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?