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.

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Wolves Take Towns and Tyus. Draft Grade

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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

The Wolves Land the Top Pick!

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Well, the luck of the draw finally fell the Wolves’ way. The Wolves ended up with the Number 1 pick for the first time in franchise history after having the worst record and owning the best odds at winning the draft lottery for the third time. The times the Wolves have missed out on the top pick they missed out of Shaquille O’Neal (1994) and Kyrie Irving (2011). The hope is the pick ends up with the type of caliber of either of those guys. Some observations from the Draft Lottery.

The Wolves have the opportunity to add to an already great young core. With many questions in the front court with  the injury-prone Pekovic, the underdevelopment of Anthony Bennett, and aging Kevin Garnett, Okafor or Towns fill a huge need for the Timberwolves. There will be further analysis on the Wolves’ front court in a future post as there will likely be a lot of changes to come. Understanding how the number 1 pick fits along with the Wolves’ current roster and assets needs to happen for the Wolves.

The Wolves have the opportunity to be the first team ever to have three consecutive number 1 picks on the same roster. It is unfortunate Bennett was the number 1 pick in the 2013 draft to be honest, because the statistic makes it sound the Wolves should be absolutely dominant. I do think the Wolves should and will move Bennett before the beginning of the season as someone will still want to take a chance on him.

Funny things to point out during the Draft Lottery. First, there wasn’t any coverage of the Draft Lottery during the halftime show since it probably wasn’t exciting to the world that the Timberwolves won the draft lottery. In the coverage that there was about the Lottery, more of the focus was how the Knicks dropped to number 4 and the Lakers hopped up to number 2. Rightfully so but had the Lakers won the Lottery, I believe there would’ve been a lot more talk about it. Next, I was surprised to see Glen Taylor as the Wolves rep because it was initially reported his wife would represent the Wolves. I thought immediately ‘Oh they got in a fight!’. But later on there were reports family members could not represent teams anymore. It should’ve came sooner with the Cavs winning all those number 1 picks with that kid.

Wolves fans can enjoy this victory today and let the dust settle. This is wonderful for Minnesota and will absolutely drive up Season Ticket sales. It will bring a lot more excitement to the Target Center with Wiggins, LaVine, Rubio, and now the 2015 number 1 pick. There isn’t a doubt in my mind the top pick should be Karl-Anthony Towns. So we will soon visit what that means and how he fits in. There is still a great chance Okafor gets taken first but Towns seems to be a great player in the making.

-The Timber (re)Builder

With the 1st Pick in the 2015 NBA Draft (Post 4 of 4)…

The draft lottery is today and the Wolves will soon learn their fate. In the best scenario, the Wolves keep their spot and land the first pick. Since 1994, the top team has won the draft lottery just 3 of the 21 times. Nowhere near 25%.

What to do with this pick? The Wolves would be in full control of their destiny. Never have the Wolves picked number 1, although many number one picks have played for the Wolves (Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Michael Olowokandi, Joe Smith). This pick could solidify another cornerstone alongside the other young pieces the Wolves have. It sounds like the Timberwolves love Jahlil Okafor. The Wolves’ Flip Saunders has strong ties to Okafor’s agent Bill Duffy as former teammates. So if the Wolves get the number 1 pick, I would not be surprised if Okafor went number 1.

That said, to me before workouts and more interviews, Karl Towns is the obvious pick for the Timberwolves. Not only is he better overall, but he fits the Wolves Needs greatly. The Timberwolves need defense. They need rebounding. They need a big man to stretch the offense a little for Flip Saunders’ offense. While I am not a fan of Flip’s offense, using Towns in a Pick n’ Pop would work great with Rubio and Wiggins. All of these things are things that are not really Okafor’s strengths. Towns could be a star but doesn’t seem like he will ever be the best player on a team. Which doesn’t seem to be an issue with the Wolves. He doesn’t seem like there is much risk with him as he has a lot of strengths that translate to the NBA well (Block %, Rebound %, shooting, and athleticism).

