Category Archives: Timberwolves

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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Measuring Success for the Timberwolves in 2014-15

fork-in-the-road

I am back at the blog after a summer hiatus and I’m excited about the season. You know the reason already–change.

If you’re reading here, you probably already know all about the changes from last season–Rick’s out, Flip’s in, Love’s out, Wiggins is in, the Wolves are gambling the farm on young talent, yet have failed to move numerous veteran players on bad contracts who promise threaten to slow the youngins’ development, and that this odd mix of the young and the promising and the old(er) and overpaid could create locker room weirdness.

While I’ve been away from the blog, I’ve still been reading the excellent news updates and analysis that is churned out daily on sites like Canis Hoopus, A Wolf Among Wolves, TWolves Blog, and numerous others (see, e.g., here, here, and here). These sites extend the beat reporting by the Strib, the Press, and Fox Sports. Equally  important, their material is the lifeblood that keeps Wolves Twitter vibrant in the lean months when no games are actually played, no drafts are happening, and (Wolves) free agency activity is minimal. They are the locus of coordination for the 24/7 chatter on teh interwebz that satiates the irreconcilables among us Wolves fans. (Eds. Note: If you’re reading this post, you’re probably in this group.)

Being away from blogging for a few months can serve to restore, or alter, a blogger’s perspective. You can’t read everything, you’re not farming for tidbits to harvest, and you have time to step back and take a longer view on why it is you’re blogging in the first place.

For me as a Wolves blogger, this has allowed a kind of introspection about the real meaning of all of the changes to the franchise’s architecture. The issues I’ve kept returning to are simple, fundamental, and, I believe, are ultimately the ones that will make or break fans’ retrospective on 2014-15 when they look back at the upcoming season, and the offseason changes that preceded it, in the coming years: competitiveness and progress.

These are meta-issues that have little to do with confidence bands on predicted 2014-15 wins. From a less abstract perspective, these issues imply two sets of questions heading into this season:

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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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Wheelman Presents: The Punch-Drunk Podcast, Vol. 7

Eyes on the Rise and other cool stuff.

 

 

 

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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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Welcome to Minnesota, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins

Anthony Bennett

New Timberwolves forward, Anthony Bennett, as a freshman at UNLV. He gained a lot of weight after shoulder surgery before his rookie NBA season, but appeared better conditioned this summer in the Vegas League.

Patrick J: So Flip Saunders went and did the impossible, turning a depressing Kevin Love trade situation into an extremely exciting one that netted the Wolves the last two number one overall picks in the NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.

It was inevitable that the Wolves would have to trade Love. He wasn’t re-signing in Minnesota and the Wolves couldn’t let him walk away and get nothing in return. It was not inevitable that the Wolves’ take from a Love trade would be a good one. The Warriors offered David Lee and Harrison Barnes, but refused to include Klay Thompson in any trade for Love. The Bulls reportedly offered Nikola Mirotic and reserve defensive stopper Taj Gibson for Love. Those would’ve been pretty terrible deals for Minnesota.

Getting a prospect with as much realizable potential as Andrew Wiggins at least gives the Wolves a chance at recouping the value they were going to lose anyway when Love departed Minnesota.

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