The News Timberwolves Fans should be Talking about.

With all the Rubio trade rumors, draft hangover, and free agency frenzies, the biggest news that will impact the Timberwolves long-term occurred and many people disregarded it. While it is not huge portion of the team, Glen Taylor sold a 5% stake to Chinese Business man Lizhang Jiang. The 35 year-old owns a sports marketing company in China and is the first Chinese NBA owner. This is huge news for a few reasons:

  • The 5% stake valued the Timberwolves at being worth $1 Billion.
  • The NBA market in China is Huge.
  • Glen Taylor finally sold a minority-stake in the team.

To put some perspective on this, the Timberwolves valuation of $1 Billion puts it above what the Atlanta Hawks sold for at $780M, the last team to be sold. The Clippers were sold at $2B, which really increased the values of NBA-franchises around the league.

The Timberwolves are poised to be marketable in China and not just because the team is exciting. Zach LaVine has visited China in consecutive summers building his brand there. His popularity there is huge due to his back-to-back Dunk Championships. In Karl-Anthony Towns’ portfolio of publicity strides after his Rookie of the Year campaign, he recently came back from a China visit himself. If both players grow their popularity as players like Kobe Bryant exit, their brands could be among the strongest with the help of a Chinese owner.

While the 5% stake is not huge, it is an indication of where things are headed. Glen Taylor will absolutely look to sell the team in the near future and if one of the minority-owners decides to keep riding the wave in Minnesota, they could certainly buy out majority-stake in the near-term. With an increasing cap and revenue coming from broadcasting, the price tag on the franchise will certainly grow. Couple that with a young and exciting Wolves team that is not only marketable but international. Adding a player from China eventually will likely be something that is in the best interests of all the owners of the team.

Lizhang Jiang, also partial owner of a Spanish Soccer team, has encouraged bringing Chinese players over to Europe. The Rockets, who own the largest market share in China of any NBA team, just drafted Zhou Qi which seemed like a smart marketing move on their end. Certainly it will take a Chinese player on the roster in the future to grow the Timberwolves’ market share in the future.

Over the next few seasons, all of the young pups will be working to develop their personal brands, in and out of the US. Andrew Wiggins is already referred to as Maple Jordan and Towns has spent time developing his post-retirement career in broadcasting. The opportunity to couple their brands with a booming Chinese basketball economy could be a perfect storm. There will also be opportunities for the Timberwolves to potentially play some regular season games in China.

Being a marketing student/ fanatic, this is a dream come true as a Wolves fan. The Timberwolves could develop into a team that is nationally broadcasted regularly and seen as a decent free agent destination. Hopefully it will draw people to not only talk about the weather when a player ends up in Minny.

The Timber Rebuilder.

P.S. I hope the new owners push for new jerseys. We need it.

Making Sense of the Timberwolves Draft: Kris Dunn

What a dramatic night. I spent the draft taking in it all in with Wolves faithful at the Target Center for the Draft Party. While I was pretty excited about the Kris Dunn pick, most of the Timberwolves fans in attendance were shocked and wanted Buddy Hield. I, again, have indicated multiple times that I am not fond of Hield and would’ve preferred Murray if Dunn wasn’t the pick. So what happened last night? I would love to tell the story through tweets:

The Wolves draft Dunn

KAT is happy with his new toy

Trade rumors and #WojBombs start flying around

The Wolves get super close apparently to trading for Butler

Thibs and KAT talk about a trade. Maybe this was the breaking point?

From a high-level, the Wolves left the draft with one of the top prospects and one that can help immediately. Kris Dunn may be the best two-way player in the draft. His defensive prowess fits well with Thibodeau’s coaching style.

Rightfully so, there were a couple teams that had serious interest in acquiring Kris Dunn. This was never a secret. The Sixers were drooling over Dunn for weeks and then the Bulls emerged as a trade candidate. It sounds like the Sixers and Wolves had talks that included Ricky Rubio. The Bulls and Wolves had even more serious talks that included Zach LaVine. The Wolves were in a position to acquire either Nerlens Noel or Jimmy Butler. The actual details will never be known. The rumors were that LaVine was breaking point for Thibs in which he would not include him in the deal. I don’t think this is entirely true because not only is Butler far better than LaVine, but it would’ve conveniently opened up a starting position next to Wiggins for Butler.

The fact is, we cannot confirm the trade rumors of last night and we don’t know if someone will be traded. Many Timberwolves fans are upset for one reason or another but I invite you to keep the following in mind. The Wolves got better. They added depth and another asset. That is better than where the Wolves were on June 22nd. Something I pointed out that is interesting is that the value of Kris Dunn seems to be more valuable than the value of the 5th pick. This is influence and psychology working its wonders on the world. These are all good things.

Keep in mind, the state the Wolves are now in is fluid. There is more clarity, but trades can still happen. What is keeping many Timberwolves fans upset is that Tom Thibodeau is threatening to move the last remaining remnants of David Kahn’s era from the roster. Many Wolves fans and fans of the NBA have grown to love Ricky Rubio, for good reason. Rubio is one of the better perimeter defenders in the league and among the best playmakers. Unfortunately, everyone in the world knows he can’t shoot or score even. This makes him seem a little worse than he might be. Rubio influenced more wins maybe than anyone on the Timberwolves roster last year because he absolutely makes the players around him better.

