2017-2018 Timberwolves Season Preview

Four years ago, the Wolves kicked off their third rebuild since 2004. The Wolves have held onto the longest playoff drought since then. But this rebuild really started with the decision that Ricky Rubio would be the guy to hold onto long-term over Kevin Love. Love was the face of rebuild-phase two. Because of that decision, the Wolves dealt Kevin Love that brought in Andrew Wiggins. The Wolves paired Wiggins with their own pick, a flyer (literally and in the department of potential) pick in Zach LaVine.
 
That picture brought me back to that kick off. It was a fun ride. The current roster is the fruit of that rebuild. Andrew Wiggins has sky high expectations and Zach LaVine has netted the Wolves Jimmy Butler.
The Wolves head into this 2017-2018 with the highest expectations since the Wolves made the Western Conference Finals. That season, the Wolves had an MVP and two All-Stars on the roster. The same can’t be said about this season. The Western Conference was since competitive back then, the last time the Wolves made the playoffs, but not as stacked as it is today. Big 3’s didn’t really exist and the 3-pointer was not as prevalent.
The current Wolves roster as it stands is much improved but also doesn’t really fit in with the trend of the league. 3-point shooting and team defense are still huge question marks. Jimmy Butler provides the Wolves with a lot of defense and leadership. The bridge has been built for Tom Thibodeau to reach his, now two, young stars.
I went into last season with super high expectations because of Tom Thibodeau but was still expecting less than what most fans and experts thought of the Wolves. I find myself in the same camp again. I break down the Wolves below and will make further predictions for the season in our Annual Season Preview.
The Givens
Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns is the Wolves’ greatest assets. He is going into the 3rd year of his career and is already arguably the best big man in the league. His inside-outside offensive game allows for him to simply take advantage of the defender’s weakness and take what opposing teams want to give him. His attitude is also what makes him amazing. He is extraordinarily competitive, poised in the face of the media and has fun playing the game. Regardless of the Wolves’ outcome this upcoming season, the Wolves still have Karl-Anthony Towns. On his rookie contract at that. He is an amazing basketball and fun to watch. So if the season implodes and the Wolves continues the longest playoff-drought in the league, the Wolves still have KAT.
What to watch with KAT this season though will be his defense. With Dieng moving to the bench, KAT will likely spend most of his time guarding centers. This could be good or this could be bad. The biggest concern though is that Towns will be relied on as the primary rim protector and shot contester. This will mean that KAT could end up in foul trouble more often. The next given will hopefully help KAT in this part of his game, but defense is certainly the part of his game that will define his next level.
Veteran Presence
This offseason brought in Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford. All of these guys are no strangers to the playoffs. Each of these four guys have played significant, if not leading, roles on playoff teams in the last five years. The Wolves, historically, haven’t been a team to rock the boat in a way they did this past summer. The last time they did this, they made the Western Conference Finals.
As the Wolves’ marketing department runs away with the theme of ‘New Era’, the adding of these veterans is a major culture change regardless of the new jerseys and Target Center renovations. These guys will not have the patience to lose games as the Wolves have done in past years. This is a double-edge sword. The veterans will certainly be leading by example. They will be playing hard. If the young Wolves don’t follow or the combination of roster pieces don’t work, it is very possible the Wolves will have another, more unfortunate, ‘New Era’ if Jimmy Butler decides to leave in two years.
Our hope is that having the veterans around will help positively. We saw the impact Kevin Garnett had on KAT. The rest of the young pups is where the veteran presence should help more. It was clear that the Wolves struggled in implementing Thibs’ defensive schemes early on. Luckily, Thibodeau has brought in mostly veterans that have played for him or have familiarity with his system.
Things to watch
Andrew Wiggins
The newly-minted max contract (well $146.5M) Andrew Wiggins has probably the biggest question mark going into the season. Andrew Wiggins has proven that he can score like crazy. His shot has improved and he can get to the line with the best of ‘um. Wiggins showed flashes of greatness (yes, greatness) for stretches last season from going on scoring tears to game-winners to posterizing seven-footers.
The questions are around the rest of his game. Can Wiggins contribute to other parts of the box score? Can Wiggins finally learn to play defense? How will Wiggins react to potentially being the third-scorer? Let’s answer these questions.
Will Wiggins finally start rebounding and distributing the ball? I really hope so. And I think so. Wiggins will have two more scorers (Butler and Teague) on the floor with him and one less rebounder  (Dieng to the bench) so naturally, he will have more opportunities to get rebounds and assists. That said, Wiggins will always look for his shot first. If he doesn’t, he is Harrison Barnes. No one wants that to change. He has, however, shown flashes of penetrating and dishing. I think as he draws the defense’s attention more, he will be more comfortable dishing the ball out to able-shooters all around him now.
His defensive effort will determine if he can start getting steals and blocks in the box score, which leads to the next question. Can Wiggins finally defend? One of Wiggins’ biggest factors that led him to be the number one pick was his defensive potential. It is all physically there. So what is the problem? Not really sure. But he has another year to really understand Thibs’ system and the perfect example in Jimmy Butler now. It will truly come down to his desire to defend. He will have less of a load offensively which should allow for more energy to go towards the defensive end.
Leading again into the next point, can Wiggins be a third-option? I don’t think Wiggins wants to be the third option and it is very possible he is actually the second leading scorer on the team this season. That said, I think Wiggins is perfect to be the third-option on offense. If the Wolves just ask that Wiggins be an average defender and just score, it would be a role Wiggins could fill fairly easily. Wiggins is a good enough shooter to be the third-option and then also take over the offense when Towns and/ or Butler are on the bench (will likely happen for a 1 minute a game).
The Point Guard Situation
The point guard position could very well be what makes or breaks the Wolves. First, Jeff Teague is probably the biggest wild card. The backup PG situation is probably even more iffy.
Jeff Teague has the biggest hole to fill on the court and in the heart of Wolves’ fans as he replaces Ricky Rubio. Many forget Teague was a former All-Star when the Hawks had the best record in the Eastern Conference a few years ago. He was eventually traded because the Hawks believed more in Dennis Schroader and didn’t want to extend Teague. The Pacers brought in Teague for a year rental before he ended up with the Wolves. The Wolves essentially gave Teague the contract the Hawks didn’t want to give him.
I still have to be convinced on Teague but in the pre-season, he has proven to fill a lot of voids that Rubio had in his game. The most obvious is the ability to shoot. Secondly, Teague can score and finish around the rim consistently. Teague doesn’t have Rubio’s length, but is an able-defender as well. He isn’t the playmaker that Rubio was, but his play-style might fit better with the current roster.
The biggest concern is defense. The point guard position is the deepest in the league and I am not convinced Teague will be able to consistently lock down the number of elite guards day-in and day-out in the Western Conference. There is no Kris Dunn either to come in off the bench to play defense either.
The Wolves backup point guard will be Tyus Jones. Finally, right? I have some anxiety around this. Tyus Jones is the type of player who is always an extension of the coach on the court and plays mistake free basketball. He is an underrated shooter and tries hard on both sides of the ball. But again, I don’t know if Jones has the strength, athleticism, or length to defend at a positive-level.
I don’t think the Wolves’ PG situation will look the same by the end of the year. There will be a team that will be interested in selling a defensive-minded guard that hopefully the Wolves can swoop in and grab.
Defense
This has to be the year right? The Wolves have been one of the worst defensive teams for the last four years, even with adding Thibodeau. Adding veterans, especially a defensive-minded Jimmy Butler, should help this. But this will be a major area to watch. The firepower in the Western conference will definitely test the Wolves’ defensive ability as well. But the hope when the Wolves hired Thibs was that the Wolves would be close to the defensive nightmare that his Bulls teams were.
The Rotation
What does concern me this season is Thibs’ rotation. I hate the heavy minutes his starters play and I hate the platoon substitution method. The Wolves have certainly added depth this season, which we will get to, but there should be no reason why five of the bench players should be playing at once. My hope is that Thibodeau is not only to improve the team defensively but to adopt a rotation that other teams with ‘big threes’ use. There should be at least one of the big three on the floor at all times. I would imagine that Wiggins will get time as the only one of the ‘big three’ on the floor so he can meet his shot volume.
I am also interested in seeing what the Wolves could have as their ‘death’ lineup, i.e. the lineup they use to kill teams or their clutch time lineup. I don’t believe that Gibson will be in that lineup. I would love to see a lineup of Teague-Crawford-Wiggins-Butler-Towns. Will it happen? Will it be effective? We shall see!
The Bench
The resurrection of the Zoo Crew! If you know what the Zoo Crew is, you’re in the right place.
I am most excited to see the Wolves have a bench presence. While we will get into the signings and re-signings, the biggest improvement to the bench is having Gorgui Dieng again. Dieng was great off the bench early in his career but now with his experience as a starter and improved game, he gives the Wolves a starting-caliber player off the bench. Dieng’s toughness and hustle also bodes well as a bench player. The Wolves now don’t have to rely on Cole Aldrich being the first big man off the bench this season. That is a huge improvement.
The Wolves have then added the ageless Jamal Crawford. He isn’t incredibly efficient, but he gets buckets. He brings great experience too. My expectations aren’t super high for J-Crossover, but he will be a difference maker in at least a couple games this season.
Bringing in Crawford most likely impacts Shabazz Muhammad more than anyone. As many hope that Wiggins learns from Butler, I am praying that Shabazz learns from Crawford. Bazz has the potential to be the offensive sparkplug that Crawford was his entire career. Shabazz has the most to prove and lose this season if he isn’t able to put his game together because he will not get a better contract. I expect that Bazz will be playing harder than anyone on the team this season as he has the most the prove. As always, I have high expectations for him.
Bjelica has probably the biggest range in terms of role on the team. It is very possible that Belly could play well enough that he warrants a starting position by the time the year ends. He would perfectly space the floor and is tougher than what meets the eye. He showed flashes of thriving under Thibs. That said, Belly could completely fall out of the rotation this season too. Between KAT, Gibson, Dieng, someone playing small ball-4, and Thibs overplaying starters, Bjelica would be most expendable. If he can’t prove to be a better option than any of those other options, he could rack up a lot of ‘DNP-Coach’s Decisions’ this season.
Utilization of the G-League
The Iowa Wolves are here! And the Wolves draft Justin Patton who will likely play less than any other new T-Puppy due to injury and inexperience. Thibs was high on Patton and he was apparently a Wolves fan growing up. I still disagree with the pick but I hope I am wrong. That said, Patton will have the opportunity to be the first case study for the Wolves’ development practices in the G-League.
The truth is, the Wolves will need to be good at player development if they want to succeed long term. The G-League will be huge in developing young players but also filling in times when there are major injuries. The Wolves don’t have a good pick next season so developing what they have will be essential if they want to continue to be good once the sudden boost of free agents wears off.
The Wolves have a lot of questions going into the season and will be tested each night against a stacked Western Conference. The Wolves have the talent to make the playoffs this season but they could very well not make it if they don’t adapt early. There isn’t much time for the team to ‘build chemistry’ this season. That said, lets get into predictions.
Bold Predictions
– The Wolves will go 44-38 and make the 7th spot in the Western Conference.
– Karl-Anthony Towns will be an All-Star this season, finally.
– Andrew Wiggins will average more than Jimmy Butler
– The point guard situation will be the biggest question when the season ends
– Jimmy Butler makes an All-Defense team
– Taj Gibson will not be the starting power forward when the season ends

