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As The Wolves Turn: Week Four Observations

How did Minnesota’s first extended road trip of the season play out? Let’s discuss.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Well, the Minnesota Timberwolves are right back where the world expects them to be. After 12 games, the Timberwolves are 4-8 and are off to a start that feels like it has been happening on repeat for the last 20 years. A glitch in the matrix would be fine anytime now. Over the past seven seasons, the Timberwolves have had a losing record after 12 games five times with a losing streak of at least three games in all five of those seasons. Alas, we march forward. Here is this week’s recap.

NBA: NOV 13 Timberwolves at Clippers Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Accountability, Anyone?

“I take each of these losses personally and am committed to righting the ship.”

Well, as someone who covers this team and has had to stay up to watch multiple beat downs that extend well past a normal person’s bedtime, I, too, am starting to take these losses personally. I get it. The players and coaches have to spout these platitudes in the post-game press conferences, but I am so incredibly tired of hearing it.

It doesn’t bother me that they continue to say it because most (some?) of the time, they appear to actually believe it. What bothers me is that they don’t ever do a single thing to change it. Nothing ever changes. The effort is lackadaisical at best. The execution is far from pristine. At this point, it feels like they need to be tested for insanity because they go through the same exact motions expecting different results.

I can sense it; I know you’re on the verge of screaming at me, “THEY JUST BLEW OUT THE LAKERS!” You are absolutely correct, but it wasn’t because of anything the Timberwolves did. Yes, Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell finally got hot for a quarter; and yes, the Timberwolves’ staunch defense held the Lakers’ 25th ranked offense to 83 points. The Timberwolves won that game because the Lakers missed 14 shots in a row and shot 15-48 (31 percent) on open shots (defender is four feet or further away).

I’ve had enough of the post-game “accountability.” It would be nice to see a give-a-shit factor on the court sooner rather than later.

Fool Me Once, Shame On You. Fool Me Twice...

Well, that escalated quickly. After starting the season as one of the league’s best defenses, the Timberwolves currently rank 15th in defensive rating on the season. Not too bad, and almost all of us would’ve taken that entering the season. However, over their last seven games, the Timberwolves have a defensive rating of 113.2, which would rank last in the league. Yikes.

Let’s clear up one thing — the new defensive scheme works. It was a good adjustment, and it kept guys accountable. However, it can’t be the lone defensive scheme that is used against every single opponent. There must be counters and adjustments, but, like everything else the Timberwolves have done this season, they stay the course.

The strongest plea for defensive creativity is most strongly bolstered by the utter dismantling the Timberwolves have faced at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers in all three of their games. The Clippers have made basketball look incredibly easy when they’ve played the Timberwolves because they know precisely how to pick their spots. They get the ball to the middle of the floor and set up off-ball shooters or cutters. This formula worked over and over and over for them, yet no adjustment was made.

Minnesota Timberwolves v LA Clippers Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

I am a fan of the more aggressive defense in a vacuum. Towns has proven he isn’t a good drop defender for seven years, but when the team isn’t executing, and the opposition has the skeleton key to unlock your defense, maybe mix things up a bit?

To make matters worse, Russell has been rough on defense since his injury, and Anthony Edwards is rapidly reverting to the mean with his ball-watching. After a hot start, Edwards is still making plays on defense, but his possession-to-possession execution is far from ideal. He consistently loses his man off-ball, helps off the strong side corner shooter, and misses rotations. Edwards screwed up by playing excellent defense early because now we all know he can do it. For now, it’s simply a matter of will he?

Making 48 Look Easy

Alright, that’s enough negativity. We need, and I cannot emphasize need enough, something to look forward to and be excited about. While most of that Golden State Warriors game was a tough watch, at least Edwards put on an incredible show.

Edwards scored a career-high 48 points against the Warriors. He joined an incredible company of players to have three 40+ point games before turning 21 with LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Luka Doncic. Edwards’s offensive game plan against the Warriors was perfect. He attacked early and often. He didn’t settle for bad jumpers but generated his offense by going inside-out instead of outside-in. It was everything we’ve been craving from him and more.

Edwards even used his drives to set up teammates and generate ball movement in a game where very little existed. He was the lone spark on a team that looked disinterested in being in the arena. When Edwards attacks downhill early, it opens an innumerable number of options for him going forward.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/NBAE via Getty Images

At only 20 years old, Edwards is already one of the best athletes. We all know that he can jump out of the gym, but his athleticism extends to so many other realms that most players can only dream about. He embodies the best physical traits that make up the term athleticism. He has the strength to dislodge shot blockers at the rim. His deceleration loses defenders almost as frequently as his lightning-quick first step does. When he euro steps, his combination of deceleration and ground coverage is unmatched (Giannis Antetokounmpo is excluded because he isn’t human).

In the next Timberwolves game you watch, I implore you to keep an eye out for Edwards’ change of pace and ground coverage as he attacks the rim. He goes from 0-100 as easily as 100-0. When he drives baseline, keep an eye out for when he plants his left foot and somehow relocates to the middle of the lane. When he comes off a screen on the right-wing and attacks the rim, be watchful for how he takes off from the right block but finishes on the left side of the rim.

There will be annoyances with his shot selection and defensive misgivings, but it is undeniable that Edwards is a superstar. He has the potential to be the face of the league, and regardless of what the future of this team or season holds, I am incredibly grateful that we get to watch Edwards’s ascent to stardom.