Now the Wolves have Kris Dunn who has many of the same strengths and weaknesses as Rubio, who is already established. What do we make of the situation now? It requires a deeper look at the situation. A few points to make.

  • Drafting Kris Dunn was a Win-Win for the Timberwolves. Why? The Wolves added the best ‘two-way’ player in the draft. This means, he either stays on the team and we benefit, or we trade him and we benefit. Many are crazy about Dunn around the league. Including Tom Thibodeau. As mentioned in the Press Conference, the marriage of a good two-way player like Dunn with Thibs could be amazing. It will be exciting to see what happens between the two.
  • Can Rubio and Dunn co-exist? Not in the long term probably. But in the short-term? Sure. What’s better than having Ricky Rubio on your team? Having Ricky Rubio’s skill set on the floor for 48 minutes. I don’t think Thibs is comfortable handing the keys over to a rookie at point guard, which is why it makes sense that Rubio isn’t traded immediately. Dunn is also not a sure thing, like any draft pick. He will need to adjust to the NBA’s speed and toughness. That will take time.
  • Rubio will have to improve to keep his job. Ricky has secured his spot as the starting point guard since he was a rookie. Since then, he has struggled to improve drastically.
  • Rubio and Dunn are both trade assets. One will eventually move. And when they do, they will likely net the Timberwolves another solid asset. Who knows when either is traded but Rubio for Noel and maybe Luwawu (someone I have a man-crush on) could make sense. The Wolves still desperately need a starting power forward.
  • While many believe Rubio and Dunn have redundant skills, they do have some pretty significant differences. Rubio is the ultimate team player and has one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the league. Although Ricky has his faults, Rubio is a proven and consistent commodity. Dunn on the other hand has the potential to be a far better scorer and better shooter than Ricky. Dunn also can finish around the rim much better than Ricky. Rubio has relied on his scream while he attempts a layup to go to the line for most of his career. Dunn has the ability to play above the rim and get to the free throw line, something Rubio will not be able to do.
  • The Wolves didn’t address one of their biggest needs: shooting. While many are panicking, that shouldn’t be the case. Taking the best player available is a strategy that works most of the time. Expecting a rookie to immediately satisfy a need is a recipe for disaster. The Wolves did add something else they needed though, bench scoring.
  • Staying on the topic of shooting. The Wolves will need to address this still through free agency/ trade and the development of their players. The Wolves will need LaVine, Wiggins and Towns to improve their shot to at least remove the team from the bottom of the rankings. Philosophy is also an important factor. Sam Mitchell was not someone who set players up for threes, which could be a factor in why the Wolves struggled so much. Thibs is clear on needing shooting and should address when training camp starts.
  • From Thibodeau and Layden’s perspective, a trade last night may have been difficult. Especially moving Zach LaVine or Ricky Rubio. I am sure Thibodeau wants the opportunity to at least coach these guys. LaVine has the potential to really become a special player, which trading away so early may be a poor choice. Sometimes, not making the trade is the smarter move as well because typically the deals that weren’t done are mostly forgotten. How many remember the rumors of potentially moving Derrick Williams in a package for James Harden?

There is still an entire offseason that needs to play itself out. We forget we are only five days removed from the 2015-16 season. Dunn has said in his interview that he can learn from Rubio and looks forward to playing behind him. While many joke about the David Kahn days when Thibodeau said Dunn and Rubio can play together, it does seem possible. While shooting may be an issue, Rubio and Dunn could be effective in short stints. Defensively, they should shut down backcourts and offensively Dunn would benefit from Rubio’s playmaking ability.

Certainly, there will be more to come. Please let us know your thoughts and share!

The Timber Rebuilder

Jamal Murray – How he Fits with the Timberwolves

A couple weeks ago we entertained the idea of adding Kris Dunn to the Timberwolves roster through the NBA draft on June 23. This post will explore Jamal Murray, freshmen guard out of Kentucky. Nothing clever I can think of for the title on this one, so just going to jump into it.

The thing that makes Jamal Murray considered a lottery pick in the draft is his scoring and shooting ability. He had the highest scoring average of all freshmen with 20 points per game. He is also a tremendous three-point shot. He shot nearly 41% from three this last season. His shot is fluid and can release in a multitude of ways. The fact that he is a Freshmen and contributed this much to a team like Kentucky goes a long way. Kentucky has a reputation for producing great NBA players.

If you didn’t know, floor spacing and the catch & shoot are things the Wolves truly struggle with. Matter of fact, they are among the worst in the league. See this post by Nylon Calculus. While the Wolves can choose between Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray to space the floor, Murray is the catch and shoot talent. Murray has the potential to come off of screens and spot up for a 3-point shot like a J.J. Redick. Murray shot 56% when coming off of screens. He will also have the chance to hang in the corner and spot up threes when Wiggins or Towns are double-teamed and when Rubio is looking to penetrate & dish. Thibodeau loves the corner three and it will likely be Murray’s first task to master that shot, if drafted.

For anyone being drafted in the 5th spot, the hope is that they can come in immediately and contribute. That doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be a starter. The only starting spot without much competition would be the power forward position, but there aren’t talented enough power forwards in this draft to take that spot. A guard like Jamal Murray though would need to come off the bench and score. They would need to add to the depth of the team and have someone other than Shabazz Muhammad as the only scoring threat. Murray can absolutely be that. Murray has a high BBIQ and is very aggressive. He is mature beyond his years on the court. It will be interesting to see how that translates in the NBA.