Ricky Rubio: Don’t hate the player, hate the game

Ricky Rubio has been the leading candidate for criticism this season, rightfully so. Rubio has never been able to shoot. All Wolves fans know it. The league knows it. Ricky even knows it. It seems to be haunting Rubio so much that he is passing up wide open lay ups.

We know Rubio’s limitations. I personally have given up on wishing that he would improve his shot. There was an opportunity this summer to work on his shot instead of playing for Spain. That said, I am taking Ricky for what he is.

Ricky is still a really good player. He is an above average defender. While he doesn’t have the greatest lateral quickness, his length disrupts opposing point guards and he plays passing lanes well. He is also a very gifted passer. He can find the open man. He makes the right decision when leading a fast break, as long as the decision doesn’t involve him scoring. He also is an exceptional free throw shooter. He is shooting 87% as of right now.

The thing I love most about Rubio is that he is truly a competitor. He loves to win. He is happy when he wins. He also forgets that he can’t shoot in clutch situations.

These are not invaluable skills to have. In a league filled with elite point guards, it is important to have a guy who can defend. And when you have three 20ppg scorers on your team, a guy to set them up is always helpful.

The question to me has always been, how did Rubio go from being a unicorn to a  50-cent dispensable-toy pony? What happened?

First, the system Rubio is playing in currently is terrible for him. Thibodeau has robbed Ricky of his creativity and autonomy to run an offense as he had while under Flip and Sam. Ricky usually started games with a shot-check when he took a couple quick midrange shots to see if he could make them and keep the defense honest. That no longer happens as much. Thibodeau has taken any comfort Ricky had left on the offensive end.

It also doesn’t help that Ricky is the 5th option on offense for the first time in his career. Last year, he at least had Tayshaun Prince or Kevin Garnett that could refuse the ball offensively. Ricky has a career low Usage % of 12.8%. His previous low was just above 16%.

The next reason Ricky has fallen off is that the game has completely moved completely behind the 3-point line. As the league has become progressively more 3-point oriented, Ricky’s value has slowly dropped.

In 2012-13 when Rubio had his highest Usage % of 21.2%, the New York Knicks led the league in 3-point attempts with 28.9 attempts per game. In 2013-14, Rubio had his best win share of 5.9 and the league’s leader in 3-point attempts was the Rockets with 26.6 attempts. Today, the Rockets, one of the leagues best teams, average almost 40 attempts.

The 13-14 season was the best season the Wolves have had in their playoff drought. The Wolves went 40-42. Ricky Rubio was still ‘developing his shot’ and the Wolves could fly under the radar having a point guard who couldn’t shoot because the league leader in 3-point attempts in the 13-14 season would be 12th best this season.

Rubio is currently in a system in which he can’t thrive and in a league that is trending in a way that exploits his weaknesses further and further. It is unfortunate. It makes me think of Ray Allen in a sense. What is Ray Allen was playing his best basketball in today’s NBA?  Would he be better than Steph Curry? Ray Allen played in an era that did not bode well with his strengths but still held most 3-point shooting records until Curry came along.

So please, don’t hate Ricky Rubio. Hate the game that has ruined Ricky Rubio. Had Rubio been in a different era, perhaps without the 3-point line, he would still be a unicorn.

The Timber Rebuilder.

