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Saturday Cup of Canis

Minnesota is stuck between a rock and a hard place

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no real need to sugar coat it, this season has been an unmitigated disaster thus far. The front office and coaching staff can talk all they want about daily progress, getting better, and taking the long-term approach, but the reality is even they realize how awful this 4-14 start has been.

Yes, at 4-14, Minnesota has been the worst team in the NBA thus far by a mile. The Timberwolves rank last in net-rating (-9.8) by nearly 3 points per-100 possessions. Minnesota ranks last in offense and 27th in defense.

I will concede the obvious caveat that Karl-Anthony Towns has only played 132 minutes thus far. That, obviously, has been a huge part of the issue, as we’ve seen the team look competent with Towns on the floor. The Wolves do outscore their opponents by 6.1 points per-100 possessions with KAT out there, but again, it’s such a small sample size that it isn’t truly statistically significant or helpful enough to the actual wins and losses. None of that is Towns’ fault, as he merely got injured trying to dunk Rudy Gobert through the earth and then contracted COVID-19.

Because Towns has been unusually unavailable recently, Minnesota has still only seen him and D’Angelo Russell play five games together nearly a year after the Russell trade was made.

So yeah, there are excuses to be made, but I think we’d all agree we’re a bit tired of them for a multitude of reasons.

For one, Gersson Rosas billed D’Angelo Russell as his second star, and as an elite point guard built for the modern NBA. Russell has been far from the only issue, but I think it’s fair to say it looks unlikely that Russell is capable of being the second best player on a good/contending team. We may never know if Rosas truly believed Russell was as good as he was hyping him up to the media to be, but I think it’s fair to say the results haven’t aligned with the expectations the organization’s media tour put on him.

That may seem harsh, but if it weren’t true, Minnesota would not be this hapless when Karl-Anthony Towns is unavailable. Russell’s shooting/scoring talent is undeniable, and there are much bigger issues on the roster (we’ll get to that), but Minnesota has the worst offense in the NBA a quarter of the way through the season.

Beyond Russell, it’s clear that the rest of the roster isn’t very good either. Again, if they were, Minnesota likely isn’t the worst team in the NBA at this point. The Ricky Rubio experiment has been an abject failure, and there were some pretty damn good players available with the 17th pick they moved to Oklahoma City to get him. The only silver lining is that that trade eventually netted the Wolves Jaden McDaniels. Ask yourself, though, would you rather have Rubio + Gumby, or have kept James Johnson around to play PF and added Precious Achiuwa or Tyrese Maxey?

Anyways, there’s plenty of blame to go around, and we’ll be hitting multiple angles of all of that in the coming weeks.

The real, big, glaring issue for Minnesota is that now they’ve started so poorly that even the return of Karl-Anthony Towns won’t be able to propel them back into the playoff race. Aside from how many games back they are, there are simply too many teams they’d have to leap frog to truly get back in the race.

With that in mind, the next logical organizational strategy would be to tank. Well, that’s no good here either. Even if they finish with the worst record in the NBA, it’s still more likely that Minnesota’s pick falls outside the top-3 and moves to Golden State. Of course, that fails to mention that Minnesota won’t tank. When Karl-Anthony Towns comes back, they’ll start to win some games. They might not be +6 point per-100 possessions good when Towns comes back, but they’ll be better than the worst team in the league.

It feels like Minnesota is likely going end up in no-mans land, without a real shot at the play-in tournament and without their own first-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. There is questionable depth to this upcoming draft, but the top-half of the lottery is elite. If that pick lands somewhere 4-10, that’s going to hurt badly. I realize that Rosas has pivoted to the 2021-22 season is the one they want to compete, but we know that wasn’t really the expectation they had coming into this season. Instead, it looks like Minnesota is just bad, and is also likely to miss out on players like Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Keon Johnson, etc, etc.

The long-and-short of it is this — Minnesota is stuck between a rock and a hard place, with plenty of blame to go around and without a great avenue to add an infusion of talent.