We are live-streaming tonight on Boothcast. To join in and chat, down the app in the Apple AppStore. Looking forward to it!
It is games like these that don’t allow me to lose hope on Andrew Wiggins. He has had some memorable games in his career in Oklahoma City. The half-court game winner and earlier this season his 30 point performance with the game-deciding basket. All of those games, while were amazing, didn’t amount to last night’s win against Oklahoma City 119-117. Wiggins had 40 pts, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and shot 16/18 from the free throw line.
What we saw was a Wiggins that was motivated. He was motivated to win the game for Ryan Saunders’ first career game as head coach. And up until this point, the culprit to Wiggins reaching his potential was ultimately his motivation. He never seemed assertive enough to lead a team to victory. After the game, Wiggins mentioned that the win was important to get for Ryan Saunders because he was the only coach that was still around since his rookie year. And since after his rookie year, he has been coached by Sam Mitchell and Tom Thibodeau, who both ultimately struggled in connected with him on a personal level but also leveraging him correctly on the court.
Wiggins was motivated but he was also used in many ways that Flip Saunders used him in his rookie year. Ryan Saunders involved him in the offense early and often. Pre-game, Wiggins said he would look to get out in transition and attack more, and he did exactly that early on. Wiggins got to the line, and made his free throws, like he did early in his career as well. Wiggins made 16 of 18 free throws on the road, which is extremely impressive.
Saunders also let Wiggins handle the ball, something that helped him get his offense going in the second half, where he can often get lost after having a productive first half. He also set him up in post-up sets and in give and go’s with KAT late in the game. Once it seemed as if Wiggins was planning to score at any opportunity, he would dish it out to someone for an open shot. This came up huge in the final minute of the game where he created an open 3-pointer for the rookie Okogie.
While bringing back all of these things that made Wiggins successful in the past, Wiggins included things that he has worked on over the years as well. Wiggins added 2 threes and showcased him improved ball handling by getting to the basket against a difficult OKC defense. He hit some amazing moving jumpers late in the first half that he has also added recently to his repertoire.
The reason this game was so impressive though for Wiggins is that he did this while having to carry the offense without much support. Derrick Rose was out in this game, KAT was in foul trouble and Teague was ejected in the second half. This allowed the highly-ranked OKC defense to focus on Wiggins. He often had one of the league’s best defenders in Paul George guarding him and one of the better rim protectors in the league in Steven Adams protecting the paint.
He also had to carry a major defensive load in the game. Robert Covington was out so Wiggins was asked to guard Paul George (who shot 37.5% from the field) for most of the game. Josh Okogie was guarding Russell Westbrook so it didn’t allow for much rest on the defensive end.
Being that Wiggins had a double-double, he clearly was hustling for rebounds, as he is mostly criticized for not doing. He showed heart and energy in a game that needed every ounce of it. It was beautiful to see Wiggins be the first to congratulate Ryan Saunders on the win when he entered the locker room. It finally feels like Wiggins found a coach that he wants to play hard and win for.
On this day, November 10th of 2018, the Wolves traded disgruntled star Jimmy “General Soreness” Butler and Justin “We should’ve taken OG” Patton to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Robert “Lord” Covington, Dario Saric, Jared Bayless and a 2022 2nd round pick. The Wolves lose 5 straight games on the road to give them a 4-9 start to the season.
Wanted to get some immediate thoughts down for Wolves fans to digest.
- Goodbye Jimmy!
Man, what a distraction. Glad that is over. Easily one of the worst experiences in Wolves history. The dark cloud can now move away. Jimmy Butler will return to Minneapolis to play the Wolves in March 30th, pending he chooses to sit due to general soreness. Looking forward to Boos, fights, and all that is in between. Not sure why Wolves fans were cheering for him in the first place.
- Thank God Markelle Fultz wasn’t involved in the trade
Fultz has dealt with injuries and an ever-evolving shooting form. One of the weirdest stories that is outside of Minnesota. He could develop into a good player but I don’t think Minnesota is the place for him. Plus, with Derrick Rose playing the way that he is, no need to bring in a 4th point guard.
