Timberwolves 104, Raptors 111: Time Is A Flat Circle

Steve McPherson —  March 10, 2014 — 24 Comments
I know the Raptors' mascot wasn't there last night, but c'mon, he's awesome.

I know the Raptors’ mascot wasn’t there last night, but c’mon, he’s awesome.

Last night, the first season of HBO’s loathed and lauded True Detective came to an end but DON’T WORRY. There are no spoilers here because like many, many people I couldn’t watch it because HBO GO sputtered and died under the weight of everyone logging into their parents’ accounts to watch the finale.

But before that, the Minnesota Timberwolves lost a basketball match to the Toronto Raptors, dropping the Wolves to 31-31 and five games back from Memphis (in the eighth and final playoff spot) and Phoenix (in the ninth). The Wolves’ playoff odds according to the ghost of John Hollinger at ESPN now stand at 11.5%. The capsule summary of the game looks a lot like ones we’ve seen before: In spite of 26 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists from Kevin Love (and a new single season record for made 3-pointers by a Timberwolf (144)) and 17 and 11 from Nikola Pekovic, in spite of a strong level of effort all around, the Wolves couldn’t get enough production, particularly up close.

“We just have to do it better,” said Adelman afterwards. “We just didn’t convert enough at the basket. We had 50 points in the paint and only converted half, 25 out of 51 attempts and they shot the heck out of it from three.”

That’s putting it mildly. Steve Novak took six shots, all from 3-point range, and made five of them. Terrence Ross was 3-4 and DeMar DeRozan was 2-3 from downtown, lifting the team as a whole to a preposterous 58% from the arc. And Kyle Lowry, who continues to play out of his mind, notched a triple double with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.

For the Wolves, the bench continued to underwhelm. A five-point lead for the Wolves near the end of the first quarter swung entirely in the other direction over the last minute of the first and the first several minutes of the second as the Raptors built up a 13-point lead while J.J. Barea, Chase Budinger, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Dante Cunningham and Nikola Pekovic were on the floor. Barea continues to be an enervating rather than energizing force off the bench, sapping flow and rhythm from the game as he insists on dribbling the ball through the floor and treating screens like cones on a dribble course as he forces his way to the hoop again and again or pulls up from the arc (he was 2-8 on the night).

It’s becoming clear that Barea is just too diametrically opposite to Ricky Rubio to work as the team’s point guard off the bench. As we’re all painfully aware, Rubio’s strength is not his shooting, but getting the ball to Pekovic and Love in good position, which he did several times last night. By contrast, Barea simply can’t get the ball into Pekovic when he’s in position. The sanguine vision of this team prior to the season was that Barea could provide a change of pace that would shake things up when the offense stagnated, but there’s little to no continuity between the way the starters work together and the way any of the bench players work.

Adelman’s weird exasperation with Rubio continues as well, and it’s stultifying. Rubio fouled out (plus received the mildest technical I can imagine after the fact for arguing about a call) and — for sure — his foul on Lowry close to the half was borne of frustration and was foolish. And maybe this is a chicken and the egg argument, but Adelman’s short leash on Rubio isn’t helping Rubio’s confidence. I could be totally wrong: Adelman could give Rubio all the buffer and space in the world and Rubio could still struggle. But if his shooting woes are at the heart of Adelman’s reluctance to give him more leeway in the offense, that lack of leeway is beginning to impinge on what he does do well, which is create with a free hand.

Likewise, Adelman’s use of Shabazz Muhammad at this point in the season is puzzling to me. Don’t get me wrong: Muhammad is still very raw and flawed in all sorts of ways. He went 3-4 last night and immediately injected a shot of adrenaline into the game when he entered for the first time near the start of the fourth quarter, but after a couple good shots and an emphatic dunk, he missed a lefty hook and then committed a foul going for the rebound. He gets a little success and then he gets heated and does some thoughtless or risky things. It’s sort of a pattern.

But at the same time, I can’t help but feel he’s a better energizer off the bench than Barea right now, a more exciting offensive prospect than Chase Budinger, who’s still struggling his way back from injury. I don’t know at what point the Wolves make the decision that the playoffs are out of reach, but I hope that reaching that point means the team tries a little less to be something they’re clearly not and starts being what they are, that Rubio gets buckets of minutes to do what he does and mess up in the process, that Muhammad gets more run off the bench. There’s a kind of hope in hopelessness, sort of the way we kept hoping that Love would come back for even a little while towards the end of last season so we could get a glimpse of where the team is headed.

