Blazers 112, Wolves 100: It Tanks Two to Tango

Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday night by the score of 112-100, but the game was nowhere near as close as the score might indicate. The Wolves, who led for less than thirty seconds the entire game, were unable to hinder Portland’s dynamic trio of C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard, and Jusuf Nurkic, who combined to score 67 points and tally 19 rebounds along with 16 assists.

The Wolves played an uninspired brand of basketball all night, allowing Portland to shoot 62.5% from the field and 50.0% (11/22) from three, which equated to a Blazers’ effective field goal percentage of 70.1%. They lacked energy, focus, and drive on both sides of the ball – three ingredients that make cooking up a victory very difficult to do. Basically, the Wolves sucked.

But let’s talk about something that’s perhaps a little more interesting than the Wolves’ latest implosion: Kris Dunn’s future.

Dunn has led a pretty mediocre rookie campaign, to put it lightly. He’s consistently displayed enough talent and promise on the defensive end to keep him intriguing as a prospect, but has fallen quite short of his rather limited expectations on offense. As was known prior to him entering the league, Dunn can’t shoot or score efficiently, but what has been perhaps most surprising is the degree to which he has struggled with playing under control and guiding the offense.

Maybe surprising is the wrong word; rookie point guards (and, really, rookies in general) rarely contribute anything of true merit. But, at the very least, ones that are destined to be starters show some signs of why their futures are so promising and what they will be able to provide when they become more comfortable in their roles. Dunn hasn’t really provided much evidence toward proving that he is on the track towards becoming a starting point guard someday.

He makes questionable decisions, both in the half-court and on the break, and his passes volley inconsistently between crisp and on-the-money and all sorts of terrible. His shot, with its high arc and sharply angled joints, needs work for it to be a consistent (or even semi-consistent) weapon and his athleticism hasn’t translated to the ability to finish around the rim. He isn’t a floor general and he hasn’t been able to harness his quickness and explosion to make up for that fact. To make a long story short, I’m not convinced that Kris Dunn is an NBA point guard.

However, what Dunn has shown is his ability to be an absolute bulldog of a defender who can guard three positions. He has the length and speed to bother ones and the strength and athleticism to switch between twos and threes. His 6’4” frame in combination with a 6’9” wingspan allows for him to disrupt passing lanes and block shots against larger opponents (it should be noted that while Ricky Rubio has nearly identical measurables, Dunn’s athleticism is what truly sets him apart).

When I watch Kris Dunn play, I don’t see a lesser version of John Wall, I see some version of Tony Allen or, if by some miracle his three-point shot takes a major leap forward in the very near future, Avery Bradley-lite; Kris Dunn’s best position is as a two-guard.

It may be reading into the tea leaves too far, but perhaps Tom Thibodeau is beginning to think along the same lines. Thibodeau has begun to flirt with lineups in which Dunn spends the majority of his time on the court off-ball. Over the last few games, Thibodeau has brought Dunn in to play alongside Rubio as the first player off the bench in place of Brandon Rush and has even trotted out a lineup that has all three of Rubio, Dunn, and Tyus Jones on the court at the same time (note: the Rubio-Dunn lineup has seen 55 minutes and the Rubio-Jones-Dunn lineup 12 minutes all season according to NBA.com, so we’re working with incredibly small sample sizes here). If one squints hard enough, they may be able to see what looks like Thibodeau testing to see what kind of production he can get with Dunn playing primarily off-ball.

It’ll be interesting to monitor Dunn’s role as the season comes to a close and the off-season begins. How Thibodeau utilizes Dunn over the final 10 games may be an indication of how he plans to utilize him next year and in the seasons to come. Or it may not. Having Dunn play off ball and within funky lineups may just be a faux experimentation that simulates the Wolves continuing to play meaningful basketball in an attempt to execute a more covert tanking operation, but who really knows.

The Wolves return to action on Tuesday at the Indiana Pacers. Tipoff is slated to 6 pm.

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4 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    This game was disgraceful. As noted, we were not in this game at all and the score only indicates how much junk time there was. Wiggins is shooting better, but looks stiff and disinterested. Rush is an apparition of a player.

    Uh, Casspi looks bad. Did his shot always look like a rusty, low slung gate that won’t quite close? I mean it’s ugly. And so far in this setting he’s not able to do anything helpful (in 17 mins he had 1 rebound and one assist. That’s all.).

    Pretty much an off game for everyone, but I’m nearly sure Rubio had more than 4 assists. I’ve been beginning to notice how differently players are treated statistically, not just with officiating. If Chris Paul was teleported into Rubio’s body for this game with the exact same actions he’d have gotten 6-7 assists. Not that it matters, playing not this sucky is what matters and we are failing at that spectacularly. But it is interesting.

