Posted By: Dan Slaubaugh
On The Prowl's Dan Slaubaugh, Zach More, and Jonah Sprinkel review the 2016-17 season for Minnesota, which included another polarizing season from Andrew Wiggins, a historic offensive performance from Karl-Anthony Towns, and promising signs from Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio.
General thoughts on the season
Dan Slaubaugh: It was disappointing. This team was projected to compete for a playoff spot, so finishing with 31 wins - just two more than last season - was a huge damper after bringing in the hottest coach (that sounds so weird) on the market. There were a few REALLY fun stretches during the season. The first being consecutive wins vs. Houston and OKC at home on January 11, 13, respectively. Then in the beginning of March, they took down Utah, LAC, Golden State, and Washington in a matter of two weeks where they ranked top 10 in defensive rating, prompting many people to think they had officially turned the corner. Unfortunately, that did not happen and they went 3-13 in the final 16 games.
Zach More: If I had to sum up this season in one word it would have to be “disappointing”. This was supposed to be the season that Minnesota competed for a playoff spot or at least played good basketball with visible improvements on the court. This obviously didn’t happen, especially on the defensive end. There were some positives like Ricky’s offense, KAT’s season but all in all it’s hard to have a positive feel about the season.
Jonah Sprinkel: Overall I would say that I am disappointed with how this last season went. Maybe I expected too much out of this team. Three different head coaches in three years is a lot, especially when one passes away right before the season.
Thoughts on Karl-Anthony Towns sophomore season
DS: Watching Karl-Anthony Towns on offense is almost as equally as exciting as watching my mom take fresh baked cookies out of the oven. His offensive skillset is incredible with so many weapons to go to whenever he pleases. On the flip side, watching KAT's lucklaster defense is disheartening and might prevent him from earning All-NBA awards this season. Like many others on Minnesota's roster, the next step in their development is learning how to play team defense. That being said, averaging 25 and 12 on 54/37/83 as a 21-year old is unheard of. Plus, the dude stays healthy (hasn't missed a game in his career). We're lucky to have you, KAT. Enjoy the boat loads of money you're going to make in your NBA career.
ZM: Karl-Anthony Towns is a fantastic basketball player and we are extremely lucky he is in a Wolves uniform. KAT became a threat whenever and wherever he touched the ball. KAT was a force in the block, mid-range a three point threat (shot 36.7%). KAT throughout the year became smarter on his shot selection and became a better passer. When KAT starts getting the “star calls” from officials he will be even better. KAT does however need to improve on the defensive end of the court with positioning and effort.
JS: There are two sides to this question; Towns’ offensive season and Towns’ defensive season.
Towns’ put together the single best offensive season in franchise history. He became the only NBA player to log 2000 points, 1000 rebounds and 100 three pointers made in a season. Towns could stop working on his offensive game all together and it would still be considered one of the best in the league at age 21.
And maybe he should stop working on offense to focus solely on defense (I’m only partly kidding). With all the time Towns spent with KG I really hoped that some of Garnett’s defensive tenacity as well as the understanding of just how important defense is would be passed on. That did not happen. At all.
Thoughts on Andrew Wiggins third season
DS: At this point, I think we can all agree that Andrew Wiggins is a polarizing player. The former Jayhawk averaged 23.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in his third NBA season while playing mostly average defense against opposing wings. The most encouraging thing from Wiggins this season was his improvement from beyond the arc, where he shot 35.6 percent - up from 30 percent last season. He still takes too many contested mid-range jumpers - one of the most inefficient shots in the game - and needs to attack the rim with more consistency. Tightening up his handles, getting stronger, and working on that already-improved jump shot will be Wiggins' focus this offseason.
ZM: Andrew Wiggins can score the ball, there is no doubt about that. All in all I thought Andrew Wiggins had a good season. Wiggins shot his best percentage from the 3 point line of his young career and it was obvious he felt more comfortable shooting from long range. Wiggins like the others definitely needs to take some responsibility on the defensive end of the floor. Wiggins has things to work on, like Rebounding, FT’s, strength and efficiency but he can still be a star in this league.
