By: Drew Mahowald
May I try to lighten the mood?
For the most part this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been mostly a disappointment, especially in recent weeks. After starting 8-8, they have reverted back to the losing ways of the 2014-15 season, closing the first “half” of the season by dropping 22 of 26 games, including the last nine, to fall to a record of 12-29.
With the first half of the season in the books (and by first half, I mean they’ve played 41 of 82 regular season games), I’ve come up with some very prestigious awards to hand out to a few of the players and coaches based on their performances, tendencies, etc. And by very prestigious, I mean they really have no significance. Also, they’re completely random. It should be more fun than reading about another Wolves loss, right?
Offensive MVP: Andrew Wiggins
Those of you analytics nuts out there may disagree with this because of Wiggins’ troubling efficiency ratings on the offensive end. However, I made Wiggins the offensive MVP because he’s Minnesota’s leading scorer at 20.9 points per game and he operates in an offensive system that limits his ability to be efficient (more on that later).
Most importantly, Wiggins has shown improvement from his rookie season. He has incorporated a brilliant Euro-step move into his arsenal that he used only sparingly in his rookie season. Moreover, more than a few times this season he has propelled Minnesota’s offense late in games by acting as that go-to scorer, and he certainly has the killer-instinct mentality for it.
With all of this said, Wiggins can definitely improve in a lot of areas. His assist numbers are low, and he needs to learn that defenses are starting to collapse on him when he gets the ball in the post so he can dish to open teammates, whether they’re cutting to the basket or spotting up for three. Also, the long two’s, man. I hate ‘em. Obviously, part of it is Sam Mitchell’s offense, but some of it is on Wiggins too. When you get the ball on the wing, the one-dribble pull-up jumper from 20 feet just isn’t an efficient shot at all.
But hey, Wiggins is 20-years-old. He’ll learn this stuff, and his development is certainly on schedule at this point, and I don’t have any doubts that Wiggins can be an All-Star in this league.
Defensive MVP: Ricky Rubio
For me, Rubio was the obvious choice here. He has to be one of the most active defenders in the NBA, if not the most active defender (although Matthew Dellevadova might have something to say about that). Rubio is second in the league in steals per game (2.3) and first in steal percentage (3.8) for a reason (or, many reasons).
He uses his hands very well on defense, getting in passing lanes and knocking the ball away. Additionally, he just sees things that other players don’t. He reads offenses and anticipates things that nobody in the league can. It’s a shame, because a lot of people underestimate how good Rubio actually is on the defensive end. He’s usually outmatched in terms of athleticism on a nightly basis, but he gets the job done anyway.
Wolves fans, please recognize what Rubio does for your favorite team every time he takes the floor. He doesn’t light up the stat sheet (well, in the scoring column he won’t) and he won’t shoot a spectacular percentage, but he is a Top 5 point guard in every other way you can measure point guards, and this especially applies to defense (see: 12/16/15 at New York Knicks).
Offensive LVP: Sam Mitchell
I’ve been defending Sam Mitchell all season because he is in a pretty difficult situation. He’s playing a bunch of 20-year-old kids and trying to teach them the fundamentals of basketball while also trying to win. Additionally, he’s trying to fill in the big shoes left by Flip Saunders. So when I criticize him here, know that I understand that he’s in a tough spot.
But man, this offensive system we’re watching is brutal. The Wolves are last in the NBA in three-point attempts while leading the league in long two-point attempts (which are shots taken from 16 feet to the three-point line). Logic says that stepping back a few feet to behind the three-point line would be the smart thing to do, because three points is more than two points and sacrificing a miniscule shooting percentage to move back would be worth it.
Nope. Not for Sam. And in his recent interview with Britt Robson of MinnPost, his excuse for the lack of three-point attempts was that his team lacks shooters. Oh, really? Why take so many long two-pointers then? Those shots take shooting ability too, right?
I will have to credit Mitchell for what he’s done for this team defensively, though. Major improvements have been made there. But this offense…woof. It’s ugly. It’s inefficient. It’s out-of-date. It’s discombobulated. It’s bad.
Exceeding Expectations Award: Karl-Anthony Towns
Forgive me for the lack of a creative name for this award. It’s a Saturday morning.