 

 

Thoughts going into the Wolves’ first ever Christmas game

The Timberwolves season up until this point has been a disappointment. There has definitely been a good amount exciting moments and reasons to keep watching. But overall, it’s been a let down. The Wolves go into the first ever Christmas Day match up in franchise history 9-20. If you asked most of us that follow the Wolves like a car in traffic, we would’ve guessed nothing worse than 13-16. A good amount of people would’ve assumed something above .500.

The hype going into this season was bigger than when the Wolves acquired Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell to form the modern NBA’s original Big 3. Maybe ever. The Wolves have never played a game on Christmas in their 27-year history. This season was supposed to be different. Thibs was supposed to flawlessly teach the young pups everything and anything they need to know about defense for the rest of their careers. Towns was supposed to be an All Star.

Before the season, I had my reservations about the hype. I was mildly-bashed for these views, especially on Reddit. Understandably so, Wolves fans wanted to believe that the 12 years of suffering was over. We needed to make the playoffs and that is how we were going to define success. The hype has died down now though and many are having second thoughts.

I haven’t posted as much this season due to the fact that not much has changed throughout the season. The Wolves have improved a little over the last six games or so, but it hasn’t been drastic. They still make a lot of the mistakes that drive me crazy. They struggle with helping each other on defense, especially on the interior. They think that when they are double-teamed, they should try to shoot the ball as quickly as possible instead of finding the open man. They fall into an individualistic form of basketball that can never equate to wins in the NBA.

I also have been disappointed in Wiggins and Towns a bit. Wiggins seems disengaged if he isn’t involved in the offense early and often. He will be a next-level player if he learned to impact the game without the ball. Towns gets caught up in his own hype very often and is the greatest offender of the ‘not passing out of a double team’ violation I eluded to earlier. His interior defense this season has also been embarrassing. His man often beats him in the post or off the dribble and he also is incapable of stopping penetration as a help defender.

On the bench, the entire squad has either been a let down or just meh. Shabazz and Bjelica were handed the keys to be the primary scorers off the bench and they just haven’t been able to do it on a consistent basis. Cole Aldrich has been decent in his time on the floor. Kris Dunn’s offense has also took a turn for the better. Brandon Rush has more snapchat posts than minutes per game. I forgot we signed Jordan Hill. I wish we could see more of Tyus Jones. What I have learned from this 9-20 start is that the Wolves need a starting-caliber bench player. I think eventually, this person is Gorgui Dieng. A free agent would be helpful here though.

All of that said, there is a lot I am excited about this season, especially at this point of the season. Yes, we have more than twice as many losses as wins this season. But we are playing on Christmas! The Wolves are in probably the biggest team spotlight of the season that is not the playoffs. So what am I happy about at this point?

Special edition jerseys and shoes for Christmas. As I wrap up my MBA and I have a fresh passion still for marketing, nothing makes me more excited than the special edition jerseys the Wolves are going to wear and all of the limited-edition shoes. Christmas is a sneakerhead’s favorite time of the year. Karl-Anthony Towns showcased his Christmas PE’s below. I am looking forward to what Andrew Wiggins’ PE’s will look like and what shoes Zach LaVine will wear. I hope Zach keeps it simple and rocks some Space Jams.


Zach LaVine can score points and create offense better than maybe anyone on the team. Bold statement, I know. LaVine has been the biggest surprise this season. His ability to score has been crazy. He can score from anywhere on the court. He can score off the dribble or coming off the screen. He is amazing in transition. He is the go-to-scorer in late shot clock situations. He plays great as the primary scorer with the bench unit. His time as the backup PG has helped him be a decent playmaker. His defense has also improved pretty dramatically. I have been so impressed with Zach. He was the biggest question mark coming into the season. Could he actually be a consistent 3rd option and fit in as a starter? He has proven he can be. Zach’s emergence has kept me optimistic about the future. I would not be opposed to experimenting with him coming off the bench as the 6th man later in the season, but not sure if he would welcome that approach.

Kris Dunn’s defense is awesome. Kris Dunn is incredibly fun to watch, especially on defense. There is always a place on a team for a guard who can play defense. Dunn has the potential to be a lockdown defense like Patrick Beverly. You can never have enough of those guys. I know his offense has been suspect, but it will take time to develop. Regardless, he is already the best perimeter defender on the team.

The big three is only 21 years old. There is a lot of time left. I hope they develop better chemistry on the floor but there is still room to develop that. Towns, Wiggins and LaVine all average over 20 points per game through 30 games and they are only 21 years old. That means they have a ton of talent and they are in desperate need of support. The Wolves will have more opportunities to add a better supporting cast. In the mean time, I never thought I would say this, but we should really ‘trust the process’.

Regardless of the outcome, Wolves fans should really attempt to take in this storm of a season against the Thunder tonight. There is a lot to be disappointed in this season but also much reason to be optimistic. Enjoy the jerseys. Enjoy the shoes. Enjoy the Russell Westbrook triple-double. Enjoy it all!

The Timber Rebuilder.  #Powerofthepack

 

Experts not crazy about the Dieng deal, we disagree

Coming into work today I listened to a podcast like I usually do. I typically will listen to someone like Zach Lowe or Wolves’ fans favorite Dougie Wolfson. I have a personal NBA favorite in Nate Duncan, who hosts the Dunc’d on podcast with Danny Leroux. They are ‘Cap Space’ experts but also do a wonderful job breaking down games. They go super in-depth and are super nerdy. I can relate.

They analyzed the Gorgui Dieng extension, which he signed with the Wolves for 4-years and $64M. Many Wolves fans rejoiced, as it was a steal compared to what we expected for him to be able to sign this summer. One thing that Wolves fans have noted, rightfully so, is that big men are still getting paid big bucks. We saw the deals that Timofey Mozgov, Ian Mahinmi and Bismack Biyombo signed this summer. With the cap increase playing a factor as well, Wolves fans valued Gorgui Dieng right around, if not higher, than those bigs that got paid.

I typically always respect and agree with Nate Duncan and Danny. I couldn’t agree on this one. I call them experts here even though they may not be the names you hear everyday if you’re an average basketball fan. But they definitely know their stuff. They felt that Dieng could’ve potentially got this deal in the summer when he hit restricted free agency. The reasons they call that out is because Dieng would have a cap hold of around 250%-300% his current salary, which is not too high. We could’ve also used it to sign two other starters or one starter and a bench guy with our $40M in cap space this summer.

They also didn’t like it due to Dieng’s age, who will be 27 by next season. The contracts that were given out to those on rookie-scale contracts were mainly to 23-year-old players who will play most of their extension into and in their primes. A lot of the money given to guys like Adams and Oladipo was based on potential. Dennis Schroeder got an extension for $70M and they felt if he developed into an average point guard, he was worth the money.

One of my concerns for extending Dieng was absolutely his age. I made it clear on Twitter. He isn’t worth going $90M if a guy like Adams is getting $100M because of age. But for $64M, you can lock up a fringe-starting center in the new NBA. Dieng has proven himself as someone who can start at Center but also be effective off the bench. Because the Wolves do not have a power forward, Dieng is the starter at Center for the foreseeable future, with Towns at the 4.

Although the Wolves did sign Dieng to a contract into his 30s, they have essentially locked him up through his prime. They will likely get his best production over the next three seasons. They are paying for what he is now and not what he can be in three years, this is a less-risky route. Gorgui has proven he can fit into many roles and still be effective. He is usually a net-positive player on the floor, so having him do this for another 3 years at least is worth the contract he signed.

