Are the Wolves the Most Disappointing Team in NBA History?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves

How bad a team is — in linear terms — is relatively easy to measure. The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers are the sine qua non of awful by most standard measurements; their 9-73 win-loss record earned them the nickname the “Nine and 73ers” (which is pretty good, as far as nicknames go). But although their season was shortened by the lockout, the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats were demonstrably worse than those Sixers with a winning percentage of .106 to Philly’s .110.

But Charlotte that year was awful by design. Whether or not you want to label it tanking, the roster was not built to win games, having lost its best players from the previous season in Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson and leaning heavily on Kemba Walker in his rookie year. So they were terrible, but were they disappointing? Continue reading Are the Wolves the Most Disappointing Team in NBA History?

The Isolation Blues


There are many reasons why the Minnesota Timberwolves have underachieved thus far, leaving them mired six games out of the West’s final playoff spot, sporting a 25-28 record that doesn’t jive with their solid point differential. Some of the problems were expected – the Wolves struggle to generate stops late in close games, but they weren’t built to be a defensive juggernaut in the first place. Health has been a problem for both Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic – but a perusal of their injury histories indicates such a thing was likely to happen at some point in the season.

Some of Minnesota’s problems are complete surprises. The healthy returns of Kevin Love and Chase Budinger, as well as the free agent acquisition of Kevin Martin, led many observers to predict a dramatic improvement on both the Wolves’ 3 point and effective field goal percentages; instead, the team’s 3 point success rate has only improved from dead last in 2012-13 to 25th this season, and their eFG% is just .006 higher than it was last year, despite vastly improved personnel. Though the point’s been thoroughly discussed (and enumerated, nicely, by our own Zach Harper) I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the Timberwolves’ 1-12 record in games decided by 4 points or fewer – a factoid that will encapsulate the enduring legacy of this team, unless they drastically reverse course down the stretch.

For many forlorn fans, hope of witnessing a postseason berth for the first time in a decade is flickering in the wind. The brunt of their displeasure, if social media is any indication, is borne by J.J. Barea. Continue reading The Isolation Blues

Timberwolves 117, Nuggets 90: Three Point (No) Contest


Love three point contest

As a whole, the first 53 games of the 2013-14 Minnesota Timberwolves season can be described in many ways: disappointing, inconsistent, portentious, a “middle finger to point differential” analysis (well put, Patrick Fenelon). Rick Adelman’s squad has undershot its Pythagorean win total by 8 (mathematically speaking, teams who outscore their opponents by 3.7 points per contest ought to be 33-20 at this point, not 25-28). The reasons have been discussed ad nauseam; the Wolves can’t close out games, they failed to beat weaker opponents while they were at full strength early in the season, and on, and on, and on.

Every game isn’t a referendum of the franchise as a whole, nor do any of these individual games dictate the future in any meaningful way. Since the Wolves have Kevin Love’s early termination option hanging over their heads, it’s easy for fans (and even – shockingly – the media) to worry about the future, forgetting that it’s okay to enjoy individual games when good ones come around. Some of Minnesota’s losses have been wildly entertaining contests – the loss to Oklahoma City on January 4th and both losses to the Clippers in L.A. come to mind – but blowouts can be fun, too. Especially when they feature the kind of ball movement, efficiency and hustle that the Wolves displayed in thumping the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night. Continue reading Timberwolves 117, Nuggets 90: Three Point (No) Contest

Timberwolves 89, Rockets 107: Caring Is Creepy

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves

Going into last night’s game against the Houston Rockets, the Wolves were in a flat spin and headed out to sea, losers of five of the last six and facing a team they match up with exceedingly poorly. Consider: without Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, their biggest impact players are at the point guard and power forward positions, while the Rockets’ most essential positions are shooting guard, small forward and center. The result, then, was to be expected—especially with Rick Adelman’s absence from the bench for personal reasons—against a team that’s not yet in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, but is still pretty damn good.

Not that the Wolves didn’t have their moments. You can see below that they actually ran a play: Continue reading Timberwolves 89, Rockets 107: Caring Is Creepy

Timberwolves 110, Trail Blazers 117: Grading on a Curve

I’m a teacher, which means I do a lot of grading and — honestly — I hate it. But I thought for a change of pace I’d try out the handy platform created by our TrueHoop buddies over at Raptors Republic to recap a game that, honestly, was way more fun and entertaining than it had any right to be, given injuries to Pekovic, Love and Martin.

