Author Archives: Andy G

Waiting for Wiggins: Day 4 of 30

canada

If yesterday’s podcast was an end around having to write something new every day for 30 straight days, then today’s link to a David Aldridge column is in downright Throwaway Post territory.

In any event, DA wrote a great piece for NBA.com today about Canadian basketball, and its ongoing rise to prominence on the International Basketball scene. You might recognize the two gentleman pictured atop the post.

Aldridge describes how a combination of factors — the Raptors and Vince Carter, immigration, dedicated AAU leadership — have caused Canada to produce some of the world’s best up and coming talents.

Anyway, give it a read to learn more about the basketball culture that groomed Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.

Link here.

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Waiting for Wiggins: Day 3 of 30

Wiggins-Calendar3

 

The Punch-Drunk Podcast has been on hiatus for a while. But now it’s back. With more discussion of Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Kevin Love trades, and the upcoming season.

Wiggins-Bennett 2016. That’s all.

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Waiting for Wiggins: Day 2 of 30

Wiggins-Calendar2

Coming up with 30 different writing topics for 30 consecutive days is going to be a challenge. With that in mind, I’m going to seek inspiration and help from my stack of basketball books. Today, I skimmed my highlights from Earl Monroe’s autobiography. Pearl has a lot of #nsfw content in there — one of the reasons I enjoyed it — but we’ll stick to bball, today; specifically, Monroe explaining how (and when) he improved his ball-handling, and what it did for his game:

The biggest thing that happened for my game between my freshman and sophomore years at Winston-Salem was that my ball-handling skills improved considerably. I really got a lot better over the summer of 1964 playing in Philadelphia every day, nonstop, with the Trotters and other teams around the city. I practiced my dribbling a lot when I was home, and then I kept it up when I returned to Winston-Salem, doing three or four hours of drills a day. It was all starting to pay off. My outside shooting had improved also through constant practice, so I knew by then that if I could get to a certain spot on the floor, I could make that shot. But this required having a great handle–you know, dribbling skills–because by then I could make my jumper. So my dribbling got me wherever I wanted to go on the court and that improved my offensive game and scoring potential tremendously.

First off: Pearl wasn’t joking. His points per game jumped from 7.1 as a freshman to 23.2 as a sophomore. (And 41.5 as a senior. (!))

Second: I’m tying this into Andrew Wiggins content, because: a) the biggest concern with Wiggins is his ball-handling ability, and how that weakness could limit his potential as a scorer; and b) Wiggins is at the same stage of development (just finished freshman college season) as Pearl was when he says his handles tightened up and elevated his scoring ability.

pearl

Earl Monroe did his damage off the dribble.

The indispensable Draft Express website has great videos for each top prospect that show clips demonstrating the player’s strengths and weaknesses.

If you watch the Wiggins tape, you’ll notice a few things about his ball-handling:

* His effective plays involve quick, snappy decisions with only 1 or 2 dribbles. He shows the ability to use his athleticism efficiently. There isn’t anything flashy about one or two hard dribbles, and Wiggins does not seem to be the sort of improvisor that a Monroe (or, more modernly, LeBron James or Dwyane Wade) was. But Timberwolves fans have also seen explosiveness go to waste with unnecessary flash. (Think Gerald Green, Jonny Flynn, and Derrick Williams.) Sometimes having great physical abilities — even ball-handling paired with athleticism — can be counterproductive when players get “dribble happy” and/or force difficult shots. I don’t anticipate Wiggins having the same problems that plagued D-Thrill.

* 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.

* His handles are most shaky out on the perimeter, crossing over and doing skill moves with the ball. This hurts the “young T-Mac” comparisons quite a bit. T-Mac was — or became, anyway — an elite ball-handler for a player of his size. Paul George would be a current comparison of Wiggins, but George also has a nice handle that continues to improve. If Wiggins is ever to become a primary faciliator of offense, from the perimeter, he absolutely needs to improve his dribble moves beyond “two hard dribbles and shoot.”

Anyway, watch the video for yourself and form your own conclusions. Feel free to share them in the comments.

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Waiting for Wiggins: Day 1

Wiggins-Calendar

In case you missed it, the Cavaliers signed their (and the league’s) top draft choice, Andrew Wiggins. The ink was spilled on Thursday, and almost every report makes quick mention of the fact that the signing triggered the 30-day countdown until he can be traded legally under the NBA’s arcane rules.