    Our inability to control the 3 point line or hot shooters is a big concern. It has to get better. Thibs came out of the all star gates looking like the advertised super genius. But how quickly our D has fallen apart, how much we’ve reverted and regressed on both sides of the ball during this late skid takes away some credibility that he’s making good developmental progress.

    Color talk: While watching this game I came to realize that I actively dislike the Wolves’ current blue. I gave it a break in my mind, made excuses for it, because with the current color scheme it is the only COLOR. It seems like the team is black or white with grey trim most of the time. So I craved the blue. But it’s a dull, lifeless, mushy mid blue that is not the least bit intimidating. It doesn’t remind me of anything cool. If it makes me think of anything, its is the Dallas Mavericks. Yeesh. The new colors aren’t officially out, but they look from the bits I’ve seen, to be better. A Lake Superior navy with a bruising intimidation factor and electric green, which will make a flashy trim color home or away…

    Dunn talk: Simplest way I can say it… I don’t think Dunn is an NBA starter at any position at any time. I may be wrong, but I’ve not liked what I’ve seen. The basic problem is this. He clearly lacks PG skills and instincts as Lucas does a great job of pointing out. Even though he was ‘sold’ as a PG in the draft and is PG size, he doesn’t appear to be one. Lucas points out that almost any rookie PG has struggles before admitting that Dunn’s seem more profound. Perhaps my judgement on this matter is warped by the special player Rubio is… He came in as a rookie and made an impact right away. He proved rookie PGs can look good and run a team well. And then Dunn has been the cause of extra trade rumors regarding Rubio while looking quite not NBA level as a PG in actuality. I don’t know if irony is quite the right word, but it is irksome. On the other hand, as a shooting guard, while he isn’t responsible for PG stuff, he should be able to shoot and score well. Generally 2’s who can’t shoot and are well below average scorers are kind of a black hole. I mean the position is called SHOOTING guard. Even at his size and strength Dunn is an undersized 2. What would make up for that is McColumn type shooting and scoring instinct, which is the opposite of Dunn. Dunn plays bigger 2s and 3’s well for a few moments on switches, but you can’t have him guarding 3’s or even big 2’s all night. So he’s got major flaws as either a 1 or a 2. He just has less opportunity to drag us down as a 2. That doesn’t mean he’s a good fit as a 2 or even an NBA player at all.

    Given his physique, one would expect Dunn to have an advantage over a Rubio type on both sides of the ball. Is muscle mass and athleticism measurable? Rubio and Dunn are likely the same height and have similar reaches. But Rubio is far superior on O and D right now. Yes, D as well. Lucas says that despite having similar measurables to Rubio, Dunn’s athleticism sets him apart. Apart from what? Dunn lives in a cold, very dark shadow of Rubio in every aspect of his game, despite being much stronger and more athletic. Other than Dunn’s lack of competence, two factors might play into this. One, Dunn’s athleticism, though greater than Rubio’s looks like is was exaggerated coming in. Second, for his size Rubio is quicker than you expect, and Dunn is far from a Wall-like speed demon.

    One thing that strikes me is how awful that shooting chart is. Rubio got ragged on for years for having much better charts than that. And during all that time he has magical abilities. You can’t justify putting a player who is this bad at offense out there big minutes even if he’s above average on D (and at this point I don’t even know if Dunn is above average on D overall). Dunn’s inability to finish at the rim in any kind of traffic has been a large disappointment.

    What next? Thibs has to get this team more on track by the end of the season so as not to leave a lingering sour taste in everyone’s mouths the whole off season. That could damage the way we start next season. We had real pressure with a chance at the playoffs and melted like a cheap candle. Now the guys are in pout mode, many of them playing with some level of apathy now that they can’t make the post season. Thibs needs to show these guys that this time is simply real pressure 2.0–the pressure to finish strong so we can start strong next year.

  2. gjk says:

    They can’t beat teams who shoot like this unless the supporting cast is aggressive at taking open shots. Dieng and Muhammad specifically need to step up in this area; it’s great that Rubio is more aggressive, but any game where he attempts twice as many shots as Dieng is a wasted opportunity for Dieng’s midrange abilities. If Muhammad isn’t shooting open 3s or rebounding aggressively, he has little offensive value for a team that has so little on that end to begin with outside of Wiggins and Towns (as well as Rubio’s facilitation).

