Wolves Fans: Don’t Buy into the Hype

USP NBA: UTAH JAZZ AT MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES S BKN USA MN
Mar 30, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) blocks Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) in the second quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-188444 ORIG FILE ID: 20150330_mta_ai9_073.JPG

Hey Wolves fans – long time no talk! Its been an exciting offseason in which the amount of hype for the Timberwolves has be inconceivable . Why you may ask? Well, the Wolves have one of the most talented rosters in the league with one of the best coaches in league making a return after a year sabbatical. The Wolves have back-to-back Rookies of the year, a two-time dunk champion and a few other former first-round picks all acquired in the last three years. Their talent-level and potential are amongst the best in the league and they are all incredibly fun to watch.

Die-hard Wolves fans have followed Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine develop a nice chemistry over the summer while working out. Fans have enjoyed watching Andrew Wiggins workout videos in which he is adding to his game and having interviews where he says the Wolves will make the playoffs.  Wolves fans saw Kris Dunn dominate in the summer league and then Tyus Jones lead the team to the finals with a Summer League MVP. Wolves fans followed Coach Thibodeau win a gold medal and Ricky Rubio win a bronze medal. Wolves fans were also encouraged that most of the team did not participate in International play this summer to improve their games, namely Wiggins, Dieng and Bjelica.

There is a lot of reason to get excited. The Wolves are finally getting noticed. There will be 19 nationally televised games this upcoming season and the Wolves will finally play on Christmas! Gambling experts in Vegas also have set the Wolves as having the fourth best odds to winning the Western Conference! How can you NOT buy into the hype, right?

Kevin Pelton ran his RPM Forecast though and put the Wolves 11th in West with 37 wins on the season. The forecast doesn’t account for coaching changes, which should probably get the Wolves a few more wins in general. This may be the other end of the spectrum with the forecast, having the Wolves behind the Nuggets and Thunder this season. Although the forecast is fairly accurate most seasons, it is just that, a forecast. The forecast had some ridiculous predictions like the Jazz being the 3rd best in the West, Thunder at 6th and Nuggets at 8th.

There is no question, this is the most excited I have been in a while for a season as a Timberwolves fan. I also understand that it is a process. A question I think all fans will need to ask themselves is ‘Will I be disappointed if the Timberwolves don’t make the playoffs?’ If you answered yes, then you may need to check your hype-o-meter. Take a step back and understand that the road to success is typically a bumpy one. Here are some factors to take into consideration:

The Wolves are still young and inexperienced.

The Timberwolves are putting all of their hope in a bunch of guys who can’t rent a car without an underage fee. The talent and potential is there. The issue lay in the mental game. The pup-pack (nickname I am now using instead of saying KAT, Wiggy, LaVine, Dunn, and rest of the young wolf pack) have their heads held high making playoff predictions because they don’t know better. They haven’t face calamity yet. They haven’t played regular season games that had real meaning yet. In all likelihood, the Wolves will end the season with a starting lineup that has 5 guys who have never played a playoff game. I don’t have the research, but history would likely prove that teams like that don’t make it too far. The logical progression in my head is that the Wolves compete for a playoff first, before making it officially. Ideally, this season plays out similar to how the Jazz’s season played out last year.

There were no major acquisitions.

Cole Aldrich. Jordan Hill. Brandon Rush. In a summer where money was more available than tech help in India, the Wolves couldn’t get a major free agent to sign. All three players will add value and depth to the team and they are all low-risk contracts. That is an absolute win. The Wolves didn’t ‘overpay’ anyone, which is good. But the Wolves also didn’t add any talent that would help the Wolves win more games. They struck out multiple times with guys that could’ve come in and help at least make a significant improvement to the roster. Because of this, the Wolves improvement really relies on what Coach Thibs can do in his first year and the progression of the young guys.

Thibs needs time to teach his system.

A good segway. I think there is good certainty in that the Wolves young guys are going to improve. There isn’t the same certainty in that the team picks up on Thibs’ scheme in the first season. The experience factor kicks in again here where it may not be the easiest to just pick up a new coach’s schemes and run it flawlessly in game situations. There will certainly be growing pains. Literally and figuratively with Thibodeau. Especially with the pup-pack. It may feel like a rookie year all over again for guys who don’t have a high basketball IQ. Thibodeau does not have an active veteran who understands his system that can help implement it like a Jimmy Butler or Luol Deng would’ve been able to do. It is going to take some time to learn. Luckily for the Timberwolves, they have time.

The only major change has been some media hype.

Man – the bandwagon is starting to feel like a freight train. Fans from all over are loving the Timberwolves, including the National Media. As OG Wolves fans, we are welcoming them all with open arms. But the anticipation to see KAT and Wiggins play for Tom Thibodeau is beginning to make people become a little over-ambitious. This Wolves roster is much more of a journey than it is a destination right now.

Injuries could be a problem.

Prior to last season, the Wolves were constantly having injury problems. Insert Arnie Kander. In his one season, he helped Ricky Rubio stay fairly healthy for a season and we even saw some run from a Nikola Pekovic, who should probably be retired. Now, exit Arnie Kander. Insert Tom Thibodeau. Thibs is known to make his guys work. Not a criticism. But it is something I think most Wolves fans will monitor this season. Injuries can set any team back. So just something to point out.

