Wolves Fans: Don’t Buy into the Hype

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wolves are still young and inexperienced.

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

There were no major acquisitions.

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

Thibs needs time to teach his system.

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

The only major change has been some media hype.

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

Injuries could be a problem.

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

Other teams in the west got better too

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

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

The Timber Rebuilder

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2016 NBA Draft: Timberwolves Final Thoughts

Draft day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Dragan Bender

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

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

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

2. Kris Dunn

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

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

3. Jamal Murray

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

4. Buddy Hield

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


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

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

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

The Timber Rebuilder.

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

Passing the Torch from Flip to Thibs

Tom Thibodeau. Tom Thibodeau. Tom Thibodeau.

The sad thing Wolves fans will have to come to terms with, in the near future, is that this is no longer Flip’s team. Tom Thibodeau just to the same position that was previously filled by Flip Saunders. Head coach and President of Basketball Operations. He will direct the team on the hardwood and have final say in all personnel decisions.

We will constantly ask ‘What would Flip do?’ or say ‘that was Flip’s guy!’ That no longer will carry as much weight. Last season, Sam Mitchell and Milt Newton took on bigger roles in unfortunate circumstances in which they were asked to carry out Flip’s vision. In ways, it was how the organization and fans dealt with the untimely passing of Flip Saunders. While his legacy will forever live on and the core of what made this team attractive was architected by Flip, the decisions made from this day forward will be a reflection of Tom Thibodeau and his era with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It’s a scary thought and I am probably way too early in publishing something like this. I, like many other fans, am not ready to detach Flip Saunders from what happens with this team. I haven’t been able to really come to terms with Flip Saunders’ passing. Flip Saunders deserves all the credit for the construction of this team. It was remarkable. But it will not be fair to compare what Thibodeau will do moving forward with what Flip would do. The reason being is, we don’t know what Flip would do. Sometimes I get caught up in thinking Flip’s doings would be exactly in alignment with what I am most hopeful of for the team. But realistically, Flip, like everyone else, didn’t always make the perfect move.

The torch has officially been passed from Flip to Thibs. Flip was always looking for a new coach and the team has finally found one. It may be time to change jerseys because there hasn’t been a bigger shift in Wolves history since when Kevin Garnett left. Tom Thibodeau will become the face of the Timberwolves franchise and the Wolves typically like to switch up jerseys in era shifts. Thibodeau will leave his stamp on the development of the young players, what the team’s identity will be, which players are drafted, and who joins the coaching staff.

The Wolves franchise has always been a ‘country club’, like it or not. Rick Adleman’s son is still hanging around after two different coaches. Ryan Saunders will likely stay. Flip found his way back home after stints with the Pistons and Wizards. Garnett came back to reitre in a Timberwolves jersey. Thibodeau is also no stranger, being a former Wolves assistant in 1989. But it almost feels like the country club mentality is at stake this go-around. The stakes are higher. The potential of what ‘could be’ is greater. The Thibs era will define what the Wolves franchise post-2016 will look like. A franchise that has not made the playoffs in 12 seasons and only advanced out of the first round once. A franchise that has the worst winning percentage in the league. The culture needs to shift if the Wolves want to be taken seriously.

With all sensitivity, it is time to hand the keys over to Thibodeau mentally, but respect Flip Saunders’ impact on the organization. Still seems weird that Tom Thibodeau will take over the reigns. But Flip will forever be amongst the most influential figures in Minnesota Timberwolves Franchise history.

Thibodeau has inherited an absolute plethora of young talent and assets. It will be interesting to see what the Wolves do with their lottery pick and cap space. Do the Wolves go all in on competing now by using the cap space and trading away the pick? Or does Thibs take the slow and steady approach to the top by developing the young assets that are on the team? This is what the Thibs era faces…

BREAKING: Tom Thibodeau To Be Hired. Now What?

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Time to learn to spell it folks. T-H-I-B-O-D-E-A-U. He will be the next Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The deal is said to be worth $10M per year for five years. Attached in the deal is Spurs Assistant GM Scott Layden who will become the Wolves General Manager. So that means, good bye Milt Newton. The Wolves were interested in Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson as alternatives. Rumors swirled around Scott Brooks and Dave Jourger as well.

After the immediate dismisal of Sam Mitchell, Glen Taylor and the search firm Korn Ferry interviewed and now have hired a head coach just a week after the final game. Tom Thibodeau, known for being the defensive guru with the Boston Celtics when Garnett and co. won the championship, comes over in full control after being fired by the Chicago Bulls a year ago. The Bulls made it to the playoffs every year under Thibs, while this season they didn’t under coach Fred Hoiberg.

Thibodeau’s name was thrown around quite a bit in the middle of the season when a potential minority ownership group was looking to make a deal with Glen Taylor. Nothing came from it and folks moved on. As the Wolves finished the season strong under coach Sam Mitchell by beating the Warriors and the Blazers on the road, ESPN and others began hyping the heck out of this Wolves job. Its been said to be the most sought after job in the league. Thibodeau has been one of the most sought after head coaches that doesn’t have a job. Thibs also helped Derrick Rose become an MVP and Jimmy Butler an All-Star. It will be interesting to see what Thobodeau can do with the likes of Towns, Wiggins, LaVine, and the rest of the young Wolves.

In his previous life, Thibodeau was a long time assistant coach. He started his career ironically with the Timberwolves in their inaugural season (see pic above). He then was an assistant with the Rockets and Knicks under Jeff Van Gundy.