The criticism around Dieng’s position, alongside Towns, was another criticism. Signing a player to a long-term contract that plays the same position essentially as your best player isn’t smart for how you use your cap space. This is absolutely true. Dieng was criticized that he can’t shoot by Duncan, which I don’t believe is true. Dieng has had a very solid midrange shot (shot 46% from 10-15ft last season). He isn’t a stretch-player necessarily, but he does spread the floor well, above average for a center. Dieng, is also a very good free throw shooter, which is very rare for a big man.

In the next four years, the Wolves will need to find a starting power forward who can stretch the floor and defend. In the meantime though, the Wolves have a solid security blanket in the frontcourt if they don’t find that player right away or if Towns ever gets hurt.

Dieng has also produced more on the court, in a lesser role, than Steven Adams thus far. Yes, Adams is younger and a better defender. But Dieng did just sign for nearly $40M less. Looking at their numbers, you can see that Dieng has averaged more points, rebounds, and blocks per game through his career.

Rk,Player,From,To,G,GS,MP,FG,FGA,FG%,3P,3PA,3P%,2P,2PA,2P%,eFG%,FT,FTA,FT%,ORB,DRB,TRB,AST,STL,BLK,TOV,PF,PTS
1,Steven Adams\adamsst01,2014,2017,234,170,21.7,2.5,4.5,.561,0.0,0.0,.000,2.5,4.5,.562,.561,1.3,2.3,.557,2.4,3.6,6.0,0.7,0.5,1.0,1.1,2.8,6.3
2,Gorgui Dieng\dienggo01,2014,2017,217,105,24.4,3.2,6.2,.516,0.0,0.1,.276,3.1,6.0,.521,.519,2.1,2.7,.780,2.3,4.7,7.0,1.5,0.9,1.3,1.5,2.4,8.5

There is some concern about cap flexibility in the future. That is fair. But at some point, the Wolves need solid role players surrounding Towns and Wiggins. This was the first step in that direction. I am certain that Dieng would’ve received a larger paycheck had he waited for the summer. Thibodeau has also loved Dieng since his days in Chicago. It is hard to come by a big man that has Dieng’s skill set and also his character. Dieng is a hard worker, willing to take any role the team gives him, and wants to win.

Dieng’s character is a big factor in why keeping Dieng around instead of looking to free agency made more sense. Dieng won a championship while at Louisville. Dieng has led the Senegal National Team each summer, in which he usually dominates in International competition. Dieng is also a guy who invests a ton in his home country of Senegal, which this contract will absolutely help those efforts. Dieng is the type of ‘character-guy’ you want on your team and you want your young players to be surrounded by. A lot of time those things are overlooked in analyzing these extensions. Dieng reminds me of Nick Collision with the Thunder. It would be great if Dieng spent the rest of his career here in Minnesota.

 

Addressing Towns’ in-game inconsistency problems

Karl-Anthony Towns is the boy that can do no wrong. He is atop General Managers’ list of players to start a franchise around and has absorbed the attention by taking snapchat selfies of him as a ‘GOAT’. Like Kevin Garnett, Towns is fueled by confidence. And at a young age, it could fluctuate a bit.

Towns has a ton of potential and should be great. But there is still a lot of room for improvement. The biggest point of criticism that has carried over from last season to the first game of this season is Towns’ inability to spread his production throughout the game. Towns plays in spurts. But because he plays in spurts, it leaves the Timberwolves vulnerable to blowing big leads or playing behind huge deficits.

In the first game of the season, KAT ended the game with a plus/minus of -14, the worst of any player on the court for the Wolves. He started the game +17. So there was a 31-point swing while KAT was on the floor from the 20-3 early lead to the end of the game. Bold this, highlight this, whatever. But your best player can’t afford to have a 31-point swing while they are on the floor.

Thank you @CTTimberwolves for this link as well. This is a closer look at Towns’ game flow against the Grizzlies. 

Towns particularly plays well to start games. He gets a lot of his play early and then finds a way to hibernate for the middle of the game and come back alive in the 4th usually. In the first quarter last season with more than 6 minutes left in the quarter, Towns attempted 25 threes and 243 field goal attempts. In the other quarters with 6 or more minutes left he attempted a total of 20 threes on 365 field goal attempts. Most of those field goal attempts in the first 6 minutes of a quarter is in the third quarter. In the 2nd and 4th quarter, he attempted 68 and 78 field goals, respectively.

Even if you slice the number by the entire quarter, the differences are pretty staggering. Towns shot 22% from three in the fourth quarter of games last year vs 39% in all other quarters, on more attempts. Towns attempted 700 field goals last season in the first and third quarter vs 434 in the second and fourth.

Part of this is Towns takes a majority of his rest in the second and fourth quarters, but usually not to the nearly 2:1 ratio of attempts he is taking. The hump Towns will need to get over is being more consistent throughout the entire game.

The reason this is so important is because a consistent Karl-Anthony Towns insulates the young Wolves from their inexperience. The baby pups are not prepared to rally from behind on a nightly basis or defend early leads where they can’t mentally collapse for the rest of the game. A consistent dose of Karl-Anthony Towns means a consistent lead builder. It means opponents consistently need to worry about him. Instead, the Wolves become dependent upon other young players needing to contribute when Towns isn’t on. Currently

While watching the game last night, it was clear the Wolves were not prepared to hold a 17 point lead. The Grizzlies were too savvy of a team and had too many veterans that don’t lose hope. As Towns vanished in the game, the lead vanished. The Wolves could’ve also used Towns in the fourth, outside of the three he hit that he celebrated.

So how do we get Towns consistent? The early explosions of Towns are absolutely welcomed. That is not the problem. It is what proceeds. Towns seems to have a mentality that he is hot, not that he got on to a good start. So once he misses a couple, he reverts back to his teammates, especially in the 2nd and 4th quarters. This can’t happen. Towns needs to start getting ‘high percentage’ shots once he feels his hotness has faded. Get to the line. He doesn’t need to continue dominating, but he needs to prepare to slap his opponent in the face if the team’s lead is threatened.

Defense also seems to be a place where Towns can get discouraged. After Gasol hit a couple shots over him after Towns was helping on penetration, you could see Towns become deflated. Towns will learn in time, but sometimes you have to take the KG approach to a solution and go right back at your opponent on the other end. Towns will need to improve a bit guarding talented bigs like Gasol. But again, it will come in time.

This is not merely an overreaction to a loss. Its an observation from his rookie year that has carried over thus far. We all want to see Towns succeed. We all love him. I do however, thing his hype is becoming too much on a national level. Got to keep Towns hungry and improving.

The Timber Rebuilder

 

Timberwolves 2016-17 Season Preview, Keys to Success and Bold Predictions

It is that time of the year again, the NBA is coming back! The Wolves’ measure of success this coming season will be simple. Playoffs. Make ‘um and the season was a success. Don’t make ‘um and the season didn’t meet expectations. Right?

Tom Thibodeau takes over one of the most exciting young teams in the last decade after a year sabbatical. The Wolves young core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine will be supported by veteran Ricky Rubio, rookie Kris Dunn, supporting young core pieces Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, and a slew of journeymen/ veterans that align with Thibs’ basketball philosophy.

The analogy I love using for the Timberwolves is ‘removing the training wheels.’ The training wheels were the veterans the team had on the roster that the Wolves could lean on when the rookies couldn’t balance things out. When LaVine wasn’t doing well as a starter, Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Martin came in to help him. Kevin Garnett was also there in the ear of young Karl-Anthony Towns throughout the season. When the Wolves needed an extra push, the veterans stood in.