But let’s switch gears: All the frustrated anticipation for the Wolves to make the postseason this year and all the frustrated anticipation of all those HBO GO viewers who didn’t get to see True Detective’s finale got me thinking about the ways we watch a season of sports versus a season of a television show.

There’s a commonality, in that we don’t know — as viewers — how either one is going to end when it begins. But there’s an important difference: for a scripted show like True Detective, it’s already written and filmed. And I know this is not true for every show. I’ve read about how shows like Lost and 24 were still being pieced together while they were being aired. But it doesn’t change the fundamental fact that dramas are being written and then watched, whereas sports are being created directly in front of us, in real time.

And yet we strangely grasp at this desire to attribute the kind of narrative architecture we find in television shows to a team’s season. Whatever happened on last night’s True Detective finale, it was already written and filmed and done long before we had a chance to see it. Yet we anticipate it and guess at it with all the fervor we apply to weighing and predicting the outcome of game after game during the NBA season, or the season as a whole. We pin the success or failure of a show like True Detective to how it ends; we pin the success or failure of an NBA team to whether they make the postseason, or whether they win a championship, or whether they end up with a good draft pick. We care a very great deal about endings, as if they tell us everything about what came before.

But maybe Rust Cohle is right. The Timberwolves have always felt like kind of a flat circle. That often feels like a bad thing (and often a real, real bad thing). I don’t know if embracing that lack of closure, of ending can make it feel any better. But it probably won’t make it feel any worse. Probably.

Steve McPherson

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24 responses to Timberwolves 104, Raptors 111: Time Is A Flat Circle

  1. Should have kept Like Ridnour and traded JJ.

  2. I guess I’ll be a dolt again and say I can’t for the life of me understand what mbah a moute brings to this team. A defensive stopper who isn’t stopping anything or anyone is what exactly? Sure D Will wasn’t going to be the next Odom off the bench or anything but is the replacement any better? Said it before, Rubio used to be full of energy and life, now he seems tamed, broken down and getting yanked out of games for seemingly no reason and benched for long stretches to chase some first round playoff exit dream just doesn’t make sense to me. Shved showed so much promise making it to the rookie game at all star weekend and now he can’t even get off the bench, why is it there seems to be no patience to develop young talent? Shabazz and Dieng also look promising but hardly seem to get any time. I get the whole culture of winning thing but the twolves look to be exactly where you do not want to be, not good enough to win, but good enough to pick low in the draft.

  3. Everyone was praising the signing of Flip Saunders. Can we get an article on what he has specifically done?

    Unless I am mistaken, he traded away Ridnour, kept JJ, traded Burke for Shabazz and Dieng, then traded Derrick Williams for Mbah A Moute.

    This seems to be about as bad as it gets. What good has he done?

  4. Steve McPherson March 10, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    @Mickey: I’ll say I think it’s hasty to start judging a GM after less than a full season. That’s not to say that Saunders hasn’t made bad decisions, just that I think it’s a job that needs a longer timeframe to judge. FWIW, here’s a list of all his transactions:

    http://prosportstransactions.com/basketball/Search/SearchResults.php??Player=&Team=Timberwolves&PlayerMovementChkBx=yes&BeginDate=2013-5-3&submit=Search

    Also FWIW, he re-signed Pekovic and acquired Martin and Brewer, both of whom have looked great at times and also problematic at times. My take right now is that Saunders is not awful, not incredible.

  5. He also signed chase and turiaf no? Neither of whom have really lived up to expectations, if you are counting that’s 2 decent deals and 4 questionable ones no?

  6. I have been happy with Turiafs play this season. In my opinion, he and Love are the only players who have met or exceeded expectations. Brewer has done better than I thought he would, but he clearly has not been worth the money we paid to get him.

  7. Steve McPherson March 10, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    I’ll say that I don’t think it’s a matter of “developing young talent” versus “competing for the playoffs.” Too often in basketball everything is set up as black and white: contending vs. tanking, etc.

