Like last year, the Timberwolves are struggling on defense.
Coming into this season the Timberwolves had very high expectations for the second year in a row. In the 2016-17 season, Minnesota vastly underperformed expectations and a big reason for that was their underwhelming performance on defense. There were excuses made like the team being relatively young, the first year under a new coach and system, and not having a true leader. This off-season the team made a lot of moves with the trade for Jimmy Butler and the signings of Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague. These additions plus an extra year in Thibodeau's system led to the team having even higher expectations and the assumption of a top ten defense. So far this year, the Timberwolves have the worst defense in the league and are showing no signs of getting better.
As a team, the numbers are extremely disappointing across the board. They have a defensive rating of 114 which is worst in the league, an opponent effective field goal percentage of 58.1 which is worst in the league, a turnover percentage of 13.5 which is 22nd in the league, and opponents are averaging 113.8 points per game which is 26th in the league. As a team, they clearly struggle but there aren't even impressive individual numbers. Not one of their starters has a defensive rating under 110 and as a starting lineup, they have a defensive rating of 110.6.
Coming into this season one of the most intriguing aspects was how the new roster additions would gel with the team that was already there. The majority of the interest would be how the defensive-minded players of Butler and Gibson would help the development of Wiggins and Towns, two of the worst defensive players in the league. When Butler and Wiggins are on the floor together they have a defensive rating of 108.6. By no means is the good but it is a step in the right direction. More concerning is the 120.7 defensive rating when Towns and Gibson are on the floor. The idea behind bringing Gibson was that he would help guard the better opposing big man which would take pressure off of Towns, keep him a fresher late in games, and allow him to play more help defense. Whether it is communication, chemistry, or just talent, this needs to get figured out if Minnesota wants to turn around their defense. While the starters have less than ideal numbers, the bench players are even worse. The next five guys off the bench, Crawford, Muhammad, Bjelica, Jones, and Dieng, don't have a defensive rating better than 117. When you look at the teams that are legitimate contenders, they all have at least one guy that can come in and play lockdown defense. The Timberwolves aren't even close to having that guy.
So why can't Minnesota seem to figure out how to play defense? The shortened training camp and the new roster doesn't help. The defensive rebounding rate of 75.5% (20th in the league), allowing 1.21 points per possession in transition (27th in the league), and an opponent's scoring frequency of 62.1% on putbacks (20th in the league) obviously don't help but the biggest issue has been the lack of communication, effort, and awareness.
The below tweet from Ben Falk encompasses all of this.
This play starts with a lack of pressure on the perimeter which allows for an easy entry pass. Wiggins then gets caught leaning too aggressively which allows Gay to easily spin baseline and find the wide open man in the corner. Green was able to get so open in the corner because the hammer screen isn't called off and both defenders are caught ball watching.
The below play start poorly as Muhammad and Wiggins get mixed up on a screen on the lower block. There is no communication on if they should switch or not which results in Wiggins having to scramble to recover. Wiggins then tries to fight through the screen while Towns leaves the screener to help out on Oladipo. Almost the exact same thing happens on the other side of the court as both Gibson and Muhammad break for Bogdanovic on the wing. The combination of this results in a wide open lane for Sabonis who doesn't need to worry about any backside help defense.
Through all of Minnesota's games this year there are myriad examples of these plays. There is too much talent and basketball IQ on this team for the defense to continue to be this bad. As they get more reps and experience with each other, I expect the communication to improve. If the current trends continue, this will be yet another frustrating year for the Timberwolves as their defense is nowhere close to being playoff acceptable.