Author Archives: Andy G

Wiggins, Bennett, and Different Levels of Investment

bennettwiggins

Forgive me for putting a temporary freeze on the game wraps. In the absence of Rubio, Martin and Pekovic, the games have not been very meaningful as competitions. For the time being, I’d rather focus on emerging themes and trends than the win/loss column.

But the silver lining to the recent struggle has been the way Flip has decided to just give Andrew Wiggins the ball and let him go to work. In the season’s opening games, Wiggins was consistently nervous-looking in the first half, before opening up his scoring arsenal in the third quarter. We could see the talent, but would have to wait for the results. Rubio, Martin and the vets would be the primary playmakers.

No more.

Wiggins played 39 minutes last night against the Bucks. In the game before that he played 41 minutes and in the game before that he played 33 minutes. After starting the season as a third or fourth option (he didn’t score double figures until his fourth game) Wiggins is now the unequivocal first option. Last night, he scored 14 points on 14 shots, along with career highs of 8 rebounds and 4 assists. From the opening tip, he was the focal point of the offense.

He had a career-high 29 in the previous game against the Kings, and he had 14 in the game before that against the Spurs. Flip has Wiggins posting up, and using a variety of moves to score: step-back jumpers, rip-through/blow-by drives to his right, and turnaround jumpers seem to be his most common weapons of choice. In this infant stage of his career, I’m seeing an offensive upside that — if you squint a little bit — looks kinda like Carmelo Anthony.

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Martin to Have Surgery, Implications Going Forward

Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune is reporting that Kevin Martin will undergo surgery to repair his broken wrist. The veteran shooting guard is expected to miss at least six weeks while recovering. Martin is leading the team in scoring by a big margin — his 20.4 points per game is trailed closest by Thaddeus Young’s 14.3 average. On the other hand, K-Mart is a notoriously bad defender and sometimes even his hot nights are more than offset by his opponent’s production.

What sorts of changes can we expect to see in the next couple months, without Martin?

Here are a few possibilities:

* Corey Brewer will be the starting shooting guard.

We’ve already seen this in the first two Martin-less games. Brewer is the starter at the two. He played 32 minutes against San Antonio on Friday and 30 more on Saturday against the Kings. Brewer can play as much as Flip wants; his superhuman skill is a total immunity to fatigue. His mere mortal status is evident in his shooting ability, which is a lot worse than Martin’s. With other plausible options either not capable (Chase Budinger) or needed elsewhere (Mo Williams, subbing for Ricky Rubio at point) it seems likely that Brewer will play a lot of minutes at off guard.

* Brewer may not be traded for the foreseeable future.

There was a recent report from Marc Stein of ESPN that the Wolves were engaged in trade talks involving Brewer with both Houston and Cleveland. Some later reports suggested any trade would require that Brewer waive his 2015-16 player option. Given that this option is worth $5 Million, and Brewer is unlikely to command that again on the open market, that may have been a deal-breaker. In any event, the Martin injury might delay any potential Brewer trades. (Unless those trades can bring back a different shooting guard.)

* Andrew Wiggins will be more involved in the offense.

This could be good or bad, depending on whether you want to see the most immediately-competitive basketball possible (bad) or if you’d rather watch the future develop before your eyes (good). Personally, I have not enjoyed watching Flip’s halfcourt offense this year. Particularly after Rubio’s injury, the Wolves sets seem entirely aimed at setting screens to free moving players for open mid-range jumpers. And Martin was, by far, the player that the offense centered around most. Even if that led to some surprisingly-decent results (Martin’s PER of 21.9 would be a career high if it lasted all season) it fails on the following bases:

* It isn’t fun to watch;
* It does nothing to develop the young players, who are mostly just watching Martin run around and shoot; and
* It is not the type of system that will ever (again) breed consistent success in the NBA. Most teams have discovered the relative value of spread pick-and-roll basketball and three-point shots. Martin’s Reggie Miller imitation will never be the foundation of a decent team.

So without Martin, we have seen something entirely different: The Wolves are posting up Andrew Wiggins and force feeding him the ball around the block. And the results have been okay! On Friday versus San Antonio, Wiggins had a string of baskets in a row, operating on the block against different Spurs defenders (one of whom was Kawhi Leonard). On Saturday versus the Kings, he did even more of the same, posting a career-high 29 points.

With Martin sitting, and not taking all the shots, Wiggins should be thrust into a more active offensive role.

* Maybe the Wolves can begin to take more pride in their defense.

