Timberwolves Season in Review: The Retrospective

cabana-pek

My college roommate was on vacation and took this unbelievable photo of Pekovic. He emailed it to me, when I was at happy hour. I tweeted it. It went viral. The internet is cool. -AG

[This is Part 1 of a season review series. This post looks back in time at the season that was. A subsequent post will use what we learned this season to take a prospective look ahead at what the Timberwolves should look like in 2014-15 and beyond.]

1. Season Highlight

Andy G:  Let’s kick this thing off on a positive note. Even if we blew Adelman’s finale against the lowly Utah Jazz the other night.

The season highlight happened immediately, during the first few games of the season. That’s a little bit depressing, as it necessarily means the team moved downhill throughout the season, but it is nevertheless true.

I was visiting your place in Pittsburgh when we watched the Wolves on League Pass, blowing Kevin Durant’s Thunder off the Target Center floor. (That really happened.) Then they handled the Knicks, who we still thought were good. (They won 54 games last season.) The Wolves began the year 3-0. I think Mark Stein had them near the very top of his power rankings. Kevin Looked like a *real* MVP candidate. Kevin Martin’s contract looked like a bargain. On his leak-out, bomb, receptions-turned-dunks, Corey Brewer looked like Randy Moss with a smile. A huge smile. Ricky Rubio looked healthy, which was a step up from the season prior. Everything was coming together. Finally. Those were the days.

All 5 or 6 of them.

Anyway, my season highlight was the first week. Things were looking so great.

Patrick J: Season highlight? Would it be wrong to say Shabazz Muhammad’s D-League Showcase? (Eds. Note: Yes, it would.)

Okay, so all of the games you mentioned were great. But Corey Brewer’s 51-point game in a win over the Rockets was TRULY great. We chronicled it here.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m an unrepentant Corey Brewer fan. CAVEAT EMPTOR: I don’t care what the stats say. He’s everything that is fun and unusual and spontaneous and (Eds. Note: “sometimes”) right about basketball. I expressed my admiration for Brew before he even came back to the Wolves in this piece we did for Timberwolves.com. When I wrote that, I felt kind of silly writing such complimentary words about such a bit player who wasn’t even on the Wolves. But hell, you feel what you feel, so you write what you write. And I’m writing this: For all his faults, Corey Brewer will always be one of my favorite Timberwolves of all time. (Say it with me: FIFTY. ONE. POINTS. [Full stop.] IN. A. WIN. [Full stop.] OVER. THE. ROCKETS. [Full stop.].)

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Linkalicious, Vol. 4 (The Glen Taylor Edition)

Glen Taylor, Minnesota mogul

We linked to part one of Britt Robson’s interview with Glen Taylor yesterday. Now, part two is up, and it’s well worth your time.

If you aren’t a regular at Britt’s space over on MinnPost, shame on you.

In addition to Britt’s regular journalistic acumen, these pieces are especially important and are must-reads.

There is a lot at stake here, and they have the exclusive. Go now.

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Linkalicious, Vol. 3

Bethlehem Shoals says…The Team of the Year is the Phoenix Suns. (Yes, Phoenix)

netw3rk’s suggestion for a new advanced stat: the True Loathing Rating (TRL TLR).

My Ph.D. advisor apparently attended one of the worst basketball colleges in all the land. 

Why Terrence Ross should be one of your favorite NBA players.

Britt Robson got Glen Taylor to talk about the future of the Star Tribune.

 

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Brewer 51

brew100

“Obviously Corey was incredible, unbelievable game. I don’t know where he works up the energy he has. I mean 45 minutes in and he’s still going strong at the end…

Really he’s just a guy who has just done his role in everything else. I don’t think they knew what to do with him. I don’t think we knew what to do with them. He’s just scoring and flying around and squeezing. Using his body leading us to get through those gaps then he hits a three at the end of the first half, just banks it in. It was his night. I give him credit. He set the tone for the whole night.”

–Rick Adelman

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Work or Play?

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ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!! (Wolves Beat LeBron, INBOX Edition)

Andy G: The Wolves took on LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Miami Heat last night, so they must’ve lost, right?

No!

For the first time in approximately forever the Wolves were victors over a team with LeBron James on it. (Eds note: I think Dave or Jim on the broadcast said the last time was 2005, back about when ‘Bron was going to war with Agent Zero and Caron Butler’s Wizards in the Playoffs. How long ago does that seem?) It took a pair of overtimes, some Kevin Love and even Chase Budinger heroics (!) and every ounce of Ricky Rubio’s floor-generaling stamina, but they eked it out.

