2017-18 Season

Wizards 92, Wolves 89: What Weariness We Witnessed

The Wolves fell to the Washington Wizards 92-89 Tuesday night in a game that was almost as tiring to watch as I’m sure it was to play in.

The Wolves came out of the gates energized, attacking Washington with a flurry of ball movement and surprisingly stout defense, building as much as a 12-point lead in the first quarter, only to see their verve die slowly and painfully until it finally gave in to the sweet release by the end of the fourth.

Unfortunately, this story isn’t anything new. On the season, the Wolves are being outscored by opponents by 86 points in the fourth quarter. Their total assists drop from an average of 126.7 over the first three quarters to 88 in the fourth. Their turnovers? They increase from an average of 68.7 total to 89. Their fouls increase from 87.3 to 112. Their field goal percentage drops to 41.4% from a 47.8% average. In other words, in the fourth quarter, the Wolves are significantly worse at moving the ball, turning the ball over, fouling, and shooting.

While the explanations for such a drop off are likely multifactorial – life rarely runs dichotomously, after all – it’s logical to come to the conclusion that player fatigue is the most impactful culprit.

Tom Thibodeau has become notorious for playing his starters an obscene amount of minutes ever since he took over as head coach for the Chicago Bulls in 2010 and this year hasn’t proven any different. Andrew Wiggins is second in the league in minutes played with 773, Karl-Anthony Towns is fifth with 734, and Jimmy Butler, who missed two games earlier in the season with an illness, is 15th with 690; Taj Gibson falls just outside of the top-20 with 676. The Wolves starting lineup – Jeff Teague, Wiggins, Butler, Gibson, and Towns – has logged 415 minutes in 16 games. (For reference: their second most used lineup – inserting Tyus Jones in for Teague – has seen only 78 minutes of action, most of which came over the last three games.)

Any player, no matter how hard they trained in the offseason or how genetically blessed they are, would experience significant fatigue towards the end of games with that high of a payload. Thibs, it would appear, seems to think otherwise.

However, Thibs’ track record only partially explains why the starters are being relied upon so heavily this year – at least that’s what I keep telling myself. The rest can be explained by the largely poor performances the bench players have put forth as of late, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Jamal Crawford can put the ball in the hoop and wow with his dazzling ball-handling, but the Wolves hemorrhage points like an uncontrolled nose bleed when he’s on the court, giving up 113.5 points per 100 possessions. It’s even worse when Shabazz Muhammad (121.7 points per 100 possessions) is on the floor and he isn’t doing enough on offense to warrant much more playing time. Gorgui Dieng continues to struggle with defending the pick-and-roll and has seen his offensive value plummet with decreased minutes. The bench – besides Jones and Nemanja Bjelica – hasn’t exactly provided Thibs with much reason to extend their minutes or even trust that they can get the job done.

If the last three games – in which Jeff Teague (right Achilles soreness) and Bjelica (left midfoot sprain) have missed – have proven anything it’s that general manager Tom Thibodeau needs to step up and make some roster changes, for sure before the trade deadline in February, and perhaps sooner rather than later. The Wolves have an open roster spot and two-way contract. The bench isn’t performing to an adequate standard. The starters are playing way too many minutes, even for a Thibodeau-lead team. Changes have to be made to bolster the bench and cut down on the starters’ minutes, even if it’s just by a minute or two.

The obvious question that gets raised when statements like those above are made is “well, sure, but who?” There aren’t any high profile players on the free agent market and trades are always easier to talk about than make, but below is a list of current free agents according to Real GM:

https://basketball.realgm.com/nba/current_free_agents

There are a number of players on that list who could contribute positively to many teams in limited minutes right now. As far as trades, the Wolves have Cole Aldrich’s pseudo-expiring contract (only $2.3 mil is guaranteed next year if he isn’t waived by June 2018), the Oklahoma City lottery protected first round pick, this year’s and future second round picks, and perhaps even Gorgui Dieng. They have the assets to get something done.

With high minutes played, both acutely and over a prolonged period of time, comes increased player fatigue, which logically leads to declining play late in games and an increased risk for injuries. It’s on both GM and coach Tom Thibodeau to step up and recognize that changes with the roster have to be made and the sooner the better.

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5 thoughts on “Wizards 92, Wolves 89: What Weariness We Witnessed

  1. There is no way we should have lost this game. We were in control most of is, and Washington isn’t all that impressive and missing their best player. Often after a loss such as this I would fret over why, and no real, clear explanation would surface. Not so with this game. There are two clear reasons we lost, and they are issues that will continue to haunt us.

    Lucas hit the nail on the head with #1. It’s becoming painfully obvious that 4th quarter fades and not finishing strong is a thing with this team. It was also a thing with Wolves teams of the recent past, but that could be chalked up to flawed, under talented rosters, and most of all , lack of experience. Now it is clearly fatigue. The guys looked and played gassed, and just looking into the numbers suggests that exhaustion is inevitable and will only get worse without major change. This isn’t even factoring in the injury risk, which may have already started with Teague missing time. All I can say is that it is hard to muster any respect for a coach who ignores such basic reality. It isn’t just that other NBA coaches don’t do this. D3 coaches, High School coaches don’t do this. It’s inexplicable. The only explanation that comes to mind is extreme competitiveness mixed with extreme hubris resulting in a desperation to win every game at any cost (thus the excess of minutes) and total hubris which results in a lack of reflection, willingness to admit mistakes, and a complete unwillingness to change or evolve or listen to anyone.