Other teams in the west got better too

The Wolves got better but there are other teams that really got better. The Jazz got a consistent starting point guard in George Hill who fits in perfectly there. The Blazers and Pelicans added some nice talent. I expected the Grizzlies to fall off but they ended up keeping Mike Conley and adding Chandler Parsons. If they can stay healthy with Marc Gasol, they could be pretty good. There are going to be 8 spots for probably 11 teams that have a legitimate shot at competing at them.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know! Get in touch with us on Twitter or Facebook!

The Timber Rebuilder

Advertisements

A Dunn Deal?

Ci34D_dUkAAP5I4

The title is cliché, but wanted to take the opportunity to use it before it was over-Dunn. Get it? Yes I did it again. A quick shout out to @kadung1 for his tremendous Wolves photoshop work as well. He put together the image. Go give him a follow on Twitter. 

The Wolves have the 5th pick, officially. So the smoke is finally beginning to clear. The Wolves will likely shop the pick but it should be of no surprise to any executives in the league that this is a two-man draft. In comparison to other years, the value of a lottery pick may be low due to natural supply and demand. Many teams in the lottery, especially the Boston Celtics, will look to trade their picks. There is also a group of prospects between 3 and probably 15 where they are merely the same level of talent. 

One prospect that is becoming more and more intriguing by the day is Kris Dunn. I will be the first to admit, I wasn’t a fan midway through the season. I still think there are some major holes in his game. He can’t shoot and I believe he made a living of taking advantage of his size to get to the basket. What is also concerning is that he has had a series of shoulder injuries in his career. His camp has already declined to provide information on his physical to Boston and Phoenix, the two teams picking before the Wolves. It could be strategic since both the Celtics and Suns have point guards that are foundational to their franchises. 

Before diving into this discussion, Britt Robson wrote something similar, but I still had a good amount I wanted to get off of my chest. Please check out his piece. 

Why is Dunn growing on me? For a few reasons. First off, I love defense. More important than that is Thibs loves defense. If the Wolves keep their pick, I have to imagine that the player that is drafted is a player that can play defense. Dunn is a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year where he averaged 2.6 steals this last season. Dunn’s 6-4 athletic frame paired with a 6-10 wingspan is something that could disrupt opposing ball handlers.

Dunn also can rebound, pass and score. Not only was he the Defensive Player of the Year, but he was also the back-to-back Big East Player of the Year. This season he averaged 16.4ppg, 6.4apg and 5.2rpg. His advanced stats are also nice. He has an offensive rating of 106 and defensive rating of 95 while having a 28% usage over the last two seasons. What really makes him stand out though is that his offensive and defensive Win Share and Box-Plus-Minus are basically equal. That means he is a damn good two-way player. To be honest, he may be the best two-way player in the draft. 

Dunn is also growing on me because I really dislike risk, especially in the draft. Dunn is an experienced player who has played two seasons at a high-level. He is one of the most NBA-ready players entering the draft. At 22, he can still grow with the other Wolves young players. He could be a starter in the league but could also have a Marcus Smart-type of role for the Wolves. 

Speaking of his role, there is a reason why Dunn is eyeing the Wolves roster. He isn’t only interested in the plethora of talent that is on the roster. He believes he can break into the rotation and earn a significant role with the team. Before withdrawing his name from the draft last season, DraftExpress.com projected Dunn to be the 13th pick in the draft. You know whom that is ahead of? The 24th pick, Tyus Jones. You have to imagine that Kris Dunn’s camp is eying Tyus Jones current role as the backup point guard. Dunn can score and defend better than Jones and both are probably at the same level in terms of being a ‘floor general.’ 

The other thing that isn’t mentioned enough is Ricky Rubio’s future. A disclaimer is that I love Ricky. I am a part of the problem though. I can’t imagine this team as performing better without Ricky Rubio. Dunn could be the future starting point guard of the Wolves. And if he is capable of being that, as Robson mentioned, it’s a good problem to have. There is the possibility that Rubio and Dunn can coincide in smaller lineups or in a ‘death’ defensive lineup with Rubio/Dunn/Wiggins/ Dieng/ KAT. 

The reality of the situation is that, the Wolves don’t really need another wing or another sub-par power forward. The Wolves could use some consistency and security at point guard. Picking Dunn could mean that Shabazz has a future for at least another season with the Wolves. Dunn’s scoring could also be extremely helpful off of the bench alongside Shabazz. Adding Dunn is making more sense by the day.

A Long Term View of the Wolves to Clear up the Short Term

When I disagree with the majority of Wolves fans on a subject, it typically inspires me to write. The stance on the Al Horford is one of those instances. While I love Horford as a player and  a mentor for his Dominican brother Karl-Anthony Towns, I generally don’t see him as a great fit for a couple reasons that aren’t necessarily related to his style of play. Horford is a great player and would definitely serve as a great mentor for the young pups. He is an anchor defensively and can stretch the defense with his shooting ability. He also managed to win a national championship in college dealing with Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer on the team. That is truly impressive.

