INBOX: First Week of Camp

Tom Thibodeau is in San Diego for work; not pleasure. Plus, the man doesn’t play golf anyway. (photo by David Sherman, Getty Images)

Andy G: First things first:

Why hasn’t Wig signed his deal yet?  Is he waiting until he’s injured first?  

Patrick J: Great question. Wiggins unexpectedly fired his agent, Bill Duffy, in late August after Duffy had negotiated a five-year, $148 million maximum contract extension for his client. Things have been in a holding pattern since then. Glen Taylor said he wanted to talk with Wiggins about Wig’s future before finalizing the deal, which doesn’t seem an affront against a soon-to-be max player whose demeanor and drive have been questioned as contributing to his defensive lapses and his low rebounding numbers. According to Wig, those conversations are done and the offer is on the table.

So what’s going on here? Andrew Wiggins is a unique cat. He simply might not be in a hurry while he focuses on training camp, the task that’s immediately at hand. Maybe he’s still in the process of working out a deal with another agent who’d close Wiggins’ max extension and offer something additional that Duffy wouldn’t. Regardless, Wig should really get ‘er done here soon. He stands to lose some money if he would get hurt in one of Thibodeau’s’ notoriously intense training camp practices.  

On a different note, Bjelica is back, apparently healthy and practicing full strength after completing his recovery from foot surgery. What’s his role going to be?  

Andy G: About that, in his post-practice interview today in San Diego, Thibs said that “Belly” did NOT practice today (he had been practicing before today) due to personal reasons, before smirking and smiling and telling the media that Bjelica would have to tell them what those “good” personal reasons were, in a day or so.  

I guess we’ll have to look forward to that news.

But on his place on this team, he seems to be squeezed from the enlarged role that he took on late last season — before his injury — when the Wolves finally started winning and generally playing like a Tom Thibodeau basketball team (read: getting defensive stops like whoa.)

Most people assume — rightly, I think — that either Taj Gibson or Gorgui Dieng will start next to KAT in the frontcourt.  KAT gets 36 minutes per game and Taj/G will get another 50 to 55 or so between them (however distributed).  Unless they go with some “big ball” lineups that include Bjelica at the 3, that would only leave 5 to 10 minutes per game for Bjelica.

Of course game-to-game situations will vary and sometimes one guy will be hurt or another will be in foul trouble. Belly will get his opportunities. But they might not be as regular and steady as some — including Belly — expected when he seemed to finally turn a corner last year, before breaking his foot.  

Andy G: “The greatest thing about having Jimmy, having Taj, they know how it is to play for Thibs. They got his system already down pat. They played for him for years. For other players like me, Andrew, it’s our first year in a system like that. NOW WE GOT IT. Now we know where we can take our chances, where we can use our instincts a little better, not just kinda follow the system, but be basketball players.”

This is what KAT said to Steve Aschburner of nba.com last week on Media Day and it reflects what he told the local press in his press conference.

Here’s the thing though: In April last season, in the team’s final 8 games, the Wolves had a catastrophically-awful defensive rating of 116.4.  KAT’s individual D-rating in the final month was even worse, at 117.2.  

So, the last time KAT played defense for Thibs, he most definitely did not “get it.” That is not to say that he’s certainly wrong to be confident now. There are myriad ways that he and his teammates could have improved over the offseason, including more workouts and film study (fwiw: in Thibs’s post-practice presser on Wednesday, he said that KAT was in much better shape than last season), and it is equally possible that the April slide had more to do with fatigue than actual regression or even accurate assessment of where they were at. (The team was defending WAY better, before their end-of-year slide.) But isn’t there something disconcerting about KAT speaking so nonchalantly about his clear understanding of Thibodeau Defense, at this pivotal time when that is the biggest question facing the team this year, and that supposed understanding was nowhere to be found when we last watched him play?

Patrick J: The thing about training camp is that no one has seen them play yet. KAT’s overconfidence and seeming casual assurance that he and his teammates are going to be better defenders than they were last season is worrisome. KAT needs to show the willingness and ability to play hard and smart defensively for the long stretches he plays nightly. He has never shown it before, and, as you noted, last year things got worse, not better, as the season went on. While the team is likely to improve defensively this season, it is likely to come simply from being a year more mature physically (for Towns and Wiggins) and from adding the defensive wizard, Butler, who makes any team’s defense better when he’s on the floor. Defense remains the biggest question mark around this team by far. Fortunately, Wolves fans won’t have to take KAT’s word for it too much longer. Soon we’ll be able to see them on the court.

Andy G: That is all for now about training camp. By all accounts the Wolves are working hard in San Diego. When Thibs was asked about the city as a potential NBA-franchise city, and specifically pressed about the possibility of coaches golfing together at Torrey Pines, he just laughed and said that he doesn’t golf. That is both not surprising at all and yet another sign that the team is singularly focused on preparing for the task at hand.

