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Timberwolves 2nd Quarter Report Card

The Wolves lost last night at Boston.  Bill recapped the game here.  The game was their 40th of the season, which means it’s time for a quarterly report card.  These grades are curved for player ability and expectations.  I think it’s more interesting to grade Jimmy Butler compared to Jimmy Butler, instead of Jimmy Butler compared to Tyus Jones.  Maybe you disagree, but that’s how I’m doing it.  First quarter grades are listed next to their 2nd Quarter Grade — click here if you want to review the 1st Quarter Report Card in full.

The stats included here cover games 21 through 40.  I’ve only covered the guys who have been regulars in the rotation.

Guards

Jeff Teague: B- (1st Quarter Grade: B-)

We now know that Jeff Teague can get his own shot. We also now know that, on this year’s Timberwolves team, “can get his own shot” is not a top priority for the starting point guard; not on a team that has so much offensive firepower on the wings with Jimmy and Wig, and in the post with KAT. In the second quarter, Teague averaged 12.5 points per game on 49.3 percent shooting from the field, to go along with 6.9 assists compared to 2.5 turnovers.  Those are all solid numbers.  In the 13 games Teague played in, in the 2nd Quarter before his injury, he had a team-best offensive rating of 113.7.  What brings his grade down a bit are two things: 1) His D-rating of 109.5 is both bad, and much worse than any other starting player. Any eye test confirms that he’s a weak defensive player; and 2) The extensive and growing sample of minutes that Tyus Jones plays with the starters makes it seem like this team should have a “great” starting five, rather than just a very good one.  Teague might be dragging them down a bit. In the season’s second quarter, the Wolves performed better (+5.8) with Teague on the bench than when he was on the floor (+4.2). The same cannot be said for any other starter.

Tyus Jones: A (1st Quarter Grade: B-)

Much, but not all, of Tyus Jones’s value is derived not from what he is, but from what he is not. And what he is not, is somebody who needs or even wants to dribble the air out of the ball.  Jones’s individual contributions on offense are modest: in the season’s second quarter, he averaged 5.8 points (51.3 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from three) and 2.8 assists (versus 0.7 turnovers) in 20.8 minutes per game. Adjusted to “per 36” those become 10.0 points and 4.8 assists — nothing to write home to Apple Valley about.  But Jones becomes a superstar in the “rating” stats that measure team performance when he’s on the floor.  In the 2nd Quarter, he led the team with a net rating of (+11.7).  His offensive rating was an impressive 112.4, and his defensive rating was a great, team-best 100.6.  When you factor in that 13 of the 20 games had Jones playing with the Wolves shaky bench — the bench guys have bad plus-minus numbers — that net rating becomes much more impressive than it already is.  When Jones has played with the starting lineup, they’ve outscored opponents by 94 points in 204 minutes, good for a cartoonish net rating of (+21.3).  The Wolves have played much better defense and slightly better offense when Jones plays over Teague.  On a team led on the floor and off by Jimmy Butler, a more deferential point guard who apportions more energy toward defense makes theoretical sense — they need more of a Derek Fisher than a Dame Lillard.  Jones gets an A grade for the past 20 games.

Wings

Andrew Wiggins: C- (1st Quarter Grade: B-)

The 2nd Quarter Wiggins numbers: 16.1 points per game (in 35.9 minutes), 40.3 percent shooting (34.3 percent from three, and 61.4 percent on free throws), 3.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.0 steals. Offensive rating: 111.6.  Defensive rating: 105.4.  Net rating: (+6.3).

