I’ll begin with something that sounds like a #hottake, a criticism of New Media, and a potshot at the intelligence of the average fan – Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are the Timberwolves’ two most Vine-able stars, so they’re perceived as being more valuable than they actually are. In reality, the Wolves’ two best players are Ricky Rubio and Karl-Anthony Towns, and quite frankly, the gap between those two and the rest of the roster is wider and deeper than most of us would like to admit.
Now, I’m not saying that Wiggins or LaVine aren’t good, or that they don’t have high ceilings. Their production is undeniable – Wiggins is averaging a shade under 20 points, with his rebounds (3.7) and assists (2.7) way up since the All-Star Break. LaVine has also been terrific, averaging 18.2 points on 50% shooting from the field and 47% shooting from beyond the arc. Wiggins has been 21 for a month, and LaVine for two weeks. There’s reason to be excited about the future for both of them.
But last night, they combined to go 7-for-23 from the field and combined for 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Zach LaVine did this:
but he really didn’t do much else. He remains a poor individual defender, and loses focus in team defense way more often than he ought to. At the moment, he’s a one-way player, and while his one good side of the floor has been especially so over the past month, he still has a long way to go to become a winning player.
Wiggins, to his credit, played well defensively against Gordon Hayward, who only got rolling (after recording just one bucket in the first three quarters) when Wiggins was on the bench to start the 4th. But his jumper was awful (4-for-7 in the paint, 0-for-5 outside of it) and he seemed to float on the offensive end. Some nights, his defensive effort is lacking when he’s scoring, and some nights, his defense is great even when his shot isn’t falling. He isn’t consistent enough at either end to hang his hat on anything. He’s a halfway player on offense and defense, so like LaVine, he’s a one-way player, too. (I’m pretty sure the math checks out on that.)
He also did this, which was fun:
But what you didn’t see in the Vine is the unsexy-but-critically important part of the play that Ricky Rubio made – swiping the ball from a would-be defensive rebounder, circling around, and hitting his teammate in stride as he attacked the lane. You don’t see Ricky’s patience running pick and rolls, the way he always seems to find the right man whenever he’s circling under the hoop looking to unload the ball, and the way his passes seem to hit their intended targets right in the shooting pocket.
What you don’t always see in Vines is the way Karl-Anthony Towns alters shots in the paint (allowing 48.8% shooting at the rim, which is Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard territory), or the way his footwork and athleticism enables him to occasionally guard quicker players when the Wolves switch. You don’t always see the way he moves the ball, the way he calmly scans the floor and knows when to pull the trigger on a jump shot versus swinging it again.
Don’t get me wrong, both KAT and the Spanish Unicorn have plenty of highlight moments – Ricky dropping dimes through traffic, Karl dribbling coast-to-coast and finishing at the other end – but if you ask the coaches, and you ask THEM, their true effectiveness lies in the little things they do. Winning moments on the micro level, on both ends of the court, as true two-way players. Perhaps Wiggins and LaVine learn what that means and catch up someday, but for now, Rubio and Towns lead the way, and everyone else lags behind.
A few other tidbits from this one:
- Put that first quarter in a metal canister, attach that metal canister to a rocket ship, obtain all the proper clearances from NASA and the Department of Defense, wait for sky and weather conditions to be just right, and fire that first quarter straight into the goddamn sun. The Wolves went 5-for-24 from the field and failed to get to the free throw line in the first 12 minutes of play, and trailed 18-10 at the end of it. You figured there’d be a letdown after last night’s epic double overtime win on the road, but come on.
- The Jazz were playing their final game of a five game road trip and their third game in four nights. The Wolves ought to expect to beat fringe playoff teams at home as long as their top-7 guys are healthy, and they are, so spare me the “Schedule Loss” line. It wasn’t. It was just a loss.
- Shabazz Muhammad was very bad in this game.
- Probably my least favorite play in basketball, at any level, is when a player grabs an offensive rebound and therefore feels entitled and empowered to put up a shot, almost by default. “YES,” they think, “I HAVE GRABBED THE REBOUND, I WILL REWARD MYSELF BY SHOOTING, WHETHER IT MAKES ANY SENSE OR NOT.” The worst offender on the team used to be Gorgui Dieng, but he’s cleaned that up a bit. Bazzy did that three times tonight, and clanked all three putbacks.
- He also has terrible clock management skills. He grabbed a board with about five seconds left in the first quarter, dribbled it down the floor between Utah defenders, and instead of pulling up for a three (with a second to go) or shooting a floater (right at the buzzer), he drove straight to the hoop. The horn sounded while he was still gathering to go up. It’s a little thing, yeah, but like I argued above, KAT and Ricky’s games are full of the little things. Shabazz does next to none of them.
- It hurts me to admit how much I’ve fallen out of love with him.
- He’s probably gone after this season, right?
- Gordon Hayward was awesome in the fourth quarter, notching 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting. In one minute-and-a-half long stretch early in the final frame, he recorded two and-one’s and a three pointer, almost single-handedly stretching Utah’s lead from 2 to 11 points. The Wolves never recovered.
- After Hayward’s three, which came at the 8:38 mark of the fourth, Sam Mitchell made the hockey-style full line change, which made for a funny-looking fourth quarter Wolves box score:
- What do you know: the Wolves lineup of Tyus, Bazzy, Bjelica, and Greg Smith couldn’t handle two borderline All-Stars (Hayward and Favors), two smart role players (Raul Neto, Joe Ingles) and a talented rookie (Trey Lyles)? I, for one, was shocked.
- Can’t be overstated how great Ricky, in particular, was in this game. He finished with 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting, had 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and a block. His main defensive assignment, Shelvin Mack, shot 3-for-14 and looked genuinely helpless at both ends for a few long stretches. Sadly, the Wolves’ bench implosion at the start of the 4th doomed them
- Only nine games left in the season. Man, time flies.