Jazz 101, Wolves 89: Energy

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Through the Wolves’ current 11-game losing streak, we’ve heard stuff like this from head coach Flip Saunders. A lot.

Considering the number of injuries the Wolves have compiled (and who, specifically, got injured), it would be easy to dismiss this season as a wash. But when a young team like the Wolves can’t even properly use what may be their biggest tool (young, fresh legs) to their advantage on a nightly basis, things are going to get bad. Losing streaks like this are going to happen. It’s what happened tonight.

The lack of energy came as soon as the first quarter, when the Jazz got out to a quick 10-5 lead. The Wolves’ two best current scorers, Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad, may have gotten one combined touch during this stretch. Still, the most frustrating part of it was their lack of determination to go get the ball themselves.

As the game wore on, open three-point shots remained available for Utah, and they took advantage. The Wolves’ lack of size inside allowed the Jazz to bring back 11 offensive rebounds on the rare three-point miss. To be fair, Minnesota won the offensive glass battle, but that could be due to their 39.7 percent display from the field (compared to Utah, who shot just over 50 percent).

A lack of size and effort can make basketball especially strange. Tonight, it caused Rudy Gobert to put up career-high numbers, as he finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 blocks in 30 minutes of action. Also, this is one of those blocks.

The Wolves were able to make things fun towards the end of the third quarter, when they stormed back and got what was an 18-point deficit back down to 8 in the fourth quarter. But in familiar fashion, a Quinn Snyder timeout triggered the Jazz to calm themselves and put the game away for good.

There were a couple good things that happened tonight. Andrew Wiggins put up his 5th 20+ point effort in 6 games (also his 3rd straight). The Thad Young/Anthony Bennett combination were somehow able to keep the much larger Derrick Favors from contributing too much. Gordon Hayward was a non-factor.

Still, too much went wrong tonight. The Gobert Report had a career night. Trey Burke dominated Minnesota’s point guard duo of Mo Williams and Zach LaVine, both of whom struggled to facilitate anything reminiscent of a steady NBA offense (6 combined assists between the two of them).

Getting Ricky Rubio back will help a lot. So will the eventual returns Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic. But in the meantime, if the Wolves aren’t going to give a consistent energetic effort, at least up to their coach’s standards, they won’t be doing themselves any favors in the process.

Maybe it’s the ridiculous amount of youth on this team. Maybe they just need their vets back. More than likely, it’s a combination of things making this season’s Timberwolves increasingly difficult to watch. If the Wolves aren’t able to find the energy they need to stay in games, it will make it that much tougher when those guys do come back.

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11 Responsesso far.

  1. Pyrrol says:

    In his column about the King’s game, William Bohl spoke about our amazingly bad defense. During the Kings game we allowed ourselves to be eaten alive in transition. In this game, we allowed Utah, and specifically, Burke to kill us with threes, as we stubbornly refused to defend corner threes whatsoever. I think the key to the effort mystery is defense.

    I understand Flip’s frustration. I wonder if he understands the apathy he sees from fans is due to the same process he’s going through, but further progressed. The nightly dark upper tier at the Target Center is because of two things… One, it is too expensive for normal people to afford good seats and no one wants to see ants on a postage stamp lose by 20. Second, the Wolves simply are not putting out a good enough product to have fans show up. Even diehards I know are starting to not tune into games, and stop dreaming of going to the Target Center this season.

    Flip is a cool guy in some ways. But he’s not reacted well to adversity this season. He’s put out a team, consistently, that plays beneath its ability and potential, whatever our injury situation happens to be. I’ve also noted a gross propensity to throw his players under the bus from him. He’s fond of bragging about how little of the playbook we can use without Rubio. Well, Rubio has been out a while. That percent should have gone up by now. It hasn’t. And we know the team will not be half as good without a unique talent like Rubio, but Flip was not at all prepared for injuries, particularly at point. In the NBA, you need to assume guys are going to be out sometimes. Playing good D or at least passable D is something every team has a chance at–team defense is more about practice, effort, knowing your place and strategy, and coaching than rare talent. It isn’t rocket science–our D is going to be joke until we are able to get back on D fast enough to avoid losing every game in transition. It’s going to be bad until guys understand the way the D system works enough so we don’t give up a bunch of uncontested 3’s every night. And our D is going to be bad until we cut down on the bad shots and out of sync offense that leads directly to easy points. For all the talk about being undersized, it is the long rebounds that are killing us, over the heads of the centers and powers. All this can and should be taught to a team, even a very young team. You don’t see any other team in the league with these problems at this level. We played the season laughing stock, Philly, and they beat us. With good cause. They look better in these aspects. We have more talent, but they play more like an NBA team. It’s not that our young guys (and old guys) are incapable or unwilling to do this stuff. They want to win, want to be good players and a good team. It’s that our coaches don’t teach them these basic things and force them to do it. I get the feeling Flip’s punitive use of minutes is just confusing guys because they aren’t sure what they’re doing wrong out there and what they need to do to make it right.

