Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Ascent of Wiggins & Thinking Back to Good Times

It is often said that the Timberwolves playoff run to the Western Conference Finals in 2004 was the franchise’s apex, and the moment listed by most fans as their favorite in team history. While technically true that it was the most successful season in history and the closest – in a direct sense – the team came to a championship, I personally disagree with the notion that this was the best time to be a Timberwolves fan.

To me, the best times were in the two seasons when Kevin Garnett was paired with Stephon Marbury to form the most exciting young core in basketball. In the 1996-97 season (Marbury’s first and Garnett’s second) the Wolves won 40 games and made the playoffs for the first time ever.

KG was just two years removed from high school. So was Steph. Along with Tom Gugliotta, they were the best players on the team.

In the franchise’s first seven years of existence leading up to this, the Timberwolves hadn’t ever won even 30 games. This marked a 14-win improvement from the season prior — KG’s rookie year — and it was immediately obvious that the explosive playmaker guard was a perfect match for the do-it-all seven footer. The following year the Wolves won 45 games, Garnett became a perennial All-Star, and the Wolves took the Payton-and-Kemp Supersonics to a fifth game in their best-of-five opening playoff series.

Watching Marbury and Garnett for those couple of years was not unlike what Thunder fans probably experienced when Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant blossomed and quickly became a playoff powerhouse. When you consider just how rapidly the Wolves young core was developing — these guys were barely removed from high school — it was fair to wonder if they might win multiple championships as they led the Timberwolves for the next dozen years.

If you need a reminder of how crazy-exciting they were, just check out the highlights on this weird music video I found on Youtube:

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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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Mental Mistakes in Basketball and Flip’s Unique Challenge to Correct Them

“I’m tough on players that I think have a chance to be very special. At one time everyone thought I wasn’t tough enough on Garnett. I couldn’t be tough on him because he did everything I always asked him to do and he very rarely made any mistakes and he played hard. I thought that if he kept on playing that way, he’d be great.

My toughness on them has to do with repeated mental mistakes.”

That was Flip Saunders after the recent loss to the Spurs at Target Center. It reminded me once again just how unique Saunders’ challenge is, coaching this team that is just so replete with bouncy athleticism and yet — in its current form — so totally devoid of all-around NBA basketball players.

Consider that Andrew Wiggins leads the team in minutes played and Zach LaVine is fourth. Each guy is 19 years old; the age of most college freshmen. Shabazz Muhammad is fifth in minutes and he’s 22, the typical age of a college senior, and Anthony Bennett is 21, barely old enough to legally drink a beer. He’s eighth in minutes.

Flip is coaching a college team against NBA competition.

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The Jahlil Okafor Hype, in 1 Play

In case you missed it, the Timberwolves are struggling. They have a 5-31 record, no quality veteran players who are healthy and motivated enough to play well, and are riding a 15-game losing streak. (!)

Inevitably, then, some of us begin thinking about the draft, and looking at the best college players, in hopes that one of them can help Andrew Wiggins and company resurrect this franchise that reached the playoffs every year from 1997 through 2004.

Also, in case you missed it, Jahlil Okafor of Duke is the most touted prospect in the anticipated 2015 draft class. He has size, listed on Draft Express at 6’11” and 272 pounds. His wingspan is 7’6″ and his standing reach is 9’3″. For a helpful comparison, consider the measurements (in DX’s awesome database) of DeMarcus Cousins, the league’s most dominant low-post force (by far): Cousins, as a prospect, measured at 6’10.75″, 292 pounds, 7’7.75″ wingspan and 9’5″ standing reach. If Boogie is physically overwhelming in the NBA at that size, Okafor — slightly taller, slightly leaner, with slightly shorter arms, will be plenty big to play as a low-post center.

But it is skill where Okafor stands out when you watch any Duke game. I’ve seen a handful, and without exception have come away impressed every single time. Put simply, he has the most advanced low-post game that I’ve seen in an NCAA center since Tim Duncan. He’s currently averaging 19 points per game on 68 percent field-goal shooting.

One play today, in Duke’s first loss of the season (Okafor had 23 points on 8-11 shooting, with 12 rebounds and 3 blocks) stood out as a good example.

Here’s a breakdown with fuzzy pictures taken by my phone of my TV.

  • First, as Duke pushes the ball up the floor, Okafor is already feeling his man for position on the block. By doing this, no time needs to be wasted with ball reversals or screens to get him the ball on the block to start the offense.


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Punch-Drunk Podcast, Episode 10: Wiggins and the Rest (Plus GERALD GREEN!, Injuries and Tanking, and the NBA Draft)

Gerald Green put on a brief but amazing show on Wednesday against the Wolves.

Gerald Green put on a brief but amazing show on Wednesday against the Wolves.

In which we discuss Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young, Mo Williams, Zach LaVine, Gerald Green’s performance, injuries and tanking, and some NBA Draft prospects who intrigue us.

Check out the podcast below the fold.

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“Wolves’ Nikola Pekovic most likely to undergo MRI on Wednesday”


The title of this post is the headline of a CBS Sports fantasy basketball post. Fantasy hoops can be silly, but those guys have an incentive to be realistic about when a player important to their team(s) is likely to actually play and produce.

The story reads:

Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic will most likely undergo an MRI on his injured ankle on Wednesday, reports the Associated Press.

Pekovic has not played since Nov. 15 while dealing with the ankle injury. In nine games, Pekovic is averaging 11.9 points and 8.1 rebounds.

Assuming the MRI happened (or will happen soon), the story notably fails to mention anything about why it would be that Pekovic’s MRI would only happen now, after the Wolves highest-paid player has been out since 15 November with injuries that are all but clear.

What is clear is this: Indications point to Pekovic not playing again this year. If he’s okay, he should be playing – not being re-evaluated. Given that he’s being re-evaluated, it appears that Pekovic isn’t okay. (Eds. Note: To be fair, the Wolves suggest that the point of the MRI is to clear Pek to come back soon. We’ll see.)


Fans are more enthused about Rubio’s return than Pekovic’s, which is understandable. But Pekovic’s return is an important part of determining whether the Wolves current core has a future if/when combined with its core of veterans–Pekovic, Rubio, and Kevin Martin.

Pekovic averaged 11.9 ppg in the 9 games he has played this season. He is being paid $12.1 million this year. If he doesn’t play again, he will have been paid $1,344,444 per game he played this season.

It is a bummer that Pek hasn’t been healthy this season. But it is an even bigger bummer that neither his injuries nor a credible timeline for his return have never been presented to Wolves fans.

Get well soon, Pek.


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The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the (gratuitous) Interesting

I haven’t been doing game wraps this season because, ever since Rubio, Pekovic and Martin went down, the game outcomes took on very little meaning. Very shortly after Ricky’s injury was that horrific weekend on the road where the Wolves lost by (a franchise record) 48 points at New Orleans and then allowed a layup line the next night at Dallas. They won at home against the Knicks — who we now know to be the very worst team in basketball — and then lost by 29, 12, and 17, in the next three games, all at Target Center.

The season changed from an intriguing question mark to a definitive rebuild.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have observations and I don’t mean to let losing get in the way of posting.

With that introduction, here’s an updated scrap of things I’ve been thinking over the past few games. We’ll do this Good, Bad, and Ugly style, but for sake of manufactured balance, I’ll throw in an “Interesting” to close things off.

The Good: If you squint just the right amount, you can kinda see a young core of players beginning to bloom.

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