2016-17 Midway Point: Checking how accurate the preseason Hot Wolves Takes were (there’s so much blood)
Right before this hopeful 2016-17 Minnesota Timberwolves season, I went out on a limb with 32 Hot Wolves Takes. I tackled certain accolades, individual benchmarks for stats, single game performances, and team-wide success or lack thereof. And let me tell you: I nailed these preseason predictions for the Wolves.
OK, maybe I didn’t exactly nail them. Some of them have already fallen flat on their face, and are making those preseason hot takes look… I guess piping hot at this point because it will make them tough to happen. Let’s check in on all 32 of these Hot Wolves Takes from right before the tip of the Tom Thibodeau era and see exactly how many look good and how many look completely asinine.
(Reminder: When I did this for the 2013-14 season, I went 22-of-42. I need to hit at least 17 of these this season to beat that rate.)
1. Karl-Anthony Towns starts the All-Star Game
Yeah… about this one… it would take a miracle for Karl-Anthony Towns to end up as the starter of the 2017 All-Star Game in New Orleans. My reasoning before the season started was the Wolves were going to be a highly competitive, young team enticing the league with their youth and talent. And since Kevin Love managed to become an All-Star starter back in 2014 as a member of the Wolves, I thought KAT would be able to garner the same type of attention and admiration — especially since most of the GM’s just picked him as the guy to start a franchise with in their NBA.com poll.
Wolves currently sit 14-27 halfway through the season, and for this KAT as an All-Star starter to have a real chance at happening, they probably need to be hovering around being a .500 team. Put them at 19-22 or 20-21, and I think he’d be getting more fan votes. Last time the NBA updated the voting results, Towns was 7th in frontcourt voting — a healthy 400,000-plus votes behind third place Kawhi Leonard. Even without the fan vote, there still is a chance the players and media conspire to put him in as a starter, but that doesn’t seem very likely. Not to mention, I don’t think he should be an All-Star so far this season — starter or reserve — based on how he’s played. He’s been good but not good enough for that.
Running Tally: 0-of-1
2. Karl-Anthony Towns brings back the SkyHook
The first problem with this one is figuring out if Towns has even attempted a skyhook so far this season. There’s a fine line between a sweeping hook and a skyhook, and after watching all of the 85 hook shot attempts that KAT has put up in the first 41 games of the season, I feel quite confused trying to figure out if he’s come close coming through on my prediction of five skyhooks this season.
Here are two examples that confuse me:
Now… are these even skyhooks? Part of me wants to believe they are KAT’s version of a skyhook, but they also look a lot like sweeping hooks across the lane. You know what? I think I need to stack the deck in my favor for this post. These are skyhooks. He has another one just like it. That gives him three on the season and on pace for six.
Running Tally: 1-of-2
3. KAT and Joel Embiid drop 30 on each other in TNT match-up
This very much did not happen. The Wolves blew the 76ers out of the water in this first match-up of the season and instead of an epic duel between Joel Embiid and KAT, the Wolves ended up seeing Towns drop 25 points while Embiid managed just 10 points in 22 minutes. In the second meeting, Embiid bested Towns with 25 points to KAT’s 23, and the Sixers won. I guess this will just have to be settled in the 2017 Finals.
Running Tally: 1-of-3
4. Ricky Rubio does not get traded this season
So far so good! And with the way Kris Dunn has been slow to come around as a point guard talent at the NBA level, it would be shocking if Rubio got traded in the next month or so. Rubio has really picked up his play as of late and over the last month has been back to the same Rubio we’re accustomed to seeing on the court. I’m counting this as a win.
Running Tally: 2-of-4
5. Ricky Rubio plays at least 75 games
I was “confident” that Rubio was past his injury concerns, even in the post-Arnie Kander world. Arnie was so perfect at getting Rubio and the other Wolves players not named Nikola Pekovic physically ready for games, and I was hoping this would carry over even in his absence. Then early in the season, Rubio missed five games with an elbow injury.
