Suns 113, Timberwolves 111: The World is Yours

ILLMATIC

Down two points with 5.5 seconds to go, Thad Young rebounded a missed Isaiah Thomas free throw, pushed the ball up the floor, passed it to Chase Budinger, who darted diagonally across center court from left to right, ultimately finding Andrew Wiggins for a good look from the right wing with the clock winding down to zero.

It didn’t go in.

If you have been following the Wolves closely lately, you probably know how often Flip Saunders has repeated something to the effect of “Developing and seeing signs from the young players is nice, but it’s important to have positive reinforcement and win every once in awhile.” So while everyone was ready to talk about Andrew Wiggins’ terrific night – 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and several big plays down the stretch – Saunders was clearly frustrated with the loss, offering only measured praise for outstanding individual performances and commenting that he’ll spend time going over the events of the night, particularly the final 30 seconds, in his head. The loss stung him.

After the game, a dejected Mo Williams (who sprained his ankle and had to exit the game with 20 seconds to go) echoed Flip’s thoughts. “I think the coach is doing a good job keeping us motivated,” he said. “It’s tough, it’s tough. We just have to continue to keep fighting.” When asked if he’s noticed the development in Andrew Wiggins’ game in particular, Mo responded by saying that he’s seen growth in all of the team’s young guys, and added: “Growth is good, it’s great for you guys to write about, it’s a great story, but… we don’t like losing. It sucks.”

Thad Young echoed these sentiments. When asked if he and his teammates trusted Andrew Wiggins to take that final shot, he replied that they have confidence in all of the young guys. “They’ve improved tremendously this season. They’re still continuing to improve. It didn’t work out tonight, but we have lots of confidence in everyone we put out on the court.”

Everybody on the team has the right to be upset about the loss. They’re highly competitive, motivated people, and it’d be foolish to expect otherwise. But with all due respect to Flip, Mo, Thad and the rest of the young players who had nice nights and the veteran players who want to avoid favoritism by treating all the kids as a group… HOLY CRAP, EVERYONE, ANDREW WIGGINS IS COMING INTO HIS OWN, AND WHEN HE PLAYS WELL, THE LOSSES DON’T HURT ME AS A WRITER OR AS A FAN. NOT AT ALL. NOT EVEN A LITTLE.

When the ball clanged out on Wiggins’ final three point attempt, my first reaction was to smile because damn, that would’ve been sweet. Cheering isn’t really allowed in the media section, but if it had gone in, I don’t think I would have been the only one to react somehow. This game was fun. Capping it off with a win would’ve made it more fun, but even though Wiggins missed the game winner, his aggressiveness and defensive excellence for the other 39:54 of his time on the court more than made up for it.

The incomparable Dawk Ins made the definitive Wiggins highlight reel from last night, which I will bookmark and watch on gloomy days to lift my spirits:

Over his past 8 games, Wiggins is averaging 21.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals on 52/42/69 shooting splits. The Wolves have lost all 8 of those games. If you can’t enjoy what Wiggins is doing because the team is losing, or if you don’t want to watch the team at all because they’re 5-29, there’s the door. Seriously. Get out. The players can (and should) be mad about the losing streak and the crappy record, but that’s their livelihood. As fans, understanding the context of the season is important. The crown jewel of this past draft, and the Kevin Love trade, the guy who is still a teenager, is coming into his own. Win or loss, it’s fun to watch.

A few other odds and ends from this one, in no particular order:

– This was a funny thing that happened. Classic fake dunk assist by Shabazz:

– Muhammad went 0-for-3 in the first half with 2 turnovers, but still pulled down 4 rebounds and dished out 4 assists. He got into the scoring column in the third quarter, racking up 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including a couple of very nice finishes on Wiggins assists. It’s subtle, but it’s clear that Shabazz and Wiggins are beginning to get comfortable with one another on the floor.

– Plus/minus isn’t everything, but the Wolves were plus-7 in Mo Williams’ 35:23 and minus-9 in Zach LaVine’s 12:37. Mo had his best game as a Timberwolf, scoring 23 points on 14 shots and dishing out 11 assists. Despite all the turnovers in the game, the offense was as efficient and cohesive as it’s been since Rubio went down early in the season – as long as Mo was on the floor.

– There was one sequence that summed up both LaVine and Bennett at this point of their careers. Early in the second quarter, as LaVine walked it up the floor on offense, Anthony Bennett was jogging along with him and looking at the sideline, palms in the air, asking what the play call was. Confused, LaVine and Bennett just ran a simple pick and pop, which resulted in a Bennett miss. The very next trip down the floor, there was more confusion over what play to run, so LaVine and Bennett improvised again, this time resulting in a Bennett dunk.

While Bennett had his best game in quite awhile as the first man off the bench in both halves (miss you already, Jeff Adrien), putting up 14 points and pulling down 10 rebounds, it’s little things like these that need to improve in order for him to get more consistent minutes.