    My feeling about the season at this point is that running things the way they’ve been (Rubio on a short leash, forcing Barea into a PG role, holding back on Muhammad and Dieng) has not led to consistent success. Continuing to do that doesn’t seem likely to suddenly help them turn the corner. If Rubio is supposed to be a cornerstone, if Muhammad and Dieng have potential, why not ride with them?

    I feel like there’s this painful grimacing going on as the team tries to convince Love that they can win now, but it’s just leaving them wrongfooted all the time as they keep trying to force an idea of what this team should be onto a set of players that aren’t playing that way.

    All that is a very shoot-from-the-hip response, and I understand there are layers beyond layers to all this stuff that I can only scratch the surface of. But that’s my feeling right now.

  8. Steve McPherson March 10, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Put me down as also feeling like Turiaf is a great addition who’s been held back from hitting his stride because of injury problems. Budinger has been a mixed bag, and so long as his shot is shaky, it’s not a deal that’s paying off.

  9. The complete inability of this team to be ANY better from after the first 10 days of the season is so unbelievably troubling to me. Whatever their weaknesses were after the first week, are their weaknesses now. Presuming we don’t have the #1 pick, and knowing that we don’t have a great deal of tradeable assets right now, forget about not making the playoffs THIS year, what about NEXT year?

  10. @mickey: Saunders as not been perfect, but he as had less then 1 year with the inherited mess from one o the worst GM’s in the history of sports.

    That Trey Burke trade was a good trade. Burke is getting a TON of credit for not being Jamal Tinsley or John Lucas. He is not that good, and probably still would not have broken the rotation had we kept him.

    As for trading Ridnour instead of Barea we can’t be sure that he had an option on it. Ridnour is a more traditional PG and his contract expires a year earlier. They needed a third party to clear room for Kevin Martin, my guess is they could not find one for Barea.

    Similar situation or D-will. We can sit back and claim he was worth way more, but we have no idea what kind of response we got back when shopping him. His value was destroyed long before Saunders took over. He had 0 value to this team.

    I would have been happier with Brewer and Budinger getting shorter contracts, but I am big fan of the Turiaf deal.

    IMO opinion he does no have a huge mistake in his first year and more moves have been positive then not

  11. I agree that D Will didn’t pan out the way he should have and yes I understood that they were looking to move him but surely they could have gotten something more than mbah a moute no?

  12. So assuming that the playoffs really are out of reach and the twolves don’t have the #1 pick or have a low #1 what do they do? Should they try to trade love in the offseason to see what they can get back? And if they do should they blow it all up and trade kmart and pek or do they stand pat and hope that like he blazers everything clicks next year and love is a happy camper similar to Aldridge?

  13. Thanks, Jordan, for pointing out what I was itching to. Now my annoyance can subside. And Williams wasn’t worth way more; undersized power forwards are the most oversaturated market in the NBA, and mediocre rebounders/defenders who can’t score in the paint or shoot 3s well are the bottom of the barrel.

    I want to rail on them for allowing the Raptors to shoot 58% from 3, but while they’re below the league average for 3 pointers made and 3 point% allowed, it’s just barely (.3% higher and 7 made 3s). It mainly annoys me that these opponents are so comfortable at Target Center, yet the Wolves have been one of the worst 3 point shooting teams for most of their history (as Zach tweeted).

    For all of the “Why don’t they play _____?” nonsense, only Martin and Brewer deserve wing minutes against every opponent, and both of them were coming off the bench for top 3 teams in the West last year. That’s not a knock on them; this team gave 34 starts last season to guys not in the league this season. Budinger is an average shooter who needs to get scoring chances off of cuts to the rim; Luc isn’t playing cohesively with his teammates on offense but can shut down all but the elite wing scorers (‘Melo, LeBron, Durant); Muhammad brings a necessary physicality but can only score from one spot on offense and has to be hidden defensively; and Shved can get to the rim and draw fouls but takes too many bad jump shots and can be shut down by a committed defender. I prefer certain players, but because none of them are above-average 3 point shooters, none of them are reliable options.

