Contrary to popular belief, the month of January is not named after the Roman deity Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions, who is often depicted with two faces because he’s able to see both the past and the future. It’s a shame, too, because it’d be so poetic. New Year’s Eve and Day, the passage from one year to the next, provides everyone with a chance to look back and look ahead, to evaluate the past year and make resolutions for the next one.
No, January is named after Juno, who was the patron goddess of mouthy, pregnant teenagers or something. Perhaps inspired by this, the Wolves and Kings had plenty of mouthy moments in their New Year’s Day battle at the Target Center. Or it could have been the delicious blend of a Timberwolves team desperate for a win, crappy officiating, a somewhat salty home crowd fighting off the remnants of their hangovers by shouting mean things at the crappy officials, and the beautiful disaster of meddlesome ownership also known as the Sacramento Kings.
The star of the show for Vivek Renadive’s erstwhile up-and-coming bunch was DeMarcus Cousins, the uber-talented “problem child” from Kentucky the Wolves passed on to draft Wesley Motherf—ing Johnson with the 4th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. (Recounting Minnesota’s draft day mistakes is completely tired most of the time, but please remember that the theme of this recap is “Janus,” so I am making an exception.) His sulk face was on from the opening tip through his sixth foul, which came with 2:46 to go in the game. In the 26:44 of Boogie action in between, he was a bullying force Gorgui Dieng was powerless to slow down alone. The entire Wolves’ defense had to bend and shift to deny the ball and then double when he caught it in order to contain him, but Cousins still scored 19 points on 14 shots. He also dished out four assists, some of them truly exquisite, merely further proving that he is one of the most gifted players, and certainly the most talented young big man, in the game today.
But he couldn’t stay on the court for as long as he would have liked or as long as his team really needed him to. Andrew Wiggins, on the other hand, the future of the Timberwolves franchise, played over 40 minutes for the third time in the past four games and the sixth time this season. He scored 27 points on 11-of-22 shooting, grabbed 9 rebounds, handed out 2 assists, recorded 4 steals and seems to be hitting his stride as we flip the calendar to 2015.
That isn’t to say he was perfect. What made Wiggins’ big first half (21 points on 11 shots, 4/4 from the FT line) a success was primarily his aggressiveness attacking the basket. In the second half, despite being matched up with the smaller Ben McLemore a majority of the time, Wiggins began settling for single dribble pull-up jumpers. Down the stretch, as the Wolves fought to stay in the game, they went to him in the post on multiple possessions. He scored once, but his costly turnover in the face of a Kings’ double-team with 1:28 to go and Minnesota already down 4 was a back-breaker.
Minnesota versus Sacramento was an intriguing peek into what might have been and what might be. Who knows what kind of shape Boogie and the Wolves would be in had they gone that route, but dwelling on it for too long is a fool’s errand. Pondering who Andrew Wiggins will become is equally mysterious, but a much more worthwhile daydream. The good moments are coming for Minnesota’s phenom at a more rapid pace these days, and while the growing pains are far, far from over, nights like this one, even though it ended in a loss, are encouraging all the same.
A few other odds and ends from Target Center:
– The officiating was laughably bad. Boogie’s a whiner, but his gripes were legitimate more often than not. Flip Saunders got a technical protesting an atrocious whistle on Thad Young, the normally quiet Gorgui Dieng got animated with the officials a few times, and Jeff Adrien and Carl Landry had their moments as well.
– Minnesota started very slow, falling behind 11-2 in the first two and a half minutes of the game before waking themselves up. Sacramento shot 78% from the field and went 8-of-8 from the line in the first quarter, and somehow, the Wolves were only down by 8 points at the end of it.
– I’m beginning to think Gorgui Dieng and Thad Young can’t play together. They just don’t mesh well; neither is an exceptional rebounder, both want to operate on offense from the elbow area, and neither are big enough (for Thad it’s his height, for Gorgui his weight) to handle physical front lines on defense. I’d love to see Young with Pekovic and Dieng with a stronger pick-and-pop forward (like, if Anthony Bennett ever figures things out) but neither are going to come to fruition anytime soon, it seems.
– Speaking of Bennett… he’s lost at the moment. He needs a shot of confidence in the worst way.
– Derrick Friggin’ Williams: 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, 5 rebounds, 3 assists in 30 minutes. How. Annoying.
– It’s pretty astonishing how bad the Timberwolves are at playing defense. They failed to get back multiple times early in the game, allowing for some very nice Ben McLemore dunks. Sacramento found plenty of space to make interior passes without Minnesota making them pay. Cousins and Thompson bullied their way to the rim almost at will. Mo Williams and Zach LaVine cannot contain dribble penetration, whether it’s fighting through screens or moving laterally quickly enough to stay in front. Even basic stuff – stopping the ball when the other team is on a runout – isn’t happening.
– Shabazz Muhammad wasn’t as spectacular as he’s so often been lately (15 points on 5-of-13 shooting in 35 minutes) but was reasonably effective while staying in his lane, the mark of a guy who is both comfortable and self-aware. And while he isn’t a particularly good passer at the moment, the effort is there. The Wolves have a lot to work on in transition (the return of Rubio in a couple of weeks ought to help) but rather than myopically attacking the hoop, Muhammad has been looking to pass more often in the past few games. It usually ends in a turnover, but it’ll come.
– TROY DANI3LS was a bright spot for Minnesota, going 3-of-7 from the field, all of them from outside the arc, and was a big part of the Wolves 4th quarter push to make it a close game. It became clear that the Wolves only have one play for him at the moment – they ran the same exact set several times in a row trying to free him for a perimeter shot. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Daniels once he knows the offense. Anything that gets the team shooting more threes is a good thing; therefore, Daniels’ presence (and increased playing time) is a good thing.
– We’ll close with this Vine, starring Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio and yours truly, diligently taking notes in the background: