MINNESOTA @ OKLAHOMA CITY - Pregame Primer

Minnesota Timberwolves @ Oklahoma City Thunder

Pregame Primer

 

by Winter

 

Minnesota (1-3, 0-2 on road) Oklahoma City (4-1, 2-0 at home)

 

Minnesota goes on the road to face the vaunted Oklahoma City Thunder. With Russell Westbrook and bonafide sharpshooter Kevin Dur……wait nevermind.

 

Minnesota goes on the road to face the one-man-wrecking-crew of Russell Westbrook and friends. There, better?

It has been a tough start for Minnesota. With an opening night loss to Memphis, after being up 20. Followed by a loss in Sac-town, while being up 17. A return rout of Memphis for a home win, and then again, while being up 16, eventually losing to Denver, at home. The trend here? Minnesota plays inspired team basketball for three quarters. If only there were three quarters in a game, Minnesota would be undefeated. But they’re not. And they have problems. First and foremost, if you’ve noticed a trend, is finishing games. They take leads into the second half, only to give them back to the opponent. Credit Memphis, Denver and Sacramento for fighting back, but we all know Thibs has lost a few years of his life based off each blown double-digit lead the Wolves sacrifice.

Oklahoma City, has finished games with more points than their opponents, which, barring the one loss, a rout for that matter, at the hand to the Golden State Warriors on the second night of a back-to-back, has led to a 4-1 record. OKC has dispatched Philadelphia, Phoenix and Los Angeles (Lakers and Clippers) to reach this early cushion.

Yet, both teams are coming off of losses, so, at the end of tonight, one of them will have a winning streak.

 

OKC and MIN meet four times this year. This is the first meeting.

 

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

 

1-     Russell Westbrook vs the Wolves

Everyone knows that a heavy dose of the catalyst which starts every and all OKC possessions will be striking the Wolves early, often, and without remorse. Look to see how 1- Kris Dunn guards the perennial All-Star PG. 2- How many times Kris Dunn gets schooled by said All-Star 3- If Kris Dunn can defend the pick and roll, of which he be served on most half-court possessions. It all starts with the 1, can Dunn prove himself in the most difficult of matchups early in his career.

2-     Karl Anthony-Towns, and Andrew Wiggins against Russell Westbrook’s friends

Oklahoma City, conveniently, has a pretty solid team around Westbrook. Steven Adams is a presence at Center and has really improved in his time in the league. KAT will have a tough defensive presence to work around. He can’t just slip by Adams either, it should amount to a good matchup. Towns can defend Adams, but the big Kiwi has an improved game offensively. Towns will have to show him who’s boss. Wiggins, will be playing against a very good defender. Andre Roberson. Andrew has had his issues scoring consistently when a lengthy player is affecting his game, so I hope for some better ball movement to help his offense flow. However, Wiggins can sleep at the defensive side because Roberson is a net negative offensive player. Watch out for double teams on the Wrecking Ball.

 

3-     Rebounding.

OKC has tailored its team around athletic players (Except Kyle Singler) or players who have a great court sense for rebounds, team defense, and BBIQ. Enes Kanter, though a poor defender, plays well off of missed shots, and newly acquired Jerami Grant is yet another athletic wing that Minnesota really cannot defend. Victor Oladipo should be guarding Zach Lavine on the outside, and vis-a-vis, but it is through missed shots, hustle, and collecting offensive boards that I feel this game will be decided. Bad news if Wiggins has another sub par rebounding game. Wiggins, don’t let me down, fight for the ball and turn the tide for the North!

21 TWOLVES PREDICTIONS

21 Timberwolves Predictions

Dedicated to the KG. Keep it real!

 

W i n t e r

 

1) The Wolves will make the playoffs.

 

It has been a long, long time since Minnesota has graced the scene of the postseason. This year, I am feeling that the group will be hungry for that streak to end. Let’s go Wolves!

 

2) Karl Anthony-Towns will be an All-Star.

 

The new age of Wolves basketball will come to realization after KAT shows the league that his Rookie year was just a springboard for what will be a stellar career. No sophomore slump for Towns, who will be by-and-large the best option for Minnesota.

 

3) Ricky Rubio will not be traded.

 

As has been evident in the offseason, Kris Dunn has not destroyed all competition in his path. I like Dunn’s game a lot, and he will turn into a really solid player in time. Rubio, who has had a few horrendous injury years, needs that solid backup just in case… Rubio getting a few nights off, or playing about 28-35 minutes a game, I think, is ideal. But, with 4 point guards on the roster, the most likely player to be traded is…

4) Tyus Jones.

