2016-17 Season

Wolves 112, Raptors 109: There’s a lot more to this

We’ll get to Lance Stephenson’s debut (and the requisite conflicts involved with rooting for him). We’ll get to Wiggins making a great feed to Tyus Jones for the game-clinching three. We’ll get to Gorgui communicating on defense, Kyle Lowry being Kyle Lowry, the little bounces that went the Wolves’ way down the stretch, Bazzy’s energy, Rush’s invisibility, and Pascal Siakam’s tough defense. We’ll get to all that, and more. But I’d like to begin with what happened at the post-game press conference.

If you like the Wolves and want to get a deeper understanding of where they’re at, I can’t recommend watching and listening to Tom Thibodeau’s postgame press conferences highly enough. Behind the usual coachspeak and noncommittal platitudes, there’s a message he’s trying to send. He never gets too high after wins or low after losses; for all his hellfire on the sidelines, he’s perfectly affable once the game’s over. He’s calm, deliberate, and when presented with the right question, extremely forthcoming.

Last night, after the Wolves overcame a double-digit second half deficit to steal a victory from one of the league’s top ten teams, Thibs was hardly overjoyed. He was almost grumpy. And in a media session with more than a fair share of pointed comments, much was revealed. Here’s the transcript:

— Question about Lance, Tyus finishing the game—

“It’s the NBA. Everyone’s gotta be ready. Whoever the next guy is, get him in and get the job done.”

— Faith in Lance to make the right plays in his debut—

“Well, he was in (the facility) last night. Did a good job yesterday. Did a good job in shootaround. The package (of plays for him) was very small. He’s been in a lot of games. Knowing the NBA is a big plus. This is a great opportunity for him, and it’s going to be what he makes of it. How he works, his professionalism, what kind of teammate he is, how he helps us – that’s critical.”

— Lance’s defense on Kyle Lowry—

“He came in and gave us a punch offensively, knocked a couple shots down. He’s got good size. Physical. (He) knows how to play, moves the ball. We’ve got to get him into shape, really work him.”

—On the group who finished the game—

“We were just searching. First half wasn’t good. We’ve got to keep working at it. Working at it, working at it, working at it. It’s our reality. We’ve got to make it happen. The group that was in, they got us back, got the lead. It made it tough (to pull them). It’s about performance.”

—About what his halftime message was—

(Long pause) “You know… we talked about what we wanted to improve. We have one guy who communicates well. But it’s not just the talk. It’s the work, it’s the effort, concentration, getting it done. Not repeating the same mistakes over and over. We have to play with more of an edge. There has to be more of a tenacity to us. There has to be more study, more belief. Our best players have to lead. They have to play defense. They have to. It’s a must.”

—Wiggins’ decision-making down the stretch—

“Andrew was great. Not only shot-making, but playmaking. I think he’s really grown in that area. (Pause) But he’s gotta do more.”

—How Tyus’ shooting helps the team’s spacing—

“Well, his shooting. The way Bazz has shot the three, the way Tyus has shot the three, it’s opened up the floor, and that gives Karl room to go. Tyus is a really good team defender. Still has individual work to do, but he’s very good, team-wise. Lance gives us physicality. Bazz is working at it. Karl has to continue to work. There’s a lot of work for him to do.”

—On physicality and smarts, knowing when to fight through screens and when to go under—

“It’s decision-making. Who are you guarding? What are his strengths? Where is the screen being set? What are we trying to accomplish? If the screen is set out of the scoring area, that one you should go under. If it’s in the scoring area, you have to adhere to the gameplan. Are we icing it? Blitzing it? Showing on it? Switching? And if we’re switching, who are we switching onto? Are we getting immediate contact with our new man? Is our weak side aware? Are we playing out of position? Are we in our stances? Do we have vision? Are we reading the ball?

It’s all tied together. And right now, I think we have an idea of what we should be doing, but it’s not a habit yet. And it has to be better. It’s not good enough right now. There’s more. There’s a lot more to this. As soon as you start thinking you’ve got it all figured out, that’s when you’re in big trouble.”

