Wolves 108, Bucks 89: Reveling in Distractions

The Super Bowl is taking over Minneapolis. Technically, it set up shop last weekend and has controlled Nicollet Mall all week, but today was the first day that — as someone who lives and works in the area — it felt like the Super Bowl was really in our face. This held true at Target Center on Thursday night, when big football names such as Orlando Pace, Antonio Brown, and Bill Belichick could be seen courtside, taking in the Wolves-Bucks game. Brown is friends with Jimmy Butler and Belichick is friends with Thibs. That they and the rest of the team came out and crushed a quality Bucks team that was riding a 4-game winning streak suggests that any distraction caused by celebrity-friend fans was channeled positively.

For the Wolves, the best offensive basketball was played by Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. When those two are on their games, this team will not lose often. Butler led the team with 28 points on 8-15 shooting to go along with 4 rebounds and 6 assists.

Early on, a Bucks reserve named Sterling Brown did this:

Butler did not forget that taunting later in the game, when he followed some of his own highlights with woofing in Brown’s general direction. It seems like Butler is always willing to engage in trash talk, but he prefers to let his opponent start it before he finishes it on his terms. (This happened earlier this season when Jamal Murray of the Nuggets got to talking before losing to Butler heroics in overtime.)

Towns was great in this game as well, scoring 24 points on 10-13 shooting. He pulled down 11 rebounds and dished 3 assists. A recent source of Wolves-fan angst is KAT’s lack of shots and the lack of plays specifically run for him to get the ball in the post. I really can’t make myself care about this issue because I love the action that has the ball moving and the wing players slashing to the rim with KAT roaming around looking for offensive rebounds. In today’s NBA, a lot of shot clock can go to waste while trying to force the ball in the post. The Wolves do this frequently. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. On this team with so many scorers, however, I tend to prefer that they focus less on isolated matchups and more on attacking where the gaps and seams are. When Towns is locked into his rebounding and defense, he’s at his best.

During that Raptors game, I charted KAT’s “offensive rating” in individual games versus his number of field goal attempts per minute played in those games. The blob of dots does not seem to show any meaningful correlation, for whatever that’s worth. I don’t think it’s clear that “more KAT shots” = “better Wolves offense.” If any statisticians out there are reading this and interpret the blob differently, feel free to weigh in:

I tweet half-jokingly that the best post feed for KAT is a missed shot, but it isn’t really a joke. A big chunk of the Wolves offensive greatness (now 3rd in the NBA in offensive efficiency) is the continuous threat of offensive rebounds and second-chance points. Start fretting about the number of shots KAT takes when the offensive performance starts to slide. Until then, his role seems to be pretty great as far as I can tell. I just wish he’d shoot an additional three-pointer or two per game. He was 1-2 from downtown in this game and his hitting slightly higher than 40 percent of his attempts this year.

The Bucks struggled offensively in this game, as their 89-point outfit suggests. They were without Eric Bledsoe and then lost Malcolm Brogdon to a possibly-terrible knee injury in the first half. Giannis looked unbelievably imposing whenever guarded by… well, anyone, but he was contained to just 17 points, 15 rebounds, and 6 assists. Butler and Taj Gibson shared the load of that responsibility and each did admirable work to keep the Greek Freak in check. Off the ball, Andrew Wiggins played an outstanding defensive game, deflecting and stealing (3) a number of balls throughout the game. Thibs went out of his way to praise Wig’s performance after the game.

Thibs was open about his Patriots fandom after the game, admitting that he cheers them on while watching all of their games. He talked about growing up in New England and never thinking that Patriots could win a Super Bowl. He contrasted his experience with his nephews’, who expect a title every single season.

The hope here is that he can transform this basketball franchise a fraction of how his friend changed the Pats. Tonight’s win upped the Wolves record to 33-22 for a clean .600 winning percentage.

They host the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night in a game that promises to host an even more star-studded audience of spectators.