That won’t be the case this season. Ricky Rubio is as veteran as it gets on the Wolves. Rubio has started the most games than any other player on the entire roster. Andrew Wiggins will have to rely on his extensive experience of starting for two seasons. As you saw in our previous piece, we believe Wiggins needs to step it up this season on the defensive end of the floor for the Wolves to be successful. Karl-Anthony Towns, while gaining tons of national media attention, will absolutely have a target on his back around the league. He isn’t going to be able to slide under the scouting report-radars after the season he had. Then there is also Tom Thibodeau. Thibs was the most sought-after head coach this offseason, and that brings high expectations. Thibodeau will have to forgo a season of experimentation and ensure that the young Wolves can execute seamlessly.

Like any kid who learns how to ride a bike without training wheels for the first time, there will be bumps and bruises. You learn how fast you can turn and how to speed down a hill. The Wolves will have some bumps and bruises, especially early on. I may come off as pessimistic for the coming season, but in reality I am looking at this season as a transition period.

Every season has its ups and downs, so barring any major changes or injuries; we can expect a rotation that looks like this:

C- Dieng/ Aldrich/ Hill

PF – Towns/ Bjelica/ Payne

SF – Wiggins/ Rush

SG – LaVine/ Muhammad

PG – Rubio/ Dunn/ Jones

In looking at the rotation, the Timberwolves have a good list of point guards. I do believe we will see more of Tyus Jones this year. The Summer League MVP can be a secret weapon off the bench to help with 3-point shooting. The reason I feel that we will see Jones more is because I also believe we will see Kris Dunn play shooting guard this season. The Wolves are weak on perimeter depth, especially defensively. Dunn will take away from the Wolves ability to shoot, but will be able to add to the perimeter defensively. Jones and Dunn could see more time on the floor than Rubio Dunn in my opinion.

My concern is still on the perimeter. Zach LaVine without a solid backup is going to be interesting. I think Shabazz should be playing more of the 3 or even a small ball 4. It will be important to monitor Muhammad this season because his game changes a little bit every year. He has talked about learning more on Defense just being around Thibodeau and that he has a desire to start. It will be interesting to see where he fits in this season. He has a chance to be the leading scorer off the bench.

As of now, Brandon Rush seems like the natural fit coming in off the bench at the small forward position. Rush is going to have an opportunity to be a part of the rotation. There is a good chance that Bjelica could see some time at the 3, depending on matchups. That said, small forward depth is going to be concerning, if Shabazz is playing shooting guard.

Up front, the Wolves are good for now. A four-player rotation of Towns, Dieng, Bjelica, and Aldrich is great. All have a skillset that is valuable and needed. I am high on what Dieng will be able to do with Thibs. Dieng should get better defensively and seems to be adding a mid-range jump shot that will be able to stretch the floor. The coaching staff is high on Nemanja. The former Euroleague MVP is in better shape this season and ready for a breakout season. It will be interesting to see if Thibs using Belly like he did Mirotic in Chicago.

The Wolves still have Pekovic on the roster who is out for the year already. There is a 15th spot that will in all likelihood be Rasual Butler. It will likely change over the course of the year as injuries occur.

Keys to Success

Who would’ve ever thought that a DJ Khaled reference would still be relevant when previewing a season? Here are our keys to success:

Defense

As a good friend of mine reminds me all the time, Tom Thibodeau has never coached a team that wasn’t in the top 10 in defense. There is no doubt in my mind that for the Timberwolves to really make it over the hump, they will need to be a top 10 defensive team. The team certainly has the physical assets on the roster. Karl-Anthony Towns was very good defensively last season. Gorgui Dieng and Cole Aldrich are solid rim protectors. Andrew Wiggins has the length and athletic ability to be a terror on the defensive end. Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn could also be incredible perimeter defenders. The key will be learning to play team defense and covering up for the liabilities on defense like Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, and Bjelica. Being a top-10 defensive team should translate to being a playoff team. But going from about the worst in the NBA to top 10, especially with the inexperience the Timberwolves have, is a rarity.

3- Point Shooting

Another area in which the Timberwolves were terrible in last season, second-to-last to be specific. The Wolves are relying on organic growth in their 3-point shooting, which is fairly risky. The way that the Wolves get better is if their perimeter players can carry the load from outside the arc, which wasn’t the case last year. Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio were bad. The Wolves added another guard who can’t shoot this offseason in Kris Dunn. That said, Brandon Rush was like adding a mini-band aid to the problem. The kind that Nelly used to wear below his eye in the 90’s. To make matters worse, Tom Thibodeau isn’t a huge advocate of the 3-pointer, but has indicated that his philosophy has changed a bit.

Wolves are as good as Wiggins and LaVine

cst 117830 Wolves Media Day
Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

I feel good about where Karl-Anthony Towns is as a player. If he didn’t improve this offseason, he would still be a net-positive player on the floor. While defense and 3-point shooting are factors that the team need to do better as a whole, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine have the most pressure on them to produce this season. Both entering their third seasons, they both have a lot to prove around the league. Are they just incredible physical specimens or are they legitimate NBA talents? Throughout this piece and my overall criticality of the Wolves, a lot of it is around Wiggins and LaVine. I have beaten a dead horse on the Wiggins-development end, but the same has to go for LaVine.

LaVine has an opportunity to be one of the best inside-outside threats in the league offensively. I can live with Zach being below average defensively. But for LaVine, scoring efficiently and using the playmaking skills he developed will be what defines success. LaVine can score in bunches. But can he do that night-in and night-out? If LaVine is a guy who can average 17 points a game and shoot over 37% from three, he will solidify himself as the third-head on the three-headed monster for the Wolves.

The bench needs to be a factor

One thing that Thibodeau did this offseason that will turn out to be genius is seeking out cheap contracts for veterans that can add depth to a young team. The additions of Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill and Brandon Rush helped add front-court depth, toughness, and veteran experience. I am a fan of signing players who were bench warmers of good teams, especially if they had a niche. Aldrich was one of the best rim protectors in the NBA and nobody knew about it. Brandon Rush was an incredible three-point shooter, but because his skillset was redundant on a great team, he rarely got playing time.

 

Bold Predictions

 

  • Kris Dunn will be good, but will not be a serious candidate for Rookie of the Year
  • Gorgui Dieng will not come to an extension agreement this season and will earn a max contract this offseason. He will start most games for the Wolves.
  • Ricky Rubio will increase his trade value this season. We will see improvement in his jump shot.
  • Shabazz Muhammad will work his way out of Minnesota in hopes for a starting role. Whether that is via trade mid-season or a contract this summer.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns is an All Star, makes All-Defensive team and All-NBA team.
  • Andrew Wiggins is a replacement for the All-Star game (getting really bold here)
  • The Timberwolves end their 12-year drought and make the playoffs as a 7-seed!

 

Although I am still skeptical, I do think the Timberwolves can make the playoffs this season. Things will have to go right. It will require the trio of Towns, Wiggins and LaVine to really step up. My predictions are a fence-swing, especially with Wiggins being an All-Star. But I think the Wolves go into the All-Star break above .500 because someone outside of the three-headed monster. The biggest reason why I feel the Wolves have a successful season is because I truly believe Ricky Rubio and Gorgui Dieng will thrive under Tom Thibodeau. That will be the difference maker.