—Is it more grit, or intensity?—

Both. Both. Both. It’s a combination. It’s your commitment to prioritizing how important it is. And then it comes down to degree of how hard you do it, how smart, and how together you do it. You can be in the right spot, but if you’re not in your stance, and don’t have the necessary intensity, when a guy comes off with the ball, he’s going to see a gap. If he sees a gap, he’s gone. That’s it. Players are too good in this league.

(Voice rising a bit) This isn’t college. There’s a big difference between college and the NBA. Huge. And we’ve got to recognize that.

—Does frustration come in part because the team seems to get it for some stretches, but not all game?—

“We can’t lower our standard. You know who wins in this league? Teams that do it consistently. They do it the entire game. So we can’t pick and choose when we’re going to do it. We can’t rest on the weak side. We can’t say, “I sent someone else.” No. Everyone, you’ve got to do your job. (Rapping knuckles on the table) Gotta do your job. It’s that simple Everyone is counting on each other. Do your job.”

So, what to make of all that?

One thing that seems perfectly clear is that Thibs is not overly thrilled with the focus, and the commitment to improve, of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. No one can deny they’re the team’s two best players, but Thibs demands more. Part of the reason Thibs is so compelling in postgame interviews is because he’ll take unrelated questions and give answers about how he really feels. He was asked about Andrew Wiggins’ decision-making down the stretch of the game (which was objectively very good!) and concluded by saying Wiggins needs to do more. He was asked a question about Tyus three-point shooting and concluded by saying that Karl needs to do more. He turned the question about his halftime message, which is a pretty easy one get by with a boilerplate response, into the (very direct) statement that “our best players have to lead” and “have to play defense,” with the implication that they aren’t up to snuff, yet.

I’m sure none of that is news to Karl and Andrew; I’m certain they hear it all the time. But is it sinking in? Are they getting it? What is the dynamic like between Thibs and his two best players? Are they linchpins of his future success, or hallmarks of potential failure? If you haven’t listened to Thibs much this season, none of what he said above is drastically out of line with things he’s said before. But to hear it after a good win, at home, over one of the top teams in the NBA, is quite striking. The Wolves won, but it took a comeback, and some lucky breaks. They still aren’t a 48-minute team. The fact that the win didn’t seem to brighten his mood shows Thibs is looking at this situation with the widest possible lens. And he’s forthcoming enough to give us an insight into his vision. What will he see over the season’s final 29 games? Time will tell.

Anyway, before this gets too long, here are a few other tidbits from the Wolves’ victory over the Raptors:

— Okay… In August, 2010, Lance Stephenson was arrested for pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs. According to the criminal complaint that was filed, he then picked up her head and smashed it on the bottom step. The case was later dismissed. I don’t exactly know how to handle having him on the team I watch and pull for. I don’t want my basketball-related analysis to overshadow that part of his history. I also believe that people can change, and that he has every right to work, but I don’t want to play the “redemption” narrative, either. So I’ll settle it this way: I’m terribly conflicted and uncomfortable about it and I’ll figure it out as I go.Who knows, maybe at the end of his ten days, he’ll be back on the open market. I imagine many Wolves fans are in the same boat as I am. It’s weird. We should talk about it, often. But he’s on the team and that’s that.

— On the court, he was pretty damn good. It’s so interesting to watch a player like him in contrast to a player like Wiggins, who is sometimes too robotic. There’s a feel, a freedom, a spontaneous nature to Stephenson’s game that’s a breath of fresh air. Sometimes, it’s bad – wild shots, trying to make a spectacular play instead of the simple one, etc. But for one night, at least, it was good. Combine that with his physical tools, and it’s easy to see why Tom Thibodeau wanted to bring him in. He signed in the morning and effectively guarded one of the league’s most dynamic players in the evening. That’s pretty remarkable.

— Tyus Jones, a local man, hit a pretty big shot:

— His line of 5 points on 2-of-6 shooting and 3 assists in 27 minutes doesn’t exactly jump off the page, but don’t let that fool you. He was very good, and is really making the most of his newfound playing time.

— Wiggins collapsing the defense and finding Tyus on the wing… perfecto.

— Pascal Siakam, the Raptors’ starting power forward, did a very good job of making Karl-Anthony Towns work. He denied the ball, he pushed him out of position, he fought, he scratched, he clawed. KAT still wound up with 29 and 14, but just 1 assist, and a lot of that damage came against Jared Sullinger, Bebe Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl. Siakam isn’t much to speak of on the offensive end, but you could do a lot worse for the 27th pick in the draft than a guy who’s going to battle like crazy on defense.

