Sixers 109, Timberwolves 99: It’s been a bad month

Entering their Sunday matinee with the Clippers on November 29th, the Timberwolves were a fun little surprise at 8-8. Ricky Rubio missed that one with an injury, and the Wolves lost in forgettable fashion, 107-99, in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. All told, they’ve gone 4-15 since tipoff that afternoon, bookended by another loss last night, this one to the lowly Sixers in Philadelphia, 109-99. As Seth wisely put it, the loss in Philly isn’t the problem, really; it’s the entire past month that’s cause for real alarm.

Before I continue, here is a heartbreaking Vine of a raccoon accidentally dropping his sugary candy treat into some water:

Minnesota’s offense has gone the way of that oversized sugar cube when it landed in the water. They last cracked triple digits on December 20th, 9 games and 7 losses ago, when they put up an even 100 against the woebegone Brooklyn Nets. Over their past 8 games, the Wolves have averaged 11 three-point attempts per game. They have made 89 midrange shots and taken 89 three-point attempts. They’re shooting 38% on long twos over that stretch, a perfectly mediocre rate, but they’ve taken nearly 30 shots from that area per game, tops in the league. They’ve hit 15-of-63 above the break threes, which is 23.8%. They’ve hit 46.2% of their corner threes (YAY! Good news?!?) but they barely take three of those per game (aw, shucks). Their free throw attempts per game have dipped from 27.4 per night to 24.1, and their percentage at the line has plummeted from 81% to 72%. As the season goes along, they’re taking more midrange jumpers, fewer threes, getting to the line less often and converting at a lower rate when they do manage get there.

Here is a GIF of someone having a really bad day at work:


Know who had a bad day at work? Anyone on the Wolves’ staff who pays attention to how successful teams play these days and has aspirations that the team can mimic that style. Last night, the Wolves took 5 threes. Five. Cinco. They became just the seventh team since the start of of the 2012-13 season to pull off that dubious feat. “But they still shot 53% for the game,” you might argue. “Clearly they were doing something right.” Sure, okay. There was this:

and this

and this

and this

and all of that was fun, right?

A question, though: how does a team with an offense so devoted to spending time inside the arc get their ass kicked so thoroughly on the glass? Philadelphia pulled down 12 offensive rebounds and 37 overall; Minnesota managed just 6 offensive boards and 27 overall. The Sixers attempted 14 more shots than the Wolves did, and while they only hit 4-of-20 from deep, they converted 44-of-67 shots inside the arc, including 29 of their 47 tries from inside the paint (62%). Brett Brown’s team recorded 31 assists on 48 baskets; all but two of his players registered at least one assist. Ish Smith outplayed Ricky Rubio, and Jahlil Okafor dominated Karl-Anthony Towns, again. The Wolves couldn’t get stops, and when the Sixers did miss shots, Sam Mitchell’s bunch failed to box out. Philly made them pay.

Here is something funny and absurd to end this recap:

The quote at the very top of the piece sort of sums up where we’re at. It’s been a bad month, and it’s a problem. Not all the problems can be blamed on youth; there are some pretty basic things that the team just can’t do. And though I feel like a broken record, it bears repeating, again, that the offense is a problem, and it’s about more than personnel. Philadelphia doesn’t have shooters, either, but they still take threes. It’s emphasized. They’re hunting for those shots. Why? Because it’s the style used by winning teams, and it opens things up for drivers, cutters and postups. The Timberwolves just don’t do that, yet, and until they do, everyone watching with a critical eye will be left to sigh, scratch their heads, and wonder what, exactly, is being accomplished right now.

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14 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    I love the raccoon! The thing about the racoon is that he’s not accidentally dropping the sugar thing in the water–that’s what coons do with food. And the Wolves aren’t accidentally putting up the stats you laid out. That’s strategically how they’ve decided the play this season, and have so far only doubled down on it. And they seem to be doing the raccoon thing–looking confused over where the victories went after they dipped their games in liquid bad strategy.

