Minnesota Timberwolves Keys to Success in 2015-16: Defense

It’s no secret that the Minnesota Timberwolves were terrible defensively in the 2014-15 season. In fact, the numbers indicate that the Wolves were arguably the worst defensive team in the NBA.

After the awful 2014-15 campaign, head coach Flip Saunders will have to find a way to drastically improve this defense heading into next season. While there were plenty of injuries that forced key players to miss a bunch of games, there’s no excuse for the awful display from the Wolves this season.

According to ESPN.com, the Timberwolves ranked dead last in the NBA in points allowed per game (106.5) and opponents field goal percentage (48.7%) while ranking 27th in total rebounds per game (40.6) and blocks per game (4.0). These stats definitely show how brutal the Timberwolves really were on defense this season.

It seems as if the key to the struggles this season start with the interior defense. Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng were supposed to make up the center rotation this season before Pekovic went down with his injury. Regardless, the overall defensive play from the center position this season was poor. According to nba.com/stats, Pekovic’s defensive rating for the year was 105.9, which falls in the bottom 1/4th among all NBA players. Dieng, who found himself in the starting role after Pekovic went down, finished the season with a defensive rating of 108.6, and you can imagine where that ranks among NBA players. Dieng also allowed a 52% field goal percentage to players he was defending this season.

Wait, it gets worse. Justin Hamilton, who started a few games down the stretch of the season, was even worse defensively. Hamilton’s defensive rating was 110.2 for the season and he allowed a field goal percentage of 47%.

Some will argue that these poor defensive rating statistics are only due to the other players that these guys were playing with. While that may be a factor, it was clear when watching the games that the Timberwolves big men were simply lost on defense all year. There was hardly any help defense from these players, as many of them either couldn’t position themselves properly or just weren’t aware of where the ball was. For this defense to improve next season, these three guys (if they’re all back) will have to improve mightily on the defensive end.

Another possible way to improve this weakness is in the NBA Draft. I have previously made a case for drafting Willie Cauley-Stein should the Timberwolves end up with the fourth overall pick, and I might even draft Cauley-Stein if he’s available at pick number three (assuming Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are already drafted). Cauley-Stein’s incredible defensive abilities would make a huge positive impact for this team and help a weakness that desperately needs to be addressed.

Overall, the Timberwolves were awful on the defensive end this season and it’s just one of the reasons that they finished with a 16-66 record. If the Wolves want to start climbing the ladder in the Western Conference, they’ll have to improve defensively and it starts with the play from the big men. If Saunders can get better production from his centers, this defense will start to improve and more games will be win.