But seriously, how awesome is KAT? I expected him to be pretty good, but he has blown me away. What Porzingis is doing with the Knicks is phenomenal, and Towns is beating him out for Rookie of the Year so far.
On the offensive end, Towns has been efficient not just by rookie standards, but by league-wide standards. Overall, he is shooting 52% from the field, good for ninth in the league, and has shown a very nice soft touch from mid-range.
Additionally, Towns’ offensive efficiency is evident when you look at how he stacks up in a few key efficiency categories. He cracks the top 20 in field goal percentage (as noted above), effective field goal percentage and player efficiency rating. Rookies just don’t do that.
Defensively, Towns has already established himself as a terrorizing rim protector, something the Wolves have been looking for since Garnett left back in 2007. His 1.7 blocks per game are ninth in the NBA, while his 4.8 block percentage puts him 10th.
Rebounding is yet another area where Towns has impressed as a rookie. His 9.5 total rebounds per game put him 14th in the NBA, while his total rebound percentage of 18.6 puts him 13th.
It’s pretty unheard of for a 20-year-old snot-nose kid to enter the league and make such an impact right away in all phases of the game, not just on one end of the floor. Again, Wolves fans, despite the fact that this season is crumbling before our very eyes, be thankful that you have a KAT to help you feel better.
Energizer Bunny Award: Shabazz Muhammad
Nobody on this team plays with more energy than Shabazz Muhammad, and it’s not even close. He literally is the Energizer Bunny from the commercials. When he’s on the floor, he’s giving 100% all the time, and he just keeps going and going and going and going and go-, I think you get the point.
He has become the go-to scorer for the second unit, and he has thrived in that role. He’s averaging nearly 18 points per 36 minutes played and shooting just under 49% from the field. Those numbers are solid and exactly what you’d like to have from a guy coming off the bench.
Defensively, yeah, Muhammad has a lot to improve upon. But his offense tends to give this team a spark when he’s on the floor, and you have to wonder if Mitchell will eventually think about putting him in the starting lineup for Prince, just to balance out the first and second units offensively and defensively.
Most Improved Award: Gorgui Dieng
In that recent interview with Britt Robson that I previously mentioned, Mitchell talked about how hard he’s working with Dieng, or “G”, throughout this season. That work certainly looks like it’s paying off on the court.
He’s rebounding a lot better. He’s much more of a force as a rim protector. While he’s not yet a strong one-on-one post defender, he’s definitely improving. His pick-and-roll defense has also improved dramatically. Also, believe it or not, he’s 9th in the NBA in defensive box plus/minus, joining company such as Tim Duncan, Hassan Whiteside, DeAndre Jordan, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard who all rank in the Top 10 in that category.
Offensively, before this season, Dieng was really only a threat as a mid-range spot-up shooter (which, he had been really good at). Since last season, Dieng has actually incorporated post moves into his game, even if they’re not particularly devastating moves yet. Oh, and he’s still a rock solid mid-range shooter, too.
While many more improvements can be made, the difference between last season and this season gives me plenty of optimism for what has may have in store in the future.
Best Dresser Award: Ryan Saunders
I’ll end with an award that doesn’t necessarily pertain to on-court performance, but it’s definitely just as important as the other awards I’ve handed out.
I couldn’t ignore Ryan Saunders’ incredible sense of fashion any longer. He probably deserves this award more than anyone on this list deserves the particular award they won. I actually get jealous when I see this guy at games and what he’s wearing. He needs to be on the cover of a magazine or something.
Here are just two of the many snazzy examples of gameday suits worn by Saunders (enter fire emojis here). He’s definitely taking after his father.
My objective here was to lighten the mood despite a really rough few weeks of Wolves basketball taking place. It's a tough time right now, but there's still half of a season left for this team to make adjustments (that is, if Mitchell is willing to adjust) and win some games.
Or, if no adjustments are made and the Wolves continue to lose, there's the possibility of Ben Simmons to look forward to, right?
1/15/2016 0 Comments
By: Dan Slaubaugh
Hello, everyone. It's Friday! So that's fun. Also, the Wolves play tonight, on ESPN, against the Thunder. So that should also (hopefully) be fun. The Wolves (12-28) are in a funk, having lost 12 of their past 13 games, while the Thunder (28-12) have been playing great basketball as of late having won 8 out of their last 10 and 11 of 14.