— Tyus + a whole lot of weight lifting + a psychopathic mentality = Kyle Lowry.

— A quick story about Lowry – at around the 7:00 mark of the third quarter, he drove to the basket and didn’t get a whistle. The Wolves collected the rebound, and as Ricky started to make his way up the floor, Lowry quickly fouled him. AS LOWRY WAS FOULING RICKY, he was saying something to the ref. The entire time the ref signaled to the scorekeeper, and prepared to whistle the ball back in play, Lowry stood there to belabor the point that the official had missed a call. Lowry literally committed a foul just so he could get some one-on-one time to quibble with a referee.

— Oh, you remember how Thibs mentioned that “we have one guy who communicates”? He didn’t specify who it is, but I will. It’s Gorgui. Gorgui is the guy who communicates. As Gorgui himself put it yesterday, “Even me, I don’t speak English, and I talk.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek comment, but it’s true. Gorgui is the only vocal guy on that end of the floor.

— And he also hit another corner three! Gorgthree Di3ng, ladies and gentlemen!!!

— Tyus hit the winning shot, and the Wolves won and all, but having him guard DeMar DeRozan in the game’s final minutes was… odd.

— Speaking of DeRozan, he probably deserved an And-1 on his drive with 29 seconds to go in the game. But he didn’t get one, and I’ll take it.

— Wiggins got to ride a pony!

— Bazz’s energy was necessary. Brandon Rush was practically invisible in his 20 minutes of action.

— If we get some Dunn-Bazzy-Lance lineups when Kris comes back from his hand injury… look out.

— According to the official scorekeeper, the Wolves led for just 94 of the 2,880 seconds of game time. #Advanced #Stats #Moneyball

— The Wolves continue their week and a half-long homestand on Friday when they host the New Orleans Pelicans, a revenge game for Lance Stephenson, who was cut by them earlier this season. Oooooh. Drama!

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14 thoughts on “Wolves 112, Raptors 109: There’s a lot more to this

  1. Lots to say here…

    The Raptors are a top ten team? Off year in the NBA I guess… And a golden opportunity to sneak into the playoffs?

    Thibs is a weird guy. As far as considering him forthcoming due to his presser style… overall I reject this. I mean he was asked directly about finishing with Tyus and Lance (without Rubio) and his cliche ridden response is basically, ‘Everyone’s gotta be ready.’ That’s a non answer. He may as well have folded his arms an said nothing. Why is this question such a bug deal? Thibs has been notably stiff with his lineups, and very rarely willing to experiment. And suddenly he’s ending the 4th with Tyus and Lance Stephenson? Uh…

    On that–I love Tyus time. And his big 3 pointer worked out for us and was very exciting. But Jones should not get Rubio minutes. He played more minutes than Rubio. If this becomes a pattern it can only be described as silly. Again, what is so hard about playing Rubio starter PG minutes and when he sits at normal starter sitting time Tyus plays for him? Why is that like the ONE thing, even with injuries almost forcing it Thibs will not do? It’s a little odd. But this isn’t to talk down to Tyus who is a good young player. Thibs made a great point in complimenting Jones’ team defense. It’s almost like his team D and awareness is so much greater than Dunn’s that his physical limitations are null—that it is a net 0 between the two on D. And obviously Tyus is better on O by a country mile.

    Couple more Tyus things. There was a question about how Tyus’ shooting helps the team, but it isn’t really that good yet in this small sample size, is it? In this game he shot 33%, 25% from 3, and had 5 pts and 3 assists in 27 minutes. I though it was a good game for him with important minutes, but that’s not a good line that’s going to get it done most nights. And he hasn’t really been shooting that well. So this idea he has to be played 27 minutes or at end of half or end of game because we just have to have his shooting is a bit off from reality.

