Timberwolves 102, Pelicans 116: Reboots and Rebuilds

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The first time I started watching FX’s Fargo, I didn’t know what to expect and, even after a few episodes, didn’t really know what I was watching. A TV show based on a movie: Is it a remake? A reboot? A reimagining? The show itself gave few clues, beyond the fact that the tone, setting and characters mirrored elements of the Coen brothers’ 1996 masterpiece of hotdish film noir. There’s a frustrated milquetoast whose wife ends up dead, a female police officer whose tenacity belies her mild-mannered appearance, a dark agent of chaos, and many other variations and refractions on elements and themes from the movie. I abandoned it a few episodes in, but after all the critical acclaim the second season received I decided to dive back in.

So as the New Orleans Pelicans put the Minnesota Timberwolves through the wood chipper last night, I began to think about how the current pop culture obsession with the reboot and the remake might be influencing how we think about rebuilding teams in the NBA.

A bunch of current and upcoming shows that seem like remakes or reboots — The X-Files, Twin Peaks and, as it turns out, Fargo — aren’t really remakes or reboots at all. They exist in a contiguous universe with the source material. This only becomes apparent in Fargo when [SPOILERS] we see self-proclaimed Supermarket King Stavros Milos discover the money that the movie’s Carl Showalter buried next to a fence on a remote stretch of highway and marked with a snow scraper. The thing about shows like this, though, is that the fictional universes they exist in set up parameters for how to make new stories inside them. We often fall into the same kind of work when it comes to basketball.

We are obsessed with figuring out which other player a new player is like. Is Andrew Wiggins going to be the next LeBron James? Or is he Scottie Pippen? Or on a more measured scale: Is his ceiling Jeff Green? Paul George? Gerald Green? Someone whose last name doesn’t start with “G”? Karl-Anthony Towns’ impressive rookie year stats compare favorably to the rookie years of players like David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal? Is it possible he’s some kind of Frankenstein-esque combination of all of them? OH MY GOD. Last night he faced Anthony Davis and his numbers are actually BETTER than Davis’ his rookie year and Davis is the next transcendent talent so that makes Towns …

You get the drift. This extends to teams and parts of teams as well. Is Wiggins/Towns the next Kobe/Shaq or the next Marbury/Garnett? Are they thus doomed to blow themselves apart and as such are we only trying to figure out if they’re going to win a championship before that happens? With Wiggins, Towns and Zach LaVine all on rookie scale contracts, how much does this Timberwolves team look like the Oklahoma City Thunder team that had Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden? Can we expect them to make the same kind of leap next year that that team did in Harden’s sophomore year? And is Scott Brooks available to make a cameo in this reboot of the Oklahoma City Thunder model?

All these questions make it seem like the Timberwolves don’t currently exist in an extended universe attached to these originals so much as represent a wholesale reboot more along the lines of superhero movies like Spiderman or Batman or, perhaps most accurately, the comparatively humble workplace comedy The Office.

When the American version of The Office premiered in 2005, it sucked. The original version was achingly, wincingly British, both in how excruciatingly uncomfortable it was and how perfectly constructed its two short seasons were. Comprising just 12 episodes and two specials, the original was exceptionally well-crafted but also a kind of dead end. The characters were shallow and obnoxious — by design — and so basically incapable of sustaining storylines any more weighty than those created out of basic everyday frustration. Even the small notes of hope struck in the Christmas special finale felt almost like a betrayal of the series’ cold black heart. How did the American series at first try to sell this to a population reared on the goofy heartwarming model of sitcom presented by Everybody Loves Raymond or Home Improvement?

By completely recycling every joke and beat from the British series’ first two episodes, more or less. Tim becomes Jim, Dawn becomes Pam and David Brent becomes Michael Scott. There’s even a fat guy in accounting, but he’s named Kevin instead of Keith! Precisely none of it worked. The original show hinged on people doing awful, embarrassing, cringeworthy things while pretending like none of it was happening, but that approach was so irrevocably English that it just couldn’t work in a Pennsylvania paper company.

