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.

 

Thunder Pull Away From Timberwolves, 113-99

Andrew Wiggins consistently found a way to make the Thunder pay on Friday night! (AP Photo, Sue Ogrocki)

Andrew Wiggins consistently found a way to make the Thunder pay on Friday night! (AP Photo, Sue Ogrocki)

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves traveled to Oklahoma City to take on a Kevin Durant-less Thunder squad who continues to fight for their playoff lives.  The Wolves gave their own big gun, Kevin Garnett, the night off as well.  Enough foreplay, let’s get to the action!

The Timberwolves opened up with a starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Adreian Payne, and Gorgui Dieng (i.e. still no Nikola Pekovic).  The Thunder mixed things up a bit in an effort to get more offensive firepower in the starting lineup, going with Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, and Mitch McGary.

Both teams came out firing on the offensive end, putting up points with very little regard for the defensive side of the ball.  Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins put the Wolves on their shoulders in the first quarter, with the rookie drawing fouls and going to the line 10 times and making all 10!

However, the Wolves frontcourt defense left more than a little to be desired.  Adreian Payne struggled to cover his man or rotate when necessary.  The lack of prowess led to a quick timeout from Flip Saunders in the quarter, but he pretty much gave up hope shortly thereafter, allowing play to continue throughout a few rough patches.  While the future Rookie of the Year kept his team in the hunt, the Thunder took a 31-26 lead into the second quarter.

Zach LaVine had another “I’m not a PG and stop making me play one on TV” start to the second quarter, with a missed 23 footer, a turnover, and allowing DJ Augustin go off to build the Thunder’s lead to 39-28.  With that, Flip burned another timeout and brought back in the Unicorn.  This sparked a 12-0 run to give the Wolves a 40-39 lead.

As goes the Wolves season, Kevin Martin blew a layup on the next possession and bricked a three-pointer after a nice block from Dieng.  That seemed to give OKC some life as they went on a 5-0 run and were consistently beating the Wolves on the boards.  The Thunder scored 11 points in the final 2:45 of the half and took a 55-49 lead into the locker room.

Halftime highlights include:

  • Gorgui Dieng already amassed a double-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds … to go with 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 assist.  Please stop “tinkering” (PG-rated) with Gorgui’s minutes and role.  He should be a part of the long term plan.
  • Adreian Payne … I don’t see it.  11 minutes and a game low -14.  I know he has shown a few sparks, but to give up a future 1st rounder for the guy is not likely to end well.
  • Aided by Wiggins’ 10-10, the Wolves finished the half 13-13 at the FT line, while the Thunder went 8-8.  Nice, fundamental basketball there!

Aside from a few Justin Hamilton highlights (pick-and-pop made jumper, emphatic dunk) the first six minutes of the third quarter were an abomination for the Wolves.  The Wolves had four points in the first five minutes of the quarter before realizing that the second half started.  After trailing by as many as 14 in the quarter, the Wolves fought back to cut the lead in half heading into the final frame – 79-72.

With the Wolves continuing to trail by seven points, 87-80, the Wolves PR crew sent out the following:

(Insert stomach punch / game over)

As you might expect, this was the actual end of the game as the Thunder pulled away quickly thereafter.  While the Thunder announcers praised the potential for the Wolves, at some point this needs to turn a corner.  Here are a few thoughts from Twitter …

The final score, Thunder 113 – Timberwolves 99 

A few notes from the game:

  • Russell Westbrook barely missed a quadruple-double – 29 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and 8 turnovers
  • Following up on the halftime notes – Dieng finished with 21 and 14, while Payne finished with a -22 in 20 minutes of action
  • Justin Hamilton finished with a career high 17 points and added 10 rebounds
  • Enes Kanter continues to be a thorn in the Wolves’ side, finishing with 23 points and 15 rebounds

Timberwolves Lose Close Game to the Clippers

(photo credit: fox sports)

(photo credit: fox sports)

Monday’s game proved exciting for all four quarters, and the final score came down to the wire. Unfortunately for Minnesota fans, the Wolves just couldn’t hang on and fell 110-105 to the Clippers. Gary Neal joined the starting lineup and led the Wolves with 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio followed close behind with 18 points apiece.

As expected, Chris Paul put on quite the performance for LA, and he played a major role in pulling out the win. Paul, who is averaging 18.2 points and 10 assists per game, finished the game with an impressive 26 points and 14 assists. The point guard made the play of the night, grabbing a bucket over Kevin Garnett with 38 seconds remaining. That basket sealed the win for the Clips.

“[Paul] is a hell of a player,” said head coach Flip Saunders following the game. “We defended him as well as we could on that play, and he makes that shot.”

Garnett praised Paul as well, saying, “He’s probably the best general in the game as far as a guy executing. They’re playing better than anybody.”

Minnesota played well for most of the game, but the fourth quarter proved especially trying for Minnesota. Coming off a 37-point second quarter and 54.5 percent shooting in the third, the Wolves collapsed in the final stretch. The Clippers held Minny to just 7.1 percent from the field, which equaled just a single basket. Of the 18 points the Wolves tallied in the fourth, 16 of those came from the charity stripe. Looking at these numbers, it seemed unrealistic that Minnesota was actually given the chance to tie the game in the final seconds. Neal attempted a shot to even the score, but the launch fell short.

