Why the Lance Stephenson signing is great

The Timberwolves just signed Lance Stephenson to a 10-day contract. We probably shouldn’t read into it too much. Much is contingent upon his performance in these next 10 days. Yogi Ferrell just earned a two-year contract in his first 10 days with the Mavericks. Lance has bounced around the league a bit and is looking for a home. With the Zach LaVine injury happening, Lance might have a role carved out for him here for the rest of the season.

I love the signing though. For many reasons. Here is why.

Lance Stephenson can replace the shots Zach LaVine had.

Zach LaVine going down for the season is a big blow for the Timberwolves. Lance Stephenson is the closest thing to replacing the number of shot attempts LaVine had in the offense. The Wolves are very limited in their offense outside of their big 3. Lance at one point was averaging over 11 shots a game. It is difficult to find a player that can feel comfortable to replace LaVine’s over 15 shots a game this season. Shabazz and Bjelica are expected to have greater roles as the season progresses, but they need someone who isn’t shy to take some shots.

Lance plays defense.

Lance’s claim to fame was his ability to get into the head and play defense against LeBron James in the playoffs. Lance has a lot of talent, especially defensively. He never backs down from his competition, something the Wolves struggle with. Tom Thibodeau will certainly not be caught yelling at Lance ‘Stop being soft!’. So him coming in for a short tour or for the remainder of the season could be just for his toughness and defensive ability.

Lance is going to come in and play for something. 

If there is one thing that the Wolves have struggled with this season is that they often look comfortable. They seem content with the way things have played out. They have patience. Lance Stephenson will not have that mentality. Lance is coming in for a roster spot. He will look to steal minutes and shots from other players. Sometimes this competition is necessary. With the amount of young players the Wolves have, many haven’t had to fight for shots or minutes. Lance will help change that attitude, even if just a little bit. In his previous non-guaranteed contracts, he has always taken an active role. He played great for Memphis late last season. I think he could play a similar role with the Wolves.

Lance is a veteran.

Lance has amazing experience in his career. Lance has played meaningful minutes in meaningful games. He has spent time now with a few teams around the league in different roles. He will serve as a reality check to the young players who have been given a lot on a silver platter this season. The Wolves faithful has been yearning for a veteran presence in the locker room. We finally got it.

Lance has the perfect personality to shake things up.

Lance is a dog. If he is here only 10 days, he will be the most annoying player in practice. The Wolves need a shake up if the playoffs are truly still a possibility. Why not take a chance on Lance? Many were interested in him last summer.

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The Timber Rebuilder.

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Ricky Rubio: Don’t hate the player, hate the game

Ricky Rubio has been the leading candidate for criticism this season, rightfully so. Rubio has never been able to shoot. All Wolves fans know it. The league knows it. Ricky even knows it. It seems to be haunting Rubio so much that he is passing up wide open lay ups.

We know Rubio’s limitations. I personally have given up on wishing that he would improve his shot. There was an opportunity this summer to work on his shot instead of playing for Spain. That said, I am taking Ricky for what he is.

Ricky is still a really good player. He is an above average defender. While he doesn’t have the greatest lateral quickness, his length disrupts opposing point guards and he plays passing lanes well. He is also a very gifted passer. He can find the open man. He makes the right decision when leading a fast break, as long as the decision doesn’t involve him scoring. He also is an exceptional free throw shooter. He is shooting 87% as of right now.

The thing I love most about Rubio is that he is truly a competitor. He loves to win. He is happy when he wins. He also forgets that he can’t shoot in clutch situations.

These are not invaluable skills to have. In a league filled with elite point guards, it is important to have a guy who can defend. And when you have three 20ppg scorers on your team, a guy to set them up is always helpful.

The question to me has always been, how did Rubio go from being a unicorn to a  50-cent dispensable-toy pony? What happened?

First, the system Rubio is playing in currently is terrible for him. Thibodeau has robbed Ricky of his creativity and autonomy to run an offense as he had while under Flip and Sam. Ricky usually started games with a shot-check when he took a couple quick midrange shots to see if he could make them and keep the defense honest. That no longer happens as much. Thibodeau has taken any comfort Ricky had left on the offensive end.

It also doesn’t help that Ricky is the 5th option on offense for the first time in his career. Last year, he at least had Tayshaun Prince or Kevin Garnett that could refuse the ball offensively. Ricky has a career low Usage % of 12.8%. His previous low was just above 16%.

The next reason Ricky has fallen off is that the game has completely moved completely behind the 3-point line. As the league has become progressively more 3-point oriented, Ricky’s value has slowly dropped.

In 2012-13 when Rubio had his highest Usage % of 21.2%, the New York Knicks led the league in 3-point attempts with 28.9 attempts per game. In 2013-14, Rubio had his best win share of 5.9 and the league’s leader in 3-point attempts was the Rockets with 26.6 attempts. Today, the Rockets, one of the leagues best teams, average almost 40 attempts.

The 13-14 season was the best season the Wolves have had in their playoff drought. The Wolves went 40-42. Ricky Rubio was still ‘developing his shot’ and the Wolves could fly under the radar having a point guard who couldn’t shoot because the league leader in 3-point attempts in the 13-14 season would be 12th best this season.

Rubio is currently in a system in which he can’t thrive and in a league that is trending in a way that exploits his weaknesses further and further. It is unfortunate. It makes me think of Ray Allen in a sense. What is Ray Allen was playing his best basketball in today’s NBA?  Would he be better than Steph Curry? Ray Allen played in an era that did not bode well with his strengths but still held most 3-point shooting records until Curry came along.

So please, don’t hate Ricky Rubio. Hate the game that has ruined Ricky Rubio. Had Rubio been in a different era, perhaps without the 3-point line, he would still be a unicorn.

The Timber Rebuilder.

 

 

Why I don’t attend the games

Once upon a time, I was a Timberwolves season-ticket holder. I was excited to see what Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio could accomplish. The product on the court was entertaining and we had hopes of making the playoffs. I also was single, working full-time and still living with my parents, so I had some extra money to spend. I always dreamed of being a season-ticket holder, so once I was financially able to become one, I didn’t hesitate.

I knew that part of having season tickets was that you could resell some for profits. I quickly realized that the only profitable games were against teams that Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, or Kevin Durant on them. There were games were it was hard to even give away the tickets. But reselling some of the games helped alleviate the costs of having season tickets.

Being a season-ticket member has its perks. You get cool stuff for free. They throw in extra tickets every once in a while. They have nice events for season-ticket holders to attend. All in all, you feel important. I loved the experience. I would love to be a season-ticket holder again.

But the issue lay in the Wolves being a losing team. The most losing team actually. The Wolves have the longest playoff-drought in the NBA and the worst overall winning percentage of any other franchise. Attending the games can be fun. It loses excitement though when you see more losses than wins in the 41 games you have access to.

Since my departure of being a season ticket holder, I typically attend games if I get lower-level tickets for free. I will tap into my ‘consumer mind’ later, but that is my tipping point. From the Timberwolves’ perspective, this is the absolute worst state a consumer can be in. I am unwilling to pay for their middle-tier product. For me, I enjoy watching the game from the convenience of my home. I can multi-task. I don’t have to worry about parking. I can save money. I can also tweet live during the game. I ultimately don’t need to work my schedule around attending the game, I can fit it in.

This brings me to the importance of the consumer dollar for entertainment. The golden rule is, a consumer will only pay for a product they are willing to fit their schedule around. Entertainment dollars are different than your regular dollars. Consumers spend their regular dollars on things they absolutely need. These are things like food, rent, etc. After the consumer has factored in all of these expenses, they can choose to spend their money on entertainment. This is if they wouldn’t rather save it. That means, it has to be better than other entertainment options and saving it.

Minnesota is not an easy place to sell entertainment because there are a ton of options. First off, we are one of the few cities to have all major sporting teams along with a major college in the same area. Then factor in all of the other things to do for entertainment like the movies or the mall or the many arcade-like restaurants in Minneapolis. Add to that the fact that the team is losing and essentially not playing for anything.

For the four seasons I haven’t been a season ticket holder, I have had Timberwolves sales reps reach out to me constantly to push tickets down my throat when I don’t have an appetite. Reps that are not genuinely interested in my needs and wants as a consumer call me. They read a script about a package or season ticket price that is essentially at face value. They mask it by putting a limited time on the offer and throwing in another pair of tickets “for free.”

