Blazers 96, Timberwolves 93: Karl! Andrew! Ricky! Gorgui! Wait, Gorgui?

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32), left, center Gorgui Dieng (5), of Senegal, guard Ricky Rubio (9), of Spain, and guard Andrew Wiggins (22) huddle up during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Trail Blazers won 109-103. (AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32), left, center Gorgui Dieng (5), of Senegal, guard Ricky Rubio (9), of Spain, and guard Andrew Wiggins (22) huddle up during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Trail Blazers won 109-103. (AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)

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.


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.

Share this because Rubio would pass this along:

8 Responsesso far.

  1. Yohon says:

    And what is the positive of Prince playing for 30+ minutes, scoring little or nothing, and we still lose? Put him down with Miller and play the young guys!

  2. gjk says:

    That bench mix was rough to watch. Shabazz mucked it up by picking up 3 fouls so quickly, but it’s also how ineffective Pek and Bjelly have been together the last few games. Part of that’s on Zach, since he’s not a good passer and basically hijacks the offense against focused defenses when he’s playing PG. But Miller was also either rusty or just doesn’t have it against certain teams. Defensively, Bjelly and Pek is less than ideal, but they both play good help defense; on offense, they would seem to provide some of the benefits that the Love-Pek pairing did.

    Dieng is an interesting case because of age. Some of the guys who were 23-year-old rookies and came straight from college like him: Taj Gibson, Mason Plumlee, Wesley Matthews, Courtney Lee, Carl Landry, Chandler Parsons … and then a bunch of guys on the ends of benches. He’s possibly different because he hasn’t been playing his whole life, and he seems to have intriguing skills, but I wonder whether he’ll be able to make fast enough decisions to be effective against good teams. He’s getting by on his physical speed on both ends, and I’m not sure what happens when that starts diminishing.

    • mikeskunes says:

      Agreed that the bench was really hard to watch last night. There just isn’t good spacing when Shabazz, Pek, and LaVine share the floor. Pek is kinda a shadow of himself right now. Ever since he came back he has been unable to establish the type of deep low-block position that leads to his bruising drop steps or baby hooks. Defenders are able to keep him anywhere from two to four feet away from his normal spots and it’s taking a toll on his offensive efficiency.

      Bjelica needs to shoot the darn ball. I understand wanting to be a good teammate, but he’s passing up shots both near the hoop and around the arc that he wouldn’t think twice about taking playing in Europe. People know that he can shoot so his pump-and-drive gets people to bite, but many times he doesn’t have the stones to take a contested lay-up/dunk.

      You make an interesting point about Gorgui’s age. I do think he has some room to grow, but not much. I think the biggest leap he can make is figuring out how to wall off the paint from slashers. He tries too often to block shots rather than help and recover. Most of the times he whiffs on the blocks and even if he makes guys miss with his contest, often the guy he should of been guarding has an easy put-back.

  3. sportsbygreg says:

    I know the NBA regrets they scheduled this garbage of a team on national television as many times as they did. I did expect a championship but the Wolves record is flat out embarrassing and unacceptable. I see no improvement at all-time only thing I see is losses mounting. So sad!

  4. sportsbygreg says:

    Typo-I didn’t expect…

  5. sportsbygreg says:

    The only thing I see is losses mounting. They are very frustrating to watch, and I’m through trying to analyze and break down their game. All I know is they are LOSER of a franchise and the players have no hope. Easily the most miserable and underachieving team in the nba. At least the Sixers and Lakers are trying to bad. I always wish I can say more positive things on your blog, but I can’t compliment such a horrid franchise who is so addicted to losing. #LOSERS

  6. pyrrol says:


    I sound like a broken record, but this team plays like one. We can’t win without taking a certain amount of threes, and without an offense with some design toward getting good threes. At least we took 16 threes (still not enough), but we made 4. Most of the threes were not good shots; rather, contested, spur of the moment jack ups. We have little chance against a team like Portland if we approach the three like this. And in doing so we let a one trick pony team on the decline win easily.

    Mike has a good point. Pek isn’t getting lift on his hook and leaves it short. But he’s not getting his old deep position either. Still a good big body off the bench.

    gjk has a nice point about Dieng’s age. He’s treated as a very young, developing player, but he’s older than Rubio and not inexperienced in the league. We’re close to his cap for that reason, I think. I like what he’s done starting, and we need an injection of scoring and energy in the staring lineup and he’s provided that. Helps to be paired next to Towns! Mike made a great point about leaving his man for blocks that aren’t that wise, and they lead to easy put backs. We have a big problem with easy put backs and second chance points and Dieng shares blame for that.

    Miller is back–finally even Sam couldn’t stomach the off-kilter second unit any longer. He didn’t fix it, but showed signs he can help. Frankly, because Sam prefers not to incorporate him, he was rusty. What to you expect? Miller is very professional and keeps ready to play at a moment’s notice, but what do you think is going to happen when you let the 2nd unit get out of control bad, and shove a guy who hasn’t played in a week into the game and say, ‘fix this!’ It’s just not smart. And it’s not using your resources and talent.

    Wiggins… much has been said about effort, rebounds, etc. I’ve added he’s not a 2 and shouldn’t play there much. He needs to work on his shooting either way. But an interesting way his too often lackadaisical style shows up is in how he uses his athletic ability (or doesn’t). He has so many drives in which he doesn’t explode and does some flat footed finish that reminds me of my pathetic attempts to jump. The clip above where he almost can hit his head on the rim shows what he’s actually capable of. If that’s your athletic ceiling, you shouldn’t have any weak takes. Not everything is going to be highlight reel stuff, but you shouldn’t remind people of their intramural days either.

Leave a Reply