There are some significant issues that Murray has though. The first is his ability on defense. There is a good chance that Murray will never be an adequate defender in the league. He lacks the athleticism to stay with guards in the NBA. This can be an issue if Tyus Jones is on the team. Having scrappy guards who can defend seems to be important to Thibs.

While Murray has the size to play either guard position, he does struggle playing the point guard position with efficiency. He averaged more turnovers than assists and seems to play naturally off the ball. He also has some problems with finishing around the rim, something that doesn’t get easier at the next level. He could get time to develop behind LaVine in his first few seasons in this aspect.

It seems that typically many people will mention Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield in the same sentence. It is important to note that Murray is three years younger than Hield. That is the span of a rookie contract. By the time Murray is the age of Hield, his rookie option will be decided on and he will be a fairly known commodity. The three-year gap could amount for something. Hield did should 5% better in FG% and 3P% on one more three-point attempt per game. Buddy Hield is a better fit for a team looking to win now. It almost seems like the Boston Celtics would be a great fit if they decide to keep their pick.

While the Wolves will be shooting for the playoffs this season, they did earn the 5th-worst record in the NBA with a fairly healthy roster. So the Wolves are hoping to make a significant jump that will be reliant on the improvement & development of their current personnel and on Coach Thibs implementing his schemes flawlessly in his first season. Realistically, the Wolves are somewhere between the 7th-worst in the league and the 7th-seed in the West. The long-term goal for the young core is to win a championship. If that is the case, it may make the most sense to draft a guy that can be molded into that group when making a decision between two guys (Murray and Hield) who have a similar skill set. By taking Jamal Murray, the Wolves get a three-year grace period for a guy who can carve out a role on the team in that time.

In the short term, Murray isn’t doing much. He will need to learn to defend, how to play the point guard, and finish around the rim. He may see time when the Wolves desperately need to spread the floor or need someone to come off of screens to catch-and-shoot. Thibs is not crazy about the ‘baptism by fire’ rule of getting rookies a ton of minutes to develop. He will get them developed in the ways he can. Murray will probably find himself in the corners on the offensive end and move his way up. It may be a couple of years before Murray actually sees significant minutes. It could be a good thing nonetheless. The Wolves may look to bring in a couple free agents who can help boost the Wolves into a winning franchise in the time Jamal Murray develops.

With Thibodeau around, it is clear that Murray will not see a lot of minutes until he can at least hold his own on defense. That may not come until year two or three. But when he does learn to defend, he will serve as a great change-of-pace scorer off the bench or alongside LaVine or Wiggins. It could also could at a time where Andrew Wiggins is seeing some stretch-four in a couple of years. Murray will be able to run his defender off the court like a young Reggie Miller or Ray Allen. He may never be great in that sense but he could definitely bring attention away from Wiggins and Towns.

All in all, if the draft goes Simmons, Ingram, Dunn, Bender, I would first look to trade the pick. My ideal would be to move down to get Wade Baldwin or Timothe Luwawu. If there are no takers for the 5th pick, which seems more and more likely by the day, the decision to pick between Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield will be a reality. I am siding with Jamal Murray because he is better in the catch-and-shoot, is more versatile in what positions he will be able to play, and is three years younger.

A Dunn Deal?

Ci34D_dUkAAP5I4

The title is cliché, but wanted to take the opportunity to use it before it was over-Dunn. Get it? Yes I did it again. A quick shout out to @kadung1 for his tremendous Wolves photoshop work as well. He put together the image. Go give him a follow on Twitter. 

The Wolves have the 5th pick, officially. So the smoke is finally beginning to clear. The Wolves will likely shop the pick but it should be of no surprise to any executives in the league that this is a two-man draft. In comparison to other years, the value of a lottery pick may be low due to natural supply and demand. Many teams in the lottery, especially the Boston Celtics, will look to trade their picks. There is also a group of prospects between 3 and probably 15 where they are merely the same level of talent. 

One prospect that is becoming more and more intriguing by the day is Kris Dunn. I will be the first to admit, I wasn’t a fan midway through the season. I still think there are some major holes in his game. He can’t shoot and I believe he made a living of taking advantage of his size to get to the basket. What is also concerning is that he has had a series of shoulder injuries in his career. His camp has already declined to provide information on his physical to Boston and Phoenix, the two teams picking before the Wolves. It could be strategic since both the Celtics and Suns have point guards that are foundational to their franchises. 

Before diving into this discussion, Britt Robson wrote something similar, but I still had a good amount I wanted to get off of my chest. Please check out his piece. 

Why is Dunn growing on me? For a few reasons. First off, I love defense. More important than that is Thibs loves defense. If the Wolves keep their pick, I have to imagine that the player that is drafted is a player that can play defense. Dunn is a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year where he averaged 2.6 steals this last season. Dunn’s 6-4 athletic frame paired with a 6-10 wingspan is something that could disrupt opposing ball handlers.

