2015-16 Season Review and Takeaways

usa-today-8956594.0Its done. Another season over. It probably won’t hit us until the finals are over. But now, we wait until another season kicks off next October. Our young pups one year older and hopefully a storied head coach to lead the pack. I will say, it was one of the most exciting seasons for the Wolves, maybe ever. But to look back, we will look at what we learned and what we can look forward to. Please support by sharing, retweeting and liking this. It will mean the world!

Another season wraps up and it is again another season the Wolves don’t make the playoffs, hence the blog name. It is now 12 consecutive seasons without making the playoffs. The Wolves finish the season at 29 -53. While many saw Sam Mitchell‘s magic number as 27 wins, he was immediately relieved of his interim coaching duties just an hour after the game. A portion of this review would’ve been to understand what happens with coach Mitchell, but that has been decided already.

A review is not a review unless it has something to measure against, thus, we used our Season Preview Here as the basis of our analysis. How did the Wolves perform against expectations that we personally had when the season started? Here were the keys to success and the bold predictions.

Keys to Success:

  • Get the Young Pups Minutes, together.
  • You have Veterans, Use them. (Unofficial mentors, change Martin’s role, Pek rough up guys)
  • Compete!
  • Develop Roles Now
  • Find a Diamond in the Rough

Get the Young Pups Minutes, together. It was a long season. It wasn’t until X amount of games into the season did we see the starting lineup of Rubio/ LaVine/ Wiggins/ Dieng/ Towns. It remains incomplete of seeing how Shabazz looks as a small ball four. Earlier in the season as well, there was no logic around the limited minutes that Towns was receiving. All that said, Wiggins and Towns got a majority of their minutes together as the top two scorers on the team. LaVine had been up and down, but mainly up since the All-Star break. Especially in the last stretch of games on the final road trip, the Wolves strung together 3-straight encouraging wins. One over the Warriors, another for the season sweep of the Kings, and the final one on a buzzer beater by Towns against Portland. I won’t say the Wolves did as good as they could’ve done in this aspect, it definitely wasn’t a failure. I hate when opportunities are lost. There were many games in which Kevin Martin or Tayshaun Prince were starting and it didn’t make sense for this season or next. But its finally coming together.. The Wolves get a Pass grade here.

You have Veterans, Use them. I think the Wolves re-engineered how rebuilds should work in this aspect. While Andre Miller ripped the Wolves as an organization, the Wolves leveraged the abilities and experiences the veterans on the roster had until they could literally take the training wheels off (releasing K-Mart and Andre Miller) and let the young pups roam freely. Garnett can be partially credited for the emergence of KAT as their personalities seem to mesh. I look forward to the day that Towns begins to talk trash and can make references to Honey Nut Cheerios in an offensive manner to discourage his opponents. While Pek didn’t get the opportunity to play much, I am sure he roughed up a few of the kids this season. Tayshaun Prince has also been a class act. While it will probably be his only season here, he played his role to the fullest, whether it was starting or off the bench. He was an absolute professional. All in all, I believe this was a huge bright spot this season. I am sure it will pay dividends in the future.

Compete! The Wolves started and ended the season competing. The Wolves were at one point 8-8 and ended the season 4-1. The team is capable of competing. Something happened in the middle of the season and it wasn’t pretty. The Wolves just kept on losing. That said, they weren’t getting blown out as often as they had in previous seasons. They would make a lot of come backs and blow a lot of leads. That is understandable for  a young team. The learning curve is still there in pulling out tight games. Had they done that, the Wolves could’ve probably won 10 more games.

Develop Roles Now. The only roles that were truly developed were that of Towns, Wiggins, and maybe LaVine. Rubio is still on the fringe of ‘am I a part of this thing?’ or not. LaVine looks to be fitting into the starting 2-guard spot but its highly dependent upon Rubio playing alongside him and then being able to play more consistently in the future. Shabazz and Dieng’s roles are still in flux. Bjelica is still a question mark. Unfortunately the questions going into the season were answered with questions going out.