– Long before the Wiggins missed three at the buzzer, there were three other big factors that hurt the Wolves’ chances to win. The first had to do with Gerald Green going bonkers when Andrew Wiggins was getting some rest at the end of the 3rd quarter through the start of the fourth. Green notched 15 points in 4:29 of game action (from 0:51 of the 3rd to 8:22 of the 4th), bringing the Suns all the way back from being down 7 to being up by 4. The second had to do with Alex Len dominating Bennett, who was playing the five while Dieng got some rest during the middle of the fourth quarter. Finally, there was this turnover by Chase Budinger in a big spot:

– The Morris twins got matching technical fouls within three and a half minutes of one another in the third quarter. Twins, am I right?

– The Wolves had 30 assists on 44 made baskets, which is encouraging. They also turned it over 22 times and allowed 42 (!!!) fourth quarter points, which is discouraging.

– The song that kept popping into my mind as I thought about Andrew Wiggins’ recent emergence was “The World is Yours” by Nas. I’ve been going on a hip-hop crash course as of late, having never listened to much before, and Nas’ debut album Illmatic is already one of my favorites:

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16 Responsesso far.

  1. T-Wizzle says:

    Its really unfortunate the team can’t win close winnable games. All blame should go on Flip I think. He doesn’t put right players on the floor in last minutes of the game to win.

  2. Andrew says:

    Wiggins had a great night, however, I think he could have had an even better one. I question the decision not to go to him more with players like Dragic guarding him. I think 20+ shots would’ve been more appropriate given his size and athelitic superiority over those guarding him (Yes I realize he has this advantage most nights but not to this degree). Same goes with Lavine. Look at the play where he backed down and manhandled Isiah Thomas, I would have liked to see him exploite his size and athletic advantage more. It seems as though Flip is trying to make Lavine into more of a game manager, when he should be in attack mode when faced with matchups like these. Give the kid a green light!

  3. matt says:

    I know that the Wolves play better with Mo running the show rather than Zach, but man, sometimes his shot selection is so, so frustrating…

  4. Jordan says:

    a win would have been nice, but at least a game like this they can learn something about closing out. I was tired of watching an early blowout, followed by the Wolves closing the gap in garbage time.

    I feel like a lot of growth potential has been missed during the injuries due to the games not even being competitive.

  5. Uglyfunk says:

    Ball never touched the rim…mistake or not Shabazz should have been credited with an assist on that blown flush

  6. George says:

    Wiggins ripping the ball away from (insert first name) Morris in the final minute was my favorite play of the season. Genuinely. Stay healthy, one damn time.

  7. Pyrrol says:

    One thing that impresses me about Wiggins is how calm he is in almost every situation. To cross sports for a second, he reminds me of Teddy Bridgewater in that respect. Being calm in sports is a very useful and relatively rare talent. For all the talk about Wiggins’ lack of aggression, he’s already improved on that aspect quite a bit. On top of that, he as a surprisingly large, readymade arsenal of skills on offense and his shot not only looks smooth, it goes in. He’s very efficient for a young player scoring in the numbers he is. I’m excited about him and he’s fun to cheer for.

    I had the same smile when our last shot clanged out. But the context of it was I expected by that point we’d lose the game by 5 or so, not have a last second chance to win, within a game that we should have won and was nearly handed to us by a cold shooting, thick headed Suns team. By that point I was amused and proud of the guys for almost pulling it out, but this was after they let a game they should have easily won slip away. Again. We get blown out game after game, or lose the rare competitive ones when we are practically invited to win. That is hard on the fans. Losing what, 13 in a row is hard on fans. And it is hard on the players. It puts them in a position where confidence, the fuel for NBA success, is like looking for water in a desert. I think wise fans see things to be excited about still, and see the possibility of a better future. Yet, we’ve been trained to be a cynical and paranoid lot and I don’t think losing 13 straight, even in this context, is good for the fan base or really acceptable in general. Only teams that are in serious trouble, not simply rebuilding, have this much trouble winning. Either way, if breeds negativity around the franchise we just don’t need as fans, players or anyone connected to the team. We need to move beyond moral victories and win a few games, for the good of us all. Hopefully Rubio will be back very soon.

    Quick question. So, Adrian is gone? Did we replace him with anyone?

  8. Pyrrol says:

    Also, I saw this, also by William, on another site: http://hardwoodparoxysm.com/2015/01/08/longer-flip-saunders-coaches-wolves-better/

    Interesting! I have to say, I’d love to believe this, and felt this way before the season. But what I’m seeing with my eyes doesn’t match this account. For instance, the article talks about Flip’s system (which still confuses me) saying, ‘that his defensive concepts lack the personnel to be executed as opposed to being entirely flawed.’ I simply don’t buy that our personnel force our defense to be this bad, like there is no way our defense could be better with these guys at this time in their careers. As a fan, I want more. I want to not be a laughing stock, even in tough circumstances. Even in MN, when I tell someone I’m a Wolves fan, I either get a blank stare or a condescending comment. I’m sick of that. I want the team to not be an embarrassment. And I think part of that might need to be Flip doing a better job, or finding someone who can. That’s just how my eyes see it at this point. We get guys back, and start to win maybe I’ll see the light William can now.

