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.