The Minnesota Timberwolves NBA Draft Grade …

Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones join a young, promising Timberwolves franchise that finally looks to be making the right moves.  (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones join a young, promising Timberwolves franchise that finally looks to be making the right moves. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

 

The draft history of the Minnesota Timberwolves has been, frankly, god awful since its inception.  With the exclusion of less than a handful of B+ or greater picks, the Timberwolves have been a trainwreck on draft night more often than not.  For the first time since the Internet has been commonplace, I am looking at an “A” draft grade for Flip Saunders and the Pups.  I’m still not truly sure I believe it …

For the first time in franchise history, the Wolves held the first pick in the NBA Draft.  “Times, they are a changing” my friends.  With Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio already in the fold, along with the potential of Zach LaVine and veteran leadership of Kevin Garnett, Flip Saunders and crew made the obvious choice (at least to me) to kick off the Draft with the selection of Kentucky Freshman, Karl-Anthony Towns.  

A smooth, two way player that can play in the post, step out of the paint to hit a jumper, and play upper-echelon defense.  The pairing of Towns and Wiggins gives the Wolves a potential one-two punch that could pull this franchise out of the woods. For all intents and purposes, Towns is a good guy – he is well spoken and has nothing on his resume that suggests he will fall under the “knucklehead” category that the Wolves have drafted many times over in the past.

When I heard/read that Flip was in love with Jahlil Okafor several weeks ago, I really wanted to blow a gasket.  When I found out Okafor was represented by agent Bill Duffy, my head was going to explode.  Duffy represents or has represented approximately 356 players that have suited up for the Wolves over the past 25 seasons.  (There is no truth to that number, but it feels like it is in the vicinity.) However, the team worked out both players and must have realized what they could be getting with Towns and ultimately made the right decision.  All Towns has to do now is come to Minnesota, show fans he wants to be here and care.  Oh wait, he is already doing all of that …

The draft history of our Pups also includes a tremendous amount of selling picks for “future assets” and cash.  Those “future assets” typically became cash in a subsequent move.  This time, the Wolves took their two second round picks (#31 and #35) along with a future second round pick, and traded them to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the #24 pick, PG Tyus Jones.

Jones played one season for Duke and was a pivotal player for the Blue Devils in their NCAA Championship run.  He also plays a position the Wolves desperately needed to upgrade, (backup) PG.  The Wolves have a potential star in Ricky Rubio, but I don’t see his ceiling as high as it once was, and there is a chance that Rubio can’t stay healthy … or at the very least, be counted on to play 40 minutes per game.

Jones is a hometown kid that grew up cheering for the Wolves.  He now gets to sit in the locker room with KG, who was playing for the Wolves before Jones (or Towns) were even born.  That’s absolutely crazy to me.

While I would normally berate the organization for trading away second round picks, this is the first time in quite some time, the team used them to move up in the draft and make an immediate improvement.  With so many kids on the roster already, there simply wasn’t going to be room to draft one or two players in the second round and etch out playing time for them.

Overall, the Wolves get an “A” from me for this year’s draft results.  “Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy?”

Season’s Over – Thunder Rock Timberwolves 138-113

Admit it, this made you laugh too. (Photo credit: William Bennett Barry on WelcomeToLoudCity.com)

Admit it, this made you laugh too. (Photo credit: William Bennett Barry on WelcomeToLoudCity.com)

 

The end of the 2014/15 NBA regular season is now official for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who finish the year with a (largely pathetic) 16-66 record.  As you likely know, the Oklahoma City Thunder entered the game with a chance to make the playoffs as the 8th seed with a victory and a little help down in New Orleans.

There wasn’t much doubt going into the evening with the plethora of injuries the Timberwolves have amounted over the past few weeks and months, along with a strong desire to have the most ping pong balls in the NBA lottery.  The 16 wins on the season equates to the third worst record in the team’s history.  You’ll find a bullet point list of things to consider for the Wolves’ offseason below.

The Thunder … well, they have Russell Westbrook.  Without Kevin Durant, the Thunder have struggled to hold onto a playoff spot and will retool in the offseason.  The Pelicans took care of the Spurs Wednesday night and will take the 8 seed in the Western Conference.

