No one realistically expected the Minnesota Timberwolves to contend this season. That belief was rooted in the fact that other teams were just better or were further along in their journey. However, there was still talent on the roster and therefore reason to expect them to be competitive.
Thursday’s loss in Portland was their sixth in a row, dropping their record to 2-6. A 47-point second quarter for the Blazers negated what was a promisingly competitive first quarter. Something similar happened Tuesday in Denver when the Timberwolves came out flat in the fourth after leading for much of three quarters.
The excuses or reasonings for these losses are there and they are (still) valid.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie were injured early in the season. Their absences have underscored the team’s lack of frontcourt depth. The Timberwolves have the depth to spare in the backcourt — their top-five in minutes played are currently all guards. Center Naz Reid has played the sixth-most minutes and he’s 30 minutes behind Jarrett Culver for fifth.
Even some of the veterans — Ed Davis, Jake Layman, and Juancho Hernangomez — have all had slow starts, though the latter has played much better as of late.
Reid, Vanderbilt stepping up without Okogie and Towns
Reid, in particular, has had to persevere. Having played just 30 NBA games before this season, Reid was thrown into the fire. In his first three games, Reid averaged 9.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game but shot just 38.5 percent from the field.
However, Reid has elevated his game some over the last five games. He’s averaging 11.2 points, 3.6 boards and 2.0 assists per game while hitting one-third of his 3-pointers and nearly 65 percent from the field.
Had Towns been healthy and Davis played more effectively, the Timberwolves could have brought Reid along slower. They are asking a lot of Reid right now but he seems to be showing steady improvement. Not enough to carry the team without Towns obviously — the same can be said for Jarred Vanderbilt’s strong recent play — but Reid looks like he is headed towards becoming a viable rotation player.
Too young to win?
In the NBA, youth rarely wins. If you sort the average ages of NBA teams from top to bottom, you will usually see the better teams also being the older teams. Minnesota, Memphis, and Charlotte are the three youngest teams in the league and all have losing records.
The Grizzlies and Timberwolves are in similar positions. Both teams sit at 2-6 in the bottom of the Western Conference. Memphis is missing Ja Morant like Minnesota is without Towns. Although the Grizzlies have lost 4-of-5, half of those have been within four points. The other two losses in that span were to Los Angeles (L) and Boston. In fact, the Grizzlies have lost twice to the Lakers in five games, once by four points and once by 14.
Timberwolves fans could likely accept narrow defeats better than the blowout losses. Even Tuesday’s seven-point loss felt disappointing because of how well they played the Nuggets through 36 minutes. Few expected them to beat Denver but watching the team throw away victories is truly difficult.
The road has been difficult
It’s not like the Timberwolves have had a particularly easy schedule. After opening against Detroit, the only non-playoff team they have played is Washington, whom they also lost to. Utah, Denver, Portland, and both Los Angeles teams make for a daunting stretch of the schedule for a young and depleted team.
But it’s not going to get easier, at least by much.
The team’s next five games are against San Antonio (2x), Atlanta, and Memphis (2x). Oh, after that it’s Atlanta again, Orlando, and New Orleans. The reality is that winning is always going to be hard and wins are seldom going to fall into anyone’s lap. Okogie may be back but Towns is still unlikely (at least for another week or so).
This Timberwolves team simply can’t afford to just “wait for Towns to return.” They have to figure something out. Sure, injuries, an uneven roster and inexperience complicate that but this team cannot afford to prolong this losing streak. You don’t want young players developing bad habits or they may quickly lose faith in what the team is attempting to build.
Since no one is going to hand them a win, the team needs to figure out what needs to be done to stop the bleeding. We have seen glimpses of competitiveness but unable to finish those games. That trend needs to change, and it needs to change fast.