- Not taking back a guard means belief in, or at least more minutes for Josh Okogie and a bigger role for Derrick Rose
Compared to other trade packages, the Wolves brought back two forwards instead of receiving a high-caliber guard to replace Jimmy Butler’s production. Whether that be Josh Richardson or Eric Gordon, this opens up minutes at the 2-guard dramatically. Once Jeff Teague is healthy, Derrick Rose could move to the bench again or as the starting shooting guard. Judging by defensive needs though, this could mean Josh Okogie is the long-term starter at shooting guard this season. This is great news for his development. Okogie will have to learn to be patient on the offensive end while bringing the same energy (‘same energy’ is the best thing that came out of the Butler feud btw) on the defensive end. If Wiggins and Teague have ongoing injury concerns though, the Wolves look really lite at guard now.
- Teague, Gibson, Dieng and Jones should be made available
Specifically for Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson, they were Jimmy Butler guys. With him here no longer, the Wolves need to assess their value. Gibson is an interesting trade piece as a $14M expiring contract. Jeff Teague has a player option for $19M this summer that he would be dumb to decline. That said, a team looking to add depth and/ or veterans (hello Lakers) might find value in either guy. Dieng and Jones are more opportunistic thoughts. Dieng is in a terrible contract but provides decent minutes. Jones will be a free agent and will likely lose minutes to Rose at the PG long term.
- Convington and Saric are solid additions
I actually really like Robert Covington and Dario Saric. I think Covington provides great defense, shooting and size. He will provide good looks as a stretch 4 alongside Towns for stretches. Expecting him to do more than provide 3s and Defense on the court will be a mistake. He is 27 and signed through 2022 to a reasonable contract.
Dario Saric is one of the most undervalued players in the league. He shoots the 3 ball well and can rebound. He provides a good option on offense. He is only 24 and is on his rookie contract through the end of the 2020 season. The Wolves will get a good look at him until they decide to extend him. It will be interesting to see is Saric starts over Gibson at some point this season or not. Saric’s offense could truly benefit the bench.
- Sigh for Keita Bates-Diop
This trade is likely the worst thing that can happen for KBD. I think if he got minutes at PF over Anthony Tolliver at some point this season, he could provide some value. Unfortunately, Covington and Saric are going to be hard to take minutes from now or in the future. Not sure what this means for the long-term future for KBD here, but it can’t be that good.
- Long jam at forward now, something else needs to happen
The above two points means that the Wolves have Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Taj Gibson, Anthony Tolliver, Keita Bates-Diop, and Luol Deng all capable of logging minutes at power forward. Tolliver is likely the one to fall out of the rotation immediately.
- The season is unfortunately still lost. Don’t hope for the playoffs
We’ve seen this stuff before. The Wolves didn’t make this trade to improve their roster, they made this trade to salvage their locker room. That rarely means a roster improvement. At the end of the day Jimmy Butler on this roster gave the Wolves the best chance to win and now they will be forced to try to pick up the pieces and move forward. Being that the Wolves are in the competitive Western Conference, are young and don’t really have a true-defined leader in the locker room, this transition will likely be difficult. The team also has lost all trust in Tom Thibodeau and him still being employed seems to be Glen Taylor looking to simply save money. The Wolves would need to go 37-32 JUST to be .500. I don’t see this Wolves team doing that at all.
Rant ahead. You’ve been warned.
Remember when the offseason was fun? Sometimes, more so than the regular season? Especially if you’re a Wolves fan? There was nothing like tracking the progress of rookies over the summer, even though their careers never panned out. I miss getting excited about signing a player that was not concerned about location or winning, but getting paid and maybe even extending their career.
Don’t believe huh? Remember when the Wolves signed Cole Aldrich? Wolves fans were going crazy! He had toughness. Size. Rim protecting ability. And was from Minnesota!
Lets take it back further. Remember when we drafted Tyus Jones? Wolves fandom was split on rooting for the hometown kid and if he would be productive. We followed him into the Summer League and eventually him earning MVP.
Back even further huh? Wolves fans were at one point excited when we traded for Martell Webster. A pioneer of the 3 and D. Yeah, he couldn’t stay healthy and we weren’t competitive, but there was a glimmer of hope.
I could go on and on. I used to love the offseason. Fast forward to the summer of 2018. The Wolves make decent in the draft by getting Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop. I love both guys and think they fit well. We re-sign Derrick Rose to the minimum. Not mad. We replace Bjelica with Anthony Tolliver. Tolliver may actually fit this team a little better than Belly and was actually a better 3-pt shooter. We sign guys like CJ Williams and James Nunnally to fill out the roster. Guys who provide some nice wing depth. Williams is on a two-way contract even though he started a few games for the Clippers. Nunnally seems like a hungry player who can shoot the ball. We add this to a team that made the playoffs last season. Doesn’t seem like regression, right?