    It took perhaps wise reserve to lay out what we are doing wrong during this long bad stretch without using the word ‘coaching’. Some folks still think Sam Mitchell is a sympathetic figure–put upon by the interim situation and they perhaps recall liking him during his playing days when we wore those glorious unis.

    Frankly, I’m sick of it. Sick of the coaching, sick of the excuses for the coaching. Sam should be competent enough to know better about his strategy. He’s experienced as an NBA head coach. He’s taken a season that should have been fun and borderline competitive and turned it into another nameless, embarrassing slog. That takes some doing with Rubio, Wiggins and Towns on your roster, among others. There are also enough vets (Garnett, Prince and Miller!) on the team and talented enough young guys that we should expect a better product. We fans are being robbed of a lot of fun. But are we being robbed of more? How is the way this season is going, the way they young guys are being coached influencing our development? One thing I know: You can’t defend coaching that results in us taking five threes in a game. It’s stunning.

  2. sportsbygreg says:

    SAD! SAD! SAD!

  3. Ryan Fortson says:

    I agree completely with the criticisms of Mitchell as a coach. We can say he is a good guy thrust into a bad situation (and somewhat sympathetic in that regard), but that does not change the fact that he seems to be over his head coaching this team. He clearly seems to have lost the team (if he ever had them). Not only are they playing poorly on both sides of the ball, part of this is because they are undisciplined. And the sad thing is that they were more disciplined at the beginning of the season. I was figuring we could get through the season and then look for a better coach. But now I’m not so sure we shouldn’t fire Mitchell now. Not because I think we have a chance of making the playoffs but because the team seems to be regressing, which will hinder our development next year.

  4. RyyT says:

    Garnett, Prince, and Miller have been great additions to the T-Wolves locker room. But, all three of the them have made careers off the mid to long range two point jumper – we all remember Garnett’s turnaround corner 2, right?? Well, this was also Princes favorite shot, and Miller loves coming off ball screens ready to pop at the elbow. Compounded by the T – Wolves archaic offense, which is predicated on rudimentary set plays and isolation, it’s easy for the weak side defender to help off the ball, and therefore leave his man open. In this case, well, it’s Garnett, Prince, and Miller whose defender is most endearing to rotate, thus leaving wide open 2 point shots the grumpy old men, (and opposing teams) are happy to see chuck up.

    The long range two’s have primarily been blamed on Mitchell’s offensive system, but actually, this is Flips offense. The set plays, the spacing, and the areas on the court players go to work mimic (almost exactly) Flips philosophy. Yes, it is Mitchell’s fault for not overhauling the offense, but he is unfortunately using the cards he was dealt – instead of folding and looking for a motion style offense almost every other NBA team uses.

    I believe Mitchell thought it better to leave the offensive system (which he knows is outdated and ultimately less fruitful) in place because 1) The youngsters don’t have to learn a new offensive system leading to further growing pains 2) Garnett, Prince, and Miller fit Saunders offense seamlessly 3) Saunders son plays a large role as the offensive coordinator 4) This is the offense Mitchell knows best (played under and coached with Saunders).

    If Mitchell wants to keep his job, he needs to overhaul the offense sooner rather than later. I believe he is a great coach / motivator, and is greatly respected among the players – I hope he stays in Minnesota for a long time. But for that to happen, he needs to look for outside help, and hire an offensive assistant coach who can install a novel offensive system.

    • pyrrol says:

      I must admit, when tragedy struck, I was happy we had an assistant that had head coaching experience and the players seemed to listen to. Not ideal, but given the circumstances, pretty good.

      I was wrong. It is true that this is generally Flip’s system. In all fairness, I think Flip intended to coach this season, at least, had he not gotten sick, and some of the same problems would be rearing their heads to a less potent degree. Mitchell is doing a really bad job of running a Flip-style offense. And systems are on a continuum–there is no reason he couldn’t adjust it as needed when clear needs and problems become apparent. We see no adjusting from Sam.

