The Minnesota Timberwolves have officially notched their first tally in the loss column after putting on what can only be described as a horrendous display of basketball Monday night. This loss comes after being outplayed by the previously winless New Orleans Pelicans, who are still without their franchise centerpiece Zion Williamson.
To put it mildly, Minnesota looked utterly inadequate for most of the game. With their inability to score in the half-court and out in transition, you’d think the team’s lack of offense would be the most prominent issue. But the likelihood that this team remains one of the worst offenses seems improbable. Any roster that consists of hot-handed scorers such as Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards should eventually find its niche.
The dilemma that Minnesota head coach Chris Finch will have to address if he hopes to help produce a winning season is the team’s inability to secure defensive rebounds.
Take a look at the rebounding numbers throughout the Timberwolves’ first three games thus far into the season:
- Game 1: Wolves outrebounded the Rockets 46-41. Houston was able to secure 12 offensive rebounds, which led to it scoring 17 second-chance points.
- Game 2: Pelicans outrebounded the Wolves 61-47. NOLA grabbed 21 offensive boards, which allowed it to score 22 second-chance points.
- Game 3: Once again, the Pelicans outrebounded the Wolves 60-41. Fifteen of those Pelican rebounds came under their own goal, which resulted in 16 second-chance points.
Now, the thought of overreacting after only three regular-season games may seem a bit extreme. Wolves fans will watch this and think, Surely they’ll watch this film and box out more next game. But earlier this month, Finch was asked if he believed the art of boxing out is dying in today’s game. Finch’s answer? No, it died out a long time ago.
As an assistant basketball coach, my favorite line to give to our undersized roster is, “Box out! Control the boards, control the ball game.” Because this phrase typically proves true. Which is why Finch’s comment on rebounding in today’s league left me searching for answers: Why do the most elite basketball players in the world rely solely on their size and athleticism? And if other teams aren’t boxing out nearly as often as they should, why don’t other teams box out to win the battle of the boards?
Regardless of what level the sport is being played at, the team that wins the rebound battle usually comes out victorious. It’s that simple: The fewer offensive rebounds you allow, the fewer second-chance points you give up. And allowing opponents to get another 24 seconds on the shot clock should be the last thing on Minnesota’s agenda. It is no secret that this squad would like to get defensive stops to play in transition. There is no room to cut corners for a team that is as desperate to win as this Timberwolves team is.
There are several reasons why Minnesota is unable to dominate on the glass. This roster is currently the third shortest team in the NBA, behind only the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. If KAT, who is listed at 6’11”, cannot keep his cool and gets into early foul trouble, Finch’s next option to replace him out onto the floor is 6’9″ Naz Reid. He’s an absolute mammoth compared to a normal human being, but when given the task of trying to outsize players such as Joel Embiid and Jonas Valančiūnas, he tends to come up short.
Minnesota’s next best option to play the five spot is Jarred Vanderbilt, who is only 6’9″. I love V8. He’s a bigger version of fan-favorite Josh Okogie and the team’s second-best rebounder based on rebound percentage. But just like Naz, he too lacks the necessary stature to compete with the giants in today’s league.
Let’s take a look at how Minnesota’s upcoming opponents were on the glass last season:
- 10/27: The Milwaukee Bucks ranked second in total rebounds and 12th in total offensive rebounds
- 10/30: The Denver Nuggets ranked 13th in total rebounds and eighth in total offensive rebounds
- 11/1: The Orlando Magic ranked seventh in total rebounds, 11th in offensive rebounds
- 11/3 and 11/5: The Los Angeles Clippers (back-to-back) ranked 17th in total rebounds and 21st in total offensive rebounds
- 11/8: The Memphis Grizzlies ranked fourth in total rebounds and second in offensive (Valancuinas was on the roster)
Look, I still hold a ton of hope that Monday night was simply a much-needed wake-up call for this team. But looking at their next six upcoming games and the 70-something that remain, the Wolves will have to make some drastic changes to secure more boards on defense if they hope to be recognized as a competent NBA team this season. And if not, general manager Sachin Gupta may need to call the Dallas Mavericks and ask for the price on a slightly-used Willie Cauley-Stein.