  14. I am not saying I disagreed with Saunders moves. I actually liked the idea of Shabazz and didn’t think a scoring PG was what we would need during the draft. I liked the idea of Dieng backing up Pek too. I liked trading Derrick Williams mostly to give him another chance in the NBA. But I am not a President of an NBA team. When they happened I thought they were good moves, but so far all of the moves have looked bad. Maybe a lot is on Adelman not playing the rookies or playing to Mbah a Moutes strengths, maybe it is on Budinger not coming back 100% from injury, or Brewer not meshing with the Wolves defense. But when he is the one who facilitated those moves, he is the one that has to shoulder the blame.

    Right now I see a Wolves team starting at the 13th pick in the NBA draft, quite possibly missing the playoffs and not having a 1st round pick, and are already 7 million over the cap going into next season after the ridiculously high salaries we paid to Pek, Budinger and Brewer (and Martin). So unless there is a major trade, this will be the exact same roster next year. Given the strength of the West, what is best case scenario? 7th seed and 1st round exit then lose Love to free agency and start over? If that what our fan base has as our ideal goal?

    This team needs to start over again. It sucks to say, but it is the truth. We need to acquire draft picks and actually hit on a few of them. Unfortunately we have literally 0 pieces to build a franchise around except Love, but I am now in the mindset that he is gone. Pek is not a franchise player, Rubio clearly isn’t unless he somehow develops the mid-career jump shot.

  15. Mbah a moute certainly shut down Carmelo the other night no? I have nothing against him and I was happy that we got a supposed defensive stopper but the way he has played suggests that it was not a good trade. When I said the other day that the defense was not good people disagreed but it seems its taken a nosedive recently. Steve Novak who was ridiculed as a 1 dimesional player just lit up he wolves despite our defensive stopper mbah a moute being on the floor, I know I seem whiny but right now it doesn’t look good and for all the talk of saturated undersized 4’s GM’s are willing to take chances on high lottery picks with potential who haven’t worked out, see Wes Johnson and the lakers. If the cavs got deng (even as a rental) for an expiring contract and a pick why couldnt the wolves see if they couldn’t have gotten something of more value to help the playoff push if that’s what they really wanted

  16. It has nothing to do with being whiny and everything to do with being uninformed while using a tone that makes it seem like you have all the answers. Wes Johnson was signed as a free agent by the Lakers for $900K, not acquired in any trade; that’s not the same as a guy with 2 years and $11+ million left on his deal, as Williams was. Wes is also playing marginally better than he did here while getting minutes on a terrible team. The Wolves had to include a 1st rounder to send him to Phoenix in the first place, and he was on an expiring deal.

    Since when does “all but Melo, LeBron, Durant” mean Melo? Also, Luc was out there for 2:18 of Melo’s 43 minutes. At what point of last night’s game was he on Novak? Novak only played when Love wasn’t playing PF, and he was guarded by Cunningham and Muhammad. Can’t blame someone for his teammates giving up points.

    As for Deng, the Cavs gave up a 1st rounder, a 2nd rounder and gave the Bulls the right to swap 1sts in 2015, all for a guy in the last year of his deal who decided not to sign an extension. Maybe other deals were out there, but getting him was extremely expensive for the Cavs and not an example of the type of value the Wolves should be looking for. I was all for a minor deal or two, but not something that was bad value like the Memphis rumor was.

  17. I don’t for a minute claim to have all the answers, my comments here are purely my opinion that you seem to have a constant problem with. I believe the point of the forum is to allow fans to express their opinions, and I have not once been insulting to you or anyone else here, you on the other hand have taken to name calling and personal attacks.

  18. I would note that I don’t recall people being ecstatic that Flip was hired, except to the extent it meant Kahn was being fired. There was nothing in his track record to suggest he was some combination of Presti, Buford and Morey who could magically fix the franchise, but he could restore some competency, professionality and common sense to a front office that had become the butt of jokes in the NBA and alienated its franchise player. I feel like he has accomplished that. Baby steps.

    I feel like a lot of the frustration on this board is due to the fact that although Harper refuses to discuss it, the fanbase is fully cognizant that if it doesn’t win big and soon, Love is probably leaving. This makes it really difficult to enjoy the fact that the team is doing merely okay (which would normally be quite sufficient given the recent history). So this duality of what “we” expect versus what we think “he” expects keeps us all guessing and bickering about who actually thinks and expects what and whether that is reasonable or unreasonable. Hey, it’s tough.