    #2 is also on Thibs—it’s coaching itself. Toward the end of the game we took a timeout when we really needed a basket. The play we drew up coming out of it was apparently a Jimmy Butler iso midrange clunker (this sentence just gave me deja vu even though Butler is new to the team this year…. huh). When we needed baskets (not 3’s) we did NOT go to KAT in the post. KAT looked like the 3rd option on most plays near the end, and he was constantly hovering around the 3 point line. This is horrible for offensive strategy and rebounding. Simply put, KAT in the post is the easiest basket we have. And we didn’t go to it at all down the stretch. Also, Thibs’ X’s and O’s throughout the game, but particularly in the last quarter are consistently bad and primitive. It is particularly noticeable out of timeouts. But it is there all the time in the form of bad system and not demanding the correct action.

    Lucas’ #2 hits on a possible #3. I differ from him just a bit on perspective. Our bench is somewhat problematic. But simply stated, you have to find a way to play them. Luckily there’s this thing called staggering. Even without super clever staggering (which might be beyond Thibs) we’ve got to play the bench a bit more. The starters are too gassed to finish games and injuries will start. Fatigue will only get worse as we grind on. So, really saying the bench isn’t good enough isn’t an excuse to not play it (and guess who’s fault the bench not being good enough is!?). I also tend to think that our bench isn’t UNPLAYABLY bad. I think they need minutes to get going, to get comfortable and they look extra weak when they don’t get the minutes to establish themselves. They may bleed points, but if you play them for a while, the starters then come in with energy and regain the lead (or build on an existing one). It’s also Thibs’ job to coach up these guys to be OK. How have we not figured out a way to get Shabazz to do something on D, anything, and pass a little? I refuse to believe he’s that dense. Trick him into doing it! At times earlier in the season people were bragging that our bench looked a lot better this year, and now suddenly they are unplayable? So the bench is simply an excuse, a scapegoat, for not watching starter minutes, like at all. And an excuse caused by front office Thibs, for that matter. That all said, Lucas is right, we should explore options to shore up weaknesses on the bench, particularly on D, as that is the worst aspect of the way the bench personnel are constructed. However, O is a concern for them too and just basic competency (Shabazz, and even sometimes Gorgui). I am starting to think Thibs has pulled the wool over people’s eye. Not just in MN, but as a head coach, period. Perhaps he’s one of those guys that looks OK at his first stop but doesn’t have the talent or flexibility to keep if going as things change around him.

  2. When you look at the minutes top players like LeBron, Damian Lilliard, Westbrook, etc play, I’m not as concerned with the minutes Andrew or KAT play each night as I am with losing games that they log those heavy minutes. Because we have no bench again this year, we need to rely on our starters to carry the load. However, where Thibs is culpable is in his stupid game management night after night. Last night he had four timeouts with a little over three minutes to play. With the new rule, he goes down to two under three minutes. Does he use his two extra to create a breather for his starters? Not Thibs, he wastes them and then calls a TO with over two minutes left, essentially using three for one. He then uses his final TO with :55 secs left , leaving him with none to advance the ball or set up a play with possibly Crawford added for some shooting help, after getting two shots off thanks to Jimmy Butler and Tak hustle.

    Thibs use of TO is inexcusable. His play design, coming out of those TO, is also very poor. He goes right back to Iso ball with no movement and defensive pressure pushing his team farther away from corner threes or KAT in the low post. He has no out of bounds plays that result in good looks or even result in easy entry passes. Basically, He has been out coached by Eric Spoelstra and Scott Brooks at home and by others this year. When you push your team like Thibs does, you need to get results or you risk mutiny. His constant micromanaging and yelling becomes tedious, when players don’t see positive results. Mistakes made by the coach are used by tired and frustrated players as excuses for not hustling and poor shot selection and soon you have apathy on your team. Thibs better look in the mirror and get the guy he sees to be held to the same demands he expects from his players.

    1. Good point: In addition to timeouts being wasted with terrible plays being drawn up (if any) the distribution of when they are called is consistently bad. I’m hearing wider and wider complaints about this…

  3. There is an article on the Ringer about the Wolves that paints a depressing picture for the future. After reading it I don’t disagree with it either. This is a strange year, I always thought when the Wolves started to win again I would just be happy to see that. Here we are though and all I feel is discontent with Thibs and feeling bleak that the ceiling seems to be second round out for this team.

    Thibs sacrificed the future to try to build a contender now, but the 2 key pieces for that are not ready, and will be ready around the time that the other pieces start to decline.

  4. I didn’t watch the game last night but followed along on gamecast. I could imagine though what we looked like down
    the stretch and how awful we looked. I actually found myself rooting for the wizards.

    The reason I found myself doing that is because we need a change at coach. Plain and simple. We lost to a 500 team missing one of the top 20 players in the league and best player. Sometimes rooting for the wolves doesn’t always mean rooting for them to win the game. We need a change and I hope we continue to lose so that change happens. I don’t know if President is higher than GM or not, but I hope Layden sees how poorly coached we are and Taylor sees that there’s just a bad product on the floor.

    Until then, we just have to accept that Thibs won’t change and this team will always play below our potential.

    Lose Wolves Lose.

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