What Dunn needs to do as a Starter

I think I spent more time thinking of cool titles about Kris Dunn starting than I did thinking about what to put in here. Partially because titles with ‘Dunn’ in it is fun to think of, but mainly because what Kris Dunn needs to do to succeed is simple. Some titles I thought of:

It’s Dunn time to start! (A little slang used here)

Rubio starting is Dunn

Playoff hopes are Dunn

Getting the Job Dunn

What needs to be Dunn?

Which is your favorite? I didn’t want to use any… Yet. Anyways, back to this post.

Dunn has been handed an opportunity on a silver platter. Ricky Rubio is out ‘indefinitely’, which usually means a long time. This news came after Rubio met with the doctor. He will now meet with a surgeon, which could mean Rubio is out longer than we even originally expected.

Thibodeau brought Dunn in with the idea that he is the point guard of the future. Rubio was also not traded because he certainly gives the Wolves the best chance to win now. Rubio is needed on this team still if they plan to make the playoffs this year, but an early injury could become a blessing in disguise.

Dunn is in a very different situation than the Wolves’ previous rookies. Wiggins and Towns both were expected to produce immediately. Dunn is in a position where he does not need to be the first, second, or even third option offensively. He can slowly work himself into the offense. A luxury KAT and Wiggins didn’t really have.

What does Dunn need to do as a starter to be successful then? Like I said earlier, it is very simple. It should not be a surprise at all. But it is important for it to happen.

First, Dunn needs to do what he is known for and that is defense. I think Dunn has been impressive defensively in the first two games. He looks like a pest that disrupts the opposing team’s offense from getting set up. He gets the occasional steal from pressuring the ball. If he can master this, it will be the basis of his success. He will build confidence in his game at the NBA-level from his defense. It will also wear out his opponent when they need to play defense on him. It is easier said than done though. He will face the likes of Mike Conley, Chris Paul, Damien Lillard and Russell Westbrook multiple times early on this season. While Dunn won’t shut these guys down, he can try to contain them a little bit. It will certainly accelerate his experience.

Next, Kris will want to focus on not turning the ball over. This will be his backbone offensively. As a rookie, learning to not make mistakes will translate into him doing a ‘good job’. Luckily for Dunn, he has guys that he can rely on offensively to produce. He just needs to get them the ball and limit any mistakes. Kris Dunn will need to simplify his game and stick to the basics offensively. His baskets will come. Teams will game plan around forcing Dunn to beat them as he is most prone to making mistakes as a rookie.

If Dunn can play solid defense and limit mistakes offensively, his offensive game will come around. He should try to make the open shot. But mainly, he should try to take high percentage shots as much as possible. Dunn’s bread and butter was scoring around the rim in college. He can continue to do that and it will open up the floor for the Wolves. If teams see Dunn as a threat scoring at the rim, he will be able to penetrate and dish pretty easily.

With Rubio out, the opportunity for Dunn and the Wolves is great. I am optimistic still about what happens this season. An injury this early benefits the team in that Dunn will get heavy experience that could be valuable later in the year. Developing the backup point guard in that there isn’t a huge drop off will make a difference if the Wolves are fighting for a playoff spot. Dunn is being groomed to be the starter regardless, but this will certainly benefit the Wolves if Dunn becomes a strong bench contributor later this year when Rubio returns.

The Timber Rebuilder.

 

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2016 NBA Draft: Timberwolves Final Thoughts

Draft day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Dragan Bender

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

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

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

2. Kris Dunn

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

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

3. Jamal Murray

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

4. Buddy Hield

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


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

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

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

The Timber Rebuilder.

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

Passing the Torch from Flip to Thibs

Tom Thibodeau. Tom Thibodeau. Tom Thibodeau.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decoding Sam Mitchell

The Timberwolves are already half-way to their win total from last season and it is only the beginning of December. So if comparing this season to seasons past, its been a significant improvement. There are things you can attribute to coaching, roster moves, team chemistry, and to player development. But just because things have improved does not mean that couldn’t be better. The Wolves have won some games they shouldn’t have (sweeping the Hawks and winning in Miami) and lost games they probably could’ve won (twice against the Magic).

