Author Archives: Andy G

Wolves Drop Preseason Opener: A Few Notes

The Timberwolves first preseason game could best be described as sloppy. This isn’t unexpected, given the fact that they were playing so many young guys. (Minutes for first and second-year players: Wiggins: 32; Dieng: 29; Muhammad: 25; LaVine: 25; Hummel: 23; Robinson III: 12; Heslip: 1.) But that excuse is partially removed by the fact that the starting unit — and some of the veteran players in particular — did not look good. They fell down by more than 20 at times, and ultimately lost 103-90.

Ricky Rubio’s unit looked out of sync for much of its time on the floor. Ricky shot 1-6 in 18 minutes. He had 4 assists and 3 turnovers and never had the space to operate that we would all hope to see, this year. Thaddeus Young came out hot and finished with a solid 12/4/2 in 18 of his own minutes, but was unable to stop the bleeding when the Pacers started to pour it on. Gorgui Dieng had 16 & 10 and looked very good at times, particularly in the second half. But the number one concern for him — his ability to hold his position on defense against big centers — was not put to rest by the way Roy Hibbert backed him down on the block in the first half.

The bright spot for the Timberwolves was Andrew Wiggins. The rookie looked more like a veteran than most of the veterans did. He put together an impressive stat line of 18 points (on 11 field goal attempts), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks, 1 steal and 0 turnovers in 32 minutes of action. Wiggins made multiple threes, and then made the rest of his living at the foul line, where he shot 8-10 for the game. Aggressive drives to the basket — even without the smoothest handle in the world — was my “thing I’d like to see” from Wiggins, in my last post. That’s what he delivered in Exhibition 1. At Kansas, despite some less-than-elite metrics, Wiggins shot 6.5 free throws per his 32.8 minutes per game. If that carries over quickly to the NBA, his transition will be made pretty easily.

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What I’d Like to See from the Timberwolves: A Player-By-Player Breakdown

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Kansas Practice

I don’t know if we’ll do any sort of formal “preview” of this upcoming Timberwolves and NBA season. We’ll probably come up with something, shortly before the regular season begins at the end of October. But for the next three weeks until that point comes, just about everything posted here can be considered previewy content.

Along those lines today, I felt like writing about each Timberwolves player and list one thing that I hope to see from him, this season. My only rule is that it has to be realistic. (No Pekovic 360 dunks, in other words, even though they would be cooler than anything that I list below.)

So with that for introduction, here goes, in reverse order of importance:

J.J. Barea: I’d like to see J.J. waived, bought out, traded for a future 2nd Rounder, or otherwise off of the roster, so that Glenn Robinson III can be one of the fifteen Timberwolves, this season. Barea has a place in the NBA, and that place is (Marcellus Wallace voice) “pretty f&*king far from” the role he would be asked to fill on this year’s Timberwolves roster; that being a mentor of young players who does not mind sitting out of games, sometimes in their entirety. So I would like the Wolves to get rid of J.J. (Sorry, @brianjacobson!) Continue reading

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Parsing the Cliches of Media Day

This afternoon the Timberwolves held their annual Media Day. The players dressed up in their game uniforms, posed for pictures, and took turns answering questions from the local media. Coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders worked the room, and gave his own presser to kick things off.

Tonight, at midnight, the Wolves put on their “Dunks After Dark” special to officially kick off the new season, in Mankato. While I cannot make the trek down to ‘Kato on a Monday night, I was able to get over to Target Center for a couple of hours to see and listen to the new squad.

Player interviews in this setting are notoriously replete with cliches and adages that dodge the question presented. (And, frankly, this is for good reason. See Thaddeus Young’s “26 and 12 never made the playoffs,” which was stupidly pulled from its context and used for click bait by Dime Magazine (and probably other publications)). In any event, the players did say a lot of things and this is my attempt at extracting some loosely-developed and very much subject-to-change opinions from my first sighting of the 2014-15 Minnesota Timberwolves. (Eds note: work obligations prevented me from seeing the final three pressers, including Ronny Turiaf/Corey Brewer, Gorgui Dieng, and Chase Budinger/Mo Williams. Based on what I read on Twitter, Williams was a bit of a revelation in terms of saying interesting basketball stuff.)

