2016-17 Season

Timberwolves 110, Sixers 86: Welcome to the Party, Pal

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It’s nice to get an easy one every once in a while, isn’t it? Especially on national TV. This was supposed to be the battle of Joel Embiid vs. Karl-Anthony Towns, but the collective work of the Wolves showed why we’ll have to wait a while before this battle of bigs becomes a genuine contest: looking down Philadelphia’s roster beyond Embiid is like driving over a steep cliff, whereas Towns has an actual team behind him.

Not one of Philly’s starting five managed a positive plus-minus, and it wasn’t even close. Gerald Henderson put up a -4 in 15 minutes but otherwise, all the rest were in negative double figures and the bench wasn’t much better. Meanwhile, every Wolves player put up a positive plus-minus except for Tyus Jones (who was in the game for one minute at the end and notched a -1) and Adreian Payne (who had a -7 in 13 minutes and is Adreian Payne). By halfway through the first, the Wolves had turned Embiid into a non-factor with some solid physical play. He didn’t hit double digits until just before the 10 minute mark of the fourth quarter and once they could keep him in check, there wasn’t a whole lot Sergio Rodriguez and co. could do to keep up.

The Sixers scored 18 points in the first and 15 points in the second while the Wolves scored 27 and 34, respectively. It didn’t matter for this game that the third and fourth quarters were just okay — Minnesota was actually outscored by 1 and 3 there. But this Wolves team will also gladly take a -1 in the third given how poorly they’ve played there so far this season.

Not much to really delve into in terms of the game itself, so let’s just get to some notes, thoughts and highlights.

• What’s great about this Towns spin move on Henderson is the sense of timing. The Wolves forced the switch with a pick set by Towns and then he drops just to the high post to get the entry pass from Zach LaVine. The script for the guard here is pretty straightforward: make life difficult for the big man until help can arrive, so Henderson goes for the strip. Instead, Towns spins lithely off him and expertly lays it in, totally confident in his positioning.

• This is at least the second time that LaVine has swooped in off of a missed free throw attempt for the putback slam and if this becomes a thing, it’s going to be one of those things like Andrei Kirilenko intercepting the tipoff that will warm my heart.

• As Wiggins begins to come into his own, he’s showing off a kind of non-traditional way of being a traditional player. He plays physically on offense and likes to take difficult shots, but he also makes him. His form is not Kobe-esque in terms of being impeccable, but it’s Kobe-esque in approach, and that’s an interesting thing in this day and age of maximum efficiency. Friend of the program Danny Chau wrote a post over on The Ringer about how Wiggins is the Russell Westbrook of wings. I’m not sure I’m totally there yet with him, but I can see how he seems to go directly at current ideas about how to play the game with a sledgehammer. He is, however, also getting better at sequences like this, where he acts as the point guard, gets the matchup he wants, physically exploits hit, hits an open man on the perimeter with a pretty pass, then seals off his man to get the rebound and the putback:

• Last night had me wondering if it’s possible that Thibodeau and Wiggins just have a kind of chemistry that’s really working for Wiggins’ development, and maybe isn’t for Towns, at least right now. That’s not to say that Thibodeau won’t end up getting a lot out of Towns, but I think even great players often need the right coach to come along at the right time to really spur growth. That includes Phil Jackson for Michael Jordan, Jerry Sloan for John Stockton and Karl Malone, Gregg Popovich for Tim Duncan. Would all those coaches and all those players have been great without each other? Sure. But I think we shouldn’t underestimate particular chemistries that occur between individuals in ways that we can’t fully measure, and it’s possible that Wiggins didn’t mesh with either Flip or Mitchell the way he is with Thibs, just based on results. Of course, it’s also possible that he’s just naturally developing from an impressive talent into an actual player.

• Last point on Wiggins: What is with his moral objection to dunking? There was a great open court opportunity for Wiggins to throw down an absolute hammer and instead he kind of desultorily dunked it with little fanfare. And listen: dude can get UP. Look at these highlights from the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest:

Whatever happened to sap the joy from dunking for Wiggins, he has to get off the schneid with it and get back to it. If it means he has to rescue John and Holly McClane by busting a cap in Alexander Gudonov’s ass, so be it. But please: let’s get some joyous dunks, Andrew.

• This is disgusting.

• Thibs left the starters in super-late during a blowout and of course people online were getting the vapors over it, what with his history in Chicago and things like Derrick Rose blowing out his knee in garbage time when many said he shouldn’t have been on the floor. As of right now, I’m fairly agnostic about it. I think it’s entirely possible that given this team’s recent late-game swoons, Thibs is trying to instill in them a step-on-their-neck kind of killer instinct. Thibs himself certainly has it, given that he was barking about defensive breakdowns and cussing out the refs with the Wolves up 30. It’s not the worst mentality to give a young team, and he may even view it as a reward that they get to finish out the win and enjoy it a little bit. Mentally, seems solid. Physically? It may be something to watch out for but given the overall youth of the team, it might have to take a back seat to that mental toughness.

