Category Archives: Timberwolves

Breaking Down Anthony Bennett with Canis Hoopus’ Eric in Madison

Even Kyrie Irving vouched for Bennett going into the 2013 draft.

Even Kyrie Irving vouched for Bennett going into the 2013 draft. (Eds. Note: Disregard the Otto Porter-ness of this pic.)

Andy G and I recently engaged in an extended email dialogue with Canis Hoopus‘ Eric in Madison. (Eds. Note: If you’re a Wolves fan–if you’re reading this, I’m pretty sure you are–Canis Hoopus needs no introduction. The guys over there have the beat on the latest Wolves news and chatter.) EiM posted the conversation over on his site a few days ago. We decided to run it over here for those of you who only visit the site for wildly-optimistic fanboi takes on Anthony Bennett’s raw talent and killer mixtapes.

The cross-post from CH is below the fold.

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Quarterly Timberwolves Report

wolves graph

Don’t corporations do quarterly reports? I’ve never prepared one or even worked for a corporation, but I think that they do. (Googling) Okay, yeah, quarterly finance reports are a thing. I didn’t dream that up. According to Wiki, they are “required by numbers of stock exchanges around the world to provide information to investors on the state of a company.”

Since the Timberwolves are at roughly the quarter-point of this NBA season, it seems like a good time to reflect on what’s happened; specifically, how everybody is playing. I’ll do this in letter grade format, going through each player, organized by position. The grades are on a curve, based on my expectations for the player heading into the season. So an A doesn’t mean the player is better than someone who earned a D; just that he’s doing great for what could’ve been expected, versus the other player who is underperforming. Hopefully that makes sense.

Guards

Ricky Rubio – Incomplete

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Appreciating Zach LaVine’s Diverse (and Elite) Company

Zach LaVine is playing with vigor, albeit inconsistently

Zach LaVine is playing with vigor, albeit inconsistently

 

Perhaps the most interesting stat line in Saturday night’s loss to the Spurs came from Wolves rookie Zach Lavine. Lavine scored 22 points and had 10 assists. It was his second-best game of the season. (Eds. Note: Lavine’s best game was his career-high 28 point night in the Wolves last win, against the Lakers in Los Angeles, on November 28.)

Take Lavine’s numb#rs with a grain of salt: Lavine, starting again at the point in place of the injured Ricky Rubio and Mo Williams, was going against the Spurs’ second unit. Tony Parker, the Spurs’ superstar point guard, had tweaked a hamstring injury the night before in the Spurs win at Memphis, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat Parker on Saturday against the Wolves.

(Eds. Note: Pop also sat star guard Manu Ginobili in the game but played Tim Duncan, who fucked around and got a triple-double the night before in the Spurs win over the Grizzlies.) So Lavine had more breathing room to get his bearings at the point.

Lavine’s Line

So, why should we care about Lavine’s numb#rs? Because Lavine’s night puts him into incredibly interesting company: LeBron James, Stephon Marbury, and Dajuan Wagner. Who, exactly, is that company?

The most important point to note is that the trio of teen NBAers who’d put up 20/10 double-doubles in points and assists is INCREDIBLY (!) cool. Just read the names again: Lebron James, Stephon Marbury, and DaJuan Wagner. They had special paths to the NBA. Now Zach Lavine is on that list. He didn’t. But he brings at least some of the “something-something” those guys brought, at least some of us think, and the Wolves front office seems to believe, since they were the ones who drafted him this past summer.

Lebron, Steph, and Juanny are and were cool in very different ways. What they all had in common was that as high school players, they were viewed as “the next coming.”

But the next coming of what? The answer is that it was different for each. But for each, it was some type of basketball greatness.

Let’s briefly walk them through, one-by-one.

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Shabazz: Always interesting, but now his team’s best player.

'Bazz plays tonight against 'Bron and Beas.

