Wait, Are the Wolves Actually Gonna Play Defense This Year?

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Timberwolves are taking the rust off after the offseason and seem to have a new identity through four preseason games. It’s called defense.

Sure, I’m being a tad facetious. But for a team that struggled tremendously on the defensive side of the ball last season, the Wolves seem to have made it a point of emphasis in training camp.

Karl-Anthony Towns recently reviewed some film of Minnesota’s first preseason game against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Wolves’ big man covered a lot in the video and made it clear that the team will be more balanced this year. “We talk about defense, we talk about fixing what we need to fix, we talk about being the team we talk about,” Towns said. “I’m happy that practice transferred over.”

Now yes, I know it’s only preseason, and it has only been four games. But with the regular season only a week away, shouldn’t we get a little excited about what we’re seeing?

The Wolves have tallied 14, 11, 11, and 15 steals, respectfully, in their four games so far. NBA teams averaged 7.6 steals per game last season, so it’s safe to say that Minnesota has had some active hands in the exhibition matchups.

“With adding TP (Taurean Prince) and Pat Bev (Patrick Beverley), it took us to another level,” Anthony Edwards said after Thursday night’s preseason game in Brooklyn. “They bring maturity, aggressiveness, and they bring our intensity higher entering every game. They push us, they push each other, and they know the game better than a lot of people, better than most of us on the team. They just help us a lot.”

The young Wolves have emphasized defense in the offseason. Their core group has also built some chemistry, and most of the players are nearing or in the prime of their careers. That should help turn around a historically poor defensive team.

“Ant is doing so much better at being better positioned instead of trusting his whole body,” Towns said while reviewing game tape. “He’s doing the smarter things. He’s more experienced. When you’re young, you use a bunch of energy and just are going crazy. But when you get older, you start realizing that positioning is more important.”

Just to give a quick recap of Minnesota’s relationship with “defense,” I think it’s safe to say that throughout their 32-year franchise, the Timberwolves could never have been considered a defensive force. We’re talking about a team with one of the worst winning percentages in all of sports, so that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

But why has Minnesota been so bad on the defensive side of the ball for so long? How is that even possible?

The last time Minnesota was NOT in the bottom 10 in the league in opponent’s field-goal percentage was the 2006-07 season. It’s been 14 seasons since they were considered a mediocre defensive team. That season was also Kevin Garnett’s last in Minnesota. I think it’s safe to say that the Big Ticket brought an edge to the team that has been missing ever since he departed.

Beverley could spark a fire for this team and bring a KG-esque tenacity. Known for his relentlessness on defense, the 10-year vet brings intangibles to the court that you can’t teach. “He’s a tone-setter,” Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch said of Beverley. “He’s on the ball, he’s loud, he’s communicating and holding guys accountable. It helps our coaching staff immensely when you have that type of quarterback on defense on the floor.”

Of the last 20 teams to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, no team has been in the bottom half, let alone the bottom 10, in their opponent’s FG efficiency. Eighteen out of the last 20 NBA Champions have been top-ten in the league in that category. So yes, I very much believe in the adage that defense wins championships. Or lousy defense doesn’t allow you to win one, at least.

Sure, you can look at the obvious excuses of injuries, inexperience, and lack of chemistry, both with the players and the coaching staff. But when is enough, enough? In every single sport, defense is synonymous with effort. How hard will you work to keep your man in front of you or get a hand up?

With effort in mind, Minnesota’s roster rebuild over the summer looks designed to make a mark on the defensive side of the ball. Bringing in a veteran presence known for his tenacity in Beverley, signing an all-around hustler in Jarred Vanderbilt to an extension, and acquiring a 3-and-D vet in Prince, the Wolves are in a great position to rewrite history and become a formidable defensive squad.

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