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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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!

The Stakes Have Never Been Higher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Timber Rebuilder.

It Takes More Than Talent

First off, I am back. I was traveling for a month’s time and finally back in my groove. School is going to be intensified this semester, but will always look to continue contributing.

In my time away, the Wolves have struggled. I have followed from a distance. Excuses can’t be made like years past. The team is healthy, heck – even Nikola Pekovic is playing. A lot of the players have gotten minutes. And while a lot of guys have been able to showcase their talents, the Wolves have underwhelmed over half way through the season. The Wolves showed promise early on, starting the season 8-8 and the West has been weaker than most seasons. Somehow, the Wolves find themselves at 13-30 without many excuses.

Before Flip Saunders passed, he made an emphasis on building a winning culture. Flip wanted to bring in guys who wanted to win and change the identity of the franchise. He was very intentional about every guy he brought in to surround the young core. While it looked like the Wolves were headed in the right direction early, somewhere there was a collapse in that vision. There was a pivotal point in the season where the Wolves decided to have a ‘moment of truth’ type of meeting instead of practice. The veterans seemed to be blaming the young guys and the young guys pointed fingers at the head coach. The Wolves fan base has found an easy-out in blaming Sam Mitchell, and while it can be valid, the issue is bigger than that.

The Wolves have the talent. The Wolves have the assets. Yes, they are inexperienced, but this team can compete. But the culture hasn’t been established. And a valid concern is that the right personnel is not that to establish that culture. As learned in business school, ‘Culture eats Talent’. The Wolves are going through the necessary bumps and bruised to build a winning culture. But it will truly be how the Wolves franchise react to the adversity that defines the culture. The culture is in jeopardy as the Wolves now have the worst franchise winning percentage in the league.  Will the Wolves let that define them?

To get away from that, the Wolves need to leverage this experience this season. They need to get the most out of their talent now. The front office also needs to make decisions on who is a part of the future here and what part do they play in it? Once that is decided, the coaching staff needs to implement that vision in developing the players to get them in that role. From the looks of it, the coaching staff has failed at this or the front office has yet to determine these roles. Shabazz Muhammed is the best example of this as of late. Shabazz’s future may be as a 6th man, but isn’t a 6th man in the future more valuable if he has starting experience? The opportunity is there for him to start. Even if he doesn’t succeed as a starter, although it did last season, he will gain the necessary experience to become a player off the bench who plays like a starter while the first five are resting. The mishandling of Shabazz has been frustrating in that sense. But the same can be said about how most of the young players have been handled.

The Wolves need to also develop an identity. A brand of basketball. What will opponents think of the Wolves when they play them? It shouldn’t be automatic win or young players. The Wolves need to be good at something and be better than their opponents at it. Whether it be in the fast break or on the defensive end. It seems like the talent is there to be good at those things, but yet the Wolves still haven’t been able to be consistently good at them. There is plenty of time in the season to develop this, but it needs to be intentionally done.

The Wolves lost a big lead last night against the Pelicans and it just screamed to me that ‘it takes more than talent.’ The Wolves let Anthony Davis do what he wanted whenever he wanted. They didn’t play defense. And when the lead was gone, there was no question that the Wolves wouldn’t come back to reclaim it.

These are just my thoughts after a month of observing and not writing. The summer will likely bring in another young talented player, but it may mean nothing if that player is brought into talent. The Wolves need more guys with character. They need an identity. They need chemistry. Teams that try to win fast by acquiring talent really fast never win immediately. It takes more than talent.

Why The Wolves Have Struggled

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolves Bench Gives Reason to Excite

The Wolves find themselves at 8-8 16 games into the season. There have been many ups and downs thus far. Lots of attention has been placed on the young Wolves’ performance, namely that of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Zach LaVine, rightfully so. Andrew Wiggins is putting up All-Star-Like scoring numbers. Towns has started the season in a historical fashion. Injuries have plagued Ricky Rubio early in that he has missed 5 of the 16 games. The Wolves have been the 2nd best team on the road, only behind the undefeated Warriors. They have also started slow in only winning two games at home.

All of that aside along with the talk about Sam Mitchell’s questionable rotations, the Wolves look like a decent team all of a sudden. You have to believe that the Wolves are doing some things right. One thing that is going unseen though is the bench play of the Wolves. The Wolves have the highest scoring bench in the league averaging 44.4 points a game. The Wolves bench also leads the league in minutes playing 1770. The Wolves bench is also the most offensive efficient bench and second in defensive efficiency. These numbers are surprising, being that the Wolves have historically had terrible bench play since the ‘Zoo Crew’.

So how is this made possible? First, there are a few fringe starters sitting on the Wolves bench. Zach LaVine has been playing in place of the injured Rubio when he is out and is continuing to prove that he can play in this league. LaVine has finally been able to stay in front of some guards as he had shown in the Hawks and Kings games. His passes and shot selection is still questionable. He also still struggles to get through picks. But he is proving to be a very reliable scorer, as he has become the second leading scorer on the team with 14.4 points a game. He has blossomed when in the starting lineup, but against the Hawks he was the leading scorer off of the bench with 18 points.

After that, the play of Shabazz Muhammed has been coming around to be the super efficient scorer he used to be. He was able to score 15 points in 15 minutes and is showing that he can shoot the 3 effectively again, bringing his 3pt% to 33% on the season after a slow start. He still remains fairly inconsistent and isn’t getting enough minutes to get in a rhythm, but he still remains a factor.

As much as Gorgui Dieng has bothered me this season, he is putting up some decent numbers as of late and is rebounding the ball well. It seems as if he has managed to lose some basketball IQ as his career has progressed, but he is developing himself into a good rotation player and maybe a starter eventually. He is winning the trust of Sam Mitchell and taking minutes from Towns as this point.

The Wolves then get help all-around from the likes of Adrien Payne, Andre Miller, Rudez, and Prince. The Wolves will get an even greater boost when Bjelica returns from his injury because he was the lone wolf early on in the season that seemed to be producing off of the bench. After a slow start for the Wolves in which leads would go to die when the Wolves bench entered the game, the last few games is showing how deep this team can be by actually extending leads. It will also be interesting when Pekovic makes his return, whenever that is. It would be ideal for him to play limited minutes and now he is in a position where the Wolves don’t need more than that out of him when/ if he returns.

While I don’t agree with Sam Mitchell’s minutes distribution and rotation, the Wolves have scraped their way back to .500. I personally don’t think an entire group of bench players should be on the floor at once, but it has worked. Many players have stepped up to get a three wins in a row, and many of them are guys off the bench. In the three games the bench has carried the team, Towns has struggled to get his game going. Its not a time to panic. The Wolves are winning and Towns seems to be the type of player that can manage adversity well. And in the event that he can’t, he has many veterans around him to guide him.

The question remains on what to do with the starting lineup nonetheless. Kevin Martin has looked less than mediocre, and even worse in the starting lineup. Many have to believe a move of LaVine to the starting lineup could occur sooner rather than later, being that Rubio can be decently healthy. Shabazz Muhammed could also be an option, but I get the feeling Sam Mitchell is not interested in that.

The Sam Mitchell critics will need to keep quiet as the Wolves have strung a few wins in a row with his bizarre rotations. It does, in fact, feel good to be back at .500. The Wolves play the Clippers in LA on Sunday before a few games at home.