Kings 123, Wolves 117: Tanks One to Know One

The Minnesota Timberwolves crumbled against the Sacramento Kings Saturday night to the tune of 123-117. The Wolves lead the Kings 31-18 after the first quarter, but proceeded to get molly-whopped over the final three frames by the score of 105-92; truthfully, it wasn’t even that close. This was the 15th time this season that the Wolves have built a double-digit lead only to let it squander away before the final buzzer.

Sacramento shot 56.4% from the field and posted a true shooting percentage of 66.5%. Ty Lawson, who seemed to be channeling his former prime Denver Nuggets self, lead the way for the Kings, scoring 21 points and dishing out 11 dimes off the bench. Buddy Hield added 22 points and Willie Cauley-Stein 15 points and 10 boards. Although the Wolves’ starters outperformed the Kings’, it was Sacramento’s bench that made the difference in this one as they outscored the Wolves’ bench 66-26.

Neither team provided much resistance on the defensive end of the court, but, much like in games prior, it was the Wolves’ defense that proved to be more porous. The Wolves, once again, put forth a pretty uninspired effort on defense, seemingly allowing the Kings to shoot uncontested threes and get easy dunks and layups at will.

After the game, a seemingly defeated Tom Thibodeau stated, “It’s two games in a row that we’ve gotten out to good starts and…[we] didn’t play with an edge.” He continued, in regards to the Wolves’ beleaguered defense, “We gotta keep working at it. Gotta keep working at it [deep sigh]. I thought our starters got us off to a good start and then our bench came in and we had reckless fouls, some tough shots, [poor] floor balance getting back. So, you know, we gotta straighten that out.”

Ricky Rubio’s streak of hot shooting took a (hopefully) temporary hiatus Saturday night as he was a mere 1/10 from the field. However, he had yet another astounding night at the free throw line, pouring in nine of his 10 attempts; Rubio finished with 11 points, six rebounds, and 13 assists to go along with two steals. Andrew Wiggins put up a relatively quiet, highly efficient 32 points on 13/20 shooting (4/7 from 3) and added three rebounds and assists. Karl-Anthony Towns chipped in 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 assists.

What separated Towns’ night from the rest of the starters was his performance in plus/minus. Towns was a -17 in 40 minutes of play, whereas Wiggins was a +13, Rubio a +12, Gorgui Dieng (who had himself a very typical 11/8/2/3/1 night) a +7, and Brandon Rush a +4. Obviously, Towns’ plus/minus is skewed because of the minutes he played with the bench (Thibodeau likes to stagger Wiggins and Towns, with Towns ultimately playing more minutes with the bench) and a single game’s plus/minus leaves a lot to be desired, but if the Wolves want to win games like this, they need him to not only perform well against, but to take advantage of, the opposing team’s secondary players. Towns was unable to do that tonight and the Wolves ultimately paid the price.

The Wolves are next in action on Monday night at home against the Portland Trail Blazers, in which they begin a four-games-in-five-nights extravaganza/tankapalooza. Tip is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Notes

  • No player in NBA history has ever logged 100 three-point field goals, 100 blocks, and 1,000 rebounds in a single season. Karl-Anthony Towns is currently sitting at 90 threes, 99 blocks, and 906 rebounds. He would have to average a little over 1.4 threes and 13.4 rebounds per game and get just one more block to accomplish this feat.
  • Zach LaVine was awarded the Flip Saunders Legacy Fund award prior to the game. The award is given to the player that most impacts the community in a positive way as voted on by players on the roster. LaVine won the award to “recognize his excellence in community service”, per Wolves PR. LaVine works closely with the Metro Deaf School and has also participated in the Wolves’ Holiday Shopping Spree for Kids.
  • Kris Dunn finished with one steal tonight, making it 13 games in a row in which he has nabbed at least one steal.
  • With the Wolves loss and the Portland Trail Blazers win, the Wolves have officially been eliminated from playoff contention *insert tank shooting fire from its cannon with lit sparklers around its wheels here*.
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10 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    As bad as our defense was, our offense stalled at times in ways Sacramento’s didn’t. We have to improve that. We can’t be a team that stalls on offense at tough moments and can’t pull out of the tailspin. You just can’t get the the playoffs doing that all the time. That’s not to say in other ways we aren’t a good team on O. We have talent. A big part of this is system. Our system on O just isn’t good enough to get us out of dry spells in a timely manner. Then we just lose our mojo on both sides of the ball. It’s been happening all season and still is happening. It’s amazing how connected our stall offense is to our bad defense.

