With Jimmy Butler, the Minnesota Timberwolves have seen defensive improvement from Andrew Wiggins. Similarly, the Wolves could add someone to help Karl-Anthony Towns defensively.
Through 19 games, it’s clear the Minnesota Timberwolves are having defensive struggles. While they’ve shown glimpses of success, the consistency just hasn’t been there. As matter of fact, the Wolves are in a bit of a rut right now, giving up 100-plus points in each of their last five games. During that stretch, they’ve dropped three of five, prompting Jimmy Butler to rant about their poor defensive performances following a brutal loss to the Miami Heat.
In reality, Butler is right. For the year, they are tied for fifth-worst in points allowed with 108.3 per game. Additionally, the Wolves allow a league-high 48.5 percent shooting from the field and are fifth in defensive rating at 108.2. Even so, the Timberwolves have some good news on the defensive end… Andrew Wiggins is actually improving, one year after FiveThirtyEight named him the ‘Least Defensive Player.’
While Wiggins struggled mightily last year, he currently boasts the third-best defensive rating on the Wolves (105.3) behind Taj Gibson and Nemanja Bjelica. Furthermore, the 105.3 rating would mark a career-best for the small forward after a career-worst 110.4 rating in 2016. In addition, Wiggins averages 1.4 steals for a steal percentage of 21.1, another career-high if it were to stick. Sure, there’s always time for things to head south, but so far, he’s performed quite well.
Moving forward, there’s reason to believe he’ll only get better considering much of the improvement has to do with the additions of Jimmy Buckets and defensive specialist Taj Gibson. With Butler and/or Gibson on the court, Wiggins is no longer asked to defend the other team’s top player like he’s had to in the past. Instead, he can defend the weaker offensive guard or wing.
With this in mind, head coach Tom Thibodeau should help out center Karl-Anthony Towns, who has the worst defensive rating among Wolves starters (110.3), in similar fashion by acquiring a big man. Of course, Minnesota won’t be able to acquire a superstar of Butler’s caliber given their lack of assets, but they could look at a defensive-minded center such as Nerlens Noel to help KAT.
Reason being, Towns has a tough time defending and boxing out big centers in the post. Specifically, the likes of centers Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond, and Hassan Whiteside have overmatched the 22-year-old as of late. Therefore, adding someone like Noel could pay dividends and allow Towns to matchup defensively against the opposing team’s power forward. In turn, Noel could be in the starting lineup versus larger lineups, whereas Gibson could be in the lineup against smaller lineups. Yes, Gibson doesn’t deserve to be taken out of the lineup, but he’s too undersized to defend big centers.
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While another option is to insert Gorgui Dieng in for Gibson, he’s also had struggles against massive centers. Basically, KAT and Dieng perform best against smaller lineups, so there’s a definite need for a big bruiser down low. Maybe, rookie Justin Patton becomes that bruiser, but he’s still recovering from a foot injury and there’s no way of knowing how much he’ll be able to produce once he returns.
Ultimately, KAT has tremendous potential and I don’t think a permanent move to power forward has to happen. That being said, Towns has to get stronger in order to defend and post up against some of the top centers in the league. Consequently, someone like Noel, who’s quickly developed a strong defensive game, would improve this team in the short-term. An extreme long-shot would be Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, but Minnesota likely doesn’t have the pieces to pull off that kind of trade.
Overall, just as Wiggins benefited by the addition of Butler, the Wolves could add someone to benefit Towns on the defensive end. Over time, KAT will become a top defensive center, but he clearly needs time to develop his defensive game and most importantly, his body. In the meantime, the Wolves have to find ways to take defensive pressure off Towns in the short-term, especially against bigger starting lineups. A move for a capable, defensive-minded starting center may just be that solution.