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

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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!

Wolves 2015-16 Season Preview, Keys to Success, and Bold Predictions

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Roster Review

Depth Chart

PG – Rubio/ Miller/ Jones

SG- Martin/ LaVine/ Wiggins

SF- Wiggins/ Muhammed/ Prince/ Rudez

PF- Garnett/ Bjelica/ Payne

C- Towns/ Dieng/ Pekovic

The offseason is finally over! Those of us with terrible fantasy football starts can re-shift our focuses back to basketball again. With training camp underway and the season starting in less than a month, its time to look at the roster and try to make some predictions. Wolves fans are well aware of the young assets this team has on it. The thing the Wolves as an organization have been renown of doing is bringing in young, valuable assets through the draft or other avenues and turning them into a little older-young, non-valuable roster-fillers. The Wolves have a long history of this and they added another to the wall of shame in Anthony Bennett. Bennett went back home to Toronto after the Wolves could not trade the bust of a number 1 pick. The Timberwolves need to move forward and change the culture immediately, since Anthony Bennett wasn’t entirely their fault.

The Wolves greatest responsibility is turning their young guys into guys who can contribute to a winning roster. Whether it be here or trading them for more assets, the Timberwolves can’t afford to let guys Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad become NBA Journeymen like previous young pups (refer to all players on the Wolves roster between 2004-2013 below the age of 25 with the exception of Kevin Love and Al Jefferson).

To make this year competitive, things need to happen. Things need to change. It needs to be a year where a transition happens. To do that, the Wolves need to do multiple things in order to ensure they make the most of this season. Along with these things I believe the T-Wolves need to emphasize, I will provide some bold predictions.

Shameless plug, if you don’t already, follow us on twitter and instagram @timberrebuilder 

Get the Young Pups Minutes, together. (See Portland, San Antonio, Warriors)

Bad teams usually have a lack of chemistry and/ or don’t have a core group of players. Team chemistry may be one of the most overlooked aspects of a good team in modern day sports. Most teams look to build with the best players they can find and expect a quick plug-n-play to win them a championship. Rarely do teams win championships by simply bringing in the best players, their first year. Look at the many times LeBron has jumped around and not won a championship his first year with a new team. Look at the many Laker teams that were assembled by attracting the best players that don’t translate into a championship right away.

The best team the Wolves can model themselves around is the Golden State Warriors, being that they are young and won a championship around a core they drafted. Using Basketball-Reference’s Lineup Finder, the most commonly used 3-man or 4 man combos are all playoff teams within the top 20, lead by the Clippers, Hawks, Spurs, and of course Golden State. This model of playing guys with each other is an age-old model used by the Spurs, literally, that has kept them competitive for decades. Its helps teams like the Blazers and Wizards steadily become playoff contenders.

But if you track the Warriors from the 2012-2013 season with the combination of Curry/ Thompson/ Lee, they were the 51st best combination in terms of Net Points, at +203, winning 47 games. Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green were rookies. In 2013-2014, Igoudala with Curry and Thompson became their best trio netting +506, ranking 1st in the league. They actually held the top 4 spots mixing David Lee in there. They would win 51 games. The 2014-15 season, without any major roster changes, they would go on to win an amazing 67 games and the trio of Curry/ Thompson/ Green would lead the league again with a historical +729 Net Points. These three guys played a total of three seasons together, Green played every NBA game with those two (Curry and Thompson).

Moral of the story? If you want to be good, your best players need to have a chemistry and have to be on the floor together. And if you want to be really good, let them be young guys that can grow together. The Wolves have the young pieces. I believe the Wolves don’t need to make any major roster changes beyond this point. They just need Wiggins, Towns, and LaVine/ Rubio/ Shabazz to build a chemistry on the court by logging minutes together. They need to learn together, win together, and lose together. Seeing Duncan/ Parker/ Ginobili all these years together shows that chemistry usually trumps talent.