    That said, straight up, our D needs to be way better. It is frustrating to see our D play like this at this late juncture. It is not encouraging. I can’t figure it out. Is Thibs that bad at teaching? Are our guys that young and dumb? Do guys care that little now that we are out of any sort of playoff hunt? I tend to think no on all these questions. But why does our D look so god awful? I don’t know but I tend to believe starter fatigue and an undeveloped, unstable bench is a factor.

    Wiggins had a quiet, efficient 32–that about describes it. Does any player have so many quiet games in relation to his scoring? I mean an efficient 32 shouldn’t be quiet and it shouldn’t be in a loss. But so often it is. The guy is coasting. It’s a testament to his talent that he can half ass it and score 32 points, But he’s sort of a dish rag out there so many minutes and doesn’t do a great deal to help his team other than hit some shots and put up points. And he never seems to take over when we really need it. His true value is greatly exaggerated by the scoring numbers he puts up at this point.

    Everyone blasted SAC for the trade they made. But the Wolves made it look like a good deal for one night at least. When it happened, I thought it was bad for both teams. This was mostly because I felt that SAC could have gotten more for Boogie, not so much that losing him would make them that much worse. On the other hand, I don’t see it working out for NO and they are kind of painted into a corner now. It was a weirder trade for NO than it was for SAC. Call me crazy, but they look like a better team without Boogie. And I didn’t realize how much trouble Stein was having under the shadow of Cousins. Now that he has the keys, he’s instantly better and is finally showing the promise I thought he had on draft night. Still has a very long ways to go, but not looking like a bust anymore. All this said, losing to SAC feels pathetic. People like to lecture disappointed fans that their Wolves expectations were just unrealistic going in and that’s only their fault and the media’s fault not the fault of the players or coaches. But seeing us have basically the same record as SAC with the level of talent we have is an eye opener. Something went wrong this season. We need to tweak the mix of players on the roster, but I think coaching just has to get better. A lot of why we are exactly on par with a team like SAC is due to coaching decisions. Some of these are general personnel reads–not letting Rubio run the offense, treating Wiggins as ‘the guy’ without question over Towns etc. Others are nuts and bolts things like not figuring out a bench, not having timeouts left at the end of games, not knowing what position players are (Dunn) bad inbounding plays, unimaginative and stagnant offense, team D concepts that just don’t stick with our current personnel and playing our most important players too many minutes, causing fatigue. Thibs and the players may rebound and look a lot better next season, but I think this season, while having lots of fun and bright moments is a lost opportunity and a disappointment. It’s hard to see it any other way after getting spanked by SAC and heading toward having the same record as them at the end.

  2. Tom says:

    This team plays so poorly at times, it makes me wonder if Thibs has lost his team in one season. This was a lack of effort game that started when the bench came in and played selfishly and stupidly and gave back the momentum to the kings and the starters said “who cares” and started playing selfishly too. When players stop passing the ball, and cast up threes early in the shot clock, with no one to rebound, it is a sign that they aren’t interested in playing team ball. Even G strolled back after a made basket and got beat by Toliver for a layup. Toliver gets two charging calls against barrel ahead Shabazz and KAT when everyone knows that is his game. This team breaks from a game plan so quickly that it appears that they lack trust for each other and are tired of Thibs ranting. I want mine ball was on display for most of the game.

    Ricky was visibly upset with his teammates effort and made no attempt to correct his shot which was flat all night. He has shot enough that he can make adjustments during a game to add more arc. I would rather see air balls with arc then his flat darts. He got to the FT line and had his assists, but he is veteran now and needs to show that his game can evolve.

