It wasn’t that long ago when the Timberwolves were considered to be a lock to get into the playoffs. They had Tom Thibodeau running things. Andrew Wiggins was going to be in his third year, ready to establish his All-Star credentials. Karl-Anthony Towns was the player you wanted to start your franchise with. He was the real life example of a versatile player, scorer, defender, passer, and with leadership intangibles. The slam dunk champ Zach LaVine could score from the outside, was athletic, and made a fast break his personal highlight reel. The Wolves complimented their Big Three with efficient big man Gorgui Deng, Shabazz Muhammad and Ricky Rubio. The Wolves were fully complete but they were a young team ready to cross that invisible and tough line in the sand, from rebuilding to hello playoffs, here we come.
And then we all woke up.
Last night was a metaphor for everything the Wolves have not been. Yes, Karl-Anthony Towns was brilliant and everything the GM’s said he was. 47 points. 18 rebounds. A one man wrecking crew. But he also couldn’t lead his team to a win when he racked up nearly half of his team’s points. The Knicks, an average team at best, built a near 20 point lead. Kristaps Porzingis who was drafted three slots after Towns was equally spectacular, 29 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists.
The Knicks scored 58 points in the first half. They had a 17 point lead. They had fewer rebounds than the Wolves but more assists which has been a problem for the Wolves this year. They can get stuck in iso ball. They can be selfish in crucial moments and then, they can be hungry, capped off by a 20-3 run to tie the game. But they couldn’t get the defensive stop which is the irony about this season.
With Thibs, this season was supposed to be about defense. The Knicks entered the game without Joakim Noah so they were undermanned.
Afterwards, Towns found solace in the fight, that his team had the ability to dig deep and make a comeback but that isn’t the fight that wins games. It is the fight to compete when the game starts. It is the fight to defend. It is the internal motivation to be exponentially better this year than they were last year. (They are not.)
|2015-16||102.4 (15th)||46.4% (7th)||41.6 (29th)||23.4 (8th)||110.1 (28th)|
|2016-17||103.1 (18th)||44.8% (18th)||50.2 (26th)||21.5 (19th)||109.0 (23rd)|
Thibs says he wants a veteran. He needs one. There are rumors that he wants Luol Deng who has been a ghost of a player this year for the Lakers, 33% shooting, as if he morphed into the Kobe Bryant last season misery. My bad. Bryant shot, 35.8%. Deng is worse than an Achilles changed 20 year vet. Nevertheless, Thibs wants one of his former players to help with the young kids which is why the Lakers gave Deng $18 million, to help with the young kids. But what is Thibs willing to give up to get Deng?
The Wolves play slow. Their 5 wins is worse than where they were last year under Sam Mitchell who perpetually gets an inordinate amount of blame when his teams underperform. On December 1, 2015, the Wolves had 8 wins. Thibs was supposed to be the answer and improve upon that. But the Wolves have been depressing. They are absolutely (and I mean that as literally as possible) inept with third quarter defense after they hear Thibs say whatever he says regarding adjustments. Only the Nets are worse at stopping the other team in the third quarter, when all of a sudden the game gets real serious.
The Wolves have the worst bench in the NBA. They can only muster 21.5 points. Not surprisingly they average 5.6 assists. 12.4 rebounds make the Wolves bench the 28th worst at pulling in missed shots. But it is their 39.7% shooting and 28.4% from three which keeps the Wolves hovering in 76er land. The 76ers have 4 wins. The Wolves have 5 wins.
What do the Wolves need in addition to bench players that can score the ball?
They have the fourth worst backcourt, 33.5 points per game, 12.5 assists, 42% shooting. In a tale of opposites, the Wolves have the third best frontcourt in the NBA, 69.6 points, 31.8 rebounds, 9.0 assists. The Wolves don’t need Loul Deng. They need perimeter players who can score and who can defend. They need shot makers and off ball defenders. They need point guards. The Wolves point guards have the least production out of any NBA team, 11.0 points, 9.4 assists.
Eighteen games in, we know who the Wolves are. The supposed Rookie of the Year Kris Dunn is averaging 3.3 points per game, third worst out of the top-10 lottery picks (Dragan Bender and Thon Maker average less than 3.3 points per game). Ricky Rubio isn’t much better, 6.6 points. The defense Thibodeau is known for has had hits and misses.
The Wolves are showing the rest of the league it is not just about getting great young talent and having them perform. In this modern NBA it takes a team of at least 8 and the willingness to play hard on every position and to defend consistently to have a playoff shot.
photo via llananba