Jazz 112, Wolves 103: Time and Expectations

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

                                                     (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Likely the culprit for several Wolves losses this season, youth showed itself in a negative way tonight against the upstart Jazz.

A team with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio have all the makings of a young, talented team that have the ability to awe fans in the most fun way possible. They’re quick, athletic, supremely talented, fit well together on paper, and seem to get along with each other very well. But there’s a reason they’re last in home attendance so far this year.

At this stage, this core of talented young players suffer from an an inability to force opposing teams to play their style of play – a brand of basketball that should be near-impossible to guard against when all these guys hit their prime.

Tonight, likely mirroring other nights to come this season, the Wolves were forced to play Utah Jazz basketball. That is not going to work.

They allowed George Hill and Gordon Hayward to get to the line at will. They shot a combined 19/22 from the line. They allowed Rudy Gobert to wrangle 8 offensive boards (I say “allow” because boxing out was not something Towns or Dieng did well tonight). This happened while Karl-Anthony Towns made some iffy choices in the post on him; opting for contested shots against a premier shot blocker instead of kicking it out. They bit on deceptive Boris Diaw pump fakes, inexplicably double teamed on a couple occasions, and allowed him to break out of his slump of inefficiency. They played to what Utah wanted them to do. 

To be clear, none of this is to say that the Wolves played especially badly tonight. They only lost by 9, and it felt like they lost by 9. They got some efficient shooting from Ricky Rubio (albeit to accompany his 5 fouls) and Shabazz Muhammad, who had his best spark off the bench so far this season. They did a much better job closing out on the perimeter, allowing just 4 made three pointers on 18 attempts. They got good production out of Zach LaVine, who is on a bit of a tear during this bit of a losing spell they’ve been on since the Philly outburst. They got another fun dunk out of tonight.

It’s hard to look at this set of games with a ton of joy, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of what the coaching staff has done so far. Flat out, it’s too early to consider coaching decisions or difference of philosophy. For a new coach, there is going to be a period where feeling out exactly what he has will be ugly. This will even happen for household studs like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

As time goes on this season, there is never a guarantee that things will improve to the masses’ expectations. In fact, that’s almost never likely to happen. But things should improve. Honestly, tonight just served as evidence that things will improve. It did for me, anyway.

The Wolves are still figuring out their identity under Tom Thibodeau. They’re still figuring out how to properly get KAT, Wiggins, and LaVine the touches they deserve. They’re still figuring out how Kris Dunn will develop, and how quickly. On top of all that, they’re still figuring out how, or if, Ricky Rubio fits into all this.

For me, the season outlook on this team is the same as it was 6 games ago (minus my playoff prediction that I should probably pretend never happened). This team is going to go through a slew of ups and downs, and they’re going to get beat by teams that are better than them, sometimes handily. This will happen, often times, because the other team is older, wiser, and knows how to get a young team to play their brand of basketball. This happened tonight. It will happen again. That’s okay.

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12 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    It’s easy to force young players to play your style when you face them. It’s easier if they don’t have a strong system to help them sustain their style of play and strengths. And we now have that toxic mix. Yeah we’re young. Why do we look worse this season, a year older? Why do we have almost no quality wins, and no marquee win? It’s getting to the point that beating a competent, workmanlike team such as Utah would be our pathetic version of a marquee win. This is being said of a team that beat GS last season as they were trying to get the wins record with the not great coaching of Sam Mitchell. What does that say about our coaching and strategy this year? I’m not complaining because it’s fun. I was expecting a much more fun to watch and effective team this year. As the results came in and weren’t good I started making excuses—oh it’s a new system to learn, they are young, lots of bad habits to break, big expectations jitters, we’re developing for the long view and this will all make sense in the future. These excuses in my head got exhausting. I can’t come up with them anymore. This isn’t a well coached team with a good system. These are young players, yes, but also talented and noticeably frustrated. Their coach yells really good, but they don’t get the real lifeline from the staff that they need. They look lost and abandoned out there.

