After Wednesday’s loss to the Jazz became the sixth straight for the Timberwolves, center Karl-Anthony Towns asked the assembled media if they knew what his longest losing streak was in a Wolves uniform. Nobody knew off the top of their heads, and neither did Towns, who thought it may have been in double digits (It wasn’t. It was nine during Towns’ 2015-16 rookie season.).
Towns’ underlying message? What’s happening now isn’t a huge deal. He has seen worse.
“Obviously for me, personally, [the frustration level] is high,” Towns said. “Because I want to win. … As a leader, you have to look at a glass half full. But you also have to look at it half empty because we’re on a losing skid like this. But you also have to look at it as half-full because we have a lot more games to go. We can turn it around.”
But as coach Ryan Saunders has repeated recently, the Wolves have “to make it change.”
The top way they will make a change is fixing their maligned defense, which suddenly has looked leaky after their recent four-game road trip. Over their past five games the Wolves have the worst defensive efficiency in the NBA, and it’s not close.
Their 128.7 points allowed per 100 possessions during that span is 6.4 points worse than the team in 29th place, Cleveland, and 34.1 points worse than the No. 1 team, Milwaukee. Before this stretch, the Wolves were 12th at 106.9, and it seemed like their defense was on an upswing.
After reviewing the film of their latest loss, Saunders said the Wolves were “undisciplined,” especially in the second half, when the Jazz was getting open corner three-point shots seemingly at will. The Wolves were helping too much off those shooters.
“Our closeouts were not on par to what we need them to be and what they were early in the season for us,” Saunders said.
That isn’t all that’s different for the Wolves since the start of the season. Pick-and-roll coverage remains a problem, and sometimes Towns looks caught between whether he wants to switch or drop to the basket in those situations. Saunders has said this has led to players pressing, which leads to the lack of discipline.
“You start thinking you might have to do it by yourself offensively or defensively.” Saunders said.
“Sometimes some of that shines through during the games when it’s just a simple situation where you don’t have to help, but you see the ball right there and think, ‘I can do this.’ We have to get away from that.”
There are also communication breakdowns, which seems a natural problem any time a defense is flailing.
So a little going back to square one might be in order. Saunders has said the Wolves will be installing schemes and packages throughout the season on both ends of the floor. Perhaps what they’re trying to do defensively is too much to handle with limited practice time? Guard Jeff Teague didn’t think so.
“We’ve got a foundation. We’ve been doing the same things,” Teague said. “Teams are just figuring out ways to get going.”
Saunders didn’t dismiss that notion.
“We knew that there were going to be things that we didn’t like, both that we put in in training camp and things that we put in in the middle of the season,” Saunders said. “I think we’re at a point where you’ve got to pare back a bit, get back to basics and get back to being solid.”
Solid would be welcome for the Wolves after their recent struggles, although it’s not going to get any easier with the Clippers and their fifth-most efficient offense coming to town Friday.
“Our margin of error is not one that’s a big margin where we can slack on doing the little things,” Saunders said.