 

I think the Wolves go 43-39 this season. A huge jump from 29-53. I would’ve felt better about this prediction if Kevin Garnett was still on the roster. Regardless, the young pups will lose the training wheels and it will be the beginning of something special. I can’t wait!

Andrew Wiggins’ Criticality

Karl-Anthony Towns has made Minnesota sports fans fall in love with him. The kid is 20 years old but understands that for the Timberwolves to be successful, they need a crowd again. The Wolves compete with the Vikings and Twins for sports ticket dollars in the Twin Cities. So Towns has been seen cheering on the Vikings and Twins all over his snap chat. It is quite entertaining. Towns also has been on his PR-grind around the nation doing interviews and commercials that are just now appearing everywhere. I thought Zach LaVine, the China-traveling, dunk champion, was marketable. But no, Towns feels like he is running a presidential campaign.

So why start this post talking about KAT? Well, because he already has all the attention. The National media can’t stop talking about how good he is. He is expected to be an all-star. He is everyone’s focus. It is easy to talk about him and to love what he is doing, right?

Behind the KAT shine, is a quiet, laid-back Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins was disrespected in NBA2K17 when he was rated 6 points lower than his partner Towns at a, semi-respectable 82. Wiggins came out of his hiding and stated he like Call of Duty better, a witty response. But as they say, games are becoming much more realistic. And as of right now, Wiggins hasn’t proven much more than he can score at the NBA-level.

Besides the release of Andrew Wiggins’ hiking boots, that I intend on buying to help me through the brutal Minnesota winter, there has been videos of Wiggins working hard on his game. He is improving his ball-handling and looks to be able to shoot off of the dribble. Fitting his personality, he has laid low throughout most of the summer. Without the veteran presence of Kevin Garnett, Wiggins will have the most experience in the starting lineup this season outside of Ricky Rubio. It is a scary thought to think but, Andrew Wiggins will need to be a leader.

It isn’t in Wiggy to be a vocal leader like KG was. He doesn’t need to be. KAT is going to attract all the media attention but it may be on Wiggins to set the tone early and close out games late. Not only that, but he will have to carry a lot of the load on both ends of the court.

While he has been able to score, he will need to do so more efficiently and get others involved. Adding a consistent 3-pointer will be the first way to improve. He shot 24% from behind the arc before the All Star break and 41% after. Wiggins being an inside-outside threat will help open up the floor for him to penetrate and get others involved.

On the defensive side is where the real work will need to be done. While I have hope with Thibodeau in town, I still think a good amount of defense is just effort. Wiggins has to be able to carry the weight on the offense side and come back and do the same on defense. Wiggins has a terrible Defensive rating of 114 last season. He also had a pretty bad Defensive Box Plus/ Minus of -2.5.

The reason the Timberwolves need Andrew Wiggins to turn it around defensively is because he has the physical tools to be able to guard C.J McCollum and Kevin Durant. And if Wiggins is going to start alongside Zach LaVine, there is a good chance Wiggins will be guarding the opposing team’s best offensive player. Wiggins had to play alongside Tayshaun Prince for most of the season for the simple fact that Wiggins could not handle the responsibility on both ends of the court. With the training wheels off ( I love this phrase for the Wolves this season), it is time for Wiggins to truly make a leap on this end.

There is also the rebounding conversation. With getting bigger and stronger and wiser, rebounding should come a little more naturally. Wiggins’ rebounding numbers dropped from his rookie to sophomore year, mainly because he was playing more shooting guard. At least that is the excuse I am making. While the Wolves have some exceptional rebounding big men, the Wolves were second to last in rebounding last season. A clear gap is where your small forward is averaging 3 rebounds. Please Wiggins, let’s get some boards this season.

While Towns is getting all the attention, the team will not being able to make the playoffs and make significant strides forward unless Andrew Wiggins improves. It feels like a lot of this season will be dependent upon his development. We have seen Anthony Davis’ Pelicans take a significant step back, partially due to not having a supporting figure with Davis.

I don’t see anyone being more critical to the Wolves’ success this season than Andrew Wiggins. Karl-Anthony Towns can put up the same numbers he did last year and will be an All Star. Wiggins will need to show he can be at a Jimmy Butler-level before he gets that kind of respect. I will be watching Maple Jordan extra carefully this season. There is no doubt about that.

Wolves Fans: Don’t Buy into the Hype

USP NBA: UTAH JAZZ AT MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES S BKN USA MN
Mar 30, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) blocks Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) in the second quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-188444 ORIG FILE ID: 20150330_mta_ai9_073.JPG

Hey Wolves fans – long time no talk! Its been an exciting offseason in which the amount of hype for the Timberwolves has be inconceivable . Why you may ask? Well, the Wolves have one of the most talented rosters in the league with one of the best coaches in league making a return after a year sabbatical. The Wolves have back-to-back Rookies of the year, a two-time dunk champion and a few other former first-round picks all acquired in the last three years. Their talent-level and potential are amongst the best in the league and they are all incredibly fun to watch.

Die-hard Wolves fans have followed Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine develop a nice chemistry over the summer while working out. Fans have enjoyed watching Andrew Wiggins workout videos in which he is adding to his game and having interviews where he says the Wolves will make the playoffs.  Wolves fans saw Kris Dunn dominate in the summer league and then Tyus Jones lead the team to the finals with a Summer League MVP. Wolves fans followed Coach Thibodeau win a gold medal and Ricky Rubio win a bronze medal. Wolves fans were also encouraged that most of the team did not participate in International play this summer to improve their games, namely Wiggins, Dieng and Bjelica.

There is a lot of reason to get excited. The Wolves are finally getting noticed. There will be 19 nationally televised games this upcoming season and the Wolves will finally play on Christmas! Gambling experts in Vegas also have set the Wolves as having the fourth best odds to winning the Western Conference! How can you NOT buy into the hype, right?

Kevin Pelton ran his RPM Forecast though and put the Wolves 11th in West with 37 wins on the season. The forecast doesn’t account for coaching changes, which should probably get the Wolves a few more wins in general. This may be the other end of the spectrum with the forecast, having the Wolves behind the Nuggets and Thunder this season. Although the forecast is fairly accurate most seasons, it is just that, a forecast. The forecast had some ridiculous predictions like the Jazz being the 3rd best in the West, Thunder at 6th and Nuggets at 8th.

There is no question, this is the most excited I have been in a while for a season as a Timberwolves fan. I also understand that it is a process. A question I think all fans will need to ask themselves is ‘Will I be disappointed if the Timberwolves don’t make the playoffs?’ If you answered yes, then you may need to check your hype-o-meter. Take a step back and understand that the road to success is typically a bumpy one. Here are some factors to take into consideration:

The Wolves are still young and inexperienced.

The Timberwolves are putting all of their hope in a bunch of guys who can’t rent a car without an underage fee. The talent and potential is there. The issue lay in the mental game. The pup-pack (nickname I am now using instead of saying KAT, Wiggy, LaVine, Dunn, and rest of the young wolf pack) have their heads held high making playoff predictions because they don’t know better. They haven’t face calamity yet. They haven’t played regular season games that had real meaning yet. In all likelihood, the Wolves will end the season with a starting lineup that has 5 guys who have never played a playoff game. I don’t have the research, but history would likely prove that teams like that don’t make it too far. The logical progression in my head is that the Wolves compete for a playoff first, before making it officially. Ideally, this season plays out similar to how the Jazz’s season played out last year.

There were no major acquisitions.