Last season left a bad taste in most Wolves fans’ mouth. We thought making the playoffs would taste much better after 14 years. Instead, it was a second half of the season that included a lot of regression. Dropping from the 3rd seed to making the playoffs with the 8th seed and a scary win in game 82.
So why is this the worst offseason ever?
Because every single push notification I have received this summer has been about someone in the Wolves organization making a fuss about nothing. And instead of intellectual discourse amongst Wolves fans about advanced stats and roster gaps, fans have argued back and forth about what and who to believe and which rumor. It feels like a really bad sports drama on Netflix.
It starts with Glen Taylor shutting out the media and refusing to talk about Wolves related topics. Then Jamal Crawford declining his player option and saying there are huge issues in the locker room. Then there is the drama with Wiggins not wanting to be a 3rd option. KAT saying he has things to say or that there are things to talk about but never talks about anything. Then queue Jimmy Butler and every possible rumor from wanting to play for any NBA team essentially and that he doesn’t like to lead others. Or something. I understand Jimmy declining the extension. He did the right thing. But KAT has a max extension on the table and for better or worse, is holding out on signing while his peers are getting paid.
This offseason has not been about basketball. At all. Tom Thibodeau has terrible PR skills. Mix that with a bunch of disgruntled millennials who are paid millions and love attention. And you get the Wolves 2018 offseason. I probably took that last statement too far, but whatever.
If all this extra drama was not involved, I would be crazy about this offseason. I think chemistry is the single most important thing on a basketball court. If it is non-existent, the team will suck. Analytics at its finest. The Wolves had the opportunity to build off of a tremendous season in terms of accomplishments. They could carry forward a team that is mostly the same but with a year of experience together. Continuity. Something that KAT and Wiggins haven’t really seen since high school really. It could potentially make all the difference for an even more stacked Western Conference. Instead we have spent the summer imploding.
How awkward are the training camp photos going to be this season? There is obvious beef. No one seems to want to be the bigger man.
I could be wrong. I hope I am wrong. KAT, Wiggins and Butler could love each other. Butler could be trolling the world. That said, it is not fun from a Wolves fan perspective. And horrible for a team that is betting on player development and team continuity as the way they improve from one season to the next.
/ end rant
For the first time ever, we have ourselves a Playoff Preview! It is weird to do this, that is for certain. Your Minnesota Timberwolves, the 8th seed, will take on the Houston Rockets, who had the best record in the NBA finishing 65-17. They didn’t lose often. The Wolves have an uphill task trying to contain James Harden, the guy who should be this season’s MVP. Before we start talking about Harden, lets look at the schedule.
Game 1: MIN @ HOU Sun 4/15 8:00pm CT
Game 2: MIN @ HOU Wed 4/18 8:30pm CT
Game 3: HOU.@ MIN Sat 4/21 6:30pm CT
Game 4: HOU @ MIN Mon 4/23 7:00pm CT
*Game 5: MIN @ HOU Wes 4/25 – TBD
*Game 6: HOU @ MIN Fri 4/27 – TBD
*Game 7: MIN @ HOU Sun 4/29 – TBD
A quick refresher on the playoff format, since it has been 14 years. First team to win four games proceeds to the next round. The * above indicates if necessary.
So first, the Houston Rockets. The Rockets are led by James Harden and an aging Chris Paul. They are filled with a bunch of shooters along the perimeter and a great defensive center in Clint Capela. They are led by coach Mike D’Antoni, who is known for being the Mastermind behind the high-powered Suns offense back when the Wolves used to be competitive. This Rockets team has ultra-adapted to the modern NBA by shooting a ton of 3s. They are the first team ever in NBA history to attempt and make more 3pt field goals than 2pt field goals. Let that sink in. They shoot and make a lot of 3 pointers to keep things simple. If the Wolves want any chance in this series, it will be to take the 3 pointer away. No one has really figured out how to do that quite yet.
How have the Wolves performed against the Rockets this season?
Game 1: 1/8/18 L Wolves 98 @ 116 Rockets
Game 2: 2/13/18 L Rockets 126 @ Wolves 108
Game 3: 2/23/18 L Wolves 102 @ 120 Rockets
Game 4: 3/18/18 L Rockets 129 @ 120 Wolves
Wolves have lost all 4 games against the Rockets this season, the only team in the Western Conference they were unable to beat this season. Many people remember the 3rd Game as the game Jimmy Butler was injured in. The 4th game the Wolves played without Jimmy Butler and were down by over 20 points before making a late comeback in the 4th only to fall short.
