“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
That’s a nice rule to live by in most situations. Writing about the Timberwolves is an exception. In many instances, such as this one, that rule would be straight up prohibitive.
Since I last posted nine days ago, the Wolves have played five games, and lost every one of them.
They lost by 13 to the Clippers, who were still without Blake Griffin. They actually trailed by 21 with 4 minutes to go in that one, but padded the deficit with some late, meaningless baskets. DeAndre Jordan, who tallied 20 points on 10-11 shooting, along with 17 rebounds, spent most of the game rolling through the lane and hammering down unchecked alley-oop dunks.
Next, the Wolves lost by 9 at Phoenix to a mediocre Suns team. That final was also a bit misleading; the Wolves trailed by 14 with a minute to go. Nobody on the team played well, aside from newbie Justin Hamilton who poured in a surprising 15 points off the bench.
On Friday night, the Wolves lost by 14 to the Thunder at Oklahoma City. The Thunder, as you probably know, are without Kevin Durant. No worry for OKC, Russell Westbrook and Enes Kanter provided plenty of fire to handle the TWolves. Russ, true to his recent MVP-like form, had a 29-point triple double. Kanter bullied the Wolves young, lean big men (Garnett and Pek sat out, more on this later) to the tune of 23 points and 15 rebounds. Like the others, the final score was a little closer than it could’ve been. The Wolves were down 18 with a minute and a half to go, and the outcome never really felt in doubt.
The game on Sunday in San Antonio was a joke. The Spurs won by 26 and actually lost by 4 points in the fourth quarter.
And last night, back at Target Center after returning from the miserable road trip, the Wolves lost again; this time to a poor Brooklyn Nets team that would not make the playoffs in the pathetic Eastern Conference if the season ended today. The Nets led by 4 after the first quarter, 12 at halftime, 19 after three, and then coasted to a 16-point victory. They scored what I understand was a Nets-record 78 points in the paint. They shot 58 percent from the field. They are a below-average offensive team, mind you.
Those are the miniature recaps of the last five games.
Some facts and statistics about this recent stretch:
* Kevin Garnett did not play a minute of action. Apparently he’s having knee pain. This matters, when you consider that the team will probably bring him back next year, and we’ll all ask ourselves whether he can be penciled in for 12-15 minutes per night. That may be the case, but only if he’s in uniform for half the games or less.
- Nikola Pekovic played a total of 31 minutes in just 2 of those 5 games. It’s the same old same old foot/ankle stuff. Pek will be an expensive part-time post player. We just hope they can find a way to make the minutes he does play be productive ones. The 31 he played recently were not. He was 5-15 from the field in (-22) action.
Andrew Wiggins must feel worn out. He tallied 173 minutes – most on the team – over the past 5 games, and suffered a (-83) in that time on the floor; second worst on the team to Kevin Martin’s (-95). Losing by almost 100 in a week of basketball cannot be anything but mentally draining. I know that it isn’t good. He shot just 37.7 percent from the floor in these games.
Ricky Rubio is hurt again; he turned his ankle against the Thunder. The injury didn’t look very severe on TV, but alas, he missed the rest of that game, as well as the next two versus the Spurs and Nets. Making matters worse, he was playing poorly in the lead-up to his absence. He shot just 8-27 – a hair under 30 percent – and was (-44) before going down.
The Wolves season-long stats also paint an ugly picture. Their field goal percentage (43.5) ranks 24th in the league. They shoot the fewest threes per game in the league, and still connect on just 33.2 percent of their attempts; the 25th best mark in the NBA. In overall offensive efficiency the Wolves rank 27th, scoring just 99.5 points per 100 possessions.
Unfortunately, offense is the good side of the floor for these Wolves. On defense, they are a complete and total dumpster fire. They allow opponents to shoot a whopping 48.8 percent from the field. That isn’t just worst in the league; it’s a full 2.2 percentage points worse than the 29th ranked team (Orlando Magic). And not only do the Wolves allow the highest field goal percentage, but they rebound the second-lowest percentage of missed shots in the entire league. In other words, they struggle mightily to force missed shots, and also struggle mightily to rebound the misses they do create.
It gets worse. The Wolves allow high percentages in the most efficient scoring locations. From behind the three-point line they allow opponents to shoot 37.0 percent, which ranks 29th in the league. They allow 28.7 shots per game from inside the restricted area (right next to the hoop) which is the 6th most in the league. And in that high frequency the Wolves allow BY FAR the highest conversion rate in the league, forfeiting hoops on 66.7 percent of attempts; a clean two thirds.
Measured per possession, the Wolves allow the most points in basketball. Their defensive rating of 108.8 is over a point worse than the Knicks, who rank 29th.
Where does a team go when it has one of the worst offenses in basketball, and one of the worst defenses of all time?
The draft, I guess. The Wolves currently have the second-worst record in basketball. The Knicks, led by Alexey Shved — no, really — have one less win than the Wolves and will certainly finish out the year with the league’s lowest total. Philly, who built its franchise business model around the concept of losing as much as possible, currently has one more win than the Wolves. So Minnesota will be picking high in this upcoming draft, and will hope to add a franchise player to build around with Andrew Wiggins.
We can talk more about that in the coming months, and maybe even these next few weeks when the likes of Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Willie Cauley-Stein are garnering some extra NBA-fan attention during March Madness. Maybe the Wolves will draft one of those players and he’ll be so good that none of this matters.
But we’ve seen this movie before — quite a few times, actually — and we know that the draft is no sure thing. We also know that playing terrible basketball is not, in and of itself, a route to improvement. Sometimes failure begets more failure. At some point the basketball needs to be better. The offense needs to at least TRY to generate efficient shots. The Wolves doesn’t. The defensive rotations need to be swift, but controlled, derived from principles and developed into instincts. Right now, most of the Wolves have no idea what they are doing.
It is unclear if, on a team-concepts level, the Wolves have improved in any meaningful way this year.
That’s really discouraging.
They play next on Wednesday at Toronto, where Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett will get hometown receptions. Until then.