The Return (TIMBERWOLVES 97, Wizards 77)

Where to begin?

The game itself, I guess.

The game

The Wolves opened up the game with some predictable nerves. And as nerves often do in basketball, they seemed to help on defense and hurt on offense. Washington built a 13-1 lead and the Wolves did not make a field goal until a Pekovic layup with 5:27 to go in the first. While that technically broke the seal, the offensive struggles persisted through the end of the opening period. Adreian Payne committed three turnovers in short sequence, and the score was 20-11 Wizards after one.

Things turned around in the second, for two main reasons: (1) the Wolves defensive motor continued to run hot, and with appropriate rotations and discipline; and (2) Kevin Martin got hot. He had 16 points in that quarter alone (he ended with 28), mixing his crafty foul drawing skills with jumpers off the move, and an open corner three for good measure. Rubio made some uncharacteristically poor decisions, botching a contested layup on a 2-on-1 next to Wiggins, and then throwing the ball into the stands on the next possession. I did like one play he made with Garnett that was a little bit reminiscent of Celtics KG action – Garnett set a down screen like he used to for Ray Allen (I think this one was for Martin, but cannot recall specifically) and when both defenders hedged toward the cutter, he pivoted for position, and Rubio slid a bounce pass through traffic to him. He was then fouled on the layup attempt. KG’s a great screener — often accused of an illegal screener — and that action will be there with a heady point guard like Rubio surveying the floor.

The defensive effort and focus continued throughout the second quarter, and by the time Martin’s scoring work was done, the score was tied at 42s at the break.

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Some Thoughts on What the Kevin Garnett Trade Might Mean to Kevin Garnett

Prelude: Garnett’s Homecoming

What will Kevin Garnett’s return to Minnesota bring to the Wolves and the state of basketball in Minnesota? The trade still has everyone excited. Some of it is sentimentality about “The Kid” who grew up in front of our eyes. He became the franchise’s best player ever, brought the Wolves to the playoffs eight straight times and to the brink of the Finals once. He was our team’s only league MVP. A lot of the best (and a few of the worst) moments in team history are tied up in Kevin Garnett, and his time spent in a Timberwolves uniform. There’s going to be a buzz when The Kid returns to the place it all began.

There’s been some discussion of Garnett’s likely impact on the team, but little about what Garnett might be thinking about coming back to Minnesota. How does he see this affecting his legacy? What does he want to accomplish. It sounds like he wants to become an owner of this team, but why ownership? And why own the Wolves? You know he’s a student of NBA history and that he thinks about this stuff—and takes it seriously.

Garnett himself has been mum about what his end game is in Minnesota. I delve into some possible angles below the fold.

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Saturday Jottings: Wolves Beat Suns, Anthony Bennett’s Future, Late-Game Offense

Last night’s win over the Suns was one of the season’s most fun games, for a few different reasons.

First and most obvious: It was a close game, involving a whole bunch of fourth quarter lead changes, and the home team pulled it out in the final minute. Specifically, the Wolves’ biggest basket came on a Rubio-to-Wiggins pick and roll where the next Rookie of the Year showed off his athleticism and poise by absorbing contact and finishing in traffic. Anytime the Wolves beat a decent team on a big play involving Rubio and Wiggins, the vibes will be positive.

Second, the fans came out and the arena had new energy. This was presumably, in large part, due to the Garnett-trade news. There was a period of time between when the trade was announced and the confirmation of when KG will debut here (next Wednesday, not last night) and I can only imagine that a lot of fans bought tickets for the Friday night game hoping it might be the first one with The Big Ticket back in the lineup. Garnett is not yet back in Minnesota, but the team made sure to play a bunch of promo videos on the big screen which was the crowd’s consolation prize (well, along with the big win). But there was a bigger-than-usual turnout last night, and the fans clearly enjoyed the show that Ricky and Wiggins put on. This team is 12-42 right now, mind you. This sort of win/loss record, which is unfortunately common, has traditionally not led to good crowds in the second half of the season. Last night was an exception.