The reason for being against Horford is long-winded. It took me down a path of the long-term outlook of the team. The team is young and could go in a multitude of directions over the next five years. But its important to look at the roster’s cap space and how it aligns with what the team is attempting to accomplish in that given season. What the team may be thinking about as a top priorities in a given season. Its very idealistic.

To do this, I have to assume a consistent career trajectory for the young players. I have to assume career-changing injuries don’t happen. I have to assume extremely significant moves aren’t made on a year-to-year basis. The outlook is focused on how the current players and assets play into the future. So it’s hard to do. But we will take a stab at it given what we know. First, here are the players’ salaries drawn out through 2019-2020. That is only four seasons from now. (via HoopsHype.com)

PLAYER NAME 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21
Ricky Rubio $12,700,000 $13,400,000 $14,100,000 $14,800,000 $0 $0
Nikola Pekovic $12,100,000 $12,100,000 $11,600,000 $0 $0 $0
Kevin Garnett $8,500,000 $8,000,000 $0 $0 $0 $0
Kevin Martin $7,085,000 $3,336,000 $0 $0 $0 $0
Andrew Wiggins $5,758,680 $6,006,600 $7,574,322 $9,846,619 $0 $0
Karl-Anthony Towns $5,703,600 $5,960,160 $6,216,840 $7,839,435 $10,191,265 $0
Nemanja Bjelica $3,950,000 $3,800,000 $3,950,000 $0 $0 $0
Anthony Bennett $3,650,000 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
Zach LaVine $2,148,360 $2,240,880 $3,202,217 $4,428,666 $0 $0
Shabazz Muhammad $2,056,920 $3,046,299 $4,237,401 $0 $0 $0
Adreian Payne $1,938,840 $2,022,240 $3,100,093 $4,333,931 $0 $0
Tayshaun Prince $1,499,187 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
Gorgui Dieng $1,474,440 $2,348,782 $3,384,596 $0 $0 $0
Tyus Jones $1,282,080 $1,339,680 $1,397,400 $2,444,052 $3,573,204 $0
Damjan Rudez $1,149,500 $1,199,000 $0 $0 $0 $0
Andre Miller $1,093,525 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
Greg Smith $197,111 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
TOTALS $72,287,243 $63,600,641 $29,650,000 $14,800,000 $0 $0
We will look at seasons in the view of what the team is trying to accomplish as of the off-season. A few things to note. This is a rough outlook. I am not taking exact figures to project anything, just a broad forecast. There will be a lot of generalizations about dollar figures that may not be completely accurate. I am also not a salary cap expert. Just throwing paint and seeing where it sticks. So here we go..

2016-17 Season

Goal: Make the Playoffs

Priorities: Development of Players.

There is no doubt that for the next season the Wolves will want to make the playoffs. The team is young but with a coach like Thibs, its possible to make it happen. The playoff experience in this season would be extremely valuable for the young guys down the road. They will get to taste what it’s like. They will get to build on it for the future. So Thibs and Scott Layden have to be thinking that adding a couple veterans to the team could help boost the Wolves into the 8th spot. Using Flip’s model of mentoring, getting guys that can contribute and teach will be a top priority in Free Agency.

Thibodeau has said the Wolves will acquire players that align with the trajectory of the current roster. So this leads me to believe that whatever player that is signed/ traded for either is young enough to grow with the Wolves or old enough to contribute for two seasons max and fall off the books before the slew of contract extensions begin. This is precisely why I don’t believe Al Horford is the guy for the job. Horford is 29 and has a history of injuries that have plagued his career. With the cap increasing, Horford will seek Max dollars for a long time. With Horford in his prime now, he will regress as his salary increases. I wouldn’t be opposed to offering a Max contract to Horford if he were willing to take one for two, maybe even three years. But if I am Horford, I can get a four-year max offer or better in many places due to the Salary Cap increase.

Speaking on the Salary Cap increase quickly. The entire league more or less has cap space. The Wolves will have a maximum of $28M available this summer. That is going to lead to many players getting overpaid. The value of money is less when everyone has it, right? Save the cap space for someone worth it. KD would definitely be worth it. Other than that though, stick to the plan and focus on making the playoffs.