    This game did not comfort me into thinking things will improve. I think they will (how can they not?). But the returns from this game and the season in general are not encouraging in any major aspect. In some aspects it is downright discouraging. I’d like to say, ‘the results aren’t there, but I’m seeing signs we’re turning a corner’ but that would be a lie. I don’t see any signs that as a team we are making much progress at all, let alone turning a corner.

    This team is going to go through a slew of ups and downs? Where are the ups?

    So, what is our style? Like if we magically play a team that doesn’t force their style down our throats and we in fact force them to play our style, what would that look like? I know what it should look like. Us moving more and faster. Sticky hands and quick feet creating transition points and fast tempo. Pass heavy offense that twists the opposing D. A strong dose of Towns in the post. Quality (non iso) looks for Wiggins, and free reign for LaVine to take some shots. Stuff like that. But that does not appear to be how Thibs wants us to play even if other teams would let us. I’m not even sure how to describe what Thibs seems to want. It’s like some monster lurking in the dark—you know he’s ugly, but you aren’t quite sure in what way. It often looks like… very limited pick an roll, get the ball out of the PG’s hand right away and make him stand in the corner like a dunce, make sure to not have a constant presence in the post, always come back to iso and unbalanced spacing, ball movement is overrated, don’t drive and dish, slashing is overrated, try to attract doubles and triples and pass out of them poorly and reluctantly, waste shot clock on nothing and shoot a bad shot because time is running out, make sure not to move too much without the ball–you might get tired! That’s what it looks like. Yeah, some of this is the youth thing. But some of it is more than that and it needs to change. I’m not even going to get started on our D. It’s not good, but it may be harder to get that fixed. Let’s just say the strides have been invisible. For instance, how is Towns that bad on D still? How is our team defense reliably awful? It’s not even good a few minutes at a time. If it ever looks good it is because of a few individual efforts and it doesn’t last long. Don’t see any sign of this changing….

  2. Roger says:

    Luke Walton is already making Thibs look silly. Getting really tired of the Thibs blah blah blah from Wolvesdom. He never amounted to much as a head coach, and for all the fanfare, he was always the “safe” choice as opposed to the “high-upside” choice.

    He is a well-respected coach, true. But as a head coach, his teams were never truly contenders. His bench is underdeveloped and his offense is boring. His Bulls teams could not overcome adversity. His backup point guards, when forced into action, were shooting 50 foot pull-up jumpers.

    It was fun to root for his Bulls teams because they looked like underdogs, no matter their record.

    • sportsbygreg says:

      I totally agree about Thibs. You think Sam Mitchell is laughing right now? But EVERYTHING point you said about Thibs is 100 percent correct. I’m almost at the point of giving up on this team. Not only is Thibs proving not to be worth a damn… and it’s obvious these guys won’t run through a brick wall for him (play hard). Plus, honestly, these guys (collectively) just don’t seem to have the necessary HEART & DESIRE to be great. Not to mention, way too many players on this team have a very low basketball IQ… and that bothers me. Add all that up and a flat out awful bench, and you have a lottery team AGAIN, despite the few very talented players. By the way…. LeBron is looking like a genius right now. Westbrook is a point gaurd and has 18 rebounds. Wiggins a small forward and consistently struggles to get 2. That’s just a lack of heart and desire. Chauncey Billups was so right about that guy when he said he’s not wired like an Alpha. I’m done taking up for Wiggins. The sad thing is that he’s in his 3rd season and it may very well just be a case of “He is what he is”. I applaud his summer and offseason workout regime. But he’s a talented workout warrior who lacks a TRUE desire to prosper night in and night out when it really matters (somewhat of an enigma). I know I pick on Wiggins a lot. It’s only because I want him to MAXIMIZE his potential… and it’s starting to really worry me that he’s just going to play his entire career as a classic underachiever.