Since that injury, Rubio has played in 34 straight games and looks to be in great shape right now. I’m going to cheat again and say that this proves Rubio isn’t going to miss more than two games the rest of the way. Another game for Milos!
Running Tally: 3-of-5
6. Adreian Payne has a 20-point game for the Wolves this season
Wait for it…
7. I mistakenly write “Adreian Payne” when I mean to write “Cole Aldrich” this season
There it is! I was correct in mistakenly writing Adreian Payne instead of Cole Aldrich. I was not correct so far in that Cole Aldrich would have a 20-point game. It’s happened twice in his career and it was at the end of the season both times it happened. So we probably have to wait a while for the backup center to come through on this prediction.
Best scoring game he’s had this season is 10 points in 27 minutes against the New York Knicks. Just needs to double that and I go 2-for-2 on these last two predictions. Instead, I’m momentarily just 1-for-2.
Running Tally: 4-of-7
8. Nemanja Bjelica starts 30 or more games
I thought at some point, Bjelica was going to play so well that the Wolves would go with a smaller lineup to start games out and use Gorgui Dieng off the bench in the long-term reserve role I believe him destined to be. Two things have happened so far that make this incorrect: 1) Dieng has been much better, and 2) Bjelica has been the same inconsistent we’ve seen. Lately, his confidence seems to be much higher than earlier in the season, but it’s not leading to him getting to start.
He’s started 1 of the 39 games he’s played in this season. Thibs seems to enjoy the look a Bjelica-Towns frontcourt brings at certain points in games, but not enough to supplant Dieng as the starter. Unless something dramatically changes in the second half of the season, this is a blowout defeat for me.
Running Tally: 4-of-8
9. Shabazz Muhammad returns to being a good 3-point shooter
Hey, this one is objectively correct so far! While it’s been just 56 attempts through 37 games for Shabazz Muhammad, he’s connected on 39.3% of his 3-pointers this season. Bazz has feasted on corner shooting this season, while struggling above-the-break. Here’s his shooting breakdown from deep:
Left Corner: 8-of-17 (47.1%)
Right Corner: 7-of-13 (53.8%)
Above-the-Break: 7-of-26 (26.9%)
Put Bazz in the corner or on the break at all times.
Running Tally: 5-of-9
10. The Wolves will have a player drop 50 points in a game
We’ve had two very close calls with this one, and in both games I really thought we were getting the 50-piece in each of those games. Karl-Anthony Towns dropped 47 points in a loss to the Knicks at the end of November. That was a couple weeks after Andrew Wiggins dropped 47 points against the Los Angeles Lakers, which had D’Angelo Russell upset at how often Wiggins went to the free throw line. But so far, we’ve got a big goose egg in regards to a 50-point game (which has happened eight times by eight different players so far).
Running Tally: 5-of-10
11. That 50-point scorer? Zach LaVine
Zach LaVine has not dropped 50 so far this season. His high so far this season is 40 points in a loss right before Christmas to the Sacramento Kings.
Running Tally: 5-of-11
12. Wolves will have the best free throw rate in the NBA
Ruh roh. The free throw rate has fallen off dramatically so far this season. Last year, the Wolves had the top free throw rate in the NBA. They went to the line 33.2% of the time. Only the Houston Rockets were higher at 35.2%. I expected the Wolves, armed with another year of savvy on how to draw fouls, to make up that extra 2% (shoutout to Jonah Keri!) and overtake James Harden’s team in frequency of making it to the free throw line.
Not only have they failed to overtake the Rockets in free throw rate, but they’re down to 27.9% and ranked 12th in the NBA. The Wolves just aren’t getting to the line like they did a year ago. Some of that is sprinkled throughout all of the changes to the Wolves from last year to this year, but they may need to start drawing fouls roughly 50% of the time in order to work their way up past the top ranked Los Angeles Clippers (30.7%).
