Nuggets 78, Wolves 74: Making a Statement


gettyimages-503696370_594_screenThe Wolves came into the late stages of the game in familiar territory: trailing, albeit by just a few, to a team that they had all the power in the world to beat. Britt Robson summed it up well.

The Wolves didn’t win this game. They didn’t even reach double digit scoring in the 4th quarter.

The statement has been the same over the past 2 weeks, and even beyond (as well-written in William Bohl’s last recap). With the exception of the Pistons game, the Wolves have given themselves a chance every night, but have made life difficult on themselves by taking (and missing) bad shots. The defense is there at times (it was excellent tonight), but the shots have rarely gone in for them this year. Especially lately.

There are lots of fingers to be pointed in this case. Of course, Sam Mitchell has been the first target for most of the season, and for good reason. The Wolves have stretches where their (arguably overly) simple offensive schemes have broken down. The most common one I’ve seen have been where a post player (often Towns or Dieng) halt an isolation already in progress (often by Andrew Wiggins, sometimes by Towns).

The lack of spacing is something Sam Mitchell has noticed and noted several times in press conferences.

That happened tonight, along with a slew of other things. Players weren’t filling on the break properly, pick and rolls weren’t executed crisply, and offensive flow wasn’t great when the ball wasn’t in Ricky Rubio’s hands.

Even with Rubio, the ball isn’t going into the hoop enough, even on the break with Ricky’s athletic targets to throw to. As it stands, the Wolves have the 5th worst offensive rating in the league. In addition, their points off turnovers is also in the bottom five. This is all while the Wolves’ D, especially with the starting 5, has been solid. In tonight’s game, they held the Wolves to 35 percent shooting, but only notched 4 points off 11 turnovers.

Andrew Wiggins forced some shots early, and when he couldn’t get going, the coaching staff still trusted him to take shots

The Wolves now have consecutive losses to the Pistons, Bucks, 76ers, and Nuggets, with title contenders coming up on the schedule. If this last streak of games was any statement or indication, the pessimist in me thinks it’s terrifying to look ahead. But hey, there’s one bright spot of tonight’s game.


The fun news of tonight’s game wasn’t just that Nikola Pekovic returned to the Wolves’ lineup tonight. It was that he was the Wolves’ most efficient offensive player on the floor. His competition for that title wasn’t plentiful tonight, but it would be hard to beat Pek’s efficiency tonight. He had 12 points on 4 shots in 15 minutes. The advanced stats will look nice for Pek the next 48 hours.

At any rate, on most nights, it will be nice to have a guy to dump the ball into for offense in the second unit. With Zach LaVine’s continued struggles and the continued uncertainty at the backup point guard, having Pek as a steady option is all the more important in the short term.

Meanwhile, the Wolves have a lot to figure out. With the struggles they’ve had against lesser teams, what are they going to do over their next 3 games, where they face off against Cleveland, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Houston, and Oklahoma City (again!)?

There’s lots to figure out, but for now, the Wolves have made a statement. Just not the one they wanted.

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12 Responsesso far.

  1. sportsbygreg says:

    Pitiful! We can break down all the x’s & o’s we want, blame it on schemes, youth,ect. But, again, as I continue to state: THIS TEAM HAS NO HEART. And because of the pathetic coaching, they have literally checked out. LaVine has mailed it in, and Towns and Wiggins look now like they hate playing on this team…no joy whatsoever. But one would think someone’s pride would have kicked in at some point and will this team to a victory just because. This is a disaster and only going to get worse. Oh yeah, I’ve been starting to notice and really pay CLOSE attention to what LeBron may have been thinking when he wrote that letter.

  2. pyrrol says:

    Let me be positive first. It was great to see Pek back. For me it was emotional because he’s are really likable guy and fun character (as well as a unique and good basketball player) and I honestly thought he’d never play again. He’s overcome a lot to get back to this point. I know he looks like a Medieval knight of death, so it is easy to assume he’s tough, but one can take it for granted. He’s been playing in pain and stoic about it for a very long time. Even now, as I understand, he still deals with some. I’m no doctor, but the problem he has isn’t common and it was a bit of a last ditch effort when he had this last big surgery. I don’t know what we’ll get from him long term, but I never thought I’d see him back and it is great. And he didn’t even look rusty! Amazing. Even though our uneven roster doesn’t demand a big center as much as some other needs, it is great to have his beef, which we do need bad.