More than any other Wolves player, what should be said about Andrew Wiggins depends on whatever you just heard or read about him.  Since everything Wiggins feels like an argument these days, you might be defending him one moment despite being unimpressed with his last performance, and then ripping on him the next, after one of his better games.  For three main reasons, Wiggins is subject to high expectations: 1) He was a number one overall draft pick, and the Woves’ return in the Kevin Love trade; 2) He has all-time elite athleticism; and 3) He received a contract extension that will pay him about $150 Million for the next five seasons after this one.  It is not unfair, in light of all of that, to hold Wig to a higher standard than most.  While his advanced stats continue to be an overrated source of criticism — team performance with Wig on the floor continues to improve steadily as his career moves on, and what else really matters? — at a certain point, he needs to show up individually in some type of meaningful way.  That has not been happening this season.  A reduction in scoring makes sense in light of the Teague and especially Butler additions, but that should lead to an INCREASE, rather than a decrease in his efficiency.  Wig, in his current role, should be making close to 50 percent of all shots; instead, he barely hit 40 percent in the 2nd Quarter.  His free throw shooting has been abysmal.  If you want to argue against extreme Wiggins criticism (ICYMI, it’s easy to find on the internet), you point out the team’s success when he’s on the floor, you point out how even when he shoots poorly, he still commands defensive attention away from Butler and KAT and limits what opposing teams can do with funky lineups that might get abused by Wiggins 1-on-1, and you start yelling and screaming about how the Butler acquisition was inevitably going to mean less plays run for Wigs and therefore less scoring for Wigs.  But after you’ve done all of that yelling and screaming, you’re left forced to concede that his shooting has been terrible and there’s no excuse for that.

For a really great dissection of Wig’s situation, check out Michael Pina’s latest for VICE Sports.

Jamal Crawford: C- (1st Quarter Grade: C)

Now that Shabazz Muhammad is out of the rotation, Jamal Crawford is the team’s weakest link.  In the 2nd Quarter, the Wolves outscored opponents by 12.6 points per 100 possessions in the 560 minutes that Crawford was on the bench.  (As a reference point, the Warriors lead the league in net rating this year, at (+11.0).)  In the 410 minutes that Crawford played, that margin fell off a cliff, down to (-5.2).  Make no mistake, this is causation and not simply correlation.  Crawford’s defense and shot selection hurt the team.  He would grade lower than a C- here, but for his huge 23-point outburst against the Blazers on December 18, sparking a 1-point comeback win at a time the team needed one badly.  He can still get hot from time to time, but not nearly enough to offset his default mode, which includes a lot of ball stopping, difficult shot attempts, and weak defense.

Jimmy Butler: A- (1st Quarter Grade: B+)

After opening the season unselfishly and allowing Wiggins and Towns to score more points, Butler has grabbed the wheel and is in control of the Timberwolves.  In the 2nd Quarter, he posted per-game averages of 25.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.9 steals in 38.3 minutes per game.  He is the man now.  When Jimmy was on the floor, they outscored opponents by 9.7 points per 100.  When he was off, they were outscored by 11.8 per 100.  Butler is not going to win league MVP this year — neither the team record nor his own stats will measure up to LeBron and Harden — but he will be a fringe argument in barber shops, and he’ll be All-NBA.  The only reason he gets an A- here instead of a straight A is that he holds the ball too long, too often, too early in the game.  They’ve blown leads because of this Prevent Offense (see: the Milwaukee Bucks game) and he could afford to share the rock a bit more, like he did in the early part of the season.  Wiggins and Towns would certainly appreciate it.  So would Timberwolves fans.  That’s nitpicking the larger point here, however, which is that we’re getting the Full Jimmy Experience.  He’s quite a player.

Bigs

Taj Gibson: B (1st Quarter Grade: A)

Thibs knows what he’s getting from Taj Gibson: consistently-good defense, rebounding, and intelligent, sometimes effective offense. Taj averaged 12.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in the 2nd Quarter.  Impressively, he shot 58.8 percent from the field.  Compared to the season’s first quarter, however, his on/off splits were much worse.  He was very much in the positive for his “on” stats, at (+5.5), but that was second-worst among starters (to Teague) and the Wolves were (+3.8) when he sat, suggesting he’s less indispensable than in the season’s 1st Quarter, when those on/off numbers were (+7.7) and (-14.4).  Taj probably plays more minutes than he should, given his role of “hustle defense rebounder guy.”  He’s solid, though, and will continue to do his job.