The Thunder handled the Wolves with ease in Tuesday night's matchup at Target Center. That is, until the 4th quarter, where the lineup of Lavine-Bazz-Wiggins-Bjelica-Dieng sparked a comeback that ultimately fell short. In that 4th quarter, the Wolves outscored the Thunder 30-21 and all 5 Wolves on the court (down the stretch) were +8 or better in the +/- column. I'd truly like to see more of that unit tonight, well, because it worked Tuesday night...and the Wolves have struggled finding consistent lineups all season.
Again, just like Tuesday night, whoever guards Westbrook and Durant will have to be at their very best defensively if Minnesota wants any chance at a W.
The Wolves frontcourt minute distribution has gotten a little bit more interesting as of late with 5 players capable and deserving of a set amount of minutes each night. Here's how I would go about the manner (per game, obviously):
Garnett: 10 minutes
Towns: 30 minutes
Bjelica: 21 minutes
Dieng: 21 minutes
Pek: 15 minutes
That would be if all were healthy on the same night. There have been reports that Pek and KG will switch places on back-to-backs which would make the minute distribution much easier for Mitchell to handle, and also makes the most sense.
The 2015 Rookie of the Year has been on a tear over the past 4 games, averaging 26.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists while shooting 50.7% from the field, 37.5% from three point range, and 76.5% from the line. These are the kind of numbers we would like to see on a consistent basis. Let's hope he can continue his stellar play and lead the team to a couple of wins this next week.
If you haven't read Britt Robson's Q&A with Sam Mitchell, I strongly suggest you do. Sam explains lots of things, including how hard it is to work with under-developed players. Here are some of my thoughts.
It is confusing (if what Sam is saying is valid) why the youth of this team is extremely under-developed and are struggling majorly with the basics of basketball. The reason because most (Wiggins, Towns, Dieng, Jones) have came from top-tier CBB coaches such as Mike Krzyewski, John Calipari, Bill Self, and Rick Pitino. I'm not an expert, so I'm not going to go into full detail on this, but it seems odd the young pups would have been coached and developed so poorly by the greatest coaches in college basketball.
Seems far-fetched, if you ask me.
I may get scolded for this, but he could be trying to use this as an excuse to why it's taking so long to be competitive. (AKA: trying to buy himself another year).
Anyway, that rounds up my thoughts on Mitchell.
Well, that's all I have for this one. Don't forget, tonight's game is slated to begin at 6 because it is the tipoff matchup of tonight's ESPN NBA doubleheader. Let's hope the Wolves come out energized, focused, and put on a good showing in front of the national audience.
Prediction: Wolves lose 108-98
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the game. Go Wolves.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
Happy Tuesday, Wolves fans. Hope your holiday break was well and you are transitioning at ease right back into the swing of things. Tonight, the Wolves (12-26) are set to complete their 4 game homestand as the Oklahoma City Thunder (26-12) roll into town. Minnesota has struggled across the board and in all (most) areas of the game lately, resulting in only 1 win over their past 11 games. OKC has won 7 out of their last 10 and are currently sitting #3 in the Western Conference. A win tonight may be hard to come by.
What: Wolves - Thunder
Where: Target Center. Minneapolis, Minnesota.
When: 7:00pm CST
Where to watch: Fox Sports North
Where to listen: 830 WCCO Radio
What to watch for:
Dynamic Duo: Perhaps the league's most dominant 1-2 punch, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combine for over 50 points a game. In fact, if you look at their statlines, you could make a case for each of them in the MVP race. Durant is averaging 26.5ppg, 7.7rbg, and 4.4apg, while Westbrook is averaging 25.5ppg, 9apg, and 7rpg. That's ridiculous! Rubio and Prince will have to be at their best defensively if the Wolves want to have any chance tonight.
