Author Archives: Andy G

Summertime Wolves Talk: Causes for Hope and for Concern

flip-saunders-karl-anthony-towns-nba-minnesota-timberwolves-press-conference-590x900

The Timberwolves played their last summer league game on July 17, over two weeks ago. They drafted Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones on June 25, almost six weeks ago. They played their last real, regular season game on April 15, about three and a half months ago. They won’t open training camp for almost two months, or the regular season for about three.

Not much is happening right now.

But, as anyone familiar with Twitter or message-board blogs knows, that lack of substance does very little to slow the chatter of year-round, need-my-Timberwolves-fix fans.

Over the past week, Timberwolves coach(/owner/president of basketball) Flip Saunders has gone out of his way to incite discussion about his team. He gave an interview to Zach Lowe of Grantland that covered a wide range of topics that pretty much spanned the spectrum of seriousness: last year’s season and tanking, the Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins trade, KG, Ricky Rubio, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Bennett and the team’s decision of whether to pick up his next team option, his Mountain Dew habit, drunken trade negotiations back in the 1980s CBA, three-point shooting and spacing, expectations for next season, and Sam Cassell’s injury in the 2004 Playoffs which Flip attributes to a testicles-dance gone bad. (!) The whole interview is absolutely worth reading, in case you missed it. Link here.

Yesterday, Flip offered a bit more to chew on. This time the medium was his very own Twitter account which had been inactive for a long time. Flip hopped on yesterday in the early Sunday evening to “set this straight,” and very briefly explain that he and his staff “love” three-point shots, they have to shoot them, they will shoot them and whoever said otherwise is wrong. There was a vague introductory reference to “blogs” and “experts” as the culprits erroneously suggesting that Flip might not prioritize the three-point shot as highly as his modern coaching peers, or as much as he should.

For Timberwolves fans paying somewhat close attention to the team and to the league, the threes issue is a sensitive one. Threes are an essential tool for building a good offense in the modern NBA. That’s pretty much undisputed at this point. In spite of this, Flip Saunders — no matter what he says on Twitter — does not run offenses that generate very many three-point shots. As Seth Partnow pointed out in his latest piece for the Washington Post, Flip’s teams have shot threes at a lower-than-league-average rate in every season but one, since the league moved the line back to its current distance in 1997. That covers time spent with the Timberwolves, Pistons, Wizards, and Timberwolves again. That covers almost 20 years. For Flip to say that he “loves” three-point shots and call out “blogs” for questioning this is either disingenuous or just redefining what words like “love” even mean.

He clearly does not coach in a way that leads to effective, prolific three-point shooting. And fans, armed with more and better information than ever, know this. So when Flip goes on the Twitter attack, it leads to backlash and argument and discussion and all of a sudden we can’t tell if we’re happy or mad about the Timberwolves.

Which leads me to this early-August post, and the things I feel that Timberwolves fans should be mostly hopeful about, and mostly concerned about. I think there is ample substance on both sides of the ledger, and it’s unreasonable for any fan to feel completely one sided about the State of the Timberwolves.

Here’s my quick list, basically off the top of my head. Since, you know, it’s August:

Cause for Hope #1 – Andrew Wiggins

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Timberwolves

Towns, Tyus, and Building a Nucleus

tyus

As you already know, the draft was last Thursday, and it was a big one for our favorite team. I decided to take it in over at the new Mayo Clinic facilities, and swing through the arena for the announcement of the first pick. What follows is some parts recap of that night, with some thoughts about the Wolves two draft picks and where the team finds itself right now, heading into Summer 2015.

Karl-Anthony Towns

The Wolves first draft selection was equal parts boring and exciting. For at least a few days, the media had been reporting that Flip was going to draft Karl-Anthony Towns from Kentucky. Brian Windhorst went on ESPN — live, from Minneapolis — shortly before the pick was officially announced by Adam Silver, to confirm that this was still the case. So there was not the unpredictability that has come to define Timberwolves drafts of the past decade. As expected, the Wolves chose Towns.

Perhaps that was a good thing this time around, because in taking Towns the Wolves set the Target Center crowd on fire with cheers. Its team had just taken the consensus “best player in the draft,” for the first time in franchise history. In his conference call with Minnesota media on Thursday night, and especially at his introductory press conference the next day in Minneapolis, Towns said all the right things. He compared joining the emerging nucleus of young Timberwolves talent to playing for Kentucky. He looks forward to being mentored by Kevin Garnett, because he wants to learn what it takes to become a champion. He looks forward to taking care of his parents, who sacrificed so much for him to reach this point. He is emphasizing “playoffs” as a goal for this team. Like, right away. Whether unrealistic or not, that’s a refreshing thing to hear said, after a season spent losing on purpose.