Part of the tug-of-war between the front office and the coaching staff is always one of player development vs the outcome this season. The beauty of having a GM-Coach like the role Flip Saunders had is that there is absolutely a balance. Although the Wolves were terrible last season, its clear that Wiggins and LaVine developed a lot over the course of the season into this one and the Wolves were able to identify that the ROI (Return on Investment) on Anthony Bennett wasn’t worth it. Wiggins & LaVine look like they are among the best rookies from last season because of this balance and the Wolves are now better positioned to be a contender in the future. Now with Mitchell in his position, he is fighting to prove he is worthy of being a coach passed this season.

Mitchell biggest criticism thus far which is probably evenly split between Wolves fans is Karl-Anthony Towns’ minutes. He has seen a dramatic decrease in minutes and has struggled in the limited minutes after having a historic start to the season for the rookie. Gorgui Dieng has seem more minutes and to his credit, has produced nicely. But many believe that Towns does give the Wolves a better chance to win and should see any minutes in the fourth quarter. Over the last five games, Towns has averaged 22 minutes a game and on many occasions hasn’t played in the 4th quarter.

Mitchell has come out and finally spoke on the minutes issues for Towns and says he doesn’t want to burn him out and says its part of the learning process. Trusting the process can be rough though, just as the Sixers. This was the first time Mitchell actually spoke about it, as there were many questions as to why Towns was not playing and the Wolves continued to lose in close games. Towns did take the high road and said his minutes in College prepared him for this. Sam Mitchell is trying to win games, which is understood. But you have to believe, Karl-Anthony Towns playing in the fourth quarter a little more would probably help that cause along.

The next criticism against Mitchell has been his handling of another young prospect, Zach LaVine. Mitchell started training camp naming LaVine the starting shooting guard and then moved him to the bench as the back up point guard. After a slow start, it was clear LaVine was most effective as a shooting guard and not effective at the point. Once it was realized the Wolves couldn’t afford Tayshaun Prince in the starting lineup, the struggling Kevin Martin was moved in to replace Prince. LaVine currently has a PER of 18.2, which is an improvement from last season 11.3 PER. LaVine also has the 4th highest Win Share on the team at 1.1, where Martin has a .5 WS and Prince with .2. LaVine’s Box Plus/Minus has improved leaps and bounds from last season, where he has a BPM this season of 2.2, where it was a terrible -4.5 last year. Kevin Martin has a BPM of -4.3 right now. Long story short, not only has LaVine improved, but he is playing much better than Martin or Prince this season.

The concern in all of this worries fans that followed Mitchell in Toronto. In case you didn’t know, Sam Mitchell was awarded Coach of the Year 2006-2007 but was the coach who allowed Kobe to score 81 points and also failed to develop a lot of key pieces while there, namely former number 1 pick Andrea Bargnani. Bargnani was restricted on minutes early on and never built the kind of relationship you would want out of your top draft pick and your head coach. He also failed to develop many draft picks who seemed to have the potential to succeed in this league. Many players left Toronto disgruntled, which led to a poor season and his termination soon after.

Lastly, the rotations Sam Mitchell is using are questionable at best. Staggering and balancing bench players with starters is a way to keep the level of talent on the floor at least even while you rest your best players. Mitchell has played his bench through long and important minutes through the 4th quarter which usually puts the team in a deeper deficit than it needs to be. It seems like substitutions are more reactionary than tactically decided. It also seems that even if a guy is playing well, they still seem to not get the minutes, like Shabazz Mohammad. It is just difficult to see the logic Mitchell is using to decide who is on the floor.

It is important to point out that there are things Sam Mitchell is doing right too. Mitchell is a players’ coach. He seems to be able to relate to players and understand them. Mitchell also seemingly has a good relationship with KG, in which he probably serves as the most important person to Garnett in the organization at this point. But on the court, the Wolves have clearly improved as a team. They have moved away from the bottom of the barrel in the league defensively, to at one point one of the best teams in that category this season. There have been woes offensively where the team has shot below 40% a couple of times and are not leveraging their young by struggling in fast break points.

The Wolves are also playing with a grit that they lacked in previous seasons. They don’t give up after they go down by 10. They stay close at the end of games. And it doesn’t feel like we are going to lose every game within 5 like a few seasons ago with Rick Adelman. Its hard to tell if this is because Garnett is inspiring the young guys or if Mitchell is motivating these guys to play hard, it does deserve praise. For this alone, its clear Mitchell is not warranting any sort of dramatic firing. But again, this team’s number one priority is development and what the franchise is banking on. So the criticism is warranted.

