Wiggins, Bennett, and Different Levels of Investment

bennettwiggins

Forgive me for putting a temporary freeze on the game wraps. In the absence of Rubio, Martin and Pekovic, the games have not been very meaningful as competitions. For the time being, I’d rather focus on emerging themes and trends than the win/loss column.

But the silver lining to the recent struggle has been the way Flip has decided to just give Andrew Wiggins the ball and let him go to work. In the season’s opening games, Wiggins was consistently nervous-looking in the first half, before opening up his scoring arsenal in the third quarter. We could see the talent, but would have to wait for the results. Rubio, Martin and the vets would be the primary playmakers.

No more.

Wiggins played 39 minutes last night against the Bucks. In the game before that he played 41 minutes and in the game before that he played 33 minutes. After starting the season as a third or fourth option (he didn’t score double figures until his fourth game) Wiggins is now the unequivocal first option. Last night, he scored 14 points on 14 shots, along with career highs of 8 rebounds and 4 assists. From the opening tip, he was the focal point of the offense.

He had a career-high 29 in the previous game against the Kings, and he had 14 in the game before that against the Spurs. Flip has Wiggins posting up, and using a variety of moves to score: step-back jumpers, rip-through/blow-by drives to his right, and turnaround jumpers seem to be his most common weapons of choice. In this infant stage of his career, I’m seeing an offensive upside that — if you squint a little bit — looks kinda like Carmelo Anthony.

In case you missed it, Wiggins is not the only other Recent Number One Overall Pick on this Timberwolves team. Come to think of it, he isn’t even the only one of those who was born and raised in Canada. Wiggins’ teammate and fellow traveler in the Kevin Love trade, Anthony Bennett, is also learning on the job for the Wolves.

Only Bennett is being handled very differently than Wiggins is.

First, he’s not playing as much. With Thaddeus Young back in the lineup last night, Bennett played 21 minutes last night; barely half what Wiggins played. Second, and more importantly, he is not nearly as involved in the offense. Whereas Wiggins is being used as a first option and playmaker, Bennett’s role is simpler and more limited. He stands around the top of the key, doing one of three things:

  • Set a ball screen;
  • Catch a pass and quickly look to a wing for a dribble hand-off exchange; or
  • Catch and shoot.

One statistical illustration of how Wiggins and Bennett are playing different roles is in their “shots dashboard” on NBA.com, which shows how many dribbles they take before they shoot the ball. To date, Wiggins takes only 38.5 percent of field goal attempts without a dribble. Bennett shoots right off the catch on 74.4 percent of his attempts. Wiggins is dribbling because he’s a primary option and tasked with making a play. Bennett doesn’t dribble because he’s floating and waiting for a pass while somebody else does the heavy lifting.

Flip is demanding a lot more of Wiggins.

The more limited role for Bennett makes sense. Last year, he experienced a disastrous rookie season. On a dysfunctional Cavaliers team, Bennett arrived out of shape, suffering from various ailments, and played terribly. He was quickly written off as a bust. Now in Minnesota, with a fresh start, it makes sense to simplify his game, focus on the things that he can do (read: bury 20 footers at the top of the key like they’re layups), and restore his confidence before looking to develop his game in more advanced ways.

It’s still early, and all of this might change multiple times over the course of this long season. But I think this difference in treatment, between two awesomely talented young players, is important and worth paying attention to. By feeding Wiggins the ball and demanding that he expand his game, the Wolves are doing two things:

  • Investing in his development, with an expectation that they will benefit from it in the future; and
  • Increasing the likelihood that he develops how they want him to.

With Bennett, they are kinda sorta doing the opposite. I was talking Wolves with some friends after last night’s game and my friend Brian made what seemed like a good question, in regards to the new focus of posting up Wiggins for those square-up attack moves:

“Why don’t they ever do that with Bennett?”

It’s a good question because Bennett seems like he might be at least as good as Wiggins at that sort of play. He’s showing off a beautiful square-up jumper, and has all sorts of strength and agility to be a powerful finisher off the dribble. Over time, when his post-Cleveland psyche is fully repaired and his confidence is restored, it would be wise for Flip to devote some offensive-attention resources to Bennett, like he’s doing now with Wiggins.