Nemanja Bjelica: D- (1st Quarter Grade: A-)

It might be unfair to give Belly a grade here, since he played only 7 games in the 2nd Quarter and was recovering from injury in some of them.  He averaged 1.9 points in 11.2 minutes per game, shot 22.7 percent from the floor, and had a net rating of (-13.8) in 78 minutes.  Here’s hoping the Belly of the 1st Quarter returns before too much longer.  The bench could certainly use that guy.

Gorgui Dieng: B- (1st Quarter Grade: B-)

Gorgui’s minutes increased to 20.3 per game in the 2nd Quarter, up from 15.3 in the first.  His production was solid but unspectacular: per-36, he posted 11.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.7 steals.  His net rating was bad (-3.2) and I think this cuts two ways for his grade: First, he should be excused from bad plus-minus stats because so many of his minutes are with Crawford.  In 311 minutes with Crawford in the 2nd Quarter, Dieng was (-43).  In his other 94 minutes, he was (+6).  He’s also been logging some time with the catastrophic Aaron Brooks, in recent games.  ((-18) in 56 minutes.)  But second, Gorgui should be able to do more to offset a bad bench teammate or two, considering the fact that he’s being paid like a starter.  I don’t know what to do with this information but give him another B- and move along.

Karl-Anthony Towns: A (1st Quarter Grade: C-)

Towns faced true public criticism for the first time in his career and has responded wonderfully.  Following the 1st Quarter when KAT lineups were outscored by opponents, he led the regular starters in net rating in the second.  When Towns played the Wolves outscored opponents by 10.8 points per 100.  When he sat, they were outscored by 12.6 points.  He scored well — 19.6 points per game on 53.5 percent shooting — but did not hog hold the ball as much as he did in the season’s earlier games.  The wild change from Quarter 1 to 2 was on defense, however, where KAT’s rating dropped from 110.7 (terrible) to 102.6 (very good).  Towns hit over 42 percent of threes on about 4 attempts per game.  He had 12.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.  In a Thibodeau system, these are approaching ideal numbers from KAT.  He’s apportioning more than half of his focus and energy to defense and allowing Butler to shoulder a bigger load on O.  The results have been outstanding.  If KAT continues to play at this level for the rest of the season, he will be on an All-NBA team and the Wolves will easily make the playoffs.

What a difference 20 games can make.

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4 thoughts on “Timberwolves 2nd Quarter Report Card

  1. It will be interesting to see how the 3Q goes for this team. Will all these players still be here when grading time comes. If not, does that mean Thibs/Layden get an F? Certainly, one would hope that our #1 pick will be on the bench if not getting some playing time. If not, one has to question why Thibs felt he needed a project big over a flexible forward like Kuzma or Hart. Trades should hopefully be made for players that have long term contracts, with teams that need to open up space for FA and guys like BAZ, Cole, Bjelly and Crawford could be gone. The two way contract would be finally filled with an Iowa wolf like Melo Trimble or Anthony Brown. This all needs to be done with hopefully playoff preparations and seeding saved for the 4Q of the season, blending in new parts of the team.

    Let’s face it. This team is a product of the POBO as much as the coach. Most of us have been critical of Thibs the coach and his misuse of his bench and overuse of starters and lack of substantial growth in Wiggins and KAT. What is an even more glaring problem is the decisions made by Thibs the POBO and his NBA welfare recipient GM Scott Layden. Yes, getting Jimmy Butler was a coup, (although the trade is looking more and more equitable than when it was first made. Can’t wait to see Zach LaVine back in action soon, giving the Bulls three starters for Jimmy.) and Gibson has started out worth every penny that he was paid, but his overzealous need to rid himself of Rubio and overpaying for Teague puts him in a spot where he has to make moves or run the risk of being a seventh or eighth seed by they time the playoffs begin and not room to add people next year. He also needs to get his financial house in order, because with the early signing of Wiggins to a max. and the signing of KAT probably coming this summer, you will need to look at Jimmy as a possible third max guy and that leaves very little wiggle room under the cap for a Thibs-like thin bench.

