Timberwolves 113, Kings 104: Far Away, So Close


Look at the last stretch of games for the Minnesota Timberwolves since the start of the second week of March and you can see that this team might actually be starting to make a little sense. They’re young and talented, with a starting lineup that’s beginning to gel, but are still inexperienced overall when it comes to playing with consistency, plus are saddled with a depleted bench that’s more raw than the starters. The results speak to this: A blowout loss to the excellent Spurs; a tightly contested win against a Thunder team ramping up into the playoffs; a tough loss to a Suns team they should beat; a strong win over the injury-wracked Grizzlies; a loss to the Rockets where Harden had 14 assists; a very well-played loss to possibly the best team in NBA history; and then, last night, a sloppy, ugly win over a Sacramento Kings team missing its best player, DeMarcus Cousins.

In short, against three playoff teams, one on the bubble, and two cellar dwellers, the Wolves went 3-3. If the Warriors loss was a moral victory, then the Kings win was the definition of a bad win. Sure, Minnesota shot 56.3% but they allowed the Kings — again, without Cousins and also missing Ben McLemore — to shoot 46.2%, including 40% from 3-point range. Rajon Rondo was 10-for-16, for crying out loud.

But the young Wolves also had themselves a game on offense. All of Minnesota’s starters except for Ricky Rubio shot above 58.3% and Andrew Wiggins had 23 points, Gorgui Dieng had 16 points and 11 rebounds, Karl-Anthony Towns had his now-routine 26 points and 11 rebounds, and Zach LaVine finished with 23 points after not scoring at all in the first half.

And then there were the highlights: Wiggins posterizing Willie Cauley-Stein, LaVine putting Marco Bellinelli on skates, and — maybe most tellingly — this light moment of horsing around between Towns and Wiggins on the bench:

What all of this points to — the good, the bad, playing up or down to your competition, LaVine working his way out of a funk, Towns and Wiggins goofing with each other — is a team on the way to becoming an actual team. There’s a distance left to go before that moment arrives, but here you can begin to see it, but it’s already causing some sections of the fanbase some concern.

A team with some solid pieces going from bad to being around .500? Sounds an awful lot like the 2013-14 team that had all that yet still underperformed and then blew itself apart. Even if these Wolves get to that point and then start actually making the playoffs, what’s to say they don’t get into that first round and keep getting bounced? Sounds like the Kevin Garnett teams before 2003-04. And what if they make some of the tough decisions about who to keep as contracts come up and then go get the right veterans to build around their core? Well, that sounds like the great 2003-04 squad that lasted all of one year before crumbling.

The point is that while fans are eager to see what this team can become, plenty of them are cautious simply because they’ve been burned before. How many times over the last 12 years have they heard that if things fall into place the Wolves should be in a position to contend in a few years?

But here’s the thing: Just because something didn’t happen, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t close to happening. That seems to be a hard lesson for people to accept. Consider it as applied to personal relationships: You could be with someone for years, thinking this is the person you’re going to be with for the rest of your life, and then one day it ends. You might spend months getting over it, not wanting to accept that something that was actually good could end. So you settle on believing that it wasn’t that good in the first place, that since it didn’t go the distance there was nothing there. And then you’re left feeling like you had nothing in the first place.

I get it. We get focused on things like closure, on moving on, on looking forward, not back. But there’s beauty out there for us right now, and if it doesn’t last, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t beautiful. Towns is already an incredible player in so many ways. Since the All-Star break, LaVine has looked terrifyingly legit, perhaps already more suited to a role of instant offense in transition and from the arc than Wiggins is to his presumed role as foundational wing. Wiggins might have the greatest distance to travel to his potential ceiling, but watching him work his way along the path should be at least half the journey.

There are so many things beyond the court that stand in the way of this Wolves team becoming what we think they should: other teams’ fortunes, questions about the coach, the front office, ownership, and then there’s free agency and injuries and on and on. Any of that stuff could play a part in derailing a Wolves team that looks so promising right now, as it has so often in the past. But we should remind ourselves that what’s happening right now with a team that’s a 50/50 proposition on any given night even with a depleted bench is most definitely real.

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5 Responsesso far.

