Thunder 112, Wolves 100: Sugar Coma

The Timberwolves’ first-ever Christmas day game resulted in a 112-100 defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Karl-Anthony Towns led the way with 26 points, Andrew Wiggins had 23, and Zach LaVine chipped in 16 of his own. Ricky Rubio put up a Ricky Rubio-ass line (3 points on 1/4 shooting, 7 boards, 10 dimes, 2 steals, 0 turnovers). Jordan Hill was the bench big instead of Cole Aldrich, which was a bit of a surprise; he struggled to contain either of his defensive assignments (Steven Adams and Enes Kanter), committed 5 fouls in 18 minutes, and can now be benched again, please. Gorgui Dieng wasn’t much better, for this night, at least. Shabazz Muhammad scored efficiently (15 points on 5/8 shooting) but continued to do Bazz things, like getting tunnel-vision while running fastbreaks and closing out on shooters just a bit too slowly. Kris Dunn looked like a rookie, at times painfully so. Nemanja Bjelica looked tentative, again. Once garbage time was fully in swing, Tyus Jones (5th appearance since 12/1) and Adreian Payne (3rd) got to check in as well.

Thus concludes a rather dull summation of a rather dull game from the Minnesota Timberwolves. They were eminently forgettable on Christmas night. The Wolves’ performance was a perfectly adequate backdrop if you were sprawled out on the couch after a long day of feasting, exchanging gifts, assembling those gifts, chasing kids around, drinking, making small talk with infrequently-seen relatives, traveling, or some combination of all of the above. If you were already tired, the Wolves were on your wavelength. You could doze off; maybe you did. Who gives a shit? It’s Christmas. You were owed a bit of a nap.

Here’s the thing: there was a guy on the other side that’s never forgettable, never forgets, plays like he isn’t owed a damn thing and has to take it all from his opponents, every single night, even on Christmas (apparently). If you really like basketball, watching him may have helped you fight off the sugar coma and alcohol drowsiness, because he is appointment television. You who I’m talking about.

If you’re not on Twitter, or if you’ve avoided basketball Twitter, bless you. It consists primarily of the following groups:

A) a bunch of pseudo-intellectual spreadsheet-humping technocrats,

B) wannabe coaches/General Managers who spend their time harping on the minuscule faults of good/great players in order to seem tough or brave,

C) contrarian dicks,

D) a smattering of good writers and fans, and

E) people who like to whine about groups A, B, and C.

There are also a ton of “3-1 lead” jokes and cat GIFs involved, but those are the basic groups. (In the interest of full disclosure, I can admit that I’m partly a contrarian dick and partly a whiner.) There are a few main targets of derision the ghastly trio of A, B, and C will focus on – one of them is Andrew Wiggins, who apparently sucks. (More on him in a minute.) Another one to draw their ire is Russell Westbrook.

Russ was awesome on Christmas night against the Wolves, racking up 31 points, 7 rebounds, and 15 assists. He was dynamic as he always is, taking the ball hard to the rim, creating for others in transition, throwing lobs, running pick-and-roll plays with Steven Adams to perfection, and setting up teammates for good looks from outside:

Westbrook is averaging a triple-double through 31 games. Despite losing Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, he has the Thunder at 19-12, 6th in the West, and with a 5.5 game cushion from the final playoff spot. If he finishes the season with his current usage rate (42.1%), it’ll be the highest of the shot clock era. His team asks him, and needs him, to do everything. Athletically speaking, he’s one of the most dynamic players in the league, and he brings it on a nightly basis. If you can splurge on nice tickets to one game per season, make it one that Russell Westbrook is playing in. You will not regret it.

And yet, despite his achievements, and the way he plays, there are still people picking nits. It seems silly, or as if his critics just actively hate the concept of fun. When you walk out of the arena, or turn off the television, and there’s a 99% chance your enduring image of the game you just saw will be Russ doing something amazing, and a majority of the time, it’ll be done in a win. Russ puts his stamp on every single game he plays.

One wish I have for Andrew Wiggins is to become more like Russ in this regard. I don’t mean he has to be a fashion mogul, or a bit more brash with the media, or even wear his heart on his sleeve. I just wish he’d put his stamp on more games. See, Wiggins has his fair share of critics, some of it fair, much of it not. He’s not a bust, as some of them like to proclaim, but he hasn’t quite put it all together yet, either. There are games that are forgettable, entire stretches where it’s entirely possible to lose track of whether or not he’s even on the floor. He has no steadfast resume to point to; no playoff appearances, no All-Star games, no All-NBA teams. And most of his games have been losses.