JS: Wiggins did what any third-year player should do. Tighten up his game. His court vision was greatly improved. His post-game was much more methodical. His handles were cleaner; so much so that this allowed him to operate out of the pick and roll. Can you imagine Towns and Wiggins in their mid-20s running a pick and roll?
Wiggins also improved his outside shooting, something that he should rely more on in the future.
Thoughts on Ricky Rubio’s late season surge
DS: The one thing the Wolves can look at and be encouraged about is Ricky Rubio's development into a complete point guard. He was a terrible shooter and that really took away from the rest of his game in which he is an elite passer, very good defender, and good all-around glue guy. But he just couldn't shoot. Then, post All-Star break, Rubio averaged 16.0 points and 10.5 assists on 42 percent shooting and 35.3 percent from three-point range. Those numbers suggest the Wolves have something to cling to their as one of the few positives of the 2016-17 season, which they need because in general it was a disappointing season.
ZM: Ricky was fun to watch on a nightly basis this season. During the second half of the season I found myself excited to watch games just because I wanted to see what new or exciting thing he would do that night. Ricky showed that he is very important to this team and is the type of point guard that fits well with the other star players.
JS: This is the Rubio that Wolves fans thought they were getting in 2009. We can talk all we want about how great he was on both sides of the ball but I think the true story here is how much of a leader he was throughout the year. Ricky has never been a vocal guy, and he doesn’t have to be. He led by example. Always hustling, always competing and continually dropping crazy dimes. Never change, Ricky.
Thoughts on Zach LaVine’s injury
DS: Before LaVine tore his ACL - which was the saddest I've been about an injury to an athlete in a long time - it was a joy to watch him develop into the Wolves best outside threat and a lethal weapon in transition. His season ended with 120 made three-pointers (47 games), which is seventh all-time in a season for a Wolves player. He did all of this while hitting 38.7 percent from deep and 57.6 percent true shooting mark. His biggest issue was team defense, where he continually struggled to fill gaps off the ball and execute help-side defense. Concerning the injury, few work harder than LaVine. He will make it back and be a big part of an organization that still considers him to be a big part of their future.
ZM: The LaVine injury was such a tough break for him and the Wolves this season. Although right after the injury the Wolves went on a nice run, the team came back down to earth and it was clear this team needs a player like LaVine. The injury also came at bad time for LaVine who was getting better on a nightly basis. The missed time playing in Thibs system and with his teammates will hurt but I think he can make that up with a good off-season of film and talking with coaches. Let’s hope the rehab continues to go well and we see him back at full strength as soon as possible.
JS: It would’ve been a lot of fun to see this team finish out they year together. Though there are a lot of “if’s” if Zach were healthy. Does the defense improve during that late February/early March run? Do they make a better run at the 8 seed? Does Towns finish off the greatest offensive season in Wolves history? Zach’s injury leaves a lot of question up in the air headed into next year.
Thoughts on Kris Dunn’s rookie season
DS: I found it pretty amazing how bad Kris Dunn was offensively (3.8p, 2.4a - 37% FG, 29% 3PTFG) and how little he improved on that end throughout the year. Defensively is where he makes the biggest impact on the floor, drawing many comparisons to Tony Allen, Andre Roberson, and Patrick Beverley. He's going to be legit on that end for many years to come, which is very valuable for a team desperate for gritty, tough defensive players. One thing we found out he isn't is a point guard, so that idea is likely over.
ZM: I don’t think anyone who watched the Wolves consistently this year can be happy with the season Dunn had. Dunn is plus defender as advertised but his offense was so low that on a lot of nights the team was playing 4 on 5 on offense. Dunn is going to need to improve in every aspect of the game. It seemed Thibs played him more off the ball in the second half of the season. It will be interesting to see after an off-season of working with the coaches if the coaches see him more as a PG.
JS: By most standard’s Dunn’s rookie year will probably be considered a bust. Not the player, just his first season. This is due to where Dunn was selected in the draft. If the Wolves had taken Dunn with the 20th overall pick most people wouldn’t be complaining. The Wolves ended up with an NBA quality defensive guard who will see at the very least, rotational minutes. Dunn is not a good value pick because he was selected at #5. But any time a team can add a NBA player through the draft it is a good move.
What was the biggest surprise this season?
