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Thinking only in terms of defense, what’s the biggest surprise of the season so far?
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David Aldridge:That the Minnesota Timberwolves (108.4 Defensive Rating) continue to struggle so much at that end of the floor. I thought Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague alone would stamp out many of the Wolves’ problems on D, and that Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins would improve through repetition and the occasional Tom Thibodeau harangue. But Towns seems to be regressing rather than progressing. His Win Shares, per basketball-reference.com, have fallen through the floor (2.8 last season to 0.4 this season). With all those young legs, Butler’s pedigree and Thibodeau’s track record, Minnesota should just be better defensively than it is. But it isn’t.
Steve Aschburner: We all expected more firepower from the Boston Celtics this season, what with the additions of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. But it figured to come at the expense of their defense, with the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder in particular. Yet lookee here: Boston has shaved double digits off its defensive efficiency to vault from 12th last season to first so far in 2017-18. The Celtics rank first in defensive field-goal percentage (42.9 vs. 45.0 last season), including 32.8 from the arc. Al Horford has been helpful as a mobile big, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum give coach Brad Stevens a pair of young, long forwards to contest shots inside and out, and guard Marcus Smart is shooting too much for a guy making 28 percent, but if that’s the price the Celtics pay for his 11.3 net rating and the havoc he can wreak guarding multiple spots, so be it.
Shaun Powell: I believe the Boston Celtics’ defense is the runaway answer to this question. Let me get this straight: You trade your best defenders in Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, add Kyrie Irving and his rep for being the softest defensive point guard in the NBA, and one game into the season lose a fairly good defender in Gordon Hayward … and you’re giving up a league-low 94 points?
John Schuhmann: Last week, I wrote about the Lakers’ defense, which has since moved up to No. 4 in defensive efficiency, having held their last four opponents to just 96 points per 100 possessions. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s hard not to be continually disappointed in the Wolves’ defense, which ranks in the bottom five for the third straight season and the second straight season under Tom Thibodeau. Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson have only been able to do so much and Karl-Anthony Towns continues to be a liability on that end of the floor more often than not. The Wolves rank 26th defensively having played twice as many games against bottom-10 offenses (six) than top-10 offenses (three).
Sekou Smith: I understand that the Cleveland Cavaliers are dealing with issues that go far beyond whatever metrics they have piled up this season. The departure of Kyrie Irving over the summer altered this team’s DNA. And, yes, I know it’s LeBron’s team … but Kyrie’s role and fit was integral to what made them tick. But losing Kyrie and adding capable and defensive-minded veterans, in some cases, led me to believe that the Cavaliers wouldn’t see any significant drop off in their defensive prowess. To see them rank last in the league in Defensive Rating right now explains a lot about what ails these Cavaliers. Their focus on that part of the game has been non-existent. If they can’t win a shootout, they’re cooked. They were a bottom 10 team last season, but I’m surprised they have gone to the defensive sunken place so far this season.