Column: Defensive Mindset Is A Must
The numbers don’t lie, and when the numbers are this stark in comparison it’s easy to see just how important a defensive philosophy will be for the Timberwolves as they head into this important offseason. Minnesota has a foundation of players in place, but they are currently without a head coach and they are assuredly without a defensive identity. If the Wolves hope to improve on their 40 wins from 2013-14 and jump into the playoffs next year, they’ll need to tackle the latter by hiring the right person for that former position.
The key to future success with this particular roster is establishing defensive toughness and accountability. The Wolves lacked it all season long. They talked about it at length, but at the end of the day Minnesota was an incredibly talented (while often inefficient) offensive team that simply could not keep up on the defensive end of the court.
The results were clear: Minnesota was a Top 5 offensive team that ended up with a sub-.500 record.
So how do they change this? The numbers are very telling.
First off, the Wolves were 37-22 when scoring 100-plus points this year. They were 3-20 when they did not. A couple things stand out here: One, Minnesota absolutely needed to score 100 points to win. That was a given. The Wolves had a partnership this year where a ticket stub for a Wolves win in which they scored 100 points or more would result in free Cherry Berry yogurt. It essentially meant if the Wolves won at home, the Cherry Berry rush was on. The Wolves essentially needed to have a strong offensive performance to ensure they’d be in the game at the end. If they didn’t, they weren’t able to keep up.
Minnesota was 24-3 when they held their opponent to worse than 45 percent shooting. Think about that—in 27 of their 82 games this year, they held their opponents to less than 45 percent. By comparison, the Wolves—an offensively-talented team—were held to 45 percent shooting or less 44 times (12-32). When Minnesota allowed 45 percent or better to its opponent, the Wolves were 16-39. It just proves the burden the offense carried throughout the year. If Minnesota didn’t reach 100 points or 45 percent shooting, there was a good chance they wouldn’t win the game.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is this: Minnesota was 36-13 when leading or tied after three quarters, and they were 4-29 when trailing heading into the fourth. This in itself proves just how important a stronger defensive philosophy is for this roster heading into next season. Minnesota was unable to keep up when opposing teams tightened up their defensive approach in the final five minutes of games. The Wolves’ offense wasn’t able to fight through and continue scoring at the same rate it did during earlier quarters, and opposing offenses were able to sustain their scoring output enough thanks to the Wolves’ defense not being able to enough stops.
The Timberwolves are in very good shape roster-wise compared to other offseasons during which they organization conducted a coaching search. Think about the last two times in particular: In 2009, Kurt Rambis inherited a team that won 22 and 24 games in the previous two seasons. In 2011, Rick Adelman took over a team that won 15 and 17 games, respectively, under Rambis. So much turnover, and so many players that either didn’t fit together or didn’t have the right winning philosophy.
Today, the Wolves are a 40-win team with the right pieces in place to be successful. The main thing they’re missing is that defensive accountability. With it, Minnesota can and should be a playoff team in 2014-15. Without it, they’ll hover around .500 much like they did this past year.
A coach can chance that toughness on the court with the right mindset. Whichever route the Wolves take in hiring their next head coach, to me that needs to be near the top of their wish list.
By this time next year, we’ll see how it all plays out.