DS: I've already touched on this, but the biggest surprise was Ricky Rubio's shooting surge after the All-Star break. It was truly a joy to watch him silence the haters.
ZM: To me the biggest surprise was Ricky’s offense in the second half of the season. We haven’t seen that type of confidence from Ricky in his whole career. It seemed on a nightly basis he was out there making great offensive and defensive plays. If he can just continue to be somewhat of a threat it will force defenses to make tough decisions. Another surprise to me if you can call it that, was the health of the team. 3 players playing all 82 games is something you just don’t see.
JS: Ricky Rubio’s offensive output post All-Star break brought life to this team. He was a modern-day magician on the court. #RickyForPresident
What was the biggest disappointment?
DS: Tom Thibodeau's failure to understand minute distribution. I thought him spending all this time with other organizations - Spurs specifically - would change his mind. I guess not. If he didn't have the minutes issue, he'd probably be considered one of the very top coaches in the league. I'm truly scared that Wiggins and Towns are going to burn out down the stretch next year - when they'll likely be competing for a playoff spot - because all the minutes will have caught up to them. He HAS to get this team a bench this offseason - one he feels he can actually use.
ZM: The biggest disappointment besides the record in general was the defensive effort. The Wolves early in the season looked completely lost on defense and it was concerning but we blamed it on being a new and complicated system. There was then a 9 game stretch where the defense was great and we thought they turned a corner, that definitely didn’t happen and the defense went back to being as bad as it was early in the year. The effort level seemed to be a big part of that.
JS: The defense. I knew they would struggle initially and possibly through the midway point of the season, but I did not imagine it would be a season long thing.
Not making the playoffs.
DS: The "honeymoon phase" is over. It's time for Thibs to dish out some money to capable vets and rotation players in free agency. This organization needs to start winning sometime in order to establish a winning culture. That starts with Tom Thibodeau as POBO this offseason. It's up to him to complement these young studs with steady rotational players. If he can do that and this team can figure out how to be league-average defensively next season under the cruel tutelage of their head coach, playoffs are realistic. If not, questions will be looming everywhere within the organization and it won't be pretty. It finally feels like next year is officially a "playoffs or bust" year. Youth can no longer be an excuse, have a dominant big and good wing, all new renovations, Thibs as the coach and angry fans. Need to win now.
ZM: Still bright. The young talent on this team is second to none and they have money to spend and might have a top-3 pick in June. *Knocks on wood
JS: I think the Wolves could be a playoff team in 2018. I mean honestly, there's no reason they can't be, especially with a head coach returning for the first time in four years. But that same head coach will need to execute this offseason by bringing in capable vets and rotational players to help the team's depth.
Favorite moment of the season
DS: Minny's 103-102 win over Golden State on March 10 in front of the largest crowd in Target Center history (20,412). Was the franchises biggest win in the eight years I've followed the team.
ZM: Same as Dan
JS: Every time Thibs yelled “ICE”. Just kidding, Wiggins game winner over Phoenix.
DS: Karl-Anthony Towns
ZM: Karl-Anthony Towns
JS: Karl-Anthony Towns
DS: Zach LaVine
ZM: Shabazz Muhammad
JS: Zach LaVine
Best Defensive Player
DS: Ricky Rubio
ZM: Ricky Rubio
JS: Ricky Rubio
Most Outstanding Performance
DS: Ricky Rubio pouring in 22 points and a franchise-record 19 assists in Minnesota’s 119-104 win over Washington at Target Center.
ZM: Same as Dan
JS: Karl-Anthony Towns against the Knicks in Target Center
Also, Tom Thibodeau for standing more total minutes than his free agent signings.
Most impressive individual play (dunk, pass, shot, etc.)
DS: Andrew Wiggins yam on Mr. Shaqtin A Fool (AKA Javale McGee)
ZM: Well it’s not an individual play but the one that sticks out most is the hustle play on defense that lead to a 3 passes with no dribbles and a Bazz alley-oop dunk.
JS: Wiggins game winner over Phoenix
DS: The win over Golden State
ZM: The win over Golden State
JS: March 1, win over the Jazz
Thanks for reading. Hope you all enjoyed.
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