They eked it out, of course, on a missed Corey Brewer backwards alley-oop layup attempt… in which he was fouled for some reason! He made one of the free throws. Crazy ending to a crazy game.

I enjoyed it tremendously.

Your thoughts?

Patrick J: The Brewer “shot” (at about 3:20 in those highlights) was one of the most amazing I’ve ever seen that didn’t go in. You know how Corey does inexplicable stuff all the time and it’s sort of endearing and sort of grating? This was one of those times. I still don’t know (1) how he even got in position to get that shot, (2) how he formulated the idea that the shot could look like that, (3) how he managed to draw a foul call on such an ill-advised shot. But that’s just Brew. Continue reading

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Three Bees

'Bazz plays tonight against 'Bron and Beas.

‘Bazz plays tonight against ‘Bron and Beas.

The Timberwolves play tonight (6:30 CDT tip, views on FSN, sounds on WCCO 830).

So, the Wolves aren’t in playoff contention. The Twins season is underway. The weather is nice should be getting better soon. Only the diehard are following the team as closely as they were a few months ago.

However, there’s a special interest in tonight’s game. Scratch that – three special interests: ‘Bazz, Beas, and, of course, ‘Bron. Three Bees, three angles.

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More Notes on Shabazz

Shabazz Muhammed - Future Timberwolf?

So I just clicked on the Timberwolves team stats page and was shocked by something I saw:

Shabazz Muhammad is shooting 46.3 percent from the field, this year.

That statistic is not shocking because it is great or unusual in any way. It is shocking because, for such a long stretch of this season, Shabazz had pitiful efficiency numbers. For the season’s first three months, he shot just 26.1 percent from the field. That’s obviously terrible. I tend to be an apologist for Timberwolves rookies, and have often advanced the notion that he would shoot a higher percentage from the field if he were given more consistent minutes.

But I am very unfamiliar with my Timberwolves Rookie Apologist takes being proven correct. In the case of Muhammad (and to some extent, Gorgui Dieng) it seems there may be an exception. He saw his first doses of real playing time in February. In that month, he shot 45.7 percent from the field, while producing 20.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per 36 minutes. In March, in even more time, those numbers changed to 53.1 percent, 18.2 points, and 5.2 rebounds. His assist numbers remain extremely low and true to the projections built off of his collegiate stats.

Shabazz’s PER is up to 13.4 and almost at the league average of 15.0.

Three more things about Shabazz:

1. His shot chart: Continue reading

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Link-a-licious, Vol. 2

What LeBron James really means to the city of Akron, Ohio.

“We see your shot charts and raise you ‘scrimmage’ shot charts.” – Basketball-Reference to NBA.com.

Yet another way in which Kobe Bryant is misunderstood.

Jacob Greenberg has a more introspective piece on Kobe.

Steven Lebron and Seerat Sohi (@Damian Trillard) talk about about being Canadian, Sohi’s experiences as a female NBA writer, and avoiding all things Eastern Conference.

 

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Link-a-licious, 4/1/2014

How one of the most successful AAU coaches in America became one of the East Coast’s biggest drug traffickers.

The rise and possible decline of NBA blogging networks.

Gonzo NBA journalism in the Philippines, as only netw3rk and Rafe Bartholomew could do it.

The 1980s NBA, summarized in a three-minute read.

And some thoughts on NBA statistics from the 1960s.

 

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How Much Is A Steal Really Worth? (More than you might think)

An interesting take from FiveThiryEight’s Benjamin Morris. For a while, I’ve been inclined to think that steals are underrated because of the popularity of Hollinger’s PER statistic.

I get the substantive criticisms of both steals (or, more specifically, of over-relying on steals as a meaningful metric), but I still want players who’ll get steals. This includes players who’re active on defense, players who move their hands and feet well, and players who know how to play angles. It isn’t just the reckless gamblers.

Of course, it isn’t that simple – the players who move their hands and feet well and know how to play angles are sometimes more likely to gamble recklessly due to overconfidence in their own defensive prowess. But if that’s true, it doesn’t mean they’re bad defenders.

 

 

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by | March 27, 2014 · 10:03 PM

MOAR GORGUI (WOLVES 107, Hawks 83)

“[Gorgui Dieng] really rebounded the ball. That’s the thing I really like about him. The more he’s played in the last few games, the more calm he is offensively. He’s slowed down a little bit. He made a couple moves tonight where guys came at him, he showed them the ball and then went up and scored afterwards. He’s got a little bit of confidence and he knows what he can do. And he’s really kinda sticking within our parameters of what we want him to do. Every once in a while he goes off like that little spin move he had (media laughs) but he doesn’t wanna do that all the time. But that’s okay. He’s rebounding the heck out of the ball. Every game he’s in, he goes and gets it.”

