The real concerns with Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins, naturally, has some trust issues. Rarely do you see a player of his caliber traded weeks after being the number 1 pick. He came to Minnesota and immediately had the spotlight on him after kicking off another rebuild.

Speaking of rebuild, I have to wonder how often we use this word on our blog. It is a big reason why I started the blog. But I think, moving forward, I will make it a point to use the word ‘rebuild’ in every blog post. Sort of a personal challenge and a branding experiment.

Anyways, back to your regular scheduled programming, Andrew Wiggins.

So naturally, when Andrew heard his name in trade rumors to go back to Cleveland for Kyrie Irving, he would get frustrated. He is in the midst of locking down a max contract and that could be jeopardized due to a trade. Wiggins’ name also seems to only be mentioned mainly because he is really the last tradeable asset the Wolves have since the Wolves would never consider trading KAT. So I can understand his frustrations.

I want to also mention, I am a huge Andrew Wiggins believer still. While the league is all about 3 and D now, I don’t think you can have too many scorers on a roster. Wiggins has earned respect to average 24 points a game at the age of 22. In his three years so far, he has also improved his 3-point shot a decent amount and has proven he can get to the line at will.

The situation currently for Wiggins seems great as well. He now has Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler to help guide and mentor him to finally tapping into his defensive potential. He has all the tools to be a Jimmy Butler-level defender in the league, and if he does, he is easily a top 25 player. It is his one glaring weakness that everyone is waiting to see if he can improve going into his fourth year. It is clear that, for him to be worth the max contract extension he will get this year, he will need to at least be an average defender. I am not mad at Glen Taylor for expecting that of him.

I also don’t believe in trading Wiggins for Kyrie either. I would much rather have 6 years of Andrew Wiggins than 2 years of Kyrie. Kyrie’s ball dominance also doesn’t work great with Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. Wiggins’ passive nature bodes well as the 3rd option on offense as it will also draw less double teams his way. The Wolves would benefit greatly from having Wiggins fill a Klay Thompson-like role on both ends of the floor.

Wiggins will have all the opportunity in the world to dominate the ball through 82 games, I am not concerned about that. I also think, Wiggins will become a plus-shooter and eventually, a plus-defender. What is really concerning me is his attitude.

Before I get into his attitude, it is important to note how NBA players have invited us into their personal lives. Social media let’s us know everything that they are doing, that they want to share. What they want to share is really their choice. Their choice does reflect on who they are because ultimately, they are portraying the self that they want us to see, knowing that fans see it. Does that make sense?

 

 

Whether the above post by IG was intended to take shots at Glen Taylor or not, it still leaves it up to people to interpret. I am not taking this up as the only issue. There has been a trend of these types of sub-messages through his social media that give the impression that he is dissatisfied with the situation. It is usually best not to tread the waters of leaving things up to fans to create their own messages, as timely as some of these posts have been.

I would be a little less critical with Andrew on these types of things had I seen he was buying into what the Wolves are doing. There wasn’t much from Andrew’s camp around the Jimmy Butler trade. I would’ve expected something from Wiggins, being the face of the franchise that he is. I don’t expect him to be as enthusiastic as KAT is for everything, that isn’t Wiggy, but something at least. Right?

I see more about Wiggins’ expensive cars and dogs than anything related to his team. He is free to do that all he wants. But it leaves me to question his commitment to the team when his non-car/dog posts are about loyalty and respect.

So what I am really concerned about is Wiggins’ attitude for this upcoming season. I don’t think a few social media posts justify to say it is a problem quite yet of course, but it will certainly be something to pay attention to this upcoming season. It will be interesting to see how he interacts with his teammates, new and old, on the course. I hate to instigate but I can’t be the only person with this concern. I am a firm believer in the need for every player on a team to buy into the team concept.

The Timber Rebuilder.

 

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Making sense of the Wolves’ new direction

The Wolves have repositioned themselves from a team on the rise to a team that has risen. The dramatic draft night trade for Jimmy Butler to moving Ricky Rubio and adding Teague and Taj Gibson are all indications that the Wolves are making a serious run for the playoffs. Tom Thibodeau has made it clear that in order for the Wolves to win, they need tough-minded, defensive veterans around the young nucleus of Towns and Wiggins.