    • gjk says:

      All the hot takes about Thibs. Look, I’m not going to defend things that are indefensible, but some of these were hilarious.
      – “never amounted to much as a head coach”: The Bulls were the top seed in the East in his first 2 seasons, and they made the playoffs in every season he coached. Last year, with the same group, they missed the playoffs.
      – “His Bulls teams could never overcome adversity”: This one’s the most laughable of all. His franchise centerpiece played in 100 of 246 games during his last 3 seasons with the Bulls, yet they never finished below a 5 seed. His front office gave away Kyle Korver and Luol Deng. They won a Game 7 on the road that included a bench with Marquis Teague, Daequan Cook, and Nazr Mohammed, as well as a starting backcourt of Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli.

      • sportsbygreg says:

        Yeah, you make great points in the grand scheme of things. I think what gives some of us cause to pause is that his team’s always seemed to be offensively challenged to a degree (even in the Eastern Conference)… even though he had a great player like Rose. And his team’s always seemed to wear down or get injured because he had the propensity to make his starters log heavy minutes and never really seemed to have interest in putting an emphasis on a strong bench. His eye for talent is also in question because he seems to think no matter who he has on his roster they’ll thrive under his tutelage. But he has to realize that this is a talent driven league. So far he just doesn’t seem to have that innate ability to get young inexperienced players to want to “play their butts off” night in and night out. The guys don’t seem to be having fun playing for him. I, like you…gjk, hope he turns it around soon. I’m actually pulling for Thibs.

  3. Tom says:

    Thibs the coach, is partly to blame for this loss. As was mentioned by pyrrol and roger, the offense is stale and puts a lot of pressure on Our young talent to use their 1:1 skills to manufacture points and get three point opportunities (either the and one variety or beyond the arc.).
    However, Thibs the GM is also to blame. He didn’t get a big man to combat the centers and big man tandems we have faced so far in our losses. Gobert looked in the early going like Lew Alcindor with his offensive rebounding and shot blocking. G is not big enough to combat these guys all game. KAT at times gets on the boards, but he has yet to own a game this year.

    Finally the star players had a chance to win this game and they wet themselves. KAT drifts out to the three point line and shoots shots that look great when they go in, but at a price of not owning the low box like a star big man should when it matters most. Missing point blank shots he needs to power dunk, Wiggins struggling to make shots, reverting back to his shooting form of last year. Nobody driving and kicking out for open threes, instead getting shots blocked and altered all game. In fairness, the refs were not kind to the wolves, calling ticky tack fouls outside the paint, allowing Utah to clutch and grab down low, but the wolves need to recognize that and adjust. Defensive adjustments to protect the arc were actually pretty good tonight, but with KAT out with fouls no one protects the rim and they beat us in the paint.

    This home stand needs to be where the wolves get back up in the standings and get some swagger on or I fear our young team will start doubting each other.

  4. gjk says:

    I just don’t like watching them play offense, and it’s not clear how much of that is the system and how much is the players. The great offenses pressure the defense with both talent and with sets where people are moving off the ball. There’s no off-ball movement besides the guy setting the screen in pick and roll stuff.

    Arguably, the only 2 guys whose skills are being maximized in this offense are LaVine and Dieng. Towns is not Tim Duncan or a wing who can create off the dribble, but that’s how he’s being used. His game should be patterned around Nowitzki and Webber with the Kings: a lot of setting picks and then popping or rolling, with some stuff from the elbow to get him easy points. His post game reminds me of Patrick Ewing in how much of a struggle it is for him to get a good shot. Even though Wiggins is making 3s and handling the ball well, they need to find easier ways to get him near the rim. Rubio gets few pick and rolls and has the ball a lot less frequently than he should, considering that Wiggins and LaVine are below-average passers. I thought the elite coaches structured their sets around their personnel. That’s not happening right now.

    • sportsbygreg says:

      Bingo!

    • pyrrol says:

      ‘I just don’t like watching them play offense.’ That about says it all…

      • enai says:

        Yeah and considering the electrifying talent they have on that side of the ball, this is just perverse- I mean, how much work does it take to make an offense that consists of Ricky Rubio passing to Zach Lavine, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl Anthony-Towns… BORING and UGLY? Quite the dubious accomplishment, but this coaching staff has somehow managed it so far, particularly in the 3rd/4th quarter. Frustratingly enough, the offense often opens the game looking good and fluid, and then just falls off a cliff.

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