  9. Nate says:

    Ricky Rubio’s reaction at the end of the game was just about the same as mine. The “AWWW MAN, that would have been awesome if it had gone in” but then right after smiling because he knows that actually winning that game doesn’t really change anything and Wiggins played really well.

    Also on a side note Dieng is out of position on defense so much and plays the pick and roll so poorly. It frustrates me so much some times.

  10. Mac says:

    I can see why Mo Williams doesn’t quite share the fanbase’s joy about Wiggins’ development. If my law firm was bleeding money and losing business to competitors such that my own job was on the line, it’s not exactly a comfort to me there is a more junior guy who is going to be a superstar when I’m gone. It’s different for Rubio because he is a part of the future with Wiggins, I don’t think it’s fair to say he is more supportive of Wiggins because he is just that great of a guy. He is actively invested in his development.

    But it’s great to see the young guys playing and playing well regardless of the record. From my point of view this is a better result than the veterans being healthy and the team winning 35 games while Wiggins, Bazz, LaVine etc. play 18-20 minutes a game, so I don’t know what the fuss is about (except Flip of course, who wanted to win 35 games).

  11. William Bohl says:

    Lots of good comments, here. Thank you all for reading.

    Andrew- I am working on a piece about Wiggins in the post, and needing to attack smaller defenders. He’s still got some work to do recognizing those mismatches. I will say that Bledsoe was physical enough to bug him, and Dragic, though he’s small, was an active little pest at denying entry passes. Baby steps, right?

    Matt- re: Mo’s shot selection – yes. But they go in more often than Barea’s did, right?

    Pyrrol: Totally agree with Wiggins’ confidence and calm – nothing rattles the guy. He’s got to be the most even-keeled young player I have ever watched. And while the wins would be nice, what the Wolves are going through is a long, long process. They’re on pace to win, like, 14 games. I guarantee they make it to at least 22. Shifting gears, thanks for linking to the HP piece I wrote – I wasn’t so much defending Flip or the job he is doing, just stating from a pragmatic point of view, it’s best to pull for him. Because he’s got all the power.

    Nate: Interesting about Dieng. I’ll have to look into that.

  12. Mac says:

    William, just read your HP piece. I love your work and certainly understand what you are getting at, but unfortunately I’m not sure pulling for him because he has all the power is a constructive exercise. If he’s not great at his job, he should be thoroughly criticized and the public should push him to produce results or get out of the way, all the more strongly precisely because he has less accountability than other coaches. You seem to say “Flip can coach as long as he wants so let’s hope he coaches a long time because that will mean presumably things are going well.” It could mean that, or it could mean he is being self-indulgent just because he can. There is no reason for us to infer Flip being the coach four years from now is likely to have any specific positive or negative connotation since you have established it is possible for that to be the case regardless of his achievements.

    I can tell you like Flip, but let’s face it, if David Kahn had had Flip’s job security would Wolves fans have shrugged and said “oh well, I guess we just have to pull for David Kahn, we should root for him to be the GM five years from now because presumably that means he is doing a good job”? It is not clear to me that would be the case, or that it would even be the rational thing to do. “This guy has too much authority and we can’t do anything about it so we better give him extra support and hope that he does right by us” is how North Koreans view Kim Jong Un, not how Wolves fans and media should view Flip.

  13. Scott says:

    The one glaring deficiency I saw in the game was a lack of boxing out for rebounds. This is a simple thing to do. Too often a shot goes up and everyone in a wolve jersey just turns to see where it goes. They give up way too many offensive rebounds.

  14. farnorth says:

    Glad we got to see energy out of the team from the start. I wish Thaddeus was as good as I thought he was.

  15. Nathan says:

    Let’s hope Rubio’s return to the court will create more cohesion on the court for the Wolves because that 3rd quarter was brutal with the sloppy play. I think his leadership and playmaking will account for a quite a few wins, especially in a game like this where both teams are constantly running the floor.

    Lastly, Wiggins is looking good and playing well, but he has to work on his post up moves. It’s the same back down approach every possession regardless of if he’s getting fronted in the post. He has to read the defense better. Instead of constantly posting up from 15-18 ft maybe he should work on his guard play and getting to the hoop off the dribble. That’s how he will become a superstar. Until he gets a handle on the ball, we’ll be talking about his upside until he signs his second contract!

  16. Pyrrol says:

    William–You are welcome. I got the odd feeling that not that many people would see it or comment on it there. I love this site and how much passion and discussion there is!

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