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3 thoughts on “Wolves 108, Bucks 89: Reveling in Distractions

  1. So KAT’s offensive rating may not go up if he takes more shots, but the more he touches the ball, the better for us as a team. In the 3 games where Towns took less than 10 shots, the Wolves went 0-3. I think that should speak for itself. If they used Towns properly, he’d average 25, 12, and 5, be an MVP candidate, and the Wolves record would be better.

    Why is Jimmy playing 40 minutes when he’s been having knee problems? He definitely didn’t need to play that long tonight. That kind of stuff is head scratching and worrisome to me.

    Wiggins finally playing some legit offball D. Only took 3.5 years. Better late than never.

    This is a game we needed to win. The Bucks were hurting and missing people. Glad it never got close.

    We’re going to need to win more than 50 if we’re going to pass the Spurs. I think the Wolves are going to have to finish no worse than 20-7 if we’re going to pass them. That’ll be tough with our schedule.

  2. …ours are gray. *crickets chirping*

    I think it was obvious that this was one of those games where a team hits just the right opponent at just the right time. The Bucks were dealing with injuries and had a really off night. The coaching switch high seems to have worn off. Speaking of that, I think Kidd might be a good coach sometime, but I think it was a mistake to make him a head coach right from being a player. That, ultimately, was unfair to him as well as the franchise. I think in all but the most exceptional cases it’s better to gain assistant coaching experience before taking a head coach job, even if you were a very smart player. And then there is the whole paying of dues. If you don’t pay any dues, just jump right from being a player to a head coach, that can maybe set a bad tone for earning things and personal responsibility. It’s human nature to mishandle the situation when things are granted too easily…

    With that out of the way, I can say I really like how we played in this one. We clicked and didn’t force things on O and played active D. Helping us was quite a few no calls when it did look like we were fouling. Still, we were active and more smart than usual on D. On offense, this is way closer to the model we should be using as far as how we spread the ball. Towns and Butler should be featured, with Wiggins a dangerous supplement and Taj scavenging easy opportunities that teams are forced to allow him. I’d still like to see KAT with the most takes, but 15, 13, 10, for Butler KAT and Wiggins is a much smarter mix than what we’ve been doing the last two weeks. In the most basic, oversimplified sense, it comes down to efficiency. Towns and Butler are very efficient guys–KAT because of his ability to get easy, high % looks in the post and his great fg% (and you know, his talent and skill), Butler–because he knows what he’s doing so well and he gets to the line so much. Wiggins is often quite inefficient and I think handing him too many attempts is generally bad for the team (and worse at critical junctures).

    This is rare, but I think I completely disagree with Andy here. For starters, if I understand it right, the chart completely misses the point. People are calling to use KAT more because he’s an MVP level talent, gets high percent looks in the post, and most importantly is our most efficient high use player. We don’t want him to get more looks because it will make him play better, but because it will make the team better. We will win more. His involvement (and Wiggins lack of it) as far as touches go is a reason we dominated in this one, and a reason we struggled in recent games where he was getting 4-5th most fg attempts. As is weirdly frequent with the Wolves this season, this such an obvious point it is a little surreal it needs to be discussed. Our coach should be making sure KAT is near the top of the team in attempts every night. That should be the end of it.

    It’s a complex issue (though very simple basic premise) when you look deeper. I think feeding KAT more consistently in the post is a good idea. But I do agree with Andy that he should be taking at least as many threes, maybe more. Sadly he might be our best 3 point shooter and we are in desperate need of more good 3 pt attempts to keep in games against 3 ‘n’ dunk teams. But this is part of sort of a chessboard way of looking at using KAT somewhat separate from touches. I noticed in this one, a lot less of KAT standing on the perimeter. This has been the worst way to use him and frequent. Tonight, KAT avoided this almost totally. He took only 2 threes, which needs to be expanded, but he was all over the court, keeping the D guessing. He was not planted on the perimeter. He spend the greatest amount of time closer to the basket, though, thus the put backs Andy is so excited about. Having KAT make his home down low (with lots of moving around and little trips to the perimeter) keeps him in position for rebounds, 2nd chances and put backs, which he has a huge knack for. This game displayed the soundness of such a strategy.