Since he was drafted in June 2013, Shabazz Muhammad has been the most interesting player on the Timberwolves. This is true for many reasons, including but not limited to the following:

  • Shabazz was the number one rated high school prospect in his class, according to rivals.com. By other respected sources he was number two.
  • In those prep years, Shabazz was playing under the wrong age; he was actually one year older than he was listing. Over an extended period of time, under national spotlight, this was obviously not an accident.

  • Shabazz has Tourette syndrome.

  • In his lone season at UCLA, Shabazz’s performance gave rise to polarized reactions; the math projection models hated him, the eye test kinda liked him.

  • Shabazz has had a complicated relationship with his father, Ron Holmes, who was heavily involved in his basketball upbringing. This includes the decision to lie about his age. In 2013, Shabazz told interviewers that his dad was no longer a big part of his basketball life. He had to set “gound rules, in that respect.” Holmes was convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud in 2014. These legal issues have undoubtedly been a distraction and source of stress for Shabazz during the beginning of his basketball career.

Since being drafted by the Timberwolves, Shabazz’s mystique has only grown. He sat on the bench for most of his rookie season; one in which his team was gunning for a playoff spot that was not to be. Once it became clear that the Wolves were not playoff-bound, the retiring Rick Adelman began to play his rookies a little bit. While Gorgui Dieng was the late-season revelation — posting a 20/20 game, and general productivity across the board — Shabazz also impressed fans in flashes.

In a late-February game at Phoenix — one the Suns badly needed for their own playoff hopes — Shabazz was the game’s MVP. In 24 minutes of the most energized bench play we’d ever seen around these parts, Muhammad scored 20 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, and collected 2 steals, leading his team to unexpected victory. Despite that great performance, his playing time did not stick, though he did have more moments and flashes in the final weeks of his rookie campaign.

Then came the off-season, which seems to have been a pivotal one for Shabazz. He came into the NBA a little bit like his fellow Bruin/Timberwolf, Kevin Love, in that he was carrying a bit more weight around than would be recommended for a basketball player. He didn’t have a “gut,” in the white-collar, nine-to-fiver sense, but he also wasn’t ripped like most NBA wings are.

That’s changed.

Shabazz spent the summer in California working out with Frank Matrisciano, a Navy SEALS trainer with unconventional methods but proven results. The workouts, which are called “chameleon training,” obviously proved beneficial for Shabazz. He looked so much leaner at Media Day — even in his face — that I barely recognized him as the same person from a few months back.

And that brings us to the present, and the most interesting fact of all about Shabazz Muhammad:

Right now, he is the best player on the Timberwolves.

You can bold, underline, or italicize the “right now,” because it’s an important qualifier. When Ricky Rubio is healthy, he’s a better all-around player than Muhammad. Ricky doesn’t score as many points, but his impact on team success is more substantial and proven over a multiple-seasons track record. The same is probably true about Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic. Thaddeus Young has played below his career averages this year, dealing with a new environment and a personal tragedy, or maybe he’d be above ‘Bazz, too.

But right now, it’s pretty much a fact that Shabazz is playing better than all of his teammates.

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Timberwolves This & That

Monday’s game was another blowout against a Western Conference contender and another game I didn’t feel up to recapping. The Wolves had a great first quarter on offense, led by Gorgui Dieng’s 5 assists and all sorts of fun ball movement. In the second quarter, the Clippers got a few breaks from the refs, the Wolves ball movement stopped, and the total inability to play defense prevented Minnesota from keeping it close. The Clips led by over 30 for stretches in the second half.

The following is a random set of thoughts about this team, where it’s at, how it should be viewed and what may be going on behind the scenes.

“You play basketball against yourself; your opponent is your potential.” –Bobby Knight

I read John Feinstein’s classic, “A Season on the Brink,” a few months ago, and had this quote highlighted. I think it applies to how this Timberwolves team — now decidedly in “rebuilding mode” — should be viewed going forward. The Wolves were able to win at Staples Center against the crappy Lakers on Friday night. While the end result was fun, it wasn’t all that important. More important was that Zach LaVine showed off shot-making ability that we hadn’t previously seen. A few nights later, in the same arena, the Wolves were blown off the floor by Chris Paul’s Clippers. Again, the loss doesn’t matter as much as how inept the Wolves looked on defense.

