We’re a third of the way into the NBA season, and this has been a delightful season. The left-for-dead Jazz and Pacers are fighting for playoff seeding, the Pelicans are leading the West, and the Celtics have the best offense in history.
This post is not about those teams.
Instead, we’ll look at some of the league’s most disappointing teams and determine whether they can turn things around. At this point, small sample sizes ain’t that small anymore. Past performance is becoming predictive of future returns, and while it’s still early enough that any team can turn things around, these three units will be taking a hard look at themselves in the mirror to determine if their problems are solvable this year.
(Let’s be honest: we’re all sick of talking about the Lakers. So at the risk of precious clicks, I’m going to acknowledge that the Lakers have had a tough season for various reasons and move on.)
Let’s dive in with easily the most disappointing team of the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves.
NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves: Rebounding
*Breathes in, exhales slowly*
Where to begin? After a gargantuan trade that mortgaged the franchise’s future for Rudy Gobert, the pressure was on. A slow start seemed plausible, even likely, as the team tried to completely rework their identity on both sides of the ball. But the joylessness of the proceedings has been worse than anyone could have predicted, and some real systemic issues don’t seem easy to solve.
Perhaps the biggest and most surprising problem: this team can’t rebound at all, on either side.
This team should be cleaning the glass like Windex. Timberwolves fans were drooling with anticipation over its “Northern Heights” lineups that featured Rudy Gobert (7’1″), Karl-Anthony Towns (6’11”), and Jaden McDaniels (6’9″), plus human pogo stick Anthony Edwards. Instead, per Cleaning The Glass, the Wolves are 23rd in defensive rebounding and 19th in offensive rebounding.
It starts with the fundamentals: they’re 22nd in box-outs per game. KAT, McDaniels, and point guard D’Angelo Russell have shown virtually no willingness to get dirty, put a body on their man, and box out. Instead, they wait for Gobert to grab it, then look bemused when he gets ganged up on and loses the ball.
KAT is averaging just 1.3 box outs per game, behind guys like Joe Harris. Joe Harris! That’s inexcusable. He’s often guarding stretch fours out on the perimeter, so he’s not around the basket as much as he was last year, but it’s clear that effort and technique are both substantially lacking.
McDaniels has been even worse. He has a defensive rebounding percentage of 6.2%, in the third percentile for forwards league-wide. Even though he, too, is often on the perimeter, he often floats around after a shot, waiting for someone else to get the ball so he can get down on offense.
This is a difficult problem to solve. In a couple of games since KAT’s injury, Minnesota’s rebounding has looked better, but Towns will always be on the court when it matters, so that’s fool’s gold. Rebounding, especially on the defensive glass, can only be coached up to an extent — after that, it’s about desire and a willingness to get dirty. And to this point, too many of the Wolves’ main characters have held themselves out of the fray. It’s hard to see that turning around.