Somewhere in the story of this late-season road loss to the Sacramento Kings is the story line to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ season.
The story lines of this Wolves’ season have been fascinating. They’re constantly evolving and being forgotten as something new to focus on comes along. And yet, as the story lines change, they’re largely telling the same tale. This is a weirdly good team that finds ways to not have consistent success. And that in fact makes people think this team is bad, even though they’re really not. They’re neither bad nor good. They excel and fail at the same time. They’re basically a neutral team, which in the Western Conference is considered a bad team.
But mostly it’s just not good enough. The viewpoints on the Wolves are ultimately contradictory because they force the narrative to play this way. One day the team makes sense; the next day it doesn’t. Blame coaching. Blame a lack of leadership amongst the players in the locker room. Blame B. Wright for screaming at fans to kiss and then pretending they’ve gone too far as he’s plugging quarters to keep the screen up.
Regardless of what you want to believe about this team, there are days when you’re vindicated for your opinion and days in which this team will vilify you for thinking such things. The revisionist history with this team is every evolving and always fascinating.
There were three thoughts that occurred to me in this game:
1) Where are the people freaking out about the Derrick Williams-Luc Richard Mbah a Moute trade after this game?
2) I’m not so sure the Gorgui Dieng-Kevin Love combination is as perfect (yet) as people pretend.
3) It’s a game like this one in which you miss Nikola Pekovic the most.
The trade that was a mistake for a night
Remember when Derrick Williams had a pretty cool revenge game here in Minneapolis a short while ago? The story line after that game was all about how the Wolves made a huge mistake because they dealt potential of fitting a different puzzle for the type of role player they needed but hadn’t figured out how to play yet (if they ever do, which I think they will). Williams had shown the Wolves, and then anybody who has paid attention to his career could see the next lull of production hit his game logs, like the tease he’s been since entering the league.
I don’t mean for this to come off so negative about Williams. I still believe he can work in this league but I don’t believe it could have happened for this team. I also think Mbah a Moute is a better player than Williams because he has a definite skill you can utilize — defense. Mbah a Moute outplayed Williams Sunday night in the loss, but I didn’t see anybody tweeting about how the trade was no longer a mistake. I’m curious as to why we didn’t get this revisionist reaction to the revisionist history that followed their previous meeting. Is it because of the players involved or was it because the season is dead or have we just moved on?
The Love-Dieng combination
In theory, Gorgui and Kevin seem like a match made in positional heaven. Love is the otherworldly scoring stretch-4 who badly needs someone to cover his back on defense and Dieng is a center who looks to have the potential to do all of those things. And yet, the numbers aren’t exactly pretty when the two of them are out there together. The Love-Dieng combination The Wolves put up an offensive rating of 104.7 and a defensive rating of 104.1 when these two are on the floor together.
The majority of their time together has come in March and April with the Wolves putting up a net rating of plus-1.3 in 187 minutes in March and a minus-2.9 in 130 minutes in April. The defense actually hasn’t been any better with Love and Dieng together. Of course, there is plenty of context to be had in these numbers. Dieng is still very green as a rookie so to expect him to come out there and be the force now that he’ll be in four years is unfair. But it’s interesting how far he has to go as a player even though he’s assumed (myself included) by many as the perfect complement to Love. In reality, it will be some time before he’s actually the player the Wolves need him to be next to Love (assuming they can get him to stay, of course).
In comparison, Love and Pek had a defensive rating of 102.8 to go with their offensive rating of 111.0 in their time together this season. The Wolves had a net rating of plus-8.2 with these two on the floor in 1,318 minutes together. As we’ve discussed before, Pek should still be the man next to Love with a healthy dose of developing Dieng mixed in.
I miss you, Pek
Gorgui had a solid game but he was dominated by DeMarcus Cousins. This is where you miss Pek the most. Pek has frustrated Cousins on many occasions and handles his strength quite nicely. I miss Pekovic for a lot of reasons but seeing Cousins do whatever he wanted against Dieng was a little tough to watch. However, baptism by fire in the NBA can be a good thing and it seems like Dieng does a great job of adapting to what works and what doesn’t work from one game to the next. Soon, he’ll be able to turn those into quarter-by-quarter and possession-by-possession adjustments.
It just isn’t going to happen yet.