Who Is Winning Rebuilding Game, Lakers or Wolves?

The top two teams in the 2015 Draft Lottery- the Timberwolves and Lakers- are franchises in the midst of rebuilding. How far along are they in the process? 

Minnesota Timberwolves:

They had a rebuilding head start because Flip Saunders traded All-Star Kevin Love for number one pick Andrew Wiggins. In his rookie year, Wiggins turned out to be everything the scouts predicted. He was the best defender in his draft class. He was a scorer with the mentality of a scorer. The Wolves fed Wiggins the ball and let him operate on both sides of the floor while giving him the defensive assignment of guarding the toughest player.

Wiggins had deficiencies. He was not a good three point shooter. He made 31% from distance in season one. In his second year, he was worse. 30% from downtown.  Improvement was expected, having changed from the small forward position to the shooting guard. Wiggins mid-range shot was still pretty bad and his rebounds were down but he dropped 20 points every night. In his third year, Wiggins has broken out and is a legitimate All-Star talent, 23.8 points, 57.7% from three.

In the front court, the Wolves have a dominant player in Karl-Anthony Towns who was Rookie of the Year last year, also a number one pick. Towns had a spectacular first season, 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds. He was the most versatile rookie in his class with a PER of 22.5. How exactly could Towns be better in 2016-17?

By having a PER of 25.3.  A True Shooting % of 60.5. Pulling in 3.4 offensive rebounds per game. 2.8 assists. But his rebounding numbers have fallen off by 2.0 under Tom Thibodeau, 8.5 instead of 10.5. He is blocking fewer shots, has a lower field goal percentage than last year and the team he is leading only has two wins. Not to mention his defense isn’t as good.

Karl-Anthony Towns Andrew Wiggins Zach LaVine
2015-16 18.3 points, 54.2%, 10.5 rebounds 20.7 points, 45.9%, 3.6 rebounds 14.0 points, 45.2%, 2.8 rebounds
2016-17 22.1 points, 52.7%, 8.5 rebounds 23.8 points, 45.2%, 4.1 rebounds 19.8 points, 46.6%, 3.8 rebounds

The Timberwolves have three scorers dropping 20 points a game or just a shade less. In addition to Wiggins and Towns, Zach LaVine is good for 19.8 points and 46.6% shooting and ferocious dunks. But the Timberwolves are a mirage. Great star talent and scorers. Not so great everywhere else. Their defense is mediocre, 19th in points per game defense. Dead last in field goal percentage defense. Thibodeau was brought in to end the Wolves playoff drought. But they don’t score enough points to compensate for their miserable defense.

On offense, this is their main problem. Once you get past the Big Three of the Wolves, there isn’t much there. The next scorer is Gorgui Deng, who averages 10.4 points a game. The NBA today is about depth. Do you have versatility and enough players to provide a balanced and skilled attack? Can multiple players score outside, inside, and at the mid-post? Do you have multiple creators and drivers to the rim? Can you score off the bounce and at the cup?

Wolves Bench:

  • Points: 25.3 points (29th)
  • FG%: 39.2% (28th)
  • Rebounds:14.8 (23rd)
  • Assists: 6.5 (23rd)

Minnesota fails the depth question.

The Wolves are 10th in field goal percentage, 14th in points scored, 20th in blocks, 13th in steals, 12th in rebounding.

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Los Angeles Lakers:

While the Timberwolves don’t have much depth, the Lakers have depth in spades. They lead the league in bench scoring, 51.2 points per game. Their leading scorer (Lou Williams, 16.4 points) comes off the bench.

Last season, the Lakers had three rookies in their rotation. Julius Randle played only one game in 2014-15 before he broke his leg so last year, for all intent and purposes, was his first year. D’Angelo Russell was 19 years old. Larry Nance Jr. played four years in college and scouts considered him a project.

Julius Randle was the Lakers inside presence and the knock on him was he lacked explosion when faced with size. His repertoire included a lot of fakes that disciplined big players didn’t go for. Or, he just drove without changing directions, an easy move to guard and usually ended up in an offensive foul. Randle played well on the move but that was not Byron Scott’s offense.  Randle’s misses were inside around length. He had nice handles with the ball, he could score in the paint and he played harder than anyone on the team.

Randle was a good rebounder, averaging 10.2 on the season to go with 11.3 points. He was a 42.9% field goal shooter and a lot of his misses were against size. Randle was a good playmaker, a point forward, which was unexpected.

In the backcourt, for much of the season, overhyped D’Angelo Russell was a disappointment. Unlike his advertisement, he was not much of a playmaker. Scott and Co. complained about his pace and approach. He was too casual out there. He didn’t play with aggression, he played like it was Saturday at the Y. The best part of his game was his cross-over dribble pull-up. The knock on Russell was his athleticism. He’s not a modern, drive into the paint and dish guard. He can’t beat defenders and then blow-by, ala Lillard and Westbrook. Last year, he was a scorer more than he was a point guard. Russell was a competent rebounder for his position, three a game. He was a better rebounder than playmaker.

Julius Randle D’Angelo Russell Larry Nance, Jr.
2015-16 11.3 points, 42.9%, 10.2 rebounds 13.2 points, 41.0%, 3.3 assists 5.5 points, 52.7%, 5.0 rebounds
2016-17 13.9 points, 53.9%, 8.4 rebounds 16.2 points, 41.3%, 4.8 assists 6.6 points, 60.5%, 5.2 rebounds

Larry Nance Jr. was the biggest surprise in the Lakers dismal season of 2015-16. Everyone in the know said he was a project but every time he was out on the court something good happened. He was supposed to be an athlete without a basketball game; wrong. He had a nice mid-range shot he had confidence in. He crashed the boards. His demeanor was perfect for a Laker, no highs, no lows.  He was the type of player this league covets. He did his job, he made shots, he was active on defense.

Last year, the Lakers young rebuilding talent could only come up with 17 wins and they fired their coach, Byron Scott. The hire of Luke Walton made a huge difference. What Walton is preaching is ball movement and unselfishness. And happiness. The Lakers don’t have one player who plays more than 30 minutes. Five players (D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Nick Young) are scoring 14 points or more a game. The Lakers have won 6 out of 10 games, beating the Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors, teams expected to do damage in the playoffs.

Lakers Five

  • 16.4 points: Lou Williams
  • 16.2 points: D’Angelo Russell
  • 14.7 points: Nick Young
  • 13.9 points: Julius Randle
  • 15.1 points: Jordan Clarkson

The Lakers under Luke Walton are way ahead of schedule. They are 3rd in field goal percentage, 3rd in points scored, 8th in steals, 15th in rebounds. They are 3-3 on the road and 3-1 at home.

photo via llananba