It’s frustrating because it’s a familiar approach and so far from ideal, but the process and progress matter a lot more than the game-to-game results on the scoreboard this year. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy the wins or lament the losses; just that they lack the importance that they have for most teams, and that they had for this one, last year.

 The Handling of Injuries: A form of tanking?

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The Wolves should run this play more often.

I’m not a big fan of the offense that the Timberwolves are running. They don’t spread the floor very wide. They don’t shoot many threes. They don’t run much pick-and-roll action. Instead, a lot of energy is wasted with non-ball screens that — if executed correctly — will set up an open jump shot. Unless the cutter is Kevin Martin — and even sometimes when it is — that shot will usually be taken from the mid-range, which is generally considered the worst type of shot in basketball. (Basic logic: It’s worth less than a three without being much easier, and it’s not nearly as easy to convert as layups and/or free throws are.)

The other night against the Lakers, the Wolves second string improvised with the shot clock dwindling down, and showed off a basic NBA set that most teams would run regularly with this set of players.

Shabazz Muhammad had the ball on the right wing without much happening with the offense. Anthony Bennett was set on the opposite block, and saw Shabazz left out on his own. He ran up to set a ball screen for his teammate.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 6.13.33 PM

While this ball screen was being set, Robbie Hummel and Zach LaVine got out the way.

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The wide-shouldered Bennett set an effective screen on Nick Young, and Shabazz — with his strong left hand — drove hard into the lane, drawing attention from Robert Sacre, the screener’s defender. Young was left trailing the action and in need of help.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 6.14.20 PM

Wes Johnson did not help enough off of Robbie Hummel, and Shabazz and Bennett had a 2-on-1 situation right by the hoop. Bazz dropped off the dime around Sacre, leaving Bennett open for a layup.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 6.14.44 PM

Young was too late in catching up to the action, and he fouled Bennett as he laid it in for two points and a chance at a third.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 6.15.00 PM

This is incredibly simple, easy-to-repeat basketball that a young team like the Timberwolves could run all night long. Preferably, Ricky Rubio would be the playmaker for most pick-and-rolls. That can happen when he gets back. But Shabazz could also develop nicely if he could attack the heart of defenses from the right wing, much like other lefty wings like Ginobili and Harden. As defenses adjust, it will — at worst — lead to a simple drive-and-kick pass to the left wing, and better ball movement. As things are, the Wolves waste too many possessions without some of their more passive players (Wiggins and Bennett) even touching the ball. Instead, Mo Williams and Thad Young dominate it, en route to difficult and contested shots of their own.

Here’s hoping to see more pick and rolls like this one.

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Jottings from the Wolves Win over the Lakers

Zach Lavine

Zach Lavine

The Wolves defeated the Lakers last night in a 120-119 barnburner at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant missed a wide-open three point shot that would’ve won the game at the buzzer.

  • Zach Lavine: Lavine made shots. The media made a lot out of his psychology in this game because he was squaring off against his childhood hero, Kobe Bryant. Lavine played by far his best game as a pro. He had 18 points in the second quarter alone (28 for the game), and shot 11-14 from the floor. He and Jeremy Lin were locked up against each other for much of this quarter, and Lavine looked confident that he could get any shot he wanted against Lin.  Lavine’s shot selection leaves plenty to be desired and maybe always will — a lot of his makes last night were of the “dribble jumper with plenty of time on the shot clock” variety — but you feel a lot better about it when the shots actually fall, and he doesn’t look surprised by the result.

A lot of times before last night, it looked like Lavine simply shoots to try to get his self going, but doesn’t really expect the ball to go in. Last night was a different story. As athletic as Lavine is, it goes to show how important timing and rhythm are for his offensive game. He was well within the flow of what was a very fast-paced game last night. Hopefully he can take away some lessons about why he was so successful last night and has looked so poorly on other nights.

But it bears emphasis: Lavine put together one of the best games that any rookie plays this season.

More below the fold…

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