Neal did have the most points in the game, but his shooting was not particularly impressive. The guard shot only 6-of-17 from the field and 2-of-7 from behind the 3-point line.

“We were struggling and I thought [Neal] just thought he could make a shot,” Saunders said. “He thought he maybe got clipped a little bit in his legs. It was kind of a combination of he was looking for a call and also trying to shoot.”

The Wolves shot 43.9 percent overall Monday night, and they easily out-shot LA from the free-throw line with 82.9 percent compared to the Clippers’ 52.6 percent. Minnesota also out rebounded its opponents 47-43.

Here is something you don’t see every day: seven of the eight Wolves players who saw minutes scored in double-digit points. Adreian Payne proved a huge asset off the bench, adding 12 points and five rebounds, and rookie Zach LaVine also contributed 14 points. Garnett tallied 12 points, three rebounds and a blocked shot in his third game back with Minnesota.

Rubio was the stat line of the night, though, grabbing his fourth triple-double of the season. The point guard finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.

Several good things happened for Minnesota, but in the end it’s still a game in the Loss column. The Associated Press’ Jon Krawcynski posted the following after the game:

Monday’s game marked the first of three home games this week for the Wolves. Up next, they welcome Ty Lawson and the Denver Nuggets Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberwolves Make it Official, Bringing Kevin Garnett Back to Minnesota

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

Welcome home, KG.

In a swirl of events on the day of the NBA Trade Deadline, the Timberwolves have made it official—Kevin Garnett is coming back to Minnesota.

This morning, I checked my Twitter feed at 5:57 a.m.—because isn’t that what everyone does first thing in the morning—and read several posts about Minnesota negotiating a trade with Brooklyn to bring Garnett back to the team he was drafted by.

Rumors buzzed around the Internet all morning and through the lunch hour, and then, at 1:34 p.m., we got this:

So, there you have it. For better or worse, The Big Ticket will once again don a Timberwolves jersey. According to sources, Minnesota traded forward Thaddeus Young to Brooklyn in exchange for Garnett. The final decision was ultimately up to KG, because he had a no-trade clause written into his contract with the Nets. In an earlier post, ESPN’s Marc Stein wrote the following:

“Garnett has insisted in recent weeks that he is not in the market for an in-season exit from Brooklyn, largely because he does not wish to displace his family ‎in the middle of the season.”

It seems he made an exception  for Flip Saunders and the Wolves, though, as it will offer him a chance to finish out his NBA career with the city he first called home.

Garnett will be returning to play for Saunders, who coached the forward during Minnesota’s only eight playoff appearances (1997-2004). He will also be coached by former teammate Sam Mitchell, whom Garnett has described as “The Great Sam Mitchell” and offers nothing but respect and praise for. Earlier this season, Garnett said the following of the coaching duo:

“It’s refreshing [to see them back together in MN]. I know those are great basketball minds, great basketball IQs, two guys that are really competitive, teaching young guys. I think the league needs more of that […] I thought when the league got rid of a lot of veterans, it took away a lot of dignity and professionalism with it. It’s good to see those guys back.”

(photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

(photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

KG won an MVP during his final season in Minnesota, after leading the Wolves to the Western Conference Finals. Over his time here, he averaged 20.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. There is no denying the fact that Garnett is aging, though. This season, at 38 years old, the veteran is averaging 6.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. So, was this a poor move for Minnesota?

It is certainly a bummer for Wolves fans to say good-bye to Young, who is only 26 years old and more in the prime of his career. Young is currently averaging 14.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, which looks much more appealing on paper, but he also has an opt-out clause following this season, and this is not the first time Minny has shopped Young around. In addition, the forward puts a $10 million hit against the Timberwolves’ cap space.

A general trend across social media this afternoon is that most fans are beyond excited to see KG back in the Target Center, but that the trade is really a marketing scheme by the Wolves—after all, nostalgia sells tickets.

So is that all this is? Is this just a “two-month victory lap“?  The Associated Press’ Jon Krawczynski says “no.”

In a radio interview with KFAN, Krawczynski expressed that there really is a plan here to utilize Garnett for the experienced veteran that he is. After all, No. 21 entered the league as a teenager—just like rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine did this year.

“Flip really does believe that having Garnett here can really set the stage for Wiggins and these young guys,” Krawcynski said. “[He’s an …] investment in the future of the franchise.”

In addition, the Wolves have made it clear that they are interested in signing Garnett to a two-year extension. As Krawcynski pointed out, “KG is aware the Wolves want to do the extension. No doubt that factored into his decision to waive no-trade.”

There’s no guarantee that Garnett will bring any sort of offensive explosion to the floor—although you can bet that the first dish from Rubio to KG for a slam dunk will blow the doors right off the Target Center. One thing people aren’t acknowledging, though, is the defensive energy Garnett still demonstrates. NBC Sports‘ Aaron Gleeman posted the following:

The Wolves defense has not been anything worth raving about in several seasons, and even this statistic about KG brings a little more upside to the deal.

However you look at it, there are a lot of variables in this trade—there are a lot of things difficult to predict. Will Garnett transition well back to Minnesota? Will he improve the Wolves offense? Will he sign an extension, and for how much? But for now, today, one thing is enough for Minnesota Timberwolves fans:

KG is back in the house.