Find a Diamond in the Rough. My hope is Bjelica or Jones would surprise this season. Maybe even Payne. But they didn’t. There is still hope for Bjelica and Jones though. More so for Jones. They weren’t able to get lucky. My hope is the Wolves dig deep this offseason and find a free agent that can provide some value off the bench next season. I am a personal fan of James Ennis, but thats a random suggestion.

 

Bold Predictions:

  • Wolves don’t make the playoffs. End season 39-43. Will probably laugh at this in April.
  • Zach LaVine becomes starting SG by the end of the year
  • Dieng becomes a starter by the end of the year
  • Muhammad get consideration for 6th Man of the Year
  • Wiggins is an All-Star (More so due to All-Star game being in Toronto)
  • Sam Mitchell will last this season
  • Karl Towns will be a top three consideration for ROY

I got a few of these right. The Wolves didn’t make the playoffs but also over predicted the wins. I do believe had the Wolves played like they have at the end of the season, in the middle of the season, there is no reason why they couldn’t have won 10 more games. They lost over 20 within 5 points. But to win 29 games this season is above their Vegas odds which is alright. The expectations grew nonetheless as the Wolves finished the season strong. A lot more eyes will be on what happens next season.

Just tracking Zach LaVine this season would be a good indication of how the season went. LaVine entered the pre-season as the starting shooting guard and then started the season as the backup point guard. Rubio would get injured early on which pushed LaVine into the starting lineup again as the Point Guard. Rubio would come back and then LaVine went back to the bench. The Wolves then went on a long stretch of the season struggling with coach Mitchell juggling Kevin Martin and Tayshaun Prince in the starting lineup alongside LaVine. It became evident that for LaVine to be successful, he needed to play alongside Rubio. Time went on and dunk contests were won, then LaVine found and cemented his role as the starting shooting guard. LaVine did this by adding a lot of scoring, an impressive 3-point shot, and flashes of decent defense. His shot selection remains questionable but these were huge strides for Zach. He heads into next season as the likely starter again.

Gorgui Dieng also found his way into the starting lineup. It was partially deserved and partially opportune. Garnett rested for a majority of the second half of the season with a knee injury, which left an incredible hole at the power forward position. Bjelica would’ve been the guy to step in but he also suffered a mysterious leg injury around the All-Star break and probably a serious breakup with how shot his confidence was. While Dieng didn’t necessarily come out and prove that he is the starting power forward of the future, he did show just how versatile he can be. Dieng finally has a more defined role. He is the glue guy in the front court. He fills in and does what is needed. You need rim protection and rebounds? This is your guy. Sprinkle in a couple threes? Why not. Most importantly, Dieng proved that he can co-exist with Karl-Anthony Towns. This will prove his value and likely earn him a contract extension next season. The interesting thing about Dieng is his numbers are down from last season but seems like he has improved greatly over the course of this year. He still has some questionable moments on the court, but I think he can be a long-term fit here in Minnesota.

Shabazz Muhammad. I was wrong on this one. No consideration for 6th man of the year. Although Shabazz was amongst the top bench scorers this season (6th best in the league), he couldn’t find a consistent role on the team. He struggled with sharing the ball and his body language always indicated he was off. Maybe it was Sam Mitchell? Who knows. Shabazz played a key role in a few games nonetheless, especially in the win over the Warriors where he scored 35 points. But going into next season, it is contract extension or free agency for Bazz so I am sure his name will be on the hot stove this summer. Regardless, I still believe he has significant talent. But his potential may not be realized in Minnesota. #FreeShabazz

Wiggins wasn’t an All Star either. Strike 2. I was swinging for the fences. But I expected a breakout season and some home court advantage. Wiggins improved on his scoring but not much else. Wiggins will at some point need to fill in the void of not having a ‘3 and D’ guy on the team. Once Wiggins can prove he can be amongst the best defensively, it will be hard to call him an All-Star. A few wins might help as well.