Karl-Anthony Towns wants more calls, and has grown increasingly frustrated with the contact he’s taking and the disparity compared to calls he’s actually getting. Eventually that will turn in his favor, but for now, he’s got to figure out how to make it happen while still remaining a fluid force on offense.
Running Tally: 5-of-12
13. Wolves will be a top-8 offense in the NBA
Wolves aren’t quite there right now. They’ve been a very good offense for most of this season and currently rank 13th in the NBA in offensive rating, according to NBA.com/stats. The Wolves’ 105.9 rating needs to improve by 2 points per 100 possessions by the end of the season in order for them to hop the Washington Wizards (106.2), Denver Nuggets (106.6), Utah Jazz (106.7), Portland Trail Blazers (107.0), and Milwaukee Bucks (107.8). That would also involve these five teams not getting any better in offensive rating between now and the end of the regular season, which seems unlikely.
Their offense has tailed off a bit over the last month while they’ve played better on defense and posted an 8-9 record in 17 games. The defense will obviously fuel the success for them, considering how bad the defense was in the start of the season. If they can figure out how to get to the free throw line more often, we’ll likely see them climb in offensive rating. But climb over five teams? I’m not sure that’s happening.
Running Tally: 5-of-13
14. Wolves will not be in the top half of the league in defense
Despite some writers projecting a gigantic leap for the Wolves this season, this one might have been the biggest gimme on the board. The Wolves were horrendous in defense last season (107.1 defensive rating, 27th in the NBA), but Tom Thibodeau’s influence is defense first and foremost. While the improvement has seen them posting the fifth best defensive rating in the NBA over the last month of games, they were awful defensively the first month and a half of the season.
They’re allowing 107.0 points per 100 possessions right now, which is just a slight uptick from last season (although continuing to play like they have since December 13th would drop that rating significantly), but it does rank them 23rd in the NBA. Progress is starting to happen on that end of the floor, but they’ve got a long way to go before they get into the top 15.
Running Tally: 6-of-14
15. KAT drops 40 in a game three times
We’ve seen KAT drop 41 and 47 in a game already this season. This one is going to be a lock with him needing to do it just one more time this season, so I’m counting it as a win.
Running Tally: 7-of-15
16. KAT gets multiple 20-20 games
Towns has grabbed 18 rebounds in a game five times this season, but he’s yet to break the 20-rebound threshold. If he’s able to grab 20 or more rebounds in a game, I’m confident he’ll do it with 20 points accompanying those boards in each game. However, he has yet to do it once, so it’s tough to say he’ll get those two or more 20-20 games. This is a loss so far.
Running Tally: 7-of-16
17. Andrew Wiggins delivers the Poster of the Year in the NBA
This one could be controversial because there has been debate on whether or not Andrew Wiggins even has the best poster dunk on his own team this season. Back on Thanksgiving weekend, Wiggins and Zach LaVine detonated on JaVale McGee and Alex Len, respectively, and I tried my best to judge which one was the better poster. I ended up picking Wiggins’ dunk on JaVale because I thought it offered just a bit more in the highlight than LaVine’s.
The NBA YouTube account put LaVine’s dunk on Len as the top dunk of November. As for December, this Larry Nance Jr. dunk on Brook Lopez was pretty vicious:
This dunk by Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t a poster dunk per se, but in order to get past Carmelo Anthony and ensure that he got an “easy” fast break score, he took off from a small step inside the free throw line. This has to count for something:
There was also James Johnson dunking on Steph Curry about a week ago:
And then again, this Giannis dunk isn’t exactly a poster but I don’t know how you mention dunks this season — poster or not — and not mention this alien stuff he decided to do:
Regardless, I can’t in good faith declare Wiggins’ poster dunk as the best of the season so far. I still take it over LaVine’s but Nance’s dunk probably takes the cake. I’ll chalk this up as a loss so far, but we’ll revisit when the season is over.