So who fits into helping the Wolves making the playoffs without burning a hole in our pockets? If I am the Wolves, I am looking at Luol Deng and Jamal Crawford. Deng has been impressive playing the stretch four and has a history with Thibs. His defense is great and a very good 3-point shooter. Outside of Crawford being LaVine’s mentor with their connection to Seattle, Thibs has historically been a fan of Jamal Crawford. Crawford could help the Wolves scoring off the bench and step into the 1 or 2 as needed. A combination of these two guys fill some gaps for the Wolves. They also compliment the team if they decide to trade the 5th pick and Shabazz, as I suggest in my piece for last week.
What to do with Shabazz Muhammad is going to be something figured out over the course of the coming summer and/ or the 16-17 season. Where does he fit on the bench and in his role. Can he defend to be a net-positive player? Can the Wolves maximize his trade value? To me, he seems most valuable packaged alongside a draft pick if being traded. But I also think his ability to score off the bench will be necessary going forward, at least in the short-run.
2017-18 Season
Goal: Make the Playoffs, maybe advance
Priorities: Compete, Development, Retain Dieng
Summer after year 1 with Thibodeau. Fans expectations will likely become a little more realistic. We will also have a better idea of what this team is actually capable of. It will likely be the end of KG’s career, which financially means $8M will open up in cap space. If the Wolves follow the formula of getting cheap, formidable veterans in 16-17, they could potentially make a big splash in free agency this summer to make a push in 17-18. Things to note: LaVine and Wiggins will be 22 prior to the season and Towns will be 21.
A big decision will be what happens with Gorgui Dieng. How does he fit as a piece of the puzzle. Dieng will be 27 prior to the season and will likely look for a contract extension during the 16-17 season or will enter restricted free agency. Seeing a decent amount of cap space in the summer before 17-18, the Wolves could offer a contract similar to what Ricky Rubio received. Dieng will likely be a starter or at least an important part of the Wolves’ rotation. I can see him getting overpaid here, but offers enough to almost deserve it. The question will be, will he get a max contract? Again, this depends on many outcomes of the 16-17 season. But from a Wolves perspective, that may be a trap. The Wolves will need to extend LaVine, Wiggins and Towns who are 5-6 years younger.
The Wolves will likely have some trade bait. Depending on the league cap space environment and what happens between now and then, Nikola Pekovic will be on the final year of his contract for the 17-18 season. If there is a team looking for cap space then and the Wolves can benefit from taking on a contract of equal value to help them in the playoffs, it may be worth considering.

2018-19 Season
Goal: Compete for Western Conference Title
Priorities: Retain Talent
If we do the math, LaVine/ Wiggins will be 23 and Towns 22. This seems so far away but yet these guys stay so young. If you are still reading this from the top, you are awesome and this is why the Horford signing would be problematic. The Wolves will have a lot of extensions to start thinking about prior to the 18-19 summer. Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine would potentially be restricted free agents this summer if not already extended. Chances are Andrew Wiggins would receive a max contract and Zach LaVine close to that. Cap Space will be of essence to retain these guys. The only guys under contract as of now would be Towns, Tyus Jones and Ricky Rubio.
Rubio will be moving into the final year of his contract. He will be 27 going into the 18-19 season. It will be known at this point whether he is a part of the future of the franchise. Health and shooting will be big factors to deciding that by this point. If he proves he is a significant contributor to the success of this team, he will likely look for near max money. Ideally, whoever is signed in the summer of 2016 will be expired by now. Dieng could be taking in a significant amount of money and if the Wolves did replace Pekovic’s salary, there may not be enough pie to go around with LaVine and Wiggins.
Here is where the VERY rough estimates start getting thrown around: Wiggins at $20M, LaVine at $20M, Dieng at $17M, Towns at $8M, and two others accounting for, lets say, $10M (one being Tyus at $3M). That is $75M for 6 players alone. The league will likely have a salary cap of over $108M since the cap is projected to be around that for the 17-18 season once the new CBA is agreed upon.
Long story short, that leaves no less than $33M for the remaining 9 players on the Wolves roster, knowing the team will likely need to extend Towns to a max contract the next summer. This means, for Rubio to remain with the Wolves after this season, he will not be able to get a max contract. So this will be an interesting headline if and when we get to it.

2019-20 Season
Goal: Championship
Priorities: Retain Towns, development
I won’t go into too much depth here but before this summer will be finding a way to keep Towns long-term. The Wolves core will be entering their very early prime years. This is no excuse to not compete nonetheless. The Wolves have to believe that prior to the 19-20 season, if all things go right, they should be competing for a championship.
Chances are the Wolves have a ton of players we can’t predict will be on the roster at this point. So the development of role players, preferably younger, will be important since the Wolves will have money tied up.

Conclusion: If all goes well, the Wolves will not have all the flexibility in the world if they look to hold on to Wiggins, LaVine, Towns, and Dieng. But if they all develop, it may make sense to keep that team together. What we do see is that free agency decisions we make this summer, do impact what the Wolves do in what should be a pivotal summer prior to the 18-19 season when the Wolves should be competing. Ideally whoever the Wolves target this summer are short term boosts that don’t have long-term salary implications.

2015-16 Season Review and Takeaways

usa-today-8956594.0Its done. Another season over. It probably won’t hit us until the finals are over. But now, we wait until another season kicks off next October. Our young pups one year older and hopefully a storied head coach to lead the pack. I will say, it was one of the most exciting seasons for the Wolves, maybe ever. But to look back, we will look at what we learned and what we can look forward to. Please support by sharing, retweeting and liking this. It will mean the world!

Another season wraps up and it is again another season the Wolves don’t make the playoffs, hence the blog name. It is now 12 consecutive seasons without making the playoffs. The Wolves finish the season at 29 -53. While many saw Sam Mitchell‘s magic number as 27 wins, he was immediately relieved of his interim coaching duties just an hour after the game. A portion of this review would’ve been to understand what happens with coach Mitchell, but that has been decided already.

