Despite all of the drama surrounding Jimmy Butler the past few weeks, the Timberwolves' starting lineup for their first game of the new season looked just like it did for much of last season. There was Butler, right alongside Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson. Unfortunately for the Wolves, the starting lineup wasn't the only thing that stayed the same from last season. The same old problems cropped up on Wednesday night, as the Wolves lost their opener 112-108 to the Spurs.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Butler was a bit out of sync, shooting just 9-of-23 from the field, but he was still solid, finishing with 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists and four steals. Even though the Wolves lost, it wasn't through fault of Butler, who hit a game-tying 3-pointer in the final minute, and proved he is still willing to compete. But Butler's effort wasn't enough, and the reasons why Minnesota lost will be familiar.
First of all, the Wolves defense wasn't good enough. It wasn't as bad as the preseason finale debacle, when they gave up 143 points to the Bucks, but they still allowed the Spurs to score 112 points and shoot 44 percent from 3-point land. Perhaps most disappointing, was that they couldn't get stops when it mattered. The Spurs scored 31 points in the final frame, thanks in large part to five offensive rebounds, which led to eight second-chance points.
Andrew Wiggins, in particular, had problems on that end of the floor. Scoring 20 points is great, but Wiggins has struggled early in his career to contribute on the defensive end. Now, DeMar DeRozan is a great player, and a tricky cover, but he had too many easy looks.
What is Wiggins even doing here? After getting back in transition, Wiggins never gets into a defensive stance, dies on the screen and turns his back on the ball handler. Then the Wolves play no help defense, and DeRozan draws a foul.
Here, again, DeRozan blows by Wiggins in the mid-post because Wiggins is completely off-balance.
It wasn't all Wiggins, though. All night, the Spurs had success in the pick-and-roll. This is just too easy for a player like DeRozan.
Then, there was the inconsistent supporting cast and bizarre shot disparity between key players. Most notably, Karl-Anthony Towns was nearly non-existent, finishing with eight points and nine rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. But even with foul trouble, there's no reason that Towns should only be taking six shots. Part of that may be the fallout from the Butler saga, but Towns not getting enough looks was an issue last season as well.
Building off that, it would be one thing for Towns to get fewer looks as long as they were going to Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, or someone else who was hot. Instead, it was Derrick Rose taking matters into his own hands. Rose can get into the lane a bit still, but he just can't finish like he did earlier in his career.
As a drive-and-kick, change-of-pace guard, Rose might be helpful in short stretches, but he shouldn't be getting to run the show like this anymore.
He went an awful 3-of-12 from the field, including a floater in the final minute that caught glass and only glass, thus ending the Wolves' hopes.
And sure, it's not always as simple as if Rose didn't shoot on a single possession than Towns would, but it's the principle. Rose should never have double the attempts as Towns, regardless of foul trouble or other factors.
Until the Wolves can figure out some of these problems, things aren't going to get better -- regardless if Butler is on the roster or not.