Category Archives: Timberwolves

Saturday Jottings: Recapping the Knicks and Spurs, Previewing the Kings, and Anthony Bennett

Andy G: Let’s quickly get caught up since we last posted.

Wolves Trounce Knicks

On Wednesday, the Wolves blew out the Knicks. Kevin Martin — who we later found out suffered a broken wrist — had it going. He poured in 37 points and couldn’t miss. Mo Williams got his groove back. Shabazz Muhammad started at power forward (!) and had one of his best games ever (17 points & 8 rebounds).

The Knicks looked tired and clueless, allowing Corey Brewer to rip the ball out of their hands and forfeiting three attempts to the red hot Martin. Amar’e Stoudemire looked great on the block against Gorgui — not a great sign for the young center’s development as a post defender — but Gorgui did enough other stuff (5 steals) to contribute to a great plus-minus of +22.

Andrew Wiggins got to guard Carmelo Anthony for a bit — his education continues — and he also heated up for a fun stretch in the 2nd Quarter, scoring his only 12 points of the game.

Spurs Trounce Wolves

Friday’s game — last night — was not so successful.

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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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Andrew Wiggins: Reluctantly in the Spotlight

andrew-wiggins-nba-minnesota-timberwolves-press-conference-850x560

Things were clicking for Andrew Wiggins in Brooklyn. Though he’d normally been quiet until the second half, Wiggins opened the game aggressively, pouring in 9 points before halftime. The third quarter, usually Wiggins’ element, was still there for him even after his strong early play. He took it to the basket, nailed a jumper, and put one in from long range. For the first time in his short NBA career, Andrew Wiggins was in the zone.

Then, driving to the basket, he was fouled hard by Jarret Jack. It was a dangerous play—though it wasn’t ruled a flagrant, it easily could have been. Wiggins hit the floor hard, and got up quick. At this point, most NBA players would be pretty fired up. Many would get in Jack’s face, or do some push-ups, or just generally act fired up. But Wiggins stayed placid. You would’ve thought it was just any old shooting foul. He didn’t react. When he came out of the game later in the third–with a career high 17 points–his face was a mask.

So what gives?

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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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A Brooklyn State of Mind? Wolves defeat Nets, 98-91

Ricky Rubio played well in the Wolves victory over the Nets on Wednesday.

Ricky Rubio played well in the Wolves victory over the Nets on Wednesday.

Bouncing Back and Developing Winning Habits

The Wolves won a road game tonight over an Eastern Conference playoff team that has legitimate star talent on its roster. That includes former Timberwolf legend Kevin Garnett, whose star has greatly dimmed in the twilight of his career. This felt like a big win after the Wolves’ demoralizing loss against Chicago on Saturday night. That game was decided on a last-second foul by Andrew Wiggins with the Wolves up by one. Jimmy Butler went to the free throw line and won the game for the Bulls from the charity stripe.

Bouncing back from a hard loss like the one against the Bulls, against a talented veteran team like the Nets on their home court in New York City is big for the Wolves. Yes, it’s good for restoring short-term morale, and that is important. You don’t want the team to go into an early season funk in which it develops bad habits that become ingrained in the culture that’s currently being cultivated by the Wolves organization under Flip Saunders’ direction.

As both POBO and coach, to be successful Saunders needs to ensure good habits are developed. The rookies have upside, but what kind of professionals they’ll develop into over their career will largely determine whether they reach it. This is why it’s encouraging to see the Wolves playing very hard in each game so far this season.  This year’s Wolves play more aggressively on both ends, and, frankly, they play hungrier than last season’s Wolves ever did under Adelman. If these trends continue, they’re going to be better than the Vegas bookmakers prediction of 26 wins. They’re 2-2 now, and are one whistle in the Chicago game from being 3-1.

No Sleep in Brooklyn

Tonight’s win over Brooklyn was far from a sure thing. The Nets came in at 2-1 and remain perhaps the most intriguing talent in the Eastern Conference. Even having lost Paul Pierce in free agency, the Nets’ core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez, who’s back from a serious injury, is a slew of experienced pros with many All-Star appearances among them. They relocated to the most interesting part of the United States, are owned by perhaps the most intriguing owner in the NBA, and have a new high-profile coach in Lionel Hollins, who replaced Jason Kidd after Kidd was ousted in a ill-fated power play apropos of a classic Russian tragedy.

But the Wolves outplayed the Nets on their home floor and managed to seal a victory in a close game that they deserved to win.

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