Cole Aldrich. Jordan Hill. Brandon Rush. In a summer where money was more available than tech help in India, the Wolves couldn’t get a major free agent to sign. All three players will add value and depth to the team and they are all low-risk contracts. That is an absolute win. The Wolves didn’t ‘overpay’ anyone, which is good. But the Wolves also didn’t add any talent that would help the Wolves win more games. They struck out multiple times with guys that could’ve come in and help at least make a significant improvement to the roster. Because of this, the Wolves improvement really relies on what Coach Thibs can do in his first year and the progression of the young guys.

Thibs needs time to teach his system.

A good segway. I think there is good certainty in that the Wolves young guys are going to improve. There isn’t the same certainty in that the team picks up on Thibs’ scheme in the first season. The experience factor kicks in again here where it may not be the easiest to just pick up a new coach’s schemes and run it flawlessly in game situations. There will certainly be growing pains. Literally and figuratively with Thibodeau. Especially with the pup-pack. It may feel like a rookie year all over again for guys who don’t have a high basketball IQ. Thibodeau does not have an active veteran who understands his system that can help implement it like a Jimmy Butler or Luol Deng would’ve been able to do. It is going to take some time to learn. Luckily for the Timberwolves, they have time.

The only major change has been some media hype.

Man – the bandwagon is starting to feel like a freight train. Fans from all over are loving the Timberwolves, including the National Media. As OG Wolves fans, we are welcoming them all with open arms. But the anticipation to see KAT and Wiggins play for Tom Thibodeau is beginning to make people become a little over-ambitious. This Wolves roster is much more of a journey than it is a destination right now.

Injuries could be a problem.

Prior to last season, the Wolves were constantly having injury problems. Insert Arnie Kander. In his one season, he helped Ricky Rubio stay fairly healthy for a season and we even saw some run from a Nikola Pekovic, who should probably be retired. Now, exit Arnie Kander. Insert Tom Thibodeau. Thibs is known to make his guys work. Not a criticism. But it is something I think most Wolves fans will monitor this season. Injuries can set any team back. So just something to point out.

Other teams in the west got better too

The Wolves got better but there are other teams that really got better. The Jazz got a consistent starting point guard in George Hill who fits in perfectly there. The Blazers and Pelicans added some nice talent. I expected the Grizzlies to fall off but they ended up keeping Mike Conley and adding Chandler Parsons. If they can stay healthy with Marc Gasol, they could be pretty good. There are going to be 8 spots for probably 11 teams that have a legitimate shot at competing at them.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know! Get in touch with us on Twitter or Facebook!

The Timber Rebuilder

What Kevin Garnett has meant to me

Kevin Garnett is on the fence on coming back for an NBA-record 22nd season. In typical Garnett fashion, he is in hiding making a decision without a lot of media intervention. Garnett is the last of his 1995 draft class, as there is no one left in the league from the two following drafts either after Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan have retired. Garnett has always defied the odds when it comes to his longevity. He often times held the longest active record for consecutive games played and scoring more than 10 points in a game. KG always was the player who was always reliable in terms of his health and consistency. So to hear that Garnett wants to play another season but doesn’t know if he can is scary. Is KG really on the verge of ending his playing career?

There will likely be a ton of stories that come out about what KG’s impact has been on the league. There is no question he is one of the best all-around players the game has ever seen. As a Timberwolves fan, he is the pride and joy of this franchise. He is all we have to hang our pride on. For many of us, including myself, he is the reason I am a fan. I learned basketball from watching Kevin Garnett play. He is a reason why I am as passionate about a team with the worst win-percentage in the entire NBA.

All of that said, I wanted to reflect and talk about what Kevin Garnett has meant to me. I wanted to talk about the memories I have had as a lifelong Timberwolves fan in hopes of capturing the significance KG’s career has had on Timberwolves fandom. My hope is that it can capture some of the emotions that go with the game of basketball since that is probably what KG would want.

My earliest memory of being a Timberwolves fan begins in the 5th grade. I had always loved the game of basketball as a kid and knew only of Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajowan, and Patrick Ewing. My knowledge of the NBA came mainly from family members talking about it and collecting basketball cards. But on the way home from basketball practice with my coach, he turned on the Timberwolves game on the radio. I was fascinated. There was some guy named Rasho Nesterovic and Kevin Garnett. There was also a veteran named Sam Mitchell on the team. I started watching the games at home and can always remember Trent Tucker’s voice saying ‘Young Fella’ anytime KG did something amazing. That season would be the year Sam Mitchell would get hurt and Wally Szczerbiak would emerge as the future starter.

My first worries as a basketball fan were if the Timberwolves could make it out of the first round of the playoffs. The Timberwolves never really got home court advantage and were never really the favorites to win any series. So as a young pup fan, I got excited for the Wolves to just not get swept. I remember the repeat analysis by ESPN during the playoffs every year that we had never made it out of the playoffs in franchise history. It got old.

The reason for digression is to lead to this. There were two moments in which I cried for basketball. The two times were when the Wolves lost to the Lakers in the 2004 Western Conference Finals and again when KG shouted ‘Anything is Possible’ and called out ‘Sota. There was a near-cry moment when KG broke down in tears in an interview about his desire to win. The reason I remember these moments so vividly is because I am not an entirely emotional person. Garnett made basketball personal for me. I developed a tremendous passion for the game because KG’s passion for the game was so contagious. This is something that I believe many Minnesota fans can relate to.

As I progressed as a young-teen basketball player, I started copying KG in my own game. While I wasn’t a post-player, I did start wearing a white wristband that I wrote ‘SE #13’ to be like Garnett. When I was playing at the playground and I did something that I felt was amazing, I would take my armband and throw it into the imaginary crowd like Garnett did after his series-clinching performance against the Sacramento Kings. I started to pretend to talk to myself in games in order to intimidate the other players and make them believe I was crazy. Maybe I actually was crazy, who knows, but KG did this all the time and it was great. I started to love defense because Garnett was so versatile on that end of the floor. My loyalty for the state of Minnesota even grew because that was one of KG’s most undeniable traits, his loyalty.

My basketball career began to fizzle around the same time that the Timberwolves did after the 2003-2004 season. Latrell Sprewell needed millions of dollars to feed his kids and Kevin McHale would fire Flip Saunders. This left the overly loyal Garnett to tough it through with a bad Timberwolves team that tried to use Mark Blount and Ricky Davis as his supporting cast. I switched high schools and started focusing in more on academics than basketball. I would go to college and KG would go to Boston in the same summer of 2007.

The KG memories I have are all over the place. When I try to remember the ones that stick out the most, they are on a broad spectrum of emotions. There is the anger I felt when Anthony Peeler elbowed KG in the playoffs. There is the funny moments when KG made the ‘honey nut cheerios reference’ to Carmelo Anthony or when he bit Joakim Noah. There is the sadness that was felt when Malik Sealy and Flip Saunders passed away. There was also the beauty in when KG went to comfort Kevin McHale after the passing of his daughter and them putting the past behind them. KG made us feel all sorts of things throughout his career and there isn’t another player that I can say the same about.

Fast-forward and eventually Garnett would come back to Minnesota. A dream of many Timberwolves fans everywhere. Flip Saunders got the old band back together. I remember not being able to study for a final in a grad school course because I was repeatedly watching a video of KG highlights with the P-Diddy song “I’m Coming Home” playing in the background. I never imagined Garnett being in a Timberwolves uniform again, and quite honestly, it is still awkward seeing him in the short-sleeved, new-generation jerseys. Like many loyal Timberwolves fans that KG left behind, I was re-energized by the franchise. I was motivated to finally start this blog from the excitement I had built up. The momentum continued and through a lot of ups and downs, the Wolves are in the best places that they have been in over a decade.