Coach Saunders

Flip was — predictably — oozing positivity and excitement from his seat in front of the media. I found two things he said to be worth mentioning here.

The first is, in my opinion, a good thing. That is that he is going to give Ricky Rubio a lot of responsibility. He said that he is “hard on point guards,” that they are “extensions of the coach” (cliche’ alert) and that Ricky will be “running the show.” I like hearing this because I believe Rubio is best when he has the ball and as much playmaking responsibility as possible. He needs to be the guy who passes to the shooter for the two obvious reasons that he’s so great at finding teammates in scoring position and that he is such a non-threatening chess piece when he’s standing without the ball. So I liked hearing this from Flip.

The second is, in my opinion, more of a question mark. Flip is going to emphasize “shot discipline” — “What is a good shot, and what isn’t a good shot?” I’m not saying that I want to see Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins developed into a future Nick Young-JR Smith combination, but I worry whenever coaches start speaking vaguely about shot selection. Flip specifically talked about the rookies shooting too many threes. That is exactly the sort of thing I hope they do; I want them to extend their range to that efficient zone as quickly as possible. So this point worried me a little bit.

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The Timberwolves’ Unique Opportunity to Practice

Washington Wizards midnight madness

A common complaint made by NBA coaches is that there is never enough time to practice.  The regular season runs 82 games long and includes road trips, red-eye flights, and back-to-back games played without having had enough rest.  On precious off days, coaches are left with exhausted if not injured players.

Once the season gets going, teams have installed their offenses and their defenses. Practice is oftentimes focused on the next opponent, walking through sets and fine-tuning recurring errors. Dinged-up veterans sit out and watch.

Rick Adelman talked a lot about this.  He always seemed excited when, after a game, they had a stretch of days off.  For practice.  Coaches love that shit – it’s when they get to do their job.  It’s when they feel most powerful, and in control.  It’s when they feel most important.  (Believe it or not, most players feel differently.)  And in the NBA, coaches never feel like they get enough practice. Limited practice prevents not only work for the starting unit and its strategies, but it also hinders practice of skills and player development. In The Breaks of the Game, David Halberstam described how the schedule impacted the early struggles of Kermit Washington:

What made it even more difficult was the fact that there is virtually no individual coaching and teaching in the NBA; the schedule is too difficult, the pressure to win too consistently great. There is an assumption that a player arrives in the league in full possession of all the basic skills. Either that or he sinks.

I bring this up now because the Timberwolves have a unique roster construction that may allow them a special opportunity.  You see, the Timberwolves have too many players.  Scratch that–they do not have too many “great” players or talent, but they have too many players who will reasonably expect to see the playing floor, this year.  Importantly, they do not have their own D-League Affiliate, which limits their ability to send unused players down for minor-league reps.  From the looks of it, the Wolves have what sort of amounts to a “first team” and a “JV Team” and everybody is anxious to see how Flip Saunders will go about setting a regular rotation.

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Thinning the Herd (The Field of Dreams Edition)

A lot has changed in Timberwolves Land since mid-May. It was then that the organization was informed that Kevin Love planned to opt out and leave the franchise — per his contractual rights — in the summer of 2015. From that point through August 23, Flip Saunders was scrambling. Not only did he have multiple picks in the June draft, but he was also charged with the task of trading a superstar player.

Rather than re-hash the process and results for the umpteenth time, it’s sufficient to say that Flip got ‘er done. For Love, he got back Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. If either Wiggins or Bennett reaches his potential (or, gasp, if both do) it could go down as the greatest ever return in this “departing/disgruntled star wants out” trade scenario. Plus, Thad Young is already a good player who might fit nicely in a front court that already includes Gorgui Dieng and Nikola Pekovic at the center position.

But there is one little problem with this Timberwolves roster, as currently constructed:

There are too many guys. (Eds. Note: For more on this, see, inter alia, excellent posts here and here.)

