was miserable. Did anyone mention during pre-game film that Young can shoot from anywhere on the hardwood? When he wasn’t hitting one of his eight threes, it was GAME OVER in the pick-and-roll with Clint Capela. Speaking of the Hawks center, Capela posted the rare triple-double with blocks. 13 points, 19 rebounds, 10 swats. Twas another night of getting manhandled in the paint.

While this particular game wasn’t in the same galaxy as the two ridiculous duds discussed above, or even close to other meltdowns over the years, it was a different kind of bad. They played as if they lost before tip-off. There was no early intensity on the defensive end as seen against Orlando. The offense completely stalled out and couldn’t find a pulse. The Wolves were utterly dominated in all facets of the game. They played as if they collectively accepted they can’t win.

“The effort is not there,” said Ricky Rubio. Even his spirits seemed low. His assessment was honest. “It’s getting tough, but nobody is going to feel sorry for us.” The vet who was acquired to bring leadership and guidance to a young bunch returned from his COVID absence only to see the same despondent team struggling top to bottom.

“I don’t think we can have more than a 10-minute meeting, but we need like a three-hour meeting. But after talking, we gotta execute the words that we have, or should have.”

AFTER ANOTHER LOSS, the watchability of this team without Karl-Anthony Towns has plummeted to league-worst levels. If there was an updated league ranking of fun and cool teams to tune into, the Wolves would be in dead last or fighting for that position because of how messy and confused they look on defense and how easy they are to stop offensively.

D’Angelo Russell runs hot and cold on offense, and while his defense has been more engaged in recent contests, nobody would confuse him for a strong defender. The MAX-paid D’LO was awful in 21 minutes with 9 points on 9 shots.

Not even the rookies—#1 pick Anthony Edwards and #28 pick Jaden McDaniels—could offer a distraction on Friday night from the realities of how terrible this team is without KAT. And in the case of Edwards, matters only get worse when the prized first-year wing looks unplayable at the moment with his inability to hit a shot or make a smart decision off the dribble. Therein lies the problem. In the current state of the Wolves, Edwards still needs to play heavy minutes because the organization is going nowhere fast without him breaking out in a big way.

Then, there are the young wings in Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver, who both have struggled to show improvement. Culver scored 15 points, mostly in garbage time. Okogie looked lost for 19 minutes, lacking his usual fiery spirit that has come to define his game. The young bigs, Naz Reid and Jarred Vanderbilt played better than most but still were abused by their mature counterparts, John Collins and Capela.

The reality is harsh: this one was over before it really got started. Even the slight glimmer of hope was quickly dashed with how they came out of the gates.

If teams like the Hawks come into town hungry and desperate to win, when will the Wolves do the same? What will it take for them to play like everything is on the line? Some people might say firing Ryan Saunders is the obvious next move to shoot some life into this bumbling squad. Others might call for a trade or two, or perhaps another lineup change.

Towns eventual return might save this team from the rotten place it currently sits in but then again, if everything falls apart to this degree without him, isn’t that the real problem? That the roster wasn’t constructed well enough to compete without him or coached to the level that could mask its clear deficiencies.

The Wolves' ever hopeful two-guard Malik Beasley finished his media availability with a line heard around these parts before: “It could be worse.”

It certainly could be, but that’s not the point. This is already really bad.