By: Jonah Sprinkel
Hop into my DeLorean real quick and let's travel back to July 14, 2015. We are now nearly two years in the past. In front of us is the current Euroleague MVP, Nemanja Bjelica signing a three year, 11.7 million dollar deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
At the time Timberwolves fan were hopeful, and confident, that Bjelica could come in and be a high quality rotational player. If everything went perfectly he could become a quality starter. The sad reality is that neither of these things have come anywhere close to fruition.
This season Bjelica has logged the most appearances and second largest minutes total of Timberwolves bench players. The amount of responsibility he is entrusted with has not been met with positive results. In fact, this year has been a regression for the Serbian.
In 55 games this year, Bjelica is averaging 5.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists with an effective field goal percentage of 50.4. Compared to last year, Bjelica's is averaging nearly identical minutes per game, 17.2 this year, 17.9 last year. His points per game are up by 0.7. But that's the only good thing you'll find here. His rebounding and assist averages are down, though with such small numbers this matters very little.
Shooting has been the biggest regression. Last year, Bjelica attempted 28.2 percent of his shots within three feet of the rim, he connected on 72.7 percent of these attempts. This year is a different story. 23.9 percent of Bjelica's shots come from the same area while his shooting percent is all the way down to 61.2. He's shooting fewer and making fewer of the most effective shot on the floor.
Continuing down this shooting road we find a weird trend. All of Bjelica's shooting percentages from 3-10 feet, 10-16 feet, and 16 feet out to the three point line are up dramatically this year. And when I say dramatically, I mean dramatically.
3 - 10 feet 34.4% 49.0%
10 - 16 feet 33.3% 37.5%
16 - <3 22.2% 44.4%
The shooting numbers for 2016-17 are exactly what you would like to see out of a stretch four. The real problem lies outside the arc. While the percentage of three pointers taken has barely moved, 53.2 percent last year, 52.9 percent this year, Bjelica's three point percentage is down from 38.4 percent to 31.1 percent, a substantial regression.
To sum everything up his effective field goal percent is down nearly seven percent from last year, 57.0 to 50.4.
Timberwolves fans everywhere seem to know that the problem lies with Bjelica's confidence. I too buy into this idea. A common theme with Bjelica takes place when he catches the ball on the perimeter, performs a ball fake, before driving to the basket, skipping out on a catch and shoot three.
Once again let's hop into our DeLorean and travel back to Bjelica's time in Europe.
While we can see the same tendency to ball fake and drive, we can also see him be effective at this given the right opportunity. Bjelica needs to learn to simply catch, shoot and make his threes. We know he is capable of this as demonstrated by his 38.3 percent shooting from deep last year. By doing this he will open up the floor for him to drive. However this only happens if NBA teams have to respect his shot.
The biggest takeaway from this time travel adventure should be Bjelica's off ball movement. As you can see in the video above he seems to know where to be and when to be there. He is very good at finding the open space and cutting to the rim. This isn't something that has been featured during Bjelica's time as a Wolf and I believe this needs to change.
With a year left on the his three year deal it seems likely that if Bjelica doesn't improve as a shooter and grow into a quality bench player he will soon find himself playing back in Europe. There's nothing wrong with this, for him. For the Wolves its another swing and miss at finding someone, anyone, who can be trusted to provide rotation-level minutes on an NBA floor.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
Here at On The Prowl, we're excited about NBA All-Star Weekend. The Wolves haven't been a playoff team since the medieval period, so it's only normal to get excited when a member of the team (Towns) will participate in the festivities.
Below, you'll see the winners of each All-Star weekend event picked by the members of the OTP staff. Surprisingly, the staff was only unanimous on one competition. At any rate, whoever correctly picks the most events gets to pick what the Wolves do with their 2017 draft pick.
Nah, not really. But that would be pretty sweet.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
We have officially entered "trading season" in the NBA. From now until February 23 at 3 p.m., teams poised and destined for a playoff spot will try to patch up their weak spots by acquiring players from non-contenders. On the other side, non-contenders will look to build for the future and get maximum value for their wanted assets.
Now, before I get into any deep specifics and analysis on what the Wolves position is at the deadline, it's important to understand a few things.
Usually, teams do one of two things when making trades. Either they dump players because they are out of the playoff picture or they make a splash to help bolster their playoff/title chances. For example, the railing 4-seeded Toronto Raptors recently traded guard Terrence Ross and a first round pick to 14-seeded Orlando for forward Serge Ibaka. Hence, the Raptors needed to make a splash to bolster title chances and the Magic dumped players for future assets.
Concerning the Wolves, they're kind of stuck in the middle right now. They don't really have any players to dump that other teams would badly want and they don't have the ammunition to bolster their playoff chances by making a splash. At 22-35 and 3.5 games back of a playoff spot, an aggressive move by Tom Thibodeau might not only eliminate playoff chances this season, but also jeopardize the promising future ahead. Therefore, the chances are pretty high that the Wolves don't do anything.
That said, let's categorize the Wolves roster into four categories: Not going anywhere, players who could net a decent return but you need for a playoff push, potential trade chips, and players that nobody really wants.
Not going anywhere
Karl-Anthony Towns: Face of the franchise. If he is traded I am finding the nearest bridge and taking a nice big jump.
Andrew Wiggins: KAT's "Robin". Cornerstone piece and budding star.