 

This was a big summer for Tyus. He showed in summer league that with a mostly motley crew of players that his game, on a level with equal competition, can play higher than what his 3rd string role is plateauing at. Barring an injury in the first month to Dunn or Rubio, Tyus will be traded before the deadline. The Wolves elected to keep John Lucas III on the roster, which provides them an insurance PG for this scenario to come to fruition.

 

5) Zach Lavine will hit 170 3 pointers this year.

 

With the reins firmly in Lavine’s hands to be the Wolves’ SG, he will pop-off this year for a career best. Lavine hit 123 long-shots last year. He is way better than Wiggins, who only hit 57. Let’s say that both numbers need to go up for Minnesota to succeed.

 

6) Wiggins stymies criticisms with a better rebounding year.

 

In 2015/16, Wiggins has averaged 3.6 rebounds a game. That is woefully low for a SF who is about 6’8. This year, Wiggins tops the 5 RPG mark. Getting him good graces with pundits and fans alike.

 

7) Shabazz Muhammed is traded

 

A prime target, albeit undersized for SF, and not quite good enough defensively for SG, Muhammed may find himself on the trade shelf with Tyus Jones. Packaged together I can see both players flipped for picks…because..

 

8) Nemanja Bjelica plays a much larger role than originally forecasted.

 

A larger Shooting Forward? Has playmaking skills? Affordable contract? Thibodeau defensive hounding? Bjelica checks off all the boxes. His issue, last year, was adjusting to the NBA game. I still see the former Euroleague MVP working his way into the rotation consistently to start the year, but after a month, and with improvement, defensively especially, I think he has the opportunity to play more than Muhammed, thus opening up the trade market for assets, rather than players.

 

9) Gorgui Dieng averages 10/8/2

 

Dieng really played better the second half of the year after some time meshing with Towns. Now that they know what to do when switching on defense, the combo will prove to be much more efficient. He also hit 6 three’s last year. This year: 15.

 

10) Nikola Pekovic will not play a game.

 

Already confirmed. Hell yea.

He will also be given the stretch provision after the season, thus ending his NBA career.

 

11) Minnesota will have a positive road record.

 

Thibs will make sure that the important part to make the playoffs is protecting home court, and winning more on the road than losing. The Wolves follow in suit.

 

12) Kevin Garnett will join the Wolves as an adviser.

 

13) Andrew Wiggins will average another season over 20 PPG.

 

Which will be two in a row for the young scorer. If he can up his 3PT %, which I believe he will, he, joining Towns, will both average 20 PPG.

 

14) Adrien Payne will not be with Minnesota next year.

 

His option was not picked up, making him a UFA at the end of the season. Payne has not demonstrated a real knack for the game. He floats, rebounds poorly, and has a very streaky offensive game. In limited minutes he has shown some promise, but apparently not enough.

 

15) Kris Dunn will average under 10 PPG and less than 4 APG while shooting under 35% from the field.

 

His rookie season will not be super. Dunn can help himself out by working hard to understand the speed of the game. The shot will naturally get better. Unless you’re Rubio. I mean, even Rubio has improved marginally…

 

16) You will forget that Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich play for Minnesota.

 

They will only be used in the backup role anyways…

 

17) Minnesota will win 47 games this year.

 

Placing them as the 8th seed?

 

18) Minnesota will lose in the first round of the playoffs, 4-0.

 

I just don’t see them competing with the top tier talent. It will be a formative year for this team.

 

19) I will be the only writer for DailyTWolves.

 

All others have forsaken this website.

 

20) Towns will earn 60 double-doubles.

 

Hell yea.

 

21) The Spirit of KG lives on.

 

 

 

 

A legend gone, a rising sun

A legend gone, a rising sun.