‘Sam Mitchell will last this season.’ Has a prediction ever been more accurate? I was off by one hour. Sam Mitchell lasted this season and an hour of the offseason. Sam Mitchell had an up and down season. Mitchell started the season belittling any external opinion about the team and getting angry at anyone who asked him a question. Then there was the stretch in which the Wolves couldn’t buy a win and the questions began to swirl as to would he complete the season. Completing the season made sense, why fire a guy where it could rock the boat with the young core at such a crucial stage in their careers? Sam then began to prove himself, it seemed like after the Milwaukee Bucks loss in which he sat the starters for a majority of the second half to prove a point. I was a skeptic about this game for sure.  But the team turned it around after that and ended the season winning four of their last five. Mitchell will likely move on and be an assistant coach somewhere. He did what he could and I believe he truly helped the young guys grow this season. But when the pool of available coaches is as good as it is and the team is as attractive of a job as it is right now, a change on the bench was necessary. It will be interesting to see what happens with the external firm that will look to fill the positions of head coach and POBO.

The final prediction. Karl Towns being in the top 3 of the ROY candidates. This was like dropping a pen from eye-level and predicting it would hit the ground. Towns blew the ROY competition out of the water and made his way into history this season. The only comparable rookies to Towns in history are Shaq and Tim Duncan. The numbers don’t lie. Towns finished the season averaging 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.7 blocks, 54% field goal, 34% 3-point, 81% free throws, and 51 double-doubles on the year. Towns broke almost every record imaginable for a rookie in franchise history. The best part though? His attitude. Karl-Anthony Towns is a culture changer. And to do that for a franchise that has not made the playoffs for 12 consecutive seasons is special. Watching KAT play this season alongside the other young pups made the losing bearable. It was a joy to watch him play this season. He was absolutely versatile and played like a seasoned-veteran. There are no words to describe how good he played, but it was beautiful to see it happen over the span of 82 games. Towns will go on to win Rookie of the Year but I also believe he should receive consideration for All-NBA 3rd team.

Takeaways:

While it was another losing season, it was far from disappointing. What did we learn? What can we take away?

Towns and Wiggins are going to be special. For a long time. Towns may be the perfect compliment to Wiggins and vice versa. Both still have holes in their games but its nothing some hard work over the summer and a few more seasons of experience can’t fix. Towns will need to learn to defend better on pick-and-rolls and on the perimeter. He has shown that he can do it but hasn’t shown he can do it consistently. Wiggins also needs to improve defensively. Wiggins also has a major need to improve his 3-point shot. Both guys did things great in creating their own shots. Wiggins also got to the line at will. Moving forward, both guys will need to be more consistent and take their games to the next level. Easy to say from my perspective. Regardless, these two should be something special with the right team and right coach around them.

LaVine, the sky’s the limit. In terms of his potential and his ability to leap, his only limitation is the sky. LaVine has improved tremendously over this season and should be the starting shooting guard for this team long term. His three point shot and defense improved, things that were necessarily for him to see consistent minutes. He can score at will when the opportunity it there. The hope is next season, he gets stronger and smarter. Also hope that he can shoot at the rate he did in the second half of this season. Defensively, he is growing into a non-liability. If LaVine can figure out how to be a net positive player on the defensive end, I will put him up there with Towns and Wiggins.

Rubio is healthy and necessary. Rubio can’t shoot. And the team should proceed with the assumption that he may never be able to shoot. But he does provide a positive impact on the floor. The Wolves are +18 when he is on the floor for the season. He is a great defender, great facilitator, and creates points for his team. He can hit the occasional three. The concern is floor stretching when he is out there, but he will keep teams honest in the clutch. Plus, Rubio is a winner. I am sure there will be Rubio trade rumors swirling this summer, but I think he just provides more value than can be received for him via trade. Lastly, and most importantly, Rubio was healthy. He seemed to miss more games than expected because Ernie Kander is a genius at what he does. The ‘injury-prone’ tag is on pause for now with Rubio. Next season will be a true test for Ricky. He put up numbers that were mainly consistent to what he has done every year, but if he can improve those numbers next season while staying healthy, he will have earned his paycheck.