Third, and most perhaps most under-the-radar, Ricky Rubio’s minutes restriction has been lifted and he’s back in full duty. Rubio played 37 minutes of really good basketball, last night. He had the Jason Kidd-style stat line, approaching a triple double with 10 points, 14 assists and 8 rebounds. Ricky had so much control over this game. Kevin Martin was hot early, so Ricky got him the ball. When Wiggins was feeling left out, Ricky chucked a 50-foot pass up the floor, forcing the youngster to chase it down and reward himself with a layup. Later in the game, again after some Martin shots went up, Ricky made a concerted effort to get the new guy, Gary Neal, some touches. He even looked off Martin to make sure this happened. He’s got that “pure point guard” brain that calculates the flow of the game in real time and understands where the ball needs to go to keep everyone happy and — more importantly — to keep the points coming. Ricky’s plus-minus of +14 was the game’s best by a 6-point margin.

All in all, it was a good win against an undermanned, but plenty competitive Suns team.

Some other Timberwolves issues, looking ahead:

* Anthony Bennett is about to enter a two-front battle for his Timberwolves future.

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KG Returns: Initial Reaction

kg

You already know the news: Kevin Garnett is coming back to Minnesota to play for the Timberwolves. In a trade-deadline deal that required Garnett’s signature to be official (he had a “no trade” clause that needed waiving) the Wolves are sending Thaddeus Young to Brooklyn for KG.

On pure basketball merits, I don’t find the trade to be particularly interesting or controversial. Young is, well, younger. He’s 26, with a future career ahead of him that could be brighter than his already-accomplished resume’ to date. But he struggled mightily for long stretches this year, and only came alive recently when his veteran teammates returned from injury. It would be disingenuous at best to say that the Wolves gave up an important long-term asset in this deal.

They didn’t. If they were in the hunt for a playoff spot this year, or had reasonable expectations for a playoff run next year, I might feel differently. But that’s not where this team is right now, with its best player in the middle of jump-shot reconstruction and its best prospect only 19 years of age.

More on Young: not only is he a “tweener” whose most natural position of small forward (and the one he was playing recently, with better results) is the same as Andrew Wiggins’, but he has the option of becoming a free agent at the end of this season and the Wolves certainly had a better understanding of his intentions in that regard than the fans do. For all we know, Young was planning on leaving the team this summer and signing somewhere else.

So the cost was not very significant, in my view.

The return, on the merits, was also fairly insignificant.

Don’t get me wrong, Garnett is one of the greatest forwards to ever play. He’s an MVP, a champion, and a future first-ballot hall of famer. If this franchise EVER has a better player than KG we’ll be seeing a short-list “Greatest of All Time” candidate.

But KG isn’t The Big Ticket anymore. He’s 38. He turns 39 in May. He can still play a little bit — he’s posting very close to league averages in advanced stats like PER and win shares — but his potential value to this T-Wolves team is not in his statistics or his in-game production. We don’t think “league averages” when we think of KG, and especially not in the 20 minutes he is playing, per game this year. He’s not going to make an impact in games, on the floor. Not anymore.

So yeah, the boring side of this trade is the basketball part. Thad wasn’t a particularly important piece of the Flip Saunders puzzle, and neither will Garnett be.

I like the trade for two basic reasons, and I dislike it for one. I’ll start with the part I don’t like, and keep it short.

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Zach LaVine’s Big Phat All-Star Weekend

2015 NBA Slam-Dunk champion Zach LaVine

2015 NBA Slam-Dunk champion Zach LaVine

 

ZACH LAVINE!

All-Star Weekend is 66.6 percent complete. The Rising Stars (Rookies & Sophomores) Game was Friday night. The Wolves had 4 players participating; 2 on the International Team and 2 on Team USA (Wiggins, Gorgui, Shabazz, LaVine). Andrew Wiggins led the international squad to victory, and earned Game MVP honors.