Running Tally: 7-of-17
18. Andrew Wiggins cracks 600 free throws made
With the rise of LaVine as a consistent third option for the Wolves, I probably should’ve considered a drop-off in Wiggins going to the free throw line. We’ve seen a precipitous drop in Wiggins’ free throw rate this season. It was 43.7% last season and it’s down to 34.6% this time around. His percentage of shots coming from outside of 10 feet have gone up as his attempts at the rim have dropped by 5.6%. All in all, Wiggins isn’t really getting into position to get fouled as much as he did in the past.
As a rookie, Wiggins had a big drop-off in free throw attempts pre-to-post All-Star break. Last season, Wiggins saw an increase in his pre-to-post All-Star break free throw attempts per game. So far this season, he’s seen his free throw attempts per game decline each month. In order to get to 600 attempts this season, Wiggins will have to average 8.3 attempts per game over the final 41 games of the season. He’s at 6.2 per game right now. It’s doable but unlikely.
Running Tally: 7-of-18
19. Zach LaVine comes just short of setting the Wolves’ single-season 3-pointers made record
To crack the top 10 list for most 3-pointers made in a season by a Wolves player, you’ve got to make at least 111. Randy Foye did it in 2008-09 and Anthony Peeler did it in 2001-02. So far this season, LaVine has made 109 3-pointers in just 38 games. If he plays 79 games this season (he’s missed three already), he’ll knock down 226 3-pointers this season. The Wolves’ season record is 190 by Kevin Love in 2013-14.
I am wrong about this one and it seems like a lock he’ll set the franchise record (by the way, he’s 5th in all-time 3’s made by the Wolves and six makes away from passing Isaiah Rider) in a month or two. This is a loss for me but a win for the Wolves.
Running Tally: 7-of-19
20. Wolves are bottom 10 in turnover rate
This is a pretty easy one for such a young team. The Wolves are currently turning the ball over on 15.3% of their possessions. That puts them 26th in the NBA. They need to improve this by 0.7% in order for them to move ahead of the 20th place Golden State Warriors. I can’t imagine they improve that dramatically in turning the ball over to get into the top 20.
Running Tally: 8-of-20
21. Andrew Wiggins won’t come close to 3,000 minutes played this season
Turns out he might! Wiggins has played 1,511 minutes through the first 41 games of the regular season. He’s only missed one game in his career so far (last season), so you can probably expect him to at least double his first half of the season minutes. That would put him at 3,022 minutes. I got this one wrong, despite openly challenging the stigma of Tom Thibodeau.
Running Tally: 8-of-21
22. Wolves will have five players with at least 100 3-pointers attempted AND above league average accuracy
Wolves already have four players with at least 100 attempts this season from deep. Unfortunately, only two of those players (LaVine and Bazz) are above league average in accuracy (35.9%). Towns has taken 151 3-pointers and is making 30.5%. Bjelica has taken 119 3-pointers and is making 31.4%. The fifth person I expected to accomplish this was Brandon Rush. He’s hitting 44.8% from deep but has only taken 29 attempts. I definitely expected him to play much more than he has.
Running Tally: 8-of-22
23. KAT goes 20-10-3.5 for the season
I got the two easy parts of this one correct. 20 points per game and 10 rebounds per game were locks for Towns heading into this season. He’s currently putting up 21.8 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. But he’s fallen a bit short of the assists. He’s averaging just under 3 assists per game at like 2.95, which means he needs to pick up the passing big time in the second half of the season to get to 3.5 per game. His assists have increased each month of the season (2.4 to 3.1 to 3.8), but he needs to average about 4 per game over the final 41 games in order to reach this prediction.
Assuming he doesn’t miss any games, he needs 166 assists to get there. Probably won’t happen but I think he’ll come close.