If the American version of The Office was going to succeed as a long-running series, it was going to have to figure out to take the elements it had and make them work on their own terms. Amazingly, they did it. Tim’s pranks on Gareth in the original felt like cries of desperation, a futile attempt to pull the thinnest entertainment out of a rotten situation. Jim’s pranks on Dwight became nearly operatic performances and showed how the small stuff could actually make life better. The robust backstory that filled out Dwight’s character turned him into the kind of three-dimensional counterweight to Jim that Gareth never was to Tim. And Steve Carell’s excellent work as Michael Scott turned him from a poor photocopy of Ricky Gervais’ impossibly self-absorbed and venal David Brent into someone who was outwardly cocky and insufferable but only because of how poorly his soft heart dealt with the slings and arrows of his meager life.

The first season of The Office was all about feeling this stuff out, about seeing where they could push out the edges, where they couldn’t, and how these characters could go from reboots to real. Following up a gritty, tough win over the Chicago Bulls with this blowout to the Pelicans makes this Wolves team feel like that first season of The Office. There are flashes of what it’s going to become, but one flash doesn’t mean the thing is headed in the right direction forevermore. We’re going to keep speculating about who the individual players most resemble, and what that resemblance means for what the team as a whole looks like or reminds us of. But the Wolves won’t be there until they get past trying to be something and start being the thing itself.

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8 Responsesso far.

  1. gjk says:

    Well, that’s what happens when a team mistakes a couple of good shooting nights for something more meaningful. They’ll have made the next step when they can stay competitive in a game like that. The Pelicans just seem to be able to do whatever they want against the Wolves; at some point, they have to do something to change the psychology of the matchup. They also showed how to run an effective offense with so few shooting threats.

    Secondarily, I don’t watch much of the Pelicans, but I didn’t realize Anthony Davis has taken the torch from Dwyane Wade as Biggest Superstar Flopper. Getting in Dieng’s way down the floor so he’d run him over and crumpling in a heap from body contact by Wiggins were the most egregious examples. It made me think, “You have almost every physical advantage a basketball player could want, and THIS is how you play?”

  2. pyrrol says:

    Watching Davis makes me happy we have Towns. For all the hype around Davis, Towns seems to have a similar skill set, to be stronger, and further along than Davis was as a rookie. In fact Towns is toe to toe with current Davis in many ways. To gjk’s point, Towns is a tough, determined guy who isn’t the sort to resort to flopping.

    I was only able to see one of our two wins, but it didn’t seem like we did it simply with lights out shooting. This game was putrid. I had to stop watching for a while at times because I was so disgusted. I’m not rustling though the numbers here, but I have to assume our defense was better during the two wins than this. Our D was pathetic. It’s hard to watch. And while I don’t think we should have stout defense at this point, I don’t think we should be subjected to defense like we saw in this game with this roster at this point in the season. Our offense was a fits and starts kind of thing. We just can’t go on droughts like we tend to offensively and expect to win. We aren’t going to be red hot every night, but have to find ways to get baskets to break up runs. Lastly, was it good shooting that won us those last two games so much as normal shooting? We shoot abnormally bad too often. I get that we aren’t a roster of dead eyes, but Sam has to find a way to get us better looks and maximize the shooting resources we have (Towns from anywhere, Shabazz from corner three, get Wiggins to pass out of frequent double and triple teams to open looks).

    I love those Mardi Gras uniforms. I think they should be their normal ones. Their everyday unis look like baseball uniforms.

    Sometimes I feel like the only person in America who didn’t like The Office. I dislike that faux documentary thing. It just grates on me and doesn’t really add anything. I got sick of the snark of Pam and Jim, the pathetic, needy buffoon boss Micheal, the toady geek villainy of Dwight and the general dopey pathetic nature of most of the rest. I didn’t find if funny or want to ‘be there’. And this style of humor ( a lot of laugh AT people not with) and fake documentary was copied, leading to other not so good shows. I wonder if this style took off so well because of pressures ‘reality’ TV put on normal scripted shows. I’m not a fan of ‘reality TV’ either.