    So, I think what we see here is a team that isn’t being taught well, or coached well in tough circumstances. Frankly, as disgusted with the Wolves as I’ve been, I’ve been impressed by the resilient spirit of the young guys (not so impressed with the vets not named Adrian). I think what we are seeing increasingly is the results of clueless guys who have not been taught how to fix what they are doing wrong that every other team seems to do more right. Any lack of effort you see in this process is due to frustration at being constantly confused and the crushing wave of losses it brings. Flip is a problem.

  2. JV Gibbons says:

    Very well said Pyrrol. I missed the Utah game live but had it PVR’d (yes, I am clearly a glutton for punishment). After listening to Flip’s diatribe about lack of effort, I expected to be appalled by what I saw. But what I saw wasn’t a lack of effort, it was a bad, poorly coached basketball team whose few “veterans” like Thad Young, do nothing to help the situation. The 6 point lead the Jazz had at halftime was their largest lead to that point. “Lack of energy” is just the narrative Flip is trying to sell.

    As you said, Flip has now resorted to throwing his young team under the bus as a means to let us all know that this isn’t his fault, but in my opinion, a lot of what is happening is on him and the rest of the coaching staff. How often do you see this team run a play that gets someone an easy layup or dunk? A back door pass? A back screen that leads to an alley oop? Never. How often does this young athletic team push the ball to get a transition basket instead of working in the half court? Not nearly enough.

    Is this team frustrating to watch? Yes. Should they be a bit better than they have been? Yes. Is this because the players are playing hard? I don’t see that. What do you expect when you ask a 19-year-old whose never played PG to start that position? What will happen with Thad Young finishes a game with 1 more rebound than I had? Is it Flip’s desire to have Mo Williams take more shots than anyone else on the team? What more do you want from Wiggins than a 20 point game on 50% shooting where his defensive assignment (Hayward) shoots 4-13? Apparently a lot cause Flip said he was ok but “not a difference maker” in the game.

    This coach/GM is definitely one of the issues on this squad and his negative attitude could be a real detriment to the young players. Be a leader Flip. Be more creative in your offense. Get these young horses running. Make sure the right guys are getting touches and taking shots. And be a teacher not a criticizer. The development the young core is getting will reap rewards in the future, but only if this year is done right.

  3. boognish says:

    The Wolves are missing 3 of their 5 starters. What do you guys expect? You talk about losing to the “laughing stock” of the NBA, in Philly. Well take out 60% if their starting lineup, play the game again, and see who wins. Flip is absolutely right in using minutes to motivate these guys. It was never the plan to have most of them playing big minutes this season anyway, with the exception of Wiggins.

    If the team is still getting blown out on a regular basis after the return of our best players, then I think it’s fair to question Flip’s coaching and leadership. But until then, he deserves a pass as he tries to coach a bunch of kids with underdeveloped basketball IQs.

    The Thunder were one of the worst teams in the league when Durant and Westbrook were out earlier this season; now that they’ve returned to the lineup the Thunder are looking awesome again. I don’t understand how fans of our team somehow expect us to be down three starters buy continue to be competitive. No team in the NBA could succeed with that many injured starters.

  4. Dave says:

    If Flip isn’t able to help the young players to improve and fix their mistakes, the Wolves need a new coach as soon as possible. Players like Wiggins, Dieng, and Shabazz, and even LaVine, Bennett, and Robinson obviously have potential, but if they aren’t improving and cutting down on their mistakes, that’s on the coach.

  5. gjk says:

    Philosophically, there should be concerns about the way Flip wants to play and its effectiveness under the current rules; it’s why I’m hoping he hires a new head coach next summer. And for a players’ coach, he complains about them too much in the press. But this is all too simplified.

    When a team is 5-26, it’s not either the coaches or the players. It’s both. The NBA is a player’s league, and the ones who succeed are the ones who put in their own time after practice, watching video and doing drills. The only authority a coach has is taking away playing time. These guys will either learn to become professionals or hamper their own careers.

    Beyond that, there are signs the young guys are improving, particularly Wiggins and Muhammad. Dieng looks like an effective offensive threat. The only one who doesn’t look to be progressing is Bennett, but maybe that’s on him; LaVine is hard to judge playing out of position, and Robinson isn’t ready for the NBA and would be in the D-League if not for injuries.

    My biggest complaint about Flip is that he’s not maximizing their chances to win with their strategy, but that strategy still had the team at 2-2 early in the season with full health. I just think it’s a mistake to consider an NBA head coach as someone in complete control of player effort and focus. No head coach in the league is like that; most of the good ones have veteran players who set good examples for success and then trust those guys to establish a culture of accountability. I agreed with trading Brewer, but there’s no doubt they’d have won in the last 2 weeks if he were still here. Young is clearly not ready to be a veteran leader, and Williams isn’t enough of one.