The main concern around Thibs has been his nature of driving players into the ground and overworking them. I am sure it has been brought up in interviews and if the Wolves have decided this quickly on Thibodeau, then (I hope!) the topic has probably been cleared. Glen Taylor does not want to see Towns or Wiggins’ careers ended early because of this move.

Now that the process is over, we will likely look back on this move as the inflection point of the Wiggins/ Towns saga. The Franchise will now begin to concave up or down. The slope positive or negative. Calculus talk for anyone who gets it. If Sam Mitchell was tasked with remaining the head coach, the franchise would’ve likely continued floating in the realms of mediocrity. Bringing in Tom Thibodeau for the priced that has been finalized means one thing. Championships. Taylor, Thibodeau, and the players that are a part of the core will begin building and fighting for a championship one day. The first step will be making the playoffs and ending the longest active streak of not making the playoffs in the NBA.

The immediate next steps are a few things. First, the draft. The Wolves will need to see what players are of interest and what the value around the league will be for the position in which the Wolves pick. Then, a roster evaluation will likely  be done. On the chopping block will likely be the likes of Shabazz Muhammad, Ricky Rubio and Adriean Payne. How does Thibs feel about these guys? Thibodeau will also have to hire a staff. Listening to Sam Mitchell this morning, it sounded like he was open to returning. What about Ryan Saunders? Ernie Kander? Then will be development and free agency. How will these guys improve through next season? What will be done with the cap space?

All this says is, it is going to be an awesome offseason and 2016-17 season. Keep following for more Wolves t-logs!

The Timber Rebuilder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

10th NBA Arena: Bradley Center. Bucks v. Wolves

In a continuous journey to pay a visit to every NBA arena, there is the occasional low hanging fruit. Milwaukee isn’t far. I’ve also only been to Milwaukee a handful of times. But I finally got a chance to visit the Bradley center.

There are also the special occasions in which I can be the annoying fan cheering on my favorite team on the road. You cheer when no one else is cheering and you remain quiet when the crowd goes wild. You also get the pleasure of acknowledging your fellow wolves fans scattered around the arena with a head nod that translates to, “respect”.

Anyways, I always made it a point to only visit the Bradley Center if the Wolves were playing. And if finally happened. My wife and I drove out for 5 hours straight just to get crushed by the Bucks. If you’ve been following the blog, you may have seen this bucket list post about the NBA arenas that I have been. I also had the chance to visit the Verizon Center. As I visit more, I will categorize these together as ‘NBA Arena Visits’

Arena 10: BMO Harris Bradley Center, Timberwolves vs Bucks, 2016, Milwaukee, WI ✔️

The theme was 90’s night which was part of the Bucks’ flashback Friday campaign. I thought it was brilliant. It would’ve helped if the Bucks wore throwbacks to go with it, but everything else was nostalgic for any late 80’s baby. Kel was the in-arena host, they played double dare at half time, every player was associated with a 90s movie, and even Warren G performed a couple times. From a sports marketing perspective, it was lively and fun. The crowd was into it. I also got to wear my Wolves throwback jacket which was fitting for the theme.


Apart from the in-game experience, the fans were much different than what I encountered when cheering on the Wolves in Boston. Most people were really nice. A couple fans would ask me questions about the wolves. When the wolves got within 7 points in the 4th, I was being annoying. So when the Bucks pulled back away with the lead, one guy said something that I didn’t make out. It seemed like he was angry. But then he came and talked to me after the game and hoped I would enjoy Milwaukee.

Then to the game. It was crazy to see Towns score the first 11 points for the Wolves. But it was typical Towns fashion I thought, score a bunch right away and then spread it out the rest of the game. And if you looked at the box score you’d think that’s what happened. But the game was a waste of a 5 hour drive (not really, I loved the experience). Towns, Wiggins, and Rubio were benched early in the third quarter for the remainder of the game as a ‘message’ from Sam Mitchell.

Now, I get it. The Wolves defense was horrid. Hands would go up only after the shooter had completed his follow-through. There were times it was clear Middleton or Parker were going to shoot and Wiggins or Towns would just watch it happen. I get that. Sit them early in the third and send a message. But you have to eventually get them back in the game. It wasn’t over. The bench got the team into the game again but get your starters in at that point. Your bench is tired and can’t continue to compete at a high level.

Wiggins, Rubio, and Towns never got back into the game after they were taken out in the early 3rd. The funny thing was that LaVine would’ve been a casuality of this had he started the second half. LaVine got benched to start the second half but helped lead the charge back late in the 4th quarter.

I do not recall the Bucks’ biggest lead in the second half but it was well over 20. The Wolves got back within 7 after a three by Rudez. The bench showed good energy led by Shabazz and Zach but it wasn’t enough. Khris Middleton had his way with the Wolves. Greek Freak also was very impressive. It was crazy to see him run the point and be guarded by Rubio (lord help him) and then come back and guard Dieng or Towns in the first quarter. He is as versatile as they come. He nearly had another triple double after having one earlier this week. Jabari Parker and Plumlee were nice too.

As I mentioned on Twitter, this seemed like the beginning of the end for Sam Mitchell. I can’t imagine the starters playing their hardest for him anymore or vouching for him to be the coach next season.

Overall, a wonderful experience even though it was a loss. The Bucks have an exciting team once they figure it out. And I am 1/3 of the way to visiting every NBA arena. Visiting another next week. Which will it be?


The Timber Rebuilder.

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.