  3. Tom says:

    Thibs has to get his team back in attack mode to end this season or he will have killed out chances with this nucleus to get deep into an playoffs. Why do I say this? First, Top flight FA come to programs that are on the upswing. If not low playoff teams, then teams that missed it by a little bit. The Utah Jazz are the team that fits that MO best. Just missed last year, got some quality vets to add to their young talent and now they are fighting for the fourth seed in the West. Same with the Wizards and Hornets.

    The Wolves held off spending foolishly like Lakers, Knicks and others. This summer was going to be the year, because then the following year, you have to start paying your young talent and their goes the cap. If this team nosedives to end the year, what top flight FA will come here to be that difference maker? Not Paul Milsap or JJ Reddick. Not a player that can push for a starting spot and either replace a G, LaVine or Ricky or motivate them to be better. FA like that also push your Belly, Dunn and Casspi down the bench were they provide quality depth and can focus on providing defense like Dunn or 3Pt shooting like Casspi or Belly. This doesn’t happen if we struggle to add to our win total from last year.

    Then their is the draft. If you fall down the lottery ladder, you get a player that isn’t a project like LaVine that you can groom, but a talent that expects playing time, like Wiggins. Now when it is KAT, that is fine because he is a monster, but what if it is another Dunn, a player that needs playing time to learn how to play in the NBA, but is pressured to start because fans need to see team improvement? Just what this team doesn’t need is more youth to struggle with as top six or seven player on the team.

    Lastly, Wiggins and LaVine are up next year. Baz may get $$ from some team like the Nets, but my guess is that he may realize that a bench player is where the NBA sees him. That could be good news for Baz fans, but Keep him or lose him, you probably won’t rue the day that decision is made. But next year it is LaVine and Wiggins. Do you still see top ten material from either of those two players? Does KAT? The worst thing that can happen is that you sign one or both to max and near max and then KAT decides that those two aren’t going to help him like the Lakers or Bucks nucleus or that the three of them alone can’t win a championship because the bench is filled with near miss draft picks like Dunn. He leaves us with two players that aren’t alpha males and we have to rearm ourselves again. I can’t endure winter Twins along with the summer version.

    Thibs was supposed to bring a bounty of 10 more wins over last year, allowing us to flirt with the playoffs like Denver and Portland are doing, just with instilling better defense. This last group of losses, shows that his players aren’t so confident that his defensive genius is going to get them there. Losing Zack and Belly and possibly Lance probably hurt team chemistry and some scoring chances, but except for maybe Lance, none were viewed as defensive stalwarts. Shooting consistency has gone down because teams are doubling KAT and have figured out Wiggins, leaving us with not much in the scoring department, but sadly our defense has also been bad and that wasn’t supposed to happen to a Thibs run team. On top of that his lack of bench use has caused Wiggins and the other starters to log heavy minutes and still not make the playoffs. That has to hurt. IF Thibs can win 50 percent of his remaining games he puts a better ending note on the season and maybe FA will see the talent and heart and say that with them goes a playoff contender. A complete collapse will make folks wonder why go to the great white North and then KAT gets wanderlust and we are starting all over again before we even make the playoffs.

  4. Tom says:

    As we once again care about the lottery, I am thinking of what could be done to jump start the club and make them better quicker. I wonder what teams think of our nucleus and could we possibly replace some players with others that could make the playoffs more of a reality.

    So, I would love to hear what people think, but what if:

    We traded Wiggins and Kris Dunn and a future #1 for Rudy Gay and Sacramento’s two first round picks. That would give us three in a row in a strong draft. Get Jonathan Isaac SF, Dennis Smith PG and Lauri Markkanen PF.

    You would have:
    PG Rubio, Smith and Jones
    SG LaVine and FA (I like JJ Redick)
    SF Gay and Isaac, maybe Baz or Casspi
    PF Markkanen, Belly and G
    C KAT and FA ( I like Aron Baynes) and Cole

    By moving Wiggins out, you only have Zack to contend with for salary prior to KAT getting the max. Now you have reasonable contracts with Rubio, Gay, the FA’s I have and G and maybe Baz in the 10-13 million and the rest are cheaper 1-5 million. You have veterans in the FA and Casspi and Gay.

    OR

    Trade Wiggins and #1 pick for Paul George or Jimmy Butler
    Both make good money, but more like a second banana in today’s market and not needing a max deal until after KAT got his. Both are also more SF than Andrew and more consistant shooters and defenders. They would draw double teams from KAT and would allow Zack to remain because of their defense.

    PG Rubio, Dunn and Jones
    SG Lavine and FA
    SF George or Butler, Casspi and Baz
    PF Belly and G
    C Kat and FA

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