Timberwolves 108, Clippers 102: A breath of fresh air


Something I’ve learned from talking to smart coaches over the years is getting too high or too low off of wins and losses doesn’t help your analysis of the play on the court. Ultimately, every bit of success is measured by wins and losses, rings and no rings, and other results-based statistics. It’s the easiest way to figure out whether or not something worked or didn’t work. However, that can be misleading. Talk to Quin Snyder about the Utah Jazz’s recent four-game winning streak and he’ll let you know that while the wins are what they’re aiming for, the development is more important because those four wins can easily be followed by four straight losses and then you’re left scratching your head.

So I try to apply that to how I look at the league. Process over results has become bigger to me than most aspects of the game. It’s why when the Minnesota Timberwolves lose games, I typically don’t get angry or freak out. Part of that is me being dead inside. The other part of that is me often thinking, “Well, that team is better than this young Wolves team so of course they won that game.” That’s not how I felt the other night when the Wolves were defeated by the Los Angeles Lakers. While Bill couldn’t help but shrug, I couldn’t help but look like a confused Louis CK.


I don’t think the Lakers are better or more talented than the Wolves. I don’t think the Lakers have a coaching advantage. I don’t think it should be hard to keep a 37-year old Kobe Bryant from cracking 30 points, even if he is inexplicably hitting 3-pointers. I very much still believe in process over results, but I’m not convinced a process should allow for what the Wolves did against the Lakers. The bright spot was mainly Andrew Wiggins, but that wasn’t enough to absorb the frustration with a loss like that.

That’s probably why the response was so refreshing to me. The Wolves stayed in L.A. another day, and faced a much better Clippers team. You can save all of the excuses of “well, Blake Griffin didn’t play,” too. It’s the Wolves. I’m not sure the “[Team A] didn’t have [Player X]” excuses apply to losing to teams this bad. Some Wolves fans and writers contend the Wolves have a lot of talent. I don’t really agree. I think the potential for talent is there, but the tangible talent has yet to be developed.

And I’m OK with that. I think it’s acceptable for the Wolves to have a horrible record this year. I’m more concerned with them ending up with Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram than I am with them going on a run to push for 30 wins or more. I like the development staff and the work guys like Bryan Gates, Ryan Saunders, and David Adelman are doing with teaching the young core. I can live with all of the losing, especially when it comes to blowing fourth quarter leads and having competitive losses. It doesn’t bother me because my love of the long-term prognosis with this team matters more to me than potential success now.

Not everybody is that way though, and I don’t really have a problem with that. You want wins. Wins are fun. And when you don’t trust the process of the main coach (even when the supporting staff is doing great work), you want that confirmation that progress is being made through wins. I also recognize the delicate balance between losing games and losing confidence. As much as I want the Wolves to have a shot at the top pick in another draft that could give them a core too good and promising to fail, at a certain point players need to feel rewarded for their hard work.

That reward, although small and just one game, came Wednesday night on a nationally televised game against an opponent these guys haven’t been able to beat. There were three fun moments in the last five minutes of the game (well, there were more than that but three moments I wanted to highlight) that really captured my eye.

The first one came with just under five minutes left in the game. A hand-off from Karl-Anthony Towns to Andrew Wiggins led to a post-up opportunity where the Clippers swarmed him. Wiggins had killed them for more of the game, but they were really forcing the ball out of his hands in the second half and trying to get someone else to beat him. He found Zach LaVine at the top of the key and just got it there before Chris Paul could pick him off.

Because of the ball movement and J.J. Redick having to leave LaVine to stay with Towns, it left a smaller defender on LaVine. Instead of a predictable pull-up jumper against Paul, he drove down the middle to his left, protected the ball, and then got a runner off in the middle of the paint that his size advantage gave him against CP3. Then on the ensuing defensive possession, he stayed with Paul on a baseline drive and helped force a big turnover with Wiggins.

For all of the issues LaVine has had, he’s on a very good stretch that is finding its way from the offensive end to the defensive end as well. Don’t get me wrong; there are still problems throughout games but being able to make back-to-back plays like that is a huge confidence booster in a year in which confidence has been wavering at times.

