Two-thirds through the Canadian tour: checking in with the Wolves up north
The Wolves are in the midst of a three game, five night tour in The Country Above the United States, popularly known among geography nerds as “Canada.” On Saturday, they fell to the Chicago Bulls 114-105 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Ontario. Last night, Minnesota took on the Toronto Raptors on their home floor in Hogtown and fell again, 112-105. The same two teams meet again tomorrow in Ottawa, thus concluding Andrew Wiggins’ tour through his native land.
While the losses don’t really matter (neither game was quite as close as the final scores indicate), there have been a few things worth noting from the Wolves’ time up north. What’s important now is seeing signs of defensive improvement as well as the development of Minnesota’s young players. It’s been a mixed bag to this point of the trip – let’s tackle the subjects one at a time, shall we?
Those are a few words I’d use to describe the Wolves’ success at defending the three point arc this preseason. Overall, opposing teams are hitting 43.4% of their threes against Minnesota. The Bulls (who are going to be a very, very good offensive team, for what it’s worth) hoisted 36 attempts from beyond the arc in Winnipeg, 16 of which went in. The Raptors were “just” 9-of-25 last night, but it could’ve easily been much, much worse. I mean, just look at some of these:
Ricky Rubio’s return will help address this problem, as will a full workload for Andrew Wiggins, who only played a total of 42 minutes across the first two Canadian games. But the Wolves’ lack of ability to defend the three-point line is a cause for concern. They’re collapsing pretty hard on drives at the expense of leaving some shooters wide open, or they’re helping one pass away, or they’re experiencing communication breakdowns… sometimes all on the same possession. Yes, it’s preseason, and this is the time to iron out the kinks, but so far, things don’t look so good in this department.
Continuing the theme of poor defense, poor Tyus is going through a little of what Zach LaVine did last season, except worse. He’s as thin as LaVine was his rookie season, but Jones is also has a much smaller build. He gets cleaned out on picks with regularity, has a tough time staying in front of his man, and doesn’t possess the length or athleticism to bother shots. Everyone will point to the fact that Kyle Lowry ate him up last night, scoring 40 points on 13-of-18 shooting, but don’t forget that Kirk Hinrich (13 points on 5-of-7 shooting), E’Twaun Moore (18 points on 8-of-12 shooting) and Aaron Brooks (10 points on 3-of-7 shooting) all had nice nights against the Wolves in Saturday’s game. Of course, not all of that is Jones’ fault – Lorenzo Brown and Andre Miller share some of the blame – but Tyus’ defensive weaknesses stand out the most.
On the positive side, he’s been very solid leading the Wolves’ offensive attack. Things just seem to pick up when Jones subs in for either Brown or Miller. Saturday, Tyus hit 5-of-9 shots, scored 18 points and dished out 9 assists. While he was held scoreless on Monday, Jones still managed to dole out 4 assists in just 13 minutes.
He looked very passive in the first two preseason games, but really asserted himself last night in Toronto, scoring 21 points on just 10 shots, grabbing 3 rebounds and dishing out 2 assists. It’s a small sample size, and it’s the preseason, so yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, but Wiggins has gotten to the free throw line 18 times in 64 minutes, a rate of 10.1 per-36 minutes. That figure would’ve been among the best in the league last season, on par with Russell Westbrook, James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins. It’s extremely unlikely he ascends to those heights, especially when Rubio is back and handling the ball so much, but it’s worth noting that it appears Wiggins will get to the line A TON this season.
Towns looked fine during the two games in Canada, averaging 10 points and 8 rebounds on 43% shooting. He’s firing away from midrange, which is, you know, whatever. And it’s hard to tell approximately how much difference he’s making defending the paint, but that’ll be easier to see as time goes on. Again with the small sample size thing – he’s averaged 6.4 fouls per-36 minutes so far, a rate that would put him among the league leaders in personal fouls over a full season. 22-28 minutes per game seems about right for him, especially until he gets a feel for the rules and officials at this level.
ANDRE MILLER’S HAIR
First he had the big Afro, then he got cornrows, now the cornrows are out and he’s back to a medium-sized ‘fro. Why you playing with my heart, Dre?
Look… it’s really unfair to be so tough on a young player, especially one that had to deal with life in the D-league, a trade, and being thrown into the fire on the league’s worst team during his rookie season… but I don’t know about Adreian Payne. He was the lone healthy scratch in Winnipeg and was aggressively enigmatic during his 17 minutes in Toronto. He got bullied in the post, airballed a three, and lost track of the clock at the end of the first quarter (thus failing to get a shot off, even though he had plenty of time to do so). Jerry Zgoda reported that Payne’s DNP was due to simple rotational issues – the Wolves have a lot of power forwards to play – and that we shouldn’t read too much into it, but there’s a reason Payne is sitting…
PROFESSOR BIG SHOTS
… and Nemanja Bjelica is not. He’s amassed 23 points, 13 rebounds and 2 assists in 48 minutes during the two Canadian games, hitting 5-of-8 shots from outside and 7-of-18 field goals overall. The numbers don’t seem to tell the whole story, though. Bjelica makes smart plays – he knows when to arrive as a help defender, is able to set up teammates by sucking in defenders on dribble drives, and isn’t afraid to let it fly from the perimeter when the time is right. This play, for example, displays beautiful ball movement, and Bjelica is (fittingly) right in the middle of it all (many thanks to John Meyer for the video):
4 passes leads to Bazz catch-&-shoot 3. pic.twitter.com/3Up6nJYgcy
— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) October 11, 2015
He’s a little slow-footed on defense, and doesn’t get his hands up to defend shots quite quickly enough, but overall he’s been rather impressive through three preseason games. His 31 minute night in Toronto has me wondering if the coaching staff sees him as the first big off the bench, who will most likely check in when Kevin Garnett’s four-to-six minute opening stint is over.
Ick. Since being inexplicably named the starting shooting guard a week ago, Zach LaVine has hit just 6-of-30 shots and tallied 8 assists in 77 minutes of preseason action. Lots of long twos off the dribble early in the shot clock and misguided baseline fadeaway jumpers so far. In one instance, he opted to chuck over feeding Gorgui Dieng, who had Corey Joseph sealed off and posted up all by his lonesome in under the hoop. All reports are that LaVine been the most impressive player in the Timberwolves’ camp and practices, and that may be true, but it sure hasn’t translated to the games yet.
BAZZY AND “G”
And finally, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, the tandem of third-year players looking to take the next step in 2015-16. Each has had some nice moments, but they’ve also reminded you exactly what their limitations have been to this point in their careers. Shabazz has been so-so in the post, knocked down just 2-of-8 threes, pulled down just 2 boards in over 40 preseason minutes, and is still a little late closing out on shooters on the defensive end of the floor. Gorgui’s interior defense leaves a lot to be desired, and while he has been moving the ball beautifully on offense, he’s still prone to fits of tunnel vision when he gets the ball in the paint. In short- both guys look fine, but haven’t separated themselves thus far.
ONE FINAL THING
Gah, I sound really negative, don’t I? Let’s end with something fun. This was fun.