Blazers 96, Timberwolves 93: Karl! Andrew! Ricky! Gorgui! Wait, Gorgui?
There were four Timberwolves players who registered on the positive side of the plus-minus ledger in Sunday night’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.*
(*This is where I’d like to place a caveat about plus-minus statistics not telling the whole story of a game, or a player’s importance in it. Sure, on/off ratings are important and illuminating, especially over a large enough sample size, but single game plus/minus splits can be a little trickier to read. I know all that, okay? But I’m doing a whole, like, thing here, so back off a little bit and let me shoot my shot.)
One was Karl-Anthony Towns, which is totally understandable, given the bonkers line he put up: 21 points, 13 rebounds (6 offensive boards), 2 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks. Over his past six games (including this one) he’s averaging 23-12-3-2 blocks on 65% shooting. Towns is 20 years old and will almost certainly be offered a max extension for approximately $Texas dollars when his rookie deal is up following the 2018-19 season.
Another was Andrew Wiggins, which seems weird, because he went 3-for-goshdarn-18 from the field, but did get to the line a ton and actually pulled down some rebounds
for once in his life. He also did this; I’m not sure it counts as any more than a simple “plus-2” in the plus/minus column but it really probably deserves something more because his HEAD nearly TOUCHED the RIM and he DUNKED on his way UP.
The NBA should look into that. Also, it should be noted that Andrew Wiggins turns 21 on February 23rd, and while the Wolves will likely save their true “max” deal for Towns, he’ll almost certainly be in a Wolves uniform through the 2020-21 season or so.
The third Timberwolf who registered a positive plus/minus was Ricky Rubio, because of course he did. For the season, Ricky has a Net Rating of plus-1.5 points per 100 possessions; he’s the only member of the regular rotation (save Kevin Garnett, and he BARELY qualifies) to do so. The story of his career is keeping the Wolves competitive when he plays, and watching them get smoked when he doesn’t, so it makes complete sense that he’s one of the four. Ricky is 25 and under contract through the 2018-19 season.
The final Minnesota player who racked up a positive plus/minus in Portland last night? Gorgui Dieng.*
(*This is where I’d like to place a caveat about how a single game’s plus-minus figure doesn’t say major things about the future, or whether a player is part of a core group that will be kept going forward. What I’m doing is using the plus/minus from last night to springboard into a conversation about larger themes and ideas. Let me live my life.)
Making his third consecutive start in place of the injured Kevin Garnett, Gorgui scored 13 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out 2 assists in 38 minutes. Over his past four games, he is averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 assists on 62% shooting, while getting to the line nearly 7 times per game, where he’s shooting 84% this season.
He and Towns have started to develop a little bit of chemistry, and looking ahead, they make for an interesting frontcourt tandem. We already know about the kind of shooter Towns is – Sam Mitchell called him the best shooter on the team, and looking at his chart, it’s hard to argue that fact – but Dieng can step out a bit as well. I have seen (and friend of the website Patrick Fenelon can back me up on this) Gorgui hit, like, 20 consecutive corner threes in pregame shootaround. It’d be interesting if a creative offensive coach ever got his hands on the two of them, together, because each can pass ( though KAT is a much more willing passer than Dieng, who is prone to fits of tunnel vision) and rebound. They are two “centers” with very diverse skill sets; playing them together has yielded uneven results, but “uneven” is better than “bad,” which is what the Wolves have almost exclusively been for the past two months.
Dieng’s contract situation is also a tricky matter. He’s making $1.4 million this season (which is highway robbery, to be honest) and $2.35 million in 2016-17, the final year of his rookie deal. That’s when things get interesting. Gorgui’s already 26, and while he’s been durable throughout his 2-plus seasons as a main contributor, his age has to be a factor in calculating a possible extension. The good news is he keeps working hard to improve his game (Sam Mitchell, whatever you think of him, has openly sung Gorgui’s praises, which is not insignificant given his attitudes towards young players). His FG% allowed at the rim has improved to 51.0% on 6.5 attempts per game this season, much better than last year’s dismal 55.7% on more than 10 attempts.
Should Gorgui and Towns be the starting frontcourt tandem next season? Should the Wolves bypass drafting a small-ball 4 in who can shoot a little bit* to pair next to Towns? Absolutely not.
*LET ME DREAM OF BRANDON INGRAM!
The Wolves’ offense sputtered late, and despite their overall defensive competence, they just couldn’t complete the comeback. It’s exactly the kind of game they’ve lost a dozen times this season, maybe more. What we’re left to watch is Towns, Wiggins, and whether the gaggle of young talent on the rest of the roster produces an extension-worthy player. Dieng doesn’t have the stigma of LaVine or the sizzle of Shabazz, but it looks like he’s beginning to answer that question.