Wiggins had another monster, efficient scoring game. Either he’s breaking out of a slump or he just loves playing in the Staples Center. Regardless, he looked like a guy who couldn’t be stopped, especially when it came to his final shot that put the Wolves up for good in the game. After a decoy pick-and-pop with Ricky Rubio and Towns, Wiggins flashed across the paint for a quick post-up. That’s when he dropped a big time post move for the fadeaway jumper that was just dirty.

For some reason, people have tried to find a hierarchy between Towns and Wiggins this season, and because Towns has been better, it’s led to extra criticism of Wiggins. I just find it laughable and unnecessary for this to happen. It’s not that Wiggins’ game is above criticism; you just need to be reasonable about it. The majority of his problems on offense come from a handle that isn’t good yet, and that takes longer than one offseason to improve at the NBA level. Defensively, he’s still a stalwart on the ball and his lapses off the ball need to be corrected.

I’d also say he’s ahead of schedule from when he was drafted. I’m not sure he should have been as good as he was last year and probably shouldn’t be as good at 20 years old in Year 2. It’s just that he exceeded our expectations with the rookie campaign and therefore we maybe jumped the gun, collectively. Some people criticize him because he was compared to LeBron James and Kevin Durant when he was in high school, but I fail to see what that has to do with what he’s done, instead of bad player comparisons that plague our basketball analysis.

Finally, the phenomenal play from Rubio with about 18 seconds left was just fun and reminded me of the Rubio of old — coming up with a big flashy play in the waning moments of a game. He possibly avoided the foul by the Clippers, although it looked like the got him once or twice. Then he found Karl-Anthony Towns in the paint by coming up with the clutch nutmeg pass through DeAndre Jordan’s legs.

Clutchmeg for life.

I still want growth and competitive losses as this team develops and improves their draft lottery odds. But the win over the Clippers after the frustrating loss to the Lakers was a chance to breathe a bit and enjoy this team a bit more. Those reminders and rewards for the players are definitely needed from time to time.

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15 Responsesso far.

  1. sportsbygreg says:

    Getting Ben Simmons would be huge, but I honestly think the NBA is going to make sure the Lakers nab him. I love Brandon Ingram, he’s a tremendous talent, but we have Andrew Wiggins and maybe Zach LaVine’s at the 2 and 3, so where is he going to play. Henry Ellenson, the 6’10” [do it all] stretch 4 from Marquette would be a super draft pick. I think he is very special. He can play inside and out, rebound, shoot from anywhere, run the floor, and a great ball handler…pretty darn athletic, too. I actually would rather have him if we can’t get Simmons because he would help balance out the front line alongside Towns.

    • gjk says:

      February 5th is pretty early for the first “lottery is rigged” comment. FFS, every lottery drawing (the one with the actual ping pong balls, not the one on ESPN) is recorded and can be viewed on YouTube.

      • Zach Harper says:

        Pretty sure they would’ve rigged for Wiggins AND Towns the last two years for the Lakers if that was a thing.

      • sportsbygreg says:

        Trust me gjk it’s rigged. Lol. Watch the Lakers get Simmons.

        • sportsbygreg says:

          And it won’t be because they have the most ping pong balls.

          • gjk says:

            Since you seem like the type to say “I told you so” if it happens, there’s a chance it will. If it does, it won’t have anything to do with hidden agendas. There’s a better chance they’ll lose their pick to the 76ers, because that’s how math works.

    • Jumbob says:

      Ingram >>> LaVine and Ingram >>> Ellenson. If you can draft Ingram and you are the Wolves, you take him and run. They figure out the 4 through other means. Ingram is the 3 point shooter the Wolves need desperately. Ellenson plays no defense. If the Wolves end up around 5/6, Ellenson is a possibility.

      I won’t comment on the lottery rigged bit, beyond asking where you got that fetching tinfoil hat.

      • sportsbygreg says:

        Don’t care about “I told you so”, when I’m wrong I’m wrong and when I’m right I’m right. You have your opinions and I have mine. The Sixers will not be awarded the top pick this year. Trust me it’s the Lakers. They handed Cleveland the top pick two years in a row and I honestly believe they were going to make sure they pair Wiggins with Towns to give him that star side kick. I don’t give a hoot what they do as far as letting people view, ect. In my opinion it’s rigged. The Wolves will not get the first pick this year, maybe 2nd or 3rd. So if you are dreaming of another number 1 pick get over it because it won’t happen.