The Pups starting lineup consisted of Zach LaVine, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Adreian Payne, and Arinze Onuaku.  Interesting stat/number from this season – Wiggins is only one of ten players to start all 82 games this season.  That number is extraordinarily low and concerning.  “Hello reduced NBA game schedule!”

OKC opened up with Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams.

The Thunder got off to an 8-0 start and the game was essentially decided at that point, despite several attempts by the Wolves to make it a closer contest.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Thunder held a 47-29 advantage.  You read that correctly.  Westbrook had 23 points at the end of the first 12 minutes.  Did I mention this game was over when the score was 8-0?

Let’s just run through the score at the end of each quarter:

  • Halftime: Thunder 76 – Wolves 54
  • End of 3rd: Thunder 106 – Wolves 85
  • End of game: Thunder 138 – Wolves 113

Rather than say anything else about the season ending loss, here are a number of thoughts on this franchise as it heads into another playoff-less offseason.  We’ll look to cover some of this in a lot more detail at the appropriate time.

  • I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I truly believe that Andrew Wiggins isn’t getting enough credit for his rookie season.  His month to month averages improved as the season progressed, he played in all 82 games, and he never hit the rookie wall.  That’s un-freaking-believable!
  • Flip Saunders must get off of the sideline as Head Coach.  Sorry Flip, but you have to get out of the way of your own self.
  • I hope to see Ricky Rubio and Kevin Garnett on the court, fully healthy, next season for this team.  I don’t expect early 2000’s KG by any stretch, but their combined passion for basketball would be glorious.
  • Speaking of Rubio, we are on the border of hitting the dreaded “injury plagued” rumor with him.  If he can’t stay healthy next season, this franchise is in a lot of trouble.  A lot.
  • While Karl-Anthony Towns (or Jahlil Okafor) is heavily preferred, even without either player on next year’s roster, the Wolves need to find a new home for Nikola Pekovic.  That isn’t going to be easy.
  • The Wolves would also be better served to find a new home for Kevin Martin.

That’s it for this season’s game recaps folks.  What are your thoughts on the forthcoming offseason?  Where are, or should, the focus be put on the court, on the sideline, and/or in the front office?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 23

The last road trip of the season is ahead for Flip Saunders and his/our Pups.  (Credit: Richard Sennott, Associated Press)

The last road trip of the season is ahead for Flip Saunders and his/our Pups. (Credit: Richard Sennott, Associated Press)

 

Setting the stage:

The Minnesota Timberwolves are down to the last week and a half of the season.  Unfortunately for the club, the forthcoming week includes a west coast swing and several very hard match-ups.  Will the Wolves surpass 17 wins on the year to not tie the third worst record in franchise history for the season?

It doesn’t look very promising based on the week ahead.  Here is a brief preview for the trip out West:

Game 77: Tuesday, 4/7, 9pm – Timberpups @ Sacramento Kings (TV: FS North)

The Kings have handled the Wolves in both of the prior meetings this season and there is one guy that may have a field day if the Wolves don’t get a healthy body out on the court to start this west coast trip …

Opponent to watch:

DeMarcus Cousins – Remember when the Wolves drafted Wesley Johnson over Cousins?  That wound up being a pretty good decision, no?  Cousins leads the Kings in every major statistical category excluding assists and has a PER over 25 this season.  Headcase or not, he’s “slightly” better at playing the game of basketball vs. Wes Johnson.

Game 78: Wednesday, 4/8, 9pm – Timberpups @ Portland Trailblazers (TV: FS North)

The Blazers will be looking to close out the, somewhat underwhelming, Northwest Division as soon as possible and that could happen against the Wolves (if not sooner).

Opponent to watch:

Damian Lillard – Lillard has been a Wolves’ killer since entering the NBA and I fear for what he may do to Zach LaVine on Wednesday night.

Game 79: Friday, 4/10, 9:30pm – Timberpups @ Los Angeles Lakers (TV: FS North & NBA TV)

The bottom of the barrel of the Western Conference faces off on Friday night in Los Angeles.  The Lakers have won two of three against the Pups this season, with the home team having dropped all three games thus far.

Opponent to watch:

Jordan Clarkson – While it likely won’t have such high implications, this could be a nice test for who deserves a spot on the All-Rookie Second Team between Clarkson and LaVine.  While neither have caught the headlines (minus LaVine’s dunk competition), Clarkson has been rock solid for the Lakers in recent weeks.