The approach I am absolutely in love with is what the Bucks are doing. They are selling a $150 dollar package that is good until the Bucks win 10 games. So that means, you are guaranteed a minimum of 10 wins for $150 dollars. That is amazing! The Wolves are selling a 5-game package for the same price, in the upper level.

It baffles me that the Wolves continue to use old marketing tactics to try to attract a crowd that is over attending games that mean nothing. The in-game experience has not changed in years. The games are often empty as well. You stick out like a sore-thumb if you are cheering loudly.

I have commented before on the lack of attendance at Wolves games. Things need to get better. The problem is, the approach the organization is taking hasn’t changed. Here are some suggestions:

  • Offer something similar to what the Bucks are offering. It is exciting. It is new.
  • Update marketing tactics used to attract fans. A great one is ‘gift giving’. Give fans that have a high-factor of converting to a package or season-ticket member free tickets. It will increase the odds that they actually convert.
  • Upgrade the in-game experience. The same sounds have been used in the Target Center for as long as I can remember. Please, fix it.
  • Get creative with offerings. All of the packages seem the same. Give me something that is interesting.
  • Rebuild the fan base along with the team. Start attracting kids to the games. They will be the ones that will be the next generation of season ticket holders.
  • Change the brand of the organization to be one that is innovative and willing to take risks. This is one thing the Milwaukee Bucks do great. See my review of their in-game experience when I attended here. 

What are your thoughts? This is a blog post that is mainly reactionary and because a twitter rant wasn’t enough.

The Timber Rebuilder.

 

Thoughts going into the Wolves’ first ever Christmas game

The Timberwolves season up until this point has been a disappointment. There has definitely been a good amount exciting moments and reasons to keep watching. But overall, it’s been a let down. The Wolves go into the first ever Christmas Day match up in franchise history 9-20. If you asked most of us that follow the Wolves like a car in traffic, we would’ve guessed nothing worse than 13-16. A good amount of people would’ve assumed something above .500.

The hype going into this season was bigger than when the Wolves acquired Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell to form the modern NBA’s original Big 3. Maybe ever. The Wolves have never played a game on Christmas in their 27-year history. This season was supposed to be different. Thibs was supposed to flawlessly teach the young pups everything and anything they need to know about defense for the rest of their careers. Towns was supposed to be an All Star.

Before the season, I had my reservations about the hype. I was mildly-bashed for these views, especially on Reddit. Understandably so, Wolves fans wanted to believe that the 12 years of suffering was over. We needed to make the playoffs and that is how we were going to define success. The hype has died down now though and many are having second thoughts.

I haven’t posted as much this season due to the fact that not much has changed throughout the season. The Wolves have improved a little over the last six games or so, but it hasn’t been drastic. They still make a lot of the mistakes that drive me crazy. They struggle with helping each other on defense, especially on the interior. They think that when they are double-teamed, they should try to shoot the ball as quickly as possible instead of finding the open man. They fall into an individualistic form of basketball that can never equate to wins in the NBA.

I also have been disappointed in Wiggins and Towns a bit. Wiggins seems disengaged if he isn’t involved in the offense early and often. He will be a next-level player if he learned to impact the game without the ball. Towns gets caught up in his own hype very often and is the greatest offender of the ‘not passing out of a double team’ violation I eluded to earlier. His interior defense this season has also been embarrassing. His man often beats him in the post or off the dribble and he also is incapable of stopping penetration as a help defender.

On the bench, the entire squad has either been a let down or just meh. Shabazz and Bjelica were handed the keys to be the primary scorers off the bench and they just haven’t been able to do it on a consistent basis. Cole Aldrich has been decent in his time on the floor. Kris Dunn’s offense has also took a turn for the better. Brandon Rush has more snapchat posts than minutes per game. I forgot we signed Jordan Hill. I wish we could see more of Tyus Jones. What I have learned from this 9-20 start is that the Wolves need a starting-caliber bench player. I think eventually, this person is Gorgui Dieng. A free agent would be helpful here though.