(PRO TIP: The Chrome browser and the recap grades generator are sniping at each other in the locker room. Neither is taking accountability for the disagreement. For now, you’ll probably have better luck reading the grades post if we run the Firefox browser play.

In case this horrible basketball analogy isn’t clear, Chrome hates the grades generator for some reason we can’t figure out right now. Look at it in Firefox and it’s fine — Zach Harper)

Portland Trail Blazers 117 FinalRecap | Box Score 110 Minnesota Timberwolves
Dante Cunningham, PF 39 MIN | 6-16 FG | 2-6 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | +4Starting in his second game of the season after Kevin Love was held out with a quad contusion, Cunningham brought the kind of energy we often associate with him, but haven’t always seen this season. Yes: he shot his fair share of midrange jumpers and only managed a .375 shooting percentage, but he racked up two big dunks early plus one big block on C.J. McCollum that were a big part of the energetic start that kept the Wolves in the game for the first three and a half quarters.

Corey Brewer, SF 39 MIN | 11-23 FG | 4-6 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 26 PTS | +6Brewer as a primary offensive option is a terrifying proposition, but such are the contorted positions that injuries to your top three scorers can put you in. With 26 points (the last ones coming when the game was already out of reach), he barely edged Ricky Rubio to lead the team in scoring and he did it with his signature blend wanton recklessness on the break and ill-advised long-range shots. Technically, he only shot one 3-pointer according to the box score, but he took a lot of long twos from near the corner. Nonetheless, his crazy energy was a big part of the Wolves nearly overcoming all their injuries in this one. As he said after the game, “We have to look at it like as long as we play as hard as we can we have a chance to win.” It’s not clear exactly how much of a chance they had, really: Although they hung tough through most of the game, it always seemed like Portland was going to be able to go back to their starters and finish it off.

Chase Budinger, SF 29 MIN | 6-12 FG | 4-5 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 19 PTS | +19Budinger’s return to full-strength continues to be a work in progress, but he really showed a lot of improvement in this game, racking up a very strong 19 points on 50% shooting in his first start of the year. After the game, he referred to this game as a “stepping stone,” and that seems right. It’s hard to know if there’s a distinct corner for a player to turn on their way back from injury, or if that kind of thing is only apparent in reverse. If the injuries force Budinger to step up a little sooner and a little quicker without putting him at risk, this run of games prior to the All-Star break with him starting could augur well for the team’s production after the break.

Ronny Turiaf, C 38 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 13 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +8Turiaf is just a joy to watch play, and he is more or less the definition of the largely undefinable “veteran leadership” for a team. His block on Wes Matthews as the first half wound down kept the game within one point for the Wolves going into the break, and that sense of nearly playing the Blazers even through 24 minutes meant a lot to their solid third quarter play. Much like Budinger, this extended run right now could pay dividends when the injured starters return.

Ricky Rubio, PG 39 MIN | 8-19 FG | 7-8 FT | 2 REB | 9 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 25 PTS | +5This was a great all-around effort from Rubio, who still took the loss pretty hard. Lacking Martin, Love and Pekovic meant that he was his own last resort, and he stepped into that role solidly, notching a new career and season high with 25 points. Sure, it came on 8-19 shooting, but there are plenty of players out there who would shoot that much and miss that much and never blink. It would be wrong to think this is the kind of point production we should be expecting from Rubio in general, but it’s clear that he’s been in a funk for much of the season and there’s some reason to hope that the shifting roles that injury is forcing on the team might do something to shake up his game.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, PF 4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -6Four minutes wasn’t much to judge Mbah a Moute on. He continues to be an able replacement for Derrick Williams, in that he doesn’t play much and doesn’t do much.

Robbie Hummel, SF 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -4After notching 17 minutes against OKC after not playing since early January, Hummel didn’t get into the game against New Orleans and then made little impact last night. It seems like Adelman’s early season model of workmanlike play has fallen out of the rotation, but it’s hard to complain that much when it means more room to see what the next guy down the list has to offer.

Shabazz Muhammad, SF 17 MIN | 4-8 FG | 4-5 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -19Shabazz finally managed to get some solid run in a game, notching season highs in both minutes and points. He looked aggressive, particularly on the block where his strength helped him get good lucks from the left post an a flurry of hook shots in the early going.It wasn’t all gravy, though: He still got hot over an offensive foul call that was — in my opinion — a 50/50 call. You could have made an argument for the contact as incidental, but it also speaks to some of the recklessness he still plays with, and then his visible anger with the call doesn’t speak well to keeping your head down and playing the game no matter what knocks you take. He also had a few moments that looked out of place in an NBA game. At one point in the fourth quarter, Nicolas Batum was clearly giving him the 3-pointer. Muhammad thought about the shot, took a couple dribbles and then jacked it up, missing. It seemed clear that Batum was baiting him into taking it and he fell for it hook, line and sinker. His play early was good, his play late less so. If he can maintain the kind of aggressiveness and energy he showed early throughout all his playing time, he can be helpful.

