NBA

Is Minnesota’s backcourt good enough to compete in the West?

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There is no doubt that the Minnesota Timberwolves have a top 3 front row in the NBA. For years, they struggled to find their guy next to Karl-Anthony Towns. Taj Gibson, Gorgui Dieng and Robert Covington are all capable players, but Wolves have struggled to find their perfect match.

Then Minnesota made a franchise switch trade for Rudy Gobert, allowing Towns to play power forward – his natural position. The move looks perfect on paper. Wolves have paired generational defensive talent paired with generational attacking talent. What’s not to like?

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But Towns and Gobert won’t win the Minnesota championship on their own because the guard and wing game is the most important it’s ever been. Now more than ever, a loaded frontcourt will carry you deep into the playoffs. With new superstar duos like Dejounte Murray and Trae Young joining classic pairings like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, it’s fair to say the frontcourt is at or near its peak in the league.

The league’s top teams have significantly better backcourts than Wolves, leaving them in the middle of the pack. Minnesota’s backcourt is in the 10-12 range, which is pretty odd for a playoff team in today’s game. Even with Anthony Edwards due to burst, he still isn’t good enough to make that backcourt elite on his own. And while I strongly believe in D’Angelo Russell’s ability, I don’t think he’s a player who moves the needle enough. Therefore, Minnesota’s backcourt could be their Achilles’ heel this season.

Minnesota’s backcourt will struggle the most on the defensive side of the ball. Even though Wolves’ backcourt will generate offense, they will still lack playoff-caliber teams. Edwards is a very talented goalscorer, and DLo is talented enough to score en masse, even as a pass-first keeper. Conversely, Anthony Edwards is an above average defender at best right now, and Russell has probably peaked as a neutral defender.

Put into perspective, Wolves have an excellent scoring duo in their backcourt. But of the 16 teams in the playoffs last year, only six backcourts averaged more combined points than Wolves during the regular season. Edwards (21.3) and Russell (18.2) combined for 39 points per game, ranking 7th among playoff teams. The Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors all ranked higher.

But Minnesota’s backcourt produced just 37 combined playoff points, even with Edwards increasing his scoring average to 25 points per game. t failed to keep pace due to Russell’s struggles in the playoffs and Minnesota lost in four games.

Even through their playoff struggles, Minnesota’s main problem wasn’t their backcourt’s offensive production. Was it less than expected? Sure. But Wolves’ backcourt wasn’t bad compared to the rest of the playoff teams. The Wolves had the sixth most prolific goal volume backcourt in the playoffs, just below the Philadelphia 76ers (39) and above the Atlanta Hawks (36).

It wasn’t really the offense that killed them; it was their defence. Ja Morant and Desmond Bane scored 45 points per game against Wolves in the playoffs. That’s almost a seven point difference in every game. Seven points may already seem significant enough. Still, it’s even more significant considering that the average margin of victory was 10 points in the six-game series. Edwards and Russell combined for 24 points in Game 5, the most crucial game of the series. However, they allowed Morant and Bane to lose 55 points.

Scoring isn’t everything in this league, especially from a pass-first goalie like Russell. But Wolves have only combined 10 assists in the playoffs, which is in the middle of the pack. ussell sets up the offense effectively, but he needs to improve his own offensive production, especially in the playoffs.

Minnesota’s backcourt can’t be outscored by seven points per game in the playoffs next season. Points per game is a pretty rudimentary stat, which means he should have done better for Wolves. Ant and DLo love getting shot, and with both of them tending to be ineffective at times, a stat that doesn’t factor in effectiveness should have worked in their favor. Instead, not only have Memphis outperformed Wolves in this series, but the underlying numbers tell us they’ve done a lot more.

  • Grizzlies backcourt had better field goal percentage (43% vs. 39%)
  • Most combined assists per game (12-9)
  • And rebounds per game (11 to 6)

Teams like Memphis, Brooklyn and Dallas can get away with black-hole defensive guards, as they are some of the most prolific scorers in the league. Wolves don’t have that same luxury. Ussell will probably never be an elite keeper, and Edwards still has time to become one.

The Gobert trade puts a lot of pressure on Ant, but I would say puts the most pressure on the backcourt tandem. Dwards is one of them, but Russell is in the final year of a max contract and wants to cash in next season. Additionally, he expressed a desire to stay in Minnesota and continue playing with Towns. Minnesota’s elite front row will drive victory next season. But the backcourt will have to keep pace if it wants to win the playoffs.

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