When the Minnesota Timberwolves left Target Center following a bad loss to the Memphis Grizzlies last week the organization could at least hang its hat on the fact that despite struggles existing inside Target Center, the team had seemingly had things figured out on the road.
Well, after a four-game road trip, it certainly doesn’t feel like that anymore.
The trip featured a game in Dallas in which the Wolves were actually able to hold MVP Candidate Luka Doncic relatively in check, but couldn’t stop Jalen Brunson or Dwight Powell, a bizarre, soul-crushing loss to the Thunder in OKC, a blowout loss to LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Los Angeles Lakers, and then finally a loss in Phoenix to cap the trip. The Wolves will get back to Target Center on Wednesday night as losers of five straight games, and haven’t been able to find the same rhythm that the team had earlier in the year.
At first, the Wolves looked like a team that could sneak into the Western Conference playoff picture. A hot start followed by encouraging performances over the first 11 games of the season gave plenty of reason to be hopefully about this team. Back then, the Wolves were solid on both ends of the floor, posting a defensive rating of 105.7 and a positive net rating of 1.4.
What’s transpired since has been a far departure from those days. Minnesota entered Monday’s loss against Phoenix with an NBA-worst defensive rating of 124.6 in the month of December. That wasn’t improved upon against the Suns due to the 125.8 defensive rating on Monday.
Since that 7-4 start the Wolves have been 26th in defensive rating, 14th in offensive rating, and 23rd in net rating. The only teams entered Monday with fewer wins than the Wolves since November 14th are Atlanta, Memphis, New York, and Cleveland.
The results early on were positive, but even during those days the organization still preached “process over results” with the belief that doing things the right way would lead to success at some point. It happened early on, but since then the results haven’t been there, and the question of whether or not the process has been the right one is worth asking, too.
The system that the Wolves want to run on offense is a modernized one that would be hit or miss most nights. There will be nights when a roster that isn’t filled out with great shooters gets hot from the outside, but there will probably be more nights when they don’t. There were going to be nights when Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins carried the team to wins, and there were going to be other nights when it was too tall of an ask.
Those things have all contributed to the 10-13 record thus far, but the failure to defend has hurt more. Being an average offensive team this year isn’t a bad thing at all for this franchise. Sure, it could be seen as disappointing with both Towns and Wiggins playing as well as they have, but the rest of the roster is flawed on that end. Average is fine.
Being awful on the defensive end of the floor isn’t something that should be acceptable from this group. Not with the pieces that they have. Some of the players with offensive limitations should be able to help on the defensive end, but it clearly isn’t working like that.
The fair question to ask is which team is the real version of the Wolves? The team that got off to the hot start, or the team that’s been one of the NBA’s worst since?
The answer to that question is probably somewhere in the middle, and that’s fine for year one of this regime. It’s a roster that’s not built as a contender, and never was touted as such either. Maybe at some point this team will get back towards what they were for the first portion of the season, but right now that looks a long way away.