1st Loss of the Wolves Season: 6 Thoughts
The good vibes surrounding the Timberwolves could not last forever. Prior to the Lakers game it sounded like Karl-Anthony Towns escaped serious injury, and the defending champions would be without Anthony Davis. Going 3–0 to start the year was suddenly a real option. Then Towns found out his injury will require him to miss at least a few games, and that led to a deflating loss in Los Angeles. The Lakers clearly had the talent and chemistry to beat the Wolves into submission fairly easily. Here are 6 thoughts on the loss.
- After watching their crosstown rivals get demolished earlier in the day, the Lakers made a statement. LeBron James is the king of the NBA, and he is also the king of trolling other NBA teams. He watched the crosstown rival Clippers get demolished at home by 51 points earlier on Sunday, and you can bet he wanted to make a statement showing that his team is the superior LA team. The poor Timberwolves fell in the path of the Lakers statement en route to a blowout loss that was never close from the beginning of the game. It was unlikely the Wolves would have won without their best player, Karl-Anthony Towns, but it was clear that LeBron and the Lakers came out of the gates focused and connected. All hail the king.
- The Timberwolves big-man rotation is a mess without Karl-Anthony Towns. When the Wolves have their star big man in the lineup, he soaks up 32–35 minutes at the center position, leaving only a handful of minutes for a backup center. With teams around the NBA trending smaller, the Wolves can afford to play wing players at the power forward position next to Towns to make up for their lack of PF depth. Without the star center, the whole structure crumbles. Naz Reid starts and he needs a power forward next to him to add size and rebounding to the lineup. The power forwards have contributed next to nothing positive so far this season, so suddenly they are missing tons of production relative to the normal lineup. Missing Towns truly emphasizes the Wolves weaknesses, and they cannot afford to be without him for long.
- Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell seemed to be the Wolves players most affected by back to back games on the road. A combined 12 points on 5–16 shooting for the Wolves starting guards is a very rough look. It is even worse with Towns out and the need for production from those two was even greater. Russell played 34 minutes and Beasley played 39 minutes against the Jazz, so it is no surprise that they were tired and their shots were not falling, but that is not an excuse for uninspired and sloppy play. Russell was particularly bad with 7 turnovers and was a -31 in only 21 minutes. Tired legs are excusable, but careless offense and disengaged defense are a bad look for a shorthanded team that needed its star point guard.
- We caught a glimpse of the spark that Ricky Rubio can provide. Rubio was the only Wolves rotation players that can honestly be evaluated positively. In Towns’ absence he kept the offensive structure running in his time on the court with the ball and players moving better. He brought energy and IQ defensively as well to stem the tide of the Lakers layup line. Ricky’s stat line is not super impressive with 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists, but as always he is better with the eye test. The Wolves actually looked competitive in Rubio’s 18 minutes, and it will benefit them if he can continue that positive trend.
- Anthony Edwards tried to fill the scoring void left by Towns’ absence. This is not a bad thing. A young rookie decided to take it upon himself to play a larger role in the offense, and that shows maturity and recognition of the moment. However the execution was less than ideal. Most of his shots when the game was still relatively early were contested or difficult 3pt. attempts. While he can get that shot anytime he wants, the team likely needed more rim-attacking to jumpstart the offense. An encouraging sign is that he did not look out of place as a 19 yr. old playing in his first game against the Lakers (side note: Montrezl Harrell is listed at 6’7″ and 240lbs and Edwards looked just as large as him when they stood next to one another), but tired legs likely contributed to an inefficient scoring night. This loss was probably a good learning experience for Edwards early in his rookie season.
- The season is not over for the Wolves, no matter how bad this loss was. The Wolves are still 2–1, and whether you lose by 1 point or 36 points it still only counts as a single loss. From the beginning there was always going to be learning experiences for this young squad. Losing their best player in the middle of a back to back was always going to short circuit their “Towns Centric” offense for a game or two. It will be up to the coaching staff, Russell, and Rubio to lead this team over the next couple of weeks. This team’s vibe is completely different from last season’s, so I do not expect a long losing streak, but they will need to continue to play together and within the system to keep their heads above water during Towns’ absence.