Winter

 

            A long time ago, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell were on the Wolves. The shiny bald head of Cassell glistening like an alien’s temple. And Spree’s dreads bouncing and weaving like a boxer. They’re long gone, mere mentions in NBA circles or satirized for comments about feeding families. Alongside them, at various times, were Wally Szczerbiak, stored away in the strange names vault, and current Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, still relevant. Gone is crowd favorite Mark Madsen, who was not a good basketballer, but was an ideal representation of Minnesotans’ hard working, yet have-fun attitude. In 2003, the stars aligned and I witnessed a Wolves playoff victory. Yeah, it has been over a decade since the much-maligned Minnesota Timberwolves have made it back to the NBA playoffs, longer still since a series victory. 2004 was their last year in, and that was their 8th consecutive appearance, and as such, the current team holds the Association’s present day’s longest playoff drought. Even Philly, Sacramento, Orlando, Denver, Phoenix, Brooklyn and, well, every other team has made it to the playoffs since Minnesota last appeared in the postseason. What happened? A lot since then, and now. A driving factor, however was Kevin Garnett’s presence. The last Minnesota team to surmount to anything was ‘his’ team of 2003. That year, they defeated Sacramento. I was just a gangly kid in high school, new to Minnesota at the time, but I went to one playoff game, and the only one I have been at so far, to witness the energy. Yes, there was energy in the Target Center. Garnett, in his prime was a monster. He may have played outside too much for some to put him at the top of their list of Power Forwards, but the man played his guts off each night. I preferred to watch KG over Timmy Duncan any day. I’d take Tim Duncan to build a franchise around, but hey, that’s a different article. KG, man, he really defended with ferocity, and demanded a lot of his teammates, he could play both sides. His MVP season he averaged 20/10. I imagine a Kobe & KG super team. No one else would play with them after being chewed out all practice long. When I heard the news of his retirement, I was jaded, but also understanding. Sometimes, you know it is for the best. Garnett’s best seasons were way behind him. Even in Brooklyn and the last years in Boston he was a shell of his former self. Nagging knee pain seems to be Garnett’s exit music from the League. With 21 long years of service in the NBA, he has the miles. Long miles too. Garnett was just a skinny kid out of Farragut Academy, SC. He added weight and muscle over the years, but never was he a bulky 6’11. Pushed around in the post all those years. Rebounding like a demon. Trash talking all sorts of nice phrases to opponents. Keeping a decent weight probably has lent to his longevity, in truth.

            Funny thing, I, while still bumming around Minnesota earlier this year, purchased NBA tickets to a rather uninteresting game. Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Memphis Grizzlies. After Marc Gasol was injured, and Zach Randolph getting old. Woowee. What a matchup. Yeah, I wanted to go to a game with my dad to kick it and see some good basketball before I went across the ocean for work. So we went. It was a pretty good game overall. Garnett played like 10 minutes or something, the crowd was enthusiastic for KG when he was introduced. He had some nice plays, a pass here, a few good boxouts, some idyllic pick and roll defense, and the team played better with him on the court. Yet, I wondered how Minnesota could field a lineup with Tayshaun Prince, Garnett, Ricky Rubio, all three can’t shoot too well, with two other players on the court, so the game was by-and-large a “Let’s double team Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns” strategy from the Grizz. Fortunately, some role players stepped up and made shots and the Wolves won the game. Not that it mattered at all. It was only some random mid-season game. My dad wants/wanted the Wolves to win every game, that’s reasonable. He’s a reasonable man, an engineer. But I am a writer, and a creative type overall. I am not trapped in the moment. In fact, my mind is always in another place. So, I’m telling him, “It is okay if Minnesota loses, dad, they might have a better chance of getting a top-three pick in the draft.” He pleads for me to shut up and just wish for the win, because my vibes, or something unreasonable like that, will make them lose. I’m not saying tanking is the answer, but if you win a game, great, if you don’t, fine, this applies for those fringe teams that won’t make the playoffs, and know it, come February, March. The Wolves won, whoop-dee-do, maybe my reverse psychology worked. Did it help them get Kris Dunn in the following draft? I don’t know. I do remember KG knocking down one of his patented elbow jump-shots that he has so long crafted to look effortless. The real story from that game is how Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns really played well and they showed some moxie to close out a game against a quality opponent. Even if Memphis went on to get swept by Golden State in the playoffs that year. It is a blip of a game in the grand scope of things. We both went home happy that we saw an entertaining game, as the NBA is an entertainment product. What we didn’t know, is that we both were at Garnett’s final game as an NBA baller. He claimed “Knee soreness” For much of the rest of the season, dressing sharp, sitting on the bench, and giving advice to the younger players on the roster. The weeks went on, and the playoffs started, Minnesota, having being eliminated thought it was fine that Garnett didn’t play anymore, or give it one last shot late in the season to play in front of the home crowd. Nope. That game was it. Now, more than a blip of a game, it was, and will forever be the final time anyone saw KG suit up. What does it mean for my future? Nothing, to me. It is a memory, and not even that vivid. Because no one knew it would be anything other than another mid-season game. I can’t even remember what the hell happened between tip-off and final-buzzer. I only remember a picture here and there.