    The Kings are a terrible team, so I discount Wiggins and KAT night because it wasn’t like they elevated their teammates with leadership or will. This is a franchise that has lost its desire to work and are playing out the season like losers do. Mitch last year said that after this many games, you record is who you are. Well, this team is a lazy, selfish team that has the talent to get easy leads against anybody, but no grit to finish what they start.

  3. pyrrol says:

    I tend to agree with your point about the mystery of why we go off plan so fast with Thibs. We deviate so easily from such basics under him, even now, late in the season. Why? Perhaps there is a lack of trust or even a rebellious streak due to constant badgering as you suggest. I tend to think a factor (at least on the O side) is that the system is so bad that it is hard to stick to and have faith in. Perhaps more importantly, it is so bad that it can be dismantled if a team really tries for a while against us or we go cold (which a system like this makes us vulnerable to). So it is as much as the system putting the guys in a bad position as it is guys who have no ability to stick to the system. Most games it seems like they are trying to but just get thrown off and can’t get back on. Either way they need something better. It’s hard to imagine this whole team is lazy ne’er do wells.

    Speaking of that, Rubio was mad at his teammates, visibly. I can’t blame him. I wonder if it got into his head and flattened his shot. Thinking about it, it seems like more than a coincidence that Rubio’s shot suddenly went flat and into the gutter when he was pissed off about his team’s effort and attention to basic details. It seemed to get to him. He’s not the type who wants to be calling guys out, but it was needed and that doesn’t seem to put him in a good place.

    Thibs’ response, other than bitching in the presser, was to punish Towns by replacing him with Payne. This seems odd. Towns was very guilty of all the problems that plagued us. But so was Wiggins and a lot of other guys who faced no punishment. At least Towns didn’t disappear for 2 weeks on O like Wiggins (he’s been way more consistent this season). At least Towns doesn’t cower from being the man in tough situations. At least Towns generally looks like he’s putting good effort into every game even if it isn’t often translating to D. Wiggins frequently looks disinterested to the casual observer, and that included much of this game despite his numbers. When is that going to matter to Thibs?

    Man, Dunn is a terrible finisher, especially for a good athlete with a 6’9″ wingspan. Rubio’s excuse is he can’t jump over a loaf of bread, what’s Dunn’s? Rubio has been finding more ways to finish lately. Dunn continues to be stuck in college mode as a finisher.

    What’s up with the deviation away from Shabazz as our bench is dying on the vine and killing our chances? He played more tonight, but he’s been MIA for a while now. Jim Pete makes it sound like he’s struggling and that’s why. Kinda hard to not struggle when you as suddenly playing 9 minutes a game for no reason… Nice to see a bit more of him in this game, but I wonder if it is a sign he’s gone.

    Speaking of Jim Pete, TALK ABOUT THE *UCKING GAME.

  4. Drew J says:

    Probably not the best game to follow with this thought, but I’ve been thinking about it for awhile: what happens when Zach comes back? The team (though piss poor as of late–really since the playoffs became practically impossible) has been better since Lavine went down. At the very least, Towns, Rubio and, to some extent, Wiggins have been much better. And for awhile there the Wolves were playing .500 ball and losing very close games. Is this THAT different from pre-Zach-injury? Maybe not. But that doesn’t change the below, in my mind.

    I always liked Zach off the bench, even when he was forced to play point guard and the results were historically bad. So here’s the thesis: Zach should play 28-ish minutes off the bench, most of those alongside Kris Dunn. It makes all the sense in the world to me that pairing Lavine’s scoring with Dunn’s defense is the ideal fit for both players. The Wolves then just need to sign a competent role-player SG or SF (Wiggins can shift) like Reddick, Andre Roberson, Bojan Bogdanovic,or PJ Tucker to round out the starting unit. Depending on what is needed at the end of the game–shooting or defense–Lavine may finish that game with the starters. Draft someone like Jonathon Issac, who needs some time to develop but can do things well off the ball now, and pair him with the Dunn/Lavine back court and I think you begin to see a solid second unit that doesn’t lose much ground, if any, from what has become one of the better, young, starting lineups in the league.

    This also makes Shabazz expendable, depending on what kind of offers he receives elsewhere (I believe he will be a RFA, correct me if I’m wrong). I would be sad to see him go, but if he walks, then Thibs can continue to rotate Wiggins and Towns with the bench in such a way that two of Wiggins/Zach/Towns are always on the floor together.