A review is not a review unless it has something to measure against, thus, we used our Season Preview Here as the basis of our analysis. How did the Wolves perform against expectations that we personally had when the season started? Here were the keys to success and the bold predictions.

Keys to Success:

  • Get the Young Pups Minutes, together.
  • You have Veterans, Use them. (Unofficial mentors, change Martin’s role, Pek rough up guys)
  • Compete!
  • Develop Roles Now
  • Find a Diamond in the Rough

Get the Young Pups Minutes, together. It was a long season. It wasn’t until X amount of games into the season did we see the starting lineup of Rubio/ LaVine/ Wiggins/ Dieng/ Towns. It remains incomplete of seeing how Shabazz looks as a small ball four. Earlier in the season as well, there was no logic around the limited minutes that Towns was receiving. All that said, Wiggins and Towns got a majority of their minutes together as the top two scorers on the team. LaVine had been up and down, but mainly up since the All-Star break. Especially in the last stretch of games on the final road trip, the Wolves strung together 3-straight encouraging wins. One over the Warriors, another for the season sweep of the Kings, and the final one on a buzzer beater by Towns against Portland. I won’t say the Wolves did as good as they could’ve done in this aspect, it definitely wasn’t a failure. I hate when opportunities are lost. There were many games in which Kevin Martin or Tayshaun Prince were starting and it didn’t make sense for this season or next. But its finally coming together.. The Wolves get a Pass grade here.

You have Veterans, Use them. I think the Wolves re-engineered how rebuilds should work in this aspect. While Andre Miller ripped the Wolves as an organization, the Wolves leveraged the abilities and experiences the veterans on the roster had until they could literally take the training wheels off (releasing K-Mart and Andre Miller) and let the young pups roam freely. Garnett can be partially credited for the emergence of KAT as their personalities seem to mesh. I look forward to the day that Towns begins to talk trash and can make references to Honey Nut Cheerios in an offensive manner to discourage his opponents. While Pek didn’t get the opportunity to play much, I am sure he roughed up a few of the kids this season. Tayshaun Prince has also been a class act. While it will probably be his only season here, he played his role to the fullest, whether it was starting or off the bench. He was an absolute professional. All in all, I believe this was a huge bright spot this season. I am sure it will pay dividends in the future.

Compete! The Wolves started and ended the season competing. The Wolves were at one point 8-8 and ended the season 4-1. The team is capable of competing. Something happened in the middle of the season and it wasn’t pretty. The Wolves just kept on losing. That said, they weren’t getting blown out as often as they had in previous seasons. They would make a lot of come backs and blow a lot of leads. That is understandable for  a young team. The learning curve is still there in pulling out tight games. Had they done that, the Wolves could’ve probably won 10 more games.

Develop Roles Now. The only roles that were truly developed were that of Towns, Wiggins, and maybe LaVine. Rubio is still on the fringe of ‘am I a part of this thing?’ or not. LaVine looks to be fitting into the starting 2-guard spot but its highly dependent upon Rubio playing alongside him and then being able to play more consistently in the future. Shabazz and Dieng’s roles are still in flux. Bjelica is still a question mark. Unfortunately the questions going into the season were answered with questions going out.

Find a Diamond in the Rough. My hope is Bjelica or Jones would surprise this season. Maybe even Payne. But they didn’t. There is still hope for Bjelica and Jones though. More so for Jones. They weren’t able to get lucky. My hope is the Wolves dig deep this offseason and find a free agent that can provide some value off the bench next season. I am a personal fan of James Ennis, but thats a random suggestion.

 

Bold Predictions:

  • Wolves don’t make the playoffs. End season 39-43. Will probably laugh at this in April.
  • Zach LaVine becomes starting SG by the end of the year
  • Dieng becomes a starter by the end of the year
  • Muhammad get consideration for 6th Man of the Year
  • Wiggins is an All-Star (More so due to All-Star game being in Toronto)
  • Sam Mitchell will last this season
  • Karl Towns will be a top three consideration for ROY

I got a few of these right. The Wolves didn’t make the playoffs but also over predicted the wins. I do believe had the Wolves played like they have at the end of the season, in the middle of the season, there is no reason why they couldn’t have won 10 more games. They lost over 20 within 5 points. But to win 29 games this season is above their Vegas odds which is alright. The expectations grew nonetheless as the Wolves finished the season strong. A lot more eyes will be on what happens next season.

Just tracking Zach LaVine this season would be a good indication of how the season went. LaVine entered the pre-season as the starting shooting guard and then started the season as the backup point guard. Rubio would get injured early on which pushed LaVine into the starting lineup again as the Point Guard. Rubio would come back and then LaVine went back to the bench. The Wolves then went on a long stretch of the season struggling with coach Mitchell juggling Kevin Martin and Tayshaun Prince in the starting lineup alongside LaVine. It became evident that for LaVine to be successful, he needed to play alongside Rubio. Time went on and dunk contests were won, then LaVine found and cemented his role as the starting shooting guard. LaVine did this by adding a lot of scoring, an impressive 3-point shot, and flashes of decent defense. His shot selection remains questionable but these were huge strides for Zach. He heads into next season as the likely starter again.

