The Collapse Of The Wolves’ Defense


HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — As we continuously debate and wonder whether or not the Los Angeles Lakers will make the playoffs, another team is making it a little easier for them.

On Dec. 16, the Minnesota Timberwolves stood in sixth place in the Western Conference at 12-9, even though Ricky Rubio had just played his first game of the season and Kevin Love had shot just 35 percent in his 11 games.

Since then, the Wolves are 4-10 and sinking fast. Rubio has been in and out of uniform and has played just 20 minutes per contest in the 10 games he’s played. Love, meanwhile, reinjured his right hand and is out 8-10 weeks. So, yeah, in a race with Houston, Portland, Utah and the Lakers for the two final playoff spots in the Western Conference, the Wolves are in a tough position.

The Wolves survived that first month and a half because they had a top-five defense. They ranked fifth in defensive efficiency through Dec. 15, allowing just 98.6 points per 100 possessions.

Since then, the Wolves have a bottom-five defense, allowing 108.2 points per 100 possessions.

Timberwolves efficiency, 2012-13

Timeframe W L OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Through Dec. 15 12 9 100.8 16 98.6 5 +2.3 11
Since Dec. 16 4 10 98.9 28 108.2 26 -9.3 29

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

That is one heck of a turnaround, and not an easy one to explain.

What’s crazy is that the Wolves are the No. 1 defensive rebounding team in the league over the last month. They’re also keeping their opponents off the free throw line. But they’re not forcing any turnovers and they’re not forcing enough missed shots.

Timberwolves defense, 2012-13

Timeframe OppeFG% Rank DREB% Rank OppTmTOV% Rank OppFTA Rate Rank
Through Dec. 15 47.9% 9 74.4% 7 15.6% 12 .240 3
Since Dec. 16 53.1% 29 77.6% 1 13.8% 26 .227 6

OppeFG% = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OppTmTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = FTA / FGA

The Wolves’ defense has been at its worst in the paint, where they’re allowing opponents to shoot 58.4 percent since Dec. 16, the highest mark in the league.

The problems seem to start with big man Nikola Pekovic. The Wolves have allowed an atrocious 110.6 points per 100 possessions in Pekovic’s 436 minutes since Dec. 16. But they haven’t been any better (110.4) with Greg Stiemsma playing center either.

One thing to note is that the Wolves’ schedule has been pretty tough. Nine of their 14 games in the last month have been on the road and 10 have been against teams above .500. Overall, they’ve played the fourth-hardest schedule in the league this season.

But you don’t go from fifth-best to fifth-worst because of the schedule. In the last four days alone, the Wolves have allowed the sub-.500 Hornets (19th in offensive efficiency) to score 104 points and the sub-.500 Mavs (17th) to score 113 in a pair of slow-paced games.

It’s clear that the Wolves’ problems are about more than their opponents. And they’re about more than Love or Rubio, because they were doing fine without them early.

What’s also clear is that if the Wolves can’t defend, their season is over.


  1. jack_kirillov says:

    Minnesota players lack the effort! They commit only 14.6 fouls per game for the last 10 games. 8.6 less than their opponents. the least in the league and the largest differential. The team seems not to be interested in the defense, they let the opponent score, do not even try to make them earn them from the line!

  2. bobby says:

    trade gasol for love

  3. Victor says:

    Trade Love and Rubio for Gasol and Steve Nash….

  4. dattebayo says:

    The problem for the defensive woes isn’t Pekovic, it’s the injuries and the lack of players at the 2. At the beginning of the season they could play Roy, Budinger and Lee at the 2, but all these guys are out with (season ending) injuries. Malcolm Lee is a stopper like Avery Bradley or Iman Shumpert, just not as good and not as experienced as those guys. Without those 3, Shved, Ridnour, Barea and Rubio have to play and defend both guard positions the entire game and that’s far from ideal. They either lack quickness, size or both on most matchups and when the opposing team runs them off (not called illegal) screens, they can’t keep up.

    When Rubio made his return, the coaches were happy, because last season, he was a great defender that could stay in front of the dribbler. Unfortunately Rubio doesn’t have the same explosion and quickness and his impact on defense wasn’t as big as hoped. Howard was a great midseason acquisition because of his defense, but he tore his ACL again and was waived. Ever since then, you can tell that teams have been picking on the guards, rather than the Wolves frontcourt players.

  5. bcnwolves says:

    In my opinion, and I’m from Spain, the wolves do have deffensive players, and they can improve their game deffensively a lot more but they have to find ways to show it up. Firstly, I have to say that Ricky Rubio is not the guy who is going to score, but he is the best deffender from Europe (he was key in that in joventut and barcelona) and if anyone is better than him at deffending (from Europe), that would be Andrei Kirileno, his teammate. So, the Wolves have the two best deffenders from Europe and players like Lee, Stiemsma or Shved that can deffend as well. So I think that Wolves should have Kirilenko and Rubio on court a lot of minutes giving them the leadership on the deffense and then should rotate Shved, Ridnour, Barea and maybe add another outside scorer to make them earn their minutes.

  6. Dave from Sioux Falls says:

    I actually think it’s more of an offensive problem leading to poor defense. Teams that have higher FG% tend to be better defensive teams. The Wolves can’t hid the broadside of a barn, which leads to rebounds for the opposing team, and fast break opportunities. If the Wolves could make more shots, they would have more opportunities to set up their defense. It doesn’t take much of this to make a difference because if you have just made a shot, you have received +2 points, and if that leads to a defensive stop, the other team is now -2 points. Do this just once per quarter and you have an 8 point swing in the game.

  7. Gusmckenzie says:

    Hey John,

    I’d be interested to see how many of Pek’s minutes are played with Ridnour. Pek does a solid job of protecting the paint but seems to do a somewhat poor job of guarding against the mid-range game.

    Also the wolves are now without Malcom Lee who they see as a defensive ball stopper, Ridnour is playing extendend miniutes and while Barea is adept at drawing charges he isn’t in any danger of being the leagues best defender. Teams are now taking full advantage of Ridnour, Barea and Shved over the past 10-15 games. Not only are the wolves defending less efficiently, they are turning the ball over more and their defensive rebounding has worsened, letting the opposition score in transition and have extra possesions.

    Love or no Love I think a roster that lacks any on-ball defenders at the guard positions (apart from a healthy Rubio) is always going to struggle defensively.

    Anyway that’s my take on the Wolves recent defensive issues