The Timberwolves’ peculiar defense

Mar 11, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) wait for play to begin during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) wait for play to begin during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports /

While the offense has thrived over these past two months, the Timberwolves’ defense has been nothing to write home about.

In terms of team defense, the Timberwolves have been consistently terrible over the past few months.

The odd thing is, this roster does feature some terrific defenders like Ricky Rubio, Karl-Anthony Towns, and even Gorgui Dieng. That is what makes this team’s defense such an oddity; despite having good individual defenders, they struggle as a team to defend.

Obviously, the Wolves miss the presence of Kevin Garnett, who is still the only player on the roster to have a defensive rating under 100. In fact, since the All-Star break, the Wolves have only one player that has a defensive rating under 106.2, which is the league average. (That player is Damjan Rudez at 99.9, but he has only played in seven games since the break.)

Even the premier individual defenders in Rubio and Towns have struggled on the defensive end since the breather. Rubio currently features a defensive rating of 111.7, compared to his 103.5 rating prior to the All-Star break.

As for Towns, his defensive rating has climbed roughly five points since the break as he’s currently sitting at a 112.7 rating since that point in the season.

The fact that even the best Timberwolves defenders are struggling really shows how poor this team is on that end of the floor. Part of it could be the fact that this team has had enough of this season, as they obviously cannot be pleased with what they see in the win-loss column.

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However, defense seemed to be the “calling card” of this team for the future, and playing so poorly now does not set the right tone going forward, especially since the team has been ghastly on defense over the past two months.

Throughout the month of February, the Wolves team had a team defensive rating of 114.4 which was second-worst in the league. As for this month, the Wolves have gotten better in the defensive rating column, but they are still above the league average at 109. Compare that to their average rating of 102 from October to January.

Now, obviously defensive rating is not the only statistic that measures team defense, although it is telling. We can also look at Minnesota’s Defensive Four Factors as well, which are stats that are directly related to a team’s success.

The first factor is the opponent’s effective field goal percentage. Since the All-Star break, the Wolves’ opponents effective field goal percentage is 53.9 percent, good for fifth-worst in the league in that span. To put it into some sort of perspective, the league average effective field goal percentage is roughly 50 percent.

Opponent free throw attempt rate is the second factor of success. The Timberwolves have a 0.234 opponent free throw rate, which is actually second-best in the league since the break. Although that is above the season league average, it is still one of the best since the All-Star break.

Turnover ratio is the third factor, and again the Wolves are not awful in this stat either. They feature a 14.7 opponent turnover rate since the break, which is 12th best. The Wolves are also above the league average in this stat since the February recess.

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The final factor is opponents offensive rebounding percentage, which could be substituted for defensive rebounding percentage. The Wolves have struggled on the boards this season, and since the All-Star break they have had an opponents offensive rebounding percentage of 28.7, which is second-worst in the league.

And over the course of the entire season, Minnesota’s OOR% is 25.1 which is tied for seventh-worst in the NBA.

If you were substituting defensive rebounding percentage, the Wolves would still be at the bottom of the totem pole. Post-All-Star break, the Wolves’ defensive rebounding percentage is second-worst in the league at 71.3 percent. For the season, Minnesota is 23rd in the league in defensive rebounding percentage.

Given the four factors, the Timberwolves should at least be an average defensive team. They are above the league average in two of the factors post All-Star break, but are below league average in the other two.

Shouldn’t the four factors cancel each other out and therefore make the Wolves at least decent on defense? Maybe, but that has not been the case in February and March. In the end, the Minnesota Timberwolves are, in the truest sense of the word, a statistical anomaly on the defensive end.

Ultimately, what seems to make the Wolves a poor defensive team is their inability to rebound the basketball at an efficient rate. As we’ve seen on the floor and in the above stats, they are a very poor defensive rebounding team. That is what could catapult this team into the defensive doldrums as rebounding has clearly outweighed the other three factors in 2015-16.

Next: On the Timbewolves' Offensive Efficiency

If the Wolves plan on making defense their hallmark, which seems to be their intention, they will have to focus more on rebounding the ball. As well as consistently defending for a full 48 minutes every night. Their offense can score as much as they please, but if they cannot defend, this team won’t ascend to the top of Western Conference like many of us believe.