The psychoanalysis that we all perform on these 20-year olds is unfair for a number of reasons; perhaps most of all because of the unusual venue in which we observe them. But we do it nonetheless. Andrew Wiggins is a man of few words. He’d rather let his actions on the court speak for themselves. Zach LaVine has a well-intentioned cockiness about him. When most of the new, young Wolves looked nervous on Media Day last year — usually sharing the press conference table with a teammate — the 19-year old, looked-more-like-15-year-old, LaVine sat by himself and began his own presser with a, “Sup wit y’all?” to the media before him.

Towns is thoughtful and gregarious. He enjoys speaking to an audience, but carefully considers a question before answering it. In the past year, he has listed Len Bias as his favorite player, and shouted out Felipe Lopez as a fellow Dominican baller. For a 19-year old, he’s showing off impressive knowledge of basketball esoterica. Whether any of this matters once he steps on the court is a fair question, but for now the personality is all we’ve had a chance to see, and Karl-Anthony Towns “won” his press conference. Assuming he can play like most expect, Towns is going to be a fan favorite.

Tyus Jones

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Timberwolves

INBOX: NBA Draft Week is Upon Us

BrGWODzIQAA3hic (1)

 

The 1st Round: Towns as the now-inevitable #1 pick.

Andy G: First off, Happy Draft Week. Whatever this says about us, and the team that we cheer for, this is usually the highlight of our NBA season and a time clearly marked off on our calendars. This is an especially big one, what with the Wolves picking first overall for the first time ever. (Eds note: But this year’s will join the last two top picks on the Wolves roster, who came over in the K-Love trade. Thanks, LeBron!) Also, the Wolves are picking high in the 2nd Round. There’s some question as to whether they’ll keep both picks, or use them on players that will immediately join the NBA, but the fact is they have them and that means more to discuss.

I’ve written some things about the Wolves top pick; specifically, whether they should use it on Karl Anthony-Towns from Kentucky, or Jahlil Okafor from Duke. For a while, it seemed like Flip was going to take Okafor, a player he was (reportedly) enamored with all season — possibly to the extent that the possibility of drafting Okafor helped motivate the season’s big tanking decisions, like holding Ricky Rubio out of games for much longer than he had to.

But late in the college season, the general scouting consensus (Draft Express and the NBA scouts who talk to Chad Ford) shifted from Okafor to Towns as the draft’s best prospect. The best stats projection models also prefer Towns to Okafor. Now it is widely believed that Flip’s mind has changed as well. There was a period of time when it was rumored that the Wolves personnel staff preferred Towns, but Flip still preferred Okafor. This was disconcerting to read, not because of the conclusion itself (I’m on record as loving Okafor’s potential, and even slightly preferring him to Towns based on what I watched) but because of what it suggested about the team’s structure and process.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under NBA Draft, Timberwolves

Timberwolves This & That: Flip on the Radio, Draft Talk, Coaching Situation

OkaforTownsMinneapolisThe draft is less than four weeks away. Yesterday on KFAN Radio with Dan Barreiro, Flip Saunders admitted that he knows who he would select with the top choice if it were held now. Flip made clear that there is more work to be done between now and then, and that the current favorite — whoever he is — may not ultimately be the player that the team chooses with its first ever number one overall pick.

The feeling that I and most people have is that Flip currently prefers Jahlil Okafor over Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell. (These three seem to be most people’s top three.) His radio interview did nothing to dispel that feeling.

When I last wrote it was about how the team should think about its big choice, along with some specific thoughts about why Okafor may in fact be the better choice for this team. Since writing that, I have had a chance to watch more tape of both Okafor and Towns, and my opinion is only reinforced by that. I guess that isn’t surprising since “watching them play” was the driving force behind my initial conclusions. Okafor is simply a more impressive player to watch. At Duke, he was his team’s primary offensive option and showed off world-class post skills. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the better player or will be the better NBA player. But it is the “eye test” that makes him seem that way. Towns has a more rigid offensive game than Okafor’s, which is not as fun to watch, or as easy to imagine succeeding in the pros, but he definitely adds value in other, important ways. He has a more impressive body and has more of a presence in the lane as both a defender and defensive rebounder. When combined with his ability to shoot the ball, you can imagine him being a “net plus” type of player who clearly helps on defense and does not hurt — and may even help — his team on offense.