All of that said, there is a lot I am excited about this season, especially at this point of the season. Yes, we have more than twice as many losses as wins this season. But we are playing on Christmas! The Wolves are in probably the biggest team spotlight of the season that is not the playoffs. So what am I happy about at this point?

Special edition jerseys and shoes for Christmas. As I wrap up my MBA and I have a fresh passion still for marketing, nothing makes me more excited than the special edition jerseys the Wolves are going to wear and all of the limited-edition shoes. Christmas is a sneakerhead’s favorite time of the year. Karl-Anthony Towns showcased his Christmas PE’s below. I am looking forward to what Andrew Wiggins’ PE’s will look like and what shoes Zach LaVine will wear. I hope Zach keeps it simple and rocks some Space Jams.


Zach LaVine can score points and create offense better than maybe anyone on the team. Bold statement, I know. LaVine has been the biggest surprise this season. His ability to score has been crazy. He can score from anywhere on the court. He can score off the dribble or coming off the screen. He is amazing in transition. He is the go-to-scorer in late shot clock situations. He plays great as the primary scorer with the bench unit. His time as the backup PG has helped him be a decent playmaker. His defense has also improved pretty dramatically. I have been so impressed with Zach. He was the biggest question mark coming into the season. Could he actually be a consistent 3rd option and fit in as a starter? He has proven he can be. Zach’s emergence has kept me optimistic about the future. I would not be opposed to experimenting with him coming off the bench as the 6th man later in the season, but not sure if he would welcome that approach.

Kris Dunn’s defense is awesome. Kris Dunn is incredibly fun to watch, especially on defense. There is always a place on a team for a guard who can play defense. Dunn has the potential to be a lockdown defense like Patrick Beverly. You can never have enough of those guys. I know his offense has been suspect, but it will take time to develop. Regardless, he is already the best perimeter defender on the team.

The big three is only 21 years old. There is a lot of time left. I hope they develop better chemistry on the floor but there is still room to develop that. Towns, Wiggins and LaVine all average over 20 points per game through 30 games and they are only 21 years old. That means they have a ton of talent and they are in desperate need of support. The Wolves will have more opportunities to add a better supporting cast. In the mean time, I never thought I would say this, but we should really ‘trust the process’.

Regardless of the outcome, Wolves fans should really attempt to take in this storm of a season against the Thunder tonight. There is a lot to be disappointed in this season but also much reason to be optimistic. Enjoy the jerseys. Enjoy the shoes. Enjoy the Russell Westbrook triple-double. Enjoy it all!

The Timber Rebuilder.  #Powerofthepack

 

Glen Taylor allegedly refused to sell the Wolves to KG

Following KG’s instagram account, he revealed some interesting news in the comments section. We all know that there was some sort of feud that played out behind the scenes between Glen Taylor and Kevin Garnett that led to KG retiring before playing the most seasons of all-time. When a fan asked KG on Instagram, he responded below:

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Garnett eludes that he tried buying (assuming a part) of the Franchise from Glen Taylor. And according to KG, Taylor refused to sell.

Because we are a blog, social media serves as news. We are hoping some reporters can dig further into this…

The Timber Rebuilder.

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.

 

Experts not crazy about the Dieng deal, we disagree

Coming into work today I listened to a podcast like I usually do. I typically will listen to someone like Zach Lowe or Wolves’ fans favorite Dougie Wolfson. I have a personal NBA favorite in Nate Duncan, who hosts the Dunc’d on podcast with Danny Leroux. They are ‘Cap Space’ experts but also do a wonderful job breaking down games. They go super in-depth and are super nerdy. I can relate.

They analyzed the Gorgui Dieng extension, which he signed with the Wolves for 4-years and $64M. Many Wolves fans rejoiced, as it was a steal compared to what we expected for him to be able to sign this summer. One thing that Wolves fans have noted, rightfully so, is that big men are still getting paid big bucks. We saw the deals that Timofey Mozgov, Ian Mahinmi and Bismack Biyombo signed this summer. With the cap increase playing a factor as well, Wolves fans valued Gorgui Dieng right around, if not higher, than those bigs that got paid.

