2016-17 Preseason

Timberwolves 109, Heat 100: A preseason game actually happened; I seent it

Via Getty Images
Via Getty Images

Something we have to get used to, even in 2016, is the fact that we’re going to miss some preseason games. They cost good money to produce and their yield in revenue and ratings probably just doesn’t make financial sense for broadcasters to put them all on, especially when they have to travel to Kansas City in order to put them on television. It sucks but that’s the case. Our best hope is finding a jumbotron feed for these games and see what happened in 2001 Euro draft prospect video quality.

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ game Saturday night against the Miami Heat in Kansas City did actually happened. I saw it. Not live. That would be asking a lot. But I did receive a video from a friend of the jumbotron feed of the game, so I got to see the action on the floor. Before we dig a bit into what happened, I want to mention how disorienting it is to watch a game 1) without sound, 2) without a score, and 3) without the time of the game shown unless you get a sneak at the clock on the basket support.

Another weird thing was watching the video and missing a handful of action early on in the game because it cut to a Miller Lite replay. But then they just stopped and while I appreciated it stopping, I also became distracted wondering why they stopped. OK, none of that is important. I’m going to go through each of the 10 players (some more in-depth than others) who played in this game and a couple of overarching team things from just the one game.

Karl-Anthony Towns

Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks while putting up a plus-9 in 27 minutes of play. However, I’d imagine he wasn’t happy with his play in this game. He didn’t shoot well (7-of-18) and his missed two of his six free throws. He had a couple of defensive breakdowns in the game too. For the most part though, we saw some pretty impressive things from him.

The Heat put James Johnson on him and had Hassan Whiteside on Gorgui Dieng. The idea is to keep Whiteside near the basket and not get Whiteside into trouble with fouling. It’s not that Whiteside can’t guard Towns but that there’s no sense bringing Hassan away from the basket, even with Gorgui playing around the elbow quite a bit. With Johnson on Towns, it left the Heat scrambling with a lot of their defensive coverage because KAT is just that good.

Here are a few plays from Towns in this game:

— Towns goes into the post early in this game, shakes Johnson, draws Whiteside, and gets Gorgui a trip to the free throw line.

— Wolves struggled to get the ball to Towns in the post from multiple potential passers and the whole time, Willie Reed pushed KAT out toward the perimeter. So as it says in the tweet, Towns adapted:

— Towns had the back of Kris Dunn after Tyler Johnson blew by him and even got the Wolves possession with the block:

— This was Towns’ only assist of the game, but he definitely could’ve had more than just the one. Wolves just didn’t finish those plays:

— Towns is going to make these types of shots this season (even though he missed this one) and just a reminder that he’s a 7-footer:

— Off an offensive rebound, the Heat were disjointed on defense and Andrew Wiggins was wide-open inside. Towns either didn’t see him or is just empowered with the greenlight behind the 3-point line and knows three is greater than two:

— Last thought on Towns: if he’s not a top 10 player in the NBA right now, this is the last month that he isn’t for the next 15 years.

Ricky Rubio

I’m a bit worried about Ricky Rubio under Tom Thibodeau. It’s not worry about Rubio getting injured or not being able to shoot or anything of the sort. I think Thibodeau is going to let Ricky be aggressive defensively, as much as he wants to be. And I think sometimes you have to keep Rubio from being himself on that end of the floor (more on that tomorrow).

Rubio switched everything on the perimeter, as per usual with a Thibodeau system. Thibs wants to keep guys switching as much as they can on the perimeter and keep the big men in position to protect the rim. That doesn’t mean we won’t see bigs switching at times. I’d imagine KAT will get to hard hedge pick-and-rolls, maybe even switch a bit, and then eventually get back toward the paint. But with someone like Rubio on the team, Thibodeau can trust that he’ll put pressure on the opposition.

The problem with this is Rubio won’t turn it off. He didn’t turn it off in this game. He may go into hibernation in January because he’ll need to sleep to regain his energy. He was all over the place defensively in a great way in this game. He typically has problems with Goran Dragic, but mostly held his own — aside from a couple of plays where the helping big man wasn’t there to protect the rim as he forced the drive to the baseline. I hope Dunn is good right away and can earn solid minutes because Ricky will need some rest.

