Note: The whole crew got together to discuss Kevin Martin as a sixth man, Sam Mitchell as head coach, which of the old guys will play the most, and which player has the most to prove during training camp.
What, if any, difference(s) do you expect to see from the Timberwolves with Sam Mitchell on the sidelines instead of Flip Saunders?
Steve: The watchword from media day and training camp so far has been defense, and I hope that’s what we see, because it’s easier to build a team from the defense out than the other way around. Mitchell doesn’t have to reinvent Flip’s approach or schemes if he can just get them to play hard and play defensively. For all the talk of 3-point shooting (which I definitely think is something that eventually needs to be addressed), if the team can get on the same page defensively and in terms of playing for each other, the rest of it will be easier to figure out.
Zach: In a similar way to what Steve is talking about with defense, I think there will be more of an attention to detail in taking care of the ball. Regardless of what you feel about Mitchell’s potential as a coach, his teams in Toronto typically played fast (in top half of the league three out of four years in pace) but didn’t turn the ball over. They were always a top five team in turnover rate and I think that’s a result of his emphasis on being a disciplinarian. It’s hard to judge last year’s team under Saunders because the injuries created chaos in so many categories, but Mitchell will make sure the Wolves aren’t careless with the ball. Push the pace and don’t give the ball away.
Tim: I echo what Zach and Steve have said about defense. More specifically, I expect more communication than anything else. Ricky Rubio mentioned during media day how nice it was to have Kevin Garnett talking from the interior on defense; I expect Mitchell to expect the team to do lots of that collectively. I think having Rubio, Wiggins, and Towns out there together will help that regardless of the coach, but I could see Mitchell making it a smoother transition.
Bill: On Media Day, Kevin Martin alluded to Sam having a much quicker hook than Flip. According to him, when mistakes are made, Mitchell is far more likely to make substitutions. Last season, Flip would get pretty peeved at mistakes, but oftentimes chose to leave players in the game and coach them up during stoppages in play (especially Wiggins and LaVine). So I’m curious if Mitchell will cut less slack to the second and third-year guys (Wiggins, LaVine, Shabazz, Gorgui, Payne) because a) that’s more his style and b) he expects more out of them.
Which player has the most to prove during training camp?
Steve: I think Gorgui Dieng has a lot at stake going into this season. He had a very quiet rookie year where he broke out big at the end, and then a sophomore season that seemed underwhelming to many even though he had to carry a tremendous load because of injuries to Pekovic and Turiaf (remember when he was on the team?). Even with all that selfless work, he finds himself behind number one draft pick Towns and honorary face of the franchise Garnett. With Pek not ready for opening night, he’s likely the first guy off the bench, but is that enough for him?
Zach: It’s Ricky Rubio. There’s a very real possibility that Sam Mitchell’s coaching audition in his interim period is directly tied to just how well Ricky plays. Rubio improved as a jump shooter under Mike Penberthy’s tutelage and he’ll continue to work with him on a private basis. But I’ve always contended his bigger issue is finishing around the rim and a big part of that is remaining healthy. I think he has to show Sam that he’s the trustworthy option with the ball in his hands running the offense. Andre Miller is as veteran as they get at the point guard position, and it’ll be easy for Mitchell to start trusting him more if Rubio looks shaky at all. It may sound insane to some, but Rubio has to prove to his interim coach that he’s the trustworthy option running this show.
Tim: I think it’s become well-established that Ricky Rubio can be a good NBA starting point guard, but I also think fans (both locally and nationally) are hoping he can make a leap. Most of that has to do with health. Historically, a healthy Ricky Rubio makes the Wolves a much better team on both ends. That said, he hasn’t been healthy for long enough stretches to see if that can be a full season mainstay.
Bill: This probably spoils a post I have planned for later in the week, but what the hell – to me, it’s the two guys fighting for the 15th and final roster spot: Lorenzo Brown and Damjan Rudez. Brown is a bit of a longshot, as his $950,000 salary is non-guaranteed, and there are already three point guards certain to make the team (Rubio, Miller, and Tyus Jones). He’d be the easiest to cut… but then again, Rudez’s skill set doesn’t exactly fit with the Wolves’ overall philosophy. Damjan is a spot-up shooter (admittedly, a pretty damn good one) who doesn’t offer much else – he probably doesn’t mesh with Sam’s hard-nosed, defense-first mandate. For all of Brown’s shortcomings, he’s tough as hell, and battles like crazy. Will that impress the coaching staff enough to win him a job?
Kevin Martin was pretty adamant on Media Day that he ought to be the team’s starting shooting guard this season. Do you agree? Or is there a case to be made for him as a sixth man?