    It’s not just the loses. It is painful and not fun to watch us these days. Really sorry teams that I could make fun of if I were not a Wolves fan look smooth and uninhibited on offense in a way we rarely do. Milwaukee, Philly, Denver, Portland. You expect and assume things are going to happen on their offense. You just cringe and hope it isn’t too bad with us. It’s to a point that is almost unique as the Lakers and 76ers wake up a bit.

    You know, maybe we have a team with too many losers. Maybe our players quit on us. I just think it is easy in a meltdown to paint with that brush. Everything looks bad in a meltdown. During a meltdown it is also easy to paint with the bad coaching brush. At the same time, it is hard to illustrate just how detrimental coaching can be to a team and just how awful Sam’s coaching has gotten. This line above is an example: ‘Andrew Wiggins forced some shots early, and when he couldn’t get going, the coaching staff still trusted him to take shots.’ The context of this true statement is that Denver kept doubling and tripling Wiggins every time he got the ball. This is good coaching on Denver’s part. They’ve scouted us and noticed we dump to Wiggins a lot, often in iso. They may have also noticed that he’s bad at passing out of it, and our reluctance to shoot threes and general shooting issues mean it’s unlikely we’ll make them pay if they go after Wiggins. They simply don’t leave close to the basket wide open, and be ready to cover and switch. It’s a good chess move, and we just kept dumping it to Wiggins.

    Another bellwether of the coaching is bizarre personnel ideas that even stubborn Sam has to back out of. On here, folks hoped we would play LaVine off the ball more. He wasn’t doing his best in that role and it hurt the team’s ability to play when he was at point. Sam’s eventual (late) solution? To call up Tyus and throw him into the fire of full back up point guard minutes. It was predictably a disaster. Tyus is not ready, and given his limitations my never be a very good NBA player. We won’t be able to find out for quite a while as he’s not ready. This actually made our back up point situation worse than it was under LaVine (an accomplishment!). It threw off our bench (which has not recovered) and sent LaVine into an epic slump. It could not have been good for Tyus’ confidence.

    If players struggle under Sam, they don’t get better, they disappear. Unless they have certain names like Dieng and LaVine… But a competent coach could get Martin out of his slumps faster, could get Bjelica confident and adjusted and on the court every night (we sorely need his particular skills) could get LaVine to take some sort of shot that might go in when he’s ‘off’ which is too often, given his talent. Instead, these guys just disappear for long stretches while the team is dire need. Is this common on other teams?

    These are just some things I’ve noticed. There’s got to be many more. And they add up fast. They aren’t small potatoes, even individually. What does that do to a team? The guys decided to do a team meeting instead of a practice. They are frustrated, upset and alarmed and attempting to take responsibility. And yet even with that, they came out and looked lifeless. Were they lifeless or simply bewildered?

    • seanie blue says:

      Tyus Jones is a small potatoes problem. I’d rather have him learning while we lose than to let LaVine get his bad habits even more entrenched. (Tyus has stats so far that are exactly equal to Steve Nash in his rookie season, right down to the minutes played; Nash had his detractors for two years howling about his inability to play, and it turns out he was fine.) What coach would do better than Sam Mitchell right now? I don’t mean a coach like Brett Brown, running another team, I mean somebody actually available. And how would this team find that person? The players aren’t the losers. The team is the loser. It’s an institutional problem, and it’s going to require some great leadership, which is nowhere on the horizon. I find KAT’s comments increasingly alarming: unlike Wiggins last year, the losing is unsettling him. That’s the fissure through which this team will sink for another decade unless basketball operations are turned over to somebody who knows what they are doing at the NBA level.

      • pyrrol says:

        It doesn’t really help this dumpster fire to throw big minutes at Tyus right now. There are plenty of other strange/failed personnel decisions Sam has made this season too…

        I imagine many coaches (or folks who’ve never head coached at the NBA level) could do better than Sam is. I have no idea who is available. The point is that Sam is an abject failure so far and we may need to take action before season’s end for the health of the future. It’s worth pondering.

        Not sure what KAT comments you are talking about, but being this bad as a team, playing this bad, and using a system and strategy this unlikely to result in wins is alarming. That’s why I’m talking about coaching–not because it is fun to bash Sam Mitchell, but we need to keep this egg from cracking so as not to jeopardize our future and I think the fastest fix to prevent this it to look at coaching help. Unlikely, but that’s my best idea for a quick fix.

        In the offseason, the whole franchise organization is going to have to be looked at, although it is hard to imagine Glen being proactive about needs in the institution.

