2015-16 Season

Timberwolves 98, Wizards 104: Their A&R Man Said, “I Don’t Hear A Single”

In 2009, the band French Kicks released Swimming, and it was absolutely and without question one of the best EPs of the year. Leadoff track “Abandon” established the tone: taut guitar lines viewed through a smeared, blurry lens of towering echo; sleepy-eyed vocals nearly out of earshot in a nearby room; enveloping bass working its way through the floorboards. The next four tracks refracted and developed those elements, culminating in “Said So What,” a lo-fi pop masterpiece, plaintive and dreamy.

The only problem is that instead of being an EP, Swimming was an album, and there are seven more tracks after “Said So What.”

At this point in the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves have settled into a starting rotation of Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns after starting the year with Tayshaun Prince in place of LaVine (and switching wing positions with Wiggins) and Kevin Garnett in place of Dieng. That lineup has now played 240 minutes together, third most of any 5-man lineup and just four minutes behind the Garnett-less version of the starting lineup at the beginning of the season. For the season, they look good, posting a 118.4 offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) against a 114.2 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). Over their last ten games, they’re better: 119.5 ORtg vs. 111.2 DRtg. It feels like development, and that’s encouraging, given that four-fifths of that lineup is nearly a lock to be a major part of the Wolves’ future, and Dieng’s future with the team will be determined more by money than his own play.

The back end of the Wolves’ rotation, though, is in trouble, and it reared its ugly head against the Washington Wizards. Kevin Martin and Andre Miller — solid if underwhelming vets this season who each had their share of ups and downs but punched the clock with professionalism — are gone. It’s an open question whether Kevin Garnett will return to the floor at all this season, and it’s almost certain Nikola Pekovic won’t. Nemanja Bjelica has racked up six DNPs in a row and in any case hasn’t had a decent game since the end of January.

The net result is that Sam Mitchell is left with Tyus Jones, Shabazz Muhammad, Tayshaun Prince, Damjan Rudez, Adreian Payne and the newly acquired Greg Smith to make a second unit out of. A few of those guys might one day be decent pieces off the bench for some team, but generally speaking, this is like a Top Chef challenge where you’re given a block of cheddar cheese, bean sprouts, miniature marshmallows, Old Bay seasoning and orange marmalade.

So take a look at the Popcorn Machine page from last night’s game.


If you’ve never looked at Popcorn Machine before, it can be a little overwhelming, so I’ve highlighted the important bit above.

What you can see immediately is how the Wolves jumped out to a big lead on a 21-9 run. The starters start to wear out a bit, the bench starts to come in, and Minnesota is -7 from when Rubio and Wiggins leave to when Towns comes back in. Even when the starters come back in, they can’t grab momentum back and the team overall endures runs of 14-5, 6-0, 6-0 and 11-2 from midway through the first quarter to the end of the first half. At the half, the score was 60-54 with the Wizards on top.

The Wolves chipped into the lead to start the second half with the starters going +6 and sparking a 6-0 run before LaVine leaves the floor. From when LaVine sits in the third to when Wiggins comes back on in the fourth, the Wolves were -11. Down the stretch, Mitchell finally decided to go small and kept Muhammad in in favor of Dieng and the team was +5, but it wasn’t enough.

The Wizards, of course, benefit from veteran depth, especially with Bradley Beal coming off the bench as he recovers from a broken nose. Beal scored 26 points on the night and the Wizards could call on vets like Ramon Sessions, Nene and Jared Dudley, all of whom have been starters at one time or another. Just put those benches next to each other and say who you would take: Sessions, Beal, Anderson, Dudley and Nene or Jones, Muhammad, Prince, Payne and Smith?

In some ways, it’s as simple as that and Mitchell said as much in his postgame availability. “They’ve got guys sitting on the bench who’ve played in playoff games and got 600-700 games under their belt,” he said. “They know how to play. We’re playing a bunch of young guys. Our young guys played hard, I thought our starters tonight were a plus. We’re not deep.”