How do the teams match up?
Well for starters, the Rockets lead the league in 3pt attempts with 42.3 attempts per game and the Wolves attempt the least in the league at 22.5. The Rockets average making 15.2 a game while the Wolves average 8 made 3’s. That puts the Wolves at a 21-point deficit just from a 3-pointers made differential. This is the biggest matchup gap for the two teams and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Great teams typically do something great, and for the Rockets it is their 3-point shooting.
The interesting thing to watch will be pace and transition. In the regular season the Rockets were 14th in pace while the Wolves were 22nd, despite their youth. The Rockets, while not necessarily known for their defense, do have four players who average over a steal a game, with Harden and Paul averaging 1.8 and 1.7, respectively. The Rockets are a middle of the pack transition team though, so they won’t mind slowing things down and meeting the Wolves pace. Luckily for the Wolves, they are amongst the best in terms of turnovers committed and will need to keep them down to win.
For the Wolves, their 47 win season came in part of Jimmy butler missing 28 games this season, so they aren’t a traditional 8 seed. While many expect the Rockets to sweep the Wolves, I do expect the Wolves to put up the fight of a 4 or 5 seed. The Wolves don’t lack experience outside of Towns and Wiggins. Even in the experience of the young pack leaders, they gained a lot of on the job experience playing for their playoff lives over the last few months.
If the Wolves want a chance in this series, they will have to push the pace. Pushing the pace will help expose the Rockets poor defense and forces the Rockets to speed up the pace, in turn potentially lowering the number of 3-point attempts and potentially getting the Rockets out of their groove. The Wolves defense will have to step up in a big way as well. Thibodeau’s defensive genius will have to come out in this series to give the Wolves a chance. Throwing out different looks each game and not being predictable will be huge. Switching on screens and containing penetration will be something the Wolves will need to get comfortable doing quickly.
The Rockets run a smaller lineup with a SF usually playing PF so that they can stretch the floor. The Wolves will need to take advantage of this. Bjelica and Gibson will benefit from this situation since Belly struggles in guarding SF’s and Gibson is versatile enough to guard bigger SF’s. It will stretch the floor for the Rockets but also gives the Wolves an opportunity to play small as well, which is probably a bad idea. But due to lack of depth, Thibodeau has been seen playing a lot more 3-guard lineups which shouldn’t give the Wolves an advantage or a disadvantage against the Rockets, since they do the same usually. The main difference is when the Wolves have KAT and Gibson on the floor together in which it should be a good thing for the Wolves.
There is also a guy the Wolves need involved in order to succeed in this series…
Perfect Transition. Karl-Anthony Towns. Key to the Wolves success, whether it is the regular season or the playoffs. Not sure why this isn’t obvious either. Run the offense through KAT. Simple. Get him involved. As previously stated, they have an advantage inside. Capela is a great defender, but then that means a Small Forward like PJ Tucker will need to guard the crafty low-post vet in Taj Gibson. If the Wolves can establish offense through KAT, it will certainly open of the floor for Gibson and the wings.
It will be interesting to see how the Wiggins and Butler match up against Harden and Ariza. Wiggins has a good amount of length over Harden if the Rockets choose to but the longer Ariza on Butler. The Wolves will likely have both Wiggins and Butler guarding Harden throughout the series, but Harden will get his.
The Rockets bench is what will likely cause most of the problems for the Wolves. While Luc Mbah a Moute is out for the series, there is plenty of firepower (pun intended) off the Rockets bench that have killed the Wolves in the past. Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Gerald Green have all murdered the Wolves in the past. If the Wolves can try to play some defense and Thibs doesn’t have Jamal Crawford guarding Gerald Green and Derrick Rose guarding Ryan Anderson, we might be able to survive.
The Wolves are finally in the playoffs. Many of us are just happy to be here. That said, the Wolves are heavy underdogs coming into the series. It will be an uphill battle. The Wolves can’t afford to make mistakes and need to actually run something semi-sophisticated on offense. They will need to also throw different defensive looks at the Rockets. I don’t think either happen which is why I expect the Wolves to be happy if they can take one game from the Rockets. The experience will be paramount regardless for Towns and Wiggins. They need a taste of the playoffs. There will be some shock factor starting the playoffs but when nervous, just look at this recent photo of James Harden…
The Timber Rebuilder.