For many, the replacement of Ricky Rubio with Jeff Teague has been hard to swallow. Rubio was the longest tenured player on the roster and had shown significant improvements in the second half of the season. It was clear though, both sides of the relationship were not thrilled to be together. Rubio wanted to be more involved in the organization and wanted to be appreciated while the organization clearly had issues with Rubio’s inability to shoot or finish at the rim. The move will likely be best for both sides.
The Wolves got what might be the best return for Rubio that they might have been able to get in the last two years, a first-round pick and cap space. As an opportunist, you have to know when to sell high. The only way that Rubio could be more coveted is if he developed a jump shot, which will likely not happen. He has removed his ‘injury’ tag and showed signs of being able to score and create last year. Since Rubio is not a player that relies on his speed or athleticism, he could stretch out his career if healthy. The only issue is the Wolves needed shooting. And badly.
While Teague isn’t known as a lights out shooter, he is certainly not the liability that Rubio was. Teague has been able to shoot over 35% over the last two years and is just a couple years removed from being an All-Star. He has a good amount of playoff experience and most importantly, can finish around the rim. This combination of shooting and driving ability is going to make the biggest difference for the Wolves. First, teams will have a nightmare defending the pick-and-roll with Teague and (Insert Butler, Wiggins, or Towns here). Second, Teague will be able to help the Wolves when they need scoring outside of their big 3, something the Wolves could not rely on with Rubio. Outside of LaVine, Wiggins, and Towns last year, the Wolves struggled to find a fourth scorer.
The secondary benefits of adding Teague is that he will not need the ball to be effective, another flaw of having Rubio on the current roster. Teague can spot up for 3 if needed and demand some respect from opposing defenses. Also, Teague has played with other dominate point guards in the past which lets him play off the ball in situations, which will be helpful if Thibs is looking to let Butler or Wiggins handle the ball more often.
On the defensive end, Teague is still pesky. He had a better defensive win share than Rubio last season. While he doesn’t have the length of Rubio, he will still be able to guard other teams’ best guard if needed. Luckily for the Wolves, they will be able to throw Teague, Butler, or Wiggins at a team’s best perimeter player on a nightly basis. I will say, this is where the Wolves will miss Kris Dunn. Dunn would have been a great compliment to Teague. Yes, I still am a Dunn-believer.
We can now look at what adding Taj Gibson means. He could mean a lot of things really. He could mean a move of Towns to the center position and Dieng being the 6th man with Bjelica coming in for support. He could also come off of the bench if Dieng remains in the starting lineup. Regardless the role he plays in the lineup, he brings much needed toughness and defense. The Wolves should finally have someone to set the tone in terms of physicality. We watched way too many Wolves get beat around the paint for rebounds and uncontested shots.
The Wolves also have allowed Shabazz Muhammad to become an unrestricted free agent at this point. This doesn’t mean he is gone, but it basically does mean he is gone with the Wolves lack of cap space and shooting still. Shabazz is also one of my favorite Wolves but I also don’t think it will be as sad to see him leave for the average Wolves fan as it was to see LaVine and Rubio go.
The Wolves are currently looking to create cap space to sign more players for some bench depth. They are looking to move Cole Aldrich and the pick they received in the Rubio trade. This would indicate they are still trying to solve their shooting problem. I hope. I also can’t imagine they are ready to let Tyus Jones be the full-time backup point guard. But a good amount of the options that the Wolves had are now off the board. So it will be interesting to see what direction they go. My hope is signing CJ Miles or Patrick Patterson to fill out the bench and then signing a backup point guard like Ty Lawson.
It will be important to pay attention to the Wolves Summer League team. Deandre Burton and VJ Beachum could have legitimate chances of making the Wolves roster if they are in need of bodies. The Wolves are also light on the wings outside of Butler and Wiggins. Fully expecting Thibodeau to give them a majority of the minutes in the game, in case of garbage time or an emergency, a summer league player could help out. The Wolves have a ton of roster spots available and not a ton of cap room, so it would make sense at least two guys get two-way contracts for the Wolves.
Expecting more moves certainly, it is clear the identity Thibodeau is developing here in Minnesota. He wants a defensive-minded team that has a veteran toughness. Not much different than the Bulls teams he has coached in the past. Thibodeau does not seem to value shooting as much as the rest of the league, which is concerning.
The team seems to be filled out in two-phases. The first phase is the immediate phase, which is the next two years. It is likely aimed at keeping the core of the team intact as Wiggins, Butler, and Towns will all be able to sign extensions in the next two years. This immediate phase is also designed to win now, not necessarily a championship, but to get to the playoffs. This playoff experience is crucial for Towns and Wiggins mainly. With the help of the veterans, Thibs is hoping to redefine the playoff-less culture in Minnesota and get the monkey off their backs.
The second phase will be around truly competing and it is all dependent on the development of Wiggins and Towns, most importantly on the defensive end of the floor. The next two years will be about getting them experience, chemistry, and understanding so that when the majority of the Wolves’ contracts expire over the course of the next three years, they can rebuild around Wiggins and Towns, who could be in the prime of their careers and better all-around players.
It remains to be seen what role Jimmy Butler plays in all of this. Its just too early. His contract expires in two years and a lot can change from now until then. The rest of the players on the Wolves roster, which maybe the exception of Justin Patton, should change three years from now. Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson should not be relevant once their contracts expire. But the goal should be to instill the basketball values that all three of the new veterans have in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
So while most fans will be excited to see the new additions in Wolves uniforms, I will be watching the development of Towns and Wiggins very closely. The success of this team truly rides on their shoulders.