Found something? It took awhile, but the Wolves may have finally found a lineup that works. Towards the 9 minute mark of Sunday afternoon's 4Q against Dallas, Sam rolled out the following unit: Rubio, Wiggins, Bazz, Bjelica, Towns. It was a quality 4Q lineup by Sam, as Minnesota outscored Dallas 32-25 in the 4Q. A couple reasons they did so well is because having 2 three point shooters on the floor (Bazz and Bjelica) opens up the rest of the floor for Wiggins and Towns to do their thing inside, all while Rubio is looking to facilitate and set people up for easy looks (which he does well). Look to see if this particular unit gets more time on the floor tonight.
Lavine struggling: The UCLA product and 1 of Minnesota's building blocks is slumping. The Wolves have been outscored by 127 points over the past 11 when Zach has been on the floor, and he's totaled just 21 points while shooting 20.5% from the field over the past 7. Personally, I'd like to see Sam give him some minutes with Rubio in the backcourt because that is the best way/chance possible for him to break out of his slump. Maybe tonight?
Points: Andrew Wiggins (20.6)
Rebounds: Karl-Anthony Towns (9.2)
Assists: Ricky Rubio (8.9)
Steals: Ricky Rubio (2.3)
Blocks: Karl-Anthony Towns (1.8)
Points: Kevin Durant (26.5)
Rebounds: Enes Kanter, Durant (7.7)
Assists: Russel Westbrook (9.5)
Steals: Russel Westbrook (2.4)
Blocks: Serge Ibaka (2.3)
No injuries have been reported for either team
Well, that is all. The Wolves will be seeing a lot of the Thunder this month. They play again Friday @ OKC (ESPN) and then later again on the 27th back in Minneapolis. The Wolves are in the thick of a brutal stretch. It's not going to be easy, but the Wolves will have to find a way to maintain optimism and not let all the losing bring them down. One of these days, our record (12-26) will be flipped and all of this development/growing pains endured will have paid off.
Prediction: Thunder defeat Wolves 112-98.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the game. Go Wolves.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
Happy Friday, Wolves fans. Tonight, Kevin Love and the Cavaliers are in town for a matchup against our beloved Timberwolves! Minnesota (12-24) is coming off 4 consecutive losses against fairly weak competition (DET, MIL, PHI, DEN) and has lost 8 of their last 9 games. The Cavs (24-9) are playing very well right now having won 5 straight and 11 of 13. Kyrie Irving is back, and the team is healthy. Things are looking up for them, as it should be, with the amount of talent they possess on their roster. Tonight's game will feature a young, talented team who is still trying to figure things out and a win-now, veteran lead team who's end goal is to win an NBA Championship. This should be fun.
Who: Wolves - Cavs
Where: Target Center. Minneapolis, Minnesota.
When: 7:00 pm CST
Where to watch: ESPN
Where to listen: 830 WCCO Radio
What to watch for:
8-man rotation: David Blatt tends to roll with an 8-man rotation night in and night out. The starters play heavy minutes. JR, LeBron, and Love average over 30 minutes a game, while Thompson hovers around the 27min mark. Kyrie is around 24 mpg because he is still working his way back from injury. Off the bench, they have Dellavedova, Shumpert, and Mozgov giving quality minutes in which are enough to sustain the lead the starters have built. Blatt also likes to sprinkle in Richard Jefferson in spot situations. The rotation has been working, well, because they are 24-9 and are playing great basketball
Wiggins kick-start: Every Wolves fans around the country is hoping that tonight's game against the team that drafted him gives Andrew Wiggins a kick-start. He's been slumping as of late, averaging 16pts, 4rbs, and 2 asts over the past 5 games - while shooting just 67% from the FT line. I'm slightly worried that Sam's offensive system is wearing Andrew out because he has to work so dang hard for every basket, relying on tough two's because the team doesn't shoot 3 pointers.
Anyway, both times AW has faced Cleveland in his career, he has played with an edge and an increased amount of energy. Let's hope tonight he can bounce out of his recent struggles.
Wolves frontcourt: Now that Pekovic is back, look to see how Sam utilizes the frontcourt. Of course, Pek will share most of his minutes with Dieng, because they both come off the bench. Personally, I'd also love to see Pek share some minutes in the frontcourt with Towns because (IMO) they would complement each other very well with each individual's skillset. Tonight, how Sam goes about his ways will be especially important because of the talent level and skill Love and Thompson possess.
