The title of this post is based on this movie. Have you seen it? You should. Don’t sleep on ’90s rom-coms or ’90s Julia Stiles. CELEBRATE YOUR HISTORY!
What follows is a quick deep-breath look at our 2017-18 Timberwolves roster. Specifically, instead of “10 Things I Hate About You,” we dish back-and-forth on the one thing about each member of the roster that can grate on a fan. Hence, we give you “One Thing I Hate About You: Notes from the 2017-18 Season’s First Half, the Timberwolves Edition.”
Without further ado.
Cole Aldrich: That he cannot even help the team when faced against huge centers.
It seemed like a potential bargain when Thibs-Layden, LLC signed Cole Aldrich to a three-year contract worth about $22 Million. As it turned out, that was actually a “Kahntract,” and Cole has provided almost no useful minutes during his Timberwolves tenure. This is most disappointing because of the way the league’s biggest centers — DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside — give the undersized Karl-Anthony Towns fits. If, in those games, Aldrich could play even 10 or 12 minutes at the five, it might help a lot. But alas, Aldrich is unplayable. On game nights he can be found joking around and giving precisely zero fux on the end of the Wolves bench. Dude has a pretty good gig, all things considered. (-AG)
Aaron Brooks: That he’s unplayable and the Wolves have needed him to play.
You’re as likely to see Aaron Brooks make an impact on NBA2K as you are in a real-life game. Jeff Teague has been injured twice this season, missing a total of 11 games. This has thrust Aaron Brooks into the lineup, and the results have been terrible. Owing to backcourt turnovers and catastrophic defense, Brooks has a net rating of (-15.6) in 153 minutes of action. Some lowlights include the home loss to Miami around Thanksgiving, when Brooks (a starter in that game, per Thibs’s initial idea to keep Tyus in the same rotational spot) was (-15) in 13:26 of action. The Wolves lost by 12; the home loss — by three points to the Wizards a few nights later when Brooks was (-6) against the Wizards’ shaky bench; the road loss to the Bucks — the one where a 20-point lead was blown — when Brooks was (-4) in just 3:34 against an abysmal Bucks bench; the 1-point road loss to the Nets, when Brooks was (-4) in 4:29 of action. In Teague’s absence the starting lineup (the “Tyus + the starters” group) has absolutely crushed the opposition. But the Wolves have only gone 6-5 in those games, in large part because of the cliff that they fall off of whenever Jones goes to the bench and Brooks comes in for a little bit of backup point guard duty. There must be less incapable point guards in the D-League. (-AG)
Marcus Georges-Hunt: That he isn’t a primary backup wing player.
Unlike most teams in Timberwolves history, this one has more than enough playmakers on it. Like, it probably has too many, actually. In the starting lineup, Teague, Wiggins, Butler, and Towns each can, and wants to, make plays of their own, with the basketball. Off the bench, Tyus, Jamal Crawford, and Bjelica do things of their own off the dribble. Factor in the staggering that occurs — yes, even Thibs staggers a little bit — and most lineups throughout the game have at least 3 playmakers on the floor at once. Whether the overabundance of creators is bad for the offense is arguable; they perform well offensively, after all. But what is not arguable is that they could use more defensive-minded players, especially off the bench. MGH’s defensive chops are more evident from the eye test than the NUMB#RS so far, but he does seem like a pretty good defensive player. He went toe-to-toe with Paul George and came out looking good. I’m confident that he’s substantially better than Crawford on D. I wish he could play more so that we could find out if what he brings to the table is more helpful than what his playing-time rivals do. (-AG)
Shabazz Muhammad: That he was never able to diversify his skillset.
“Bazz” was a player liked by most Wolves fans because he got buckets. In fact, he led the entire NBA in “points per touch” for three consecutive seasons, heading into this one. His motor always ran hot and nobody quite knew what a stint of Bazzketball would look like, except that it would involve Bazz hunting buckets like his life depended on it. When Crawford arrived and took unofficial ownership of the team’s second unit, Bazz needed to adapt. He couldn’t. Without a very-involved offensive role and teammates focused on getting back on defense (instead of getting their own buckets, as the case is for Jamal) Shabazz seems to be unplayable. His net rating is (-20.1). If I had to bet, it would be that he’ll never sign another NBA contract. (-AG)
Nemanja Bjelica: Pure talent, fatal flaw.