I’m not arguing that tonight’s loss is on him, either, or that all critiques of him are unfair (though he does get a lot of negative heat, and the hate has gone way too far, if you ask me.) He’s in a very unique position, sharing the spotlight with two other dynamic young players. Hell, a team led by three 21 year olds, with 7 of their top 9 guys total on their first NBA contracts, is likely to struggle to beat teams like OKC, with veterans led by a superstar.

But if a bright future is going to come to Minnesota, there needs to be fewer games like Christmas night. And I don’t just mean the loss; I mean games where a dynamic, gifted player is forgettable. The Wolves need more games – hell, every game – with Andrew Wiggins’ stamp on it.

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5 Responsesso far.

  1. enai says:

    So, remember Andrew Wiggins the vastly improved 3-pt shooter? Yeah, about that: Wiggins was shooting 23.7% from 3 in the month of December coming into tonight’s game, where he went 0-2.

    I’d be way less concerned about the Wiggins criticism if there was ever ANY concrete signs he was improving or learning from his mistakes. Sadly, he’s basically the exact same player today that he was post-All Star break in his rookie year. Calling him a bust is ludicrous, but concern whether he’ll ever warrant his draft position (or a future max contract) seems more and more reasonable as time goes on.

  2. pyrrol says:

    This was a typical ‘half effort’ game that they are close to naming after the Timberwolves. When will we graduate from this pattern? We kept pace the first half and then it felt like OKC got serious and we got beat. This was a beat down and the score really doesn’t paint the full degree to which we got hammered. With the type of problems we have, and our slow progress as of late, I expect this to be a long road.

    I almost fell off the couch when Hill came in. I have to say, he didn’t look good overall. But he should still be played more. I mean, what do we expect? The guy has been DNP-ing for 2 months. He moves a lot better than Cole and has a bit more offensive talent. I could see using him sometimes. I’m not for totally mothballing the guy with the way our bench looks.

    Rubio-ass? Ha.

    Bjelica is not going to come around, is he? In ability he’s a Thibs type player, but in personality he’s just the type of guy that will get upset by Thibs and never get confident. I’m starting to give up on him, sadly.

    Westbrook is one of the great talents of our era. But he needs the ball. He’s dominating it, all game every game. He’s got to be glad Durrant his gone. He’s amazing of course, but OKC’s record isn’t surprising. They have a good front office that has put together a good cast. An offense that features 60% Westbrook 40% Durrant isn’t that different than one that is 70% Westbrook 30% a bunch of guys. Their record isn’t great, but who really thinks Westbrook can’t carry them into the playoffs? The days of them competing for a championship are over until Westbrook gets more help. Just can’t have a team reliant on one guy to that degree, esp when he’s 6’3″.

    I just wrote that Westbrook can be numbing on the post before this. I’m not being critical. It’s just weird. It’s like listening to a piece of music that is fortissimo the whole way through. You miss some of the subtlety, some of the accentuation of the piece. He’s sure to finish the season with way more assists than Rubio, but Rubio has a long list of more interesting passes. It’s unusual to see 15 assists in a game from a PG be that boring. Westbrook is a crazy talent. It’s almost like a team, or even fans don’t know what to do with him. Having him on your team would solve so many problems. It makes me jealous. Yet, the problem of how to take it all the way to a ring is very pressing with such a dominating force in a team game. Just a very strange player and not one of my favorites. But amazing. One of the greatest athletes I’ve ever seen.

    There are a lot of unfair haters of Wiggins. Perhaps I sound like one at times. I think there’s a cause—expectations. If you expect Wiggins to be a good young player with flaws who can help your team in different ways, I think you are in a healthy place and not hatin’ on Wiggins. But the narrative people are fed, from the team, the media, the way Thibs uses Wiggins all say ‘he’s our star, he’s our Jordan, he’s got to be the next great thing in the NBA.’ I just don’t think he is. He’s never going to be a dominant player. Part of this is skill, part body type, and part personality/feel for the game. And that’s OK. I think the assassin role is LaVine, and I like him as our go to perimeter player. Towns could be the anchor of our team going forward. We don’t have to force feed Wiggins the star role—I don’t think it suits him or us. If you look at it that way, Wiggins is not disappointing and a great value for a leaving anyhow Love.