–Rick Adelman

The Wolves beat the Hawks — the last Eastern Conference playoff seed, if the season ended tonight — by 24 points tonight at Target Center. After a sluggish, difficult-to-watch opening quarter that featured 13 turnovers between the two teams, the focus picked up and the quality of play followed. Despite a relatively modest 14 points and 12 rebounds from Kevin Love, the Wolves steadily built up a lead off of their defensive pressure. Atlanta’s 25 turnovers — 17 of which resulted from Timberwolves steals — were the biggest factor causing such a one-sided final score.

Ricky Rubio (6 steals) and Corey Brewer (3) in particular were aggressively picking away passes and dribbles, before leading fast breaks. Rubio literally took one in the chin in the first half, sustaining a cut that required 15 stitches. No matter. He came back in and dominated the third quarter with thievery and dime dropping.

But it was Gorgui Dieng who once again turned in the headlining Timberwolves performance. The rookie center from Louisville continued his impressive run with the starting unit, compiling a stat line that included 15 efficient points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. Perhaps most importantly for the foul-happy rook was that he limited himself to just 3 of those in over 41 minutes of action. Gorgui’s +25 plus/minus was the game’s best by 6 points.

He’s interesting to watch on defense; entirely unlike Nikola Pekovic, who is obviously the typical starting five man next to Kevin Love. Dieng is much quicker and covers a lot more ground after hedging a ball screen, for instance. He occasionally switches onto smaller, quicker players. He contested a Lou Williams three tonight after a switch. He successfully defended Shelvin Mack’s crossover dribble, after a switch. (Maybe he’s been taking lessons from Switch Defender Extraordinaire, Dante Cunningham?)

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Timberwolves Catch-Up

I apologize for the lack of content over the past few days. Since the double-overtime win over the Mavs, when Ricky Rubio put together a triple double and one of his greatest ever performances, the following has happened:

* The Wolves were blown out by the Rockets at Houston.

* The Wolves played really well for three quarters at home against the Suns. And then were blown off the floor in the fourth quarter.

* The Wolves were destroyed by the Grizzlies at Memphis, last night.

It has not been a fun stretch. The first and last of the three were unpleasant for obvious reasons. The middle game left a certain sting due to how the game unfolded (crunchtime collapse) and also because of how neatly it symbolized this entire season; one that has included first-quarter point barrages followed by late-game stagnancy.

Add these factors to my interest in the ongoing NCAA Tournament, and a busier-than-usual work schedule, and you have my excuse for not posting much, recently.

The big-picture team and fan issues remain the same:

We’re all pretty sure that Rick Adelman is coaching his last career games. Kevin Love is awesome, but worn down from trying to carry his team. Corey Brewer and J.J. Barea are playing outside of their natural (read: smaller) roles. Ricky Rubio is good, but needs to be better. Nikola Pekovic is big, and will always miss some games due to leg injuries. Kevin Martin can score, but he’s almost certainly overpaid. Chase Budinger seems like damaged goods, and needs to have a huge off-season in the weight room. The Western Conference is loaded and the Wolves might struggle to crack its top eight in the foreseeable future.

Gorgui Dieng seems to be the one bright spot of late. Over the past five games (the first five starts of his career) Gorgui is averaging 12.2 points and 13.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game, in 32.4 minutes per game. He’s shot 56.1 percent from the field and 71.4 percent from the foul line. In these games, the Wolves have performed at their best with Gorgui on the floor and at their worst with him off of it. This is a nice change from earlier in the season, when Gorgui’s sporadic playing time usually coincided with poor team performance. In one of the weaker draft classes in memory, the Timberwolves may have plucked a good player at Number 21. That is your dose of optimism for this Tuesday morning.

Next up are the Hawks, tomorrow night at Target Center.

Until then.

Season Record: 34-35

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20/20, Gorgui Style

2020gorgui

Gorgui Dieng had 22 points, 21 rebounds, and 4 assists last night in his third career start. I think that broke some team records.

What else happened in the game?

Let’s just forget the rest of that game.

In the words of Jay Bilas, I gotta go to work.

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Unshackled Ricky Rubio

But the Knicks, they put the shackles on him, man, you know, on his whole game. They locked him up, like, in a straight jacket or something.

But when he was in the streets of Philly, in the playgrounds, ahh! (laugh)

You know what they called him?

What?