There’s a huge hole at the 4. We knew Anthony Bennett was garbage. But turns out Payne is as well. Payne likely won’t work out here and probably needs to play elsewhere where he can develop a role. Bjelica didn’t perform to expectations, although the final five games he began to turn things around. I think Bjelica still can be the four on this team, but it would be a huge risk. Garnett is being a paid mentor at this point. The issue is there are four power forwards on the roster and none are capable, consistent starters. My guess is Rudez and Payne will be gone and replaced by a fringe starter that can help stretch the floor.

Shabazz has value. Don’t waste it. Something needs to be done with Shabazz. He either needs to be dealt this summer or has a role carved out for him in which he can thrive in. I still have hope that he can be an asset off of the bench and an energy guy. But he needs to be in a situation in which he can make mistakes and the team can live with his style of play. If those are not things that can be compromised, Shabazz should be traded in which he still has trade value around the league. Shabazz could be packaged with the 1st rounder in which it could really bring back some value to a fringe-playoff team that is looking to get a head start on rebuilding (OKC, Houston, Washington DC, Dallas).

The Wolves still need shooters. This seems like a problem for the Wolves since Fred Hoiberg retired. Maybe re-sign Anthony Peeler this summer? I am sure he can still shoot. Regardless how this void is filled, it needs to be addressed because the league is moving at a faster pace that the Wolves are moving. A practical solution to this would make this an incredible focus for the core guys on the roster. Rubio, Wiggins and Muhammad were bad this season. If two of them can be average shooters, that can be step one. Then a continuation of LaVine and Towns’ shooting improvements is more progress. Bjelica can be the 3-point specialist needed if he has the confidence. Then of course there is the draft and free agency, which is filled with 3-point shooters. Hield and Murray make sense in the draft and then Teletovic can make sense in free agency.

Tyus can still fit. I was very critical early on of Tyus Jones. He isn’t fast or athletic enough to hang with point guards at this level. But he proved that he could stay afloat in the second half of the season when Andre Miller was released. I think he still needs time to develop but he showed this season he can play. The hope is he can be the backup point guard next season. There will likely need to be a solid insurance policy in the 3rd string spot in case Rubio is hurt. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with Tyus starting but think if LaVine filled in, it could still potentially work. More to come with Tyus.

Time to swing for the fences. Sam Mitchell was capable of remaining the coach for the Wolves. He was at least worthy of remaining in the conversation for who would be next. But there is clearly more to the story we don’t know, and at the first opportunity he had, Glen Taylor parted ways with Mitchell. Tom Thibodeau seems like the right fit for the job moving forward from the Wolves perspective. He will likely require a nice paycheck, but it may be time to take the risk. Thibs has a good relationship with KG and was a big reason the Celtics won their championship. Thibs also helped develop some nice players in his time in Chicago. Having a blank defensive canvas to work with in Andrew Wiggins and Karl Towns could be scary for the league. It just makes too much sense to actually happen.

Before we leave…

It was a historic season. The Warriors broke the Bulls record with a record of 73-9 this season. Steph Curry hit a record breaking 402 three pointers. Kobe Bryant has retired. On his way out, he dropped 60 points in his last game. Then quietly, the Spurs had their best record in franchise history with 67 wins. On the Wolves end, the season started with the untimely passing of the late Flip Saunders. The Wolves got lucky to land Karl-Anthony Towns and the future has never been brighter. It will be a season to be remembered.

Lastly, thanks for following this season. We have successfully completed our first season covering the Wolves. If you have suggestions or feedback that can help us improve the site, let us know! It has been a great deal of fun and we look forward to being a part of the Wolves community for the foreseeable future!

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Andre Miller Rips The Wolves

This isn’t headline news, but for anyone who is a Wolves fan and listens to The Vertical podcast, you were probably taken aback this morning. Andre Miller, veteran guard of the San Antonio Spurs, was a guest on The Vertical podcast with Chris Mannix. Miller was on the Timberwolves not too long ago, maybe a few weeks. The Wolves waived Miller in order for him to go play for a contender after the trade deadline.