      In this process, I think he’s started to lose, or at least dangerously frustrate the players. He’s annoyed fans and media with his attitude. He seems to not enjoy what he’s doing and has little gratitude for the work the players do for him, the interest the fans and media still have in this team for some reason, and the opportunity to head coach. I don’t get it. I do get that this situation has been sad and tough on everyone. I don’t get why Sam is sucking so much. I think the explanation I’ve come to is that he’s not a very good coach and never was. His weakness don’t get better because he’s too stubborn to try to keep improving at what he does or change in any way, or simply admit a mistake. The league is no longer in a state where it is easy for Sam’s many limitations to be hidden at times. They are now exposed in featureless tundra for all to see (and take advantage of). I feel sorry for the players and do not think Sam Mitchell is a good coach.

      • seanie blue says:

        You were right. Sam Mitchell is the almost perfect coach for this team. When you decided you were wrong, that’s when you were wrong. Sam Mitchell is still the perfect coach for this team. I went through a similar process to you: hated the fact that we would have Mitchell for the whole season, until early December when I began to understand what he was doing. But don’t take my word for it, because I’m the same as every other fan on here, impassioned but clueless about the actual game. Read Britt Robson’s interview with Mitchell on Minnpost that came out yesterday. Everything you think you think about Mitchell will be changed in less than 15 minutes, permanently.

  5. DimeZin292 says:

    I hate it when Mitchel brings in tyus and lavine in the game.. When I see those guys play together, i turn my tv off…when those two guys are on the floor, the ball movement gets worse and the team starts creating turnovers… And all the shots taken are contested and the team gets blown out.

    I don’t understand why the team brought tyus back. he can’t play ball at all.. granted he was pretty good when he was at duke.. but he is playing in the NBA right now and he doesn’t belong in there. i thought he should’ve stayed 2 more year at college. He reminds me of Jimmer Fredette.. Great player when he was in college.. but look where he is at now.. no team wants him.. Now what i don’t like about Lavine is his decision making.. He obviously can’t play the pg position eventhough he tries so hard.. he always make bad decisions and jacks up ill advised shots..

    I say we bench lavine and tyus for a week and see how the team performs without them.. I like bazz and andre at the 1 and 2 spot

  6. mikeskunes says:

    +1 For the raccoon GIF. Highlight of the post for sure.

  7. seanie blue says:

    Blaming Sam Mitchell for crashing the car is easy. But who built the car? Until Taylor gets off his butt and hires somebody who knows what they are doing in a modern NBA style, we will continue to be derailed no matter how much talent we’ve got. It’s too profitable for Taylor to stay right where he is, so we’re stuck with this old school B.S., because that’s the sort of gentleman he is. Flip’s antiquated system is still here, embarrassingly, and the real cost is not another lousy year and a good draft choice, but the loss of Wiggins and KAT in a couple of years. How long can they stand this? If you thought Love’s exit was ugly, wait a couple of seasons and watch Wiggins politely but firmly walk away, followed by KAT a year later. This team’s front office is bush league, so our best resources will eventually have to leave to prove themselves in the major leagues, far far far away from 600 First Avenue N.

    • sportsbygreg says:

      Man my next comment was going to inquire about Mr. Taylor. I agree, Sam or the front office feels no threat at all of losing their job because as you correctly stated “that’s the type of gentleman he is”. He seems like he can care less about what kind of job the coaching staff or front office is doing. Other than spending good money on facilities (which he has done a nice job), he seems to have no clue or care in the world. And It’s obvious Sam and the front office are just calling his bluff. This franchise is a disaster and he needs to make some immediate changes on the staff. That’s what a real owner does. He just seems to disconnected and ignorant to what’s going on with his business. This team was at least expected to be fun and competetive, and Wiggins was to suppose to have a shot at an All-star berth in his hometown. The league is so disappointed in this franchise they rarely promote Wiggins or mention his name now. They probably feel sorry for him and Towns and wish they hop on the first thing smoking when their contract expires. I don’t blame them, how can they push and promote any player from such a horrid franchise. Yeah, they are very young…but they should be a lot better or at least competitive and fun as I stated. This team has been a major disappointment. Again, Sam feels no pressure to adhere to the wishes of the fans because he feels no pressure from up top. In one of my first posts ever on this blog I highlighted his stubborness, but now that is starting to look more and more like stupidity. The only thing that can probably wake Mr. Taylor up is if his bottom line is affected and people stop showing up at the games and supporting this disaster of a team (because of the cosching). The only thing that can probably inspire change is a full out BOYCOTT…because they are basically giving us the middle finger.

