10/28/2019 0 Comments
By: Dan Slaubaugh
Hello all, and welcome to my notebook. This is my first article of the 2019-20 NBA season. With the absurd number of quality writers in Wolves Land, I am honored that you have chosen to click my link.
One of the things I have going at On The Prowl is the free content. Still, of course, I have to give you a reason to click our links! With that said, I will do my darndest to provide unique coverage of the No. 1-in-the-West Wolves with a tasty spin to our readers all season.
Andrew Wiggins wills the Wolves to victory
Well, wasn’t that something. With the Wolves down 96-93 with 5:56 remaining to Miami, Andrew "Max Contract" Wiggins - who was 4-13 (0-6 3PT) at the time - dropped the jawlines of Timberwolves fans everywhere converting his next five shots including four from downtown.
From 5:52 to 1:45, Wiggins scored 16 of 17 points (KAT made a free throw). At the end of his scoring clinic, the Wolves led 110-101. A 17-5 run spearheaded by Mr. Wiggins that, for at least one night, silenced his doubters across the country.
“It was a great feeling. My teammates got my back through the thick and thin,” Wiggins said.
Last year, the year before that, and the three years before that, all of Wiggins’ threes would have been pull-up mid-range jumpers off the dribble. To Ryan Saunders’ credit, Wiggins is slowly but surely re-shaping his game to a modern-NBA style. Hence, all the threes late from Wiggins. “I’m glad he stuck to the shot values,” Saunders said about Wiggins at the end of the game.
I wasn’t a “Ryan will save the franchise” type of guy when the Wolves removed his interim tag, but it’s so nice to have a forward-thinking head coach who is clearly at the forefront of player development.
For all who drank the Wiggins kool-aid this offseason, this game was for you.
Towns having to anchor massive scoring load
While Wiggins’ heroic play injected further hope and excitement that the Wolves (3-0) can continue to be competitive, the Wolves completely squandered a lead after Miami and Bam Adebayo found a way to contain Towns.
KAT only scored nine more points after his 15-point first-quarter outburst and until Wiggins turned it on, the Wolves had trouble putting the ball through the net.
With KAT being so good and the Wolves not having a clear number two besides the unpredictable Wiggins, I suspect this will be a theme all season. The scoring load KAT is having to take on is absurd. It reminds me of a little of Harden’s first year with Houston where the Rockets started Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson and Omar Asik alongside him.
I said before the season that for it to be a success, two things have to happen: 1) KAT has to make the jump into the "top 10" tier and 2) One of Vonleh, Layman, Bell, etc. break out and become a piece of the valuable piece moving forward.
Well, through three games, Towns is averaging 32 points, 13.3 rebounds, five assists and two blocks on 52.4 percent shooting from the field and 51.7 percent from three. He also ranks as the league's best rim protector, with opponents having shot just 10-for-29 (34 percent) at the rim when he's been there to defend it. So yeah, he's off to a good start.
I'm afraid the MVP-caliber play will have to continue, because when it doesn't, games could get out of hand quickly.
Where are the shooters and where have they been?
The Wolves have orbited the sun at least 600 times without being able to sign or develop a 3-point shooter, right?
Besides KAT, who was the last pure shooter the Wolves employed that received consistent minutes? Inconsistent Nemanja Bjelica? 20-year old Zach LaVine? Kevin Martin? Yeah, K-Mart sounds about right.
The lack of shooters this franchise has employed has been a problem for the last decade and has carried on into this season.
Besides Towns, the Wolves only have one historically average or better three-point sniper and that’s Jeff Teague. Towns having little help offensively has something to do with this and the fact the Wolves employ an offensive scheme that works against their skill sets. While I agree with the decision, as it’s better to switch the system and then find players to make it effective, the Wolves are shooting 30.2 percent from three (26th in NBA) at 42 attempts per game (4th most in NBA). Not exactly pleasing to the eye.
$1.8 mil Napier > $ 8.8 mil Tyus
Small sample size, I know, but the front office has looked smart thus far in sticking with the cheaper option of Shabazz Napier over the $8.8 million/year-through-2022 Tyus Jones.
Napier, who the Wolves are paying $1.8 million this season, has been a stable presence for the second unit as the backup point guard. The six-year guard out of UConn has been sound defensively while averaging seven points and six assists in 19.7 minutes per game. Napier had dreadful shooting performances in the first two games, but played a big role in Sunday's win netting 12 points (2-5 FG, 2-4 3PT) including this disgusting crossover of Goran Dragic.
