Nets 119, Wolves 110: The early returns are bleak

red-and-blue

The Minnesota Timberwolves are 1-5, with the lone win coming against Memphis’ glorified D-League affiliate. Just a couple of months ago, just about everyone was supremely confident that the Wolves would be big winners. The way some people talked, it was a foregone conclusion. But once the lights turned on, and the returns started coming in, all we’ve gotten is one icky surprise after another. It’s really unsettling, and not at all what we bargained for.

What’s been especially surprising are the long stretches where the Wolves’ defense breaks down completely, primarily in third quarters. That wasn’t the case in Brooklyn – Minnesota managed to lose the third by just three points – but the Nets shot 62% in the first half, and 56% from three. For the season, the Wolves have the fourth-worst mark in the league defending the rim.

And that shouldn’t be put exclusively on the bigs, though they aren’t blameless. KAT, Gorgui, and Cole Aldrich can only do so much when wings are running free at them. Andrew Wiggins has been solid, but he still drifts a bit from time to time. Kris Dunn has the body to keep guys in front, but he’s more of a ballhawk at this point, and gambling incorrectly can lead to easy drives. Tyus Jones is just too small to be effective. Zach LaVine is trying, and is certainly athletic enough to stay in front of many players, but is still a bit too thin to effectively fight through screens. I’m sure Thibs is losing a lot of sleep over the kinds of defensive efforts the Wolves are putting forth lately, but really, they just need Ricky Rubio to come back ASAP.

Despite all the disarray on the defensive end of the floor, there are some incredibly positive developments on offense. The cohesion and ball movement, especially between the team’s building blocks, has been a lot of fun to watch, and continued to be on Tuesday night:

And rather often, we’re reminded that KAT is KAT:

And LaVine is LaVine:

And that being patient with Andrew Wiggins’ jumper was the right call, as he’s started the season on an absolute tear. He hit 6-of-7 threes, scored 36 points on 29 shots, and was the Wolves’ most unstoppable force all night long. (The only spot he struggled was the free throw line, where he bricked half of his 8 tries.) For the season, he’s now 12-of-18 from beyond the arc; the technical term for that kind of shooting is [flame emoji].

Kris Dunn struggled again, getting the hook early in both halves. Tyus Jones put up solid numbers in his stead – 12 points, 5 boards, 7 assists and 5 steals in more than 32 minutes – but (as mentioned above) his defensive shortcomings are still apparent. Shabazz Muhammad struggled to shoot (3-for-12) off the bench in 24 minutes.

The other main takeaway from this game concerns the Brooklyn Nets, namely HOW MUCH FUN THEY ARE TO WATCH THESE DAYS. WAIT. WHAT? HOW? BROOKLYN? They’ve been so depressing lately! They’re fun all the sudden? Before the game, how many of their players could you name? Any? One? Brook Lopez, right? And… Jeremy Lin? (He didn’t play, he’s got a hamstring issue.)

But yes, they’re a ton of fun to watch. They push the pace, they take a ton of threes, they swing the ball, they have these weirdly fun wing players like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Harris, and Sean Kilpatrick. Brook Lopez and Justin Hamilton, the team’s starting and backup centers, respectively, each hit three triples. The centers. 7-footers. Three threes apiece. It’s wild! It’s fun!

The Wolves will try to figure it out tomorrow in Orlando. Tip is shortly after 6:00 CST.

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8 Responsesso far.

  1. Parksopolis says:

    Good read! Missing their floor leader Rubio. He doesn’t get half the credit he deserves. The team is almost twice as efficient on both ends, with him on the floor…

  2. pyrrol says:

    So depressed… can barely type… must push on with life…

    Trying desperately to look for silver linings tonight. One with the Wolves might be that Dunn is quelling some of the outsize expectations for him. The team may or may not soon play better, ditto Dunn, but the Dunn we are seeing is pretty close to what he is currently–a guy well behind Jones in terms of being a viable NBA PG.

    As for this team… It is underperforming to an alarming degree. I can’t really explain it. It’s early, the guys are young, and they’ve been through a lot of change. But we have guys that seem to have a lot of talent, now with a bit of experience and now under a coach touted as a defensive guru and this is what our D looks like!? I mean, the Nets are plucky, but not talented and we had an impressive offensive game and the Nets outscored us and won. Because we could barely get a stop. It looks like a caricature of inept defense. Not just bad. Even in the few moments we do the right things it’s like a mild annoyance to our opponent. And though the season is young, there is no sign of improvement.