(Eds. Note: The dude was allegedly Euroleague MVP, or so I’ve seen on the interwebz.)
Or, as has been adapted at A Wolf Among Wolves (trademark symbol), “Good Belly, Bad Belly.” In this case, New Belly > Old Belly. Don’t sleep. (-PJ)
Justin Patton: “Justin Patton” is the name of a player just born to kill in the G-League.
There isn’t much to like (or not to like) about Justin Patton until he plays an NBA game. Next! (-PJ)
Taj Gibson: Not continuing to develop into a three-and-D guy…this season.
Much love for Taj, but it was kind of uncool to tease fans with corner-3 potential in the preseason and then put it behind closed doors during the regular season. Just sayin’. (-PJ)
Gorgui Dieng: That he insists on telegraphing obvious traveling violations on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Gross.
Otherwise, Dieng is a pretty likable kind of backup player. GAME ON! (-PJ)
Jamal Crawford: His on-court performance.
It can be painful to report this, because this:
Nonetheless, I’m going to start with an excerpt from Britt Robson’s interview with Jim Petersen, published a few days ago at The Athletic:
Jamal is a 41.6-percent field-goal shooter and his effective field goal percentage is 48.5. Sure you would like those numbers to be a little higher. But I am just saying that his leadership, his communication and his professionalism is such a net-positive from a chemistry and locker-room standpoint.
That’s one of the things you have to think about — who is going to come in and be a positive presence in the locker room? Because chemistry is so important. You are seeing in Cleveland how a lack of chemistry can make your team kind of fall apart. Well, a Jamal Crawford can completely help the chemistry. You can see the way he connects with Jimmy Butler. During timeout situations, Jamal may not even be in the game, but he and Jimmy are talking and it isn’t about nothing, it is about the game. And you are seeing Jamal get into Wigs and Tyus and Jeff Teague. And I think from a chemistry standpoint this is one of the best locker rooms that this team has had in a long time. And that’s what Jamal brings to the table for me.
I’m open to arguments outside of the numbers on things like this. Crawford seems like the coolest person playing in the NBA today. (If you don’t believe me, just read Chris Ballard’s longform feature on J-Crossover for SI, from last October.) The positivity in the Wolves locker room should not be taken for granted and it’s possible that Crawford’s contributions in there now will pay huge dividends in the future.
But as great of a person and teammate as Crawford seems to be, he’s an on-court cancer to everything that they are explicitly trying to improve on (defense) and everything viewers know that they need to improve on (ball movement on offense). For every night that he’s hot, there’s one where he isn’t. As Jim Pete noted, he shoots a low percentage. And even when he’s shooting well, the team usually performs poorly with him on the floor. He’s an outlier in the plus/minus stats on this team. I went into this in a recent post. I can’t really say anything good about Crawford’s play this season except that his crossover dribbles are still wicked as can be and he’s a fun guy to watch when he gets cooking. I just wish it was for a different team, because now — at nearly 38 years of age — Crawford is not a winning player. (-AG)
Patrick J, interjecting: Back to Jamal Crawford for a second: Can @POTUS name J-Crossover Ambassador-at-Large-to-a-place-we-have-shaky-relations-with-or-maybe-just-the-entire-world? Because that is the kind of diplomacy and goodwill that Jamal brings. You might not not like Crawford’s +/- rating, but please don’t hate J-Crossover’s handlez. That’s still off-limits.
(Eds. Note: Okay, getting back on task now.)
Jimmy Butler: The original frame for this was that for each player we’d do “one thing I hate about you.” And up next is Jimmy Butler. We’re officially in dicey territory for Timberwolves fans.
What is one thing I hate about Jimmy Butler? How about that he isn’t a superman? (Extreme outstate fan’s voice: Q: “Wait, he isn’t?” A: No, unfortunately, he is not.)
Butler gets hurt like any normal athlete, even inconveniently so–like what happened almost immediately after an extremely complimentary profile article was written whose central thesis was “Jimmy is our rock and our rock is solid because Jimmy plays through injuries.” It was solid reporting, but Jimmy just missed four games with a “bum knee.” It wasn’t his first rodeo.