Dunn also can rebound, pass and score. Not only was he the Defensive Player of the Year, but he was also the back-to-back Big East Player of the Year. This season he averaged 16.4ppg, 6.4apg and 5.2rpg. His advanced stats are also nice. He has an offensive rating of 106 and defensive rating of 95 while having a 28% usage over the last two seasons. What really makes him stand out though is that his offensive and defensive Win Share and Box-Plus-Minus are basically equal. That means he is a damn good two-way player. To be honest, he may be the best two-way player in the draft. 

Dunn is also growing on me because I really dislike risk, especially in the draft. Dunn is an experienced player who has played two seasons at a high-level. He is one of the most NBA-ready players entering the draft. At 22, he can still grow with the other Wolves young players. He could be a starter in the league but could also have a Marcus Smart-type of role for the Wolves. 

Speaking of his role, there is a reason why Dunn is eyeing the Wolves roster. He isn’t only interested in the plethora of talent that is on the roster. He believes he can break into the rotation and earn a significant role with the team. Before withdrawing his name from the draft last season, DraftExpress.com projected Dunn to be the 13th pick in the draft. You know whom that is ahead of? The 24th pick, Tyus Jones. You have to imagine that Kris Dunn’s camp is eying Tyus Jones current role as the backup point guard. Dunn can score and defend better than Jones and both are probably at the same level in terms of being a ‘floor general.’ 

The other thing that isn’t mentioned enough is Ricky Rubio’s future. A disclaimer is that I love Ricky. I am a part of the problem though. I can’t imagine this team as performing better without Ricky Rubio. Dunn could be the future starting point guard of the Wolves. And if he is capable of being that, as Robson mentioned, it’s a good problem to have. There is the possibility that Rubio and Dunn can coincide in smaller lineups or in a ‘death’ defensive lineup with Rubio/Dunn/Wiggins/ Dieng/ KAT. 

The reality of the situation is that, the Wolves don’t really need another wing or another sub-par power forward. The Wolves could use some consistency and security at point guard. Picking Dunn could mean that Shabazz has a future for at least another season with the Wolves. Dunn’s scoring could also be extremely helpful off of the bench alongside Shabazz. Adding Dunn is making more sense by the day.

Just How Lucky are the Wolves?

By the end of this, there will be a numerical probability of just how lucky the Wolves were to have this roster.

As we approach the NBA Draft Lottery, Wolves fans are enjoying the recent news of Karl-Anthony Towns winning the Rookie of the Year award Unanimously. There has been a lot of chatter about how lucky the Wolves have been over the last couple years to acquire two great young talents in Andrew Wiggins and Karl Towns. This chatter is warranted. The Wolves have had some historic things happen over the last two seasons, things that would attract a top-tier head coach like Tom Thibodeau to want to work in Minnesota. But just how lucky have the Wolves been?

The young core of the Wolves has accomplished some incredible things in the last two years. The Wolves flirted with being the first team in history to have three consecutive Number 1 picks on the same roster, until the Wolves released Anthony Bennett. Andrew Wiggins and Karl Towns are the first duo to win back-to-back Rookie of the Year awards on the same team since the Buffalo Braves in 1974. LaVine, Wiggins and Towns also set a record against the Cavs being the first trio of scorers under 21-years old to all score 20 points or more in a single game. The things the Wolves are accomplishing over time make you believe that it’s either fate or some serious luck.

The Wolves haven’t always been lucky. And when you’re constantly unlucky, the luck has to eventually turn into your favor. The Wolves have the longest active streak of not making the playoffs, which is up to 12 seasons. That is a lot of opportunities to get lucky and a lot of times ending up not lucky. The Wolves had never won the lottery in its 26-year history prior to last summer, which having the best odds twice. In those years the Wolves ended up with Christian Laettner and Derrick Williams instead of Shaquille O’Neal or Kyrie Irving. There is also the time in the 2009 draft where the Wolves drafted back-to-back point guards at the 5 and 6 spots just to have Stephen Curry be drafted 7th.

All that rebuilding talk aside, the 2016 Minnesota Timberwolves are in a lucky position. But just how lucky? Lets see…

Probabilities to factor in:

lebron

First, it all begins with Lebron James. Lebron going to the Cavaliers in the summer of 2014 is what caused a domino effect of moves for the Wolves. If Lebron stayed in Miami, the Kevin Love trade may have never happened. If Love was not traded to the Cavs, chances are he would’ve been traded to the Warriors for a horrible deal around David Lee or left for nothing in free agency. According to fivethirtyeight.com the probability Lebron James kept his talents in Miami were 49.7%. After that, the Cavs had the best chances of bringing back the hometown hero with 15.8% chances. So the entire Wolves core doesn’t happen theoretically unless that 15.8% chance happens.

clevelandlottery.jpg

– The next thing that has to occur is that the Cavaliers have to win the draft lottery in order to have something to offer the Wolves for Kevin Love. The element of conspiracy theory occurs with the NBA draft here because the Cavs had a 1.7% chance to win the number 1 pick in the 2014 draft. Those chances are tiny! But it happened. And they took Andrew Wiggins with that trade.

andrew-wiggins-rookieofyear-ap

– Next thing to factor in is Wiggins winning the Rookie of the Year award. The Wolves were lucky to get a talent like Andrew Wiggins to rebuild around. The truth is, he could’ve been a bust like Anthony Bennett the year before, so measuring just how significant of a talent Wiggins could be, the odds of him winning Rookie of the Year should be factored into the Wolves luck. Wiggins had odds of +600 to win the 2015 Rookie of the Year in July behind Jabari Parker, which converts to a probability of about 14.29% according to Sportsinsights.com

DRAFT_LOTTERY_BASKETBALL_348627151

– The Wolves need their own luck with the Wolves winning the lottery. The Wolves were coming off of a serious rebuild in 2014-15 and came away with the worst record in the NBA. This gave the Wolves the best odds of winning the draft lottery in 2015 with a 25% chance. Compared to all of the other things that were factored into this probability, this was the most likely thing to happen. Like I stated earlier, the Wolves had never won the lottery up until this point. So to finally win it was huge.

