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INBOX: The Lows and Highs of the Timberwolves’ Stank-Tank and Rick Adelman vs. Flip Saunders

Rick and Flip

Rick and Flip

The Lows and Highs of the Wolves’ Stank-Tank

Andy G: You and I are in complete agreement on the initial question of whether the Timberwolves are (and have been) tanking, this year.

They are.

We don’t need to beat that dead horse.

But let’s talk a bit more about what their tanking methods have done — both good and bad — and what they tell us about this team, its coach, and its future.

I’ll let you start: with respect to the tanking the Wolves have done this year, what parts have bothered you most, and are there aspects (aside from the boosted draft position) that you think have had positive effects (whether anticipated/calculated, or not)?

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Some Thoughts on What the Kevin Garnett Trade Might Mean to Kevin Garnett

Prelude: Garnett’s Homecoming

What will Kevin Garnett’s return to Minnesota bring to the Wolves and the state of basketball in Minnesota? The trade still has everyone excited. Some of it is sentimentality about “The Kid” who grew up in front of our eyes. He became the franchise’s best player ever, brought the Wolves to the playoffs eight straight times and to the brink of the Finals once. He was our team’s only league MVP. A lot of the best (and a few of the worst) moments in team history are tied up in Kevin Garnett, and his time spent in a Timberwolves uniform. There’s going to be a buzz when The Kid returns to the place it all began.

There’s been some discussion of Garnett’s likely impact on the team, but little about what Garnett might be thinking about coming back to Minnesota. How does he see this affecting his legacy? What does he want to accomplish. It sounds like he wants to become an owner of this team, but why ownership? And why own the Wolves? You know he’s a student of NBA history and that he thinks about this stuff—and takes it seriously.

Garnett himself has been mum about what his end game is in Minnesota. I delve into some possible angles below the fold.

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How Will the Wolves’ Improved Health Affect Shabazz Muhammad’s Role?

kevin-martin-23-kevin-love-42-shabazz-muhammad-15-and-nikola-pekovic-14

Kevin Martin Returns from Injury

Kevin Martin came back to the lineup last night in the Wolves’ victory over the Boston Celtics at Target Center. Martin had 21 points in the win and felt like a spark plug for the team, even though his +/- rating was -3 for the night. (Eds. Note: A fairly meaningless statistic in a single game, especially when close to zero.) I dislike Martin’s style and defense, and his fugly-j, nerdy, weak, aesthetic. But Martin did what he does–score–and the Wolves won. That’s what matters.

Martin was excellent off the bench. A sixth man role might be the one he’s best suited for in the future–if he’s ever going to play an key role on a high-end contender, that is.

Pekovic Also Returns, Thaddeus Young Moves to Small Forward

The recent lineup changes are not limited to Martin’s return. Nikola Pekovic, another of the team’s season-opener starters, is back. This is more unexpected and, frankly, better news.

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How the Wolves Whiffed on Whiteside

Hassan Whiteside

Hassan Whiteside

How Things Went Down

Here’s a little chronology for y’all. (Eds. Note: Warning: The following contains Wolvesian content that may not be suitable for perma-optimists.)

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NBA Links I Liked

Here’s some stuff I liked, in no particular order (except #1).

  1. Smoking in the boys room: a history of NBA cigarette smoking.
  2. Pacers coach Frank Vogel on Mo Williams’ 52 point (!) game: “I was asked by someone who works here did I have nightmares about Mo Williams?” Vogel said after practice. “And my response was: ‘You’d have to be asleep to have nightmares.'”
  3. Along those lines, an interesting list of the least-likely 50-points-in-a-game scorers. Who isn’t there who should be? Who’s there but shouldn’t be?
  4. If you were going to build a boy band made up of NBA players, who’d be on it? Hardwood Paroxysm has thought about this.
  5. The Wolves are one of two NBA teams that currently forgoes the time-honored game day morning shootaround, instead doing an afternoon walk through. Why? Gaming until 3 AM, Flip Saunders says.
  6. Andrew Wiggins will be in this season’s Slam Dunk contest on All-Star Saturday Night. No other participants have been named yet. Somewhere, Zach LaVine is seething with jealousy.

Since the dunk contest is still a way off, here’s some Wiggins dunkz to pregame to.

 

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Flipped Off: 2014 in Review, and What’s to Come

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Andy G: First off, happy new year to all Punch-Drunk readers. 2014 was an eventful one for Wolves fans. Last January, we were watching the team hover disappointingly around .500 — clearly not good enough for Western Conference Playoffs eligibility — and bracing for what might be next to come; specifically, Rick Adelman’s retirement from coaching, Flip Saunders’ return to coaching, and Kevin Love being traded.

All of those things happened.

Thankfully, the return on the Love trade was surprisingly huge, given the circumstances. The Wolves had very little leverage, with Love making his plans known and having only one year left on his contract. Yet the the Cavs unexpectedly winning the lottery (for the second time in a row and third time in four years) followed by LeBron’s surprising Return — presumably coupled with a wink-wink agreement to trade for Love, was a rare stroke of luck for this franchise. Instead of the usual nickels or dimes on the dollar that a team could expect in this situation, the Wolves landed a player in Andrew Wiggins who some might prefer to Love; at least down the road a few seasons.