Since this month-long wait will occur during late July and early August — probably the slowest four weeks on the basketball calendar — we thought it would be fun, or at least help pass the time, to do a daily Waiting for Wiggins series. We’ll hit on random basketball stuff until the Wolves are finally allowed to acquire their next star. Some it will involve Andrew Wiggins. Some of it won’t.

We might as well kick this thing off by discussing the fact itself:

Andrew Wiggins signed with the Cavs, yesterday.

What does this mean?

First, I guess it means that he is a Cleveland Cavalier, and not a Minnesota Timberwolf. Not yet, anyway. In case you haven’t been following this storyline religiously on Twitter, I’ll share the basic salary-cap rules at issue that have probably held up a trade between these two teams:

The Cavs, having signed LeBron James to a huge contract, don’t have enough cap room to just absorb Kevin Love’s $16 Million/year salary. So, when these teams trade and Cleveland takes in that money, it also has to send out a package that [basically] offsets it. Unfortunately for the trade’s sake, Cleveland does not have one big, bad contract that would help facilitate the deal. (Think Theo Ratliff’s Expiring Contract, one of the 20, maybe 10, greatest Wolves assets of all time. Theo Ratliff’s Expiring Contract actually doubled as a pretty good rim protector when he was healthy and the team took a night off from tanking and decided to play him. I digress.)

This set of circumstances requires the Cavs to send back a lot of players to offset Love’s salary. And, before he signed, Wiggins’ salary counted for exactly $0 in that equation. With that in mind, it was very difficult to execute a trade. It would have likely had to include Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson. That’s a lot of rotation players. I’ve already written how I suspect the Cavs will want Gorgui Dieng in a Wiggins trade, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that a 4 for 1 deal like this one would gut the Cavs depth; specifically, their frontcourt depth.

Now that Wiggins has signed, his contract — worth about $5.5 Million for next season — counts toward offsetting Love’s in the math of the deal. The downside is that league rules require that a signed first-round pick cannot be traded for 30 days. Hence this post series.

I tweeted my basic reaction to the situation at Canis Hoopus’s Tim Faklis, yesterday:

Why am I impatient about it?

I dunno. It’s July and I need more hobbies.

Why am I worried about the month-long wait?

I guess because it just gives Cleveland that much more time to grow attached to Andrew Wiggins. That means Cavs fans and the organization alike. The 30 days could also be enough time for Golden State to reconsider Klay Thompson’s value. What if they swoop in with Thompson-Lee-Barnes for Love-Martin? Many believe that Flip would prefer that deal to this one with Cleveland, even though his entire fan base feels differently.

Those are the basic reasons for concern: That Cleveland will reconsider, and that another team will intercept Flip’s interest during the wait.

But if Flip can hold his fire for the next month, the Wiggins trade can be a simple one. Kevin Love for Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. (Eds note: since the trade machine will not allow me to use Wiggins right now, I can’t confirm this, but it might require 1 throw-in guy like the ones Cleveland just acquired in what was rumored to be a Love-trade-facilitating move.)

I remain optimistic that this deal will get done, because it makes so much sense and it is what the big reporters are reporting. It is made much easier and simpler with Wiggins under contract.

But now we have to wait.

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Notes on a Scrimmage

While the world continued to wait for LeBron James’ next Decision, Timberwolves fans in Minneapolis stepped away from Adrian Wojnarowski’s Twitter account for 90 minutes of intrasquad scrimmage. The Wolves invited fans to watch the summer league roster run up and down for [just shy of] three quarters of loosely-regulated, but pretty intense basketball. Eyes inevitably fixed on high flyer Zach LaVine, the team’s latest lottery pick. But Shabazz Muhammad and Alexey Shved also logged big minutes. So did rookie Glenn Robinson III. Gorgui Dieng did not (illness).

Here are a few notes. I shouldn’t have to say that any praise — or criticism, really — comes with the caveat that this was a team scrimmage in July; one replete with players that will never play a second of *real* NBA action. Tonight was about seeing what guys looked like in the truest “eye test” form.

A few brief observations:

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Wolves Draft Review

GR3

The Wolves drafted Michigan Wolverine, Glenn Robinson III, with the 40th overall selection in Thursday’s draft.

So, on Thursday night the Wolves drafted Zach Lavine (Eds. Note: That’s how we spell it here.) and Glenn Robinson III with their first and second-round draft picks. Lavine infuriated fans with his alleged response to the Wolves selecting him. Robinson III looked happy to be selected at all. What to make of this?

Zach Lavine

Patrick J: I like the Lavine pick. As I argued before the draft, when you’re in the position the Wolves are in now, you go big or you go home. Zach Lavine may or may not turn out. That’s hardly the point. The Wolves are entering a period without Kevin Love. From that positition, you draft the guy you think has star potential–even when there are players who might help you more next season. (Ahem, Gary Harris, ahem.)

