The Wolves had four players in the Rising Stars Game on Friday night. Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad and the USA squad fell 121-112 to the World team, led by Gorgui Dieng and Andrew Wiggins, who took home MVP honors following his electrifying six dunk performance. Wiggins and LaVine tied for the game high in points (22 apiece), Dieng had 14 and Muhammad had 10. Continue Reading…
When a comparatively raw team like the Minnesota Timberwolves (average age 24.5, plus they’ve had Ricky Rubio back for about 6 percent of a whole season, Kevin Martin for 10 percent, Nikola Pekovic for 16 percent) runs into a well-oiled buzzsaw like the Golden State Warriors (average age 26.7, best record in the league, 2nd in offensive rating, 1st in defensive rating) and struggles early, it sets up an interesting problem. Continue Reading…
In somewhat of a surprise flurry of moves, Timberwolves jack of all trades Flip Saunders made the first splash in the NBA’s annual February trade season. Let’s start by looking at what exactly went down:
Charlotte receives: Mo Williams, Troy Daniels
Minnesota receives: Gary Neal, 2nd round pick
Atlanta receives: 2017 1st round pick (Lottery-protected from 2017-2020)
Minnesota receives: Adreian Payne
The title of this piece may lead some to believe I’m going to let the Wolves off the hook tonight. That’s not the case.
Ain’t nothin’ holdin’ me back nothin’
I’ll keep right on, right on truckin’
Ain’t nothin’ holdin’ me back nothin’
I’ll keep right on, right on truckin’
– Eddie Kendricks, Keep on Truckin’
Steph Curry and Kevin Durant launching heat check threes like trebuchets of fire is fun to watch. LeBron James and Russell Westbrook barrelling towards the rim on fastbreaks, unstoppable freight trains of power and agility, is fun to watch. Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo catching impossible lobs with go-go-gadget arms is fun to watch. Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan meandering over from the weakside, lurking, before springing up to swat away a shot attempt with authority is fun to watch. Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul putting the ball on a string and tripping up helpless defenders is fun to watch.
I don’t know how much fun the casual fan has watching Nikola Pekovic play, but hell if it isn’t fun for me. He’s not any of those guys above; he’s a below the basket center who is going to feed you a steady diet of seal, turn, catch, post move, shovel or hook shot. I imagine as a competitor, there’d have to be something satisfying about everyone on the floor knowing exactly what you’re going to do and physically imposing your will to do it anyway. Continue Reading…
In the NBA, phrases like that are uttered by a team’s leader. In addition, a leader is able to take those words and make them come true, even if it means he has to put the team on his back and willing his team to a victory.
That phrase, according to Flip Saunders, is what Ricky Rubio said to his team during tonight’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
If it wasn’t clear before, it became completely clear during Rubio’s injury-ridden absence: he is the clearcut leader of this team.
Here it is. This here Vine is the one thing you must know about last night’s 102-101 win over the Miami Heat if you want to know anything. It is the acme of pure joy, the bellwether of future highlights to come, the spark and grace and fun that promises to one day become a regular occurrence for this team.
But that day is not today. Continue Reading…
While Ricky Rubio was gone – 87 days, 42 games – the Wolves went 6-36, sporting the 4th-worst offense and worst defense (by more than 3 points per 100 possessions) in the NBA over that stretch. There were plenty of injuries to go around and all of them contributed to the slide, but Rubio’s absence was both the longest and most critical.
Without him, Mo Williams was thrust into a starting role, the extremely raw Zach LaVine had to play minutes he wasn’t ready for, Corey Brewer and Robbie Hummel had to make out of position cameos at the point, and a recent D-Leaguer on a 10-day contract (Lorenzo Brown) had to play all but 5 seconds of Saturday night’s game. Point guard defense was nearly nonexistent. The offensive playbook shrunk to 5-15% of its original size (according to Flip Saunders).
Not only were the Timberwolves much less functional without Rubio, they were also a hell of a lot less FUN. There were moments of joy while Rubio was out, most of them provided by Andrew Wiggins, but also random nights from Zach LaVine (in Staples Center versus the Lakers), Mo Williams (52 points at Indiana) and tough battles against the Suns, Rockets, Pacers and Kings. But the consistent spark was gone.
So it was a sight for sore eyes to see reports that he’d make his return on Monday night in Dallas, and especially so when he was on the floor at the opening tip. The minutes restriction aside (more on that later), Ricky Rubio was back, as was the concept of fun. Continue Reading…
There were actually two more or less completely distinct things going on at Target Center last night: the return of Kevin Love to Minneapolis and a game between the Timberwolves and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Leading up to the game, it seemed as if these things were inextricable, but as the game unfolded, they became more and more distinct from each other.
Prior to the game, Love met with the media and, when asked about whether he wishes things had ended on a better note with the Wolves, he responded, “I mean, sure. It’s only human nature to want it to always be sunshine and blue skies, but that’s just not the case.”
Few would argue against the latter, but there’s also an issue with the former, and it’s something brought to the fore both by Love and the Wolves themselves. Per usual, Love seemed to face the media’s attention with a bit of a grimace. His annoyance with the media doesn’t seem to come from a place of not wanting attention, though, but rather not getting the kind of attention he thinks he should get. He has long embodied some particularly jagged contradictions: a tireless worker who turned himself from a doughy rebounder into a rangy shooter but still can’t really be bothered to “get” defense; a guy who wanted to be “the man,” to carry the team, but who also didn’t hesitate to throw some guys under the bus; a purported team-first player who only talks about wins, never numbers, yet whose greatest accomplishments come from stats and not the intangibles.
But aren’t Wolves fans themselves a bit like this? Is sunshine and blue skies really the goal for longtime Wolves fans? If that’s what they wanted, they could go follow a team that rewards them far better, yet there’s a persistent distaste for bandwagon fans, and way too much wallowing in how bad the team is, followed by insisting that they’re done, finished, never paying attention to this team again. And then they’re back again a couple weeks or months later.
Do we really want sunshine and blue skies? Or do we just think that’s what we’re supposed to want? Continue Reading…
The Philadelphia 76ers haven’t been putting a great roster on the floor over the last two seasons. It’s been by design and it’s a risky proposition. It’s an idea that I’ve had, along with plenty of Wolves’ fans, when it comes to the rebuilding style of this Minnesota franchise. Strip down the roster, rid it of almost all of the veterans available, and just let the young guys get their reps, as many as possible.
It’s something I’ve gone back and forth with as the season progresses. We’ve seen components of such an idea when Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, and Ricky Rubio missed time as Mo Williams was dealing with some nagging injuries as well. We’ve seen the Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Thaddeus Young, and Gorgui Dieng lineup out there and full of failure on a possession by possession basis. You can talk yourself into this being a valuable learning experience for all of the young guys involved, but you can also see how the process and the results can be stilted.
Over the last two games, we’ve seen the Wolves get the pairing of Pekovic and Martin back into the rotation. The result has been a more organized brand of basketball that doesn’t lack a sense of hope while possessing a tunnel vision on the spectacularly calm moments of Wiggins doing cool stuff out there. You see the value of veterans mixed in with young players, removing many of the frustrations we’ve experienced watching that overmatched basketball team from November 19th or so to earlier this week. That’s where I start appreciating the plan of the Wolves because I’m not sure they have the infrastructure to pull off what the 76ers are doing. Continue Reading…