Here are a couple of Rubio highlights:

— Outlet pass from Rubio to Zach LaVine:

— I think it was around the time that Gorgui hit the half court line that Rubio knew the big man had a layup to finish on this transition play. Wolves don’t have numbers but that didn’t matter for Ricky:

— One more play that I didn’t tweet out but here’s the video. Rubio picks Dragic, takes the ball the other way, and makes a breakaway layup. There are two funny things about this play: 1) Pretty sure Rubio kicked the ball and it didn’t get called, 2) Thibs got a tech because he thought KAT got fouled on the previous possession.

Rubio finished with 9 points (2-of-5 shooting), 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and no turnovers.

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins shot poorly in this game (3-of-11) but he got to the free throw line 16 times (made 13 of them). He missed his only 3-point attempt. He had two rebounds and a block too. What I loved about this game from Wiggins is while he didn’t attempt too much outside the perimeter, he never really forced anything inside the perimeter either. He was completely controlled on the offensive end of the floor and put incredible pressure on Justise Winslow, who is a very good defender already, and others.

A couple of times, Towns tried to find Wiggins in the middle of the floor in transition to force the issue. KAT would grab a rebound, see Wiggins streaking up the middle of the floor around the half court line, and hit him with a chest pass to start the break. Normally, you’ll see this happen on the wing and the defense can kind of wall off a section of the floor. But by doing this, it put pressure on Wiggins to take care of the ball, but also on the defense to find a way to impede his movement. It usually ended up sending him to the free throw line because that kind of speed and athleticism is just tough to handle.

We still want him to be the guy who starts hitting 3-pointers — like he did after January last season, but it’s great seeing him so composed against a good defender. Didn’t commit a single turnover and the handle does look a bit tighter. Here are a couple highlights:

— Defensively, he did a nice job containing Winslow, aside from a stretch in the third quarter in which Winslow took advantage of help defense lapses in the pick-and-roll. On this play, he navigates a couple of screens before sending a scoop shot into the crowd:

— Wiggins works on this move a lot with Drew Hanlen. Nice inside-out dribble into a pull-up jumper. He’s balanced. He’s completely in control. He’s in a spot he feels comfortable shooting. Can’t wait for this to get to the 3-point range.

— I’d like to see him do it against a better scorer than Winslow, but loved Wiggins’ focus on the ball and off the ball on defense. On the ball wasn’t really a problem last season but he was far too inconsistent off the ball. Don’t think Thibs will allow him to be that way anymore.

Zach LaVine

First quarter of Zach LaVine’s preseason debut under Thibodeau, I was pretty disappointed with his on-ball defense. Tyler Johnson got by him fairly easily, and he just seemed a bit slow reacting to how they’d play him getting screened. However, his help defense was superb. He was rotating well. He was digging and recovering. He was finding his way into the paint on rotations and being disruptive. It was some of the best help defense I’ve seen him play.

In the second half, we saw a lot of on-ball improvement from him. He was far more engaged, his stance looked better, and his effort was very much there and attentive. I have no idea what to expect out of LaVine defensively this season. I hope we see consistent improvement because that makes him entirely dangerous for his potential growth. Offensively in this game, I thought he wasn’t all that involved, but I’m not worried about it too much. Here are two fun highlights:

— Pretty early on, the Wolves struggled on offense. Once they got it going, they seemed aware of Whiteside’s shot blocking but comfortable attacking around it. The second made basket of the game was LaVine going right at Whiteside and banking home a tough runner. I’d love to see LaVine get this shot regularly as long as it’s under control because I think nobody can handle it.

— Here is a Public Service Announcement: You still have to box out LaVine on the perimeter on free throws.

He finished with 9 points (4-of-9 shooting), 2 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist, and 1 steal. He played zero point guard.

Gorgui Dieng

Not going to jump on Gorgui too much in this game and I don’t have any highlights of him, but he was pretty bad. It’s also a really tough match-up going against Whiteside. Hassan just dominated him early on but once Gorgui settled in for the second half, he was a lot better defending him. Dieng rebounded really well in this game, including four offensive rebounds.

However, he had four turnovers and three of them were travels (the other was a pass out of bounds on a wild kickout). The NBA is emphasizing the feet shuffle on the perimeter travel after a catch and drive. This is Gorgui’s worst habit and it’s being looked for even more by officials. He’s got to get those happy feet under control this season.