The key will be a couple things. Rubio will need to understand Wiggins, Towns, and LaVine very well. They all are effective in very different ways. It is the job of Rubio to tailor his leadership to each of them. Rubio will need to get Wiggins set up to score in the half court offense. He will need to master the pick and roll with KAT. And he will need to learn to ignite the fastbreak and toss alley-oops to get LaVine easy buckets. Also, developing a Wiggins/ LaVine and Towns pick and roll will be essential for the development of the needed chemistry. The other extremely important piece, is health. Rubio and the gang need to stay healthy. The addition of Kander is huge as the Wolves have struggled with injuries for the last several years. There is nothing that replaces minutes logged together in real NBA games. And as a wise man once said in regards to a lack of chemistry,”You wasn’t with me shooting in the gym!” (Joke).

You have Veterans, Use them. (Unofficial mentors, change Martin’s role, Pek rough up guys)

Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince, and Andre Miller. This sounds like a championship team 10 years ago. But its not 10 years ago. The Wolves were very intentional about bringing in veterans with playoff and championship experience to mentor their young guys. KG makes sense. He is fully invested. Its hard to tell yet whether Prince and Miller will embrace their roles as mentors or just another check to round-out their careers. But the front office needs to take full advantage of these talented guys on the roster.

Assign these guys as official mentors to these guys. Garnett is a direct influence to the entire team and culture, but he needs to take Towns, Dieng, and Payne under his wing. Prince will work directly with Wiggins and Bazz. It is quite interesting to see that Prince shares a similar personality to Wiggins and Shabazz and quieter guys. Andre Miller will get to mentor LaVine, Rubio, and the young Tyus Jones. My hope is that the young guys are sponges to the experiences of the veterans.

But don’t forget there are other veterans on the team. Kevin Martin and Pekovic should not be forgotten. Martin can be an incredible resource to the young-scoring wings on the team. Martin has always found ways to score even though he doesn’t dominate athletically. Martin should share this knowledge as well as be a good test to the wings to try and defend him in practice. Pekovic will be useful (if healthy) to bang around the young guys in the post. There aren’t many scarier guys in the league outside of big Pek.

Maybe I am the only one, but I hope the coaches run a 5-on-5 scrimmage with Miller-Martin-Prince-KG-Pekovic vs LaVine-Shabazz-Wiggins-Dieng-Towns. That would be extremely entertaining.

Compete!

There is no replacement for winning games. A steady increase will give the Wolves something to build on. And while having the worst record in the league last year, there is no where to go but up. But a culture change needs to be established. The Timberwolves own the longest active streak of not making the playoffs. Everyone in the organization is used to coming out and not competing. The hope is, KG changes that.

Reasons I love Rubio and Towns is that they are fierce competitors. They love to win. I think both of these guys with KG healthy will be the ignition to changing that culture. The Wolves played significantly better with Rubio on the floor. Towns only lost one game last year. Wiggins, LaVine, and Shabazz need to buy into that mentality as well. Dieng is also a competitor, people forget he won a championship at Louisville.

The first step to competing is defense. And what we saw in the training camp was an emphasis on just that. The Wolves were easily the worst defensive team last season and that needs to change. Defensive not only wins championships but it does win games. The Wolves found themselves blown out early in games in which they had a solid offensive outing but defensively, did nothing. The Wolves have good pieces defensively in Rubio, Wiggins, Towns, Dieng, and of course the veterans KG and Prince. The key difference will be getting guys like LaVine and Shabazz to buy-in defensively.

Culture will play the next part in competing. The point of winning games isn’t necessarily to win a championship this year, because that is not happening. But to change the mentality that it is okay to lose in Minnesota. Minnesota will NEED to win 30 or more games this season. I am predicting the wolves go 39-43 this season, and I am being optimistic. That doesn’t get us a good draft pick or get us in the playoffs. But it does push for a more experienced team to sneak in by 2016-17. A team that doesn’t give up in the clutch or against teams with more talent.