APTOPIX Rookie Of The Year Basketball

Towns winning the Rookie of the Year award. Unanimously too. Towns had a monumental season posting 18ppg, 10rpg and 54.2FG%. He was a joy to watch on both ends of the court. The Wolves got a franchise changing talent, which is highly unlikely. But in order to measure the Wolves luck, we simply looked at his odds of winning it in the preseason. He was not the favorite out of the gate. Towns ROY odds in August were +650, which is about 12.82% also according to sportsinsights.com. KAT was behind Jahlil Okafor at the beginning of the season as the favorite to win it.

Probabilities that were not factored in:

– The trade for Andrew Wiggins. While it would be nice to calculate what the probability was that the Love-Wiggins trade happened, its hard to put a numerical value on that. The Wolves swapping for talent isn’t really luck either. The Cavs just had to have the necessary talent to get Kevin Love.

– Getting Zach LaVine. Zach has been an integral part of the Wolves young core and getting him at the 13th pick over Adreian Payne was absolutely lucky. Unfortunately, the luck evened out by trading a future first-round pick for Payne.

– Picking other guys. There are the other draft picks the Wolves made like picking Towns over Okafor. Also there is the trading of Trey Burke for Shabazz and Gorgui, which was very lucky. These things were not factored in. The Wolves dodged bullets by making those selections, at this point in time at least. Things also evened out by not taking Giannis or Rudy Gobert with those picks in 2013. Thus, we just called it a draw.

– Landing Tom Thibodeau. The Wolves fortunes took a great turn for the better after the hiring of Thibs, at least on paper. Chances are, getting Thibodeau to coach here a year ago seemed like a long shot. But things fell into place and timing was everything. The Wolves were first-movers in the coaching carousel and landed the big fish. Money also talks in this game, so excluding those odds.

The Calculation:

We now apply probability rules. Being that these happened in sequence, conditional probabilities can be applied. Since these are independent events, the conditional probability, the probability of event A occurring given event B occurs, is equal to the probability of event A. Thus, using the Multiplication rule for N independent events, we can simply multiply all of the probabilities together. This answers the question of ‘What were the chances of all of these events happening together?’ Statisticians might take a different approach to the calculation. So here it is:

P(Lebron to Cleveland) x P(Cavs win Lottery 2014) x P(Wiggins wins ROY) x P(Wolves win Lottery 2015) x P(Towns wins ROY) = Wolves chances of being in current state

Wolves Luck = 0.00123017% Chance of being in its current state

That means, there was a 0.00123017% chance that the Lebron would sign with Cleveland AND they would win the draft lottery in order to draft Wiggins AND that Wiggins would win the Rookie of the Year AND the Wolves would win the draft lottery the following year to draft Karl-Anthony Towns AND that Towns would win the Rookie of the Year the very next season. So basically, what has happened thus far is highly unlikely.

Compare these chances with one person being struck by lightning once in their lifetime. The chance of that happening is a 0.033333%. That means, it is over 27 times more likely that any one person is struck by lightning in their lifetime than how this Wolves team has been composed over the last two seasons.

Boom. Call it luck. Call it fate. Call it the alignment of the stars. Whatever you call it, it is absolutely exciting.

Side Note: if the Wolves win the draft lottery tonight, the odds of 0.00123017% will be multiplied by 8.8%, which is a really small number. Just something to think about.

The Timber Rebuilder

The Stakes Have Never Been Higher

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 9.44.11 AM

As the Wolves enter the All-Star break with 17 wins, one more win than last season’s total, they find themselves in flux of where this season is going. The Wolves are all but out of the playoff hunt and tanking looks attractive in order to get another high lottery pick to add to the young and talented core. But the Wolves know that, eventually, they will have to start winning. And starting to win going into the end of the season, isn’t such a bad idea. Britt Robson mentioned at the end of his article in the MinnPost that ‘The Stakes Have Never Been Higher’ and it couldn’t be any more true. As displayed in the final game before the all-star break, the Wolves have arguably the brightest future in the NBA. Karl-Anthony Towns impressed again by posting a career-high 35 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Towns broke Kevin Love’s franchise record for double-doubles by a rookie in this game. Fellow future star Andrew Wiggins ,aka Maple Jordan, posted 26 points by coming through in the fourth quarter with a lot of important scores. They showed just how good they could potentially be by beating a very good Toronto Raptors team.