• In the postgame presser, Thibs talked about how using Bjelica at both the 3 and 4 gives them multiple looks that force opposing teams to prepare multiple ways, and I thought that was an interesting insight into some tactical, long-game stuff that we don’t often consider. I think most people who follow the NBA figure you put your best guys out there, they put their best guys out there, and you have at it. In the playoffs, that’s probably more or less true, but in a long season, any little edge you can find is worth exploiting. If Bjelica can be even decently effective at multiple positions, it forces the other team to do more work before the game and in the game, it forces them to make adjustments. It gets them out of their comfort zone, and that’s a hugely valuable thing, even aside from what it does for the Wolves themselves on the court.

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3 thoughts on “Timberwolves 110, Sixers 86: Welcome to the Party, Pal

  1. Great article! And I agree about Wiggins and his seemingly reluctance to throw down signature & statement like dunks when given the opportunity. Having said that… I think he is truly becoming a superstar and “coming into his own” as you so eloquently stated. The hard work he put in during the off-season is really paying off. And to think he’s only 21 years old. If he continues to work on his game and doesn’t get complacent, and stays relentless and passionate about maximizing his potential (Ala Jordan & Kobe), he can go down as one of the greatest to ever lace them up. He needs to keep the Alpha Dogg mentality and operate like he’s already the best player in the game. He was (also) the FIRST pick in the draft and Rookie of The Year… so he doesn’t have to take a back seat to no one. He and KAT can be the next Kobe & Shaq in terms of Alpha mentality, but just learn to make it work for the betterment of the team’s success, and help each other eat. I also agree that he and Thibs seem to really have some good chemistry. I think Thibs realizes how special he (Wiggins) can be and wants to maximize his ability and potential. If he stays on this trajectory, can we imagine him at 25? Wow! He’s probably already the 3rd best wing in the game behind LeBron and Durant. The next step I’d like to see Andrew take is… becoming more of a playmaker that makes his teammates better. Ex. If KAT and LaVine or hot one night, he should try to make a major effort to accumulate a 10 assist performance. He can do it, just needs to practice having that mindset. He has his first 40 point game, now go for 10 assists and then his first triple double. Obviously, hope he wants to become the BEST defensive wing as well. The guy can literally be as super as he wants to be. Stay focused!!!

  2. Notes: Wiggins has worked so hard and made a nice step this season. Hard to be critical. I will say that I don’t care about him not putting on a show on breakaway dunks, but it is a little odd how rarely he is able to dunk in the half court given his athleticism and length. His finishes could be more emphatic.

    This game was fun. Philly is really really bad. We weren’t even playing all that well. Towns and Wiggins were on, but one else was playing outstanding. Yet we looked like the Harlem Globetrotters. Heck, Towns alone had 5 Sportscenter top ten worthy highlights. Hard to tell much from this game.

    Embiid looked good, even though he struggled. I thought he looked a bit clumsy during preseason. Boy was I wrong. On the other hand he’s just a really big, pretty mobile traditional center. (Really big—looks like 7’1″ to my eyes…) Towns is not. He’s more than a center. I don’t what he is, but you can’t expect a guy like Embiid to ever match his game. But Embiid looks like a really good traditional center. On this topic, I’m not worried about Towns and Thibs not clicking. I think Towns’ early struggles (relatively speaking) are working themselves out. Even thought Towns scored less, one could argue he was our best player in this game. He had the jaw droppers.

    Did I mention Philly is bad!? TNT put this together (I can only think) as a battle of the futures. But really we are a young team with talent balance that’s pretty decent across the roster. Philly is like swiss cheese. They have potential at some positions and nothing at others. In this respect, it was a bit disappointing that Rubio and Dunn didn’t play better as they didn’t match up against much. They didn’t play horrible and held the fort down. Fort holding is more impressive for Dunn. I expected Rubio to ribbon this team with his passing. Okafor doesn’t look that good. Funny to recall the days where some thought he and Towns were a toss up. He’s such a poor man’s version of Embiid. But I wonder if either can remain healthy, frankly. Philly is heavy on the bigs and light on a lot of other things, but one has to wonder even if the front line situation is going to work out long term.

    I actually saw progress as far as Thibs riding guys in blowouts. He let Rubio rest a lot. He feathered guys in instead of having them play massive stretches, for the most part. Looked OK to me.

    I like how Thibs is working on getting Bjelica involved. It’s hard to get him in the game, but when you do it pays off. Part of the problem is our less then stellar back up PG play. Dunn just hasn’t clicked with anyone. There were hints that he’s developing a bond with Bjelica. That would be nice, but it may be a mirage.

    This was a low bar test… Not melt and embarrass ourselves against the worst team and under national TV lights. Passed! Now on to actually challenging games.

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