    I did not think Wiggins’ decision making was great down the stretch. He had one good decision to dish to Tyus when triple collapse covered. But on other plays he attracted a lot of attention and didn’t move the ball to break the D down (hey, you might even get it back!). Actually, Towns does this a lot, but it is usually in the post and he’s pretty deadly there so it’s not as harmful as Andrew dribbling into three guys with a loopy handle and then jacking up a tough long two fadeaway. But I’m with Thibs on this. The raw talents Andrew and Karl possess does not erase their lack of commitment to improve. I question this greatly in the case of Wiggins. His effort is so intermittent. Tonight he looked good and had a reason–he was playing his hometown team and no doubt his Canada buds back home got the broadcast. Silly. Gotta find a way to play motivated every night. I just don’t get that. When I was playing basketball I was about the worst player you can imagine and all of 140 lbs. But I couldn’t help but feel lucky to be out there, lucky to find some guys willing to play with me and was massively competitive. The only fight I almost ever got in was over basketball competitiveness. What kind of guy can’t get himself in a competitive frame of mind for a normal NBA game? I just don’t get it. Beyond that, he’s so slow to progress on every ‘do sh*t’ category, every team aspect to the game. He continues to be a harmful ball stopper, to have poor shot selection, to have below average passing recognition, to lag on D effort, to have poor team D skills and almost no communication skills. Karl is already a more mature sophisticated player in O, and I wish we’d go to him more in a crunch or at end of game. He still has a lot to improve with his passing. But on D, that’s where he’s really not showing the commitment. His attention there seems sporadic. He sucks at most team D skills and communication. But he at least seems avid and competitive in a way that Wiggins lacks. I basically agree with Thibs’ picky attitude here.

    Buuut,… Does coaching have something to do with this? I mean you as the coach are mad because guys aren’t communicating on D. Well, teach them to! Say it is a must if they are going to be on the floor. If they don’t warn them, figure out if they are confused and if so clear it up for them and if they continue to be silent pull them. If only Gorgui is communicating, then perhaps the problem is not just to be blamed on vocally challenged young people but the folks teaching them. Also must add that Rubio also communicates, but I’m not sure how much on D. But giving Rubio credit is always an afterthought with Thibs. Dunn gets about as many back pats as Rubio—that about says it all, and suggests why we might have mysterious problems like only one player on our roster communicating on D.

    Stephenson might be a bad dude. There are quite a few in sports, sadly. Hard guy to cheer for, as far as who he seems to be as a person (although us fans don’t really know any of these guys personally at all). That said, I was impressed. He’s got that lunch pail vet thing that our guys just need to SEE. What struck me was not his wild nature on the court (although I agree that Wiggins looks robotic at times) but how he just knows where to be. It allows him to be tenacious and smart, particularly on D. Those are two things we pretty often lack–tenacity and wile.

    If Lowry didn’t have the physical gifts that he has (strength, decent athleticism, speed) he wouldn’t be very good, maybe not in the league. That’s why I like Tyus so much. His smarts, feel for the game and grace under pressure got him here, not more shallow gifts.

    One thing I like about the Wolves is that they don’t whine about calls to excess, like say, fouling just to get more whining time. That’s childish. And we’ve been on the short end of the ref stick a lot. Tonight we got the calls!

    DO your job! I hear that a lot. Big thing in football now. A classic sports cliche. I get it and why it is a Thibs mantra. But one must ask–why do our guys so rarely stick to doing their job?

    1. A little less panic from our team tonight, maybe that was due to having a more veteran acting team on the floor for most of the second half. Tyus acts like a vet, Lance is a vet, G usually plays like a vet and our two stars gave more complete games as well. Energy and cutting down on mistakes is a pretty good way to stay in games. If BRush gets his shooting stroke back, we may have a nice run yet this home stand.

      Ty still seems more of a back up than starter in the league, but Patty Mills makes a good living being a smart, good shooting back up, that gets more run with Parker getting more rest. I don’t see the Lowry comparison at all. I see more of a Pooh Richardson in Tyus.

      Lance showed two things tonight. One is you don’t need to have a large playbook if you know the league and just take the shot when it first presents itself or pass it to someone else if it doesn’t. Two, having so few veterans playing minutes for this team was a mistake. KAT, Zack and Wiggins still need guidance on the floor. Thibs is mad because he wants his stars to lead, but if you don’t know where to go, it’s tough to lead. These three want to be good, but they have no experience to draw from and so they go to their athletic ability, which has always been better than their peers, but lacks knowledge so vets can take advantage of them. Having a few vets on the floor makes a world of difference, even flawed ones like Lance.