  5. Tom says:

    The Question about Zack is, can he accept being a sixth man? This kid works as hard as anyone on improving his game and can at times put the team on his back, when his three point shooting is on. Why would someone this young see a sixth man role for themselves going into a contract year?

    I agree that having someone like Zack off the bench with either Tyus or Dunn and hopefully G to set picks for Zack, would be a great way to improve bench scoring, but I think you would be asking the wolves to risk either losing him, or overpaying for him, which they may do anyway. It will be interesting to see what Thibs decides to do in FA and the draft. If he gets a guy like JJ Redick or some of the other guys you have on your list does he see them as veteran support to the starters or reliable bench players? What if he now sees Dunn as a specialty two guard to come in and apply backcourt defense? And what about Shabazz? At times, he is so fun to watch, especially in the low box area, but then he gets the ball and dribbles it the length of the court into a player for a charge. As much as I like him, I think he still sees himself as a starter, and will get enough money and a chance to start that he will be gone. All of this will play into how we use Zack.

    Of course the biggest caveat could be that Zack uses this off-season to not only rehab, but get stronger all around. If he can keep his physical speed, hops and shooting ability while adding 10-12 lbs. of muscle, he would be a prototype two guard and a more reliable spacing scorer than Andrew Wiggins as a starter. I still think that if he gets stronger, his speed could make him a respectable defensive player.

    Regarding taking KAT out for Payne and not the others, that was a typical lesson coaches use to tell their star player that he isn’t getting a pass, just because he is the best player on the team. A little embarrassment is motivating to a guy like KAT. I’m not sure if it would effect Wiggins the same way. A game like the Kings game, I think KG would have called a TO and cussed out his team for not playing together and would go out and be a raving maniac getting blocks, rebounds and score. He could do that, because he played hard almost every night. Thibs needs either Wiggins or KAT to be that leader that refuses to be embarrassed, and will demand his team step up. I don’t see Wiggins being the guy that will call out his teammates and himself. KAT has to add that to his growing list of must-do’s to be a great player.

    • Drew J says:

      I agree with most everything that you said. I was certainly not factoring in Zach’s opinion, which was a mistake on my part. Although, he seems very close with Jamal Crawford, so it’s entirely possible that he wouldn’t HATE a bench flamethrower role. Although as you say, accepting such a role most likely hurts his potential value when he looks to sign his first big contract, whether it be in the cities or elsewhere.

      I guess my opinion on this presumes two main considerations, one or both you may disagree with: (1) I feel the team is more balanced and better overall when Zach is a bench guy (I think the starters have shown this since his injury, and while the jury is out on whether Zach could carry a bench unit, his early season play this year makes me think he can) and (2) I prefer Wiggins to Zach. I get the sense you may not agree with the second part, or at least not ready to definitively say one is better than the other so early in their careers. We haven’t really seen Zach and Towns without Wiggins for a long stretch to properly compare, but I find myself liking both Andrew’s current game and his potential more than Zach on both counts.

      One last thought–I think you nailed it in saying the Wolves may overpay Zach either way. Unfortunately, it’s probably going to happen, which makes this debate a little more urgent. Can the Wolves really compete with three young max players? This is the classic OKC issue, the only difference being the Thunder were in the NBA finals when they had to make their decision regarding Harden. The Wolves are far from the finals. I suppose just mark it up as another frustrating injustice imposed on a franchise somewhat used to them. But I thank you for making that point, because it’s another lens through which to view this dilemma, which (outside of any future Rubio/Dunn/2017-draft PG drama) will probably be the defining roster construction “issue” for the Wolves in the next couple years.

  6. pyrrol says:

    I’m not convinced that the Wolves’ performance since LaVine went down means we’re better with him on the bench. It’s food for thought, but I think that’s perhaps a conclusion that shouldn’t be jumped to just yet.