But all was not so swell this year.

Far from it.

For one thing, Flip Saunders’ coaching “search” was clumsy at best and disingenuous at worst. The Wolves ostensibly sought out candidates for the job, conducting interviews like a normal basketball operations staff would do with a vacancy to fill. Only, all along we assumed Flip would hire himself, which is of course what happened. Flip is no dummy, and he’s not a bad coach. But his bread-and-butter philosophies seem outdated. At this point, we’re hoping that his expertise and dedication will be mostly geared toward the individual development of young players — especially Wiggins and Zach LaVine. Over time, he’ll either hire a credible, progressive assistant coach whose input is welcomed to help with strategy (read: develop schemes to create open three-point shots and dunks, instead of spending real energy to free up 17-foot jumpers) or just retire from that job and hire a new coach from his GM perch.

But that’s far from a given and gives reason for concern.

Also, the basketball has been atrocious.

Currently the Wolves are 5-26, on pace to win just 13 games. They have lost 10 straight.

Ricky Rubio got hurt in just the season’s fifth game and the team is left with zero capable point guards. Nikola Pekovic got hurt too, leaving the team with zero capable centers. (Gorgui Dieng is good at some things and might have a bright future, but has been physically overwhelmed in the starting center role.) Oh, Kevin Martin got hurt too. And Thad Young, acquired at the expense of a first-round pick in the Love deal, has been a disappointment.

Believe it or not, it turns out that playing without a viable point guard, without a viable center, and without any wing players who can create offense for others off the dribble, is a very difficult thing to do. It’d be like an NFL team playing with a 200-pound wide receiver subbed in a left tackle to protect its quarterback’s blindside. Things that used to be available (pick-and-rolls for the Wolves, passes longer than 5 yards for the hypothetical football team) are removed from the playbook altogether. Winning is nearly impossible.

It’s also difficult to watch. The Wolves offense has relegated to multi-step plays just to feed the post for a difficult isolation play. Again, the hope is that the players posting up (Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad) are improving with these game reps. There is some evidence of that, which is good to see.

But anyway, that’s some of the year’s big events in a nutshell, as I see them.

What did I leave out?

Patrick J: The biggest event to date is the emergence of Shabazz Muhammad. The reason Shabazz is the biggest story is because (1) hardly anyone one saw it coming, and (2) Shabazz has been by far the Wolves’ best player this season. It’s only Bazz’s second season in the League. Youth is still on his side. This makes his emergence even better–the Wolves are building around youth. Flip Saunders acquired a bunch of young assets in Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett, and Gorgui Dieng [Eds. Note: Sort of–Gorgui is 25.]

Trading the #9 draft pick for the right to pick Muhammad at #13 plus the pick that turned in Gorgui was almost universally reviled by Wolves fans–especially analytics-informed ones. Shabazz was supposed to have no NBA talent based on his performance at UCLA. To make matters worse, he was supposed to arrive with hefty amounts of baggage and a poor attitude.

What we’ve seen is the exact opposite of these pessimistic predictions. Last season, Rick Adelman did not give Shabazz much playing time. But in the minutes he played, we got a small taste of what he could do. (Eds. Note: It included playing with more energy than his opponents and a knack for scoring.)

Nonetheless, there were lingering concerns that Shabazz was a tweener and didn’t have the athleticism and explosiveness to hold his own at an NBA position.

So, over the summer, Bazz worked out with private trainer Frank Matrisciano, whose difficult workouts have been used in the training of America’s most elite Special Operations Forces, the Navy SEALs. Shabazz emerged leaner, stronger, and even better at playing with energy and scoring than before.

This season, Shabazz leads the NBA in points-per-touch, has a PER of over 20, and appears able to competently play the underappreciated role of go-to scorer. He’s the only Timberwolf who, on any given possession, I’m confident can create or execute an offensive move or play that will result in a basket. That’s a nice skill to have, in addition to his intangible hustle and eagerness to expand his game and learn new techniques to improve his weaknesses.

Shabazz wants to be a star AND a complete player. Before this season, most doubted he could be either. Now, most are at least willing to entertain the notion that he could be both.

That’s the Timberwolves story of the year for Patrick J. (And it isn’t even close.)

Andy G: Let’s talk about fresh issues. Ricky Rubio is (finally) going to return soon; hopefully within two weeks. His ankle sprain has left him out of the lineup for a pretty ridiculous length of time (It’ll end up being a 2 months-plus recovery) and the team has obviously not fared well without him. Continue reading

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Confirmed: Anthony Bennett Should Be Shooting Three Pointers

Anthony Bennett going up for a long two.

Anthony Bennett going up for a long two.

 

A lot has been written about Anthony Bennett’s lack of three-point shooting this season. Flip Saunders told him not to shoot threes, and he hasn’t.

This post takes a look at what Bennett’s and the Wolves offensive numbers might look like if Bennett were taking a step back and able to shoot at the same clip he’s been shooting at.

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