Gorgui Dieng: On a very reasonable contract, provides stability and depth at a position of weakness. Not getting traded.
Kris Dunn: Thibodeau's prized draft pick. He's struggled, but isn't going anywhere.
Zach LaVine: Another young phenom part of the core. The ACL injury eliminates any possibility of a trade.
Players who could net a decent return but need for a playoff push
Ricky Rubio: Veteran point guard who make this team run. Rumored in many trades over past few years. If you trade him, the team wins at most eight games the rest of the season but opens up extensive playing time for rookie Kris Dunn.
Shabazz Muhammad: Has evolved into one of the NBA's best 6th men over the past 2 1/2 months. Contract expires at end of season. If traded, this bench averages under 22 points per game.
Potential trade chips
Tyus Jones: Young guard who's proven he can contribute as a role player. Still has upside. Philly, Orlando, Sacramento could be suitors.
Brandon Rush: On an expiring contract. Can still provide solid defense and three-point shooting (when hot). Oklahoma City, Toronto could be suitors.
Cole Aldrich: Could intrigue a contender who needs a big/rim protection. Golden State, Oklahoma City could be suitors.
Players that nobody really wants
Nemanja Bjelica: 28-year old that you still don't now what you're going to get out of. Wolves will keep him and play him.
Adreian Payne: Can't find minutes on a 22-35 team.
Jordan Hill: Same as Payne
So...what should we expect?
The Wolves are legitimately stuck. You would have to dig crazy deep to find a trade that would make this team better right now. So basically, if they are truly trying to make a playoffs, trading pieces such as Bazz or Ricky wouldn't make any sense because you need them both for the playoff push.
If a trade does occur, my best guess is that an executive was intrigued by a Tyus/Rush or Rush/Aldrich type package. That's probably only going to fetch you a 2nd round pick. So if you are going to only trade one, Brandon Rush would be the best option if Thibodeau is looking to get something before his contract expires.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
The unpredictable Minnesota Timberwolves host the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight as they look to finish off a six-game homestand with a bang. Cleveland will be without power forward Kevin Love for the second time this season against Minnesota, so they'll once again need to find a way to replace his production. Seriously though, how ironic is it that Cleveland will be without Love on Valentine's Day?
Tristian Thompson was the guy to step up against Minnesota when the Wolves got blown out in Cleveland in the beginning of February, hauling in 18 points and 14 rebounds. The Wolves simply had no answer for the former Longhorn, as they don't with many opposing physical bigs. Removing Love from the lineup certainly hurts Cleveland, but Thompson seems to have no trouble dealing with Minnesota's bigs. Tom Thibodeau will assuredly gameplan around this, setting up Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng to garner most of the defensive and rebounding load against the big bruiser.
The matchup to watch - as per usual between the teams - will certainly be Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James. However, the point guard dual between Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving should be a treat to watch as well. Rubio - aka Italian Pete Maravich - has dazzled as of late, averaging 13 points and 11 assists on 42% shooting from the field and 36% shooting from behind the arc in the five games since LaVine has been out. Kyrie Irving - aka Uncle Drew - boasts some of the best handles and playmaking skills in the league. Pair that with elite scoring ability in crunch-time and you've got a top five point guard in the league. Friends, meet Kyrie Irving.
Back to Wiggins and LeBron. The Kansas product has certainly held his own versus "The King" so far in his NBA career (27.6 PPG, 56.2% FG, 53.8% 3pt FG), but has yet to walk away victorious against the team that drafted him.
The third-year guard enters Tuesday averaging 22.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game. With a 27-point effort against Chicago on Sunday, Wiggins has now scored 20 or more points in 13 straight games - the longest streak by a Wolves player since Kevin Love in 2014. Wiggins needs three more 20-point games in a row to tie Kevin Garnett's franchise record for the longest streak.
Since Kevin Love won't be playing in front of his former crowd tonight, it's only fair to talk about one who will - Derrick Williams. The former Wildcat - who has shined in nine games against the Wolves - is currently on the sixth day of a 10-day contract he signed with Cleveland.
"In nine games against the Wolves, Williams has scored the most points per game (12.8) and has his highest field goal percentage (54.8) against the Wolves than any other team. His career offensive rating against the Wolves is second to his mark against Orlando. And hits his fourth-highest 3-point percentage against the Wolves. His 4.9 rebounds against the Wolves are his third-highest against an individual team." - 1500ESPN
Williams is currently trying to receive another 10-day contract with the Cavs, so he'll be even more inspired to bring it tonight against his former team.
Nonetheless, the story of this game is - and will always be as long as LeBron is in Cleveland - the matchup between Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James.
Wiggins will be poised to come away with his first victory against LeBron in front of a packed Target Center crowd and it sure would help if Karl-Anthony Towns could help him out by casually putting up 30/12. Oh, Kris Dunn running a second unit offense better than Lance Stephenson would be welcome to.
Much like the last meeting between the two teams, I think this will be a high scoring affair. Believe it or not, the Cavs are actually much better defensively with Love on the floor this season. On the other side, the Wolves defense had been terrible lately until Sunday's win against the depleted Bulls, which gave Tom Thibodeau a season sweep against his former team. Unfortunately, I think the Wolves will get less stops tonight than the Cavs do.
Wolves lose 115-108. Wiggins will have to wait another year for a chance at revenge.