Last, the Wolves have to do a few things better on the offensive end to compete. They HAVE to shoot the 3 better. And they have to improve their ball movement. Flip has gotten offended when people criticize his lack of use of the 3-pointer, but numbers and history don’t lie. His teams don’t shoot the three and shoot the mid-range shot, the worst shot in basketball, more than normal. The team didn’t bring in any 3-point specialists, and lost guys like Gary Neal, Robbie Hummel, and Chase Budinger, who were reliable 3-point threats. Word is Karl Towns has a nice stroke but chances are we won’t see that come into fruition for a few years. So the Wolves are left to depend on the development of Wiggins, Shabazz, and LaVine as well as Kevin Martin becoming healthy. Ricky Rubio will be heavily depended on for both portions. As he is healthy, he helps move the ball around. He, again, has worked on his three-point shot all summer. It is important that he can hit the occasional open tray. Towns will be an X-factor as well in that he can shoot and pass the ball.

Develop Roles Now

Clearly distinguishing roles will be crucial for the Wolves, especially for the Pups. Wiggins and Towns will need to be formed into the faces of the Franchise. Who is Batman and who is Robin? When Garnett and Marbury were in town, the problem with two Batmans was partially because roles were not defined. What my concern is with Wiggins and Towns is, they are two Robins. So what happens then? Garnett will need to help these two find their identities and then find comfort in those. There is nothing greater to this organization than developing the last two number 1 picks together. There aren’t enough words to say to emphasize that point.

The most interesting roles will be for Shabazz and LaVine. My bold prediction is that LaVine ends up as the starter and Martin moves to the bench. LaVine has to show that he will put up more effort than Martin on the defensive end, and it will be hard to deny him that spot. A consistent jumper would be great as well. Also, I believe it will be essential the Wolves develop Shabazz as a 6th man and knowing what that means. Muhammad showed a lot of promise last year before falling to injury. He ate up other teams backup small forwards. He lost a lot of weight again this season so it will be interesting to see if he can maintain that. Shabazz provides the energy and scoring to be an elite 6th man. These two will need to be built into their roles as they have the most trade value to lose or gain this season. Most other guys’ value will not change as much as these two. Either they develop into assets this season or just young guys who may be worth taking a chance on. The Wolves will need to have them play into their roles to increase or maintain their value around the league since one of them may be the odd man out in a few years.

Rubio has to become the captain of the ship. He has done a wonderful job embracing it thus far. He understands that he needs to lead by example and I have no question that Rubio will succeed here. The Wolves have put some pressure by adding Tyus Jones, but it will be a year for Rubio to prove he can stay healthy and can compete.

Find a Diamond in the Rough

The rest of the roster has some very interesting pieces that need to be discussed. To me, value is huge. And getting a return on your value is what makes a franchise successful. There are two guys on the roster the Wolves felt were worth a 1st-Round pick. Tyus Jones and Adreian Payne. The Wolves drafted Jones with a late first-rounder (via two early 2nd-rounders) this offseason and acquired Payne last season for a future 1st-Round pick. At this point, measuring their present value, they would be difficult to trade for a first round pick, meaning they aren’t really meeting their value. They both have a lot of players ahead in the depth chart and should see time in the D-League pending any injuries. I believe both were not great moves, but both being on the roster means they need to be taken care of. Finding ways to develop both will make a huge difference in the future as to whether they can be moved for more valuable pieces or will just become expiring contracts. The hope is both can become competent reserves, but they can’t be left on the back burner.

The Wolves also quietly added Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica can score inside and outside. He is a former second round pick of the Wolves that finally came over. At 27, its hard to tell where he fits in to the Wolves long term plans. His present value is pretty unknown. He had a great summer playing for Serbia while leading them far and even hitting a buzzer beater over Germany. If he can find minutes and develop a role for himself, he has the potential to surprise a lot of people. My biggest concern is his defense and being a 3-point shooter in a bad season for shooters. We have seen a lot of 3-point shooters arrive in Minnesota and freeze. If he can prove to have some value and then develop into a decent role player, this signing could be a great win for the Wolves.

