The Minnesota Timberwolves have gotten off to a rough start to the 2022-23 NBA season. They are now in search of answers after their disappointing 120-107 home loss to the New York Knicks on Monday.
In a game where they trailed by as many as 27 points, the Timberwolves showed they still have a long way to go before reaching their peak.
Head coach Chris Finch said the team overestimated its own ability this early in the season.
“This team probably just expected they were going to be good and short-cutted a few things along the way,” Finch said. “That’s on all of us. Last year’s team was probably searching for more of its identity, but believed they could be good. They had to prove it to the world.”
Finch's statement came as a response to Minnesota's star forward Anthony Edwards, who called out his teammates after Monday's loss, saying they played "soft" on both ends.
"We just play soft, man," Edwards told reporters. "Like, every bump, we were flying all over the place, including myself. Teams just coming in like, 'We're going to take their heart,' and that's what's going on. We're down 20 every game! We've got to figure it out."
The Minnesota Timberwolves were 4-1 two weeks ago, but they have since lost five of their last six and now have a 5-6 record.
Poor defense and chemistry issues are main reasons for the Minnesota Timberwolves' early struggles
When the Minnesota Timberwolves traded for Rudy Gobert in the offseason, they expected the arrival of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year would transform them into a top defensive team.
Even though the Timberwolves now have a top-tier defender to protect the rim, their overall defense has been mediocre.
Minnesota has allowed its opponents to score 114.5 points per game so far and has the 19th-best defense in the league. Similarly, their defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) is 109.8, good for 15th in the NBA.
With Gobert out for a second straight game (Health and Safety protocols), the team conceded 38 points in each of the first two quarters vs. the Knicks. They ended the first half down by 24 (76-52) amid heavy boos from the home crowd.
According to Edwards, teams are taking advantage of the Timberwolves' lack of physicality and fight.
''We just ain't making it hard for the other team, I feel like,'' Edwards said, via NBA.com. ''They're just coming down the court, getting into their sets.''
With such poor numbers on defense, it is difficult for the franchise to build a winning streak and boost its confidence.
Considering they are shooting 32.5% from 3-point range and committing an average of 16 turnovers per game, it is no surprise that the Minnesota Timberwolves have struggled early on.
Chemistry issues have also plagued the team. The Timberwolves' new roster is dealing with new challenges, which are related not only to how the players approach their game, but how they work with their teammates too.
They are still trying to find a fit in the system and understand their role. The player who has been the most affected appears to be D'Angelo Russell.
D'Angelo Russell needs to step up and play at an MVP level
After poor performances in the opening round of the 2022 NBA playoffs, D'Angelo Russell was expected to step up for the Minnesota Timberwolves and make a statement this season.
However, he has struggled in the first 11 games of the season, averaging 13.5 points on 37.9% shooting from the field including just 29.7% from beyond the arc.
If D'Angelo Russell doesn't step up and offer the Minnesota Timberwolves an extra weapon offensively, coach Finch may have to pull the trigger and bring him off the bench as part of the second unit.
For now, the Timberwolves will focus on getting back on track as they host the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday before traveling to take on the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday.
If the franchise doesn't return to winning ways soon, frustration and pressure will intensify, given the high expectations early in the season.