Tonight’s game wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but it was the season finale. The Wolves lost to the upcoming 3-seed in the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets. A team the Wolves beat once in four tries this season. A team with a potential MVP of this season. A team with the success the Wolves strive to experience in the coming year(s).
But clearly, as the Wolves close the 2016-17 regular season with 31 wins, just 2 better than the season prior, they are not there yet. Tonight’s game was just like any other. They showed some signs of what is to come, played with a top notch team and had some elite moments. Ultimately, they didn’t pull it out, having to come back from double digits then losing a lead of their own; something that has become somewhat of a constant for them this year. But with all this, it helped provide some closure and some confirmations that I have felt for much of the year. For better or for worse, they are listed below.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns is going to be an all-time great
Correct, the defense is not there yet. Correct, he needs to work on making his teammates better. But KAT is a monster, and it has become apparent very quickly that his rise in the NBA is going to reach historic proportions.
In the home finale last night, KAT became the single season scoring leader in franchsie history, passing Kevin Love’s equally historic 2013-14 season (and KG’s MVP season of 03-04 a couple games before that). Tonight, he became the first player in NBA history to accumulate 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and make 100 three-pointers in a single season.
Of course, going forward, the key for KAT’s success will be to translate these insane numbers into making his teammates better (which should then turn into victories). But for now, we should be able to appreciate the insane ability KAT has reached at such a young age. In tonight’s game, he needed 13 rebounds to reach the aforementioned feat. He got 20 rebounds, leaving no doubt. All of this is worth appreciating.
2. Ricky Rubio’s future in Minnesota remains a mystery
The giant elephant in the room tonight: Ricky Rubio didn’t play. What does it mean? Could it be that that MN’s elder statesman (let that sink in for a second) earned a break from Tom Thibodeau to end the year? Could it be that Thibs wanted to see Kris Dunn with a full season under his belt, playing with the starters (for what it’s worth, he had 16 assists tonight)? Could it be the 100k bonus Ricky gets for shooting over 40 percent from the field (he was at 40.2 coming into the season)? Could it be a combination of the three?
I have no idea what the real reason was, but it was unsettling for me. I hope yesterday’s loss to OKC wasn’t the final game of Ricky Rubio’s career as a Timberwolf. Not only would that make me sad, but there aren’t too many scenarios that I can envision where his absence (even with a replacement that is not Kris Dunn) improves the Wolves next year. The offseason doesn’t truly start until the NBA Finals are concluded, I don’t know what Thibs is planning, and we’ve all written enough about this situation, but it’s still weird to envision a future in Wolves basketball without Ricky Rubio.
3. If this was Shabazz Muhammad’s last game in Minnesota, I’ll miss him
He is a shot-seeking missile with nice athleticism, a determined offensive rebounder, and one of the most streaky three-point shots I’ve ever seen. He’s an erratic defender, a black hole with the basketball, and an absolutely horrendous passer when he does spread the wealth.
I was done with Shabazz Muhammad after they drafted him, but he grew on me quickly after year two. He got himself into shape (with Anthony Bennett…remember?), and suddenly looked like a player who could contribute. It’s been a unique process, but he’s contributed ever since. Tonight, he added to his franchise record of 20+ points game off the bench in a season, and
As a restricted free agent, the Wolves can match any offer a team makes to Bazzy. But the general thought is that a team, somewhere, will covet Bazz’s drive and nose to score the ball, and make an offer that makes little sense for the Wolves to match. The desire to match a Bazz deal becomes even less when considering how vital this summer is for free agency for the Wolves.
Bazz had some great moments, and proved his worth in the NBA despite lots of doubters. He was too determined to fail, now he’s going to get paid. If this is it in Minnesota, it was a fun ride, Bazzy.
4. I hope the durability of KAT, Wiggins, and Dieng isn’t a fluke
Tonight’s game marked it. After a full season, Andrew Wiggins missed one game. KAT and Gorgui Dieng missed no games. So far, the three of them have proven that they know how to take care of themselves, and know how to stay healthy. Health is never guaranteed, though. Zach LaVine had seen similar success staying healthy, but then a freak injury (that our own Lucas Seehafer described as straight up “dumb luck”) ended his season.
Going forward, health is going to be vital. The team can develop all they want, but they will continue to avoid playoff contention if this streak of health runs out at the wrong time. So far, this crop of guys seems to know what they’re doing in that regard, and the team athletic trainers have done everything right to keep it that way. This can’t be taken for granted.
5. This team has a long way to go defensively, but the future is bright
After a season that was supposed to be better than 31 games, it’s important to remember how good this team has the potential to be. No, it didn’t happen this year, and the progression didn’t happen at a fast enough rate for some people, but a lot of good things happened.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Ricky Rubio (yes, Ricky Rubio) all had career years scoring the ball. Offensively, you can definitely make the case that they’re ready to compete in the playoffs. They finished the year in the top 10 in offensive rating and assist-to-turnover ratio. In other words, they know how to take care of the ball and make plays to score. They’re still not a 3-point shooting team to the ring of the rest of the league, but that seems to be going in the upward direction too.
Defensively, they’re still near the bottom. Sometimes I wonder what a Thibs-KG duo would have done to help this team expedite the learning curve (Thibs to teach the Xs and Os, KG’s presence to get the players invested in learning ASAP), but that did not happen. It will be a slower process than that. But KAT, Wiggins and LaVine should all be able to learn to play solid team defense as they continue to improve. And they have improved at respectfully quick rates. Maybe defense is next.
Either way, this team is going somewhere good. I have no idea how good and how quickly we’ll see it, but I’m excited to find out when.
Quick writer’s note: I’ll keep it short, thank you all so much for reading this season. On behalf of all of us at AWAW, we love writing for this site, and all you readers add to the fun of covering the Wolves. You guys rock. Thanks for everything.