Gorgui Dieng also found his way into the starting lineup. It was partially deserved and partially opportune. Garnett rested for a majority of the second half of the season with a knee injury, which left an incredible hole at the power forward position. Bjelica would’ve been the guy to step in but he also suffered a mysterious leg injury around the All-Star break and probably a serious breakup with how shot his confidence was. While Dieng didn’t necessarily come out and prove that he is the starting power forward of the future, he did show just how versatile he can be. Dieng finally has a more defined role. He is the glue guy in the front court. He fills in and does what is needed. You need rim protection and rebounds? This is your guy. Sprinkle in a couple threes? Why not. Most importantly, Dieng proved that he can co-exist with Karl-Anthony Towns. This will prove his value and likely earn him a contract extension next season. The interesting thing about Dieng is his numbers are down from last season but seems like he has improved greatly over the course of this year. He still has some questionable moments on the court, but I think he can be a long-term fit here in Minnesota.

Shabazz Muhammad. I was wrong on this one. No consideration for 6th man of the year. Although Shabazz was amongst the top bench scorers this season (6th best in the league), he couldn’t find a consistent role on the team. He struggled with sharing the ball and his body language always indicated he was off. Maybe it was Sam Mitchell? Who knows. Shabazz played a key role in a few games nonetheless, especially in the win over the Warriors where he scored 35 points. But going into next season, it is contract extension or free agency for Bazz so I am sure his name will be on the hot stove this summer. Regardless, I still believe he has significant talent. But his potential may not be realized in Minnesota. #FreeShabazz

Wiggins wasn’t an All Star either. Strike 2. I was swinging for the fences. But I expected a breakout season and some home court advantage. Wiggins improved on his scoring but not much else. Wiggins will at some point need to fill in the void of not having a ‘3 and D’ guy on the team. Once Wiggins can prove he can be amongst the best defensively, it will be hard to call him an All-Star. A few wins might help as well.

‘Sam Mitchell will last this season.’ Has a prediction ever been more accurate? I was off by one hour. Sam Mitchell lasted this season and an hour of the offseason. Sam Mitchell had an up and down season. Mitchell started the season belittling any external opinion about the team and getting angry at anyone who asked him a question. Then there was the stretch in which the Wolves couldn’t buy a win and the questions began to swirl as to would he complete the season. Completing the season made sense, why fire a guy where it could rock the boat with the young core at such a crucial stage in their careers? Sam then began to prove himself, it seemed like after the Milwaukee Bucks loss in which he sat the starters for a majority of the second half to prove a point. I was a skeptic about this game for sure.  But the team turned it around after that and ended the season winning four of their last five. Mitchell will likely move on and be an assistant coach somewhere. He did what he could and I believe he truly helped the young guys grow this season. But when the pool of available coaches is as good as it is and the team is as attractive of a job as it is right now, a change on the bench was necessary. It will be interesting to see what happens with the external firm that will look to fill the positions of head coach and POBO.

The final prediction. Karl Towns being in the top 3 of the ROY candidates. This was like dropping a pen from eye-level and predicting it would hit the ground. Towns blew the ROY competition out of the water and made his way into history this season. The only comparable rookies to Towns in history are Shaq and Tim Duncan. The numbers don’t lie. Towns finished the season averaging 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.7 blocks, 54% field goal, 34% 3-point, 81% free throws, and 51 double-doubles on the year. Towns broke almost every record imaginable for a rookie in franchise history. The best part though? His attitude. Karl-Anthony Towns is a culture changer. And to do that for a franchise that has not made the playoffs for 12 consecutive seasons is special. Watching KAT play this season alongside the other young pups made the losing bearable. It was a joy to watch him play this season. He was absolutely versatile and played like a seasoned-veteran. There are no words to describe how good he played, but it was beautiful to see it happen over the span of 82 games. Towns will go on to win Rookie of the Year but I also believe he should receive consideration for All-NBA 3rd team.

Takeaways:

While it was another losing season, it was far from disappointing. What did we learn? What can we take away?

Towns and Wiggins are going to be special. For a long time. Towns may be the perfect compliment to Wiggins and vice versa. Both still have holes in their games but its nothing some hard work over the summer and a few more seasons of experience can’t fix. Towns will need to learn to defend better on pick-and-rolls and on the perimeter. He has shown that he can do it but hasn’t shown he can do it consistently. Wiggins also needs to improve defensively. Wiggins also has a major need to improve his 3-point shot. Both guys did things great in creating their own shots. Wiggins also got to the line at will. Moving forward, both guys will need to be more consistent and take their games to the next level. Easy to say from my perspective. Regardless, these two should be something special with the right team and right coach around them.

LaVine, the sky’s the limit. In terms of his potential and his ability to leap, his only limitation is the sky. LaVine has improved tremendously over this season and should be the starting shooting guard for this team long term. His three point shot and defense improved, things that were necessarily for him to see consistent minutes. He can score at will when the opportunity it there. The hope is next season, he gets stronger and smarter. Also hope that he can shoot at the rate he did in the second half of this season. Defensively, he is growing into a non-liability. If LaVine can figure out how to be a net positive player on the defensive end, I will put him up there with Towns and Wiggins.