    2. I think you should take a look at Demar Derozan’s advanced stats for his first three years in the NBA compared to Wiggins. They had roughly the same TS%, but Wiggins’ usage is much higher, they average roughly the same amount of rebounds per 40, but Wiggins actually averages a whole assist more than Derozan did per 40 with slightly higher ast% as well. Wiggins also averages more blocks and steals and overall is much better than Derozan in the first three years. The one aspect that Derozan had a clear advantage was turnover rate. This is all while Wiggins is the primary defender on the opposing teams best wing while Derozan has always been hidden on defense. The amount of responsibility Wiggins has as a 21 year old is crazy. He has the highest usage rate on the team and is also responsible for guarding the opposing teams best wing. I think the smart thing to do moving forward is to let Wiggins play a Derozan role and get someone in who can take the defensive responsibility off of him. Right now we just don’t have a roster capable of doing that. If you take Wiggs off of Kawhi who’s going to guard him? Shabazz? No way. Trade for or bring in a guy like PJ Tucker. You have Tucker guarding Leonard/ being able to switch on bigs, Wiggs on Danny Green. Much better lineup than Wiggs on Kawhi and LaVine/Rush on Green. We just don’t have the right roster makeup right now. If you want a more engaged Wiggins, take away some of his enormous responsibility. He just isn’t Kawhi and likely won’t be. But he can still be an all star and a great player on a great team. We just need to get the right roster around him.

      Also, what the heck New York?

      1. Great point all around. The overall problem is that Zach start next to Wiggins. Between the 2 of them, who is going to get that tougher defensive assignment? It will be Wiggs every time. I hope more people recognize how much he has on his plate because he sure does get criticized more than any other 21 year old I can think of. Once he gets stronger I think he will be able to handle all of his responsibilities but it will be when he’s like 23 or 24. If he could play the 2 with a player like PJ Tucker or Wilson Chandler at the 3, his production and defense would be so much better but unfortunately, that isn’t the case. So he just has to battle through. He has shown me enough to be patient. Who has scored 4000 points at a younger age? Lebron, KD, Kobe, Tmac and Melo All first ballot hall of famers. Who has scored more points by age 22? Only LeBron, KD and Melo. That is elite company for such a “disappointing” player. He has a lot to improve on, but I love the track he’s on.

        Oh and I love dudes like Pyrrol dissing his decision making on a day when he had 6 assists. lol. The young man can’t catch a break.

        Keep it up Wiggs. KAT and a bunch of dudes will never win a thing. Top teams need multiple stars and Wiggs will definitely get there.

      2. Hip Hip Hooray! Finally someone else who supports Wigs. Tired of all the criticism directed to this so very young man averaging 22.4 points only on natural abilities.

        1. Yeah, he has the highest usage rate on the eleventh most efficient offense in the NBA. And he’s 21. And the second highest usage rate belongs to a guy who’s 21 as well. Offense isn’t an issue for this team so long as we have Wiggins and KAT (LaVine is pretty good on offense as well). As I alluded to in my post earlier, it’s all about roster construction and defense. The offense will be top ten very soon with potential to go higher, getting a roster that can gel on defense and let everyone play to their strengths is the most important part of making this team great. We have our core players, now we need the complementary roster.

    3. Don’t buy the nonsense about Wigs. Booker has similar numbers and he is adored. Imagine when Wigs really learns the game. Get rid of Wigs and an injury to KAT and you have nothing – just enjoy him. He has a unique way to play the game….Curry and Westbrook received murderous criticism before people understood how they played the game.

  2. Kyle Lowry has been a defensive pit bull with strength since he entered the league who turned into an efficient scorer. That is not anywhere near Tyus’ origins.

    1. He didn’t say their origins are the same, only that the end-result could be similar: and obviously you can get to the same destination with different starting-points. And its hard to argue that Tyus+ some beef+ a more aggressive mentality wouldn’t look an awful lot like Kyle Lowry.

      1. I didn’t mention whether Bill said they started from the same place. I questioned the idea that he could get there without starting from a similar place because it usually doesn’t happen.