The great Dr. Lawyer Indian Chief captured the right sentiment during last night’s game:

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 10.11.16 PM

True that. It’s great to see Bennett knocking down jumpers, but it will be even better to see the Timberwolves reciprocate with some investment; maybe even treat him like a top overall draft pick, and a player who a lot should be expected from.

Something to watch and think about as the season progresses.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Wiggins, Bennett, and Different Levels of Investment

  1. jmndodge

    It’s rare that one trade can bring two such talented young players to a ball club – We need a strong player at both the SF/PF positions – and it looks like we have them in these two young ball players. Should Dieng continue to put on strength and gain the cunning veteran moves for offense – Should Rubio return strong – should LaVine/GR3 both find their niche as wing players – and Bazz continue his development at both ends of the floor – there are 6 first/second year players and one young veteran playmaker to build on going forward. Flexible enough to provide major minutes at all positions – PG/SG/SF/PF/C with backup depth and flexibility through guard/wing/even small PF rotations. PEK’s health – is the biggest question going forward – the decision on his contract was terrible given his health, that contract burden for a 2nd/3rd option at C will make it difficult to keep Young – while still bringing in a true C (good enough for competition for Dieng) and a C/PF tall and string enough to play with Dieng in rotations with taller PF’s when Bennett is to small. Given PEK’s contract I don’t expect a trade is possible – this likely means Turiaf/Williams/Brewer/Martin as well as Budinger/Young will be on the trading block – hopefully a move or two yet this season. The talent of the top 7 young guys realistically are two years away from serious competition every night in the NBA – but worth waiting for. We will need to plug holes with short term vets – while drafting no more than two additional prospects investing the cost (lost opportunities in games) to develop their talent . 2017 could be exciting.

    • I get what you’re saying about Pek, but I also think he’s getting the going rate for a scoring big man that plays 60+ games a year. No one game plans for how to stop Gorgui on offense, but they do have to account for Pek, and that’s worth something. If the team does decide to trade him, he’s a potentially ideal final piece for a team making a playoff push. Sure, you might take back a bad short term contract to make it all work, but you might also pick up another intriguing piece.

      I love Gorgui but I’m concerned about him as well. He’s not the rim protector I thought he would be. It’d be nice if the Wolves could find a physical low post defender and shot blocker to pair with him. I’m beginning to suspect that it’s going to be a couple years, like you said, before this team is ready to compete. Maybe a bit of the OKC timeline, where you can see the talent is there and you just need to give it some time to develop. My list of needed players includes the low post defender, a stone cold shooter/scorer, and another ball handler with at least some passing ability and one plus offensive ability (three point shooting would be nice). I’ll be honest – I have low expectations for GRIII. He’s the new Malcolm Lee to me – show me something in an actual game, then I’ll start to believe. Wiggins and Rubio. As far as those two can take us is as far as we’ll go.

  2. ajhagg

    I understand the team’s stance regarding Bennett. For now. There’s a point, though, when “We’re building his confidence” becomes “We don’t trust him.” Bennett has looked good so far, and the coaches seem to like him, but I’m with you. I’d love to see them give him more responsibility as the season progresses.

    • Rodman99

      I think Bennett needs to focus on his overall BBiQ and defensive skill set (positioning, etc) and first show improvement there before he is force fed. He certainly has the athleticism and shows flashes of strong D, but he also gets out of position.

      Wiggins is way smarter at this point than Bennett.

      I’m a big, big fan of both.

      • ajhagg

        I think you’re absolutely right. I’m just hoping that as the season goes along, Bennett shows improvement and in turn the coaching staff gives him more responsibility. I don’t know if it’s just the unguarded optimism of a fan, but I’ve seen enough in Bennett’s game to think that he can be an excellent player.

        • biggity2bit

          One thing I don’t like about Bennett is the quick trigger on those long 2’s. I am hopeful it is part of a broader strategy to open up some space to do the other thing I wish he did more of – drive to the hoop for a vicious jam. If that was his game, I would be happy.

          I agree that it’d be nice to see some defensive improvement with him as well, but right now I don’t know who is calling the shots on D for the Wolves but they are doing a very poor job. The guys look lost and ill-equipped. They need to find their next Bayno and let that person do their job.