    In my mind, the clear #1 talent on this team is Towns. LaVine and Wiggins are fighting for the #2 slot a level below. Rubio is almost in a different discussion because his game requires others, is so much about making others better and he’s really the only adult in the room. When I compare Wiggins and LaVine I get some pros and cons:

    Wiggins is bigger and stronger than LaVine, so he can more easily defend and when his shot is not falling it is easier for him to get baskets closer to the hoop with his height.

    LaVine is faster and more athletic than Wiggins, but his lack of strength hurts him. His issues on D are more than just strength, though.

    That said, though Wiggins is clearly the better defender between the two, he underachieves there and neither are good defenders. Wiggins is just less bad.

    Despite silly experiments, LaVine has a clear, prototypical position–SG. Wiggins isn’t really a pure SF or a SG. Folks often make the argument that Wiggins should play SG so he can dominate smaller, less physical SG’s. But just because he’s too weak and lackadaisical to have consistent success in SF matchups doesn’t make him a SG. His handle isn’t anywhere near what a guards’ should be. His 3 point shooting isn’t good enough for a SG, ideally. Being that 3 point shooting is still an issue for this team, having Wiggins sitting on SG with his level of 3 point making is a problem. LaVine is a pure SG in size and skill set. And lest anyone ever thinking he was a PG, his only possible positional overlap, experiments were conducted to disprove this. Science.

    Wiggins has the talent and prototypical NBA length, size and athleticism to score even when he’s not that engaged. He puts up scoring numbers often that help to quell criticism while actually underachieving. This is particularly true of non scoring things. His feel for the game when he’s not taking shots isn’t impressive. His effort in rebounding particularly but also passing, disruptive D and ability to form chemistry with teammates is bad. His communication on the floor is nonexistent. Even his scoring isn’t as consistent as Towns’. There is something more insidious and hard to measure. Effort, body language, clutch play, competitiveness, drive, energy, leadership, these seem lacking in Wiggins to a degree which will lower his ceiling as a player his whole career if he does not improve significantly in this aspect.

    LaVine has less generalist talent. He’s a good three point shooter (though still way too streaky) and deadly in transition. He’s an OK second ball handling option who can sorta pass. He can’t really face up guys close to the basket, or post up or mix in any of the ‘bigger’ things that 6’8″ Wiggins can (although he’s more of a SF and LaVine is a SG so this is to be expected.) This makes it harder for LaVine to be the consistent scoring threat Wiggins is, and LaVine has been a failure on D so far. He needs to get stronger, but what Tyus does on D with his frame suggests the bigger factor is learning and focus. LaVine will never be super strong, but as he matures he’ll get stronger. But will he commit to learning to be a pain on D? All that said, LaVine always is very engaged and competitive. When he’s not playing well he just isn’t on or fitting into the game at the moment, and not because of lack of engagement. His effort on and off the court is not in question, nor his competitive fire. There is something electric about LaVine when he’s really on. Suddenly, you think ‘that’s a star’. It happens way too rarely, but with Wiggins it almost never happens because he’s not fully engaged.

    Wiggins and LaVine will both get better, but Wiggins is sort of a ‘is what he is’ player. You can’t make a guy like that a leader, or super competitive, or consistent with effort. LaVine may not be the current lock of a good player Wiggins is, but there remains that sliver that he’ll light up the league, be an important star and leader and be a very hard to stop perimeter offensive threat.

    • Drew J says:

      I love that breakdown, although it leaves me thinking maybe neither player deserves a max contract lol.

      I definitely agree with you that it’s too early to KNOW definitively whether Andrew or Zach is better. In a perfect world, both could grow side by side along with Towns and be a dominant starting lineup. The problem I see as of now, though, is too many cooks. Wiggins and/or Lavine need to develop another skill that isn’t scoring, and only time will tell if that will happen. Towns will get his and Rubio needs the ball to be at his peak effectiveness, at least offensively. Add that to an obvious need on the bench for, not just scoring, but a focal point. Too often the bench play looks like a random five playing their first game of pickup together (unless Tyus is on the floor, then it looks like the same five but on their third run of the day).