    And there are some oddly irritating things about him. A lot of our guys do dumb disappointing things this season, but Wiggins lightning rods critics, not just because he’s forced into the ‘go to’ role. He looks more listless at times than any of the starters. He’s very inconsistent—wildly. And he’s not shown an ability to learn and improve like LaVine. What enai says is barely exaggeration. Wiggins is very close to the post all star break rookie Wiggins. Towns is irksome in some ways this season for the same reasons, but he’s only in his 2nd year, so for that reason he gets more slack. Even so Towns does more to help the team and is more consistent than Wiggins. Towns rebounds–that’s something he’s really doing consistently other than scoring. With Wiggins, that 2nd thing is nothing right now. It’s hard not to get frustrated by that coming from a talented 3rd year guy. There is also something about the way he moves. It’s just lazy and flat most of the time, even though he is very athletic. I said two things in the other article I’ll repeat. In a lot of ways Wiggins is the anti-Westbrook and he needs to be a bit more like Westbrook… Aggressive, violent, never coasting. If we have to get rid of one of our big 3 in the next contract, I would vote for Wiggins. Not because I think he’s bad—I’d just rather have the other guys. But I want Wiggins on the team for a lot of reasons. So maybe it’s not Wiggins that needs to stamp games. Maybe he just needs to give us some consistent starter play and we can ask Towns of LaVine to stamp the game. I’m OK with that.

  3. sportsbygreg says:

    I wouldn’t call Wiggins a bust, but he’s definitely and underachiever. He just lacks passion and desire. It comes and goes way too often; doesn’t seem to care about basketball and looks disinterested. He doesn’t have to be a rah rah guy, but at least should bring the energy every night. What did he have last night… 2 rebounds? Smh… and the couple or few rebounds he usually get actually just falls in his lap. He’s way too PASSIVE. I see him letting his teammates swoop right by him at least 5 or 6 times a game and just snatched a board that he should be selfish enough to won’t for his own state line. The guy just doesn’t get it! He doesn’t have a true feel for the game (although he shows flashes at times), doesn’t anticipate well and read where the ball may come off the rim, ect. But it’s about desire, and he has none. He always talks about being an all – star, but shows up “once every four games”. Not good… and the opposing players sure aren’t gonna vote for him that inconsistent effort. They can care less about his talent. Probably, in their eyes, he’s the classic fraud and underachiever. LaVine shows inconsistency at times as well… BUT LaVine wasn’t billed as the next ‘chosen one’, and wasn’t the number 1 pick in the draft. Again, I have to give LeBron credit for reading Wiggins before he even played his first NBA game. Hey, I can understand and live with bad shooting nights. But if the shot is not falling, put the stamp on the game in other areas… rebound, playmaker, defense and attack the basket and get to the foul line. It was at least 3 or 4 occasions last night where he had the ball in the lane and one aggressive move could get him to the rim, but he settled for a little soft touch shot or something. If he doesn’t change his MENTALITY immediately, he’s never seeing an all – star game or all nba team.

  4. Tom says:

    When has a star gone three years before showing himself as a playoff team leader? KG was da Kid and getting the wolves to the playoffs by then. Kobe? T-Mac? Westbrook? All pushing their teams to playoffs in their third year. I think we have concrete evidence that Wiggins and Zack are not stars in this league. Very good players that could contribute to a playoff team yes, but how many of those will get paid like those two are expecting after next year? If KAT is an alpha dog type star in this league and the jury is still out on that, do you overpay those two to compliment his game? I’m not sure both of them do help KAT be that elite player. So I think it is time to consider trading Wiggins or LaVine (my preference is Wiggins, because of his fade in the background game at times and Zack has that potential to hit seven threes in a game, but I’m not sold that either will be the Pippen to Jordan or the Kobe/Wade to the Shaq. Maybe not the even Marbury to the KG.) before the league labels them secondary players and we get less. Sell High and buy low. There are several teams that would probably give us some excellent players for Andrew or Zack. Players that can help the remaining two be leaders to the playoffs? Could Jimmy Butler be had for Zack and a player like Belly and Payne? Or maybe Paul George for Wiggins and those two? Trading fringe players like Ricky and Gorghi or guys like Baz or Payne will only get you fringe players back in return. I think it is time for Thibs to put on his Trading hat and use the blue chips he has before they become red ones.

    I was also hoping that Dunn would be the star that put this group into the playoffs for a long time. He may end up being a Schroeder or possibly a Teague or a Harris, but does anyone see elite play out of him for more than a few minutes every third game? If he was 18, I would be more patient, but he is older than many of the rookie point guards that dot this league and there will be a whole new crop of exciting PG in next year’s draft. Auditions should be over for Thibs to see who is going to join KAT for the next six years. Hopefully not many.

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