The Situation at pick Seven

Jonathan Isaac. That is the goal.

usa-jonathan-isaac
The draft is all about choosing between team need and talent. Can the player fit the system and fill a team need? But then, it is the draft, right? We should just draft the best player available since these guys are so young and you never know what you’ll get. You can always address needs in free agency. Right? That is typically how the argument around draft philosophies go. But what if I told you, you could draft a player who fit your team at a position you need, all while them being the best at their position AND not have to take him 1st overall?
That is exactly what Jonathan Isaac is for the Timberwolves. The Wolves have been drafting players left and right, holding onto talented lottery picks waiting to bare the fruits of their labor. In fact, the Wolves had three consecutive number one picks on their roster at one point.
The Wolves have three high usage players in Towns, Wiggins and LaVine. That is one of the biggest hurdles around the Wolves picking in the lottery again. There aren’t a lot of clear cut players that have the potential at 7 that those three have offensively. That said, the Wolves need players that don’t require the ball to score and who are ‘plus’ players on the defensive end. The Wolves essentially need a 3 and D guy, preferably not at the same positions as the big three or at point guard since the Wolves just drafted Kris Dunn.
Jonathan Isaac is all that and a bag of Sun Chips. Isaac is not going to blow anyone away with his offense but has shown the ability to hit the three and play incredible defense. The 6-11 forward is still skinny in which he may not be able to guard stronger power forwards in the league quite yet, but adding some weight to his frame overtime will certainly help him there. He already rebounds and block shots like a starting power forward in the league. He is great in defending the pick-n-roll, which can only get better working under Thibs. He still isn’t great at defending the perimeter, but he certainly is an improvement over Wiggins right now.
The reason I love Isaac is because he has the potential to be the best role player in the NBA. He was not a high usage player at Florida State and was still extremely effective. His unique combination of length and ability to be a 3-and-D player makes people compare him to the likes of Draymond Green. As he fills out his frame, he has the potential to help defend another team’s best wing player but also serve as a help-side rim protector. Because he has a lot of the defensive skills already, his floor isn’t too bad either. Worst case, he is a serviceable role player that is solid defensively and non-existent on offense. Think, Wes Johnson with the Clippers.
Being that the Wolves drafted Wes Johnson number 4 overall over many other future All-Stars, that was probably not the best comparison. But we are talking about floors here. Wes Johnson is a spot-starter on a playoff team that needs a wing 3-and-D guy. The Wolves drafted him as a player that would’ve been great offensively. I digress though.
The issue currently for the Wolves is that Jonathan Isaac’s stock is rising. Not because he has done anything to deserve it since he didn’t go to the draft combine, but because the stock of the other forwards are falling. Namely, Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum. Both have serious potential. But if I had to pick another former Wolves draft pick, their floors look like Derrick Williams. Not for their style of play but because of their need for the ball without being good shooters. Tatum is Carmelo Anthony on offense in terms of ISO ball. Not only is that a bad fit for the Wolves, many teams are moving away from that style of basketball. Jackson is better offensively and has a unique passing ability for a forward. Both have light years of potential and could very well be All-Stars, but their styles of play are concerning.
If any of the three fall on draft night, it will likely be Tatum. I can’t imagine Jackson falling passed the Wolves at 7. He has shooting concerns that would probably make him a poor fit in Minnesota, but he could also push out one of Wiggins or LaVine. As of today, Jackson should probably go to the Sixers, but things can change in the next month.