        • Jumbob says:

          The only way we can get anyone other than folk already on the staff to step in mid-season is to commit multiple years to them. I really don’t want them committing to anybody just to be a body other than Mitchell. That has the risk of hurting the team well beyond this year. If Towns and Wiggins are so fragile emotionally that they are going to be permanently scarred by the current dysfunction, they don’t have what it takes to be the cornerstones we hope. If/when we bring in a competent coach for next year, that coach should be able to fix the scars from this year. The big question for me is, can they hire a coach worthy of the young talent we have? I’m not confident they can, even with a carefull review this summer. I am certain they can’t by trying to fix this year on the fly.

          The best outcome we could possibly get this season would be if Taylor kissed and made up with McHale and brought him in as coach. That may not be terrible in isolation, but I suspect McHale would want to coach and buy the groceries. I wouldn’t want that happening long term mid-season. It is possible that is where Taylor goes this offseason, but at least then he has the chance to interview others. Taylor does like people he knows.

          • pyrrol says:

            Tend to agree with you. Changing coaches in the middle of the season is a bad bet. I’m beginning to wonder though. Destroying confidence, teaching losing strategy and habits, making this team look like an undesirable place to coach, and creating friction among the players are all things we are arguably seeing in this dismal stretch and can hurt us more than this year. It seems like a no win situation for the Wolves.

            I frankly doubt the organization’s ability to choose and attract a good coach (even in the offseason). Hope they can–we really need it to keep this build afloat.

  3. sportsbygreg says:

    I’m kind of torn and playing on both sides of the fence when it comes to Tyus. He hasn’t played well, but only has played a hand full of games and only about 10 minutes per game. So I’m not putting to much stock in his lack of production just yet. He’s not an elite athlete but I do think he may have something, just needs to settle into a better offensive system and be coached better and be coached better. He will probably never be an elite one on one defender, but may learn how to play the passing lanes, ect. But I do think, if given ample time and opportunity, he may have enough craftiness and cerebral Ness to his offensive game to make the opposing point guard (no matter how athletic) have to work on defense. I honestly think he’s gonna be fine in time, and if the sucks this bad anyway, why not see what he can do a few minutes a game this year throughout the season. Now if the team was remotely competitive and vying for a playoff spot, then I can understand a Miller getting his one last hurrah at 40. But the Wolves problem is that the vets are all washed. The team can’t score as it is, and like was stated, everyone loads up on Wiggins…SO I don’t understand this fascination with playing Prince 30 minutes and Bazz 16. I don’t get it. The team needs punch. This illusion that Prince makes the offense run better is bunch of baloney. No knock against Prince, I just think those minute totals should be the opposite way around. If they plan on keeping Bazz, how is he going to learn the game and gel with Wiggins, Towns, Rubio and Lavine? Again, I can see if this team was a true playoff contender. Having said all of that, the reason for me leaving this particular comment is to highlight the red flag in Zach LaVine’s mentality. Yeah the offensive scheme and system is flawed, but I noticed as soon as they brought Tyus Jones up to get a few minutes at the point, LaVine’s feelings got hurt as if he was taking it personally. He may know he’s not a true point gaurd, but I think he started feeling sorry for himself and thinking the coaches just didn’t believe him…instead of just taking that 2 gaurd position and running away with it. I honestly think he was weak minded and a bit butt hurt, therefore kind of mailing it in to cleverly make his point known. I hope I’m wrong, and it was just a slump, but I honestly think he is whining in his own little way. It is good to see big Peking back though.

  4. sportsbygreg says:

    I meant Pekovic.

  5. Mebert says:

    I enjoyed Pek being back for 10-15 minutes before Minnesota went and timberwolved all over themselves again.

  6. Frank North says:

    Wolves appear to be tanking for one more shot at the lottery and protecting their owed 1st rounder that becomes a future set of #2’s after this year.

    I hope Scott Brooks is in our near future

  7. mnsportswompwompwaah says:

    The toughest part of watching the timberwolves is that the culture never changes. Flip really was pioneering a new culture in this team that he constructed, and unfortunately now that he’s gone all sense of leadership and direction has now vanished. I still don’t understand how Sidney Lowe is on a bench. David Adelman and Ryan Saunders are nothing but privileged coaches sons and we are now seeing the reasons why Sam was let go from coaching the Raptors. Are there coaches out there? Sure. Luke Walton will be in high demand and then there is the has been crowd of Del Negros and Thibs, Brooks, Joerger, etc. I’m not sure what to do with this team. Get in the Ben Simmons hunt? I hope Taylor sells soon and the new owners have an idea of what winning means.

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