Britt Robson, reporting on the Wolves’ selection of Lavine, wrote this:

But the most significant thing Saunders said about choosing LaVine spoke to matters of context and ambition. “Sometimes you have to try and hit a home run. Some players that are ready-made, they are only going to be doubles hitters. This guy has an opportunity to be a home-run type player.”

That captures it pretty well. Does it mean I align with every idea the Wolves management has? No. But in this case, they made a defensible and possibly an unusually good pick.

Andy G: I’m not as bullish on LaVine as you are. He’s drafted to (basically) play shooting guard, yet he didn’t even average double figures in his lone college season at UCLA. Continue reading

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Does Ricky Deserve a Supporting Cast?

Is it reconcilable to consider Ricky Rubio to be a good NBA point guard, and at the same time object to trading Kevin Love for established, highly-paid veteran players like the ones rumored to be involved in the Golden State negotiations?

That’s a long, awkwardly-phrased question that might require a couple of readings to understand, but it’s one that I’m asking myself in different forms as the draft approaches along with the deadline to trade Kevin Love for maximum available value. It seems that so much of one’s opinion about a given Love Trade hypothetical turns on what that person feels about the Wolves roster aside from Love.

Can Rubio lead a good team?

Next season will be his fourth as an NBA player. He’s plenty experienced and is now pretty far removed from his unfortunate knee injury of March 2012.

Consider what Bill Simmons wrote in his 2012 Trade Value column, shortly before his ACL tear:

23. Ricky Rubio
Poor Ricky played himself out of the top 15 with a ghastly shooting slump (he’s down to 35.5 percent shooting for the season) that mushroomed these past eight games (17-for-69), a swoon that would feel like a bigger deal if Jason Kidd didn’t shoot 38 percent for his first three seasons. Special players figure it out. Rubio sees the floor differently. He’s always a half-step ahead of everyone else, especially defensively. His unselfishness is genuinely infectious in a Bird/Magic kind of way; along with Rick Adelman (it’s 1999 Sacramento all over again for him), that’s the biggest reason why the Timberwolves have morphed into the league’s best passing team. And you can’t deny his effect on Nikola Pekovic (a stiff last season) and Kevin Love (now a franchise guy). Watch the Wolves every week and you can’t help but mutter, “Those guys look like they’re having fun.” Yeah, because it’s fun to play basketball with Rubio and Love when Adelman is coaching you.

Of course, you can pick apart Rubio’s “impact” pretty easily with advanced stats, which actually makes me feel better about basketball as a whole. I’m glad Ricky Rubio can be picked apart. I’m glad he’s the 33rd best point guard in PER right now. That reinforces everything I believed about those numbers in the first place. Sometimes, they’re going to be a little … off. They should be used to accentuate what we’re watching, not to single-handedly shape opinions or beliefs. You can’t fully measure how teammates relate to one another and fit in with each other; even the five-man plus/minus stat (which I like) only goes so far. We’ll always have players and teams defying their metrics. Kyrie Irving is better than Ricky Rubio — we can all agree, right? — but I’m not sure this particular Timberwolves team would be better with Kyrie Irving. That’s why I love basketball. It doesn’t always make sense. And by the way …

A. Minnesota is going to make the playoffs unless somebody gets hurt.

B. Rubio could shoot 30 percent the rest of the way and still be the second-biggest reason it happened. So there.2

That version of Rubio — healthy, and running a high-ball screen offense suited to his skills — seemed extremely valuable; possibly more valuable to his team than even Kevin Love. He was a great defender and an only-one-in-the-league passer who saw stuff that nobody else could even imagine. He was a real weapon.

But then he got hurt.

And then the NBA stopped locking out its players, which allowed full off-seasons, which allowed brilliant coaches like Rick Adelman to install their preferred offenses. In Rick’s case, that was an offense that cared little about point guard dribbling and creative passing. It prioritized careful entries to the high post and perceptive, timely cuts down the baseline for opportunistic layups against reckless defense. As effective as it was, it was not good for an improvisational wizard like Ricky Rubio.

Before I beat that dead horse too much, I’ll get to the question here:

Is it time for the Wolves to make a decision on Rubio and the point guard position?

Should they at least consider drafting a point guard in the lottery?

A step further: Some of the potential Kevin Love trades involve mid-lottery picks. Would it be crazy to pull the trigger on one and draft Marcus Smart, who might be a future star point guard (in a more conventional style)?