Now, let’s play the scenario in which Jonathan Isaac goes before number 7. The Sixers could potentially take Isaac at 3. The Suns could have interest at 4. The Kings will almost certainly take a point guard at 5. The Magic may have more interest in one of the higher usage players at 6, but after bringing on Hammond from Milwaukee, they could be looking for a Giannis archetype, which Isaac fits. There is also the possibility a team trades up to take Isaac. The Nuggets have the assets to do just that and he fits the Nuggets very well. So what do the Wolves do?
The Wolves have two options. One includes taking the best player available. That will likely be taking Tatum or Jackson if they fall. There is also the intriguing prospect of Malik Monk. We will visit that option. The second option would be to trade down. We will visit that as well.
First, best player available. Chances are, the best player available will be Malik Monk if Isaac is taken. Monk is probably one of the better scorers and shooters in this draft. The Wolves missed out on Jamal Murray last year, this would be their opportunity to make up for it this year. Monk would be the security blanket around LaVine’s knee as he rehabs from the ACL tear. Monk could also replace the scoring that the Wolves will lose off the bench if Shabazz Muhammad demands too much money. The issue with drafting Monk would be his size at the off guard position and his ability to defend in the NBA. He is almost another Jamal Crawford, which is good, but not great for the Wolves. Scoring also doesn’t always translate great to the NBA. If I had to relate Monk’s floor to a Wolves draft pick, it would be Rashad McCants.
Trading down opens up a slew of options for the Wolves. They could add a veteran player and a late round draft pick. They could package the pick with Rubio and others to potentially bring in a better player. There are teams that will need point guards and there are a lot of point guards available in the top 10 of this draft. My hope is the Wolves listen to offers, especially if Isaac is off the board.
While I can’t go into every scenario if the Wolves trade the pick, I would love the Wolves to target a poor man’s version of Jonathan Isaac, OG Anunoby. Physically, Anunoby is an upgrade over Isaac. He is 6-8 with a 7-5 wingspan. He is also a mystery. He didn’t play too much his Freshmen year at Indiana and tore an ACL during his Sophomore year. He is a monster defensively. His shot is more of a question mark than Isaac’s, as well as his health.
That is where things stand as of right now, a month ahead of the draft. A good amount can change from now until then. Jonathan Isaac has the potential to be the perfect power forward of the future, sandwiched between Wiggins and Towns. If Isaac and Dunn develop consistent three point shots, they seem like the perfect role players around the Wolves big three. Both would be amazing defensively which would be a nightmare for opponents. A lot depends on the shooting abilities of the role players Dunn and potentially Isaac, which is definitely a huge question regardless.

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

 

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 ‘Measuring Stick’ Teams

The 2016-17 Season is right around the corner!! As the season progresses, it will be important for the Wolves to get an idea of how good they really are. One way to see how you are doing through the season outside of stats and standings is seeing how you perform against another team, typically around the same caliber as you. In the West, there are a handful of teams that are locks for the playoffs and there are about 8 teams competing for 3 spots in the West. There will be broken hearts. If the Wolves do make the playoffs, they have to serve the role of heart breaker.

But what teams can the Wolves use as measuring sticks this season? How can they tell if they are going to break hearts by the end of the year? First, lets define what a ‘measuring stick’ team is. A measuring stick team can come in many forms. First, they are likely a team that is on the bubble of the playoffs. They are a team that you probably performed poorly against the previous season. They are a team that you could potentially jump ahead of in the standings this season. They match up well against you and can be a test at things you think you improved on over the off-season.