I just can’t get over how damn good Okafor is on offense.

I try to keep hyperbole to a minimum, but it’s hard to do that when describing Okafor’s ability on offense. For a player that big to handle the ball that well, and have such advanced footwork is just unheard of. If post play as we once knew it is dead, that’s just fine for Okafor because he doesn’t play post like we’ve ever seen. Yes he can score with his back to the basket, but he doesn’t need to. He can square up his man and put the ball on the floor. He’ll use the backboard and whatever spin move makes the most sense to finish around the hoop. The man shot 66 percent from the field as a primary option on his college team. As a freshman. It’s very, very, hard to watch Okafor play, and not get excited about what he’s going to do in the NBA where he’ll only have more room to operate.

There is no such thing as a sure thing, and both of these players would be drafted with some risk. With Okafor, the risks are that he never improves to become a solid defensive center, and/or that he never improves a shooter (particularly on free throws). Those are legitimate concerns. Towns has less risk in terms of potential weaknesses. The risk with Towns is that if you draft him, that means you passed on Okafor, who might become an all-time great.

This leads to the other thing Flip talked about with Barreiro: his dual job title of President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach.

Continue reading

7 Comments

Filed under Timberwolves

Winning the Lottery: Early Questions

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 10.09.27 PM

As you’re certainly aware by now, the Timberwolves won the draft lottery on Tuesday night. While they can still complain that they’ve never “moved up” above their odds slotting — that was not technically possible this year, given their league-worst standing — this was the first time they’ve ever been so lucky to win the lotto: They had just a 25 percent chance of landing the top pick and that’s exactly what happened.

On Tuesday afternoon we discussed the two basic scenarios that they would face after the ping-pong balls did their thing: they’d either land a Top-2 Pick and select a big man, or they wouldn’t, and their choice would be more complicated and involve a much longer list of names and positions.

Barring something very surprising, the Wolves will draft either Karl-Anthony Towns of Kentucky or Jahlil Okafor of Duke. Both will be centers in the NBA, which is a position of need for this team, but not the reason for the choice; along with filling a roster void, Towns and Okafor also project as the best all-around impact players in this draft.

It took all of a few minutes for the social-media celebration to shift gears to a “Towns versus Okafor” discussion. It’s clear to me that most fans of the team want the Wolves to draft Towns, but much less clear that Flip Saunders — the team’s president of basketball operations, coach, and minority owner — will heed that collective, outsider input. For a long time it has been rumored that Flip is enamored with Okafor, and his comments on KFAN radio this afternoon did little to dispel that notion.

Whatever Flip and the Wolves ultimately decide on June 25, “Towns or Okafor” is sure to dominate Timberwolves discourse from now until then. I read somewhere recently that “to know something entails two things: for there to be no doubt, and for it to be true.” This definition of knowledge is problematic for discussing the draft because certainty levels (for the self-aware, anyway) are so low, and the truth will not be adequately tested for years to come. With full recognition that most people already understand this reality, it sometimes feels like it bears repeating.

For the Timberwolves decision maker(s), the obvious question is whether Towns or Okafor will become the better all-around player. Duh. If they could know the answer to that broad question, that would be the end of it. But they can’t know the answer right now, and given how good each player projects to be in the NBA, the decision draws a host of other sub-issues into the analysis. Some are data driven, some are conceptual, some are philosophical, and some are based on imagination.

From what I have seen of, and read about these two players, I lean slightly toward drafting Okafor. At this point anyway. I’ll spend plenty more time watching the available videos of each, and reading as much as I can. ESPN and Draft Express always do a great job covering the upcoming drafts, and Canis Hoopus (led by increasingly-well-known Layne Vashro) have had cutting-edge stats projections for years. If somehow you’re reading here and not there, I highly recommend checking it out.