Forgive me, here, as I’m just trying to follow the logic of strenuously objecting to the idea that Love should be traded for veterans that command a salary befitting their performance, and that Rubio (and PEK!) should be surrounded with a reasonable supporting cast in the next few seasons.

If the best option is to rebuild and slash payroll, what does that say about Ricky Rubio?

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Six Questions About Trading Kevin Love

As you already know, Kevin Love is on the trading block. Where he plays next season remains an unanswered question, but we are beyond the period of speculating whether or not the team is answering phone calls and entertaining serious offers. Given Love’s extended silence that followed the report that he will leave Minnesota next year as a free agent, it is safe to assume… well, exactly that. If he is not traded, he is going to leave Minnesota in 2015. He eventually made a brief ESPN appearance which did nothing to change this perception.

Flip Saunders and the organization have the option of keeping Love for one more season in hopes of attaining that elusive playoff berth that has escaped them for the past decade. More likely, they will trade Love for whatever they can get right now, or at least some time before February’s deadline.

I have not written much about these rumors (well, beyond the Twitter machine) for a few reasons, but primarily because it’s a dilemma that leaves me faced with way more questions than clear answers or opinions. With that in mind, I’ll rattle off some of them and share some reactions; reactions that vary from knee-jerk opinion to ones with a bit more factual basis and analysis.

1. Must the Timberwolves trade Kevin Love?

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“Flip Hires Flip,” and The Thing We’ll Have to Get Over

Washington Wizards v Chicago Bulls

In case you missed it (and at this point I doubt anybody reading this site missed it) Flip Saunders has been named head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He actually appointed himself leader of the sideline from his lofty perch where he currently sits as president of basketball operations. This is the second time that Saunders will coach the Wolves. He is the franchise’s career wins leader by a huge margin from the days when he led from the sidelines the teams led by Kevin Garnett on the court. They made the playoffs a bunch of times.

Purely on the merits: Saunders is a decidedly satisfactory basketball coach. He’s coached good players to pretty good seasons. He’s coached great players to very good seasons. He’s coached undeveloped players to terrible seasons. He is respected but not necessarily admired. For more on What Hiring Flip Saunders Means, check out Andrew Sharp’s piece for Grantland, or Britt Robson’s for MinnPost.

The part that I need to write about today is something I’ll try to avoid harping on too much in the future. Beating dead horses is a hobby of mine and many other writers – particularly ones that devote their time and energy to this frustrating franchise – but it gets tiring and is usually not fun to read.

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The Kevin Love Trade: How Bad Does Flip Wanna Be?

badasflipwannabe

Patrick J: There has been a lot happening around the Wolves over the past week. First, we got word that Kevin Love was likely going to use his early-termination option to explore free agency after the 2014-15 season.

At the same time, there were murmurs that the Wolves were looking closely at former Timberwolves player and Raptors coach Sam Mitchell as Rick Adelman’s replacement as Twolves head coach.

When we last wrote, both of these stories had an air of uncertainty around it. Woj had broken the Love story in one of his “should-I-really-believe-this” megaexclusives. And the Mitchell news crept upon us out of nowhere and felt like a shock to the system.

Since then, the Kevin Love news has only gotten more play, while the Sam Mitchell rumor quickly went away (Eds. Note: There has been some speculation that Mitchell could end up as an assistant on Joeger’s staff) –replaced by the rumor that current Grizzlies coach and Minnesota native Dave Joerger will be the one who succeeds Adelman on the Wolves sideline.

The Inbox below is a list of scenarios that do not seem implausible ways in which the Wolves could decide to go with whatever type of “rebuilding” strategy they will have to do, assuming that Love is traded and Joerger is hired.

Continue reading below the fold to see how we rate them… Continue reading

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INBOX: Kevin Love, Wolves, Parting Ways? + Sam Mitchell!

kevlaaarrr

So, this week we learned that Kevin Love has given the Wolves’ leadership notice that he intends to exercise the early-termination option in his contract after next season and become an unrestricted free agent.

It was Adrian Wojnarowski who reported it, so take the story for what it’s worth.

COINCIDENTALLY (?), word leaked that Sam Mitchell is a strong candidate for the Wolves coaching job.

If, like most Wolves fans, you felt as though you’d been double-tapped after reading those news items, continue reading below. Continue reading

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Canis Hoopus Roundtable Part I

Patrick and I, along with some other Wolves writers that you are familiar with, participated in a little Roundtable/Q & A over at Canis Hoopus. Go check it out.

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by | May 19, 2014 · 10:42 AM

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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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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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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