2016-17 Preseason

Wolves 101, Grizzlies 94: Thoughts during a (meaningless?) preseason game

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It’s the preseason.

It’s true, these games are meaningless in terms of competition for the playoffs, but this was the home opener. This was the first time Wolves fans got to see the newly Tom Thibodeau-fronted Wolves in-person. This was the first time a game was televised, and thus the first time Dave Benz and Jim Peterson were back on the airwaves.

That said, tonight’s win doesn’t get the Wolves any closer to a playoff spot. Not technically, anyway. In terms of the preseason learning curve, there was plenty to take away from tonight’s game. The Wolves won by just 7, but led by as many as 40 points. All of this happened while the team’s core players sat on the bench (it was mostly a lineup of Tyus Jones-John Lucas III-Rasual Butler-Adreian Payne-Jordan Hill that let the lead slip away), but while they played, there was plenty to talk about.

I jotted thoughts down as the game went on, then went back and filled in more detailed thoughts after the game.

1.THE SCOREBOARD IS HUGE

This photo does not do it justice. But, man, this thing is impressive.

cvkyjdbuiaezzhn2. Zach LaVine looked locked in, on both ends – While this was especially true in the first half, when he got off to a hot start both shooting off the catch and scoring off the dribble, LaVine was more aggressive than I’ve ever seen him before. Tonight’s version of LaVine has a realistic All-Star caliber ceiling, especially when paired up with a freak like Towns.

But it was the defensive end that impressed me the most. He was reading passes brilliantly, doubling when appropriate, denying the ball, and making smart plays on the ball when it made sense. It was nothing like the LaVine we’ve known the past 2 seasons. This is possibly a preseason overreaction, but LaVine impressed the hell out of me defensively tonight.

3. Brandon Rush’s basketball IQ is going to be a refreshing sight when watching the team’s wing core – This isn’t a knock on Wiggins, LaVine, and Muhammad. All three are young, athletic wings with relatively bright futures. Rush is a veteran shooting guard with a limited skillset. That skillset showed tonight, but in a different way than I expected. He’s known for his 3-point shooting, but it was the extra passes he made. Some turned into assists, some turned into ANOTHER pass that turned into a score. Rush is a team player that knows how to find good shots, whether or not he’s the one taking it. He’ll be a nice offensive piece off the bench this year.

4. Kris Dunn’s shot selection needs to improve – Amidst all the good things the first and second teams were doing, Dunn’s dud of a performance tonight was the one major bummer. A slew of bad, contested, mid-range jumpers, some decent on-ball defense, and a general lack of knowing what to do on offense. That was Kris Dunn’s game in a nutshell tonight.

The idea that Dunn is expected to be a starter within 20 games is one that I don’t believe to be true; not because of tonight’s game, but because Tom Thibodeau is not the type of coach to set a number on something like that. Still, Ricky Rubio is lightyears ahead of Dunn right now, and tonight proved that (even if Dunn is better than this on most nights). And that’s okay. But tonight was proof that Dunn has plenty to learn about the intensity of how to score on an NBA defensive system.

5. The suit rankings continue, but the surprises do not- 

Ryan Saunders was at it again. I couldn’t find a good chance to snap a photo, but he looked fresh as usual. He’s on pace to break the Warriors’ 73 win record with ease.

6. KAT forgot it was preseason, had it mistaken for game 7 of the NBA Finals- 31 points, 9 rebounds, 17-17 from the free throw line, 27 minutes, all on Marc Gasol. He might actually be a cat. And as our own Zach Harper put it, cat gonna yarn.

Towns spent most of his time on the floor with Ricky Rubio. The two of them, as well as LaVine, are really starting to build something on the floor. They know the spots to hit on the break, especially, and are going to be more of a highlight reel than ever this year. Just wait til Wiggins (who was out with an illness) joins them.

7. According to my friend Melissa, who attended the game with my friend Ben, Gorgui’s shorts fall down a lot. As a result, he has to pull up his shorts a lot- Something to watch for, maybe.

8. The starting lineup looks great, the bench does not –

Keeping in mind the Wolves only won by 7, the +/- is a hilariously telling indicator:

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The worst starter’s +/- was +33, and they won by 7.

Thankfully, this shouldn’t be a terribly troublesome issue. It’s highly unlikely that Thibs has any intention on running a platoon system. In other words, unless the game is a blowout (like tonight), the starters and the bench will be pretty well intermingled most of the time.

9. I could watch angry Tom Thobdeau all day long- Even when the Wolves were up 40, Thibs was an unhappy man. This was his face for most of the game.

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It’s fun to watch, but it’s great to know how much he cares about winning. He’ll make sure it happens, and make sure the winning attitude is always taking place. No matter what the score is.

10. The team looked great, and it’s great to be back- KAT had a great game, LaVine looked excellent, Rubio looked fantastic, Bjelica was taking shots without hesitation (!!!!!), Thibs was making smart reads and adjustments. This list could be much longer than I’m making it, but there’s plenty of season to form more conclusions and observations. Whether tonight was meaningless or not, it’s going to be a fun year.

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5 thoughts on “Wolves 101, Grizzlies 94: Thoughts during a (meaningless?) preseason game

  1. Thoughts:

    –A lot of guys impressed me out there tonight, but tops on my list was Gorgui. He played outstanding. His defense was aware and effective. He finished well, hit shots, got to the foul line. Perhaps this is an outlier but it seems like he may be a big beneficiary of the coaching upgrade.