Game 80: Saturday, 4/11, 9:30pm – Timberpups @ Golden State Warriors (TV: FS North)

The Wolves close out their four game road trip on a back-to-back against the best team in the NBA.  Let’s leave this one alone and enjoy watching the most entertaining team in the league for the evening.

Opponent to watch:

Stephen Curry – He’s good and I’m going to resist the Jonny Flynn jokes (or am I?).  Curry is throwing up almost 24 points and 8 assists a night for the best team in the NBA.  Let’s wrap this up before I get angry.

Wrap-up:

The last road trip, particularly for a team whose season is over, must be hard enough for any team.  However, the Wolves have dresses approximately 45 players in a uniform this season and are looking towards the future with their #EyesOnTheRise.

 

Magic Dust Over Timberwolves, 97-84

Andrew Wiggins and Elfrid Payton (Getty Images)

Andrew Wiggins and Elfrid Payton (Getty Images)

Ahead of the final west coast road trip of their season, the Minnesota Timberwolves hosted the Orlando Magic in Minneapolis Friday night.  As has been the case over the past few weeks, Flip Saunders was forced to throw out another starting lineup, going with Zach LaVine, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Adreian Payne, and Justin Hamilton.  This may not be the exact number, but I count 54,328 different starting lineups this season for the Pups.

An almost equally struggling Magic squad (22-53 coming into Friday night) started with Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, and Dewayne Dedmon.  The Magic have underachieved this year and fired Jacque Vaughn last month.  This is their new head coach (James Borrego) …

Put your hands up if you are excited to coach the Orlando Magic!!  (Associated Press)

Put your hands up if you are excited to coach the Orlando Magic!! (Associated Press)

You may notice that I’m stalling in actually writing about Friday night’s game …

The Magic opened the game strong, quickly opening up a double digit lead.  They shot 60% in the opening quarter, compared to the Wolves’ 35%.  The Wolves’ starting backcourt shot a combined 1-7 from the field for 3 points.  Not ideal.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Magic held a 29-23 lead.

Tobias Harris scored the first 8 points for the Magic in the second quarter, as they reopened a double digit lead in the early minutes of the quarter.  After cutting the Magic lead down to six with just a few minutes to play in the half, the Wolves started getting sloppy (again) with the basketball and managed to give back any traction they made.  At the half, the Magic held a 52-42 advantage.

Halftime highlights:

  • Wolves held a huge advantage at the free throw line, going 14-16 from the line, while the Magic were only 6-10.
  • However, the Wolves were 0-8 from 3PT range.
  • Chase Budinger had a nice half with 9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 1 steal in 17 minutes.

The Magic and Wolves went back and forth throughout the 3rd quarter.  Every time the Wolves made a small run to cut the lead down to six points, the Magic found a way to increase their lead back to 10+ points.  The Wolves cut the lead to four points but the Magic came back yet again and took a 72-65 lead into the final quarter.

After more back and forth, Tobias Harris drilled two three point FG’s from basically the same spot on the floor, pushing the Magic lead to 86-74.  In the end, the Magic walk out of the Target Center with a 97-84 victory over the Timberwolves.

A few notes from the game:

  • The Magic out-rebound the Wolves 53-30 on the night, including a 20-3 advantage on the offensive boards.
  • The teams combined for 39 turnovers.
  • Wiggins led the Wolves with a somewhat quiet 22 points.
  • LaVine finished the game with a box score of 10/5/5, but his performance was significantly worse than those numbers.  Sorry, they were.

 

Rockets Blast Past Timberwolves, 120-110

Wolves fans only have to keep their eyes on Andrew Wiggins to enjoy what should be a great future. (Credit: Scott Halleran, Getty Images)

Wolves fans only have to keep their eyes on Andrew Wiggins to enjoy what should be a great future. (Credit: Scott Halleran, Getty Images)

 

Our Minnesota Timberwolves traveled to Houston to take on the Rockets Friday night.  Both teams are dealing with a slew of injuries, but only one of them was clinching a playoff spot with a victory on Friday.  Dwight Howard returned to action in the Rockets’ last game, but Houston also lost Patrick Beverley.  With that, Kevin McHale’s starting lineup included Jason Terry, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Josh Smith, and Howard.  Flip Saunders countered his coaching buddy with Lorenzo Brown, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Adreian Payne, and Gorgui Dieng.