    Another reason I think people have been griping about this other than how obvious it is, is that when we lose we lose because we score less points than the opponent. While we measure well in O ratings currently, anyone who knows about basketball can look at the way we run our offense and see much room for improvement. We may currently rate 3rd in NBA offensive efficiency, but we don’t play a very efficient style of offense–we’re just good at it. That might sound like double talk, but it isn’t. We tend to have the most trouble against teams with that ‘efficient style’ that take a lot of threes (worth an extra point, more value than is taken away by the higher degree of difficulty, generally) and shots at the rim. If we want to cut down on those loses, we’ll want to give our most efficient player more shots en route to scoring more. Another way to look at it is this: Do we lose more due to O or D? Obviously because of our D problems! But a fix for that isn’t coming overnight. Progress on that front has been slow and painful. There are no quick fixes, esp with a coach who is very unlikely to adjust schemes and game plan for individual teams. So, a legit way to try to get more wins, esp against the type of team that seems to have our # is to score a bit more, even in tough matchups. Some tweaks to do this are easier. The # 1 is to make sure KAT is getting more than 4th or 5th most attempts. Others include playing Tyus with the starters, esp a bad Teague nights and yes, allowing inefficient Wiggins a few less shots (Butler and KAT can take a few more then). This gets almost instant improvement on that side of the ball and our chances to win games. So basically saying, ‘our offense is great, quit whining about it’ is loser talk. We can always improve. All that said, the long term fate of this team rests on getting a lot of improvement on D going.

    Not to sound negative. This was a really fun game. I really liked how Wiggins played. He didn’t need the ball. He got involved as a defender, a rebounder, even as a pest. He took a reasonable amount of shots and more of those will fall other nights. But the key is, he helped the team even without taking a ton of shots and even when the shots he took weren’t falling at a high clip. Teague passed really well (sadly, games like this are downright rare for him at this point). Bjelly was good. Crawford wasn’t a drag. We shot 53% (Towns 77%!).

    I don’t know why, but it just seems funny that Thibs and Belichick are friends. ‘Both coaches from New England!’ I guess, but both aren’t all time greats. Just one is.

  3. It is difficult to gauge the play of last night, when key shooters were missing from the Bucks and the three point shot was a mystery to the Bucks that did play. We seemed to be able to move people away from the arc and settle for twos, but Bledsoe, Brogden, and Terry wouldn’t have stopped shooting and may have made this game close.

    The offense is pretty difficult to be impressed by, mainly because it is still variations of the same play and rarely exploits mismatches. KAT was the most dominant big on the floor, but most of his points came with him starting at the arc or top of key and crashing to the rim. That shows his talent, but it hardly exploits a bad matchup with creative offense. Belly is shooting better and with more confidence, but did Thibs run a play to get him open looks? Tyus did a great job of moving the offense up a notch, but he wasn’t out there much (it seems Thibs doesn’t want to hurt 0 feelings, by playing the better PG for his starters) Woj claimed it reminded Teague of how he got replaced by Schroder in Atlanta and hurt his confidence. He demanded top ten money for his position and is getting outplayed, so maybe he needs to man up and earn his paycheck, Quit hesitating to shoot open threes or looking to pass when he gets stuck in the lane countless times. He did make a couple of nice passes for actual assists and not the last guy to pass to Jimmy before he dribbles and breaks down his man and makes a clutch last second shot clock beater assist he gets every game.

    The Wolves needed the win and got it with very little sweat. I hope they can get on a roll and maybe force Houston to shoot more twos than threes and pull off an upset. More importantly, I hope they don’t play down to the Bulls, Lakers or Kings level and get another senseless loss.

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