Back to .500: Wolves 101, KINGS 91

So the Timberwolves won another game, another road game actually, and are back up to .500 at this not-quite-so-early point, 16 games into the 2015-16 season. This is an overwhelmingly-positive position for the team to find itself in, for the reasons mentioned in yesterday’s post that took a shot at evaluating Sam Mitchell’s performance as coach.

In and of itself, yesterday’s win was nothing too special. This is because their opponent, the Sacramento Kings, was missing its by-far-and-away best player, DeMarcus Cousins. When Boogie plays, the Kings are a respectable 5-5. When he has been out with injuries, they are a not-so-respectable 1-6, after last night’s loss to the Wolves. When assessing the difficulty of last night’s Wolves win, however, it must be noted that they were once again without both Ricky Rubio (ankle soreness) and Nemanja Bjelica (knee contusion). The combination of Rubio and Bjelica might approximate the importance to the Wolves’ present-day competitiveness of Boogie’s to Sacto. The Wolves had lost their previous 16 games without Rubio, if that seemed like an unrealistic comparison.

The Wolves won for a few reasons. On their own end, Andre Miller came off the bench and played some of the most spectacular old-man ball you will ever see. If Miller wasn’t knocking down an open shot, he was posting up a skinny opponent. Or he was using his will-always-be-quick hands to poke away a pass. Or, as things went, he might randomly open field tackle Willie Cauley-Stein, who didn’t even have the ball. (Yes, that actually happened. Upon review, it was deemed a Flagrant One.) Anyway, Miller ended up logging 18:46 seconds of vital action off the bench. In that time, the Wolves beat the Kings by 12. He had 12 points and 4 assists, without missing a field goal or free throw. In the minutes that Miller sat out, the Wolves were outscored by 2 points. He was possibly the biggest difference in the game.

Andrew Wiggins played his usual brand of aggressive-scorer basketball. It seemed like his most physical drives to the hoop were not rewarded as usual with free throws (he shot 6, probably could’ve had 12 attempts with favorable whistles) but he managed to score a reasonably-efficient 22 points, and pulled down an unusual 5 offensive rebounds.

Zach LaVine filled the stat sheet, as he is prone to do, with 19 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. LaVine was not without mistakes, and his (-2) probably represents the all-around game he played pretty well, but his production was not inevitable for the Wolves team by any stretch of the imagination and it is really encouraging to see his play improve, even if it remains at the wrong position.

Shabazz Muhammad came off the bench to score 15 efficient points (8 field goal attempts) in 15 minutes of action. When Bazz provides this spark, the Wolves have a much greater chance of winning games. Their first unit has had a lot of success this year — built on its defense — and a bench scoring burst will tip the scales for them more often than not.

On the Kings side, they simply got a terrible game from Rudy Gay, who shot 1 for 13 from the field. Credit to Andrew Wiggins for his defense — after a shaky first quarter, it was very solid — but a lot of this was Gay’s own difficulties. Had he played well, this game would’ve gone down to the wire. He didn’t, so the solid performances they got from Rajon Rondo, Marco Belenelli and Kosta Koufos were for naught.

The elephant in the room, with respect to last night’s game which came in the wake of the win over the Hawks, is the limitation put on Karl-Anthony Towns’s playing time. Without any injuries or foul trouble, Towns has had his minutes cut in favor of Gorgui Dieng for two straight games. Last night at Sacramento, Towns played 21:20, while Dieng played 26:40. Towns had 6 points on 3-5 shooting, along with 8 rebounds and 2 blocks. Dieng, to his credit, had 8 points of his own (2-4 shooting) along with 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. The plus-minus differential between the players (minus 4 for Towns, +14 for Gorgui) is effectively attributable to everything Andre Miller did, which came exclusively during Dieng’s stints.

Unless there is an undisclosed injury or conditioning issue of KAT’s that fans are not aware of, this is obviously a mistake. It has not cost the Wolves a game yet (though it certainly could’ve, had Gorgui struggled in those 4th Quarters much the way he has at other times this season) but it just does not make any sense from either perspective from which people analyze this team. If the Wolves are trying to win games, then they should play Towns because he is the much better player. If they are trying to develop their young players for the future, then they should play Towns because he is much younger and under contract for a longer period of time.

How much simpler can it be? Most issues aren’t this black and white.

In any event, it’s great that the Wolves won that game, and they’ll ride the momentum of a three-game winning streak into Staples Center, where they play the Clippers tomorrow afternoon (2:30 CST).

A few bullet points to wrap this up:

  • Damjan Rudez can play. He does the awesome role-player thing where he catches a pass and either shoots it if he’s open, or quickly swings it to move the defense if he isn’t open. This team is filled with young, eager-to-impress players who don’t always make such quick, marginally-good-for-the-team plays. Rudez’s “on” split shows the Wolves outscore opponents by 1.5 per 100 when he plays, in a very offensive-oriented game. (110.9 vs. 109.5). However, only 12 of his 64 minutes have come next to Ricky Rubio, whose presence goes a long way in determining Wolves defensive performance. It’d be interesting to see some lineups that include Rubio and Rudez, to see if some of that drive and dish chemistry can be developed with a bona-fide spot shooter out there.
  • Kevin Martin continues to struggle. He shot 1-6 last night, missing some potentially-important, wide open shots. His season field goal percentage is at 34.8.
  • Shabazz hasn’t gotten off to a great start to the season, even if his scoring stats are pretty good (16.7 points per 36 on 49% field goal shooting). He is the team’s worst plus/minus guy, with a net rating of (-6.4). (Next worst is Gorgui with (-3.7) so Bazz is worst by a ways.) But that requires some dissecting because it’s been pretty clear to me that Shabazz has been hurt by his situation in the Zach LaVine-led second unit. (LaVine is a net (+3) on the season, but is much worse when slotted as the point guard, which is the predominant lineup that Shabazz plays with.) Shabazz is (-36) on the season. However, he has somehow racked up a (-27) when paired with little-used Tyus Jones for just 11 minutes of action. In 193 minutes with Zach LaVine, Shabazz is (-21). In 24 of those 193 minutes with LaVine, another point guard was on the floor (Rubio for 8 of them; Miller for 16). In those 24 minutes, the Wolves were (+3). So, with LaVine-point-guard lineups, and Tyus Jones lineups, Shabazz’s plus-minus is (-51). When Shabazz plays with Andre Miller in the game, he is (+17) through 70 minutes. That’s a lot of plus/minus numbers jammed into a bullet pointed paragraph, but the point is: Shabazz’s plus-minus would look better if he played with offenses led by a point guard that knows how to initiate offensive action.

That’s all I’ve got for now, another one tomorrow at LA. Go Wolves.

Season Record: 8-8

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Back to .500: Wolves 101, KINGS 91

  1. Shabazz should be playing more and Martin less. The “eyes” don’t lie. The heck with the stats.

  2. Stephen

    I disagree with all the concern about KAT missing the 4th quarter on two consecutive games. When a coach is in the middle of a game, they have a direct feel of what is going on. Even the announcers predicted the uproar that some people might have, and their response was, “KAT will be just fine.”

    In fact, I see KAT being benched in the 4th quarter as a positive. He will be even hungrier when he sees action in the game. Instead of assuming he is going to ride out the end of the game, now he knows that he has to perform well if he wants to play. I like that mentality. Play the guys who are playing well. The season is 82 games and I know that KAT is going to be a superstar regardless of a few less minutes in the 4th.

    On a side note, I’ve never been more positive about the wolves in a very longtime. This team actually looks like they have an outsiders chance at making the playoffs with the weak West. That is crazy.