The Minnesota Timberwolves were looking like a promising team at the start of the 2020-21 NBA season. They showed great intent, winning their opening two games. However, things only went downhill from there, and the Minnesota Timberwolves were subsequently eliminated from playoff contention.
Three reasons why the Minnesota Timberwolves missed out on a playoff berth
The Minnesota Timberwolves bolstered a solid backcourt, had the no. 1 pick of the 2020 NBA draft class and two All-Stars, Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell. However, they turned out to be one of the unluckiest teams this season, thanks to suspensions, injuries and COVID-related problems at the start of their campaign.
Their recent four-game win-streak shows what the Minnesota Timberwolves would have been capable of if they had some luck on their side during the season. On that note, let's dissect the three major reasons why the Minnesota Timberwolves failed to qualify for the postseason this year.
#1 Karl-Anthony Towns 19-game absence early in the season
Karl-Anthony Towns was expected to lead the charge for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season. He looked in great form in their season opener and the next game as well, scoring 38 points, 23 rebounds, 13 assists and six blocks in these two outings.
However, he missed the next six games due to a wrist injury. His absence was a huge blow for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who suffered defeats in all the games, which marked the start of their downfall early in the season.
KAT did return for a couple of games. Despite playing through pain, he ended up scoring 50 points across two games, also tallying 27 rebounds and five blocks. But that wasn't enough for the Minnesota Timberwolves to return to winning ways. Towns then missed 13 games, as he tested positive for COVID-19.
The Minnesota Timberwolves managed to win just four of 20 games that KAT didn't play. For a team that was banking heavily on its best player, it was always going to be difficult to bounce back from his absence right at the start of the season.
The Minnesota Timberwolves' woes started from there, and the team never recovered from that.
#2 Defensive struggles
The Minnesota Timberwolves weren't regarded as a great defensive unit and relied heavily on Karl-Anthony Towns to deliver at that end. But with KAT missing a lot of games, the Minnesota Timberwolves lacked defensive efficiency and struggled immensely on that front.
The Minnesota Timberwolves had the worst defensive rating (123.3) in the first six games they played without KAT. Even after he returned from injury, the Timberwolves managed to concede below 100 points just four times.
With wins hard to come by, the team kept suffering, as they produced inconsistent results in first half of the campaign. Their weak defense hastened their freefall.
#3 D'Angelo Russell's long-term injury
The Minnesota Timberwolves would have had a great chance to turn their season around after Karl-Anthony Towns made his return following his 19-game absence. However, D'Angelo Russell happened to be the next big-name player, who happened to miss a large number of games for the team after KAT's return.
Russell and Towns played just five games together before the former endured a knee injury that kept him out for a few weeks. Russell was averaging 19.3 points per contest then and was the second-best player on the team behind KAT, who made his return immediately after the former LA Lakers guard was sidelined.
Towns took a while to find his rhythm after a lengthy absence, and the Minnesota Timberwolves did not have Russell to support him either.
It is certainly not speculative that Russell's presence alongside KAT could have made a difference, as the Timberwolves are 8-6 run since the former returned to action this month. To put that number into perspective, that is 40% of the team's wins this season.