Last night was the three-point shootout and dunk contest. Steph Curry, unsurprisingly won the shootout. He hit 13 straight at one point. It seems appropriate he wins a contest that celebrates his signature skill in the same season that he will probably win league MVP and has a great chance of also winning a title (and, presumably with that, a Finals MVP honor). Curry’s awesome.

But the big story of last night and the entire weekend is Zach LaVine. We had high expectations for what he might do in the dunk contest — because videos like this one exist — and he came through on the big stage. LaVine caught the ball off the bounce, pulled it between his legs and did a one-handed reverse jam on the baseline. In his next dunk, he caught the ball off the bounce again, but this time swung it behind his back and flushed it home with his right hand. Those were possibly the two greatest dunks in contest history. He made each on his first attempt.

LaVine’s third and fourth dunks were comparatively disappointing but that had more to do with the expectations he set by his first pair than anything wrong with the dunks themselves. (Also, he didn’t connect on the first try in the final round, which takes a little bit of the shine off.) He caught the ball off the stanchion and went under his leg for the final slam of the night. He made that look easy. Victor Oladipo made one really cool dunk, but was no competition for LaVine, who won the contest easily.

This was LaVine’s biggest career moment BY FAR. So we broke down our thoughts on Zach LaVine’s big phat All-Star Weekend below the fold.

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Wheeling & Dealing on a Tuesday

The Timberwolves made a trade today. And then they made another trade. By off-day standards, this was a lot of activity giving rise to a lot of internet discussion. So let’s sort it out and see what to make of everything that went down.

Trade Number 1

Wolves get:

Gary Neal
2nd Round Pick

Wolves send to Hornets:

Mo Williams
Troy Daniels

Trade Number 2

Wolves get:

Adreian Payne

Hawks get:

2017 1st Round Pick (lottery protected through 2020, after which it becomes a 2nd Round Pick)

Let’s get a few things out of the way before getting into the real meat of these transactions:

The Guards Swapping Uniforms

Mo Williams doesn’t matter to the Wolves. His contract expires at the end of the year and he was providing nothing of value to the development process of this young Timberwolves team. As a shooter, he might help the Hornets who are trying to make a playoff push.

Troy Daniels doesn’t matter. He’s an undersized shooting guard who could not, and never would crack a crowded wing rotation that includes Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad, not to mention Zach LaVine.

Gary Neal — who I like for aesthetic, style-of-play reasons — also doesn’t matter. If his contract isn’t bought out before he ever dons a Wolves uniform, he’ll play out this season and become a free agent.

These three guards are eminently replaceable. None of them would or could impact the future of the Timberwolves franchise in a meaningful way. As for the “present,” well, they wouldn’t have much effect there, either. Not with Rubio back in the lineup to play point guard, and Martin, Shabazz, and Wiggins all in need of minutes on the wing.

The second round pick is an asset, which makes the Charlotte end of the deal a (very) minor win, in my opinion.

Now with that out of the way, the serious portion of today’s events: the trade for the Hawks rookie forward, Adreian Payne. And more controversially, the trading away of a (protected) first round pick to get him.

Some Timberwolves History

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Notes on a Big Win

I don’t have a lot of time to write today, but last night’s win over the Memphis Grizzlies — by far the Wolves’ most impressive of the season — deserves some acknowledgement on the blog. With that in mind, here are some quick notes about the game, and things I’m noticing of late:

  • Ricky Rubio’s fourth quarter was the obvious narrative takeaway from the game. He was having a solid, far from spectacular game, when he checked back in with 7:24 to play and the Wolves trailing by 6. He scared fans to death when he went down hard after a layup, and immediately checked himself out of the game, loudly cursing and hobbling his way to the locker room. The drama only increased when he quickly returned to the arena, to a big ovation, and checked back into the game to play the part of hero. He hit the big three to cut the deficit to 1 with under a minute to play. Then he stole the ball from Zach Randolph, Michael Jordan-versus-Karl Malone style, and was immediately fouled in the bonus. He swished two free throws for the lead, and the Wolves got the necessary stop to seal the win.
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