            ***

Years ago, I was sad that Garnett left Minnesota to pursue a championship in Boston. It had to be done, though. Minnesota had poor allure for free-agents, and former General Manager, David Kahn, really didn’t have any players pan out the way he planned. I would lay a claim that the culture wasn’t what it needed to be, also. Something was amiss. Minnesota suffered mightily in the years after Garnett’s 2007 departure. At least the Big Ticket got a championship in '08, for that, I was glad. Their struggles are documented no better than the infamous choices made in the 2009 draft. Where Johnny Flynn, and draft-and-stache Rubio were selected over sharpshooter, former, and current, so, two-time MVP Stephen Curry. Also in the draft? Did you remember that the Wolves selected Ty Lawson and traded him to Denver? I, still to this day, do not know what Kahn and the management team were thinking. They also head-scratchingly selected Brandon Roy, only to trade him to the Blazers for the pick right below theirs for Randy Foye in yet another draft day fumble. Roy won Rookie of the year.... Some things made no sense to me. Kevin Love was the best thing in Minnesota basketball for a few years. Especially a highlight game against the OKC Thunder where Love scored 50, Durant, Westbrook each scored a bunch, and Serge Ibaka had a triple double. I’ll never forget. Nonethess, relations soured with Love and finally, the ball bounced in Minnesota’s direction... Cleveland was willing to part with newly drafted Andrew Wiggins for their ‘answer’ to perimeter spacing and interior defense. But Garnett, the loyalty prevailed, he returned to the Land of Lakes two years ago in a lopsided trade. Thaddeus Young for Kevin Garnett. Young, is no doubt a better player at this stage, but the management team couldn’t resist bringing in a franchise icon. Garnett’s 2-year $16 million salary was not egregious, with Minnesota’s ample cap space. And now, they have bought him out in entirety with his retirement. It all comes to a close for the first big star in Minnesota. His chapter in the NBA has now been concluded. The all-time leader in defensive rebounds. The former MVP. NBA Champion with Boston, and defensive legend. Garnett’s passing of the torch to Towns, Wiggins and others who are making their way in the League means the next age of basketball begins. Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett, three superstars, three champions, and for those of us in our late 20’s, early 30’s, cannot remember basketball without them. So long, KG. It’s been real.

  ***

As I have documented in my season preview earlier this summer, the Wolves have a strong core contingent of young players to build upon. If Garnett’s legacy has a lasting impression on Towns, he could be the next star in a Wolves uniform. I see great things for in his future. He has the ability to be a monster defensively, and he has the skills to be a solid inside-out scorer, and appears to be wise for his age, ready to work hard to earn his max contract in a few years. Andrew Wiggins’ game is somewhat analogous to Kobe’s. He has the turn-around-high-kick jump shot and major vertical to highlight-reel slam dunks. Young Kobe was also inefficient, like Wiggins is now. But prime Kobe was a cold-blooded killer. With some increased accuracy from 3-point range, Wiggins will be on the right track to open his triple-threat game up even more, just like Kobe did around his third and fourth years in the NBA.

 ***

If you’re not a Wolves fan, or whatever, some random person on Dailytwolves.com for, god-forbid, fun, I hope you have an appreciation for basketball, and that one legend has left the building, three from the League, and as ever, the sport moves on. An endless cycle of, well, very large men playing a game and making more money than is realistically acceptable. 

 

 

You are Cordially Invited to....Minnesota!

You are Cordially Invited…Save the Date!


 By Winter

Minneapolis – This year, the Minnesota Timberwolves are playing at least 82 basketball games… You are invited to watch the biggest events of the T-Wolves season with them! Let’s go over some of the Wolves’ biggest games this year.

Nov 17 vs PHI

Key match-up: Karl Anthony Towns vs. Philadelphia’s front court

Last year, Jahill Okafor split the season series against the man picked right above him. Karl Anthony-Towns, however, did not play his best against Okafor and saw himself get into some foul trouble. With Philly on the rise, this should be an intriguing match-up between Towns and Okafor, and even other big men that Philly has stashed away. Saric, Noel, and Embiid could all play against Towns, too. This is also the Wolves’ first nationally televised game, courtesy of TNT, so it should be a great point to reflect on Minnesota’s first ten games. I did a retrospective of Towns’ first ten games, last year, and this might be an opportune time to revisit how he is doing one year later!