      So it comes down to who is going to be the better 2 to Towns 1? Andrew and Zach might be so close in talent that it really depends on the other role player in the backcourt and how well that mystery player can space the floor. I think Andrew has the potential to carry the team on nights to give Towns some relief, and he can do that whether he’s making shots or not. Zach, if he’s missing threes, needs more help from Towns and Rubio to get going. While I agree that Zach’s attitude and work ethic are far superior to Andrew, I reduce the importance of that just a bit where Towns and Rubio bring so much of that to the table. It’s the nights when Andrew quietly goes for 25+ that make me the most excited.

      Finally, while you’re right that Andrew’s attitude may never change, his natural talent is just so much more than Zach’s. You mentioned Zach looking like a star at times, and that’s true. But Zach has already improved so much from his rookie year that it’s hard to believe his improvement will continue at the same rate. I hope I’m wrong about that, but the difference between Andrew’s ceiling and his current level of play is much greater than Zach’s. Will Andrew’s attitude prevent him from reaching that ceiling? Maybe. But as it stands: Andrew was the far superior prospect and for good reason, his PER (on the season and his career) is a couple points higher than Zach’s, and, outside of the Zach-as-PG-Experiment, Andrew is asked to do a lot more. (I cant put into words how frustrating it is to watch Thibs call out a late-game pick and roll with Andrew as the ball handler. I hope it’s for developmental purposes).

      Anyways, great discussion. Wiggins v Zach is a fun debate, although not as fun as watching them play together, sigh. Got the Blazers tonight, go Wolves!

      • pyrrol says:

        Interesting! I particularly like when you say, “Wiggins and/or Lavine need to develop another skill that isn’t scoring, and only time will tell if that will happen.” I couldn’t agree more. What is that skill? It’s often rebounding, but neither player is a big. Wiggins needs to improve his rebounding, but it’s not going to be a huge part of his game. LaVine isn’t a big rebounder because he’s a SG, but is actually OK for his position (2.9 rpg, Wiggins 4.1). For how many nights Wiggins puts up 1 or 0 boards, and how few he pushes close to 8-10, it’s amazing he’s averaging 4 for his career, actually. I guess they both need to rebound better, although due to his position and place on the court, Wiggins needs to improve more. But that’s not the key. I know it’s more of a bundle of skills rather than one, but I think that other skill is defense. Due to his size, position and greater strength, Wiggins is the guy who needs to add this as his calling card to avoid the too many cooks. Listen, if it’s not LaVine it’s going to be someone else. These NBA teams have great scoring from the bottom teams up. You can’t just have two scorers. We’ll need at least a trio of good scorers starting. Just like rebounding, both LaVine have to improve a lot on D, and Towns as well for that matter. But it is Wiggins who needs to add above average defender (both team and individual) to his resume. It falls on his shoulders in part due to circumstance, but also simply because he needs something else to fill out his game. He’s not going to be the next Kobe. He needs to be a two way player to be the kind of max player we need him to be. Zach is a scoring flash SG who can be a secondary ball handler and who will hopefully improve to be at least pesky on D. But Wiggins is a less flashy scorer who neither has the perimeter game of a LaVine nor the post game of Towns. He’s a good scorer but will unlikely become a great one and lacks fire to take over games on that end. He may also lack the fire to take over teams on the offensive end, but it’s imperative that he try. Ideally, we could count on more scoring from Towns and LaVine, and ask Wiggins to expend more energy being a defender. He could still score easily and a lot while doing this (in theory) due to his talent and length. I recall when Wiggins was a prospect and folks thought he’d be a lockdown defender and then develop an offensive game. This often doesn’t work out, as very few rookies are able to learn NBA defense fast enough to be above average at D. Still, it shows people thought he had the tools to be a great defender, like a lighter K Leonard. Instead, he became a volume scorer right away (partly out of necessity and pressure) and really has not developed into a defender. He needs to do that now. We might be able to get away with not giving LaVine a full max, but Wiggins will demand one for sure, and he won’t be worth it unless he’s a two way player.

  7. pyrrol says:

    Also Zach with Dunn on the bench would be a problem because Dunn looks like a D specialist SG. In that lineup, Dunn or Zach would have to play point, or we’d have to have a 3 guard lineup to allow Tyus etc to play point. This is not a good idea for our bench. It has already suffered greatly from poor PG play with all the minutes Dunn has gotten there.

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