As you may have been able to predict given those starting lineups, the Wolves were overmatched largely throughout.  The Rockets came out flying all over the court, opening up a quick 11-2 run and leading to an early timeout from Flip.  Minnesota scored the next six points, but the Rockets answered with a few three pointers.  It turned into a playground game for the final eight minutes of the first quarter – a good number of turnovers, steals, loose balls, etc.

Looking for a bright spot on the Wolves (outside of Wiggins) and look no further than Chase Budinger, who was 2-2 from the field for five points in five minutes on the court.  Entering Friday night’s action, Chase had scored in double digits in each of the past seven games.

At the end of the first quarter, the Rockets held a 31-22 advantage.  At the end of the first half, the Rockets held a 10 point lead, 60-50.

Halftime highlights:

  • Rockets’ announcer on Wiggins, “He’s the future of the league”.  (True story)  Wiggins got to the line 12 times (9 makes) in the first half.  That’s unreal!
  • Ugly basketball, as the Rockets had 13 turnovers and the Pups had 8 of their own
  • Wolves were killed on the boards, as Houston held a 22-10 advantage

After struggling from the field in the first half, James Harden exploded in the third quarter, hitting his first four three point attempts coming out of the locker room.  When it looked like the Wolves might pack it up, a spark from LaVine and Payne led an 11-3 run to cut the lead to single digits, forcing Kevin McHale to get out of his seat while on the sideline … the horror.

At the end of the third quarter, the Rockets maintained a ten point lead, 90-80.  Both teams put up 30 points in the quarter, led by James Harden who had already gone over 30 points in the game before the final quarter even began.

Every single, small run that the Wolves went on was met with a barrage of three pointers from the Rockets.  In the end, the Timberwolves simply didn’t have enough firepower to stay with one of the better teams in the NBA.  With the victory, the Rockets are now officially in the playoffs.

The final score, Rockets 120 – Timberwolves 110

A few notes from the game:

  • A somewhat quiet double-double for Gorgui Dieng, who finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds
  • Wiggins finished with 31 points, while Budinger finished with a season high 23 points
  • The Rockets attempted 44 three point field goals (ridiculous) and they made 20 of them (also ridiculous)

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 21

(photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

How often will we see KG on the court the last few weeks of the season?  (Photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

Setting the stage:

We are now officially into the last month of the season, with 12 games left on the Timberwolves schedule.  It hasn’t been a pretty season to say the least.  The Wolves are taking this one game at a time and have made the (wise) decision to give guys the occasional day of rest here and there.  For Kevin Garnett, Nikola Pekovic, and Ricky Rubio, the team is being more than cautious for very different reasons.  It will be interesting to see how much KG plays over the next month, if the Wolves only play him at the Target Center, etc.

Ping pong balls are the craze right now and despite the win in New York this past week, the Timberwolves are in the front seat (if not the drivers’ seat) for the most ping pong balls in the lottery.  I’m not bragging here.

With that in mind, here is a brief preview for another four game week for our Pups:

Game 70: Monday, 3/23, 8pm – Timberpups @ Utah Jazz (TV: No local TV)

Is someone on the FSN broadcast team not allowed in Utah?  It feels like this is a game that commonly sees the local blackout on TV.  While it would take a miracle to do so, the Jazz have been one of the hotter teams in the NBA.  They remain #1 in the NBA in points allowed and will be a tough match-up for the Wolves, even if they were to play at full strength.

Opponent to watch:

Derrick Favors – Favors’ name was showing up in trade rumors last year but I imagine that is over with his performance this season – 16+ppg, 8+rpg and a PER over 22.  If KG sits this one out, it could be a long night for Adreian Payne.

Game 71: Wednesday, 3/25, 7pm – Los Angeles Lakers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Lakers are making a late run for ping pong balls, having shut Kobe Bryant down for the season and showcasing the likes of Wayne Ellington, Tarik Black, and …

Opponent to watch:

Wesley Johnson – My least favorite lottery pick in Timberwolves’ history!  Johnson is playing just under 30 minutes a night and still can’t score 10ppg or grab 4rpg on average.  Awesome.