  1. Mebert says:

    It looks like ESPN has the annual, “sure nobody is close to current Wolves rookie for RoY, but here is who actually deserves it by our made up stat” article.

    I thought it was amusing with Wiggins, but it is just desperate click bait with Towns.

  2. rondo says:

    The Wolves biggest problem is they need to start hiring very good coaches and stop hiring mediocre coaches. Good players like Wiggins Towns and Lavine need a good winning mentality coach.

  3. Jello says:

    What do we think the best way to fix the bench is? I think there are some pretty obvious roster spots we need filled, e.g. a defensive/rebounding PF, three & D wing, backup PG, but where do we get these pieces? Ideally, Dieng is the first big off the bench so we need to find someone who can start next to Towns but the rest of the starters are set in my opinion. I don’t like teams that shake up the roster too much, though. I think the Spurs have been so successful for so long due to their development. Yeah, they’ll bring in guys but it’s mostly done in house. Kind of an erratic stream of consciousness, but what I’m getting at is I think it would be best if we bring in only one or two guys in FA and do the rest through development and the draft.

    Being realistic, we don’t want contracts that would inhibit Wiggins and Towns in the future and Durant isn’t coming here, who do we think we can get in FA that would help us win games? I honestly don’t think the FA pool is all that appealing, but with the salary cap going up some guys I see as being overpaid may actual be fair. I’m far from an expert and have no idea how much the Wolves can realistically spend without jeopardizing the future. I like Jeremy Lin if he opts out as a backup PG. Not really exceptional at anything but he’ll get the job done and seems like a great locker room guy. Terrence Jones is also intriguing as a PF next to Towns that can help get rebounds. With all the games he’s missed this year I think we may be able to get him on a good contract. I don’t think we need a stretch four next to Towns because I think he stretches the floor fine himself. Jones definitely isn’t a lane clogger by any means, though, and would definitely help grab some boards.

    In the draft, if we fall in the 5-7 range I think Murray, Rabb, Chriss, and Hield are all interesting prospects. Murray and Hield both add shooting while Rabb and Chriss can add shot blocking and rebounding in a manner probably similar to Jones. Unless we sign Jones or another PF I would takes Chriss or Rabb due to the teams defensive struggles.

    • Mebert says:

      I like Bender if he is still available at 5. I don’t like the comparisons to Porzingas, not every European player is just like every other European player.

      I think him and Towns on the floor changes the front court to a positionless system. Bender or Towns could switch at any time cover what needs to be covered. And it would work on offense or defense. I would require some patience, because even if he does do a lot of things similar to Towns, I doubt he is as far along at all.

      I really hate how he will tap a rebound out instead of just grabbing it.

  4. gjk says:

    Hopefully, the cycle of “unrealistic expectations leading to premature disappointment” can be avoided with this team. There’s nothing wrong with being skeptical and wanting them to prove their worth. Roster-wise, any comparisons of this group to OKC holds them to an unreachable standard. There isn’t an equivalent to Harden or Ibaka on this roster; maybe they get one of those in the draft, but it’s not guaranteed. Maybe Wiggins gets to Westbrook’s level, but it seems unlikely that Towns gets to Durant’s. It’s not realistic to assume they’ll ever be 2 of the best 5 teams in the league, and even if they are, that’s not an automatic path to rings. They have to build their team as though they’re Golden State or Memphis and not assume that 2 potential All-Stars and a still-overrated supporting cast are enough to compete. They can’t skip steps; until they have 8 guys they could trust in a playoff series, they shouldn’t be mortgaging the future for the present. Using cap space before Wiggins and Towns are extended would help them a lot, but we don’t really know what the next CBA will look like or how long the cap will increase.

    With that said, I’m also not going to assume every misstep is catastrophic. It’d be awesome to even reach the levels that Memphis has, and they made so many mistakes: drafting Thabeet instead of Harden (presumably because they had OJ Mayo), trading Love and assets for Mayo, and giving away Kyle Lowry and Demarre Carroll for nothing could’ve been killers for their playoff hopes; they weren’t. Compared to those, trading a conditional first for Adreian Payne and selling 2nd-rounders are minor. And it’s kind of embarrassing how bad the crowds have been; a 50-50 shot at winning every night is good enough to attend a game even if more will be expected in the future.

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