New Orleans Pelicans

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While the Pelicans won 30 games last season, they made the playoffs the season before with 45 wins. The ‘Brow hype has died down due to injuries, but I still believe Anthony Davis is one of the most talented players in the league. I also believe they added some solid pieces this offseason. I don’t know if the Pels make the playoffs, but they could serve as the ‘floor’ measuring stick this season. A team the Timberwolves have to outplay will be the Pelicans, and it may be harder than it sounds. Buddy Hield is probably one of the more NBA-ready rookies who can shoot the lights out. Solomon Hill signed with New Orleans this summer and I believe he could be a real difference maker. They also managed to steal away Langston Galloway and Terrance Jones. If health is on the Pelicans’ side, it may be hard for the Wolves to win 3 out of 4 meetings. They split the season series last year.

Regardless of team outcomes, this will also be a measuring stick for Karl-Anthony Towns. There is much debate around who is the best big man in the league. Davis and Towns are the future of that discussion. There is also the Kentucky rivalry to throw in there. It could turn into a Garnett/ Duncan-like rivalry in the future.

Dallas Mavericks

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The Dallas Mavericks are looking to hold on to their playoff position with the acquisition of Harrison Barnes this offseason. The Mavericks finished 6th in the West with a 42-40 record. As Dirk is nearing the end of his career, it will be interesting to see how they hold on to playoff hopes. The reason they are a good measuring stick is because this is a team with experience and high-expectations. This is also a team that would likely need to fall out of the playoffs in order for the Wolves to make it in. The Wolves also lost all four matchups with the Mavs last season. In all the games, the Mavs wings found ways to torch the Wolves. Although Chandler Parsons is no longer with the Mavericks, it will be a good test to see if the Wolves perimeter defense improved against a team that has no shortage of scorers and shooters.

Denver Nuggets

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are a team still looking for an identity. They relied on the incredibly inefficient rookie Emmanual Mudiay at point guard last season. After winning 33 games, the Nuggets will try to improve through the development of their international big men. Jusuf Nurkic made a late push for Rookie of the Year, so it will be interesting to see how he responds in year two. Some how though, the Nuggets managed to win 3 of 4 meetings with the Timberwolves last season. Not underestimating the Nuggets, but if the Wolves are planning on having a successful season, they will need to out-win the Nuggets. The Wolves should be aiming to win 2-3 meetings this year.

To do that, the Wolves will need to figure out how to guard Danilo Gallinari. The Wolves haven’t been successful guarding stretch-4s who can shoot and operate out of the triple-threat. While coaching should help this, Gallinari was guarded by someone who had no business guarding him in OT last year, which really pointed out the Wolves gaps on the perimeter defensively. Can Wiggins guard him this season? We shall see.

 

Utah Jazz

Zach LaVine, Rodney Hood

The Utah Jazz are the ultimate measuring stick team for the Timberwolves. Not only are they divisional rivals, but they have a good amount of hype and barely didn’t make the playoffs last season. The Jazz are about as hungry, if not hungrier, for a playoff spot this season. According to @PaulDeVos7, the Wolves were only 5 wins behind the Jazz in the final 40 games last year. The Jazz did take the season series 3-1 with all of the games happening after December 30th. But what makes the Jazz incredibly intriguing is that they have players at each position that will not only challenge the Wolves, but are almost a toss up when discussing who is better.

Ricky Rubio is better than George Hill and that might be the biggest advantage the Wolves have. Derrick Favors is not better than Towns, but I do think Favors is fairly underrated. On the perimeter, Hayward is better than Wiggins and Hood edges out LaVine simply because he is a great two-way player. If the Wolves want to outplay the Jazz this season, Wiggins will have to outperform Gordon Hayward. The Jazz also have added a significant amount of depth by signing Boris Diaw, Joe Johnson, and Daunte Exum returning from injury.

The Wolves will have an advantage early in the season against the Jazz with Hayward injured. The Jazz won 40 games last year and could get closer to 50 this year. If the Wolves jump into the 40-win range, it will be important to win two games against the Jazz. Regardless, this could be a good rivalry this season. Especially if we see Andrew Wiggins continue his efforts in posterizing Rudy Gobert.


While an argument could be made for all the ‘bubble’ teams, we felt like this was a diverse group and could test out different things against the Wolves. Agree? Disagree? Have other ‘measuring stick’ teams? Let us know!

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!