More specifically, there are too many guys that will expect — and *should* expect — some playing time. And that brings us to positional battles, and the possibility that some Timberwolves players will need to spend time in the D-League — playing for the Iowa Energy (technically this is the Memphis Grizzlies affiliate, but that’s where they sent Shabazz last year because the Wolves don’t have their own team). Saunders has extensive experience in minor league basketball, coaching in the old CBA, and is a firm believer in it as a developing environment for certain players. It seems inevitable that, at some point this season, a Wolf or two will be sent down for some game reps.

For a young basketball player, the NBA — even on the Minnesota Timberwolves — must feel a bit like heaven on Earth. There are the big crowds, the SportsCenter highlights, the glitz and glamor, and the competition against players that were considered celebrity heroes just a short time ago. The whole thing must be a real trip for a new player entering the league.

The D-League… well, the D-League probably feels a bit more like Iowa.

So we thought it worthwhile to run through the candidates for D-League Duty, and predict which guys might end up playing some minor league ball in 2014-15.

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5 Thoughts on Taylor Bashing Love

 

“It was more like KG tanked it. I think the other guys still wanted to play. But it sure changed the team and didn’t make us [as good].”
–Glen Taylor, March 2008

“I question Kevin if this is going to be the best deal for him because I think he’s going to be the third player on the team. I don’t think he’s going to get a lot of credit if they do really well. I think he’ll get blame if they don’t do well. He’s around a couple guys that are awful good…

I think where maybe he got away with some stuff not playing defense on our team, I’m not sure that’s how it’s going to work in Cleveland. I would guess they’re going to ask him to play more defense and he’s foul prone…

If they sign him to a five-year contract like they’re thinking about, that’s a big contract on a guy that’s had some times he’s missed games. The only thing I still have a question mark about is health. I had that concern then (when they negotiated his previous contract) and I still have that concern. I think Cleveland should have that concern too.”
–Glen Taylor, August 26, 2014

Five quick thoughts about Glen Taylor’s now-public thoughts about Kevin Love:

1. On the part about “credit” and being a third option, I tend to agree with him. Love’s reputation is established as an individual and he has yet to fit into a successful team framework. On the Cavs, where a there’s a star point guard and greatest-of-his-generation forward, it’s reasonable to wonder exactly where Love falls on the pecking order. In his past two healthy seasons, Love has averaged over 26 points per game. Now, in a winning environment, that may drop 5 or more points per game. (Chris Bosh saw a 5.3 points per game drop when he jumped from Franchise Raptor to LeBron & Wade Sidekick in 2010.)

In regards to credit and blame, consider the win totals of teams LeBron James has played on over the past six years during Love’s career:

54
66
46 (in 66-game season)
58
61
66

It is well understood by now that, in the NBA in 2014, if you have LeBron James you are going to win a bunch of games. You’re going to make a deep playoff run. You might win a championship.

How then, can Love prove that he has any effect?

It will be difficult and it will probably require bigtime performances in big playoff games. While this is not exactly what Taylor said, I think he would agree with what I’m saying right here. Had Love gone to a different team — one that was still good, like Golden State, but did not have LeBron on it — he would have a better opportunity to boost his “legacy” for whatever that is worth. And in Love’s case, I think the impression that many have — certainly Taylor included — is that legacy and individual recognition are important to him.

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Waiting for Wiggins: Day 29 of 30

Wiggins-Calendar29

We’ve been “officially” waiting for Wiggins for 29 days now, but it’s really been longer than that. The very moment that the Cavs won the draft lottery, they entered the Kevin Love Sweepstakes.

That was my instant reaction on Draft Lottery night, during the little commercial break between the 4th Pick and 3rd Pick announcements, when it first sunk in that Cleveland was moving up and landing yet another top draft choice; this time, in a stacked draft year. The thought was that the Cavs might prefer Love to their top draft choice, whether it be Wiggins or somebody else like Joel Embiid, so that they could pair franchise guard Kyrie Irving with another All-Star and start winning some playoff games.