  3. Jello says:

    First off, the tags for this write-up are pretty great. Secondly, who are we liking for the Timberwolves pick if it lands in that likely 4-5 spot? Personally, while a Henry Ellenson who actually performs as well as Kevin Love would be a great match next to Towns, I don’t think Ellenson will ever even sniff that level of success. I just don’t think he’s that good and don’t want him. If Dragan Bender (awesome name) passes the test of the foreign scouts he would obviously fill a need but I’m also intrigued by Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield. I lean towards Hield as taking a gamble at this point isn’t as important for the Wolves when we have Towns/Wiggins and the potential of LaVine. He’s shooting 40% from three over the last three years on a sample size of over 600 shots as well as about 83% from the FT line (a ridiculous 50/90 line this year). I think Wiggins will naturally shift to the 3 and having LaVine/Hield at the two would help solidify that position and give us more consistent shooting (hopefully forcing whoever our coach is to open up the 3 pointer).

    Thoughts? Who are you all liking at this point?

  4. sportsbygreg says:

    If the Wolves draft 4 or 5 in would not hesitate to draft Ellenson. His defense leaves a lot to be desired at this point, but he’s athletic and talented enough to correct it, and he’s only 19. The guy has probably never had to worry about playing defense. I just think his all around skill set and upside is off the chart. The Kevin Love comparison is fair, and obviously Love is a PROVEN vet. But I think Ellenson is a bit more athletic and better off the dribble. Love’s knack for rebounding and positioning may have been better at this stage. Obviously Simmons and Ingram are the top 2 picks. Buddy Hield can ball and the a wolves can’t go wrong there either, especially with a need for consistent 3-point shooting…but I would go with Ellenson. They both are very confident and competetive players, and that goes a long way. The Wolves could use a lil more attitude and a role player or two off the bench that’s nasty. Everything is speculation at this point on how good they’ll be, anyway. I guess we’ll see how the Wolves feel about these guys this June. Won’t we?

  5. sportsbygreg says:

    If the Wolves draft 4th or 5th I would not hesitate to draft Ellenson. His defense leaves a lot to be desired at this point, but he’s athletic and talented enough to correct it, and he’s only 19. The guy has probably never had to worry about playing defense. I just think his all around skill set and upside is off the chart. The Kevin Love comparison is fair and obviously Love is a PROVEN vet. But I think Ellenson is a bit more athletic and better off the dribble. Love’s knack for rebounding and positioning may have been better at this stage. Obviously Simmons and Ingram are the top 2 picks. Buddy Hield can ball and the Wolves can’t go wrong there either, especially with the need of consistent 3-point shooting…but I would go with Ellenson. They both are very confident and competetive players, and that goes a long way. The Wolves could use some attitude and a role player or two off the bench that’s nasty. I guess we’ll see how the Wolves feel about these guys this June. Obviously it’s all speculation as of now on their products careers.

    • Jello says:

      I get the Ellenson like based off of his projections, but his shooting split is just not good at 43/29/75. Love in his one year was a 56/35/76. I think Ellenson will be a solid rebounder and I like his IQ, but his shooting is all projection right now as he isn’t very efficient. If he improved as a shooter in the NBA, I’m sure he could be a good player, but a minus defender who can’t shoot at a league average level just isn’t worth much and I’m not positive he will improve. And just another Love comparison, Love got 17.5 points on 10.4 shots a game in college. Ellenson is getting 16.3 points on 13 shots a game. Love just was way more efficient and so the comparisons I don’t think are warranted. If we take him, I hope I’m wrong, but I just don’t see much from him.

  6. sportsbygreg says:

    Well, I guess I can’t argue with stats. lol. It’s all speculation at this point I guess.

  7. sportsbygreg says:

    Hopefully his upside supercedes those inefficiencies and he reaches his potential. I just see a very talented guy with a competitive and confident spirit.

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