  8. gjk says:

    From game 17 on, here are their opponents, their rank in 3 point %, the number of 3 point makes/attempts they average, and their numbers against the Wolves:
    Clippers (22) 8.6/24.2, 8/22 (game at LA), 8/25 (game at MN)
    Orlando (20) 7.7/21.9, 5/17
    Portland (17) 9.8/27.7, 10/20
    Lakers (19) 8.0/25.1, 9/23 (OT)
    Denver (1) 8.2/24.3, 11/28 (game at Den, OT), 10/18 (game at MN)
    Phoenix (4) 9.5/25.5, 10/30
    New York (29) 7.3/21.9, 8/21
    Sacramento (14) 8.3/23.0, 7/23
    Brooklyn (9) 5.3/17.1, 5/21
    Boston (28) 8.9/27.4, 12/25
    San Antonio (30) 7.3/19.4, 10/24 (game at MN), 5/17 (game at SA)
    Indiana (25) 9.1/24.7, 9/26
    Utah (6) 8.2/22.9, 10/39
    Detroit (21) 8.8/26.1, 14/35
    Milwaukee (7) 5.4/17.2, 8/16
    Philly (10) 8.2/25.9, 4/20

    Fewer opponent attempts than average: 10/18 games. Fewer opponent makes than average: 8/18 games. I’m not sure what to make of that; offensively, their lack of shooting is a huge problem, but there isn’t a clear pattern or trend defensively. Opponents are shooting lower than average against them (34.7% vs. 35%), but they also shot 36.5% against them in December. Even that’s misleading, though; they were 13th in that area for December. It’s been worse, but not by a lot. I assumed they had huge problems defending the 3, but that doesn’t really hold up by the numbers.

    • pyrrol says:

      You know I’m not a numbers guy and maybe I’m reading the chart wrong, but I count only 4 of the games we held opponents under their average for three point makes (not getting into decimals). The rest, for all practical purposes, were at or above average for makes. There is also a gap between the generally lower three point attempts and the somewhat above average makes, which without doing math suggest above average 3 point efficiency and percent from our opponents. That seems like a problem. Not the only problem, but one of them. Correct me if wrong–I probably am!

      • gjk says:

        The Clippers twice, Orlando, Sacramento, Brooklyn, San Antonio at San Antonio, Indiana, and Philly. I get that some of those lower totals are dealing with decimals, but there were others where the opponent beat their average by less than one attempt as well (including the Lakers, who had 3 of their 9 attempts in OT). As for those high %, low attempt examples (Milwaukee, Boston, Denver, Portland), 3 things: 1) you’d have to actually view each individual make on the videos to determine which ones were a result of bad defense or good shot-making; 2) the original comment mentions that they allowed 36.5% in December, which, while below average, was 13th-worst in the league; and 3) those examples make up 5 of 18 games. All the comment was mentioning is that their 3-point defense is not the same level of problem as their 3-point offense is. Their 3-point defense is like their defense in general, not the main reason for their struggles.

        • pyrrol says:

          Sure, sure. I just counted the decimals as the same number, in essence. Just watching, it doesn’t look like we are doing that much to defend the three that bad, except not work around screens correctly at times, plus some bad rotations. But it does seem like teams hit the threes they need to to win against us almost every night. This is probably true of a majority of teams, but these are teams that also hit enough threes on most nights to expect to win. How much of this goes back to our offense? A lot. At the same time, the wheels are starting to come off and the defense is getting worse and worse, including our ability to stop three point makes. It also seems like we allow a lot of timely threes, but I have no idea how anyone would prove that. Either way, this team has a lot of problems suddenly, and this is potentially just one in a sea.

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