        Here’s some of what was said about Lowry in 2009 by DraftExpress that would never be said about Tyus: exceptionally athletic … excellent speed and quickness. Built and moves like an NFL running back … Capable of playing above the rim … Can cause all sorts of problems for his matchup by using his physical tools defensively. Here’s what was said about Jones last summer in regards to similar areas: average physical tools … struggles finishing against length. Their strengths and weaknesses at similar ages are close to opposite of each other.

        It’s super annoying to see lazy comparisons between young players who haven’t proven they can even start and All-Stars. Lowry was a running back playing PG coming out of Villanova who needed lots of refining of his offensive game. Tyus was polished for a college PG with clear physical limitations who has been able to survive so far with his decisiveness on offense. It’s much more likely that a great athlete refines his skills than a skilled player dramatically improves his athleticism.

        1. Right, and so the fact that they didn’t start in similar places wasn’t a relevant objection. Again, having different starting points doesn’t preclude ending at a similar destination, and the similarities between a stronger more aggressive Tyus Jones, and Kyle Lowry, should be pretty obvious.

          1. If a player doesn’t have similar physical traits as someone you’re trying to compare him to, they’re much less likely to develop those traits, which makes it relevant. The point is that it *rarely* happens. Just because it’s *possible* doesn’t mean that’s a more valid point. The low probability of it matters.

            It’s like you ignored the statements 1) guys just don’t add strength easily unless their frame can withstand it and 2) Lowry was strong for his position in the first place. He has a wider frame than Tyus and is physically strong in the torso and legs in a way that Tyus *probably* will never be.

            Here’s why that matters: Lowry is able to get off contested shots. His strength helps him create separation in the lane to get his shot off. His quickness, even at age 31, makes him a threat off the dribble 1v1 and requires the defense to respect that. His vertical, strength, and wingspan help him create separation behind the arc to hit contested 3s. He’s able to post up and create enough space to hit fadeaways over defenders. Tyus doesn’t have to take contested shots. He’s not asked to size up a defender and beat him to the paint. He’s not asked to hit a contested 3 in a defender’s face. He’s not asked to finish through contact at the rim. And it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever be asked to take a defender into the post and create offense that way. He doesn’t have the physical strength or quickness, and those are very difficult to build up to the point needed to do the things Lowry does.

            “The similarities between a stronger more aggressive Tyus Jones and Kyle Lowry should be pretty obvious.” Their similar shooting forms mean little if the results aren’t there. Lowry shoots 54% on drives; Tyus is at 23%. Lowry shoots 43% in isos; Tyus shoots 20%. Lowry shoots 46% when a defender is within 2 feet; Tyus shoots 28%. Lowry shoots 57% on postups. All of this is happening while Lowry is the 1st-2nd option on a conference finalist and Jones is a seldom-used 4th-5th option on a lottery team. Shorter guards need physical advantages like strength and quickness to be an offensive focal point.

  3. Bestowing attributes to a player to make them similar to another player is a waste of time. You could say that if you added size and a better handle to Zack LaVine, he would be Russell Westbrook, or fifty pounds and amazing passing, shooting and defensive skills and Wiggins would be LeBron.

    I do like Tyus, because he seems to have that “been there, done that” attitude at crunch time. However, I wouldn’t ever think that his skills will propel him to a starter’s status like Lowry, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t earned his playing time or that Thibs wasn’t wasting him on the bench, when he could have contributed to some close games early in the season.

    Kris Dunn is the player that I’m most worried about. His game has not improved much this season and it didn’t start very strong for a four year college player. He has had moments, but now he is dressed, but not playing for four games because of a sprain in his shooting hand ? If the Wolves falter and fall back into the early lottery, do you pass on one of the young dynamic point guards in the draft because you have two young PG’s and one that is entering his prime? Could you have gotten Jimmy Butler from the Bulls for Dunn and LaVine, when GMs were picking Dunn as a ROY?

    Finally, with the pick up of Stevenson, moving Bazz may be possible. Could we get Mirotic, or PJ Tucker for him, adding a good stretch four and moving Belly to a large three or adding a defensive tough guy that can play some four. Both needs are greater than the what Bazz can offer, even though he has played very well of late.

    1. At this point, replacing LaVine with Stephenson means one fewer guy who makes 3s, and that makes Bazz even more important for spacing the floor. He’s currently the best 3 point shooter by far of all the guys mentioned and probably the most trustworthy spot-up shooter on the team.

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