    –Overall, we already look way different from last year. To sum it up, our defense looked much more active and guys were in their proper spots. Guys were way out of position very rarely. This helped us protect the paint and keep the perimeter contested and sealed. Memphis wasn’t playing a lot of important guys, but they still looked shaken by our defense at times. On offense, we had a lot more movement away from the ball, less pointless dribbling and some really nice ball movement (Spursesque on a few plays). Also, we got out in transition a lot more like we should have been doing last season (hard without some D…) I don’t think this is a fluke and expect to see more of at and to build on it.

    –KAT played with passion, but it came so easy. It was like he was just playing around and accidentally scored 31. This was in like 25 mins! He needs to get to the line more and he did just that. And he sure can hit those free throws.

    –Exited to see Wiggins in this new system. Still, we hardly missed the guy because of how well the other starters played. I’m wondering if LaVine is the new Wiggins. Maybe he’s KAT’s robin, and not Wiggins? I like Wiggins a lot and can’t wait to see him this year, but dang, LaVine is improving so much faster. And his shot is really beautiful. He’s defending some now, understands the offense better and has decent shot selection. He could be a major scorer in this league.

    –Rush is solid and so is Bjelica. What stood out to me for both was their defense. At different moments they were both quite disruptive. Certainly no black holes on that end.

    –Dunn looked really bad. And he was out there with some 1st unit guys and good 2nd unit guys a lot. His D wasn’t really that good. He looks lost out there on offense. He has no go to skill right now on that end, and his physical prowess that was supposed to elevate him to defensive usefulness hasn’t kicked in yet. I just don’t like his ‘player profile’ right now. The season has not yet started, so I’m not jumping to any conclusions but am constantly wondering if his ceiling is really much lower than everyone seems to think. I wish the trade rumors would go away.

    –Tyus also looked bad (although slightly less bad, perhaps). One thing to remember is that most of the last quarter was the 3rd team–regular season teams don’t have a third team. A lot of the guys that got big 4th quarter mins won’t be with the team. Still it is a bit nerve racking. Tyus is looking bad, Dunn is looking bad and Lucas isn’t very good and likely won’t make the team. Forget trying to replace Rubio (why is that even a rumored goal!?). We don’t have a very good backup PG at all. It might be the most glaring weakness on an improved bench.

  2. KAT was insane to watch in person. It just looked effortless and against Gasol no less.

    Defense was amazing last night and from guys that I previously had not been impressed with on D. Sitting at the game it was striking how effective their defense was and how it lead to instant offense.

    Lavine was active onball, sticking with his man, fighting through screens and shuffling his feet well. If that is what Thibs can do with a player on defense, the Wolves could be scary this year. It’s preseason though, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

    Gorgui was not cheating for a ton of blocks. He wasn’t trying to lure guards into lay-ups and then slap them off the glass. This is a good thing. Gorgui is at his worst defensively when he is thirsty for those flashy blocks. Ironically he got 4 blocks anyhow, but some of his best defense was when he simply stayed in front of his man and kept his hands high or walled up. It affected so many shots and was a treat to see.

    Nice to see the Wolves shoot 25 from beyond the arc. They didn’t make one after about the first quarter, but I will chalk that up to playing down to the level of Memphis and a lack of urgency. Those shots will fall on others nights.

    The Wolves looked really good on the glass when were weren’t trotting out the non rotation players. It’s nice to see Thibs emphasis on that is paying off.

    Dunn . . . yeah. Sure. 20 games and a starter.

    Bjelica looked confident and competent with the ball in his hands. Defensively he was pestering the ball all night. Due to his hoops IQ, he may have the ability to be a better defender than I thought. At best I was thinking he would be passable on D, but the way he bothered his man whenever he had the ball and forced some turnovers, he might be a +. Probably still very matchup dependent for him.

    Gasol looked awful. Wow. He looked bad on both sides and I know that is in no small part due to the great D by Gorgui and KAT, but still. Hope he is alright and not playing injured or something. Maybe it’s just a lack of urgency in preseason.

    Zach Randolph was fun to watch. He straight up abused Aldrich, putting him on skates and causing a fall to the floor. I wish Randolph would have done that more last night. He should continue to abuse back-up bigs all year coming off the bench.

    Thibs was hilarious. I had never been to a game before that had Thibs in it and boy was it a treat. He sounds like an angry bear on the sidelines. Coach Bear was furious at the second unit and it was a little scary too.

    Fun “game” in the first half that become a farce in the second. It’s preseason. Go Wolves.

  3. Nice to see hedging and rotating on defense; the strategy and technique looked a lot better, as did the effort. All the dribble handoff action and firing away from 3 were also good signs. When it comes to this team’s playoff chances, they can afford to lose these rotation players and not miss many beats: Dieng, Muhammad, Dunn, and Aldrich. Anyone else missing significant time is going to really hurt their chances because of the skills they bring and the strange choice to have seemingly 80% of the roster space used on point guards and bigs.

  4. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one entertained by Thibs RBF. His facial expression and subsequent subbing after Dunn made a “wtf was that?” turnover that led to easy points the other way almost made me fall out of my chair.

    2nd-ing a lot of what Pyrrol said. Dieng has a rough preseason/training camp and it was good to see him finally have an excellent game. Dunn has to be able to find a way to the rack. He sliced and diced his way to the rim a lot in Summer League and college, but has had trouble finding similar looks in preseason. It doesn’t surprise me given that Summer League is closer to pick-up game level D than regular season D. On the flip side, Zach was getting to the rim and making it look easy. I’m pumped to see that continue. Zach also may take the Honorary Bad Plumbing Award for “Best Leak-Outs” that for many years was shared by Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. I really loved seeing him and Rubio connecting on some easy points after made baskets.

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