Two weeks into the regular season, the Minnesota Timberwolves are in good standing: they boast a record of 4-3, good for fifth in the Western Conference (well, tied for fifth with three other teams – it’s still early).
There are quite a few positives to celebrate coming out the gate for the Minnesota Timberwolves. For starters, Minnesota boasts the fourth most productive offense in the league, clocking in an offensive rating of 110 as of this writing. Additionally, Jimmy Butler exists, so that’s always nice.
However, as with any team, a few negatives must be addressed. Let’s take the Wolves’ defense as an example: currently, they have a defensive rating of 115.9, which is dead last in the NBA. While this squad has certainly shown flashes of defensive progression, it is clear a lot of work must be done on this end of the floor.
Defense has a lot to do with effort. Unlike offense, which requires a lot of skill, each individual player can control their performance on the defensive end of the ball. It just all comes down to how badly each person wants to stop their opponent from scoring.
Effort plays a role in a team’s overall competitiveness. And competitiveness – or, more accurately, Minnesota’s willingness to compete – tells the story of a struggle which won’t bode well moving forward: their tendency to play to the level of their competition.
Through seven games, the Wolves have proven they can compete with the league’s premier players. This became especially evident in their second win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Twice the team has faced the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Russell Westbrook and twice they put forth the effort and execution needed to win. Clearly, Minnesota can keep pace with the top talent.
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Unfortunately, the Wolves have also dropped very winnable games. While the Detroit Pistons are off to a strong start at 5-2, Minnesota boasts the roster to defeat this team. And of course, the loss to the Indiana Pacers at home was flat-out embarrassing.
Sure, the squad was missing Butler in both games due to an upper respiratory infection. But giving up 130 points to the Myles Turner-less Pacers at home, then 122 to the Pistons? That’s more a testament to lack of energy and effort than anything else.
Just look at the early-season trend: solid wins against the Thunder and defensive-minded Utah Jazz (who are third with a 98.5 defensive rating), but two significant losses in winnable games, plus an overtime victory against the below-average Miami Heat. This is fluctuation and it must be stopped.
Simply put, Minnesota needs to develop some consistency in their play. They need to find their own identity, stick with it and put their best foot forward every single night. Otherwise, while they may compete and find success against top teams, they’ll drop important wins against lesser competition and subsequently squander their playoff hopes.
This next slate of games against the New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks and Charlotte Hornets will serve as a solid opportunity to build upon their two-game win streak. All three are winnable contests. Hopefully, the Wolves will find their rhythm and stop their tendency of playing to the level of their competition.
All stats are courtesy of BasketballReference.com