2015-16 Season Review and Takeaways

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

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

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

Keys to Success:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bold Predictions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Takeaways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before we leave…

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

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

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A Loss of Experience

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Timber Rebuilder

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

The Stakes Have Never Been Higher

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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:

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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.

Why The Wolves Have Struggled

The Wolves have dropped eight of the last nine games after being at .500 at 8-8. The Wolves now find themselves at 9-16 a few games over the quarter mark of the season. The last eight losses have come to the Clippers and Nuggets twice each, Magic, Blazers, Suns, and Knicks. The lone win was against the Lakers in overtime. All the losses were winnable games where the biggest margin of loss was 12, the rest all within 10 points. Some games were games the Wolves held strong leads and lost them. Other games the Wolves found ways to fight back into them and get semi-close towards the end.

A couple things we want to do is examine what has changed after starting 8-8. We wanted to answer, what isn’t working? What are the problems? What can we point out? There is a heavy emphasis on plus/ minus in these game stats. We do this because we want to see the difference a player is making on the court vs their opponents. Lineups are important to this, but plus/ minus seems to be a good way to analyze what that player has done while on the floor.

  • Starters not competing: The Wolves starting lineup is not competing with other teams. The Net +/- in every loss has been massively negative. The starts have a Net average +/- of -24.875 in the eight losses, while the bench has an average of -2.625. The bench is surprisingly keeping the Wolves in the game, mostly thanks to the strong play of LaVine and Dieng. In the one win, the Wolves starters demolished the Lakers starters. I would like to believe this would be a simple change of moving LaVine into the starting lineup.
  • Wiggins’ Net +/- : it’s -59 in the eight losses the Wolves have suffered recently, which is the worst on the team. He has also had a negative +/- in each of the last 9 games. Wiggins needs to work on getting his teammates involved so that the overall team does better when he is on the floor. To Wiggins’ defense he has one of the highest usages on the team (LaVine has surpassed him) and logs the most minutes so it’s hard to keep these numbers respectable when he is in the game when the Wolves lose most of their leads. Outside of that, Wiggins is going to have to start finishing around the basket at the same rate as he was before all of the losses.
  • Bjelica is struggling: Bjelica was a big reason why the Wolves’ bench was one of the best in the league. He was consistently coming in to the game and nailing threes. In the eight losses, Bjelica has averaged less than 4 points. His shot has struggled in this stretch of games: Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 12.56.01 PMAs you can see above, Bjelica is only scoring from the outside or near the basket. The shots outside the arc have not been falling for him. Ever since he went out with a knee injury, he hasn’t quite been the same.  With Bjelica not able to knock down as many threes, and quite honestly passing up on a lot of open ones, the spacing on the floor is bad. When the spacing is bad, more shots are contested. When more shots are contested, your field goal percentage dips. When your field goal percentage dips, you typically lose games. So if you are catching the drift here, a struggling Bjelica is not helping the cause.
  • Defense: The Wolves defense has assisted in the resurrection of careers for Randy Foye and Aaron Afflalo. The team is not defending by any stretch of the imagination. Teams are getting wide open looks from three. Ball movement collapses the Wolves on D almost exactly as it should. This is where Prince did help in the starting lineup almost where Martin has made the Wolves less reputable in that category. If the Wolves want to win, they have to defend. In the eight losses, the Wolves have allowed a higher FG% than they have shot in all but one game.
  • Kevin Martin: The replacement of Martin into the starting lineup has been the most obvious thing that has changed. The Wolves won 3 straight after they put Martin in the starting lineup, but it could not be credited to Martin. The Wolves faced the winless Sixers, Cousin-less Kings, and a Hawks team that should’ve been a loss. Martin has scored well, but has done it in a very inconsistent fashion. On three occasions, he has scored 2 points or less. He has struggled defensively, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. It probably doesn’t help either that trade rumors are swirling around him. Main point is, he probably should be in the starting lineup let alone on the roster at this point.
  • Prince less, Bazz more: In the eight losses, Shabazz Muhammad has had a net +/- of 1, where Prince has a -34. Yet, Bazz is only averaging less than two minutes more a game than Prince. Prince is not the player he once was at all. In this stretch of games he has averaged 1 point and a little over a rebound a game. His now average, if not below average, defense is not worth his poor effort on offense. The Wolves should see Shabazz in games more than Prince period. This is the influence behind all of our #FreeShabazz tweets.