The truth of the matter is this Sam Mitchell will likely coach out this year. The Wolves are not in a position to win a championship at the given moment and the team is performing at about their expectations. I also believe Glen Taylor is going to try and figure out how to move forward on what happens with the GM & Coaching void Flip left behind. What will be said, the hope is Sam Mitchell is not the Wolves coach the 2016-17 season. The development of the key pieces on this roster is far more important than Sam Mitchell’s wizardry on the bench. I don’t believe the Wolves as an organization can afford Mitchell as head coach another season, especially with the talent pool of available head coaches.

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

wiggy

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.

Wolves Take Towns and Tyus. Draft Grade

Flip

Nights like last night is when people earn titles like ‘The Great’ after their name, and that man is Flip. Now known as Flip The Great. The Timberwolves officially welcomed Karl-Anthony Towns as the number 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the first number 1 pick in franchise history. And while it was highly expected, the Wolves came out as winners by acquiring the 24th pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to draft the hometown hero and reigning Final Four MVP Tyus Jones.

Towns landed in the lap of the Timberwolves on Thursday and avoided all the drama that occurred in the 2-4 range.  Towns fills many voids the Wolves currently have such as defensive rebounding, rim protection, pick & roll defense, shooting, and someone in the post that isn’t Pekovic. To add to that, Towns can pass the ball for a big man and will have a ton of targets on an athletic Wolves squad now. To add to that, Towns brings a much needed winning mentality that the Wolves culture desperately needs as they have the longest drought of any NBA team of not making the playoffs. It is crazy to think that KAT has only lost one game in the last year. The Timberwolves lost 65 more games than that.

And while most fans tuned out the rest of the first round, Flip Saunders moved the two second round picks to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 24th pick to keep Tyus Jones home. Flip gets a pat on the back for this one. While I am not convinced Tyus will ever be a good NBA player, it is absolutely the best situation for him. The Wolves desperately need a consistent back up point guard that can step in immediately if Rubio gets hurt again. While I don’t think Jones fills that void completely, he will get his opportunity and think the LaVine experiment at point guard could couple into that. But Jones is a hero in Minnesota and it seems like Kevin Garnett loves the kid. He will be able to learn from one of the better true point guards in the league in Rubio. All this said, the situation is there for Tyus to grow. He has the ability to shoot and run an offense well. He is a very talented passer and takes care of the basketball. I don’t think he will ever be able to defend in the NBA, which will definitely be a problem. He is a solid addition to the Wolves, but I am not completely convinced he will make too much of an impact, at least not immediately.

Jones will have a chip on his shoulder to prove the other teams wrong that passed on him though. Jones was expected to go number 18 in the draft to the Rockets and play for Kevin McHale as they desperately need a point guard. Instead Jones fell to number 24 and watched guys like Terry Rozier (16), Jerian Grant (19), and Delon Wright (20) get picked before him, all point guards who were expected to go later in the first round/ early second round and after Jones would get picked. The Rockets passed on Jones much to the delight of Flip Saunders who was trying to trade up to the 18 spot to take Jones. Flip passed on the deal and the bluff that the Rockets wanted Tyus at 18 when the Rockets wanted Flip’s ‘first born’ in the trade. Many believe the Rockets were trying to trade for Ricky Rubio for the 18th pick, and thankfully that didn’t happen.

With many of the pieces set in place, you can feel the tables turning. You can feel the excitement again. You can watch the culture change in the organization from the laughing stock in the league to one of the brightest futures. The Wolves literally have the pieces in place to build a dynasty, and I am saying that with all my favoritism aside. Towns is going to be a very exciting player to watch and the hope is he can absorb everything he can from the likes of Kevin Garnett. The key will be his development now and logging minutes with Wiggins, LaVine, and Rubio. Having Towns alone gives the Wolves an A- grade at the minimum since almost any team that would’ve picked number one would’ve taken him. Adding Tyus Jones for the price that they got him at makes the grade an A. The Wolves did not have enough roster spots for the 31 and 36 picks and they didn’t just sell the picks off. They maximized the price of their picks and minimized the salary due to Tyus Jones. Here is to Flip the Great on what looks like his third straight good draft!

– the Timber (re)Builder