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.