Now, we are witnessing Tom Thibodeau making his mark on the roster. He has signed two big men on a team that is already filled with power forwards and centers. This leads me to feel like, even if Garnett was to return, we may not see much of him. Part of me does not want to see Garnett in that type of environment. Another part of me would hate it even more if Garnett played on another team for his final season. What is missing though is the closure. I know Garnett would not want the roadshow that was Kobe’s final season. I also know Garnett would not want to go out missing the last several games. We all know Garnett would want to suit up and play his final game.

I have played out how KG’s final game would go in my head. I would imagine that there would be a ton of anticipation for the final game. KG would start. And in the fourth quarter he would play his final minutes. The Target Center (please NBA schedule the final Wolves game as a home game) would then give KG a final standing ovation that KG would put his hand up and his head down as he tries to hide his tears. There would be several hugs and a delay in gameplay. KG would then choose to not speak with the media after the game and be happy to take the fine. That would be it.

The game without Garnett will take some getting used to. I will officially feel old. And it will be an entirely new era of the game I love. If this is truly it, thank you KG for all the memories. You will leave an incredible legacy and have impacted more people than you can imagine.

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2016 NBA Draft: Timberwolves Final Thoughts

Draft day!

It is finally here. Four days after the NBA Finals. It is like the season never ended. It has been stressful to say the least. Not too many moving parts so far and yet we have debated for months.

One thing is for sure, whoever is picked by the Timberwolves tonight will forever be remembered as the 5th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. Most fans remember their feelings towards a player from when the Wolves drafted Ndudi Ebi 26th overall in the 2003 draft to when the Wolves took Karl-Anthony Towns as the 1st Number 1 pick in franchise history.

One thing that I am reminded of at this time in the year is Flip Saunders. I came across this tweet of just Flip enjoying life right before the 2013 draft.

As the Wolves approach the draft, which is hours away, the rumors are swirling. The Wolves have just added Andy Greer to their coaching staff per Woj. There were rumors of the Wolves being interested in Kenneth Faried, which reminds me of how Thad Young fit in with the Wolves last year. I do think Faried would be an ideal energy guy for Thibs, but if the trade includes moving the 5th pick, I don’t think it is worth it.

Thibs has enlightened us by letting us know that the Wolves value shooting in this draft. To many, this eliminated the idea that Kris Dunn could be the pick, while I believe that isn’t the case. The entire league values shooting right now. It is absolutely a valid concern and the Wolves do need shooting, but I don’t think it eliminates Kris Dunn from being the Wolves pick.

There is a decent chance the Wolves trade the pick today. I don’t feel prepared for that scenario since #WolvesNation has been debating between four guys for the last month. Who is better? Why? Just hours before the draft, I feel like the top four is fairly clear, in the form of personal preference. Here it is:

  1. Dragan Bender

If Bender is available, you have to take him. There are rumors he could fall to 7, which is mind blowing. Bender is certainly a project. But he is a project worth taking on. The Wolves are in a position where they can swing for the fences. If Bender doesn’t work out, the Wolves future is not dependent on his development. They don’t lose much. They also have a significant need for someone to play along Towns long-term. The reason Bender is the most intriguing is because of the skill set he holds. Bender has a solid stroke from outside already. Pairing that alongside Towns and Wiggins will spread the floor and allow the Wolves to penetrate & dish. He can defend and protect the rim as well. How terrorizing would it be to have two big men who can defend and shoot? Bender has also shown that he can pass and handle the ball decently for his size.

Bender happens to also be the youngest player in the draft. If Bender is groomed under Thibs and can be given time to grow with the young Wolves, he can be in the perfect setting to develop. It helps that the Wolves have a decent amount of international players who can help mentor Bender. I don’t believe Bender is that far away from being able to contribute. He needs some experience, weight and confidence. But if he can build those three things up until the Wolves make the playoffs, I think they add a prospect who, I believe, becomes more valuable that Zach LaVine for this team.

Often times the youngest player in the draft usually has success in the league. It is something to keep in mind. The last few off the top of my mind are Devin Booker, Aaron Gordon, Giannis, and Andre Drummond.

2. Kris Dunn

After Bender, I don’t think any of the remaining players are absolute future starters for the Wolves. More than likely, they all end up being solid players off the bench and can step in as starters in the future. The reason I prefer Kris Dunn is because I believe he can come in and compliment Rubio from the beginning. Dunn can play behind or next to Rubio for short stints. Dunn also has a skill set in which he could eventually challenge Rubio for his spot a year or two down the road. It is still an unknown as to how Rubio fits in the grand scheme of things. In the event that Rubio gets hurt or wants out of Minnesota, I would feel comfortable with Dunn as the starting point guard of this team after this season.

The reason I also like Dunn is that I believe he is simply better than Murray and Hield. Dunn possesses an all-around skill set that inevitably translates great to the NBA. His ability to score, play-make and defend makes him a net positive player to have on the floor. If he develops a 3-point shot, he could end up being one of the best players in this draft. If you want to read our thoughts more on Dunn, we had an article here about him last month that was well received.

3. Jamal Murray

The Murray and Hield debate is something I run every day in my head and finally feel comfortable sharing it. I take Murray over Hield as someone who, I believe can become a solid scorer in the league. I think the McCollum comparisons are disrespectful to CJ, but if Murray becomes a poor man’s version of him, I will be happy. I worry about his ability to ever defend in the NBA, which is why I like Dunn more. We also talked about why we like him here. I won’t be upset if the Wolves take Jamal Murray.

4. Buddy Hield

#WolvesNation is crazy about Buddy Hield. I am not as convinced still. Buddy also can’t defend and don’t think he can thrive as a bench player, which is inevitably what is role would be with the Wolves. He requires a high usage and I don’t see him getting it with guys like Towns, Wiggins, LaVine and Shabazz who require the ball to be effective. The only positive of taking Hield for me is that my expectations would be much lower than anyone else we could take.


If the Wolves keep their pick, it will be one of those four. Otherwise I will be shocked. I think there is a 40% chance that the Wolves trade the pick on draft night. The Wolves clearly have goals of making the playoffs this coming season. We mentioned earlier in the offseason that the Wolves should just trade the pick and think that it still makes sense. The Wolves could acquire a veteran who could speed up the process as well as maybe a mid-1st round pick. The Jimmy Butler rumors were just a smokescreen that was probably done to raise the value of the pick in a draft where everyone is trying to trade out.

There are four teams to watch on draft night that have three 1st round picks: the Sixers, Suns, Celtics, and Nuggets. The Wolves may be able to work out a deal that allows the Wolves to acquire a veteran and a later pick. If somehow the Wolves end up moving down, I still love Timothe Luwawu and Wade Baldwin. I don’t know if either worked out for the Wolves, but I will dream. The Wolves do happen to love Ben Bentil, which will be something to watch for in the late 1st round and 2nd round.

For the next few hours, I will be watching for #WojBombs and hoping something crazy happens. As a life-long Wolves fan, especially during the rebuilding phase, the draft is our playoffs. Let’s add another brick to the Rebuild!

The Timber Rebuilder.

PS – I will be at the Wolves draft party. Tweet us if you are going! @timberrebuilder