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.

 

 

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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.

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The Timber Rebuilder