Gorgui Dieng, C 9 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -16At one point, when Aldridge was taking it to Cunningham, it seemed like Adelman went to Dieng in hopes that his length would bother Aldridge a little more. It didn’t. Dieng’s game is still raw and his rim protection wasn’t a factor against a team that was relying on jumpshots from Matthews and Aldridge with Lillard in foul trouble.

J.J. Barea, PG 14 MIN | 1-7 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -18It seems plain that Barea is not a good fit for this roster the way the season is playing out. The vision of Barea as a sixth man off the bench to provide a spark within the context of a well-oiled offensive machine just isn’t happening. Any kind of championship experience he was supposed to bring from his run with the Mavericks has evaporated. It’s like the Wolves wanted to start a spin-off from a hit show, but instead of Frasier, they’ve gotten a Paul Krapence.Barea seems completely incapable of running an offense, instead only using the players around him as safety cones to navigate on his way to a generally bad jumper or a cannonballing foray to the rim. I would never question his competitive spirit, but right now, with this team, it’s like fire trapped with no place to go and putting him in the game is creating a backdraft.

Alexey Shved, PG 6 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -14The only thing equal to Shved’s terrifying appearance in mask and Iron Curtain-stength hair gel was his ineffectiveness on the court.

Kevin Love, PF DNP LEFT QUAD CONTUSION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | I think he was wearing the same checkered shirt I bought at Target a couple weeks ago. It’s a good shirt, but I’d be surprised if he actually got it there, although I can’t not be entertained by the idea of Kevin Love shopping at the Roseville Super Target.

Rick AdelmanI don’t honestly believe there was very much that Adelman could have directly done to win this game, but running Barea as the primary ballhandler for stretches certainly didn’t help. If you want to credit Adelman for instilling the right kind of mentality in the team going in, for getting them to understand that they were going to have to jump on the Blazers right away and play with energy the whole night, then that’s to his credit. But Adelman continues to lean heavily on Barea in stretches that seem to stymie the team’s momentum. Not that he has a lot of options for PGs on the bench since Shved as the primary ballhandler seems just as ill-advised. I miss Luke Ridnour.

One Thing We Saw

  1. Looking at this game on the schedule, it would have been reasonable to chalk it up as a loss just looking at the lack of Pekovic, looking at Portland’s record and success, and looking at playing the second game of a back-to-back. Add in missing Love and Martin and by all rights this should have been a blowout. (Consider that statistically the Wolves regular starting lineup has an average PER of 18.6. Last night’s starters? Average of 11.5.) But it wasn’t. The Wolves rallied together in spite of it all, which is about all you could hope for in this situation. In any project that’s spread over months and months, there are going to be days when the odds are stacked against you, when circumstances are going to make a direct success nearly impossible. I continue to believe these are the times when you can learn the most about the project. Maybe Shabazz never gets extended run the rest of the season. Maybe they won’t need him to get much run. But if and when there’s a time when he does further down the line, it’s only with experiences like the one from last night that he’ll have a chance for success.

Thunder 106, Timberwolves 97: Every Silver Lining

No one expected much from the Timberwolves on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City, where they were set to play the red-hot Thunder, winners of 11 of 12 coming in. Not only had Minnesota played the night before, the starters logging big minutes in a closer-than-it-needed-to-be victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, but Corey Brewer would miss the game (for the happiest of reasons – his son was born on Tuesday), and Nikola Pekovic would again sit due to his (ongoing) ankle bursitis issues. Twenty minutes before tip, it was confirmed that Kevin Love, the conduit through which the entire Wolves’ offense flows, would not dress due to a stiff neck. The writing was on the wall: Wednesday night would be a loss.