    As good as it has been to have a winning record at the halfway point, There are still a lot of things this team needs to do and a lot of improvement needs to be made. FRANCHISE GRADE C+.

  2. You forgot Thibs…again. As a coach C-. As a POBO, D-.

    – Thibs rotations are still crap. He’s playing our 2 best players the entire 4th quarter when they need to be rested for crunch time. He should put them in with 8-9 minutes left in the 4th so that way they are fresher. 3 minutes more rest is a big difference considering how much these guys play per night.

    – This team still isn’t playing transition defense and at this point, it’s the coach’s fault. Whatever he’s saying, isn’t getting through to his team.

    – The offense is a slog, ugly, and not sustainable. There needs to be more fast pace and pushing the ball down the court. Thibs clearly doesn’t preach that because it hardly happens. We play better when we push the ball. But Thibs wants it slow so he can control the offense and bark out where people are supposed to go and what they’re supposed to do. You can hear him through the TV yelling the offense out.

    – Thibs has financially screwed this team in the future. He went out and got his guys, but at what cost? If we don’t win a championship by next year, who knows what will happen. I love Butler and am glad he’s here. But sometimes I wonder if we had built a team with a nucleus of Dunn, Lavine, Wiggins, Larkennen, and Towns. That has the potential to be really stinking good. Did we trade a possible amazing team for 2 years of a decent one? The way Dunn is playing has got me excited to see how Lavine does. I was a big Lavine critic, but I’m interested to see how he does in Chicago. Also, we could’ve had Larkennen who is showing flashes of being great. It’s nice we’ll make playoffs, but 3 years down the road, we’re all going to regret making the trade for Butler. I would’ve been ok with waiting 2-3 more years. No one’s beating the Warriors this year or next year. We picked the wrong time to win-now. I originally loved the Butler trade but now I’m not so sure. Just more reason to hate Thibs because he has screwed this franchise and Taylor was dumb enough to give him basically all the power.

  3. Andy did a great job on this and put a lot of work into it.

    I pretty much think the breakdown of Teague cuts to the core of it. The fact that the team seems to statistically play better with him on the bench, which cannot be said of any other starter sums it up. Which isn’t to say he’s a train wreck. He’s just not as good as we hoped and a huge overpay. I wouldn’t give the only starter better when he’s off and someone getting more money than Rubio or a lot of options out their a B. I mean C is average, right? C- sounds more reasonable. Which seems mean for a guy who puts up the numbers he does. But just look at how little we miss him while he’s injured.

    I’ve been impressed with Tyus. He does several key things better than Teague and they tend to be things this team needs more than the things Teague is good at providing. When Tyus came in to the league I didn’t think he had a real chance to be a starter. Now I do. Still, he has a ton of work to do. Yes, he’s good at pace, doesn’t dribble the ball too much and is a willing and able passer. But he HAS to get his assist totals up. He needs to make more meaningful passes some of the time. (Better P & R passing a starting point?) He also needs to shoot better from 3. He’s good at driving to the rim (surprise) and has a nice float game. But he’s got to improve his 3 point shooting because he doesn’t have one outstanding skill to offset the kind of long distance shooting he’s providing. I think he can improve these things, but as usual I’m getting antsy.