You can listen to the podcast here, and maybe I am overreacting a little bit. But Chris begins by asking Miller is tanking is a problem and Miller responded with a yes. Miller then proceeded to say there is a problem in the NBA and how players should play four years in college because they need to learn the fundamentals. It seemed ironic because he was just a teammate to Karl Towns and Andrew Wiggins, two one and done guys who also would win Rookie of the Year (just a matter of time for Towns).

Miller continued in the conversation to say that teams play guys and don’t try to win and it isn’t fair to the players who work hard in order to win. That makes sense. But then said teams and GMs take younger players in order to develop them instead of going for a finished product because they want to take credit for the development. It surprised me because, on the Timberwolves, Miller played with Zach LaVine and Adreian Payne, two guys who were a pick apart in the 2014 draft but are leading completely different careers on the same team. Payne played four years with Tom Izzo, which should translate into a finished product. LaVine didn’t even start on his college team. But yet, LaVine is a starter now who has been lights out since the All-Star break and Payne’s career looks to be in question.

The irritating part is when Mannix asked Miller about the Timberwolves, Miller went on to say the Wolves organization doesn’t have goals or direction. Maybe that is true. But as someone who was treated fairly while in Minnesota, it probably was not something that should’ve been said publicly. I don’t believe the Wolves as an organization don’t have goals though. The passing of the late Flip Saunders likely left a lot of people scrambling in the organization. He wore multiple hats. People had to step in. The team clearly is not prepared to win now and thus, it seems like the goal of this season became to develop young players and build a chemistry between them. Maybe Miller is just upset he was not a part of the goals. Who knows.

Anyways, I expected more from him. Please give the podcast a listen and let me know on Twitter @TimberRebuilder if you agree or not.

A Loss of Experience

The Wolves have been one of the most active teams post-trade deadline. Seems like an oxymoron almost.

If you have stopped paying attention to transactions because the trade deadline is over, you’ve missed out on buyout season. The Wolves have been parting ways with the highly touted veterans that have groomed the young pups for a majority of the season.

First, the Wolves waived the oldest player in the NBA Andre Miller who ended up signing with the oldest team in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs.

Miller played sparingly and showed signs of life, but it was difficult to watch him at times. The Wolves gave Miller the opportunity to go play for a contender going into the playoffs, which seems confusing as he signed with the team that had the worst record last season.

 

Next, the Wolves bought out the contract of veteran guard Kevin Martin.

Martin couldn’t get traded for a Q-tip this trade deadline and had a player option of around $7M for next season. It seems like ownership valued Kevin Martin’s request to play for a playoff team this season over what value he may provide the team next season. I personally believed that a $7M expiring contract this summer that could still add value to a team would be a valuable trade asset. The Wolves disagreed. Regardless, this means more minutes for LaVine and Wiggins for the rest of the season at the shooting guard position. It will be interesting to see if LaVine remains in the starting lineup or if Tayshaun Prince starts again. I would imagine it becomes matchup-based.

 

Also – you might’ve noticed Kevin Garnett on the bench, still talking smack.

Well it looks like Wolves fans may see more of this. It is looking like Garnett not playing again this season is actually a possibility.

This means a couple things. It means it seems possible KG will come back next season. Under what capacity, who knows. I can’t imagine Garnett retiring after shutting it down for a season.

The Wolves also managed to sign big man Greg Smith to a 10-day contract.

Greg Smith showed some promised with the Houston Rockets but has played in the D-league this season. This signing shows that the Bjelica injury is probably pretty serious and that the coaching staff just doesn’t trust Adreian Payne with minutes. It will be interesting to see what happens to Payne this summer. The Wolves traded a first round pick for him.

All in all, the Wolves added two years of NBA experience in Greg Smith and cut 29 years of experience in Andre Miller and Kevin Martin. Luckily the Wolves still have the 21 years of NBA experience on the bench in Garnett, but it would be great to have that on the floor.