    This is why I hated their PR machine touting all the new acquisitions when any success would be on the backs of Rubio, Pek, and Martin. In general, young players don’t win much in the NBA, especially when they’re forced to take on more responsibilities than they’re ready for. Young guys should be able to play with consistent effort and focus, though; I just think that’s as much their responsibility as it is the coach’s.

  6. Uglyfunk says:

    Good news about a (seemingly) quest for the 1st pick in the 2015 draft is Flip the GM will be able to pick another highly regarded piece that could fit the team in his vision. Hopefully Flip the coach will be so disgusted about this season that he wouldn’t dream of taking on another year on the bench. I’d like to think an improving/promising Wiggins could coax a worthwhile coach to give the Wolves a chance next season and beyond.

  7. shlabotnik13 says:

    I’ll post my comment from the Sac game again because it’s bothering me…

    Why on earth can Lavine not stay in front of his guy on dribble penetration? Isn’t he quick enough?

    The defensive woes of this team are very troubling. I understand that they are a young team, but I think gjk pointed out a while back that Philly has a young, awful team and is still managing a decent defensive rating. Seems to me that 2/3 of good defense is simply wanting to be good at it and putting in the effort. Our young guys (Lavine, Muhammad, Bennett) may not have the right temperament and that’s concerning. Will these guys still be lousy defensively 2 years from now? Can’t win that way and we will have wasted 2 years.

  8. Pyrrol says:

    gkj, I don’t think I, JV or anyone else is trying to say Flip is the only problem with this team right now. I’ve not gotten to the point where I’m pretty sure he’s ONE of our problems, though.

    It’s interesting that young guys like Wiggins, Muhammad and Dieng are improving individually, and yet as a team we look worse than ever. It is more or less the job of the coach to find a way to put skill, talent and effort available together into something that might win a game someday. The fact that guys are improving, but we look worse than ever is a red flag to me.

    Our team is so young that it is hard to gage whether they are or will be ‘winners’. When it comes down to it, Love was a highly skilled player, but he never developed into a ‘winner’. Neither Love or Garnett was a one option on a top level team, but the difference between the two is that Garnett was a ‘winner’ and Love to date is not. So, yes it is a player’s league, and with a team full of young guys you are going to be losing all the time. But that’s not the point–it’s HOW we lose and the fact that we seem unable to win at all that sticks out here.

    In short, my point I was trying to get at above was that I don’t see an effort problem. I see a confusion and frustration problem. It is hard to blame a team, totally, with so many 19-22 year olds for the abhorrent product we are seeing. It is the coaching staff’s job to cut down on the confusion, at some point, and keep things from getting so hopeless that even buoyant young kids become hopeless. I also see players who are hard working (LaVine, Muhammad) and with good basketball IQ (Wiggins, Dieng) still confused about basic things that everyone else in the league seems to be finding a way to do in a system—get back in transition, not leave a large amount of open 3’s on defense, finishing fast breaks etc. Guys that should be learning, smart guys, guys putting in a lot of effort aren’t–and this is the most basic things. This is a problem, and one you can’t just place on the young guys. With Bennett, we definitely get into the ‘blame the player’ territory (as well as with Young). I still think a better coach would keep Bennett from fading into useless territory and would find a way to use Young’s odd style better. I think what we are seeing is not just a teaching thing with the coaches, but also the effects of a system, strategy and ideology that both does not fit the personnel well, nor the way the league is currently. In short, the way Flip is running the team sets them up for failure. With all our youth and injuries this is a toxic mix.

  9. Fan says:

    That’s why before season I think we would trade KG back. Although many would think I’m kidding.

  10. Matt J says:

    The bench is terrible for the Wolves with the injuries and without brewer. If the Wolves had to win one game they would play their current starters 44 minutes or so. That is Williams, Muhammad, Wiggins, and Dieng. Notice I do not mention Young because his defense and rebounding have been dreadful, but he still should get close to 40 minutes. Williams takes too many plays off and is injury prone, but under the right circumstances he could play hard for one game for 44 minutes.

  11. Uglyfunk says:

    Flip hasn’t had much time to overhaul the lineup he’s been given from Kahn as a GM. It’s pretty much the same as what Mike Zimmer has to do with the Vikings, particularly on defense. A guy who makes decisions in personnel (Saunders & Newton, Zimmer & Spielman) needs time to incorporate “their guys” in the system so I didn’t expect the world to be set on fire for either team this season. I wasn’t a fan of Flip being hired as GM at first but he has pretty much won me over with the Shabazz/Dieng swap of Burke and the haul he received for Love which is amazing considering Love was never going to re-sign. Now, Flip the coach has me wanting him to step down as the coach this offseason (if not sooner) and get a reliable one to take his place…but I understand why he is coaching this season considering we were blown off by any coaches that would be better than Flip at this point.

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