    I agree totally with the Wiggins grade. Like I’ve said, context is everything. If he was just some dude who we picked up to fill a position around stars we’d probably be happy with what he brings (though more of a 3 pt specialist would be good for the role…) But that’s not Andrew, or the talent that was reported to us or the money we PAID. I do wonder if some of it was a mistake and then continued into hyperbole. For instance, I don’t think he has all time elite athleticism. I mean there are a lot of crazy athletes in NBA history. I don’t think Wiggins is really high on that list at all (if even on it). Worse is the application of the good athleticism he has–whether it is mental or physical weakness or a mix he seems to have an aversion to strong takes, favoring spins and Euro steps and dancing to planting and dunking. He is what he is for the most part and I find him annoying. Will I forget his potential and just accept what he decides to bring at some point? Not sure. But he’s just not my kind of player at all. I think we should have traded him for Butler or someone else. Wish we still had LaVine.

    Surprised to see such a harsh grade for Crawford, but I totally agree. It seems a lot of Wolves people have been taken in by his professionalism and instipoints. But he takes a ton of bad shots, is super hot/cold and plays no defense.

    The narrative is that Jimmy graciously let Andrew and Karl do most of the scoring early on and then put the petal to the metal later on his own scoring. This is a cleaned up version of the story. Jimmy was really struggling early. As a smart vet, he leaned on what was working, his point forward skills. But he has gotten more comfortable and is his old self on this team now. He’s been doing so much for us he’s hard to criticize and his A- is earned. However, it is true that he holds the ball too much and encourages our worst iso ball habits too much. A second tiny critique of my own is his over reliance on the free throw line. What if this doesn’t translate in tough games or the playoffs? Also, as a fan it gets pretty dull.

    Taj has been cooling off at an alarming rate. He has been so good until lately. His scoring has died down, he’s not quite as sharp on D and he isn’t rebounding as well. He used to battle KAT nightly for reb leader and now if he’s a decent reb supplement we are lucky. I’m for giving more of his minutes to Gorgui. He needs them and Gibson needs slightly fresher legs.

    Bjelly will come around eventually but how long until something throws him into a nosedive for a month again? We need to shop for a replacement. Problem: we have no money and few wanted assets.

    Gorgui is playing better. But he’s been, lets face it, bad. He should be a real weapon from the bench and instead has been invisible more often than not. Like I said, he’s been so bad that if he was out for the season and Cole replaced him we’d hardly notice and be the same team. He’s a guy who can and will help us more as the season progresses. But it’s clear now–we massively overpaid for him. even if he’s clicking in his role and playing well, slow motion (though accurate) mid range jumpers (does he jump when he shoots?) aren’t really that valuable from a bench center. He needs to throw the hammer down low in that role, but that’s just not him. His rebounding is OK and getting better and needs to keep getting better.

    All the dreams we have of our young core (down to 2 guys) improving and turning into super stars is before us with KAT. He was getting big criticism from all over including from me, with good cause, early. But he heard it. He heard his coaches. He heard Jimmy and other vets. He’s showing better effort. More consistent intensity. He’s improved on D, on rotations, on help, on waiting for the situation to come to him. This last aspect is making him a good shot blocker. He continues to hone his offense. His 3 point shooting has been good and is needed, but he needs to hammer guys down low when the opportunity arises and spend most of his time on the blocks. If the coaching staff doesn’t say this and design things this way, he needs to go down there and demand the ball when he smells blood. When he’s killing it the post is when the Wolves are unstoppable.

    Haha, Bluez added a coach category. I’d never give Thibs a C to this point. That means average. He’s clearly been a below average coach to this point. We lose a lot of games because of system and strategy… despite out talent. That’s on him. To a degree so is the slow player development. As an X’s and O’s guy and in game adjustment leader he’s pretty awful. As bad as he is as a coach, and I don’t see him getting much better, the players can improve and make up more for this than they currently are (though they currently are doing this a ton already). Also, as POBO he’s probably as bad as he is as a coach and he’s weirdly feeding his worst tendencies with his POBO decisions–so many of his roster moves tie his hands and this is very true of the bench. He doesn’t like to play bench guys and he went out and got a weak under filled bench as POBO. Self fulfilling.

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