Timberwolves 101, Kings 91: Looking for the cliff
Sustainability. That is the single hardest thing to build in professional sports, especially when it comes to the NBA. 17 years ago, the NBA threw together a collective bargaining agreement to help small and middle markets keep their star players. 13 years later, the owners overreacted to the new trend of players trying to form a Big 3 wherever they played, and brought about a luxury tax system that actually promotes the prevention of such teams.
We’ve seen that system of prevention hit teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder since the implementation of the new CBA. We saw the Milwaukee Bucks make some questionable decisions with their roster (i.e. – Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams) recently because they’re trying to find the balance of building with youth they can afford and going after veterans who can build on success now. They wanted to capitalize on their newfound success last season and build a bridge to the future. Unfortunately for them so far, the early returns on these moves have shown a regression instead of progression.
With what the Wolves are building right now, eventually their youth and success will become a financial issue. Keeping the core together will be expensive and they’ll have to make decisions on whom to keep. But the danger of being ahead of schedule can be a real problem. I wasn’t worried about being ahead of schedule heading into this season. I’ve been hesitant to be open to being ahead of schedule through the first month of the season because you don’t want to get distracted by the shiny object.
The Wolves won another road game Friday night. In fact, they’re 6-2 on the road this season because they’ve managed to foster an “us against the world” mentality that they can’t find at home. That’s a rare thing for such a young team to be able to create — truly create in a way that isn’t cliché — but that’s what they’ve managed to do so far. Figuring out how they can sustain that and sustain success in general is the tricky part.
When you’re building a team, you’re always headed toward a cliff no matter how successful you become. That cliff can come from getting too old, too expensive, or just hitting a ceiling with your talent and coaching that eventually forces you over the edge. You can turn left or right when you get to the cliff and never progress, but eventually age catches up with you and shoves you over.
The only way the truly great teams circumvent falling over the cliff is to keep building bridges off of it. That’s what the Spurs have done. That’s what the Warriors are doing. That’s what the Thunder and Cavs are attempting to do. Every version of a successful or a hopefully successful Wolves team has found that cliff pretty quickly and fallen. This Wolves team is far away from finding that cliff. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are going to be with the Wolves for at least 7-10 years. They’ll have core members like Zach LaVine, Nemanja Bjelica, Shabazz Muhammad, and Gorgui Dieng involved for a very long time.
Eventually, decisions based on upgrades or finances will need to be made. Those are years from happening, but as the Wolves become good quickly (which appears to be happening), those decisions will come up faster than anticipated. How the Wolves handle this progression will be fascinating in the team building process. And how they handle this mild success at the moment will also be telling of how good this young core can be.
Will it drive them? Will they become complacent and assume success just comes because of their talent? And for us, at what point does this become real? It’s easy to just say “it’s real now!” but the pragmatic approach is something I’m more akin to. But even my reticence to accept flashes as reality and trends as status quo seems to be wavering.
Regardless of whether or not this is real, it’s fun. It’s really freaking fun. If they can eventually turn this into sustainability, then we’re really going to have something here.
- This team took 25 3-pointers in the game and shot 36% in the process. That looked… modern? This was the first time since a double overtime game on April 16, 2014 they’d attempted at least 25 3’s in a game. It was the first regulation game with 25 3’s attempted since March 31, 2014. You don’t want just wild chucking, but this was the type of offense you want to see. It helps that it was against this terrible Kings’ defense, but it’s still nice to see.
- The Wolves might have the most effective scoring bench in the NBA. Their bench leads the NBA in scoring at 44.4 points per game, has the eighth highest bench field goal percentage (45.3%), are 14th in 3-point percentage (34%), and lead the NBA in bench free throw attempts (11.4) and free throw percentage (84.1%). They had 48 points on 17-of-34 (50%) from the field, 5-of-11 (45.4%) from 3, and 9-of-9 from the line. This bench is the perfect scoring complement to the defensive nature of what has been the typical healthy starting lineup.
- No, I don’t know what Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t play in recent fourth quarters, but this will shock you… I don’t have a huge problem with it. It’s short-term and I don’t anticipate it being something we have to worry about over the next decade-plus.
- Over on CBSSports.com, I wrote about the top clutch players of the first month of the NBA season. Andrew Wiggins made the list, not just because I like him, but he’s been the most used clutch player in the NBA this season. These are numbers heading into Friday’s game, but here’s an excerpt from it: “He’s only shooting slightly better than the league average of 39.7 percent, but he leads the NBA in clutch field goal attempts (37), clutch field goal makes (15, tied with LeBron James), clutch free throw attempts (21), clutch free throw makes (16, tied with Reggie Jackson), and clutch points (46). Wiggins is the guy the Wolves go to in these situations. He’s taken 37 of their 82 field goal attempts and half of their 42 free throw attempts.”