Rubio is healthy and necessary. Rubio can’t shoot. And the team should proceed with the assumption that he may never be able to shoot. But he does provide a positive impact on the floor. The Wolves are +18 when he is on the floor for the season. He is a great defender, great facilitator, and creates points for his team. He can hit the occasional three. The concern is floor stretching when he is out there, but he will keep teams honest in the clutch. Plus, Rubio is a winner. I am sure there will be Rubio trade rumors swirling this summer, but I think he just provides more value than can be received for him via trade. Lastly, and most importantly, Rubio was healthy. He seemed to miss more games than expected because Ernie Kander is a genius at what he does. The ‘injury-prone’ tag is on pause for now with Rubio. Next season will be a true test for Ricky. He put up numbers that were mainly consistent to what he has done every year, but if he can improve those numbers next season while staying healthy, he will have earned his paycheck.

There’s a huge hole at the 4. We knew Anthony Bennett was garbage. But turns out Payne is as well. Payne likely won’t work out here and probably needs to play elsewhere where he can develop a role. Bjelica didn’t perform to expectations, although the final five games he began to turn things around. I think Bjelica still can be the four on this team, but it would be a huge risk. Garnett is being a paid mentor at this point. The issue is there are four power forwards on the roster and none are capable, consistent starters. My guess is Rudez and Payne will be gone and replaced by a fringe starter that can help stretch the floor.

Shabazz has value. Don’t waste it. Something needs to be done with Shabazz. He either needs to be dealt this summer or has a role carved out for him in which he can thrive in. I still have hope that he can be an asset off of the bench and an energy guy. But he needs to be in a situation in which he can make mistakes and the team can live with his style of play. If those are not things that can be compromised, Shabazz should be traded in which he still has trade value around the league. Shabazz could be packaged with the 1st rounder in which it could really bring back some value to a fringe-playoff team that is looking to get a head start on rebuilding (OKC, Houston, Washington DC, Dallas).

The Wolves still need shooters. This seems like a problem for the Wolves since Fred Hoiberg retired. Maybe re-sign Anthony Peeler this summer? I am sure he can still shoot. Regardless how this void is filled, it needs to be addressed because the league is moving at a faster pace that the Wolves are moving. A practical solution to this would make this an incredible focus for the core guys on the roster. Rubio, Wiggins and Muhammad were bad this season. If two of them can be average shooters, that can be step one. Then a continuation of LaVine and Towns’ shooting improvements is more progress. Bjelica can be the 3-point specialist needed if he has the confidence. Then of course there is the draft and free agency, which is filled with 3-point shooters. Hield and Murray make sense in the draft and then Teletovic can make sense in free agency.

Tyus can still fit. I was very critical early on of Tyus Jones. He isn’t fast or athletic enough to hang with point guards at this level. But he proved that he could stay afloat in the second half of the season when Andre Miller was released. I think he still needs time to develop but he showed this season he can play. The hope is he can be the backup point guard next season. There will likely need to be a solid insurance policy in the 3rd string spot in case Rubio is hurt. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with Tyus starting but think if LaVine filled in, it could still potentially work. More to come with Tyus.

Time to swing for the fences. Sam Mitchell was capable of remaining the coach for the Wolves. He was at least worthy of remaining in the conversation for who would be next. But there is clearly more to the story we don’t know, and at the first opportunity he had, Glen Taylor parted ways with Mitchell. Tom Thibodeau seems like the right fit for the job moving forward from the Wolves perspective. He will likely require a nice paycheck, but it may be time to take the risk. Thibs has a good relationship with KG and was a big reason the Celtics won their championship. Thibs also helped develop some nice players in his time in Chicago. Having a blank defensive canvas to work with in Andrew Wiggins and Karl Towns could be scary for the league. It just makes too much sense to actually happen.

Before we leave…

It was a historic season. The Warriors broke the Bulls record with a record of 73-9 this season. Steph Curry hit a record breaking 402 three pointers. Kobe Bryant has retired. On his way out, he dropped 60 points in his last game. Then quietly, the Spurs had their best record in franchise history with 67 wins. On the Wolves end, the season started with the untimely passing of the late Flip Saunders. The Wolves got lucky to land Karl-Anthony Towns and the future has never been brighter. It will be a season to be remembered.

Lastly, thanks for following this season. We have successfully completed our first season covering the Wolves. If you have suggestions or feedback that can help us improve the site, let us know! It has been a great deal of fun and we look forward to being a part of the Wolves community for the foreseeable future!

The Stakes Have Never Been Higher

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 9.44.11 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 8.34.53 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Timber Rebuilder.

Tyus Jones’ Development is Critical

Tyus Jones was sent to the D-league for assignment with the Idaho Stampede, affiliate of the Utah Jazz. Jones was sent down after appearing in two games for the Wolves in limited minutes. The hometown hero had some nice numbers in a couple games in the preseason and was okay in the NBA Summer League but there is a lot of work to be done for the Duke star. Jones is physically not ready to compete at the NBA-level. The 19-year old also is just not at a level where he can defend anyone in the NBA.

