2014-15 Season

Pacers 100, Timberwolves 96: Invisibility Cloaks

If I had the Photoshopping skills of a Steve McPherson or a Zach Harper, you’d see Andrew Wiggins’ head on Harry Potter’s body, but alas, I do not. So you get a regular photo instead.

It’s got to be unnerving to be the center of a media machine that is constantly wondering where you’re headed next, but that’s exactly where Andrew Wiggins has been since he was 16 years old. People wondered where he’d go to high school, then wondered where he’d go to college, then wondered who would win the lottery so they could draft him, only to wonder if the Cavaliers should trade him to the Timberwolves for Kevin Love. They wondered at his awkwardness during a stupid interview that he should have never been forced to give in the first place, then wondered when he’d finally arrive in Minnesota, and now they wonder when he’ll finally realize the superstar potential we all hear about, but still wonder about.

For all intents and purposes, basketball-wise, there is no next for Andrew Wiggins outside of the next game, the next play and the next day. Instead of the big-picture jockeying for position and fretting over potential changes of address that have dominated the peripheral chatter around his life, he’s free to focus on the minutiae of being a pro ballplayer. Save something totally unforeseen or even catastrophic, he’ll be a Timberwolf for at least four years. These are the colors he will wear, this is the arena he will play in, these are the plays he will run. It’s all set up.

But a strange thing happens with the Wolves’ young phenom. Look at his game logs: his minutes and his offensive productivity wax and wane. Defensively, he battles pretty consistently, but will go long stretches without making impact plays on either end before several come in a flurry. Flip Saunders has been incredibly candid about Wiggins in his postgame interviews this season, remarking that he was known to “coast” at Kansas and indicating that he can tell how hard Wiggins is working by the way he runs. After Sunday night’s loss to the Pacers, Flip was as blunt as ever, saying that Wiggins “didn’t play hard” and hinted that all of Minnesota’s young players need to have energy right out of the gate.

The word I keep finding myself using is “invisible.” Friday night in Boston, Wiggins was more or less invisible: 5 points on 2-of-10 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists in 25 minutes. Tonight, Wiggins was invisible until the 4th quarter, racking up 3 points on 1-of-7 field goals to go along with 6 rebounds and 1 assist in 25 minutes. Then in the final frame he made a difference in a bunch of little ways, not the least of which were the three huge offensive boards that kept Minnesota possessions alive. When the game got intense, Andrew started to shine, using his otherworldly athleticism to sky for big rebounds when his team needed them most.

Unfortunately, he also committed the turnover that effectively ended the game for Minnesota with 22.2 seconds to go. But that’s life as an NBA rookie: whether you’re making jaw-dropping plays or back-breaking mistakes in crunch time, it’s important to be involved. That’s how learning happens, and in this season that’s suddenly shifted to a loss-filled rebuild, learning is the goal. What no one wants to see is for Wiggins in anonymity. He has the tools to be much, much more than just another guy, and for long stretches this season, it’s been possible to forget that he’s even on the floor. This invisibility cloaks (wordplay, amirite?!?!?) his potential and makes the coaching staff, media, fans and maybe even Andrew himself a bit uneasy.

He seems to be struggling with his confidence. It’s an issue that’ll need to be addressed before we see good nights from him on a consistent basis.

A few other notes from the Wolves’ loss, in no particular order:

– Minnesota started the game 1-for-13 from the field and trailed by as much as 19 in the early stages of the second half. After their horrid start, they made 35 of their next 64 field goal attempts (55%) and managed to close that 19 point gap all the way down to 3 in a matter of five minutes. They took the lead on a Mo Williams three with 2:31 to go in the game and were tied with 1:30 to go, but bad decision by Shabazz to attack the basket rather than kicking to Chase for an open transition three with 1:10 to go and Wiggins’ turnover 40 seconds later made all the difference.

– 21 points on 18 shots with 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in a team-high 37 minutes for Shabazz Muhammad, who is the Wolves’ most reliable option on the offensive end at the moment. That sentence should both encourage and frighten you. He’s a post-up guy who is good at cutting off the ball and at finishing in transition, but has difficulty making good things happen off the dribble. Until Rubio comes back, the Wolves will struggle to score points, no matter how much effort Shabazz puts in.

– Mo Williams scored 24 points on 16 shots and dished out 10 assists, carrying the Wolves’ offense for long stretches of the game. It was great and everything, but if I were a big on this team, I’d start to get a little frustrated with Mo. He must hit the roll man on a pick and roll less than 5 percent of the time.

