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.

Game Notes:

  • 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.”
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3 Responsesso far.

  1. gjk says:

    The new unstoppable bench frontcourt: Dieng, Rudez, and Prince. Splitting up Prince and KG has worked well defensively so far, especially on the second unit, and replacing Martin with Prince there seems to help the offensive flow as long as it’s not Payne at the 4. When it comes to “modern” offense, it’s weird to see the last 2 games how aggressively everyone has looked for the 3: Payne on Wednesday and Muhammad last night stuck out. It helps that Rudez has been more decisive than Bjelica, even if he’s not a better player.

    As for the “cliff,” the thing I’d be most concerned with is how many adjustments the opponents have left to make with the Wolves D and what happens when they do. Beating Atlanta twice is impressive, but they have yet to play most of the Western teams who provide the biggest challenges. They may be more prepared for the smart teams, but I still don’t know how much of an answer they have for those teams when they’re really clicking. Mentally, that should be the other benefit of these vets besides their court IQs: keeping them prepared to play no matter their level of success. There’s still plenty to work on; even the vets aren’t exactly maximizing their productivity.

  2. pyrrol says:

    Cool write up on clutch players!

    Two mostly bench finished games now. Very odd… I’m not one to complain about wins nor resting guys in a long season when the game situation allows, so I’m not unhappy. It’s just really weird. Part of it is the turnaround. Dieng looked really bad, and suddenly he’s back to himself. Shabazz has hit his stride finally, at the same time, and could see added playing time if his defense improves. Rudez is a guy of limited talent who just knows how to play, who knows and plays to his strengths and weaknesses. He’s like our Red Rocket. We need a cool nickname for him. Prince seems more comfortable off the bench and we needed that D/vet thing there. Obviously, Miller is just a baller, and not ‘done’ although his age requires a limited role. (Does anyone else think he looks AND sounds like Richard Pryor, slightly?) But some of these things came together really suddenly… Also making it strange is how mechanical and inflexible Sam has been with personnel until now… Hardly willing to make the most obvious roster/rotation adjustments, suddenly he’s willing to end games with bench players and pretty odd/creative lineups. I like it–he needs to adjust and keep other teams on their toes and try things. Hope he doesn’t get too carried away.

    I’m not worried long term about the Towns thing. It is a bit boring as a fan to see games with him playing so few minutes and getting his last stint at the end of the game totally cut out. It’s fun watching Towns and I’m still feeling out what he can do NOW let alone what he may develop. It’s no biggy, and I expect to see Towns more soon, but it is maybe not good for his confidence to go so hard away from him when he was basically earning his minutes all season from game one. He’s got a great head on his shoulders, and real positive temperament, so I think he’s fine with all this, but why play with it? Is Dieng playing that great? Is it impossible to play them together if Deing is too hot to take out? Not sure. Probably will forget this odd 2 game stretch happened shortly.

    Boy, SAC is in trouble. They don’t look good, even considering they were missing Cousins (we were short Rubio and BJell…). They seem flawed in ways beyond normal talent. They are sort of a roster of losers. Gay is a ball stopper and so easy to put off his game. Rondo took a nose dive from an NBA winner to a toxic green algae wherever he goes–a strange fall, though he always had flaws. He can still pass (how many assists did he have in this game!?) but it hardly seems to matter, esp on a team like SAC. And we know the attitude problems with Cousins… Karl doesn’t seem to know what to do with these guys nor have the rough personalities in check. Seems like a lot of money is being wasted in this concoction…

  3. Gregory Beatty says:

    Time to start LaVine at the 2, give Payne more minutes at the 4, and find a way to get Tyus Jones some time time at the point…. along with a few minutes from Miller. I would save Miller’s legs for real important and desperate games throughout the season. Kevin Martin should be coming off the bench with the second unit. Sam Mitchell is doing a great job instilling a defensive mindset and sense of urgency.

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