2014-15 Season

Depth and the Double-Edged Sword


“Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

-Hebrews, 4:12

I don’t often begin posts about basketball with quotes from scripture. But when thinking of the term “double-edged sword,” my mind inevitably wanders back to my Catholic education and the place I first heard it, the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews. The quote above is in reference to God’s word, and is often misinterpreted due to the presence of the term “two-edged” or “double-edged” sword. In this instance, it’s merely a noun; it could just as easily read “sharper than any axe” or “sharper than any dagger.”

“Double-edged sword” usually signifies something appearing to be a benefit that can also be a curse. The reason this interpretation applies to the 2014-15 Minnesota Timberwolves is that they have a ton of depth (good), but not nearly enough minutes to make all of the players on the roster happy (not so good). A ton of smart people have already examined this issue. Britt Robson was the first to explore it in detail. The fine people at Punch-Drunk Wolves also discussed the roster logjam, especially at the wing postions, and posited that the D-League should be an option for Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad. Canis Hoopus questioned whether Flip will wear his coach’s hat or his executive’s hat when setting rotations.

Even figuring out who the two nightly inactives ought to be is a bit tricky. Pretend, for a moment, that J.J. Barea is bought out or traded. Glenn Robinson III is a sure inactive, but the other? If it’s Zach LaVine, the Wolves are thin on ballhandling. So…. Shabazz Muhammad? Robbie Hummel? Ronny Turiaf? It’s easy to argue all three of those guys deserve to average eight to ten minutes per night. If Barea does make the team, it gets even trickier. Would Saunders really stunt LaVine’s growth by stashing him away at the end of the bench every night? If not, where does he find two inactives?

Flip has handled everything in training camp the way he should, talking up everyone and preaching that he’s fine with “the players (making) it difficult on me for who plays.” As the grind of the NBA season wears on, injuries will take care of some of the tough decisions with regard to the inactive list and playing time. However, it’s fair to wonder how everything will shake out, and the effect this will have on team chemistry.

Besides the depth being both a blessing and a curse, it’ll also teach the front office something else, something more difficult to quantify, but important nonetheless. This season, Flip will learn about the “soul and the spirit”, and will better be able to judge “the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” of his players. Kevin Martin, J.J. Barea, Chase Budinger and even Robbie Hummel were Adelman-era acquisitions and bore his stamp of approval. Saunders is beholden to none of them, a fact Martin spoke rather frankly about at media day:

“Flip is more demanding. I’m not going to get away with the things I got away with last year…not get by on talent…it is good to see him hold me accountable.”

While it’s true that the youth movement is somewhat sensationalized, since veterans will likely fill the starting lineup and second unit backcourt, the Wolves are beginning a shift in identity. If Glenn Robinson III makes the roster, 7 of the 15 spots will be occupied by players in their first or second NBA seasons. If the vets want to stick around in Minnesota, their hearts have to be in the right place, because Wiggins, LaVine, Dieng, Muhammad and Dieng are all a part of the future for the Wolves.

That doesn’t mean Martin, Budinger, Turiaf and Barea (if he’s around) should passively accept losing minutes to younger players. But if they’re getting less burn than they’d like, will they handle it professionally? Or will they be sources of discord and display the kind of bad habits that poison locker rooms and sidetrack impressionable rookies?

The double-edged sword of depth won’t just force Flip Saunders to pick who starts, who comes off the bench, and who sits in his warmups all night. It’ll also teach him a thing or two about who to keep around and who needs to be moved along, the “joints and marrow” of his team, and whether it’s good or needs to be transplanted.


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6 thoughts on “Depth and the Double-Edged Sword

  1. One’s development isn’t stunted if they’re not playing. What’s the point of playing LaVine if he’s not ready? I get that people want to see him dunk, but they should really want him to be a starting-caliber player by his 3rd season, and however they accomplish that is fine with me. Playing young guys a bunch of minutes is not development; they threw a bunch of rookies and 2nd rounders into the rotation the past 4 seasons and saw no improvement from most of them (before anyone brings it up, those players’ lack of development is on them, not on a certain former coach who’s now a consultant).

    It’s probably between Hummel, LaVine, and Muhammad regarding who is inactive. I could see them doing what they did last season: Hummel inactive but then in the rotation when an injury hits. LaVine, Bennett, and Muhammad have to prove they’re ready, and Muhammad has to prove he can do more to help the team win than the other wings they have.

    Mostly, though, this discussion is a moot point. I think there will be fewer than 10 games this season where all 15 guys on the roster are healthy. The big concern should be keeping enough guys at the same position healthy. If they have to make Bennett or Young the backup C or make LaVine the backup PG, there will be problems.

  2. After watching the Pacers vs. Wolves preseason game, clearly LaVine needs to spend some time in the D-League before he’s ready to play meaningful minutes in the NBA. Too many turnovers, too many long pull-up jumpers that weren’t even close to going in (out of nine shots his two lone buckets were a banked 3 and an alley-oop), and too much dribbling that created neither penetration or superior passing angles. For how infatuated Flip is with Zach, it was good to tell him straight-up that he got his butt-kicked after a terrible performance while complementing Andrew who looked like the real deal.

    It was amazing that the Wolves players are all exactly what we thought they’d be. Ricky played well overall but didn’t shoot well, Thad was solid and nifty but not prolific, Wiggins played great defense and showed flashes of scoring on offense, Dieng picked up a quiet double-double, Shabazz did his Shabazz things (had some great hustle plays but was still a blackhole with poor shot selection), Hummel looked competent on both ends but could get his shots to fall, Barea attacked the hoop with reckless abandon and was shut down, and Brewer was a destroyer in transition offense but unspectacular everywhere else.

  3. I agree, Lavine had an off night in his first ever NBA action. Send him to the D-league! Might as well just cut him actually.

  4. Hahahaha!! Seriously, preseason game #1. After summer league he was going to be the reincarnation of Stephon Marbury and now he’s a D-leaguer at best? And I love how everyone says Wiggins is well on his way to being a superstar after one preseason game too. We’ve played one preseason game.

  5. I don’t think Skunedog was saying Lavine does not have talent, he said he does not understand the game well enough yet to be a regular contributor. Which has been said by just about everyone so far, it is not a secret. I don’t think anybody, including Flip Saunders, believe that Lavine can contribute anything really meaningful this year.

    Nobody is calling him a bust after 1 preseason game.

  6. Right. I’m actually surprised LaVine’s even being considered for the rotation. At this point, aside from Robinson (who everyone assumes won’t play), he’s probably least likely to be productive this season. I don’t really care, though, as long as he’s brought along in a way that he’ll be ready to contribute next season and start the following season. The absolute last thing anyone should expect is for him to be ready to contribute a lot this season.

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