As my favorite movie is Hitch with Will Smith, there is a line in that movie that resonates well with the Wolves situation. While I don’t have time to directly quote the movie, Hitch tells his client in a taxi cab something along the lines of “It no longer your job to make her like you. Its your job not to mess it up.” This couldn’t be any more true for the Wolves. The Wolves have two of the top prospects in the NBA in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and they arrived on a platter.

The job is now is to develop them and surround them with talent. It should be pretty easy. Right?

Towns and Wiggins will ultimately develop into good individual players even if you set them in an incubator for the next five years. The jury is still out on Andrew Wiggins as to if he will ACTUALLY live up to his potential. Bill Simmons mentioned that Wiggins could be the next ‘Rudy Gay’ in the league where their reputation around the league is that they are a great player but the local fans know just how bad they really are. Many complain that Wiggins isn’t rebounding or adding much else outside of scoring, which is valid. The Wolves could use more effort on the court from Wiggins. The Wolves could also use a reliable, consistent, 3-point shot from Wiggins. As of right now, Rubio has a better 3pt% than Wiggins. Matter of fact, I believe every starting guard in the NBA has a better 3pt% than Wiggins.

With that said, if Wiggins didn’t develop those things, he wouldn’t be a bad starter. He can absolutely score the ball. He can also absolutely defend for the most part. If he doesn’t develop those things, he likely will never be an all-star and will likely see his minutes cut as there will be some 3 and D wing who can be more efficient with their time on the floor. Chances are though, Wiggins will develop some of these skills. The kid is only 20. Be patient.

I’ve wanted to write an article about Karl-Anthony Towns but fear I may be too homerish. So I will stick to this paragraph. If Towns doesn’t develop anymore, he is an All-Star next season. Currently the only thing holding Towns back is Sam Mitchell and maybe foul trouble. But Towns is an absolute joy to watch. What is mind blowing to me the most though is that he has an incredible FG% (54% from the field) and shoots almost 50% in the midrange! So when Towns learns to take higher percentage shots and can take/ make more threes later in his career, what happens? *Insert head exploding hand motion here* The other thing I love about Towns is his attitude. He is smart, savvy, passionate, competitive, humble, and hilarious. I can’t wait until he wants to dominate his opponents like KG. Then what happens? *Again, mind blown* Shot chart below:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 8.34.53 AM

So how to develop these guys? That is one of the major keys.

First, it is to take the rest of this season seriously. I know, the Wolves risk improving their record and getting a worse pick. But to me, I actually like the picks later in the top 10 better than 4-6 range, which I will talk about later when I talk about the surround portion of the t-log. The Wolves need to play the second half of the season as if they have a chance at the playoffs. Their young guys have to play together and pull out team wins similar to the recent games against the Raptors and Clippers. The momentum needs to be carried into next season in which the Wolves can truly make a playoff run. The Wolves have all the necessary pieces to be competitive this season. Health hasn’t been an issue for the first time in years. The veterans on the team seem to be rubbing off on the young guys. And there is already quite a bit of talent in Towns and Wiggins that can compete against many teams.

Next, the Wolves need to get in a new coaching staff this summer. There are horror stories about coaches who can’t connect with younger players because they are yelling at them too much. Sam Mitchell’s ‘old-school’ mentality is just not something that is going to work long term here. The Wolves need a coach that will grow with the team and focus on player development. There is a good amount of coaches that are available that fit that mold much better than Mitchell.

Lastly, the Wolves will have a crucial summer for their young guys. Kobe Bryant mentioned that he would love to work with Wiggins and LaVine this summer. I remain skeptical because I remember Wes Johnson spent his summers with Kobe and it didn’t seem to pay dividends, but I am not opposed to it. Regardless, Towns, Wiggins, & LaVine should be in the gym daily together trying to get better. They all need a consistent 3-pointer. They all need to become better defenders. And they all need to do this together. They likely will not be playing in the summer league this summer which is a blessing. It will give them an opportunity to hopefully expand their games to another level instead of trying to get used to the NBA-style of play.

Now on to surrounding Wiggins and Towns with talent. How does that happen?

Well, first keep the talent you have. Rubio, Bjelica, and Dieng are three younger guys that likely won’t get much better than they already are. And that is fine. As hard as Wolves fans are on Rubio, he is probably the single player that helps the team even be competitive outside of Towns at this point. Rubio has the second best Win Share on the team with 3.7, behind Towns’ 5.6 and right above Dieng’s 3.4. He makes the players around him better and is solid on defense. Dieng on the other hand is looking like the perfect role player. A guy who is effective off of the bench and can start when needed. He is also pairing well with Towns which is great for the future. Bjelica has struggled this season. But I believe he is just adjusting to the NBA still. I think his ability to shoot is too good to give up on right now. He is also an amazing playmaker which is valuable at his position.

The Wolves need to also develop and assess their current assets. Once they are assessed, they can turn them into talent or to trade bait. LaVine is on the fringe of this category in which I have mentioned him in the same category as Towns and Wiggins. Its hard to tell still if LaVine is that caliber of a prospect or will have a role player type of career. I will say he is a develop and keep type of asset. Then there is Muhammed, Jones, and Payne. Muhammed is in a situation where he maybe peaking in terms of value and the Wolves need to determine if they want to hold or sell this summer. Muhammed is approaching the point where the Wolves will need to decide if they want to extend him next season (along with Dieng). Once Muhammed is locked into that contract, his value will begin to diminish as he will be expected to produce to the level of that contract. Today, he is being paid for what he could be and the Wolves are enjoying that. But it will be decision time for Muhammed and Dieng this summer before they get big boy contracts.