Jones’ first game went well. Although the Stampede lost, Jones put up 27 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and only 2 turnovers. Its what you expect from a first-round pick in the NBA. But the drop off talent is huge from the NBA to the D-league, and probably a drop from Tyus’ ACC competition from last season. But Jones gets to work with some interesting players on the Idaho Stampede. The best player on the Stampede seems to be Jeff Ayres, an NBA veteran who spent the last two seasons with the Spurs. The Stampede also has Phil Pressey, who was recently cut by the 76ers, and Utah Jazz assignee, rookie Tibor Pliess. Pliess was the first pick of the second round in the 2010 draft and currently has a place on the Jazz roster.

Tyus Jones has a special place in many Minnesotans’ hearts. Someone who can beat Wisconsin for a National Championship and be from Minnesota is an instant legend. But when Jones was drafted, there were still a lot of questions about his game translating to the NBA. He was taken at 24, where he has lesser expectations but still expected to become a solid pro. The Wolves played against the Lakers where Larry Nance Jr, drafted a few spots after Jones, started. It isn’t saying much since it is the Lakers, but just worth noting.

Jones going to the D-league can absolutely be a blessing and is absolutely necessary given the Wolves situation currently. The last Timberwolf to be sent to the D-league was Shabazz Muhammed, who dominated while he was there indicating that he deserved playing time. He then received the playing time he deserved last season before getting hurt and missing the remainder of the season. But Shabazz is a fringe starter (or at least should be) in his third year and is still considered a valuable asset, being that teams are inquiring about him and the Wolves don’t want to trade him.

Tyus has a good amount to work on. First, he simply needs experience and to master his craft. Its scary to think that a player can go from being a freshmen starter at Duke to barely playing the year after. Being that Jones is 19, it would be the equivalent of a super smart kid dropping out of school for a year and then expected to pick it up again later. It’s probably the first time Jones hasn’t been one of the best players on his team, let alone being the worst. Getting clock and not forgetting how to play the game is important just to not simply fall off. This is more reason why the Wolves need their own affiliate so they don’t need to wait for a team to accept their players and can continue their development with their own coaches. It helps that Wolves GM Milt Newton is friends with Dean Cooper, the coach of the Stampede.

Next Tyus really needs to work on his defense. His defense is what is preventing him from getting any playing time in the league. Players are just faster and stronger at this point. If he wants to be on the court, he needs to be able to stay in front of another backup point guard. The key here is just to not become a liability on the defensive end. Just hold your own. Tyus has to work on his strength, speed, and just understanding the angles that need to be played to ensure that his guy doesn’t blow past him without any time for a help defender to get there to protect the rim.

For Tyus’ future, Jones will have to be able to shoot. The Wolves need 3-point shooting desperately and to be relevant in the NBA as a point guard, you need to be able to shoot. Just as Ricky Rubio. To Tyus’ credit, he has shown that he can shoot a bit. But for Tyus to really have a long-term career in the NBA, he needs to be a lethal shooter from 3. I am always reminded of Wes Mathews story of making it int he NBA as a 2nd-Round pick. He essentially was told; if you want to make the team you have to be a great shooter. He learned how to shoot and now is an overpaid player coming off of a major injury. But shooters will get overpaid and have a place in the league. That is a success story. If Tyus Jones can knock down an open three consistently, he will find his way into games.

Lastly, Jones will need to learn how to facilitate an offense. This is a strength of his. He is a smart player on the court and is capable of finding the open man. He just needs to be able to do this at a professional level. If he can learn to take what the coach tells him and translate it onto the court, he will be a favorite of his coach and will get playing time. Just hope that coach isn’t Sam Mitchell.

The Timberwolves need Tyus Jones to develop. One of the biggest holes on the team is the backup point guard. The Wolves need a backup point guard desperately for a couple of reasons. The biggest reason they need one is due to the uncertainty around Ricky Rubio’s jump shot and health. When Rubio is playing, things are good for the Wolves. But what happens if he isn’t playing? Rubio is officially a guy who can’t go 40 minutes and probably not 82 games. Having a backup capable of starting in his place is essential. The Wolves don’t have that currently.

What the Wolves do have currently is shooting guard Zach LaVine. LaVine playing shooting guard helps the Wolves a lot more than Zach LaVine playing point guard. But if you have been following out T-logs, you know this already. But if this year, or more than likely next year, Jones can step up as a solid reserve, LaVine can move in and start as a shooting guard. Zach LaVine moving into the shooting guard slot may be the next step the Wolves need to make a jump next year. We also know that Andre Miller just can’t do it anymore for a season. He is older than KG.

The Wolves need to address a reserve point guard soon. The hope is Jones develops fast enough to fill that void before they go out and find a new one. If Jones can become a 3&D facilitating point guard, he will have a long career in the league. If Jones can develop into this, he will be able to provide support at the point guard position and push LaVine to his natural position, two things that are much needed for the Wolves.

CVg_GN7UAAAdoqH

The Timber Rebuilder

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!