Game 72: Friday, 3/27, 7pm – Timberpups @ Houston Rockets (TV: FS North)

Despite losing all three prior contests this season, the Wolves have played the Rockets tough.  This is another opportunity for the Wolves to put on the original blue uniforms against Kevin McHale’s squad … (note: I know this can’t happen, but I still yearn for it).

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden is a legitimate MVP candidate this season (top 5 at least).  He’s putting up about 26-7-6 on a nightly basis and has free reign on the court because … well, he has McHale as a head coach.

Game 73: Sunday, 3/29, 3pm – Timberpups @ New Orleans Pelicans (TV: FS North)

The Pelicans dropped a season high 139 points on the Timberwolves back in November.  With the season winding down and the Wolves’ resting players, what is New Orleans capable of Sunday afternoon?

Opponent to watch:

Anthony Davis – Another legitimate MVP candidate gets to face the Wolves this week.  If you thought Harden’s numbers were impressive, Davis is putting up about 25 and 10 to go with about 3 blocks a night and a PER north of 30.  Let’s hope he can stay healthy because Davis could be the league’s best as LeBron and Durant start to age.

Wrap-up:

A very, very tough week ahead for the Timberwolves … excluding a terrible Lakers team of course.  Let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 20

The Wolves’ youngsters have a few more weeks to absorb everything from KG. (Credit: NBAE/David Sherman Getty Images)

The Wolves’ youngsters have a few more weeks to absorb everything from KG. (Credit: NBAE/David Sherman Getty Images)

Setting the stage:

If nothing else, the Timberwolves have my attention the rest of this season due to the Kevin Garnett and Gary Neal trades.  To say that the team is playing more enjoyable basketball over the past couple of weeks would be an egregious understatement.  While players have returned from injury, the two that have mattered the most are Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio.  Everything else is just gravy along the rest of the way through this season.

With the Pups playing better, there are several chances for the team to walk away with a few victories this week.  Here is a brief preview for this week’s four games:

Game 66: Monday, 3/16, 7pm – Brooklyn Nets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

It may not be too surprising to see the Nets’ season go down the tubes since the trade deadline.  The team essentially threw in the towel and the results since have the team looking below them in the standings to see if anyone else in the Eastern Conference will pass them by.

Opponent to watch:

Thad Young – This will probably be the last time I ever mention Thad on this board, so might as well take the opportunity.  The former Pup takes on his former team at the Target Center.

Game 67: Wednesday, 3/18, 6:30pm – Timberpups @ Toronto Raptors (TV: FS North)

The Wolves and Raptors have yet to play this season, but the crowd should be engaged in this one as Andrew Wiggins (and Anthony Bennett) return to the homeland.  Toronto has a double digit lead on every other team in its division and has run away with the Atlantic division.  However, the standings are tight and they can’t afford to drop a home game against the Wolves.

Opponent to watch:

Kyle Lowry – Lowry is having a career best year, leading the Raptors in steals and assists, while second on the team with over 18 ppg.  He will give Wolves’ PG’s fits, particularly if he can get Rubio into foul trouble.

Game 68: Thursday, 3/19, 6:30pm – Timberpups @ New York Knicks (TV: FSN Plus)

Tankapalooza takes its next step as the Wolves head to Madison Square Garden to take on the (dreadful) Knicks.  A win by the Wolves should lock up a better season record vs. New York, as Minnesota already defeated the Knicks in early November.

Opponent to watch:

Alexey Shved – Welcome back to Timberpups.com Alexey Shved!  Someone is likely telling him to “change your face” on a nightly basis having to play for this awful franchise.

Game 69: Sunday, 3/22, 6pm – Charlotte Hornets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Al Jefferson may be destined to never play meaningful minutes in the playoffs.  There is no reason for the Hornets to miss the playoffs and lose a spot to the likes of the Pacers.  This team is going to continue to underachieve until Michael Jordan is forced out of retirement again, aren’t they?

Opponent to watch:

Mo Williams – Williams has played incredibly well for the Hornets since being traded by the Wolves.  Consistently seeing over 30 minutes per game may not be a great way to keep Williams fresh for the end of the season, but the Hornets have no other option at this point.

Wrap-up:

It is a week of returns for ex-Pups players and facing their former team.  The Wolves should be able to pull at least two victories out of this coming week.  Let’s go Wolves!