By: Drew Mahowald
'Tis the season for spending time with family, eating great food, and...
...writing about basketball?
In honor of the holiday season, I'm performing the role of Santa by forming my own Timberwolves-based Naughty and Nice list. It's very simple, really. I'll go through each player (and interim head coach Sam Mitchell) and assess their performance so far in the 2015-16 season and place them in the category I deem most appropriate.
I'll go in alphabetical order by last name to make it easy for all of you while you down your eggnog.
Nemanja Bjelica: Naughty
If I had made this list about a month ago, Bjelica may have just made the nice list. However, Bjelica has been virtually a non-factor in the past month. It seemingly all started when he returned from an injury he sustained a few weeks into the season. He just hasn't been the same. Recently, he's extremely hesitant on the offensive end and on defense, he's looked as confused as Adreian Payne when he tries to play basketball.
With all of this said, Bjelica certainly has the ability to turn this around. He showed flashes of that potential early in the season, and it would be a great help to the team if he could get back to that level soon.
Gorgui Dieng: Nice
Gorgui has really surprised me this season, in a good way. Coming into the season, I knew he could hit the mid-range jumper. He was historically good at that last season. However, that's about the only thing I thought he did well. Seriously.
But this season, he has expanded his game in all areas. Offensively, he's actually using POST MOVES, something I don't think he ever tried before this season. Additionally, he has been much more effective in pick-and-roll action.
Defensively, I guess I should give him credit for being a rim protector prior to this season because he was a legitimate shot blocker in his first two seasons. In his third season, he has improved both his one-on-one post defense and his rebounding. Also, he's consistent. He's had much fewer of those clunker games this season, which makes things much easier on the Wolves frontcourt.
Kevin Garnett: Nice
This isn't so much about Garnett's production on the court as much as it is his presence on the bench and at practice as a coach. He's constantly giving instructions and pointers to not only Karl-Anthony Towns, who he has taken under his wing, but each player on the team. Plus, I just love his enthusiasm. If average high-fives per game was a stat, there is no doubt in my mind that KG would lead the NBA.
And, I mean, he's not a bad player, either. He's just had his role significantly decreased through the years. While he's certainly a shell of himself, he still makes positive contributions when he's on the floor, especially on the defensive end.
Tyus Jones: Naughty
Before you freak out because I put Minnesota's golden boy on the naughty list, just answer this question: What exactly has he done to earn a spot on the nice list?
Going into Wednesday night's game, Jones had played just 14 NBA minutes, scoring one point and recording a +/- of like -436.
Sure, he's enjoyed a very nice stint in the NBA D-League, averaging nearly 25 points and five assists per game in six games. Once he carries that play to the NBA level (obviously, not those type of numbers, but just being effective when called upon), I'll move him onto the nice list.
Zach LaVine: Nice
Zach makes the nice list simply because of the improvement he has shown from last season. Sam Mitchell is asking him to play a lot of point guard (although he's starting to gradually play him more at shooting guard), and LaVine has made consistent improvement.
Pardon me if this take is a bit too hot for you, but I believe it: LaVine has a higher ceiling than Andrew Wiggins. He's got better athleticism and shooting ability, plus that same killer-instinct that Wiggins also possesses. This season, he has been a positive spark off the bench much more often than he has been a hindrance, which is certainly a step in the right direction from last season.
Kevin Martin: Naughty
I don't even know where to start with Martin. He takes the dumbest, most idiotic shots on offense. On defense, he's like the youngest cousin at the family reunion that can't keep up with the rest of the cousins.
Martin is supposedly on the trade block, and I honestly can't wait until he's one. It's nothing personal to Martin, but he's a hindrance to the development to the team right now. I'd trade him for a glass of eggnog
Andre Miller: Nice
I like Andre Miller. When the guy is called upon to play, he gets the job done. It’s refreshing to have Miller as a point guard off the bench to run the offense when Ricky Rubio isn’t on the floor, and Miller does that very well.
The way it appears now, with Jones playing 20 minutes against San Antonio, Miller’s main role may be acting as a mentor to Jones, and that’s just fine with me.