It turned out that was not quite enough. No, Love was not going to Cleveland — well, he would not agree to re-sign there, next year — until they added LeBron James via free agency. Once that small step was completed, this thing became realistic.

What has been shocking from the Wolves-fan perspective is how Flip Saunders — by all accounts — has twisted his leverage-less position into one of immense power. His player made it known to all that he will not be a Minnesota Timberwolf beyond 2015, when he can exercise his option and become an unrestricted free agent. In this fact scenario, Flip is supposed to be more of a beggar than a chooser, let alone One Who Dictates The Terms.

For this reason, I thought there was a strong likelihood that the Wolves would have to send Gorgui Dieng — one of the best players from the 2013 Draft Class — back to the Cavs in order to land Wiggins.

Instead, the Wolves — by all accounts — will not be sending Gorgui anywhere. Instead, they will also be receiving Anthony Bennett, and a future first round pick from Miami that they will then turn around and send to Philadelphia with Alexey Shved and Luc Mbah a Moute for Thaddeus Young!

Here are the pertinent Woj Bombs from late last night, which provided rock-solid certainty to what our local beat guys have been saying for a while now:

So, for a player who has semi-publicly announced his intentions to leave in one year, the Timberwolves are going to acquire:

2014 1st Overall Pick Andrew Wiggins
2013 1st Overall Pick Anthony Bennett
Thaddeus Young, one of the league’s top ten power forwards

I don’t really understand how this happened. Or is going to happen tomorrow, I should say. I know that it obviously required a great deal of good fortune, including and probably not limited to the following:

* The Cavs having so much lottery luck to hoard young talent that a rebuilding team would desire;
* The Warriors refusing to a mega-deal involving Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and David Lee, for Kevin Love and Kevin Martin;
* The Cavs signing LeBron; and
* LeBron requesting, maybe outright demanding, that the Cavs immediately trade for Love, even if it means losing Andrew Wiggins.

Now, you can #WellActually all of this and point out that the best player in the deal is going to Cleveland so this is not as great as I’m making it sound. But the point is, given the circumstances, this is absolutely the greatest return imaginable and will go down as one of the biggest trades in NBA history. Maybe even THE biggest, if it leads to a Cavs title and a successful, sustainable rebuild in Minnesota that includes long-term success.

When Flip Saunders was hired as the Wolves President of Basketball Operations, there were mixed reactions, but few seemed legitimately excited about it. I know that I wasn’t. But the big-picture task for him to be judged on was his handling of Kevin Love. By the time Flip was hired, Love had already done his Woj interview and everybody understood his frustration with this organization. Bill Simmons had gone on record saying that Love would be traded. This seemed like a likely possibility and it was something that Flip had to be ready to handle as best as possible.

In matters of NBA front office moves, we talk about things like “process versus results,” and luck, and it is easy to define an executive’s legacy however you’d like. Even the San Antonio Spurs — the league’s Gold Standard for operations — required incredible luck in winning the David Robinson and Tim Duncan draft lotteries. And with Flip Saunders right now, you can certainly obsess over the fact that he would’ve pulled the trigger on a Klay Thompson deal had it been offered, or you can obsess over the fact that landing Andrew Wiggins required so many other huge dominos to fall first. That’s fine.

But the manner in which Flip has executed the details of this trade — not giving up any additional assets of note, waiting out the 30 days to allow Wiggins contract to be absorbed without others, and going out and acquiring Thaddeus Young without giving up Anthony Bennett in the process — unquestionably demand respect. The only tactical strategy that I can think of that might have given him undue leverage is that he and Glen Taylor have ALWAYS maintained that they would just as soon keep Kevin Love and try to make the playoffs next year. They were thought to be crazy, but it might have been just that perceived craziness that gave them an upper hand in negotiations.

Who knows.

In any event, it sounds like the formal deal goes down tomorrow and it’ll be a new day for Timberwolves fans.

In honor of Flip being ready when the proverbial “shit went down” with Kevin Love, here is some Cypress Hill for you on this Friday morning:

 

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