Until next time.

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5 thoughts on “INBOX: First Week of Camp

  1. Now that the chargers are in LA, it would be great to get the Clips back to San Diego. I don’t think they are getting a franchise before Seattle, Las Vegas or even Mexico City, but it is a great city and one that could use some good sport news.

    As for Wiggins, I think he wants to sign his contract the last possible second, partly because it puts the spotlight on him, right before the season starts and partly because we hear that Mitch Wiggins needs some loving too in the deal. I also heard on KFAN that when he cut Duffy, he had to wait a brief amount of time to sign a deal or get a new agent to keep from getting sued by Duffy. I know that the time has passed, but since he had to wait, why not milk it and maybe get Glen to sweeten the pot for dad Wiggins.

    I’m looking forward to Saturday and see how the team looks. I’m sure the starters will get very little run, but I hope they at least get to start and play a few minutes.

  2. I keep having an issue with this site where contractions get messed up (e.g. we’ll becomes we’ll). Makes it pretty tough to read. Not sure if it’s something on my end but it’s happened numerous times on various browsers. Other than that, keep up the great work! I’ve been reading AWAW since ~2010, going to be surreal to read your coverage of a (knock knock) winning team this year.

  3. -Hard to picture Wiggins playing chess when it comes to this slow signage of a max deal… I don’t know the guy, but he comes of as a bit dopey in the rare moments we get a glimpse at his personality. I’m not sure any of this is ‘him’. It might be what others are telling him to do, and god know why…

    -In odd ways Belly is a SF. I think if he plays well there will be minutes for him. I suspect Deng will be moved to the bench (or maybe hope?) and play as a true center. This would allow for a bench unit of Jones PG, Crawford SG, Shabazz SF, Belly PF, Deng C. But in the more staggered and varied world of reality, Belly’s PF size mixed with SF skill will get him minutes if he’s playing well. Perhaps the main distinction here has nothing to do with Belly–I see Deng as a center and Gibson as a PF.

    -I think our young guys’ inability to play D is nerve racking, particularly KAT. It just makes no sense that he’s not accidentally a little better at it at this point. And unlike with Wiggins, effort and competitive fire don’t seem to be glaring problems. It’s confusing. More generally with the young team, Thibs (despite limitless yelling and on court swearing!) was an abject failure at teaching the guys without vets on the floor to guide things. Now we are on a new course–much of the guidance and teaching falls on the shoulders of the vets playing alongside the young talent. I expect this to work a lot better than the Thibs shouting clinics of last year and endless repetitions of ‘do your job!’. Of course how much the young guys improve will be a huge issue as will how the changed roster and new vets will mesh together as a unit. But an unspoken question is how well Thibs will lead us as far as X’s and O’s go. There is little margin for error in the brutal West this season. We have a lot of challenges to compete on the level people hope for. But in the blinding incandescence of all the on court talent it is easy to forget all the good coaching and great basketball minds we will face. If we are competitive talent wise, how will Thibs compare to these minds?

    1. I would argue that learning elite level defense is a really difficult thing without other players around you to help ease the process. Thibs’ isn’t going to half-ass defense, right? He’s going to teach these guys his defense – all of it – and that’s going to come with a lot of failure because if all five guys aren’t on the same page, then the whole thing will fall apart rapidly.

      I would think the net effect of adding Jimmy and Taj while subtracting Zach will be huge on team defense. My suspicion, based on my own experience of learning how to become a lot better on defense, is that Wiggins and KAT will show improvement as the season goes on because FINALLY, in game situations, they will see what they need to do clearly because Jimmy and Taj are doing things correctly. In a sense, instead of their being four other variables (the other Wolves besides themselves) out on the court to keep track of, there are only two other variables – and assuming Teague is average, then it really comes down to KAT and Wiggins needing to account for each other’s inexperience. If that’s true, it’s great that they play different spots, and Jimmy can guide Wiggins and Taj can guide KAT.

      Again, if this hypothesis is true, we will see improved team defense from the starters as a whole right away, and improved individual defense from KAT and Wiggins as the season progresses. Not predicting that they will be stars, but consistently average would be huge.

      Lastly, re: Bjelly – would love to see him as a SF. Seems like Thibs has some work cut out trying to figure out his bench rotation. Crawford seems like instant points/6th man guy with the starters, unless G becomes 6th man guy with the starters. Bjelly at SF with Tyus and G seems like a good bench foundation. Ha! On offense play Tyus-Crawford-Bjelly-Shabazz-G, and on defense switch Shabazz and Bjelly’s roles (so Bjelly guards 4’s). So basically it’s the Crawford and Bazz scoring show, with Tyus and Bjelly being 3 point spacers, and G as your big. I predict Tyus to prove more valuable than Brooks, who will compete with Crawford and Bazz for minutes.

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