Running Tally: 8-of-23 (I really need to run the table here like I’m Aaron Rodgers)
24. Ricky Rubio ends up the first guard left off of All-Defensive Second Team
Not going to happen but Rubio playing the way he has over the last month and a half is very encouraging on that end of the floor.
Running Tally: 8-of-24
25. Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine finish top 7 in Most Improved voting
I still think this will happen, so I’m counting it as a win. Just neither of them are taking the award from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Running Tally: 9-of-25
26. Kris Dunn puts a defender on his tail feathers with a crossover
Maybe some controversy in this prediction, as well. We’ve got two incredible dribbling moments from Dunn so far this season. There was the time he went And-1 AO on Shabazz Napier and put the ball around his defender’s back:
Napier remained upright but this was one of the best moves of the season. We also had this moment against Patrick Beverley recently in which he made arguably the best defensive point guard in the NBA get his knees buckling a bit:
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 12, 2017
He didn’t make the shot but the Wolves scored on the offensive rebound. Nobody got dropped like JaKarr Sampson but this is close enough for me.
Running Tally: 10-of-26
27. Wolves take down the Warriors in one of their match-ups
Lost both games so far, but they still have two more chances to do it. I did predict it’ll be the April 4th game and not a match-up in the first half of the season, so you can bet your ass I’m cheating right now and calling it a victory so far. This could easily turn into a loss by season’s end.
Running Tally: 11-of-27
28. Wolves go 6-10 against the Northwest Division
This one isn’t looking good yet. Wolves are 1-6 against the Northwest Division, but they’re 1-0 in their last 1 games against the Northwest. So I’m sure it’s just a floodgates situation now for them against Denver, OKC, Utah, and Portland. Still probably not taking this one.
Running Tally: 11-of-28
29. Towns comes in third again in clutch attempts for the Wolves
Currently, the breakdown of Wolves clutch shot attempts is:
LaVine – 71 attempts, 41.5% eFG
Towns – 59 attempts, 33.3% eFG
Wiggins – 56 attempts, 46.4% eFG
Wiggins probably should get more attempts in the second half of the season, but right now Towns is second in clutch shots. This is a loss now and probably still will be by the end of the season.
Running Tally: 11-of-29
30. Karl-Anthony Towns makes All-NBA Second Team
This is not going to happen at this rate.
Running Tally: 11-of-30
31. Wolves tie the most successful non-KG season in franchise history
Obviously, if you double the Wolves’ win total, it pegs them at just 28 wins this season. But that’s not how things tend to work out. You’re not often the same team in the second half of the season as you were in the first. And if you’re a bad team in the first half of the season, teams aren’t likely to take you as seriously in the second half. So I think the Wolves will be a lock to crack 30 victories, but reaching the 40-42 preseason prediction I had will require a huge improvement.
We’ve seen a huge improvement with this team over the last month. They’ve been one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and nearly a .500 record at 8-9. But do they have one or two more leaps in them in the second half of this season? That seems like a tough thing to buy. They’d have to go 26-15 the rest of the way to reach 40-42, and that would require a huge turnaround.
The best example of a young team having this kind of change is the 2014-15 Utah Jazz. After they jettisoned Enes Kanter, they were one of the best defensive teams the league has seen. There’s a lot of noise in that statistic, but that’s precisely what happened. They went 14-27 in the first half of the season, and 24-17 in the second half. They just fell short of 40 wins, but showed a huge jump or two in the two halves of the season. The Wolves under Tom Thibodeau seem capable of replicating a turnaround like this. I always expected this team to be a second half squad rather than the first half of the season. That’s still possible and even likely to happen.
But even then… that’s asking a lot.
Running Tally: 11-of-31
32. The hype is fun but this season won’t end in a playoff appearance
This feels pretty safe! I think I’ll take this as a victory, despite the Wolves being just three games out of the 8-seed.
Final First Half of the Season Tally: 12-of-32
Everybody has some work to do, it appears.