 

Dec 8 @ TOR

Key story line: Andrew Wiggins visits home-town Drakes

Another year, and another visit to lovely Toronto for Minnesota. It will be Wiggins third time visiting his home country to play basketball, and each time has felt like a special game. With Toronto being an up and coming team with aspirations of championships floating through their heads, this should be a great measuring stick to see how Minnesota fares against solid competition. DeMarr Derozan and Kyle Lowry will provide a nice 2-man match-up problem for Zach Lavine and either Ricky Rubio or Kris Dunn. I see a little Lowry in Dunn’s game. Chill, fam.

 

Dec 11 vs GSW

Revenge game?: GSW, if you recall, lost to Minnesota in Oakland late last year which effectively prevented them from reaching 73 wins one game earlier. It didn’t make a difference in the end, but the last memories of Minnesota the not-champion-Golden State Warriors have is a scrappy young team straight beating them at home. GSW will still likely win the season-series against Minnesota, but will their first game in the Twin Cities be circled on the schedule? I think so.

 

 

Dec 13 @ CHI

1 Big Thing: Tom Thibodeau returns to Chicago, Jimmy Butler and Wiggins square off (okay, two things), Rondo chums with old finals pal, KG (So, three, sue me).

The big story here is coach Thibs seeing his old stomping ground again. Plus Dwyane Wade, Butler and Rajon Rondo get to play a team that also cannot shoot the ball. I always like seeing a game in Chicago, and maybe this year we can all road trip to the windy city!

 

Dec 25 @ OKC

All I want for Christmas is….: A Wolves victory in OKC against the Durantless Thunder. Which will only make OKC slightly less dangerous. Because when Westbrook is rolling down the lane, striking the rim with ferocity, zapping passes across the court, and the crowd shaking the arena with their collective voices, the Thunder is a dangerous team. It is also the Wolves’ first Christmas Day game and I expect to see them pumped to play against a premier Western Conference opponent when everyone else is chillin’ at home anyway.

Deer Santa, All I want for Kristymas is Miinnesnowta to beet Oklahoma! Kan U brig me a KAT?

 

Jan 7 vs UTA

Key Match-up: Two teams on the verge of breaking through.

Utah has many pundits raving about their potential this year. They have a stacked core, young players with real talent, and a starting-five that looks like it can hang with the best. Utah will likely roll out a George Hill, Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors lineup where Gordon can switch to the 3 and Alec Burks, or Rodney Hood play the 2. Both capable players. They picked up veteran Boris Diaw from San Antone’ and have a solid backup PG with Dante Exum (who missed last year with a torn ACL). Minnesota matches up well with Utah, and I expect a really fun series between these two teams during the year. This match-up is selected because it is the last home game in Minny. Mark it down!

 

Feb 1 @ CLE

Key Matchup: Wiggins and LeBron.

It doesn’t take much bending of the word to get a pulse here. LeBron and Wiggins have a minor beef with each other. Wiggins wants to show people that CLE made a big mistake in trading him. He plays his best against the Cavs and this is another year, another nationally televised game, to play this hype up more. LeBron is still the man. Come on, Wolves, show the champs you can throw it down with the best.

 

 

Mar 21 vs SAS

Key Match-up: Can the Spurs dissect Minnesota like they do every year?

I have personally watched Spurs/Wolves at the Target Center five or six times. None of which were Minnesota victories. I often witness the Spurs Machine slice and dice the hapless Wolves into flank steaks ready to be grilled and bar-be-queued. This year, I expect Thibs to strengthen the defense and actually put up a fight! Or will Thibs be turned into a roast mutton, just like the rest of the MN coaching schemes versus San Antonio.

 

Mar 15 @ BOS

Key story line: KG returns to Boston one final time.

Time is not on Kevin Garnett’s side. This may be his last season as an NBA player. He has only this year left on his contract and I would be surprised if he signed a new deal. He can’t stay on the court for long periods of time and his athleticism is declining. He has played in bunches of games at a position that takes a lot of beating over his 20 years. KG won his only championship in Boston. Sadly, the Wolves were never able to get him one despite having a good shot in 2003 and 2004. However, this may be a special day for the Big Ticket as his potentially last game in Beantown. His number will still be retired in ‘Sota, but his legacy as a champion is cemented with Rondo, Allen, Pierce, and Perkins – in the shadow of Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Kevin McHale and company.