The Wolves are approaching an inflection point, similar to previous years. We enter the year thinking we can compete and then we realize, ‘dang, we aren’t that good.’ Mitchell has mentioned that playing the veterans more would help the team win an 8th seed, and I have to respectfully disagree. The veterans on this team should continue to be used more so as mentors than rotation players.

There is time to turn the season around if the Wolves can put the right players together. Sam Mitchell’s recent comments about playing veterans 28 minutes and that development doesn’t happen during the season are not encouraging. First step will be a starting lineup that competes and defends. I don’t think the Wolves have the personnel to do that though and would require some trades. The Wolves need to pursue a 3 and D guy to help on the perimeter and take Kevin Martin’s minutes. But the Wolves entered this slew of games with an amazing opportunity, a sequence of winnable games. They were able to measure themselves against teams with more or less similar records. Unfortunately, they’ve lost nearly all of them.

The Wolves are still figuring things out. They are still trying to understand how to incorporate Karl Towns into the offense. Ricky Rubio’s jump shot remains inconsistent. Sam Mitchell seems to always be defensive when approached by the media about his rotations. These things are season long issues and not necessarily the cause of the losses at this point. But above is what has changed over the last 9 games. The Wolves are no longer a great defensive team. Their starters seem to not be clicking. And members of their bench are not as reliable as they once were.

A Surprisingly Pivotal Point in the Season

The Wolves enter a game against the winless Philadelphia 76ers at 5-8 on the season, after a fast start. The Wolves find themselves in a position where a few games will likely define what their season will look like. They could dig a big enough hole in which it will be to difficult to climb out of later in the season or they can hang around .500 enough to make a push later in the season. The Wolves currently sit 22nd in offensive efficiency and 15th in defensive efficiency. It has been clear through the first 13 games the Wolves win games when the defense is stellar and struggle when they can’t hold their opponents to under 100 points. It has been also evident that the 2nd half is not where the Wolves prevail, giving up leads in games to the Hawks, Magic, and Pistons.

Entering the game tonight against the Sixers, something’s gotta give. Either the Sixers win their first game of the season or the Wolves win their first game at home. If you recall, the Sixers won their first game of the season last year against the Wolves after losing 19 straight, which was really the beginning of the end for the Wolves, who would essentially give up on the season and end with the worst record. The Wolves are 1-6 in the last 7 games and definitely need to turn things around if they intend on being competitive this season or it becomes another year of development.

For the Wolves, a game against the Sixers is exciting for the fact that Karl-Anthony Towns goes up against Jahlil Okafor, two Rookie of the Year candidates. Two franchises have taken different approaches to rebuilding as well, which will be interesting to see over the next few years how they pan out. The Sixers have taken the approach of just accumulating as many assests as possible, whether it is young players or draft picks, and hope they pan out, all while minimizing salary on the team. The Wolves have taken the mentorship approach of surrounding young guys with veterans in which they are also trying to compete with a developing roster.

Sam Mitchell continues to figure out how the team works and made an adjustment where Kevin Martin enters the starting lineup in replace of Tayshaun Prince. This moves Andrew Wiggins to the small forward position. This also sends the message that the Wolves are looking to improve their offense while taking a hit to their defense. I am a firm believer that Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins are a duo that does not bode well for Wiggins and his production as Martin takes a lot of his shots or for the team in general. Other than Gorgui Dieng, Wiggins’ net points per 100 possessions is worst when paired with Martin on the floor. It would make most sense to start LaVine at shooting guard or maybe even Shabazz Muhammad at small forward, but Sam Mitchell seems to not prefer those options still. Mitchell believes LaVine still needs to play point guard and talks of Shabazz as a starter haven’t really surfaced. Wiggins and Muhammad have only seen 53 minutes on the court together this season.

Regardless, the change indicates that change needed to happen. It will be interesting to see how many minutes Prince still gets, as he has shown that he isn’t as great of a defender as he was expected to be. The Wolves will face the Hawks, Kings, Clippers, Magic, and Blazers in the next 5 games which will be an opportunity to measure themselves against some more middle-of-the-pack teams, talent-wise. Rubio has mentioned that this is not how a winning team plays, so it will be interesting to see how the Wolves approach these next few games. The Wolves definitely need to experiment a little more with the rotations and sets on the court.

Let’s see tonight though. Our hopes are Towns gets more involved in the offense by getting more shots, there are crisp picks set, and passes aren’t happening cross court. Wolves are coming off of a practice, which Mitchell mentioned being an issue as not having enough. Hopefully the Wolves can come in and win a game they should win.