Jesus.

That’s what they called him. Jesus. Cause he was the TRUTH.

It might have been due to Nikola Pekovic’s absence. Without him, the Timberwolves’ typical offense — which is very high-low intensive — does not make as much sense.

It might have been due to a specific matchup the Wolves wanted to exploit, like Jose Calderon’s poor defensive skills.

Or maybe it was because the playoff chances are now gone, and it is time to tinker with new ideas.

Whatever the case, Rick Adelman removed the shackles restraining his point guard, Ricky Rubio, and let him run wild.

Last night, Rubio played one of his finest games ever. He had a triple double with 22 points and 15 assists. He had 4 steals. His energetic, at times ball-dominant, floor leadership showed flashes of prime Steve Nash or Chris Paul. If the Wolves were not running pick and roll, it was because Ricky just took off on his own, reading and reacting the way only he knows how.

The only point in time in which things changed was with a few minutes left in regulation, when the Wolves went to a sticky isolation offense involving Kevins Love and Martin. That also happened to be the worst offense the team played all night. Rubio ended the game having played 49 minutes; 49 minutes in which his team won by 11 points, which is an impressive plus-minus in a game that ended with a 1-point win in overtime.

Dallas wanted that game, too. This wasn’t tanking-season stuff. Rick Carlisle called a pair of timeouts in the opening minutes to chew out his team and make sure they knew that — to borrow Bobby Knight youtube language (nsfw, language) — he wasn’t there to f**k around! But the timeouts did not change things. Because Ricky.

It would be fun to see the last 16 games played this way. It not only seems good for the health of Ricky Rubio’s development, but possibly Gorgui Dieng’s too. The young center had another double double last night; this one in just 25 minutes. Gorgui, and players like him, are more likely to succeed in the style generated by Rubio. Defenses become scrambled, which means more dunks and open shots become available. If Pekovic returns, it’s probably a different story — the Wolves had a very nice thing going (aside from crunchtime) with Love and Pek as the focal point. But if Pek’s ankle needs time to rest and heal, let it heal. Let it heal and let Ricky be Ricky.

If last night was any sort of predictor, we will all gladly watch 16 more games with Unshackled Ricky Rubio running the show.

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Why Gorgui Matters

Dieng

First things first: What this post is not.

This post is not a knee-jerk reaction to Gorgui Dieng’s nice performance last night in his first career start; a points-rebounds double double with 5 blocks mixed in for good measure. Despite the low level of competition — the Kings sans Cousins — Gorgui impressed fans with his calling-card rim protection, as well as some competent-looking finishes around the basket.

Adelman sung Gorgui’s praises after the game. “Dieng did a great job coming in, double-double and as the game went on he got more and more comfortable,” Coach said in his presser. “It was a good win to get.

But this isn’t the Gorgui Kneejerk Post. There are enough reasons to delay that one for a while: His 6.5 fouls per 36 minutes, his 42.4 percent free-throw accuracy, and his horrific plus-minus numbers, are good places to start when chilling one’s enthusiasm about the Wolves rookie center.

This post is about why we should take interest in Gorgui’s development and what he *could* mean to this team going forward.

I see three main reasons why Gorgui matters:

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Nate Silver(‘s site’s logo) ain’t got nothin’ on us

PDW 538

Friend of the Blog William Bohl of A Wolf Among Wolves dropped this Twitter bomb on the day Nate Silver’s much-anticipated Grantland 2.0 fivethirtyeight.com launched. (Thanks Bill!) (Eds. Note: You can check out more of Bill’s Wolves stuff at Break the Huddle.)

While it’s cool that our logo –  which was designed by Andy G’s professional artist dad, who also designed the site’s banner – bears a resemblance to the graphic Silver chose for his mega-site, what’s even cooler is that Silver’s mega-site now exists. It already has a ton of interesting content on politics, economics, science, lifestyle and society, and–last but not least–sports.

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No Playoffs? What’s Next?

With a playoff run out of the picture, will Nikola Pekovic play out the rest of the season?

With a playoff run out of the picture, will Nikola Pekovic play out the rest of the season?

The Timberwolves aren’t making the playoffs. Let’s put that idea behind us.

The Wolves underachieved this year.

It doesn’t matter how many more games they win or lose. Making the playoffs this season was a benchmark - the benchmark - for that nebulous but real concept known as “success.” And this season, the Wolves were unsuccessful.

I’m not going to get into why the Wolves failed. We’ve talked all about the draft picks, free agent signings, the failings of the second unit, Adelman’s rotations, Barea over Rubio, close losses, and everything else, ad nauseum. 

