Gobert, Towns fit isn’t the Timberwolves’ biggest issue — rebounding is

Some fans may have made up their minds that the Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns partnership is already a failure.

It's still hard to render a fair verdict considering the two played just 19 games together before Towns suffered a strained right calf that is sidelining him indefinitely.

But for all the complaining about how that fit will work, there is one fatal flaw this Wolves team had before they traded for Gobert, and it's still present now that Towns is out. It's a problem that has almost nothing to do with the fit between Towns and Gobert on both ends of the floor, and even if the Wolves never made that trade, it would likely still be a problem — defensive rebounding.

It was an issue coach Chris Finch laid out in plain language Friday.

"We're not going to take the next step as a team until we rebound the ball better," Finch said. "That's just how it's going to be. We're not physical enough. We don't find guys."

The Wolves are 25th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, the metric that measures what percentage of all available defensive rebounds a team gets. The Wolves grab 70.1% of their possible defensive rebounds. Last season they got 70.6% and ranked 28th.

Repeatedly, Finch has said the problem isn't with the Wolves' bigs getting rebounds, but rather the effort from their wings and guards. Long rebounds are the bane of the Wolves' existence.

"I feel like those ones hurt the most," forward Jaden McDaniels said.

That's what did them in during their playoff loss to Memphis, and that is what has done them in many times this season, such as Friday, when they allowed Boston to grab 20 offensive rebounds and score 20 second-chance points.

The Wolves allow 14.8 second-chance points per game, which ranks 25th in the league. Every time the Wolves discuss their issues, they repeat the same talking points — they need to box out better, locate a man to put a body on them, don't leak out in transition before securing the rebound.

But the problems keep coming up, no matter how much Finch or the players discuss it. You can see many instances per game where the Wolves are just watching a shot go up, not locating a player, and opponents find gaps to get offensive rebounds.

The Wolves brought Gobert in because he was one of the best rebounders in the NBA, and he is fifth in the league this season with 8.5 defensive rebounds per game.

Towns' absence makes a significant difference for the Wolves in this area. The Wolves have .719 defensive rebounding percentage when Towns is on the floor, .685 when he is not on the floor. That would be a league-worst mark.

Other things the numbers reveal: the Wolves have their best defensive rebounding percentage (.724) when Anthony Edwards is off the floor even as Edwards is having a career-best season with six rebounds per game. That's a departure from last season when the Wolves had a defensive rebounding percentage of .703 when Edwards was off the floor.

The Wolves also struggle to rebound when Naz Reid is on the floor (.676), which can mean trouble for the Wolves when he has to play center.

That is likely to continue as long as Towns is out. Neither of those statistics are a specific indictment of the individual player, but they can highlight for the Wolves what they need to do when certain players or lineups are on the floor.

But the fix to this specific problem seems so simple. Box out, gang rebound and secure the ball before trying to get out in transition. The Wolves have talked about doing all these things. They know they need to do all these things. They still haven't figured how.