Plus-minus is not the most effective way to evaluate a player, but it's hard to ignore the Wolves' three best in the category have come from the bench (led by Napier): Napier (12.7+ per game), Josh Okogie (15.0) and Jake Layman (13.3).
Meanwhile for Memphis, Jones is off to a cold start. The Apple Valley, Minnesota native is averaging eight points and five assists on 29.6 percent shooting from the field (8/27) and 14 percent from three (1/7). He has a plus-minus of -3.
Napier outplaying Jones won't necessarily cement waving goodbye to Tyus was the right choice. For the Wolves to look smart here, Napier basically needs to be average or mildly worse than Jones this season given the main incentive of letting Jones go was the increased cap flexibility. While $8.3 million/year isn’t outrageous by any means, having $5-plus million of extra wiggle room for the star-hunting Rosas could prove lethal for the Timberwolves POBO in the future.
The underrated move of the offseason by Gersson Rosas? Perhaps acquiring Treveon Graham and Shabazz Napier for basically nothing.
Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful Monday. Go Wolves.
By: Brian Simonson
Leading up to the start of the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves are in a completely different position today than they were a year ago. In the 2018 offseason, the Wolves’ pop up season of 47 wins was quickly exposed and dysfunction again ensued. Jimmy Butler destroyed the atmosphere and morale of the team, as he worked to push his way out of Minnesota. There was a clear disconnect and everything seemed on edge within the organization. Old school Tom Thibodeau dragged his players to the ground through aggressive minutes per night. Then, with Thibodeau’s firing, Ryan Saunders was tasked to pick up the pieces for the last 42 games of the season with a roster stacked with injuries. Finishing with 36 wins, the franchise was once again, reverted to a state of uncertainty and mediocrity for their future.
Enter the 2019 offseason, and there’s a new regime in town under President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas, with a proven track record with the successful Houston Rockets franchise. Rosas brings with him competency, which is something the Timberwolves have rarely had in their 30-year existence. Rosas tears down the walls immediately and begins working. He executed the hires of proven coaches and management within his staff, removes the interim tag off Ryan Saunders and with the limited amount of cap space he had to work with, fills in the empty roster with talented but unproven role players with upside while on affordable contracts. You could feel a breath of fresh air and a significant shift in how the Wolves were operating internally. The Wolves have never had a mind like Gersson Rosas in their front office.
Next thing you know, Rosas is constantly preaching “challenging the status quo” and “culture”. The Timberwolves were never a forward-thinking organization that tried to keep up with the times. Now, they have begun to rely heavily on tactics such as analytics and are trying to devise strategies to improve the players and elevate their game individually and as a team. The organization’s vibe is now an open and welcoming one. There was a trip to the Bahamas to bring the players closer together. Now you see the players showing up to practice early, participating in voluntary workouts and just simply wanting to be there working. There’s transparency, accountability and unity. The vision from Gersson Rosas is being projected through Ryan Saunders and the players and you can see it with all the smiles going around. There’s a lot of momentum going into the new season.
While we all hope the new culture will translate to more wins, what will happen to the hype if it doesn’t?
It’ll be interesting to see the fan base’s reactions should they go down the losing path. If the Wolves lose more than they win and do not show real strides or improvements during those losses, will the fans continue to buy into the organization’s marketing tactics of their culture? Will the narrative get old? We will get the answers to these questions as the season progresses.
While we are all optimistic for the new-look Wolves and seeing Karl Anthony Towns take the next step in his game and leadership, we must be honest with ourselves with our expectations. In a stacked Western Conference, there is one true star on the roster in KAT. Andrew Wiggins does not seem interested in improving his work ethic and the team is still strapped in cap space. We are looking forward to seeing the development of the players and the team throughout the season, but we must be open-minded and understand that while this team will do its best to put a good product on the court, there are still limitations that cannot be entirely addressed within this individual season. It’s our turn now to “trust the process” through seeing the young players develop, remove bad contracts when able, and execute savvy trades and free agent signings.
The 2019-2020 journey of answering our questions begins on Wednesday, Oct.23 against the Brooklyn Nets. For now, let’s enjoy the culture and the feel-good environment.