Jones and Payne are still in ‘assess’ mode but their values are dropping dramatically. They aren’t able to contribute on a young team which makes them look bad. And they’ve looked bad in games too. To me, Payne is already a liability on the team and should be moved at any cost. Power Forward remains a big question for the Wolves and Payne will not be the answer. Jones could be something still, but will need time to play this season if there is room for him on the team. There is the need for a back up point guard on the roster now. The Wolves will address that need this summer whether its internally or externally.

What happens to the veterans? Prince and Miller will likely be gone next season. I would not be surprised if Garnett was gone but the hope is he is back next season in some sort of capacity. In an ideal world, Garnett moves into minority ownership and/ or begins to make personnel decisions. I have to begin to wonder if Pekovic will retire due to his inability to be healthy. If not, the Wolves are likely stuck with him for a very long time unless someone wants to take a chance on him. Kevin Martin is an interesting piece of the puzzle. I am opposed to trading Martin at the trade deadline and more inclined to trading him this summer or during the season next year. He will be a $7M expiring contract at the end of next season. Martin then becomes an asset to someone as he expires and can still actually play. Packaging him with Muhammed could score the Wolves a decent power forward for next year.

Then on to the 1st-round pick. The NBA draft is easily my favorite part of the season. As a Wolves fan, its what I have become. And when the Wolves are in the bottom 5 teams in the league, its hard for me to not say ‘tank!’. But the Wolves have to get better and the 5th pick is almost no-mans land in this draft. The best talent is in the top 2 picks. And while I am intrigued by Dragan Bender, he isn’t the next Porzingis. I would rather get a guy like Ivan Rabb, Diamond Stone, or even Buddy Hield. This is a draft where I would rather pick 7 to 12 than from 4-6. It sounds crazy but the Wolves need a sure-thing role player and not a high-upside, high-bust potential prospect. Bender, Murray, and Dunn all fit that bill. Its early to tell where a lot of these guys will go now though. But I will definitely cover more this summer when we know where we are picking and the players have declared for the draft.

Coming back out of the weeds, this should be pretty simple. Start winning now. Start building around Towns and Wiggins. Surround them with good players. Based on Towns and Wiggins’ performances this season, this team is capable of making a playoff push next season. And if they don’t next season, at least in the future. And if they don’t then, the Minnesota Timberwolves organization really, really messed up.

Just a friendly reminder, even though I maybe mention this in every other t-log, the Wolves hold the longest-active playoff drought in the NBA at 11 seasons, soon to be 12.

The Timber Rebuilder.

Start a Team with Davis or Towns?

For Karl-Anthony Towns, the present is absolutely a gift. When Towns was drafted, he was picked mostly on his IQ and potential instead of what he could immediately bring to a team. Many didn’t expect Towns to start, let alone be a front runner in the Rookie of the Year race. Now the internet is making arguments that Towns should maybe even be an All-Star.

KAT is producing at levels that puts him in line with Hall of Famers. Towns has a PER that should end up in the top 10 all time for a rookie here. Towns is doing this despite playing only a year in college whilst many others on this list played at least a couple years of college basketball before entering the NBA. To add to that, Towns is playing less than 30 minutes, much less than most of those on the previous Rookie PER list. Towns’ combination of potential due to his age and production is uncanny to what the league has seen before.

While it may not be saying much, Towns in a short time-span has been the most productive player on the Wolves’ young team. All advanced statistics point towards him being the most valuable player on the floor for the Timberwolves. He has been consistent for the most part in this young season. He is second on the Wolves in scoring and leads the team in rebounds, blocks, and field goal %.

The cremé de la cremé of NBA prospects though happens to be Anthony Davis. Davis was in contention of the MVP award last season in only his third season. Davis put up monstrous numbers, putting up 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks a game while leading the Pelicans to the playoffs. The unibrow has been more exposed though this season as the team has struggled to gain traction and improve any. Davis is still managing to put up similar numbers nonetheless. Davis is an outstanding defender, incredible rim protector, and can score in multiple ways. Both guys are products of the University of Kentucky, in which their head coach John Calipari prepared both of them to carry NBA franchises.

So, if you had to build a team around one of these guys, Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns, who do you take?

A couple of things immediately. There isn’t a right answer to this question. Both are incredible assets. There are many variables to the ‘starting a franchise’ question. What is your team’s strategy? When do you want to win? Who are the players around this specific player? Many more. Just have fun with the debate.

The obvious choice is Davis. Anthony Davis has a few things that edge Towns right away. Davis is a better player now. He is a better scorer. Better rebounder. Better shot blocker. He is a sure thing. To mitigate risk, the easy choice is Davis. He is still very young at only 22 years old. He has tons of potential still. He is developing a jump shot and can safely put the ball on the floor for a big man. He is also a freak athlete, which can be a gift and a curse as his career progresses.

Towns has a couple things going for him, but nothing that truly gives him a great advantage over Davis today. The case for Towns is heavily dependent on his potential on both ends of the floor. Towns could be about as good a defensive anchor as Davis. Towns’ offense game though is more versatile as he could be better at creating his own shot already. Towns also has a jump shot that demands respect and extends over the 3-point line. Towns being a defensive presence that can shoot is one of the most unique combinations a player at his position can possibly be.