Right now, the Wolves are 29th out of 30 in total defense. (Points allowed per possession.) Their 111.5 points allowed per 100 possessions is closer to the dreadful Lakers (114.4) than the 28th place Knicks (108.4). Before I go further, I should point out that the Wolves are defending slightly better with Martin on the floor than when he’s off of it.

But the 110.2 points they allow per 100 possessions with Martin on the floor is a ton, and his career-long struggles as a defender suggest that he’ll be more problem than solution as the team works to patch the leaks over time. Furthermore, the small sample size of Martin-less defense is probably a little bit skewed by facing the Spurs juggernaut on Friday night.

Hopefully with Brewer, Wiggins, and eventually Rubio again, the Wolves can start taking steps toward competence on the defensive side of the floor. Really, when you think about the bigger picture, the upside of a team led by Rubio and Wiggins begins on D. Starting with abysmal performance isn’t good for anybody.

* Shabazz to play a little bit more

Shabazz Muhammad has been one of the team’s best players, this season. Among Timberwolves with more than a couple minutes of action (basically, everybody but Glenn Robinson III) Shabazz has the following ranks on the team:

* 2nd in points/minute
* 3rd in rebounds/minute
* 4th in field goal percentage
* 4th in true shooting percentage
* 4th in net rating (team performance per possession)

In spite of all of this, Muhammad ranks just 11th in minutes per game. (9th in total minutes, ahead of Rubio and LaVine.)

Martin’s injury will open up some playing time at the wing possessions, which should give Shabazz more opportunities to prove himself to the coaching staff. He has played — started even — at power forward in recent games, and the combination of injuries across the board will probably have Flip tinkering with some funky lineups in the future. Nobody stands to benefit from that more than Bazz, whose unconventional size-skill combo is all about trying new things.

Next game is Wednesday at home versus the Bucks. What are you looking for in Martin’s absence?

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Lowe on the Wiggins Step-back J

From Zach Lowe’s Tuesday Column, in his 10 Things I Like and Don’t Like:

4. Andrew Wiggins’s Step-back Jumper

This baby is gorgeous. Again, it’s not an ideal analytics-era shot, but it’s handy to have in your bag with the shot clock winding down. Defenses have already figured out that they have to respect it, and Wiggins can start using the threat of his step-back to work defenders off-balance for blow-by drives.

I wrote about this when we were Waiting for Wiggins, after I spent some time watching his scouting tapes at Draft Express. The most exciting comparison to how Wiggins sets up his man for a step-back jumper is Carmelo Anthony:

Wiggins has a post-up game, and a footwork and cadence reminiscent of Carmelo Anthony on his square-up, step-back fadeaway. IF, and this is a huge if, far from certain or even likely… IF, he can pair that step-back footwork (and accurate shooting, with it) with a strong dribble drive game to the hole, he’ll be impossible to defend with only one guy.

Like Melo.

That’s a sneaky aspect of Wiggins’ game that shows huge offensive upside. There aren’t a lot of outstanding post scorers in the NBA, and the rules seem to encourage smaller-than-seven-footers to explore the post, with square-up action. Like Carmelo, and LeBron, and Wade, etc. If Wiggins can polish up those skills over the next 3 or 4 years, look out.

Anyway, it’s something to watch for. Over time, we’d like to see Wiggins mix some drives into his post-game.

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The Timberwolves Weekend & When Basketball Isn’t a Competition

“[I]f you want to call it a form of socialism, as some do, in terms of how sports leagues operate, I would say from an economic standpoint, we’re a single enterprise. We’re trying to create competition among teams. And that’s what makes our system.”
Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner

“I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.”
Daniel Plainview

competition \ˌkäm-pə-ˈti-shən\ : the act or process of trying to get or win something (such as a prize or a higher level of success) that someone else is also trying to get or win
Merriam-Webster.com

“YOU PLAY, TO WIN, THE GAME!”
Herm Edwards

Generally speaking, a professional basketball game is supposed to be a competition. Owners pay a management staff to hire coaches, scouts, trainers and most importantly players to compete against somebody else’s team. The goal is to win the game.

There are exceptions to this general rule. Sometimes, some things have greater priority than winning a game does. At the management level, teams sometimes trade away their best players in order to ensure a worse record and higher draft position. Philadelphia is the most notorious example of this “tanking” strategy. By intentionally fielding a worse lineup, Philly is not competing.

At the coaching level, Gregg Popovich will sometimes sit out his best veterans in order to rest them for the playoffs. In terms of a championship pursuit — his main goal — he is competing. But on that night, he is not. He would play his best players if he cared about winning that game.