To me it isn’t as much a debate so I will keep it short on this one. Towns. Get him paired up with Wiggins, Rubio, LaVine, and Shabazz and the Wolves could be exciting to watch for many years to come. Best of luck to the Timberwolves tonight. The Wolves have NEVER moved up in the Draft lottery before and that streak will continue tonight. But the best of luck would just be keeping the top pick. We will be watching.

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– The Timber (re)Builder

With the 2nd Pick in the 2015 NBA Draft (Post 3 of 4)…

We continue our series as we now are on the 2nd pick and while this seems like an obvious choice, I think readers will be presently surprised by who will be suggested as the 2nd pick.

There is a fair assumption around the league that one of the big men will be picked with the 1st pick the draft and common practice is to simply draft whoever is left. If Towns goes number one, draft Okafor. If Okafor goes number one, draft Towns. While this happens a lot if many drafts where there are clear cut 1st and 2nd picks, I would shy away from just falling into that trap. That trap usually sets the team in the 2nd pick slot up for failure. Thus, I believe the Wolves should really think outside the box if they end up with the 2nd pick.

For your reference, since Durant was taken 2nd in 2007, the 2nd pick from 2008-2014 drafts have been Michael Beasley, Hasheem Thabeet, Evan Turner, Derrick Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Victor Oladipo, and Jabari Parker, respectively. Outside of the last two which still are living off of their potential and rightfully so, the others are either fighting to be a starter or just to be in the NBA still. None of these guys have been All-Stars. Oladipo should have gone first in the draft by popular opinion. If that was true, Anthony Bennett would probably be in this group, where he belongs. Another popular number 2 pick is Darko Milicic who was taken before MANY Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh to name a few.

In the scenario Jahlil Okafor goes first, the second pick would be Karl Towns. At number two I believe Karl Towns is worth taking the risk on. He has the size and strength of DeMarcus Cousins. He has good touch for a big man. He also is incredible on the boards and on the defensive end. The scary thing about him is that he played on a stacked team and was a part of Coach Cal’s platoon system, that could have covered up his weaknesses due to his lack of playing time. I don’t think Karl Towns has Super Star potential, but can be an All-Star for a few years in the league if he continues to develop. Defense and Rebounding translate wonderfully to the NBA. While it may take time for Towns to be great on Defense, you can bet he will make a mark on the boards and blocks. The Wolves don’t need Towns to become a Superstar, just a defensive anchor.

In the scenario where Karl Towns goes number one, I would hesitate with Jahlil Okafor. There is a huge connection with Okafor as his agent is Bill Duffy, former Golden Gopher teammate of Flip Saunders. And we know quite well how Flip likes to keep things ‘in the family’ or a lot of his ‘Country Club’ moves. There is also a lot of talk that if the Wolves do get the number 1 pick, they would take Okafor. So they really like something about him. But my biggest concern is his inability to play defense. In the Western Conference, you play the likes of Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and Tim Duncan four times each. Not to mention all of the penetrating point guards. This means interior defense and rim protection are necessities, not luxuries, if you want to become anything in the Western Conference. The front court of any of the remaining playoff teams in the West are great, not just good, defensively. Draymond Green paired with Andrew Bogut, DeAndre Jordan, and Dwight Howard. Thus, at 1 or 2, I would want to stay away from Jahlil Okafor. If Karl Towns is not available, I look elsewhere.

To me, there is one player that has the tools to be great in the NBA and I believe that id D’Angelo Russell. I spoke about him a bit in the previous post but at Number 2, D’Angelo Russell would be my pick as well. Only in the scenario where Towns goes 1 and Russell goes 2 would I take Okafor at 3. I do believe though Russell’s playmaking ability and his ability to rebound as a guard will make him a mismatch in years to come. He is essentially Ricky Rubio with a jump shot, and the passes are less flashy. Russell paired with Wiggins could be scary for a very long time in the league. While I would really prefer to draft a big man, I think the best player available should be taken here and it is definitely, D’Angelo Russell.

To everyone who thought this would be easy and you just take Okafor. All I can say is GOT EEEMMM!