While many would end the debate there, there should be a case made for Towns even over simply his potential. As mentioned before, the dependence on Davis’ athleticism can sometimes be a hinderance later in his career. Seeing the drastic drop off in athletic big men’s games like Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire, or even Kevin Garnett, can be alarming. Towns have less dependence on his athletic ability and more so on his basketball IQ suggests that his game could have the longevity in his career similar to that of Tim Duncan and Dirk. A lot of times athletic players are forced to reinvent their games midway through their careers while more IQ reliant players seem to have more consistency in the long run.

Most GM’s in the NBA would probably take Davis because it is safe. But a more bold, forward-thinking GM would probably build around Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns is a more high risk, high reward choice. I would imagine that more than 1/4 of General Managers by next season will want to start a franchise with Towns over Davis.

 

Wiggins & Towns Are So Fun to Watch and Should Only Get Better

Wolves fans are really lucky. If you appreciate basketball at all, Wiggins and Towns playing for the same team is a treat. Besides the point that they are the last two number 1 picks and the hype that surrounded them prior, these two are absolutely talented and have a lot of basketball ahead of them. The amount of potential this duo has on both ends of the court is incredible. Many Wolves fans have had the pleasure to watch them develop a chemistry. This really hit me in the final few seconds of regulation of the game against the Magic. Down 93-91, Andrew Wiggins tied the game with a clutch drive to the basket. Super clutch.

Then Karl-Anthony Towns would make a game-saving block at the buzzer to send it to OT. Then, as if it were planned, the two celebrated together.

Sequences like these is why basketball seems to be such a poetic sport.

Towns has been phenomenal thus far and has exceeded his already lofty expectations. It seems like after every game there is a new stat about Towns that says he is ‘the first player to do X in first Y number of games since Shaq/ David Robinson’ or he is the ‘youngest player to do X in a game since [insert awesome young player here]’. More to come on his potential. But his basketball IQ has been showcased where he looks like a veteran for the most part. He also plays with a natural passion for the game and is a very polished individual. You can’t help but cheer for him.

Wiggins got out of the gate slow this season and there were a lot of questions. He has finally figured it out a little bit and has 19 or more points in the last 7 games, which is a career-high for him. He is beginning to be ultra-aggressive in attacking the rim and scoring at will. He finally feels like he will lead the team in scoring night in and night out. He has had some incredible dunks in where he just posterizes people and is taking smart shots. The best thing he has done thus far is he gets to the line quite a bit. He could improve his FT%, but that could be an easy fix eventually. Overall, he isn’t showing he is a difference maker within the advanced stats realm, he is passing the eye-test that he could arguably become an All Star, even this season.

Wiggins and Towns have played 308 minutes together already, and their tandem is much more efficient with Rubio on the floor with them. In the 308 minutes together, nothing stands out that they should be paired together quite yet. But there is potential there. Their games seem to compliment each other. There is still room for improvement but defensively, both guys can be anchors. Towns is arguably already a top 10 defensive center and Wiggins has shown flashes of shutting down players on the perimeter. They both have shown that the pick & roll could be effective in them running it, but at this point KAT seems to be running the pick & roll effectively with anyone.

For these two to truly help fill some voids on this Timberwolves team, it will be important for them to both be able to consistently hit 3-pointers. The Wolves have historically been a poor 3-point shooting team and have essentially gone passed the tipping point of number of young prospects vs number of role players/ shooters. If the Wolves are to become a contender, the 3-point shot needs to be a part of the arsenal in Towns & Wiggins’ games. Towns has shown that he can be a positive contributor on the floor all-around, but Wiggins at this point is looking to become a glorified scorer. Taking these things into consideration, trying to determine what these two become by playing with each other will be very intriguing.

The tweet above says (I know, very credible) that said Towns has been Shaq with a 3-point shot. He may not far off, although we haven’t seen the 3-point quite yet. That said, Towns has already been a double-double machine and can block/ alter shots fairly consistently. The numbers aren’t too far off either. I expected Towns to struggle with foul trouble a lot more, but he has faired well against some decent talent inside. Towns could be an incredible inside-outside offensive threat that provides top 10 defensive-anchoring who could also sprinkle a couple threes and passes. To me, sounds a lot like a Shaq who can shoot. Scary.

Wiggins is turning into a glorified scorer. And that can be absolutely fine in the future. It seems like Towns does enough where Wiggins really only needs to score. Again, the 3-point shot development is key for not only Wiggins as a player but also to stay relevant as a player in a league that is moving further away from the basket. Next, Wiggins will need to utilize his athleticism to be a perimeter stopper. He is beginning to also show the tenacity that he has been consistently criticized over. A glorified-scoring 3 and D guy? Well isn’t that the ideal player?

If these two guys can reach this full potential, they certainly look like they could be the best duo in basketball in a few years. Watching them grow together might be the most exciting thing to happen in this franchise’s short history. Of course, there are a million factors that this wouldn’t play out perfectly, like injuries, egos, salary caps, and the other 13 roster spots. But its definitely fun to speculate from a fan’s perspective. And since they are young, we will get to speculate for a long time.