      • sportsbygreg says:

        That’s what I meant does does brain, if Ingram was off the board. Pay attention.

      • sportsbygreg says:

        That’s what I meant doe doe brain, if Ingram was off the board. Pay attention.

  2. gjk says:

    The point about talent is interesting. I think one of the guys on the NBA Lockdown podcast said basketball is easy to play but difficult to master (Amin Elhassan?), and that’s pretty much what their 1st-3rd year guys are experiencing now. With that said, KG is arguably the only role player being used particularly well, which is frustrating.

    At this point, I’d much rather see some progress to close out the year than 30 mpg of Tyus Jones in April to preserve a specific lottery slot (to be fair, I preferred that last year, so what do I know). At some point, smart drafting matters as much as drafting high, and this organization seems to have reached that point. Since they’re not in danger of losing the pick (which would’ve been a notable setback) and seem pretty locked in on the 5th lottery spot unless someone above them just goes full tank, they’re not really in position to feel like one of the can’t-miss guys will slip through their fingers if they see more success the rest of the season.

  3. pyrrol says:

    Congratulations to the guys for this win, they deserved it! It was particularly satisfying not only because of what Zach mentions here, but because it was a nationally televised game in which the announcing crew was clearly biased and cheering for the Clippers (they went ape when Paul got a T in crunch time, even though they had no idea what he said and it was a foul). And we actually got some luck and calls to go along with our big effort, for once. The guys seemed loose, to be enjoying themselves and played hard the whole game.

    I also have to say that Sam coached well. We looked OK out of a few of the timeouts for once, he seems to have had the guys attention and focus and most importantly, he played Miller. Magically, Zach still was able to do all his good Zach stuff, but we were much more stable when Rubio had to sit with Miller playing. One game is one game, but good to see decent decision making.

    Speaking of that, Rubio is a very entertaining player. He willed us all game, but certainly at the end, with timely plays, huge effort and heart, and MAGIC.


    Kind of odd that a nice win that shows what we can do when we have our stuff together got draft talk going on here. You need players to be a good team. But at the end of the day, you can’t get guys only from the draft–you have to fill a team out other ways. You also can’t become winners by losing and getting a big, wet behind the ears name every draft. You have to add players, yes, but also build the guys you have and start winning more games and playing like a real team. We have a lot of good pieces. We simply need to focus on getting those pieces on track and making a smart pick with whatever we are given. But it will be supplemental. The mass of what we need to do is with guys that are here now.

    I don’t want to get on a semantics debate here, but talent is a natural ability at something, a gift. What you do with that gift, how you develop it–in basketball terms, if you develop it into NBA ability–is up in the air. The Wolves simply do have a lot of talent. How will the guys individually choose to develop that talent? How will we develop it as a team, and a unit? We could always use more talent, but that’s the real question, not whether we have guys with a rare natural basketball ability. I agree with what gjk says, I’d put it this way—for talented young NBA guys, basketball has always come easy. Will they deal with the challenges of top level play in a positive way and become great, not just good? We will see. To what Zach was discussing, I think Wiggins is doing well. I wouldn’t say he’s above expectations at this point, maybe right on top of them. People get annoyed because effort things still lack, such as modest rebounding numbers consistently. It’s frustrating because it isn’t an ability thing, and it isn’t a confused youth thing–it’s an effort and priority thing. I’m not down on him. But Towns is more impressive more quickly than Wiggins on both sides of the court. It feels like he’s the sophomore and Wiggins is the rookie many nights. Perhaps, more simply, Towns’ mix of abilities is just more rare and valuable than Wiggins’. But they are both exciting and doing well.

  4. Marshall Andersen DVM says:

    Could care less about simmons/ingram. We haver our core. Lets win as much as possible and get some confidence. Let the lakers, sixers, and nets fight for lotto positioning. Suns or lakers would be a great spot for simmons, and ingram looks like a sixer.

  5. Shlabotnik13 says:

    I very much agree that we need progress and wins more than we need enhanced lottery odds. We’re trying to build a winning culture here. We’re going to have a crack at a good player and need to draft smart. A few more ping pong balls won’t make us any smarter.

    • sportsbygreg says:

      I agree with both of you guys. I want wins, too. But I have just come to the realization that we that it’s another lottery season.

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