Nemanja Bjelica

Aggressive Nemanja Bjelica! This is what we want to see out of him. Thibodeau went to Bjelica a few minutes into the game and it changed how the Wolves’ offense looked dramatically. Professor Big Shots checked in for Gorgui and the Heat kept Johnson on Towns. That meant Whiteside was on Bjelica and away from the basket. Still, shy Bjelica was still there to start his second season in the NBA right away until something happened. Towns occupied two defenders at the free throw line without the ball, and reminded Bjelica he’s allowed to shoot 3-pointers.

From there, it was like the floodgates opened. Bjelica drove the paint, he had a quick trigger on 3-point shots, and he moved the ball with purpose. It’s the guy we thought we were getting all last season and the guy you’d see glimpses of here and there. Thibodeau apparently giggles at the idea of having Nemanja on the floor and in the attack. With good reason too. He’s the stretch-4 on offense that teams want. He can make plays for himself, make plays for others, and he’s a terror at the arc.

He also looked pretty good in help defense through most of the night. If there’s any stock after an inconsistent rookie season, buy it now. He’s going to be a fun weapon as long as the defense is there for him. He doesn’t have to be good on the ball, but he has to rotate. He rotated in this game.

Kris Dunn

Super unimpressive preseason debut for Kris Dunn, which is fine. He passed well, but a lot of his 7 assists seemed to be just basic passes to guys making shots. I know that’s what assists generally are, but it didn’t feel like he was creating a lot of shots for his teammates, as much as the offense was. The first five or six minutes of the fourth quarter were good for him though. He hit a 3-pointer, started getting into the paint more, and looked much more like the guy we saw in college.

Most of the game, I thought he looked timid and Briante Weber bothered him quite a bit by pressing up on him. It’s nothing that makes me worried about Dunn in the future or even as a rookie. He looked like a rookie in this game and that’s going to happen. Hopefully, that start of the fourth quarter will be something he can build upon and he’ll look like more of an attacker in the next game. Here’s his 3-pointer, by the way:

Cole Aldrich

Cole Aldrich was a monster defensively. It more than made up for a couple of wild running hook shots he tried throughout the game. The Wolves seemed pretty comfortable running the offensive through him out of the mid and high posts, and he had a very good sense of where to put passes. His big impact though was defensively, where he was simply too much for guys like Willie Reed and Derrick Williams throughout the night.

Aldrich’s ability to anchor a second unit defense is what made him such a nice reserve in both New York and with the Clippers. He’s a player who isn’t utilized enough. I think as long as he provides that protection for the Wolves, he’ll win out on most minutes battles with Jordan Hill, which is more than fine by me. Here’s Willie Reed trying him at the rim and Cole looking almost offended:

Brandon Rush

I’ll join the fan club of people who really hope Brandon Rush can be healthy so he can contribute to the bench. He’s a calming presence and he’s a solid defender. He had active hands and his defensive rotations were good. He’s also someone you just expect to hit 3-point shots and he went 3-of-5. I love the signing a lot and just hope the health is there.

Shabazz Muhammad

Shabazz Muhammad was a bit out of control on offense. He tried to force the issue and put a lot of pressure on the interior, but he was a little too chaotic for it to work. But he was very good on the offensive boards (four of them) and hit a nice 3-pointer when the defense was worried about denying a post-entry pass to Bjelica, who had a mismatch. Defensively, thought Bazz was solid but he needs to continue to improve there.


— It’s just stunning to see the defense move the way it does as a team. They’re so much more connected as a unit than they were a year ago and I think the bench can hold its own defensively this season. I look at it as this team still has a lot of learning to do and I’m not sure how good Miami will be offensively, so this could be a relatively easy team to defend against. But this will also probably be the least organized the team is as a defense this entire season and that should lead to some fun growth with the young core.

— There was passing and cutting. Passing and cutting. They were 10-of-23 from 3-point range. Their 3-point rate was 20.2% last season. It was 25.8% in their first preseason game. I’ll be damned but that sounds a bit like modernity.

— For those of you who made it to the end and didn’t see my tweet on Sunday night, you can watch the game here.

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3 thoughts on “Timberwolves 109, Heat 100: A preseason game actually happened; I seent it

  1. I like the idea of switching more with the guards, but I wonder how much that will actually help when it comes to Rubio getting Wile-E-Coyote’d on on-ball screens, since that’s always involving a big. With Bjelly, it seems like they almost have to give him the ball after several passes and not start with him receiving the first pass; the clock’s too short for him to delay in making some sort of move.

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