 

Apr 11 vs OKC

Key story: Last home game of the 2016/2017 season, will Minnesota be going to the postseason?

A bevy of away games finish the season for Minnesota, however this final home game against Western Conference finalists, the Thunder, will likely hold some meaning for the postseason. OKC appears to be a playoff bound team if all (By all, I mean Westbrook) stays healthy, but they will not be at their usual top two/three spot due to Kevin Durant sliding over to the Warriors. OKC may be in the five, six, or even seven range depending on how well they can play. Will this game mean more for the Thunder? Or will Minnesota actually have a chance to play into a playoff seed this year? The west is competitive!

 

Conservatively, if you take the top four teams in the west…. GSW, SAS, LAC, OKC…. And then consider POR, HOU, MEM, playoff teams from last year…. Which of the remaining teams make it to the playoffs? Utah, Minnesota, New Orleans, Dallas…..Denver, Phoenix, Sacramento, LA Lakers. 

 

The bottom four are long shots for sure, and Dallas is probably in that group as well. New Orleans is itching for playoff basketball, along with Utah, Minnesota. Portland, Houston and Memphis want to continue their postseason aspirations.

The good question is, will there be any parity this year with such a stacked Warriors team lurking in Oakland?

 

Regardless, mark your calendars! Let's go Wolves!

 

 

 

 

 

Season Preview of sorts

Preface: It's been a long time, and this is just a long-bloated preview of what's to come. Some retrospective stats, and new faces incoming! Thanks!.

 

 

The North Remembers…
by Winter

 

 

The Timberwolves remember years past. Rising Wolves star Karl Anthony-Towns wants to make sure that the league understands that the memory of Wolves’ teams from then are not the one Minnesota will field in this new season. And this team means business, with a goal of ending the longest playoffs drought currently in the Association. Gone are the days of a Kevin Love - Darko Milicic frontcourt, stuck in mediocrity. Love is no longer the pillar holding Minnesota up (in nearly last place). No more Al Jefferson, Corey Brewer, and waiting until Rashad McCants hits an open shot. Finally, the Derrick Williams saga and Brandon Roy days are done. Former General Manager David Kahn is now a nightmare of yesteryear, a ghost story for the children. And sadly, gone is Flip Saunders, the architect of what has come to fruition before this season. Now is the time for Tom Tibodeau, Towns, and Wiggins….and friends.

This year’s Wolves have something that hasn’t been associated with Minnesota basketball in over a decade; they have real potential. As a long-suffering follower of this team, I personally feel like the next years are bright as a full moon on a clear night sky for these Wolves.

There is work yet to do, the players on this team are looking to experience their first taste of playoff basketball while reppin’ a Minnesota jersey (Except for old-man KG who was a member of the 2003/2004 playoffs teams). On that note, new head coach Tom Tibodeau has been to the Eastern conference finals. He knows playoff basketball. G Brandon Rush was acquired in the off season. And he, with The Big Ticket, are the only NBA champions on this roster. Rush was a member of the Golden State Warriors the last few years, and they lost him to free agency. He will solidify a solid rotation on the perimeter for Minnesota.

The depth chart appears to be set. The starting backcourt will be Ricky Rubio and reigning Slam Dunk champ Zach Lavine. Both of whom did pretty well in 2015/16. Rubio will need to improve his shooting, still a concern after five years, if he wants to stay relevant. However, he will provide good counsel for young Kris Dunn, the 5th overall pick in the draft. Rubio’s team defense is solid and despite his lack of perimeter game, he still provides above-average guard play. His offense is at its best in the open court when finding shooters to hit down shots or cutters in the lane.

Rubio’s 15/16 stats: 76 games, 10.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 8.6 APG, 2.1 SPG, 3.4 A/TO ratio

Lavine had somewhat of a breakout year, now solidified as a two-guard, instead of trying to play point, Lavine showed the moxie to take and make shots. Both FG% and 3P% increased for him in his sophomore season. Tibodeau will demand more of Lavine on the defensive end as well. Lavine looks primed to accept this challenge.

Lavine 15/16: 82 games, 14 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, .8 SPG, 1.6 A/TO ratio

The players filling in behind the two starters are previously mentioned Rush, and Dunn with Summer League MVP Tyus Jones and Shabazz Muhammad (Who also plays SF). Rush did not contribute much to GSW last year but this gives the Wolves a decent option to spell Lavine for a time with a solid backup at SG.