Points: Andrew Wiggins (20.1)
Rebounds: Karl-Anthony Towns (9.5)
Assists: Ricky Rubio (9)
Steals: Ricky Rubio (2.3)
Blocks: Karl-Anthony Towns (1.9)
Points: LeBron James (5.8)
Rebounds: Kevin Love (10.6)
Assists: LeBron James (5.9)
Steals: LeBron James (1.5)
Blocks: Timofey Mozgov (0.8)
OUT: Joe Harris (foot)
That's all I have for this one. After going an abysmal 4-12 in the month of December, which was arguably their easiest stretch of the season, things aren't going to get any easier for the Wolves.
Pretty brutal I'd say.
But hey, maybe things will turn around and the Wolves can start figuring some things out - starting tonight, vs. the Cavs, on National TV! Like I have said in the past, it's sports; anything can happen.
As I am writing this, my inner fandom is coming out and because of that I'm predicting a HUGE upset. BECAUSE WHY NOT.
Wolves defeat Cavaliers 103-98 in front of a packed Target Center behind 45+ combined points from AW and KAT.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the game. Go Wolves!
By Alex Berg
I will be seeing former Timberwolf Kevin Love play in-person tomorrow for the first time since he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2014. Even though this meeting is not quite as anticipated as his first return last January, Love will still get a ton of reaction from what should be a packed Target Center. I’m guessing I am in the minority, but to me, there is no reason to boo the former Timberwolves all-star.
It is not easy to defend a player that left the team, albeit in a trade, at age 25 when he could have been entering the prime of his career. For Love, I think there are a few important distinctions.
First of all, it is not that preposterous to blame Love if he did not want to sign with Minnesota after his contract had expired. He already had been snubbed of the max-contract that he supposedly wanted that would have kept him under contract for the Wolves through the 2016-17 season. I understand that happened under a different regime, but the majority owner -- the same one who proclaimed Love was best as a “third scoring option” -- remained.
Pairing the two accounts of lack trust/faith from the front office with six seasons that resulted in zero playoff appearances, three head coaches, and no clear plan at any point, it is hard to fault a 25-year-old for wondering what greener pastures might look like.
Secondly, Love improved his game year-by-year and almost single-handedly (with the help of Ricky Rubio) made Timberwolves basketball watchable again. Love came to the Timberwolves as a bigger player that posted high rebound rates. Over his six years he lost weight, became an elite 3-point shooter, and one of the better passing big men in the game. He left Minnesota as a player that, statistically, could have been argued as a top-five player in the NBA.
As a rookie, Love played 81 games and shot 10.5 (not a typo, I swear) percent on his 19 attempts from behind the arc. By his third season, he was averaging over 1 make from long distance per game and shot 41.7 percent from behind the arc. Fast forward to his final season here in 2013-14 when he bumped that average to 2.5 made 3-pointers per contest and also raised his assist total to 4.4 helpers per game, which nearly doubled his previous high of 2.5 assists per game in 2010-11.
Finally, Love’s honesty indicating it would be unlikely that he would opt-in to staying with the team beyond the 2014-15 season gave Flip Saunders and the Timberwolves ample time to move him for the right package instead of desperately flipping him in February simply to salvage something for losing the team’s best player. The right package happened to include Andrew Wiggins, the No.1 overall pick of the Cavs in the 2014 draft. Wiggins alone gave the Wolves their best centerpiece in over a decade for a true rebuild. Building around Wiggins, paired with injuries, other circumstances, and a rare stroke of luck allowed the Timberwolves to parlay Wiggins’ talent with yet another centerpiece in 2015’s top pick Karl-Anthony Towns. There is no way the team would be in the position it is now if Love had waited until 40-plus games into the 2014-15 season to suggest he might explore other options.
It’s never fun to see your favorite team lose its best player, that happens all too often here in Minnesota, but not only did Kevin Love help put Minnesota basketball back on the map after a few really dark years, he also -- as unintentional as it was -- helped the team plunge into the true rebuild it desperately needed. Not to mention, his playing career here (aside from the length) should be a blueprint for Wiggins, Towns, and any other young player to wear a Timberwolves jersey. If the team’s current young players can improve individually year-to-year like Love did, the team will be in a much better place in the next few seasons and beyond.