Here’s hoping we’ve seen the only issue Jimmy has with a bum of any sort this season – he’s needed all the time! (-PJ)
Jeff Teague: What he does after receiving a kick-out pass.
After catching a kick-out pass against a scrambling defense, a player has two options: Option A is to catch-and-shoot; Option B is to drive against the closing out defender, to keep it moving. “Jeff” all too often chooses Option C: stand there and start dribbling the air out of the ball. He’s a really clever player in one-on-one situations, which is why he’s made it this far in the league and just inked a three-year Kahntract worth almost $60 Million. But his style of play hinders the team’s offensive approach, which is centered around the matchup problems created by Wiggins, Butler, and especially Towns. Those kick-out passes are supposed to be Step 1 toward finding a REALLY good shot; not an invitation for Jeff to press rewind on the offensive set and start thinking about what he might do with the ball in 5 or 6 seconds. The starters’ with Tyus score 119.7 points per 100 possessions. With Jeff, they score 111.1. While some of the difference can be chalked up to sample size error (the Jones sample is only for 254 minutes) it’s painfully obvious that it’s also because Tyus makes quicker decisions and stays out of his enormously talented teammates’ way. (-AG)
Patrick J, interjecting one more time: For what it’s worth, Teague moved in with the ‘rents in Indy after signing a free-agent contract with the Pacers prior to the 2016-17 season. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s kind of consistent with Grown-Assed Man Jeff taking a liberty we’d more likely expect from college-aged Jeff.
Tyus Jones: We probably won’t know what we have until it’s too late.
This feeling can sway from possession-to-possession.
Look, Thibs is committed in more ways than one to Jeff Teague. And, while the rotten didacticism of saying “Look!” multiple times in one player’s write-up isn’t lost on me, it’s also a possible indicator that we have a problem here. Ty Jones is sort of like the new K-Love–the advanced stats love him, but coaches and fans are divided about how to use him. Unlike previous Wolves coaches with Love, Jones serves at the pleasure of Thibs. The pecking order is clear. And Thibs has all but called (some) analytics that make Jones look superb all but “fake news.” Truth be told, my personal opinion is that Tyus Jones is currently what he looks like–an excellent backup point guard who provides some healthy competition not only to opposing teams but also to his own team’s incumbent starter, the aforementioned “Jeff Teague.” So for “One Thing We Hate About Tyus,” it’s more about hating the game than the player. One of Jones’ greatest strengths right now is how little is known about what his actual ceiling is. Despite it being a current strength, it would be a negative if that’s what continues to hold appeal in future seasons. Jones deserves a chance to continue to prove himself and play bigger minutes in the Wolves’ rotations. (-PJ)
Andrew Wiggins: Free-throw shooting.
Seriously, wtf? We’re 52 games in, and Wig is still under 64 percent from the free-throw line. His first three seasons were almost identical at 76 percent each. I’m legitimately worried that this might not get better. (-AG)
Karl-Anthony Towns: That he consistently passes up good looks from three.
Okay, you got us–the video doesn’t portray the “gripe” above perfectly. But it is “Karl” coming of age as “KAT” in an awkwardly choreographed YouTube video from when he was 13. (Eds. Note: Don’t say that we at AWAW never give the people what they need.)
There isn’t much to hate with KAT these days. A couple months ago, this answer would’ve been “DEFENSE” in all caps. Miraculously, he’s gone from terrible to “pretty good” in a short period of time. Hopefully he continues to progress on that front, but even now he’s quite good on both ends. Sometimes he finds himself at the top of the key and open for three. He thinks about taking the shot, but doesn’t. He should. He’s hitting a clean 40 percent from downtown and I get a sense his accuracy would only increase (however negligibly) with more frequent attempts. He could shoot (at least) 5 per game instead of the 3.7 he’s averaging now. This is a minor quibble – KAT’s been fantastic and is a deserving All-Star. (-AG)
Tom Thibodeau: Indiscriminate screaming.
Thibs is an equal-opportunity screamer. “ICE!” “DO YOUR JOB!” “ICE!” “DO YOUR JOB!”
Of all the things we hate, Thibs’ frequent penchant for rough talk, in-game, at high decibel levels, is right up there. But to some degree, you’ve gotta let Thibs be Thibs.
Thibs has the Wolves doing their jobs this season at an unprecedented rate, and so far it has been effective, if unusual. (-PJ)