Shabazz Muhammad: Nice
Shabazz Muhammad has been dubbed the “Energizer bunny” here at OTP, and with good reason. He consistently brings tremendous energy off the bench, whether it’s scoring or rebounding the basketball.
Is Muhammad a starting-caliber player? Probably not. But he’s going to be an excellent bench player for whatever team he’s playing for throughout his career. Hopefully, he stays in Minnesota for most of his career because I’m a big fan of him.
Adreian Payne: Naughty
Phew, man, Adreian Payne. I guess I’ll start with what he does well. He brings a ton of energy and he rebounds on the defensive end pretty well, mostly due to that energy.
Besides that, Payne doesn’t do anything well. He’s lost on the offensive end most of the time. Like, he needs a road map. You know what? He’s lost on the defensive end, too, now that I think about it. He's basically like that guy who gets picked up by a four-person intramural team to fill out the team and has no idea what to do. But at least he’s playing really hard!
Tayshaun Prince: Nice
I just recently wrote here on OTP about the value of Prince’s minutes, and I still stand by that. He won’t light up the box score by any means, but his leadership and experience on the floor are just as important as box score stats.
Prince deserves more credit for the minutes he’s playing, so I’ll put him on the nice list.
Ricky Rubio: Nice
There should be no controversy about what list the Spanish Unicorn belongs on. He’s the most valuable player on the Wolves roster. The numbers speak for themselves when it comes to the difference of Minnesota’s success between when he’s on the floor and when he isn’t.
Frankly, if we discount the ability to shoot the ball, Rubio is a top five point guard in the NBA. Rubio makes up for his poor shooting by doing everything else at a superstar level. The nice list was a no-brainer for Rubio.
Damjan Rudez: Nice
I love me some Damjan Rudez. He doesn’t play a lot, but when he does, he executes. He gives the Wolves a consistent catch-and-shoot threat from the perimeter, something they don’t have much of. Additionally, on offense, he’s always active, whether it be with ball movement of moving without the ball.
Defensively, again, he’s always active. His limited athleticism is a problem sometimes, but he generally knows what he’s doing at least. That’s more than we can say about Payne.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins: Nice
I don’t need to elaborate too much on this, do I? You’ve seen the games. You’ve seen how great both of these players are at TWENTY-YEARS-OLD.
The future of the Minnesota Timberwolves is in very good, or, very NICE, hands with Towns and Wiggins. I considered forming another category with just for Towns and Wiggins, but I'm not sure Santa would approve of my changing the format like that.
Interim Head Coach Sam Mitchell: Naughty
Putting Mitchell on the naughty list is a bit misleading, because I think he’s doing just fine under the circumstances. I mean, he’s playing a bunch of 20-year-old kids and the Wolves are competitive in most games, which is different than in years past. I have defended him because the scrutiny he gets on a nightly basis is overboard.
He makes the naughty list, however, for a number of reasons. First of all, some of his rotations and lineups that he has used early in the season have been questionable. There’s no getting around that. Second, the lack of three-point shots is frustrating for fans. Instead of shooting threes, the Wolves shoot a bunch of long two-pointers, which just screams inefficient basketball. Also, and this goes hand-in-hand with the lack of perimeter shooting, but the offensive spacing is just ugly. Try to imagine how much better Towns, Wiggins and Rubio would operate in an offense with adequate spacing.
There are more reasons, but I need to remind myself of the circumstances again. Flip Saunders passed away just before the season began. The team's three leading scorers are 20-years-old. Moreover, most of the young players are making significant improvements from a season ago.
So, basically, if there was a way to put Mitchell on a list in between naughty and nice, that's where he would go. But, yeah, he's on the naughty list because he hasn't really done enough to be put on the nice list.
How's that for a lukewarm take?
Here's the final list. Apparently, I was a little generous in my judgment, which is a little different for me.
If you’ve made it this far, I want to thank you for reading and following us at On The Prowl. On behalf of the entire team, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Go Wolves!
Don’t forget to leave any suggestions/complaints/insights about my naughty/nice list on my Twitter page: @MNSportsDrewM