Coming into this season, Minnesota Timberwolves fans everywhere salivated over the addition of new appointed head coach. Tom Thibodeau teamed up with three of the most promising young players in the NBA, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine.
With a young team struggling to play defense, and Thibodeau being known for one of the best defensive coaches in the league, this seemed like a match made in heaven. However, it’s been anything but. The defense is still stalling, too many winnable games have been lost, rookie Kris Dunn hasn’t played up to Rookie of the Year standards as many hoped, and one of the three centerpieces, Zach LaVine, tore his ACL. It couldn’t be a rougher start for the Wolves.
The start of the season started out very promising, yet very disappointing. Through the first 26 games, the Wolves lost 19 of those and 9 of those losses they held a double-digit lead. Minnesota could get a lead, but couldn’t hold it. Statistically, the Wolves were the most efficient team in the first half of games through mid-December.
So when do they blow all of their games? The fourth quarter – but the third is the real dagger. That is when all the leads shrink to a manageable deficit going into the fourth quarter – and with a young team like this one, keeping a lead shows maturity and the next step to become a playoff contending team. The Wolves have not shown it quite yet. There has to be an explanation for these terrible third quarters, and even though the offense was more than putrid, there’s an all-around issue that has plagued the Wolves.
The glaring hole this season has been every kind of defense. Man-to-man, help, and pick and roll defense have been a painful struggle, sometimes it’s been too hard to watch. Witnessing this team play pick and roll defense is like tearing a Band-Aid off after a few days.
As soon as a screen is called, communication is poor, both men stay on the ball handler while the roller gets a wide open lane for a dunk without any help defense. If the help defense does come, there will be a kick out to the corner for a wide open three. If the man in the corner doesn’t shoot it, he waits for another Wolf to hound him and passes it to the next open man and then two Wolves come to hound him, and then it just looks like a bunch of chickens running with their heads cut off.
It’s hard to tell if it’s just the growing pains of a young team, too high of expectations, Thibodeau putting too much on the plate, or just the entire franchise being a lost cause.
That may be an overreaction, but from a die-hard fan that’s been dealing with the same disappointment in and out every year along with the longest active streak without a playoff appearance, it’s hard to find any hope at this point.
With Zach LaVine now out for the season with his devastating ACL tear, and now having to rely on Brandon Rush and Lance Stephenson as the shooting guards. Those two aren’t bad options, but to become a legit playoff team, losing the third best scorer on the team is devastating. If playoff hopes haven’t disappeared already, it’s looking more bleak by game. There is some optimism at the same time, the Wolves stand at 3-3 since LaVine’s injury and two losses were within single digits. One being a two-point loss to the Miami Heat, who were on a 10-game winning streak, and one being against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This Timberwolves team is the most disappointing and exciting team I can remember. I’ve never witnessed a team flash so much potential, and disappoint so much when the final box score comes out. With a coach to be proven to make every team he has been on substantially better, maybe it was the expectations that killed the Wolves. Maybe they just aren’t ready to take the jump we all thought they would.
Not to mention, the three best players on the team are 22 years of age and under. As much as I want to give up, as much as I feel that the team is better than this, they are still learning. Maybe this year will be scratched off, but for years to come, we all could be witnessing something special.