– Speaking of which, Flip said postgame that he thinks he is using 5% of his playbook. Without Ricky in the lineup, it’s nearly impossible for Flip to do what he wants offensively.

– After scoring 19 points on 12 shots in Boston on Friday, Chase Budinger had 13 points (on 10 shots), 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 26 minutes Sunday night. If he keeps up the good work, it’s possible a contender might come calling for him, too. Unlikely, given his contract, but possible.

– Defensively, the Wolves allowed the Pacers to shoot 50% from the field for the first time all season.

– C.J. Miles scored 28 points.

– This Pacers team is hard to watch. But Paul George was getting up shots pregame and looks like he could be back sooner rather than later, which would be an awesome development:

Paul George

– The Wolves travel to Cleveland to play the Cavaliers on Tuesday night. It might be a blowout. It’ll almost certainly be weird. Should be a fun game to watch.

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2 thoughts on “Pacers 100, Timberwolves 96: Invisibility Cloaks

  1. Perhaps the biggest knock against Wiggins in the draft (and in college) was that he’s not aggressive enough, not mean enough, somewhat passive. So, as a rookie, it is normal to expect some learning curve on this while Wiggins figures out how to find the aggression in his personality to shine in the NBA. Simply getting his feet wet is a long process given his personality, and once he settles in and finds a groove (which might not happen this season) he’ll adapt his approach to the NBA effectively. So far, given this, I have been pleased how consistent he’s been. People underestimated his scoring tools and shooting ability coming out.

    However, on the critical side, I haven’t really seen him disappear like he has lately all season and it is alarming. It seems to coincide with Shabazz starting, so maybe it is just an adjustment thing. I’d like to think that… I have to say, that coaching is where my blame starts to fall, not on a 19 year old kid we all knew could be a little passive. It is Flips job to find him looks–to MAKE him take shots and find a way to get him to those shots. It’s Flip’s job to keep his confidence up, as all rookies have a learning curve that can be a detriment to confidence. It is his job (and the staff’s) to talk him through this process and keep his chin up. It should be a priority for Flip to keep Wiggins involved every game. Worrying only about winning doesn’t seem to be going too well, so focusing on Wiggins a bit more to make sure he’s involved shouldn’t be too much to ask. If Wiggins still has these problems 1, 2, 3 years down the road, then I’ll blame him and not the staff.

    One thing the Wolves lack that would be fun to see is a running, athletic alley-oop heavy style. They have speed and athletes. But they’ve not been a threat all season in this respect, even when we had Rubio’s passing and a full playbook. I don’t know why. Alley-oops are a good quick measure of how dynamically athletic a team is playing. And we get an F at this, even with Wiggins, Muhammad, LaVine, Bennett, and up until now, Brewer. Alley-oops and a team capable of a lot of them are athletic domination. The intimidate and embarrass opponents, are fun to watch, are easy points, and REALLY get the crowd in a game. It is alarming and confusing we are so bad at this aspect, and I think it tells a much bigger story about our stunning terribleness than just a little tale of alley-oops themselves. We don’t have the identity we should, and we don’t do anything better than anyone else (including effort and energy), making victory very unlikely. Back to Wiggins specifically, he’s got the speed, the first step and the jump to go around guys and dunk, or to out run and receive alley-oops. But he doesn’t. Part of it is how light he is–he is reluctant to aggressively drive to the hoop, and when he does, he runs into enough contact to mitigate his athletic ability. That said, part of why he can’t find a way to use his athleticism more (usually one of the first tools young players successfully exploit in the NBA) is an alarming mystery to me. Maybe some of it has to do with coaching and development again? In time it will work out, as Wiggins will gain weight and figure things out (on his own if necessary).

    One more addition: I can’t hate on Young because of what he’s been through. He’s back in sync when he’s back in sync. But I’m thinking he’s not a good answer for us in the coming years. He can’t guard power forwards. He’s too small in every way. He tries, but can’t. Love was bad on D, but at least he wasn’t constantly physically overpowered by nearly every starting power forward and many bench PF’s we face. Maybe this flew in the East, but it does not in the West. Even worse, Bennett’s development seems to have halted, and even what he could do a month ago is no longer there (oddly, long mid range shots that went in at an acceptable rate). I’m concerned he’ll pan out to be of little use to us. Between the two we are in dire straights at that position unless we can draft for it next year. (BTW, Bennett makes a lot of money! Uh-Oh)

    The Cleveland game is going to be horrifying. And lame. At the opening of the season, we all looked at this as a fun thing to see, but without Rubio all the air goes out. Hopefully it will be OK.

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