Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where the truth cannot be controversial. Let’s get to it:
*The impact of injuries on this Timberwolves’ season is undeniable. Robert Covington hasn’t played since late December, a stretch now of 34 games missed. The Wolves went 12-10 when Covington was in the lineup after he had been acquired from the 76ers. They are 15-19 since he last played.
Injuries to several point guards at once derailed any momentum the Wolves had a couple months back. Now a bunch of nagging injuries — combined with, a skeptic might add, a philosophy that won’t rush those players back with just 11 games left and a lottery pick awaiting instead of a playoff spot at the end of the year — are helping to push the Wolves further below .500.
Covington, Luol Deng, Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose all missed Tuesday’s 117-107 loss to Golden State, while Taj Gibson injured his calf and didn’t return after halftime.
Back in early January (right around the time Tom Thibodeau was fired), per a visual offered by Man Games Lost, the Wolves were faring pretty well in terms of injuries and their impact relative to the rest of the league.
By early March (with Ryan Saunders coaching the two months in between), they had moved to the middle of the pack in terms of games lost and impact (they’re clustered in that big group with Orlando and New Orleans, so it’s kind of hard to see). The last couple weeks certainly made that circle bigger and nudged it to the right.
That data tells you two things, though: 1) The Wolves didn’t take nearly enough advantage of their relative good health (and relatively soft schedule) early in the year before Thibodeau was fired. And 2) Taken as a whole, we shouldn’t buy the narrative that injuries were the main reason the Wolves didn’t live up to their own expectations this season.
There have been plenty of culprits along the way, including the 4-9 start during the Jimmy Butler saga and the aforementioned inability to take advantage of an early schedule. Lately, though, there’s been a more fundamental culprit: awful defense.
Their defensive rating since Saunders took over is No. 29 in the league out of 30 teams at 115.5 points allowed per 100 possessions. (Their offensive rating in that span is No. 8, so at least there’s that, but their record is still 13-18). The Star Tribune’s Jerry Holt captured a familiar pose (above) from Saunders in the Golden State game.
And in the last 11 games, as any hopes of a credible playoff push have vanished, the Wolves are dead last in defensive rating at 120.6 (more than three points worse than the next team).
Covington’s extended absence certainly has played a role, and the Wolves miss Deng more than they probably should. But the individual numbers from the guys who have been on the court are still quite poor. Perhaps most alarming: Karl-Anthony Towns’ defensive rating in the Wolves’ last 11 games (in which he’s played 10) is 122.5.
Saunders said a couple weeks back that he had tweaked some defensive concepts in anticipation of Covington’s return. It’s a shame we haven’t been able to see the marriage of those two things because in the meantime it’s been painful to watch.
*It’s hard to make the argument that any player who gets a $430 million contract is giving his team a bargain, but FiveThirtyEight tries to make that case regarding Mike Trout and the Angels.
*Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to Colorado was doubly damaging for the Wild. Not only did it fail to jump past Arizona for the second wild card spot, but also it gave the Avalanche hope now that Colorado trails the Wild by just a point in the chase.
In fact, in the Hockey Reference probability report, the Wild is down to just a 16 percent chance of making the postseason, while Colorado sits at 25 percent and Arizona is at 50 percent. The Wild will need to summon some strong road performances — including a huge game March 31 at Arizona — to have any chance.
*Apparently there are “male slapping championships” in Russia? I have no desire to participate, but I’m mesmerized by the terrible-ness of it all. Talk about kompromat!