I sit here just an hour removed from attending arguably the most important game in Timberwolves franchise history. The Wolves spent the last 14 years outside of the playoffs. For many Wolves fans, it is fun to subtract 14 from their ages to help non-Wolves fans understand the struggle. We have seen a lot of nothing. And while it wasn’t pretty, it is crazy to think that the Wolves made it by the difference of 6 points in an Overtime game in Game 82 of the Season.
The purpose of writing this now is to try to capture the real emotions of a fan. To have it documented. The truth is, I am in shock. I am worn out from cheering. I can’t believe the Timberwolves hardwood is going to have a 2018 Playoffs logo on it. I can’t believe the Wolves went through two iterations of jerseys that never saw the playoffs.
I was in Los Angeles on Friday and got to see the Wolves play the Lakers and win. I was also fortunate enough to see tonight’s game. The game was summarized as I walked out with my wife and saw one of the Target Center hosts holding back tears of joy. It was quite the moment.
I saw 14 years flash by. I saw the multitude of missed draft picks, from Wes Johnson to Derrick Williams to Johnny Flynn. I saw the myriad of veterans ending their careers here, from Brad Miller to Tayshaun Prince to Brandon Roy to guys that I would have to question actually played here. I saw the glimmers of hope, from Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio to landing back to back number 1 picks. It all flashed before my eyes.
There were certainly good times though. The previous happiest moments in the last 14 years are captured beautifully by Kevin Garnett below.
I remembered the happiness I had when the Wolves traded for KG. I remembered Flip. I remembered the 2004 playoffs and that amazing team.
I spent a lot of time watching highlights of KG in Game 7 of the 2004 Playoffs against the Kings. Thinking tonight would be similar. It did end up being just as dramatic.
The crazy part is that this blog is a product of the 14 year drought. The name comes from the years of rebuilding. The years of looking forward to the draft. The only thing we were really good at.
The season wasn’t pretty. Just like our offense and defense. But I am so happy Towns and Wiggins will finally get some playoff experience. I am happier Teague can continue his steak of always making the playoffs (sarcasm). The old Timberwolves fan in me is going to miss the draft pick we lost (joke with a little bit of truth). The hope is that regardless what happens, the Wolves get some playoff experience finally. And then gear up for the future. If I remember correctly, the playoffs are a different game (see what I did there).
I am rambling now – mainly because I am panicking at how early I have to wake up and how difficult it will be to focus on anything else tomorrow. I will sleep with a smile on my face for certain.
Congratulations to all of the Timberwolves fans who have stood by the team through thick and well, thick. The Timberwolves fanbase is an amazing one. It has been a pleasure sharing this experience and the last 14 years with you all. Looking forward to more meaningful basketball in the future, something we aren’t really used to.
The Timber Rebuilder.
The Wolves hold the 3rd seed currently with 18 games left to go in the 2017-18 season, sitting at 38-26. That said, they only hold a 4 game lead over the 9th place team, which means they could easily not make the playoffs.
After losing Jimmy Butler for what should be considered the rest of the regular season, the Wolves need someone to step up for the rest of the season and get the Wolves into the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. Naturally, the expectations are that KAT and Andrew Wiggins step in and make a difference. But there will be the need for Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague to leverage their experience as well as the bench needing to be productive. The Wolves just need to play mistake free basketball.
That said, the next seven games look brutal.
@Portland (On TNT)
@ Utah (On ESPN)
vs Boston (On TNT)
vs Golden State (On ABC, and essentially a home game for the Warriors)
@Washington DC (On NBA TV)
@ San Antonio (On NBA TV)
vs Houston (On NBA TV)
To hold on to their 3rd place position, the Wolves will need to go at least 5-2. To hold on to their comfortable playoff hopes, they will need to go 3-4. The Wolves either play an elite team at the top of either conference or a team that is trying just as hard to make the playoffs.
The bad news in all of this is that it is likely that by the time the Wolves play the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard could return. The Wolves haven’t played well against these top tier teams all season. On top of that, the teams that seem winnable on this stretch are playing better than normal.
The Wolves are up for what should be an incredible test of what this team is capable of without Jimmy Butler. The stretch should certainly prepare the Wolves for the final stretch of 11 games after that as the race for the 3rd through 8th seeds in the West heats up.
Your long-lost blog,
The Timber Rebuilder