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Big Question: Can the Timberwolves and Pistons turn their fortunes around?

March 1, 2021 , 5:03 PM ● Yoyo Sarmenta

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons have been struggling. Here's what they can do to make a comeback this season.

After two months of play in a unique and crazy NBA season, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons have been unable to adjust and get their bearings. With these teams far behind their competitors in their respective conferences, let’s take a deep dive into how they got there and where they currently stand as a team. Only by then can we truly explore the big question: how can these two bottom teams make a comeback this season?

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

With a record of 7-24, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been struggling all season long. The team has been plagued with injuries, illnesses, and just overall bad luck, keeping them dead last in the league.

Before we can even talk about how the Timberwolves can make a comeback, let’s understand how they got here in the first place.

Minnesota is a playoff team if you just glance at their lineup. You have two number one picks in Karl Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, an All-Star guard in D’Angelo Russell, and good backups with Malik Beasley and Naz Reid. All of the five players mentioned average in double-digits too. If that’s the case, why have they been struggling?

Getting KAT back to top form

Towns has had a rough season. Since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, KAT, unfortunately, lost his mother and six other family members. He visibly struggled to make things work, constantly playing with a grieving heart and fear for his family’s well-being.

Then upon entering this season, KAT suffered a wrist injury that sidelined him for six games. He returned and played just two games before finding out he was positive for COVID-19, forcing him to miss a whopping 13 straight games. 

When he got healthy, KAT dropped a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds in his first game back against the LA Clippers. Despite just playing 10 games this season, he has averaged 21.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists. When Towns is playing, the Timberwolves obviously become a better team.

Keeping DLo healthy

When KAT was out for a significant amount of time, all eyes turned to their second main man, D’Angelo Russell. He served as the Timberwolves’ primary playmaker and scorer when KAT was unavailable.

Unfortunately, Russell also suffered an injury that took him out several games. He recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks.

Right system and more minutes for Edwards

With two of your best players down, what do you do?

Sadly, not much. The Timberwolves are ranked 23rd in the league in both offense and defense. Even if they have Towns and Russell in the lineup, they can’t defend. As much as they are great on offense,  they are both liabilities on defense. Sure they can both drop 20 points a night, but if their opponents drop 30, then what’s the point? 

Not only that, the coaching staff pushed for a system that doesn’t seem effective for the Timberwolves. However, the dismissal of Ryan Saunders could turn things around for Minnesota. Chris Finch, Saunders’ replacement, brings championship experience. After his previous assignments in England’s Sheffield Forgers (now Sheffield Sharks) and Rio Grande Valley Vipers (the D-League affiliate of the Houston Rockets), Finch may be the spark of hope the Timberwolves badly need.

Minnesota also needs to build its bench and maybe acquire players who they think can fill in the gaps. Since the team is stacked with young guys mostly under 25, this could be the perfect opportunity for Minnesota to go into rebuild mode. But if the team wants to make it to the play-in tournament at the very least, they need to find the right system and rotation of players. 

Another approach the Timberwolves can take is to start Edwards more . The rookie has played in all of their 30 games, averaging 14.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. If Edwards is in the picture more often, those numbers could grow and in turn bring more success to the team.

The most crucial part in all of this is bringing back Towns and Russell. If the two can stay healthy and show their All-Star forms, and with Edwards’ continuous development and a proper system in place, the Timberwolves making the playoffs may be a lot more feasible than we think.

— Renee Ticzon

DETROIT PISTONS

For the Detroit Pistons, the waiting game has begun. 

The announcement by the team last week to sit out Blake Griffin while they figure out a trade or buyout option signified that both parties are going in different directions. It’s probably the biggest conundrum the franchise is currently facing because it represents what the team will look like in the near future. Do they acquire talent to replace the six-time All-Star forward? Do they get additional picks for future drafts? Who are they willing to give up? These are just some of the questions that badly need answers for the Pistons. And with the team sitting dead last in the Eastern Conference with an atrocious 8-22 record, the investment in its youth has taken centerstage. 

Jerami Grant is the go-to guy now

In the middle of the Detroit rebuild is Jerami Grant who was acquired prior to the season. From being a role player for the Denver Nuggets in the bubble, he has not shied away from being the main gunner for the Pistons. He is currently the team’s leading scorer with 23.5 points per game and the leading blocker as well with 1.2. Now in his seventh year in the league, he has morphed into a budding star with an offensive arsenal that can baffle defenses. And he’s been a gem on the defensive end too, using his length and athleticism to match up with different players. 

Grant is only 26 and is just scratching the surface of what he can do on both ends of the floor. The Pistons will bank on his potential but they will also rely on his ability to lead the team. As he’s learning how to carry the weight of being a go-to guy, he will also have to be the voice in the locker room and lead by example through his work ethic and professionalism. 

More of Saddiq Bey 

The Pistons scored big in the 2020 NBA Draft by getting Saddiq Bey. The 19th pick overall was initially selected by the Brooklyn Nets, then dealt to the LA Clippers, before eventually landing in Detroit.

Bey started the season quietly like most rookies figuring out their niche in the league. Then the 21-year-old struck gold and became an instant hit. He earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors in early February in a historic offensive showing by a Pistons rookie. In a four-game stretch, he posted averages of 17.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. The versatile forward also went 16-of-23 from deep as he shot the lights out, going 71.4 percent overall. He also has the record for most 3s (7) made by a rookie without missing. 

Currently, Bey is putting up 9.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in 20.8 minutes of action. He has all the trappings of an explosive two-way role player who will be an important cog in the Pistons rebuild. 

Return to glory 

The last time the Pistons were in the playoffs was in 2019 when they faced the Milwaukee Bucks. However, the franchise’s search for relevance remains as deep as ever, having failed to win a single playoff game in 12 seasons. The Pistons were shutout by the Bucks in that 2019 series despite a valiant effort from Griffin, and were swept twice by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009 and 2016. 

The eventual departure of Griffin will signify another attempt of the Pistons to reclaim their lost glory. The Detroit franchise is one of the proudest and historic franchises in league history, producing some of the all-time greats in the game. The road back to prominence will be long and arduous but they can make small incremental steps toward success.

Once the Griffin deal gets done, one of the goals they can set is surpassing their win total from last season of 20. And if, in the process, they can somehow be within earshot of the East's 10th place for the play-in tournament, that will definitely mean that they are moving in the right direction. 

— Yoyo Sarmenta

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