Author Archives: Andy G

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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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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Some Questions about Rubio’s Return

Like everyone else, Ricky wondered why the Seahawks didn’t hand off to Lynch for the Super Bowl-winning touchdown. Tomorrow night, he returns to action against the Mavs.

On Saturday evening at Target Center, Ricky Rubio went through what must have been the most watched individual practice session of any basketball player, this year. Working with special coach Mike Penberthy, about one hour before tipoff versus the Cavs, Ricky shot threes and dribble jumpers before a surprisingly big crowd, for such an early time. This was because LeBron James was in town and, perhaps more importantly, because it was #TheReturn of Kevin Love (and Mike Miller!).

The Wolves had a huge crowd that showed up early, and Rubio was going through a workout on the game floor while his teammates and opponents were getting dressed in their locker rooms.

He was going full speed, and making a lot of shots. His form doesn’t look great, but it does look improved. There is some visual evidence, for those of us who have been able to watch him in these non-televised moments, that he is improving as a shooter. Just not any data. Yet.

That changes tomorrow, when he returns to game action. The Wolves play at Dallas against the Mavs, and Ricky will be playing. Apparently he’ll be under a minutes limit for a while, presumably because he’s not in regular game shape. Who knows how much he’ll play at first (maybe 25 minutes?) but any amount of Rubio action is cause for excitement for this win-starved team that has lacked floor leadership since his injury way back in early November.

A few questions to consider with Ricky Rubio returning:

* Will the Wolves play better?

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Waiting for Wiggins: Day 20 of 30

Andy G:

Rather than write about Love again, I’m just reblogging this one from back in July. It looked back on what I’ll remember most about Love’s time in Minnesota. It’ll be fun to see him play again, tonight.

Originally posted on Punch-Drunk Wolves:

Wiggins-Calendar20

I suppose one of these posts should be about Kevin Love.

He is the centerpiece of the Wiggins trade after all; at least in one direction. Love is also the second greatest player in Timberwolves franchise history and one of the ten — maybe 4 or 5, depending on who you ask — best in the league, right now.

But I don’t feel like writing about how great, or not, that I think Kevin Love is at basketball. Too many people (including me) have spent thousands upon thousands of words doing that for the past six years. He is, as Bill Simmons pointed out in his lengthy Friday column, an unusually polarizing player. At this point in his career, Love is probably most closely identified with disagreement.

Along with that polarizing nature and in some cases in cause of it, here are a few things that I will remember…

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Wednesday Jottings

Happy Hump Day, Timberwolves fans. Your favorite team will look for its eight win of the season tonight in its game against the Boston Celtics, the 45th of this season. It should be a winnable contest against a Celtics team that fields fewer bad players than the Wolves, but no good ones either. They’re 16-27 and have traded away their two best veterans, Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. At Target Center, the Wolves should have enough pride to expect a win, or at least a game that goes down to the wire.

Rather than dig into the details of this late-January matchup of lottery-bound rebuilders, I felt more like discussing different things I’ve come across in NBA news and writing over the past few days; some of it Wolves-related, some not.

* Wolves whiffing on Whiteside

I might as well start right here at Punch-Drunk Wolves, where Patrick J wrote about Hassan Whiteside, the current buzz of League Pass; specifically how the Wolves failed to spot a talented, available big man from the free agency scrap heap when Nikola Pekovic was first declared injured and instead Jeff Adrien was pursued and signed. Pat specifically mentioned the relationship between Flip Saunders and Adrien’s agent, perhaps suggesting that the marginal roster decision was made for reasons other than merit. Whatever reasons were behind the Adrien pickup, we know they had nothing to do with long-term potential because he had none of it. And Whiteside did.

I understand the rebuttal to this, because it’s pretty simple: The Wolves missed on Whiteside along with the other 28 teams who failed to sign him when he was available. Props to Miami for finding him and having the proper infrastructure to tap into his enormous talent. He had a points/rebounds/blocks triple-double on national TV on Sunday.

Another rebuttal point could be that the Wolves have enough “upside,” between Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett, and even Glenn Robinson III. (I leave Andrew Wiggins out, because he’s already pretty good and not a clear-cut “project.”)

But newer readers may not be aware that we’ve both been big fans of Whiteside — or at least “the idea of Whiteside” — for a long time, even devoting a short post to him in August 2012 when there were some rumors swirling that the Wolves might have interest in bringing him in.  I just did a quick “Whiteside” word search in my email inbox, and the list of hits was long, going back over three years. So it wasn’t just after-the-fact, hindsight-is-20/20 for Pat to write that. Whiteside was blocking shots like whoa in his first, abbreviated NBA stint, and his physical tools didn’t disappear in his time away from top-notch competition. If you read his post in full, it’s not like he was crucifying Flip for missing on this, but just acknowledging that the Wolves have been rotating new anonymous big men in all season, and none of them was the available guy who is now dominating the Eastern Conference.

* Lorenzo Brown: a point guard at last! Continue reading

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