But with Beal still coming off the bench, it’s not entirely clear whether the Wizards are an album with an amazing single (John Wall), some solid cuts (Marcin Gortat, Otto Porter), a weird experimental track you can’t make your mind up about (Markieff Morris) and then strong filler, or something more. With last night’s win, they’re just outside the playoffs, but are they just competing for the chance to get rolled by the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Between the injuries, the buyouts and the sense that now is the time for the young players to take on a greater load and see how they handle it, the Timberwolves are going to look more like French Kicks’ Swimming for the rest of the season: a great 5-song EP that slowly turns into a so-so album.


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3 thoughts on “Timberwolves 98, Wizards 104: Their A&R Man Said, “I Don’t Hear A Single”

  1. I was sitting in the arena, wondering why Sam wasn’t staggering his starters with the bench and just realized, “why should he?” If they’re trying to decide whether their 5 best young guys (Rubio still counts) work together, they’re better off maximizing those minutes even if that means Dieng or Towns have to guard a stretch 4 (it’s good practice for them, anyway). It does make for some ugly bench stints, though, mostly because I have no interest in seeing Payne play and don’t particularly want people overrating Tyus Jones in the “looter in a riot” stage of the season. They need to fill Martin’s spot with a 3-D guy, even if the 3 part of that equation is underdeveloped. There’s no need to go after sideshows like Jimmer.

    While it was interesting to see Rubio and Wall best each other on both ends, it’s games like last night that make him harder to defend to the casual dolt that thinks a point guard needs to be a great scorer. Layups that rim out count the same to the casual dolt as bad misses, and those bad turnovers make people wonder what his value is because they associate PG with not turning it over. I think those could be chalked up to youth to a certain degree, but it’s still frustrating when those mistakes happen at the volume they did last night.

  2. I don’t want to spend too much time on this game. I think it’s easy to get down on our personnel. They’re young they do stupid things, they still don’t know how to play together, there are still obvious roster holes… Now, with the buyouts we are very short (and we filled one of the spots with a guy to make up for injuries to bigs, not cover the actual void left by the buyouts). Still, all this considered, we have a feeling like rope climbing in gym class (did you guys have to do that!?) but the rope is greased. The grease is coaching. We can’t get a grip on anything. Our defense remains horrible and puts us in a hole game after game. We can’t mathematically keep up because teams we play almost always take more threes than us and almost always make more and the threes we do take are often bad looks out of plays that don’t create the correct looks that the players aren’t trained to find. We don’t look like we have plays, that we know what our game plan in night in and out. We don’t make adjustments. I could go on, but something goes beyond individual observations like this. It’s just a feel, like there isn’t a unit that works right on their side of the court out there no matter how well the guys play. It’s the greased rope–they feel handicapped by the way the team is run every night and it makes for a very out of sync product for lack of a better word. One image keeps sticking out in my mind. I mean, Rubio didn’t play his best and made some uncharacteristic turnovers. You could see him lashing out at the greased rope–not just how hard it is to make offense on ever possession, not just how we play out of a hole because out team defense won’t improve, but something more. We’re pretty dull to watch–a lumbering, low scoring, out of sync, defensive breakdown waiting to happen team. Yet we’re a team of young future starts. We should be frustrating but at least fun to watch. Rubio seemed to be trying to force flash into the game for this reason (which is hard when you can’t even complete basic plays as a team). I look back to the Adleman days. Gjk seems fond of them. I’m sort of scarred by the let down of it all. But I do miss them and gjk has reminded me of that. At his worst, Adleman was much better than Sam and put a somewhat fun to watch team out there with much less fun to watch players to work with then we have now. I recall how many alley oops we had back then. Rubio was throwing them up at rates that were near the top of the league. Did Rubio forget how to throw alley oops passes? Probably not. Do we have worse athletes? Towns for Love… Wiggins, the 2 years in a row slam dunk champ LaVine… No, that’s not it either. We need a coach (and after hearing Milt talk on air, I’m worried also a GM).

    Oops that was long again.

  3. Are you trying to say the rest of the French Kicks album is bad? I just picked that disc up a couple months ago and loved it all the way through.

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