By: Dan Slaubaugh
A 3-0 start to the 2019-20 season followed by an impressive stretch of games by the enigmatic Andrew Wiggins injected hope into Timberwolves fans that the team could be competitive.
But realistically, the proof for how the rest of the season would play out was in the pudding. It was always going to be difficult to win when the offense implemented by the head coach and front office -- bombing away from deep -- worked directly against the strengths of the team’s personnel.
A winning formula for the season didn’t necessarily have to include wins. If Karl-Anthony Towns took the leap into a top 10-ish player with improved defense, Andrew Wiggins played up to 80 percent of his $27 million/year max contract, a fringe role player playing on a dime developed into a reliable rotational player (surplus baby!) all while building a culture on and off the floor, the season could have been considered a success.
We are now 45 games into the season and the team sits 15-29, tied for the second-worst record with the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference. Since Dec. 1, the Wolves are an abysmal 5-21. That’s fine with me, as I expected the team to stink. What isn’t fine, however, is the process that led them here. A few worrisome trends are starting to develop, ones that could have a significant impact on the team’s future, but the most worrisome is the biggest question and factor to success regarding the Wolves' future.
Is Karl-Anthony Towns Kevin Love 2.0?
I’ve been trying to think of a good comparison for Towns lately. Someone who puts up great offensive statistics but seems to have little effect on winning. After doing some thinking, I came to a conclusion, and little did I know it was right in front of me this whole time.
KAT has shades of Kevin Love in him.
All-star caliber player playing on a bad team. Poor defensive IQ. Posts big offensive numbers. Questionable leadership ability. Doesn’t help change the win/loss total all that much.
Kinda describes both players, doesn’t it?
Each player in their respective Minnesota tenures have posted great offensive numbers. KAT’s posting a 113.4 O-rating this season. Last year he posted a 112.2 and the year prior 115.3. All just stupid good.
After recovering from a knuckle push up (haha!) injury in 2012-13, Love posted a 110.5 offensive rating in his final season in Minnesota -- the 8th best rating in the league with a minimum 30 minutes per game and 25 usage percentage.
Towns is a superior offensive player to Minnesota-Kevin Love. Sprinkle in his defensive shortcomings though, and his impact on each game doesn’t seem so far off from what Love provided.
Towns has a chance to rise into “superstar” status and help the Wolves develop into a respectable franchise once again. With an offensive skill set that has opposing coaches scurrying for ways to slow him down, the simple, but complex, next step in ascending into one of the league’s top 10 best players starts with one word: defense. This year, he’s failing, and big time. A breakdown:
KAT’s defensive rating is 115.0. As the above numbers make clear, this is awful.
When KAT plays, the defense sucks. If your defense sucks, it’s hard to win. Simple as that.
As a result, it is becoming clear the team must acquire a defensive-minded big to pair with KAT in the frontcourt, which only adds to Gerson Rosas’s lengthy to-do list.
It also emphasizes the importance of landing Towns a star sidekick, as it’s tough to envision the Wolves ever contending with their best player being one of the league’s worst defenders at a vital position.
Until he improves his discipline and commitment to the defensive end, he’s basically just Minnesota-Kevin Love. Empty stats on a bad team.
And if this continues, Rosas has a lot more work to do than anticipated.