I typically always respect and agree with Nate Duncan and Danny. I couldn’t agree on this one. I call them experts here even though they may not be the names you hear everyday if you’re an average basketball fan. But they definitely know their stuff. They felt that Dieng could’ve potentially got this deal in the summer when he hit restricted free agency. The reasons they call that out is because Dieng would have a cap hold of around 250%-300% his current salary, which is not too high. We could’ve also used it to sign two other starters or one starter and a bench guy with our $40M in cap space this summer.

They also didn’t like it due to Dieng’s age, who will be 27 by next season. The contracts that were given out to those on rookie-scale contracts were mainly to 23-year-old players who will play most of their extension into and in their primes. A lot of the money given to guys like Adams and Oladipo was based on potential. Dennis Schroeder got an extension for $70M and they felt if he developed into an average point guard, he was worth the money.

One of my concerns for extending Dieng was absolutely his age. I made it clear on Twitter. He isn’t worth going $90M if a guy like Adams is getting $100M because of age. But for $64M, you can lock up a fringe-starting center in the new NBA. Dieng has proven himself as someone who can start at Center but also be effective off the bench. Because the Wolves do not have a power forward, Dieng is the starter at Center for the foreseeable future, with Towns at the 4.

Although the Wolves did sign Dieng to a contract into his 30s, they have essentially locked him up through his prime. They will likely get his best production over the next three seasons. They are paying for what he is now and not what he can be in three years, this is a less-risky route. Gorgui has proven he can fit into many roles and still be effective. He is usually a net-positive player on the floor, so having him do this for another 3 years at least is worth the contract he signed.

The criticism around Dieng’s position, alongside Towns, was another criticism. Signing a player to a long-term contract that plays the same position essentially as your best player isn’t smart for how you use your cap space. This is absolutely true. Dieng was criticized that he can’t shoot by Duncan, which I don’t believe is true. Dieng has had a very solid midrange shot (shot 46% from 10-15ft last season). He isn’t a stretch-player necessarily, but he does spread the floor well, above average for a center. Dieng, is also a very good free throw shooter, which is very rare for a big man.

In the next four years, the Wolves will need to find a starting power forward who can stretch the floor and defend. In the meantime though, the Wolves have a solid security blanket in the frontcourt if they don’t find that player right away or if Towns ever gets hurt.

Dieng has also produced more on the court, in a lesser role, than Steven Adams thus far. Yes, Adams is younger and a better defender. But Dieng did just sign for nearly $40M less. Looking at their numbers, you can see that Dieng has averaged more points, rebounds, and blocks per game through his career.

Rk,Player,From,To,G,GS,MP,FG,FGA,FG%,3P,3PA,3P%,2P,2PA,2P%,eFG%,FT,FTA,FT%,ORB,DRB,TRB,AST,STL,BLK,TOV,PF,PTS
1,Steven Adams\adamsst01,2014,2017,234,170,21.7,2.5,4.5,.561,0.0,0.0,.000,2.5,4.5,.562,.561,1.3,2.3,.557,2.4,3.6,6.0,0.7,0.5,1.0,1.1,2.8,6.3
2,Gorgui Dieng\dienggo01,2014,2017,217,105,24.4,3.2,6.2,.516,0.0,0.1,.276,3.1,6.0,.521,.519,2.1,2.7,.780,2.3,4.7,7.0,1.5,0.9,1.3,1.5,2.4,8.5

There is some concern about cap flexibility in the future. That is fair. But at some point, the Wolves need solid role players surrounding Towns and Wiggins. This was the first step in that direction. I am certain that Dieng would’ve received a larger paycheck had he waited for the summer. Thibodeau has also loved Dieng since his days in Chicago. It is hard to come by a big man that has Dieng’s skill set and also his character. Dieng is a hard worker, willing to take any role the team gives him, and wants to win.

Dieng’s character is a big factor in why keeping Dieng around instead of looking to free agency made more sense. Dieng won a championship while at Louisville. Dieng has led the Senegal National Team each summer, in which he usually dominates in International competition. Dieng is also a guy who invests a ton in his home country of Senegal, which this contract will absolutely help those efforts. Dieng is the type of ‘character-guy’ you want on your team and you want your young players to be surrounded by. A lot of time those things are overlooked in analyzing these extensions. Dieng reminds me of Nick Collision with the Thunder. It would be great if Dieng spent the rest of his career here in Minnesota.