An NBA veteran nine seasons now, Timberwolves forward Taj Gibson said he and his teammates each must look within themselves first if they collectively intend to move forward after two lopsided losses on consecutive nights.
At least two players — Karl-Anthony Towns and Shabazz Muhammad — said they already were after Wednesday’s 122-101 loss to the Pistons in Detroit.
Both consider themselves struggling after the Wolves followed a 2-1 season start — including a buzzer-beating victory at Oklahoma City just last Sunday — with defenseless losses to the Pacers and Pistons on consecutive nights.
Towns has delivered double-double games in points and rebounds in four of the first five games but has been unimpressed with his play.
“I’ve just got to be better all around, everywhere,” he said. “I’m not my best right now. I’m not, and it hurts. So I’ve got to go back to the drawing board and find a way to play better. I’ve got to be more of a factor, and I’ve got to find ways. The team looks at me for a lot and right now in my opinion, I’m not delivering. I’ve got to find ways.”
Even in Sunday’s victory over the Thunder, Towns said he was upset with himself for the way he shot the three-pointer, for not positioning himself better to slow Russell Westbrook’s flurry of three-pointers late in the game, for failing to grab rebounds that could have clinched victory before teammate Andrew Wiggins’ forced, banked three at the buzzer won it.
The Wolves meet the Thunder in a rematch just five days later, Friday night at Target Center.
Towns shot 2-for-10 on threes in the season’s first four games before he went 3-for-6 at Detroit during his 23-point, 10-rebound performance.
“I ain’t no quitter, I’m a competitor,” Towns said after the game in the Pistons’ new Little Caesars Arena. “I compete at the highest level every single night, regardless what the outcome is. I’ve got to be better. I’m motivated. I’ve got to take that next step, not only as an offensive-defensive player but as a leader.”
Slimmed down to a svelte 218 pounds, Muhammad was arguably the Wolves’ best player in the preseason, but he has shot a combined 4-for-19 in four of the team’s first five games.
The lone exception was Tuesday’s 14-point game on 7-for-14 shooting in the first of consecutive starts he made while star Jimmy Butler stayed home too ill to play. Even then he missed several shots from close in.
The next night at Detroit, Muhammad went 1-for-9 from the field, including 0-for-3 on threes. He’s 0-for-5 this season on three-pointers, but has missed shots both long and from right around the basket without discrimination.
“I’m not playing well, I don’t know what it is,” Muhammad said. “I’m missing shots I usually make, especially inside. Some of them are just point-blank — hooks that I make, stuff that I work on and make. I’m going to get in the gym and work it out, figure it out and turn it around.
“I played well in camp, but it happens. It’s a long season. I just have to stay positive and figure things out. Let things change.”
His two starts while Butler was out were opportunity not seized. Butler is questionable for Friday’s game against the Thunder.
“That’s why I’m so disappointed in myself,” Muhammad said. “It happens. You’re not a robot. I tried to play hard on the defensive end because nothing was falling for me on the offensive end.”
Still, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau wants more.
When asked about Muhammad’s struggles, Thibodeau delivered a similar answer as he has about Wiggins, Towns and others in the past.
“We have to have an understanding if you’re not shooting well, you can still play well,” Thibodeau said. “There are other ways to contribute, and so that’s what he has to do. He has proved he’s more than capable offensively. Right now, the ball is not going in for him. But there are other things he can do that can help us and that’s what we need him to do.”
That can be a hard lesson learned for young players who’ve primarily been scorers all their lives, even five seasons into an NBA career.
“It’s definitely a hard lesson learned, especially how I score the ball and how I’ve always been scoring the ball,” Muhammad said. “So I’m going to figure it out. It’s four games. I’m disappointed in myself right now, but I’m definitely going to figure it out and get this thing going.”