  19. The timberwolves will not improve until they decide to not offer entitlement to Ricky, demand a max player (maybe KLove) play defense, and root out chemistry problems on court(Barea and Shved). Ricky has never had to fight for his starting job like so many other players drafted high to this team. Battling Ridnour and Barea is hardly a competition. He’s been told to do what he does well to continue to get minutes. But he’s forgotten that he’s a pro who should work on what they don’t do well in offseason! Kevin Love for all his points and rebounds, he should save some energy for defense. Stopping opponents is another way to out score them! Barea clearly has the worst shot selection on recent team memory. Adelman should get fined for each time Shved touches the ball, he is not NBA talent! This team will not get better in near future due to its complacency and commitment to current players. Current players who can’t get it done collectively in a tough West. Best REAL recipe for quick turnaround. Trade Pek/Rubio and #1 pick to get high enough to draft Embiid or Vonleh. True complement to K. Love. Sign Patty Mills to run point for playoff caliber team. Sign/trade for L.Stephenson with Martin and Brewer/Budinger. Sign Luol Deng. New roster= Mills,Stephenson,Deng,Love,drafted Center. Lineup could score points and would be improved defensively. A new coach too. Tom Thibodeaux or George Karl would be perfect. Either uptempo or grinder. Both would be improvements over current coach.

  20. gjk, thanks for your breakdown of the wings and their abilities.

    Mac, stop talking about Love leaving all the time. We just have to wait and see. As far as Flip’s hiring, I’m with you. The ecstatic thing about it was no more Kahn, even though he technically wasn’t fired, he just wasn’t extended. He should have been fired long time ago. I said the same with McHale when he was GM. He did two good things, drafting KG and trading for Love. Kahn did draft Rubio and Pek and I am thankful that they are on the team, however there were a ton of bad moves for each of those two. Flip hasn’t done anything terrible yet. I looked at the transaction from Steve’s link and I don’t dislike any of the moves. There are a couple I’m not so favorable with though.

    At the start of the season I was very positive. I drank the kool-aid. Now we’re 31-31 which is a lot better than last year. Much better than the last several years. It’s heading in the right direction, but we’re not there yet. Everyone can have their opinions around what the wolves should do to get that last step. Trade this or that. Sign someone. I have no idea what would be best to do for this team at this time. There are some players I’d like to see gone because they don’t fit into their roles. But who to get instead, I don’t know. I’m happy we are improving.

  21. This team kills me. I don’t think the offseason moves were bad, but whatever’s going on now is horrible. At the beginning of the season we knew that the defense was going to be worse than league average. The idea was that the offense would be spectacular and the team would make the playoffs. Well when the back up point guard dribbles out the clock the offense dies. So why is Adelman so hard on Ricky, I mean all he does is play decent defense an diets the scorers in position to score. It’s not just that Barea’s inconsistent, even when he’s good the offense grinds to a halt. It’s ugly. It’s also depressing, it’s like a football game up three and your quarterback gets injured. There’s about an 80% chance you’re going to see a loss plus and ugly game.

    My son and I watch Rubio with enthusiasm, he (usually) brings an exuberance and joy to the game. We also had a whole lot of hope for Shved. Personally I think Ricky’s shooting woes are all about confidence and a veteran coach should see that. It’s not as if Ricky hasn’t been shooting a basketball (with coaching for 15 years) I am sure he will develop (or already has) a shot.

    But let’s be honest with ourselves. This team had enough talent to make the playoffs last year in the but for world of fewer injuries. This year we added some pieces that were supposed to help. What we have now is the best power forward in the league, a center that is up there in terms of scoring and rebounding, a creative pass first point guard who can play d, and a couple of reasonable guys who can play the 2 and 3. That should be enough to get to the playoffs. I get that the West is stacked and it’s hard, no one expected the Suns to over-perform or that Monte Ellis would have such a positive effect on the Mavs. But for crying out loud, we should have higher expectations.