The Timber Rebuilder

Side note: Planning to see the Bucks and Wolves face off in Milwaukee. Look forward to a review of the arena as I visit my 10th NBA Arena.

Wolves Bench Gives Reason to Excite

The Wolves find themselves at 8-8 16 games into the season. There have been many ups and downs thus far. Lots of attention has been placed on the young Wolves’ performance, namely that of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Zach LaVine, rightfully so. Andrew Wiggins is putting up All-Star-Like scoring numbers. Towns has started the season in a historical fashion. Injuries have plagued Ricky Rubio early in that he has missed 5 of the 16 games. The Wolves have been the 2nd best team on the road, only behind the undefeated Warriors. They have also started slow in only winning two games at home.

All of that aside along with the talk about Sam Mitchell’s questionable rotations, the Wolves look like a decent team all of a sudden. You have to believe that the Wolves are doing some things right. One thing that is going unseen though is the bench play of the Wolves. The Wolves have the highest scoring bench in the league averaging 44.4 points a game. The Wolves bench also leads the league in minutes playing 1770. The Wolves bench is also the most offensive efficient bench and second in defensive efficiency. These numbers are surprising, being that the Wolves have historically had terrible bench play since the ‘Zoo Crew’.

So how is this made possible? First, there are a few fringe starters sitting on the Wolves bench. Zach LaVine has been playing in place of the injured Rubio when he is out and is continuing to prove that he can play in this league. LaVine has finally been able to stay in front of some guards as he had shown in the Hawks and Kings games. His passes and shot selection is still questionable. He also still struggles to get through picks. But he is proving to be a very reliable scorer, as he has become the second leading scorer on the team with 14.4 points a game. He has blossomed when in the starting lineup, but against the Hawks he was the leading scorer off of the bench with 18 points.

After that, the play of Shabazz Muhammed has been coming around to be the super efficient scorer he used to be. He was able to score 15 points in 15 minutes and is showing that he can shoot the 3 effectively again, bringing his 3pt% to 33% on the season after a slow start. He still remains fairly inconsistent and isn’t getting enough minutes to get in a rhythm, but he still remains a factor.

As much as Gorgui Dieng has bothered me this season, he is putting up some decent numbers as of late and is rebounding the ball well. It seems as if he has managed to lose some basketball IQ as his career has progressed, but he is developing himself into a good rotation player and maybe a starter eventually. He is winning the trust of Sam Mitchell and taking minutes from Towns as this point.

The Wolves then get help all-around from the likes of Adrien Payne, Andre Miller, Rudez, and Prince. The Wolves will get an even greater boost when Bjelica returns from his injury because he was the lone wolf early on in the season that seemed to be producing off of the bench. After a slow start for the Wolves in which leads would go to die when the Wolves bench entered the game, the last few games is showing how deep this team can be by actually extending leads. It will also be interesting when Pekovic makes his return, whenever that is. It would be ideal for him to play limited minutes and now he is in a position where the Wolves don’t need more than that out of him when/ if he returns.

While I don’t agree with Sam Mitchell’s minutes distribution and rotation, the Wolves have scraped their way back to .500. I personally don’t think an entire group of bench players should be on the floor at once, but it has worked. Many players have stepped up to get a three wins in a row, and many of them are guys off the bench. In the three games the bench has carried the team, Towns has struggled to get his game going. Its not a time to panic. The Wolves are winning and Towns seems to be the type of player that can manage adversity well. And in the event that he can’t, he has many veterans around him to guide him.

The question remains on what to do with the starting lineup nonetheless. Kevin Martin has looked less than mediocre, and even worse in the starting lineup. Many have to believe a move of LaVine to the starting lineup could occur sooner rather than later, being that Rubio can be decently healthy. Shabazz Muhammed could also be an option, but I get the feeling Sam Mitchell is not interested in that.

The Sam Mitchell critics will need to keep quiet as the Wolves have strung a few wins in a row with his bizarre rotations. It does, in fact, feel good to be back at .500. The Wolves play the Clippers in LA on Sunday before a few games at home.