What’s Next?

Lots of Wolves fans will check out. It’s no secret that interest in the team waxes and wanes with the team’s highs and lows. When the team is winning, fans take interest. When it isn’t, they don’t. This isn’t an indictment of fair-weather fandom. It’s just human.

The real question is whether the Wolves will also check out as a team.

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You GOTTA have an opinion! (on the NBA’s age minimum requirement)

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Vincent Vega thinks you should have an opinion on the NBA age minimum issue.

Adam Silver talked about it.

And then Chad Ford wrote about it. And Amin Elhassan wrote about it. Jay Bilas and Jeff Goodman wrote about it. Kevin Pelton wrote about it. And David Thorpe wrote about it. Tom Haberstroh wrote about it. And then Chad Ford wrote some more about it. So did Jeff Goodman.

And those are just recent espn.com pieces. (eds note: Many or all of those are “Insider” links that require a subscription to read.)

Last year, Steve Kerr helped get this ball rolling toward an increased age minimum for NBA basketball players. In “The Case for the 20-Year-Old Age Limit in the NBA,” written for Grantland, Kerr… well, made the case for the 20-year-old age limit in the NBA. His basic point is that it makes good business sense for the NBA to increase its age minimum from 19 to 20. He listed six basic reasons: Player maturity, financial costs, player development, marketing, “a sense of team,” and mentoring.

Kerr’s piece, and the entire notion of having an age minimum (let alone raising it) has invited mixed reactions. Those ESPN articles and many others contain some combination of the following opinions about this contentious issue:

* 18 and 19 year old kids are not ready for NBA basketball or the lifestyle it involves. They should go to college, get an education, and continue to grow up. Also, get off my lawn.

* Who is Adam Silver to say what 18 and 19 year olds should do with their lives? If they’re good enough to get drafted by an NBA team, they should have that choice and not be forced to get an education that they don’t even want.

* But they’re not actually good enough to play. Not most of them anyway. They get drafted for their potential.

* NBA scouting would improve with an additional year of performance to analyze.

* No it wouldn’t. Look back at the drafts before Kevin Garnett began the early-entry habit. Sam Bowie and Michael Jordan each played three college seasons. Spoiled with that trove of data, the Portland Trail Blazers selected the former over the latter in the worst draft mistake in league history. And that is not an isolated incident. The draft is a crapshoot and it doesn’t really matter if teams have one, two, or zero college seasons to analyze.

* College basketball is a better place for young players to develop their skills.

* NBA basketball is a better place for young players to develop their skills.

* Increasing the age minimum will be good for the college game, as star players will have to play for two seasons instead of one. And a good college game is ultimately good for the pro game. It increases the marketability of young pros, as more “casual” fans will recognize them from their college days.

* Yeah, it will help the college game, but that’s terrible for the NBA. It’s helping out a competitor for TV ratings and fan interest. How is this a good idea?

What I find most interesting about these arguments is that they are always focused on either the interests of the players, or the interests of the league. They are rarely, if ever, focused on the interests of basketball fans. It seems to be this way in any coverage of sports labor issues. In order to write something about it, you necessarily must be an advocate for one of the parties. The discourse — and this is probably more on Twitter than in published articles — also tends to be ideological. The facts of any particular sports-labor issue take a backseat to the need to choose a side between ownership and the players union. There are parallels to the deep divide between America’s two political parties.

Forgive me then, for my selfishness here. When I think about NBA labor issues in 2014, I tend to place my interests as a fan and paying customer ahead of the interests of the owners and players. And in the case of this age minimum issue, I would like to see Adam Silver get his wish. I want a higher age minimum in my NBA that I pay money to watch. For two main reasons.

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It’s Algonquin for ‘The Good Land’ (WOLVES 112, Bucks 101)

I guess it’s 90s Movie Clips Week here at Punch-Drunk Wolves.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about tonight’s win at Target Center over the Milwaukee Bucks. The Wolves were supposed to win by a lot of points on their home court against the worst team in the NBA. They came out all too conscious that inevitability and fell behind early. Despite being owners of one of the league’s worst offenses, the Bucks made their first 12 field goals (!) and led 33-22 toward the end of the first quarter.

Throughout most of the first half, Kevin Love looked uninvolved and not particularly engaged. Ricky Rubio sat out more than usual after picking up his second foul. The Wolves trailed by 6 at the half.

Things got better in the second half, but never quite so good that you felt much of anything about the game. The Bucks are 13-51 after the loss, after all, and like I said, the Wolves were supposed to win and pretty much played like it.

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