    On offense, we don’t look like we play together like a normal team even when we have good flow (which is mostly when Jones is in). We have more offensive talent than the Nets, but all our players feel like they are playing one on one, and so all their offensive talent equals less than the sum of the parts. The Nets on the other hand are not talented, but scrappy and play together reasonably well. They are better than the sum of their parts.

    These are not good signs. And I can’t explain the solution. Wait and hope? Rubio will be a band aid when he comes back (and hopefully we understand that Dunn is not viable for the near future) but he can’t do everything to be the glue to a properly functioning team. And who knows when he will be back…

    As a Wolves fan, I more often than not find myself jealous of how other teams play, not so much who they play. We’ve seen some dark days talent-wise as Wolves fans but what gets me down the most is how we play. Sadly, so far we’ve improved who we play with an array of young, interesting, talented players, but not how we play, at all. Still waiting on that.

    • sportsbygreg says:

      “Even in the few moments when we do the right things it’s like a mild annoyance to our opponent”. That is the best “sum up” I’ve seen in a while. And I couldn’t agree more with you (Pyrrol), it’s about “how they play”. I honestly think they’re a team that trots too many guys onto the court that may have an undiagnosed case of A.D.D. And I’m serious when I say that. I’m extremely disappointed in the way this team plays defense, and like I’ve stated before… have no TRUE dogs. The rim protection is abissmal. It is flat out awful. As great of a talent as KAT is, I thought he’d be more of I’m it intimidating presence in that area when he came out of college. Him and Dieng are slight of build and get pushed around a lot. And they can’t seem to play with any real force without fouling. I agree, Dunn is not ready for big minutes, but he’s the 5th pick in the draft with a great upside so he has to get SOME playing time and reps. I’ve always thought Tyus was formidable and just needed reps. Honestly, the luxury of having him and Dunn is why I think Rubio is expendable IF AND ONLY IF we can get a healthy Nerlens Noel in return. I just feel defense and rim protection is our true achilles heel right now. To top it all off: Not only were we excited to see what this team and new regime brought to the table… I firmly believe the NBA wanted to see us get off to a hot start under Thibodaux – just look at the quality of teams we’ve played and the amount of days off in between. And our piss poor Wolves have pooped it off. So sad! Smh…

      • pyrrol says:

        I mostly hear what you say, but I really don’t see how Noel is a solution to our problems. Yeah, D is probably his calling card, but he’s another skinny big (with not the greatest health history). Rubio has proven to be the only glue that makes this look like a team. I don’t think it is wise to give him up for a player like Noel. And I don’t think Noel will fix much. He might block a few more shots than the guys who’s minutes he takes but that’s about it. Losing Rubio… well you can see right now how that works out.

        I don’t mean to imply that Dunn is of no use to us. But I’m serious when I say I hope these last few games, where he’s lost major minutes to Tyus, is a wake up call to expectations. Partly because of him, partly because of Tyus’ physical limitations and relative inexperience, and partly because of the low quality of our vet backup PG, we have a dire weakness at PG behind Rubio. PGs tend to miss time, so this was a major miscalculation on the part of our organization. Dunn is a huge part of this. I hope we understand going forward that Dunn will have to earn his role, and that we don’t assume what that will be.

        • sportsbygreg says:

          Yes, he’s a skinny big and we do need beef. But I just think we need more on the front line and his upside is tremendous. I like Rubio too though. But taking a PG at pick 5 and then with Tyus I just feel that’s the best option available at this point to add a need. There is clutter at that position even though Rubio has the more experience. Hey, they’re more than likely going to not pull that trade off,anyway, and Rubio will probably stay. Either way it goes the team needs to win NOW. Hopefully he gets back soon.

          • pyrrol says:

            So you are saying this team needs to win now and to do that we should make a trade that hands the PG keys to Dunn and Jones? Uhhh, no.

  3. Tom says:

    It is going to be a long year, if we can’t stop teams like the Nets from scoring threes. Tyus played OK at setting up the offense and had some savvy moments on defense, but he was a huge defensive liability, which opened up three pointers for the Nets. Wiggins scored a season high, but he should have had another dozen with missed FT and lay-ups alone. Thibs has to punish these guys if they don’t learn from game to game. I hope that after 10 games, we will see improvement.

    • sportsbygreg says:

      Right, for some reason they don’t seem to be taking coaching well right now. That is a major concern. Hopefully a win tonight because the Clippers are lurking.

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