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With the 3rd Pick in the 2015 NBA Draft (Post 2 of 4)…

If the Wolves end up with a top 3 pick, we will be in good shape. The Wolves have a 64.9% chance of landing one of the top 3 picks. There is a good chance the Karl Towns goes number 1 in the draft no matter what. But the common strategy for the top 3 pick will be as Milt Newton has stated almost redundantly, take the best player available.

The draft is still over a month away but the top 3 looks extremely interesting right now. Karl Towns, Jahlil Okafor, and D’Angelo Russell seem to have it locked down. As big guys are usually a hot commodity (also high bust risk). D’Angelo Russell seems to be overlooked. Much of the conversation remains around Karl Towns and his potential on both ends of the court and Okafor’s incredible offensive ability. So I will make the assumption that Karl Towns and Okafor are taken in the top 2 picks, but if the Sixers and/ or Knicks end up in the top 2, Russell could be taken.

Okafor’s stock is dropping and will really need to impress folks in the coming weeks in order to solidify his spot as a top 2 pick. Winning a championship helps him quite a bit. His post game is that of a veteran in their prime. He has incredible strength in the post. And his passing ability is really overlooked. As a kid who has been getting double teamed since the age of 12, he would be a wonderful compliment to an Andrew Wiggins. Okafor does has some significant red flags. He is doesn’t have wonderful rebounding mechanics. In the NBA, you need your anchor to rebound. He also is terrible on the defensive end and had a lot of it covered up by Coach K running a zone defense. A rule of thumb for scouts is usually the stat that doesn’t translate well into the NBA is scoring and that is really the only thing Okafor is great at.

That all being said and sticking to the best player available strategy, the argument could be made that D’Angelo Russell may be exactly that. Russell is a 6-5 combo guard with a 6-10 wingspan, which is wonderful size. And while a second ago I mentioned that scoring wasn’t important, Russell led all Freshmen in scoring with 19.3 PPG and did it very efficiently on a 58% True Shooting Percentage. To me Russell has the lowest risk of any of the top 10 players because of his amazing passing ability and court vision. He may be the best passer in the draft since, probably Ricky Rubio. Russell can also shoot off the dribble or catch and shoot or come off screens. This ability combined with his amazing shooting makes me feel like he can be a Bradley Beal type player at the Point Guard position. His advance statistics (Win Shares, Assist%, Steal%, Rebound%) compare most with Kyrie Irving. His only issue is that he isn’t quite explosive enough for a point guard so could be contained.

Going best player available, Wolves have no choice but to take… D’Angelo Russell.

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From the Timberwolves perspective, taking Russell presents a few obvious issues. Russell’s primary position is Point Guard. Don’t we have Ricky Rubio? Why yes! Don’t we have Zach LaVine? Yes! So what happens with Russell and where does he fit? Great question.

First things first, LaVine playing at Point Guard ends here. If there weren’t so many injuries, I am assuming that experiment would’ve ended in November. In hindsight though, it provided Zach with some great experience and I still believe he is going to be a great player in this league. Now for Ricky. I love Ricky. But one thing you learn to do in Business School is Hedge your investments. Ricky might officially be tagged as ‘injury prone’ now. Russell would be the Hedge. If Ricky gets hurt, Russell would fill in. Also, Russell would have the ability to play the 2 as well. Ricky and Russell in the backcourt would be probably the best playmaking backcourt ever.

At some point, someone would have to go or assume a lesser role. Unfortunately that person would likely be Zach LaVine and/ or Shabazz Muhammed. Unless Ricky proves he can’t stay healthy. Someone would need to be moved in a year to bring in another asset. Or maybe someone doesn’t pan out. The important point is, there is no such thing as a log jam unless you have sure things on your roster and at 16 wins, nothing is a sure thing.

There was a lot of concern when the Wolves drafted Derrick Williams when your best player played the same position, at power forward. When Derrick was brought it there was hopes he could play the 3. Unfortunately the biggest issue with Derrick is he could not guard any position on the court which made him a liability. Russell at 6-5 is oversized for a PG and about the right size for a SG. Williams was the right size for a SF and undersized as a PF. So there is no need to worry here about Russell and playing the same position as Rubio.

Pick number 2 coming up in the coming days. The draft lottery is 5 days away!

– The Timber (re)Builder