The Timber (re)Builder

Dethrone the Prince, Shabazz Should Be Starting

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Not entirely sure if you can dethrone a prince, but go with it for the title’s sake. Sounds cooler.

The Wolves are now 2-2. The Wolves lost a nasty one to the Miami Heat. Fans everywhere are screaming what is in the world is wrong with the rotation? The major problems were that the starters combined for 29 points and Ricky Rubio, arguably the best player on the team, played half the game. The Wolves may not have the talent the Heat have, but Sam mitchell has completely mismanaged the Wolves thus far.

The Wolves have two veterans in the starting lineup, Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Garnett. At this point, Garnett will likely remain in the starting lineup for defensive and mentorship purposes. Prince is placed in the lineup for his experience and defensive ability. There is also the experiment of running Wiggins at the 2, which is viable. In general NBA terms, if a player can defend a position, they can play it. But there are more viable options that could be starting instead of Prince. Kevin Martin was a starter last season and is the team’s leading scorer. Zach LaVine was promised the starting spot at the beginning of the preseason and after his poor performance, he was taken out. Then there is Shabazz Muhammad, who had a breakout season last year and mainly was used as energy off the bench.

A lot of times teams want to present matchup problems in the starting lineup, which is likely why Wiggins is in the starting lineup. For matchup problems to occur though, the other wing player needs to require attention on the defensive end. Unfortunately, Tayshaun Prince requires as much attention as a middle child in a family of 10. Thus, its time to take him out. Its early and the sample size is small, but the experiment has failed. The starting lineup is unable to compete with other teams offensively unless Karl-Anthony Towns or Ricky Rubio are scoring over 20 points. It doesn’t help that Andrew Wiggins has struggled to get going offensively either. The Wolves need a scorer in the starting lineup and there are three waiting on the bench.

Shabazz allows the Wolves to still offer matchup problems. The Wolves want opposing 2-guards to defend Andrew Wiggins so he can shoot over them or beat them in the post. Shabazz poses the same threats if an opposing shooting guard tries to guard him. If an opposing 2-guard were to defend Tayshaun Prince, the Wolves probably still wouldn’t run the offense through him. Zach LaVine would be a wash against a shooting guard and just isn’t at the level of consistency to start. Kevin Martin would be able to score but his scoring punch off the bench is really valuable at this time and he is a ball stopper when he is in the game.

The Shabazz and Wiggins pairing was one that was fairly successful for parts of last season. Comparing the Martin/ Wiggins combo vs Shabazz/ Wiggins, Shabazz/ Wiggins had 5 more field goal attempts and 1 more 3-point attempt per 48 mintutes, meaning the pace was faster and more shots were going up. The combos were equally as effective in getting to the line and in scoring. In what was seen last season, Martin was doing most of the scoring early on in the season while Wiggins took a back seat vs a more combined effort offensively for the Wiggins and Shabazz duo.

To be frank, they are all equally a defensive drop off compared to Prince. All three lack the Defensive IQ to be a stopper. But I do believe that Shabazz will provide the most effort of the three possible replacements on the defensive end. Also, any of the three will ultimately force Wiggins to be the main defensive wing stopper, which is much needed for his improvement. Unfortunately team defense would take a hit but the rest of the guys in the starting lineup (Rubio, Wiggins, KG, KAT) are all adequate defenders.

All in all though, the starting lineup needs scoring. Shabazz can score. They need someone to get to the line. Shabazz gets to the line. They need someone to sink the open 3. Shabazz can do that too. They need Wiggins to play the 2. Shabazz can play the 3. While I don’t see anything wrong with experiment through Martin, LaVine, and Shabazz, I just feel the Prince experiment is over. Shabazz is the logical choice (to me) at this point. Martin is just not capable of guarding starter-level guards in the NBA on a game-in-game-out basis. LaVine is far too inconsistent.

My ultimate hope is this reaches Sam Mitchell and Shabazz is starting when the Wolves take on the Bulls on Saturday. Again, predicting another loss. Only because I am a huge Fred Hoiberg fan.

Game 1 Recap: Wolves Win Thriller over Lakers in Season Opener

The Wolves opened the season against the Lakers with heavy hearts still from Sunday’s news. The Wolves wore ‘WE’ shirts that said ‘Flip’ on them as well, that the Timberwolves should absolutely sell to the public and donate a portion of the profits to Cancer Research. Yup, quick tangent.