One of the more underrated players in the league is Gorgui Dieng. I am a huge fan. Gorgui quietly led the team in rebounds and blocks last season. He also led the team in offensive win shares, defensive win shares, win shares, defensive box plus/ minus, and box plus/ minus. He is essentially the most efficient and effective player to be playing on the team. He didn’t show great progression offensively last season but I believe will come back much better this season. Dieng is also only 25 and usually left out of the young nucleus conversations, guilty of that myself. Dieng is a proven winner and if he can find a bigger role, he seems to be the one Timberwolves with the least value to lose, and if he can prove to improve his offense this season, I believe a contender will be after him. Dieng is a piece every good team has and I would advise holding on to him for as long as possible.

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
  • Muhammed 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

Overall, it will be an exciting season for the Wolves. They still need 3 point shooting but have a good group of defenders. Team defense should improve and a lot of the young guys will assume bigger roles to help the Wolves improve and more than double their win total from last year.

Here is to season 12 to not making the playoffs!

The Wolves Summer Scrimmage 2015 Recap

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The Wolves just got done hosting another open scrimmage with their (star-studded) summer league roster. Wolves fans had the opportunity to see Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones for the first time play in a Timberwolves Uniform while also watching some of their favorite young pup veterans and guys they’ve never heard of. While my expectations were pretty low, it was a ton of fun. Not to mention it was free, the Target Center attracted a crowd of over 15,000 on a Wednesday night. It seemed louder than most games in there and it was interesting to see the upper levels get people sitting there. All in all, it is easily the most excitement around the Wolves that they have seen in a while.

Disclaimer: This was a scrimmage. If anything said here is exaggerated, please take with a grain of salt. Not much should be made of this game. Just some bold statements to stir some conversation until basketball season starts back up.

Wolves fans got to the team warm up while doing stretches and a poor attempt at the three-man weave which turned into a dunk contest. As expected we saw LaVine make dunks look effortless and Wiggins do his Rookie Game 360 dunk. What was surprising was seeing Towns do two different variations of the between-the-legs slam. The crowd was also pleased to see Brady Heslip slam.

Impressions from the actual scrimmage. I am a huge LaVine fan. My expectations for him are huge. He will either have to learn to play as a two-guard that doesn’t need the ball to be effective or being a 6th man for the rest of his life. His jump shot is fluid and smooth. His ability in transition is art in motion. And his ability to use his athleticism to score around the rim will get him minutes and touches eventually. A consistent three ball paired with his ability to get to the rim is a scary combination.

I have mentioned in previous posts that I don’t believe Tyus Jones will be great. Or even good. He did impress me today. He showed off his IQ on the floor. He was able to shoot but most importantly he looked like the only real point guard out there. He runs an offense pretty well for a 19 year old. He seemed to disrupt LaVine quite a bit when he was running point guard, which most people should be able to do. But there is promise in the hometown hero. If he never becomes great, I am sure the Wolves got a good amount of jersey sales out of him.

Towns was pretty impressive. He had dunks I didn’t expect he could make. He hesitated on a few threes but he was able to knock one down. He over powered Dieng in the post. He showed us the jump hook that brings you flashbacks of Hakeem the Dream. And he was very active on the glass. He made some really nice passes as well. He seems like a kid who will fill in the holes in his game fairly quickly. Most importantly, he didn’t seem to need the ball to have an impact on the game. It will be interesting to see who emerges as the leader of this team over the next few years, will it be Towns or Wiggins? I believe Towns has the intangibles to be that leader.

Speaking of Wiggins, he seemed to vanish in this one like he vanished early in his rookie year. His shot was off. He seemed like he wasn’t trying entirely. He won’t play for the Summer League team but he will practice with them. The Wolves are depending on his improvement this season and will need him to notice vanish like he did today.

Gorgei Dieng played average. Payne was his regular self. Lorenzo Brown was impressive knowing he is fighting for a roster spot and on the verge of being cut soon. That said, it would make sense if he remained on the team as a third string or even back up point guard. There was also a Pekovic and Shabazz siting. Wolves really hope both get healthy soon.

The Wolves will enter the Summer League with one of the most impressive rosters with tons of young talent. LaVine, Towns, Jones, and Payne will try to lead the Wolves to a Summer League championship. The title equates to nothing since the Kings won last summer.