When the Love news came down, all I could think about were the new, interesting lineup possibilities and offensive strategies Rick Adelman could employ for the game. Maybe I’m desperate for silver linings, but once I conceded the (likely) loss, I shifted my focus to the little things – would Luc Richard Mbah a Moute get extended minutes? How about Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad? Would Kevin Martin shoot 40 times? Had Robbie Hummel, who’s been wearing suits for a while now, remembered to bring his uniform on the road trip? Continue reading Thunder 106, Timberwolves 97: Every Silver Lining

Timberwolves 109, Lakers 99: Love hurts, Love kills, Love is great


I used to play basketball with a guy we’ll call Chris. We’ll call him Chris because that’s his name. I never actually knew his last name. He went to my old gym in Sacramento and was part of the regular games we’d run on Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday nights. He’d also be around for Thursday nights sometimes but that was typically just two-on-two basketball. Those Thursday night two-on-two runs were the toughest ones.

A lot of people would rather play full court basketball for many reasons, but mostly it’s because it’s so much easier than half court basketball. Full court pick-up basketball is mostly a game of cardio and skill. Sure, it’s not going to be two hours of fast breaks but you’re getting to choose the type of workout and effort you’re giving. That’s not so much the case when you’re suckered into playing a half court pickup game. Half court basketball requires a lot more strength than you’d play in a normal basketball game.

You’re not getting space by running the floor and putting pressure on the defense to pick up. Instead, you have to constantly use physical play and more muscle to find the necessary space in a half court game to make plays. There is more pushing, more positioning, and much more physicality. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a different style of basketball that forces you to exert more energy throughout your body, rather than just getting some good cardio in.

Watching the way the Los Angeles Lakers adjusted to Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but think of that guy Chris when we had to play two-on-two with him.

Chris was physical. He ended up joining the Marines at some point, so he was a very tough guy. He had very little basketball skill, but he could throw his 6’3″ body around, hack the crap out of your arms, and was borderline dangerous to play against because he was clumsy in the way he moved around you. You knew you were going to get beat up a bit if you played against Chris because that’s just the way he played.

We saw something similar in the second half against the Lakers. All of a sudden, they turned a free-flowing game they couldn’t keep up with into a physical game they had nothing to lose from being in. We already had Gorgui Dieng take one in the temple and leave the game. Luckily, he’s fine. Then for some ungodly reason, Nick Young figured out if you pressure the hell out of Corey Brewer, he’s largely ineffective on offense. He started denying Brewer the ball 40 feet from the basket and it took a few possessions for the Wolves to just forego the unnecessary ball swing that starts with Brewer.

By that time, the rhythm of the game that the Wolves had controlled was dead and they were finding themselves in a bit of a scrappy affair.

I wonder how much of the second half of this game was the Wolves not taking a horrendous Lakers’ roster/lineup seriously and how much of it was the Lakers adjusting perfectly to what the Wolves were trying to do. It was probably a healthy portion of each and the Wolves just figured talent would win out. And it did, but not without paying an unnecessary price.

Robert Sacre is a big physical guy. He has some basketball skill and showed a decent little touch around the basket and with his jumper in this game. But mostly, he’s out there to bang some bodies around and give guys bruises. He’s such a big human being that he probably doesn’t even realize the force in which he hits people. He’s also such a solid mass of muscle that large human beings just bounce off of him when they collide. That’s what happened when Kevin Love drove against Wes Johnson with a little over four minutes left in the fourth quarter of a game that should have been long over.

First off, this was scary. I was behind the Wolves’ bench on the other end of the floor and I heard him slam into the ground as the crowd is making noise. That is a loud thud, my friends. He abused his tailbone there and had some whiplash that caused his head to snap back and hit the ground. However, he was so lucid and didn’t complain about his head that they didn’t feel the need to test for a concussion. I’m not sure I agree with this assessment, even though he did seem fine, but that’s the trainer’s call to make. He clearly knows that job better than I do.

Love stayed in for most of the rest of the game, was a warrior on the boards, scored a few points, and the Wolves avoided an embarrassing loss. Sacre was physical with Love in help and Wes Johnson managed to harass him plenty. They hammered him on the boards and ran to make him work as his body was probably screaming at him to go sit down.

It was that unnecessary use of muscle due to letting the Lakers make it an ugly game that allowed such a dangerous situation to present itself. Instead of free-flowing, it turned uncoordinatedly physical. They were shoving all over the half court instead of running in the open court because they didn’t adjust or didn’t take it seriously or whatever reason there is. They were always going to beat the Lakers because talent pretty much always wins out in the NBA as long as an acceptable level of effort is there. But instead of the third unit handling the final six minutes, the Wolves screwed around and let it be closer than it needed to be.

It’s not a huge deal; it’s just hopefully a reminder to the team of how important it is to take advantage of an inferior opponent by exerting the necessary energy to put the game away early. If you don’t, you run the risk of your star player nearly getting a concussion for no reason.