    Every time I hear let’s trade Love, I harken back to what happened when we gave away Garnett, tell me how that worked out. We sucked for a long time, we still do. Honestly at least now we can watch to see Love hang a triple double on someone, or Rubio make a few mind bending passes. When the bench comes in we wave the white flag, or maybe Barea gets hot and we actually win the game. Can we please shake up the bench and leave Rubio alone. The team is ugly enough as it is.

  22. The name calling was out of line (though “dolt” is an extremely mild insult). Pointing out that opinions are inaccurate or illogical are not “personal attacks.” I didn’t insult your family, your job, your personal beliefs, or your interests; opinions are fair game, especially when it’s about something as unimportant in the grand scheme of things as sports. This is a public web site; comments are going to be responded to, especially if facts don’t support their argument (it is so easy to look up all the correct information) or if they’re mocking my comments because they weren’t reading closely enough to understand.

    Thanks Ivan. Pek was the Wolves’ 2nd rounder in the same year they drafted Mayo/traded for Love. That makes Kahn’s era look worse. Only Rubio, Barea, and Shved are likely Kahn guys (maybe Hummel; Budinger was clearly an Adelman move). I wanted to be positive about him, but it’s the main reason why I wouldn’t be angry at Love if he left. 4 of his first 5 seasons were spent with mostly-terrible personnel decisions and a guy who was denigrating his game at every turn.

  23. I think the Wolves should switch up their coach. I don’t know who would want to come to Minnesota, but I think Adelman is past his prime. This team has a lot of talent. It really does. Love, Martin, Pekovic, Rubio (wrinkles and all, he is still a talented player), Muhammed I think has a lot of ability. They just need a different offense or philosophy or something. I dont’ know who the answer is, but I know it isn’t Adelman and I’d welcome a fresh mind in there. I’d love for them to break the bank for Tom Thibodeau but I realize that’s not going to happen.

  24. Skip to the end, I rambled.

    I admit I am disappointed in the season I thought we would be better than we were. I thought Shved would be better than he was. I followed the Euro tourney and he did a lot of positive things I thought would carry over into the season. Same for JJ. He had a really good run in the America’s tourney and got his team to the final game. Chase was on his way back from knee surgery. I thought we were better than Memphis and Dallas for sure.

    I was wrong. The thing I was forgetting and the thing we all need to take into consideration is the Wolves were never competitive enough for us to see how they would respond to an actual playoff run. we knew what pieces didn’t fit. But what pieces could we actually count on. What roles would each player take.

    JJ is not a fit, I am on record saying we moved the wrong PG and my reasoning was exactly the same as McPherson’s JJ is not a PG, he is not a facilitator. It has been said many times as a joke but it also so sadly the truth. JJ like’s to dribble the ball and put his fist in the air, That fist signifies the number of passes JJ is going to make before he dribble drives to the basket. 0.

    Not his fault, he should not be asked to be a point guard. You saw it last night against the Bucks Rubio at PG and JJ at SG worked because JJ was not asked to do something he is not good at.

    My biggest mis read though was Adelman. I thought he would give this team an identity and that has not happened. whether it’s a disconnect between him and the players not named Love or it’s the wrong players in the roles we need. He has not had an impact on this team. I could have coached this team to .500 and I am probably the least knowledgeable person to post in this blog regarding NBA strategies and game planning.

    What we have is a mediocre team that needs the right tweaks. But I am going to fill my glass with another round of Wolves Kool Aid and try to look at this from a new perspective. What we can now see from this year is what those tweaks need to be. We know who is working in what roles.

    Shved is a no go. Chase is a deep bench rotation player. He is basically Robbie Hummel. (a really well paid Robbie Hummel). Brewer is a back up SF. not a starter. Shabazz is a back up 2/3 type guy maybe he transitions into a starter I don’t know but if you’re a playoff team he is not a guy you’re counting on. Rubio is fine as our PG, Love, Martin, Pek are fine. We do not have a starting SF or a backup at PG. Dante Cunningham is meh at back up PF. Dieng and Turiaf are fine at backup C.

    The Wolves go into next season needing a starting SF, a backup PF and a backup PG. if we can upgrade those three positions I think they take the next step. And that’s the difference between us and the teams in the top 8 in the west. Those teams have had the time to build their role players based on the success and failures they have had. The Wolves came into this season without much success to draw from in completing their roster.

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