Some sports fans are forced to be more patient than others. Take Minnesota Timberwolves fans, for example. The team has been around since 1989 but have made it past the first round of the playoffs just once, when they progressed to the Western Conference Finals in 2003-04 behind Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell. Their fans have probably gone past daring to dream of success, because you would almost accept failure as commonplace when you are disappointed time and time again. Since 03-04, the franchise highlight would be when Kevin Love put up a 30-30 in 2011, which included half a dozen deliberately missed layups and subsequent offensive rebounds (kidding!).
After the 2013-14 season, their franchise guy was traded away to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first pick in that draft, Andrew Wiggins. That same offseason, the Wolves also drafted a precocious young shooting guard in Zach Lavine and the future looked bright. In the following season they were again terrible – their reward was the first pick in the draft, Karl-Anthony Towns. This trio was seen as the foundations of a team for the future, and the addition of top coach Tom Thibodeau in the off-season had many excited at what was brewing in Minnesota. Some had the Wolves tagged as a 50 win team, most considered them likely to contend for playoffs but virtually none would have expected what we have seen thus far. More than a quarter of the way through the season, the Wolves are tied for THE WORST record in the league. How can that be possible, with so much talent?
It was recognised that the defence was putrid and that was addressed with the additional of defensive czar Thibodeau, but it still sucks; despite having elite bigs in KAT and Gorgui Dieng, they concede the sixth-most points in the paints in the league. Worse still, they rank 27th in defensive efficiency just ahead of Phoenix, Denver and New York and behind only the Lakers, Nets and Blazers. Those other six teams are either woefully undersized, terribly lacking in talent or just shithouse and the Wolves are NONE of those three! To top it off, they concede the sixth-most points in the NBA. Put simply, this defence is underachieving given the individual talent on the team and it needs to pick up what Thibs is putting down NOW!
Their home record is the worst in the league. Not just bad, or in need of improvement. THE WORST. They have already lost to Denver and New York at home and been embarrassed by Detroit and the LA Clippers. Good teams don’t let that happen, and the Wolves lead the Pistons game late in the second quarter before mailing it in. Good teams also don’t mail it in, and while the Wolves are young it is concerning that a coach as well-respected and experienced as Thibs is struggling to keep this team on the straight and narrow.
Offensively, the Wolves are OK. A team with three elite offensive talents should be better than OK, but more on that later. They rank 10th in offensive rating and 13th in true shooting percentage but rank 22nd in turnover percentage. For a team that is playing at a slow pace, ranking 21st in that category, the turnovers are a worry. No one player stands out as being to blame, with all five starters recording between 1.7 and 2.6 turnovers a game but four of the five starters are contributing in other areas. The odd one out is Ricky Rubio, who has been so ineffective he has been replaced by Tyus Jones and rookie Kris Dunn in the fourth quarter more often than not. Rubio was vocal in the off-season in his desire to be on a successful team, the breath he spent making those comments would have been better spent in the gym. When you shoot 36.7% from the field, offer little offensively and hide behind opportunistic defensive statistics, then quite frankly you are not entitled to have a say on success because you are arguably the biggest contributing factor to failure!
The sooner the Wolves cut ties with Rubio, the better. I mean, surely the first thing any decent point guard would do would be to get the ball to Towns over, and over, and over again. Towns ranks 35th in usage, but still averaging 21.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.4 blocks and 0.7 steals. They say stats can be used to prove anything. True, and in this case they prove that KAT is freaking awesome! Yet those players with a higher usage rate than him include Lou Williams, Zach Randolph, D’Angelo Russell and Jrue Holiday. To have your franchise player getting that little of the ball should be a sackable offense for the playmaker of the team, let alone one who should know better.
Also above him on the usage list is Wiggins, who ranks seventh on the team among regular rotation players in true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage. Furthermore he also ranks seventh in the team in assists, ninth in steals and grabs just four rebounds a game. Its hard to criticise a guy who ranks 20th in the league in scoring at 22.4 ppg (note – the Wolves are one of only three teams in the league alongside the Cavs, and Warriors with three players averaging more than 20 points a game…how can a young side stacked with three such gifted players be the WORST TEAM IN THE LEAGUE!!), but Wiggins needs to be more than a mid-range threat. His game does not have the versatility needed at this stage, especially given his pedigree and undoubted talent.
LaVine is quietly averaging 20.4 points and playing the second most minutes per game in the league, shooting a very respectable 46.8% from the field and showing a speed and explosiveness in the open floor that is unmatched. His defence is solid, and he is fast becoming more than just a dunking sideshow. Having said that, when you can dunk like THIS how can you not talk about this kid?!?!
This is one of the best 10 in-game dunks, ever.. and his out of game dunking isn’t too shabby either:
On the 2016 dunk contest, I know the dunk contest has lost some of its lustre and we all pine for the classic MJ/Nique clashes of the late 80’s but the show Gordon and LaVine put on last season was right up there with any dunk contest we have ever seen, and may well have gone to the top of the list. In the case of both LaVine and Gordon, the basketball games need to catch up to the athleticism but let’s appreciate what we witnessed…it WAS greatness in its own way.
Back onto the Wolves, some will argue this slow burn and development is part of the process (but I challenge that, because THE PROCESS is alive and well in Philadelphia, and may be the most exciting thing on a basketball court in a decade…don’t believe me, he is 7’3” and can do some things that most guys could only dream of. Ranking second in the NBA in usage, basketball fans are praying his foot holds up…
But enough of Embiid, back to Minny. Dieng, Towns and Wiggins have appeared in all games and LaVine has missed just one, so continuity is excellent and availability cannot be held up as an excuse. Thibodeau is a shrewd basketball mind and will have a plan, or realise that these things take time and will call for patience. Then again, there have been noises of him wanting Jimmy Butler to join him in Minnesota, which would mean breaking up the nucleus of which so much is expected. He has a good enough record as coach that he should be afforded some patience and respect, but Minnesota basketball fans would rightly be demanding answers if progress isn’t swift in the remainder of the season. To waste another minute of the elite talent in Towns, Wiggins and LaVine on board would be a basketball travesty, even if the town of Minnesota don’t have the energy to care anymore.