Anyways, the Wolves were down by 16 in the second half and were brought back into the game by the same bench that put them into that deficit. The Wolves were led by Ricky Rubio’s career-high 28 points and 14 assists. Karl-Anthony Towns added 14 points and 12 assists in his NBA debut. Many Wolves were emotional after the game and dedicated the game to the late Flip Saunders.

I got to watch the game, so my thoughts below.

The Good:

Ricky Rubio. Ricky hit a few early 3-pointers that the Lakers were giving him because of his reputation. Rubio also showed that he can finish around the rim by being aggressive and finishing with contact. Ricky put the team on his back, scoring 28 and then distributing out 14 dimes. It was the kind of game we have been dreaming about for years. The Wolves can’t expect Rubio to score this much every game, but if teams can respect his ability to get the ball in the basket, it will open up the floor for the rest of the guys. Defensively, Ricky as usual looked good. As Amin Elhassan pointed out, all he needed was a fade.

Karl Towns. He played fairly mistake-free basketball. A double-double is always a great thing to get out of your starting big man. He was the most consistent of the bigs rotation. He will start getting some offense run through him. His three point attempt looked forced, but once that gets going, sky is the limit. i loved that he didn’t look passive out there. He made the adjustments necessary defensively down the stretch and stayed out of foul trouble. 14 points and 12 rebounds, way to go rook!

Kevin Martin. While I am not the biggest endorser for K-Mart, he provided a much needed lift of the bench. He played like a savvy veteran. He did what the Wolves needed him to do, that was to score. He got to the line a ton and the best was where he forced himself to three free throws by staying aware of a dumb fould coming his way. I worried a lot having a LaVine-Martin backcourt for the simple fact that defensively, the Wolves aredisastrous. But the Wolves adjusted and for the first time in his career, Kevin Martin was applying a full court press that sent a message to the rest of the team. If K-Mart is trying defensively, everyone should.

LaVine, Shabazz, Bjelica off the bench in second half. In the first half, Bazz couldn’t get going, LaVine looked like he never played point guard before, and Bjelica picked up 3 fouls in first quarter. These three played a crucial role though in the second half. The Wolves made a run back into the game with the support of hustle and scoring by Shabazz, decent play by LaVine, and some versatile play from Bjelica. They didn’t fill up the stat sheet but each had a couple plays that changed the momentum. If they can figure out their roles and hustle as much as they did in the second half, they can be very reliable pieces for the Wolves.

The Bad:

Defense. Man the Wolves still suck defensively. It felt like a video game in the second quarter where just because the Lakers were playing the Wolves, its like everyone got better and couldn’t miss. Lou Williams dominated. Kobe couldn’t miss. We all knew the buzzer beater was coming from Swaggy P. The issue was players didn’t rotate and didn’t contest any shots. The Lakers got every shot they wanted. If KG still had hair last night, he would’ve lost it all watching that defense. This needs to be addressed quickly. We can’t win games letting opponents score 112 points.

The Rotation. Please Sam Mitchell, we don’t need to go Platoon to make KAT feel comfortable. The Wolves brought in their entire bench in the first quarter and everything collapsed. Pairing is going to be important. Bjelica couldn’t guard Randle or Hibbert. LaVine and Martin is the worst defensive backcourt combination in the NBA. Staggering guys in and out is essential. Wiggins and Martin are not good pairs. Wiggins needs to find a scoring rhythm early in the game before K-Mart enters. Its early in the season, its time to experiment with which combinations and substitutions work and which don’t.

The Ugly:

Andrew Wiggins. Unfortunately, Wiggins has the highest expectations on the team. And I often believe its not that he can’t meet them, its almost like he doesn’t want to meet them. My biggest issue is his passiveness, and I believe many agree. An adjustment for Friday’s game is to look to get Wiggins involved. Whether it be off ball screens or posting up. What he has to do is become more aggressive. Take a note out of K-Mart’s book. Get to the line and get going. All I could imagine was Wiggins in a Waldo outfit. Creepy, but where was he?

The black long sleeve jerseys. My hope is if I complain about these enough, they will disappear. They were cool when they first came out, but I can’t stand them anymore. Jersey redesign needed ASAP.

The Road Ahead

The Wolves take on the Denver Nuggets on Friday where they get to see rookie Emmanual Mudiay, who was relatively impressive in his NBA debut, although he turned the ball over 11 times. The Nuggets won their season opener in an upset over the Rockets. The Wolves will also get to see a deep and young front court of the Nuggets which has a guy from basically every European country in Gallinari, Nurkic (out until November), Lauvergne, and Jokic.  Also, former Timberwolves Randy Foye and Mike Miller play for the Nuggets.