My basic reasoning for preferring Okafor is that almost every time I watched Duke play, he stood out as an imposing, primary offensive option who had an unusual command of the halfcourt offense from the post. He has a great feel for positioning himself where he can make a play for either himself or teammates, and once he gets the ball in reasonable position, it seems like close to a foregone conclusion that something good will happen. For a player so big, he has incredible ball-handling ability and footwork. Duncan is the most frequent style comparison, and that’s fair, but Okafor is more advanced at this stage than Duncan was. In my opinion, his offensive skills from the low and extended post positions are at such a high level that any comparison will be faulty. I tweeted last night that comparing Okafor’s post play to others is akin to comparing Steph Curry’s shooting to others, and I stand by that. There are things that Okafor can do that nobody else would be allowed to try, and it makes comparison mostly worthless. He’s going to do things on offense in the NBA that nobody else does, with the possible exception of DeMarcus Cousins who is a superstar offensive player.

Towns is a very, very good prospect, too. He is a better defender than Okafor, even if his athleticism might be overrated by some accounts. His upside and appeal has less to do with mobility than it does with his combination of size (he has pure center size, and a frame that looks like it might broaden out into Derrick Favors-territory) and shooting ability. Towns has no obvious weakness and he figures to be a “net positive” no matter his role or situation. Such a high level of certainty that he’ll succeed in some fashion is rare, and he is a safer pick than Okafor for this reason. (Okafor struggled more on defense than Towns, and does not rebound as well.) I lean slightly in Okafor’s favor because I think he has a better chance of being a special, high-impact player who plays offense so well that he can be relied on to create plays not only for himself but others. Basically, I think Okafor has a higher chance of being a superstar in the traditional sense of the term which might’ve been overrated at one time, but is still the most important factor in building a championship-caliber roster.

But like I said, my certainty about Towns vs Okafor is low, and yours should be too.

Having digested the lottery news for 24 hours, here are some questions that I have thought of and/or encountered on Twitter, with my own short responses.  Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments:

1) Should the Wolves decision be affected by the makeup of their current roster?

Continue reading

25 Comments

Filed under Timberwolves

INBOX: Thinking Through the Basic Lottery Scenarios

mudiay

If the Wolves land 1 or 2 in tonight’s lottery, they’ll almost certainly draft a big man. If not, then the possibilities are wide open and could include Emmanuel Mudiay from Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Patrick J: Hello Wolves fans. The NBA’s Draft Lottery is tonight. The Wolves have the best chance of winning the lottery, and the rights to the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, because they lost the most games of any NBA team last season.

The Wolves have a 25 percent chance, according to the ping-pong balls. And, by virtue of losing more than any other team, they are guaranteed a top-four pick. For what we endured from November-April, this is penance. The Wolves should/will(?)/need to add an impact player.

The Season of Tanking is now behind us. And we have reason to be optimistic. If the ping-pong balls “break good” for the Wolves tonight, the franchise will have an opportunity to draft a high-caliber prospect at a position of need. And, were it not for all of the “injuries” the Wolves had last season, we’d already know that the Wolves have some nice pieces in place–we just happened to see relatively little of them. If nothing else, here’s hoping that we see 70+ games from Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and (even) Kevin Martin in 2015-16.

That said, the Wolves’ draft position will determine who they select and what kind of player that person is. Below the fold, we look at different draft scenarios for the Wolves that depend on their lottery luck (or misfortune) below the  fold. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Timberwolves

NBA Draft Notes on Duke’s Prospects, from a Dookie, Part III: The Tyus Jones Edition

tyus

(Eds. Note: This is the third and final installment of a three-part series of guest posts from friend of the blog Jon Wallace (@jonwallace3), a Duke graduate, current Washington, DC resident, great American, and die-hard Blue Devils fan.)

Part I: Jahlil Okafor

Part II: Justice Winslow

Tyus Jones, he of Apple Valley, Minnesota lineage, is the third of the three freshmen from Duke declaring for the draft. He is also the prospect with the murkiest future. A 6’1” point guard with excellent vision, high basketball IQ, and average athleticism, Jones will probably have to wait until the playoff teams start picking to hear his name called. However, he has shown that he can fit in with other high usage players and take over the game when it’s Magic Johnson’s favorite portion of the game, winning time. In fact, if there is one indelible legacy that Jones leaves at Duke is that of being perhaps the most clutch player since Laettner or Battier. When Duke was down or needed a spark, Jones created something. When they needed free throws to ice the game, Jones knocked them down. When Duke needed a bucket at the end of the shot clock while trying put a close game away, Jones would rise up and hit a three. He did it against UNC (twice), UVA, and Wisconsin (twice).

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Timberwolves