Steve: There’s definitely a case to be made, no matter what he says. I understand that this is sports, an arena that clings adamantly to nearly medieval notions of seniority and succession based on years in the league, but are you honestly going to tell me Martin brings that much more defensively than, say, Shabazz Muhammad? Martin is still an excellent offensive player, which is precisely why he could be an asset off the bench for a second unit that will probably struggle to score if the rest of them are Miller, Prince, Payne and Dieng. Nevertheless, I anticipate him starting the season at the two.
Zach: I think you can float the idea of Kevin Martin being a Sixth Man and sacrificing in that respect on a playoff team, and preferably a team looking to contend. That’s not this team and I think there’s some real strategic brilliance to having a wild, athletic second unit that tries to change the pace of the game as a five-man lineup. If that’s the case, you want Martin starting and providing the floor-spacing Rubio may need to operate within the offense. He’s a perfect safety valve on the perimeter, and I love idea of Andre Miller kicking it ahead and pushing the pace with Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine on the wings. I also think Miller would be a great point guard influence for LaVine operating on the wing. Start Martin and let any other young guy earn that starting nod over time.
Tim: The Wolves are going to have a pretty nice sixth man this year, no matter how they work things out. I think this is ultimately a question of Martin vs. Muhammad as the sixth man, correct? Personally, I think both would be very good in that role. Martin would bring perimeter shooting and an eye for the basket. A guy who scored 20 points per game coming off your bench would be a nice luxury, no doubt. Alternatively, Muhammad would do a lot of the same, and would also bring an energy off the bench that the rest of the pine unit (Miller, LaVine, Dieng, Bjelica) may not be able to provide. If starting is the difference-maker to Martin being happy, I think they should give it to him, mostly because I think it shouldn’t matter.
Bill: I love the idea of Rubio, Martin and Wiggins on the floor together, so I’m cool with those three starting and playing the first six-to-ten minutes of the game together. I think they compliment one another so well on offense – Rubio penetrating, Martin spotting up, Wiggins posting up or cutting off the ball. Defensively, Rubio and Wiggins can help atone for Martin’s… um… deficiencies. Plus, I’m totally cool with keeping Shabazz Muhammad motivated and hungry – if he has eyes on a starting spot, one way to get it is to play really well at both ends of the floor in a bench role. If he does that for long enough, the coaching staff will have to take notice.
It’s tough to forecast, I know (and we all hate making predictions), but just for the hell of it – which of the Wolves’ three graybeards (Garnett, Miller, Prince) logs the most minutes in 2015-16? Why?
Steve: Miller. Prince is maybe the safest pick since he played the most minutes last year and is five years younger than Miller and Garnett, but let’s not forget that at one time Miller was the NBA’s ironman, with a consecutive games streak of 632 games that only ended because of a suspension. Prince will have to vie for playing time with future-of-the-franchise Wiggins and super dynamo Shabazz Muhammad, while Miller is the first logical choice off the bench behind Rubio given Jones’ inexperience.
Zach: Andre Miller. I think we’ll see dual point guard lineups involving him and Rubio or him and Tyus Jones. I don’t know how you trust that KG can log heavy minutes this season because the past few years have been mostly rough in that respect. I think Prince’s big chance of logging more minutes than these guys is tied to his opportunity to play some stretch-4, and I think the presence of Nemanja Bjelica eliminates a lot of those chances. Miller always plays no matter what team he’s on. I’ll take the Professor in the half court with the set shot.
Tim: The lifelong KG fan in me wants to say Garnett, but the realist in me (who looks at his stat sheet the last 2-3 seasons) knows that’s going to be a stretch. Andre Miller doesn’t miss games, and is probably set away as the team’s backup point guard. I don’t see any immediate playing time for Tayshaun Prince, even if Garnett misses some time. If development is truly going to be the priority, it seems unlikely he’ll get a go over guys like Bjelica and Payne on a consistent basis. It’s got to be Miller.
Bill: Fine, fine, I’ll be the one who goes against the grain and picks Tayshaun Prince. I have my doubts that Andre Miller can play at the same time as Rubio (absolutely zero outside shooting in that backcourt). I also assume Tyus Jones and Zach LaVine will spend a bit of time as the primary ballhandlers in some lineups. So despite Andre Miller’s remarkable durability, I’m skeptical he’ll earn a ton of minutes. Garnett is probably good for 15-20 minutes per night in 55 games or so, but he’s 39 years old, and his knee issues could flare up at any time. That leaves Prince, who turns 36 in February, and has the most left in the tank. I think the coaching staff will trust him, and players like that usually find their way onto the court for long stretches in the second halves of games.