Coaches fail to compete in other ways. Some might say that by “checking out” last season with an eye on retirement, Rick Adelman failed to compete. Or, for another recent Timberwolves example, Kurt Rambis talked about the slow process of teaching a young team and how he was asking his players to do things that they were not yet comfortable doing. However implicitly, Rambis was acknowledging that he was not competing to win. If he cared most about winning, he would’ve set more ball screens for Ramon Sessions and sat Jonny Flynn on the bench. But instead he was using games as practice laboratories. Losses ensued.

Lastly, sometimes the players themselves fail to compete. This can also take different forms. It can be excessive selfishness in on-court decisions. If a player is clearly putting his own stats over the greater good, he is not competing to win the game. It can be refusing to play through a reasonable amount of pain. Nobody is expected to be Kevin McHale, hobbling on a broken foot in the NBA Finals. But basketball creates soreness and every player responds differently to it. In the lens of competition, the ones that best balance injury prevention with playing as much and as hard as possible can be considered the most competitive. They are trying the hardest to win.

But the worst and ugliest deviation from competition is when the players simply don’t show up to play hard.

And that’s what we saw from the Timberwolves this weekend.

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A Turn Toward Player Development (Rockets 113, WOLVES 101)

The downside to the Ricky Rubio ankle sprain injury is as obvious as it is significant:

Instead of playing competitive basketball that is fun to watch, the Wolves would instead struggle to win and sometimes look really bad when nobody can create any offense. That was certainly the case in the second half at Orlando — the first Rubio-less action of the season — when the Wolves lost to one of the league’s very worst teams. It held true the following night in Miami, when they fell behind 29-13 after one quarter. Despite a gritty effort that cut the Heat lead to 4, the talent disparity won out in the end. The Wolves lost by 10 to D-Wade and Bosh.

And last night, facing the Houston Rockets in Mexico City, the Wolves were again outclassed. The Rockets probably have both the best shooting guard and the best center in the NBA. The Wolves don’t have a single player who is currently in the top five at his position in the league. Kevin McHale rode his superstars hard in last night’s game — James Harden played 40 minutes and Dwight Howard played 33 — and they did not let him down. D12 was a beast for every second he was on the floor. If he wasn’t posting up to score, he was tipping in a teammate’s miss. On defense, he was patrolling the lane and swatting anything in sight.

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A Frustrating Turn of Events (MAGIC 112, Wolves 103)

Let’s begin with an assertion that I have no way of backing up with real evidence:

Had Ricky Rubio not sprained his ankle in the second quarter of last night’s game, the Wolves would’ve beaten the Magic. Probably by a comfortable margin. They’d be 3-2 and riding a winning streak into a fun game tonight at Miami.

Unfortunately, as you probably already know, he did sprain his ankle — badly, it seems — and he missed not only the remainder of the game but will probably be out for at least a couple of weeks. The Wolves ended up losing the game, 112-103 in overtime. There is no positive spin on this injury news–not unless Zach LaVine surprises everybody with quality play in Ricky’s absence, anyway. The Wolves were 2-2 and generating positive vibes about both present and future. Now, without a viable starting point guard, they figure to struggle considerably. The probably-delusional playoff hopes that we’ve heard so much about will be dashed sooner than expected if Ricky sits out a month. That would mean 14 games, and – just eyeballing the schedule — more than half of them come against likely playoff teams.

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The Wiggins Microscope, Part I: Finding Easier Ways to Score

microscope

First off, I just made up that title, and I don’t even know if this will be a series. But given the attention that we all pay to Wolves rookie Andrew Wiggins when he takes the floor, it makes sense to carry that over into closer detail of his game on the blog.

With a tiny sample size of three games — which also happen to be his first NBA experiences — we do not have a lot of data to work with. Wiggins has played a whopping 73 minutes and attempted 24 field goals. He’s made 9 of them.

So this is REALLY a first impression we’re talking about.

But having seen him play three real games now, I feel confident in saying that too many of his shots are of the “contested jumper off the dribble” variety. Those are fun to watch when they go in, but difficult to make consistently for just about anyone not named Kevin Durant. While Wiggins shares an important quality with KD — height and athleticism that allows him to get a shot whenever he desires — he’s clearly not as talented a shooter at this point in his young career. If he ever approaches Durant’s abilities as a straight scorer, he’ll be playing a Hall of Fame career.

So what can Wiggins do, for now, to get easier shots and score a little bit more efficiently?

His first two baskets against the Pistons on Thursday night offer a road map:

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