Dunn will experience some growing pains for sure. This kid can play and torched the first two games of Summer League for over 20 PPG before suffering a concussion, he will be a viable option off the bench for Minnesota. With a game similar to Kyrie Irving, he can be a real spark. Dunn may very well get some run if Rubio is struggling offensively as a change of pace option.

Jones, on the other hand, has proven that he does not want to go quietly into the night. He balled hard to win the Summer League MVP in Dunn's absence, showing much more tenacity for defense and a command of the offense. This year could be pivotal for Jones as he fights his way into the stacked backcourt rotation.

Tyus appeared in 37 games last year posting meager stats, but had a solid 3.3 A/TO ratio.

That leaves Shabazz Muhammad, a feisty, undersized SF who can also play the SG. Although Muhammad’s game is still developing, he plays with a lot of energy and helps Minnesota get over that lackadaisical hump. The issue for Muhammad has been his inability to guard most SFs in the League. Thibs now must decide how to fit Muhammad into the lineup, a SG who isn’t the best floor spacer (28% from 3), but rebounds and provides high energy, or as an undersized SF/small ball utility player. The plus side, is that he is durable and willing to compete.

Muhammad 15/16: 82 games, 10.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG (1 ORPG), +.500 FG %

The strength of Minnesota’s team lies at the forwards, where starters Andrew Wiggins and Towns will be playing for years to come. Wiggins took another step this year in his development, but still hasn’t shot well from deep. He reminds me of Kobe with his form, how he backs down opponents in the post, and plays defense. Wiggins can really improve on his passing and rebounding. At 3.6 RPG he is below average at his position.

Wiggins 15/16: 81 games, 20.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2 APG, .300 3Pt %

Towns is a natural. His second year in the NBA will take the Rookie of the Year into next-level status. Towns showed he belongs in the Association and averaged a double-double. That’s awesome. See my previous KAT article to see some comparisons to his game with other NBA legends. Good things are on the horizon if KAT can stay healthy.

Towns 15/16: 82 games, 18 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2 APG, 1.7 BPG, Wow!

We, and the League, know what Minnesota will be bringing out at the 3 and 4 this year. But the big question marks are what will the bench do while these two players rest? Garnett is not a viable replacement at this stage of his career, Adreian Payne has been inconsistent, and Euro-League transfer Nemanja Bjelica showed a lot of fatigue as the tough NBA season went on last year. If Payne and Bjelica can pick their game up, the Wolves stand a chance against other NBA teams second units.

Payne 15/16: 52 games, 2.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG, .2 BPG, 1 APG …Booooo pick it up Adreian!

Bjelica 15/16: 60 games, 5.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.4 APG, .35 BPG …. Even Bjelica was better than Payne.

The Wolves also added C/PF Jordan Hill and C Cole Aldrich to mid-range deals this offseason. Filling the roster out at the maximum 15 players. Hill provides a tangible presence inside, he has produced with limited minutes for IND, LAL, and Houston before. Hill won’t move the needle much but injuries to big guys can be crippling. He’s a good piece of insurance to have. Aldrich on the other hand is a Minnesota-born product who I actually watched while in high school as he dominated our (our being my alma mater, the Prior Lake Lakers) 6’8 center, Mark Klingberg. Aldrich shot nearly 60% last year and nearly a block a game (13 minutes per game). He will be a solid backup 5.

Hill 15/16 (With Indiana): 73 games, 8.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, .506 FG%, 1.2 APG.

Aldrich 15/16 (With LA Clippers): 5.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, .596 FG%, 1.1 BPG (In half the minutes as Jordan Hill)

The starting center will be Gorgui Dieng who, as I had hoped, improved his game by leaps last year. He had career highs in five categories and showed improved shooting touch, including some nifty bank shots to open up his arsenal. Dieng is still a bit undersized to play the center. He gets pushed around a lot. With another year of strength and conditioning he should fare much better. Also, his backups this year are competent players instead of such stop-gaps like Greg Smith, Lead-footed Pekovic, or Miroslav Radulica (who?).

Dieng 15/16: 10 PPG, 7 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 1.7 APG, Above average FG%

For that matter, what should happen to Nikola Pekovic? The oft-injured big man has had a frustrating last couple of years. Whether a back, ankle, or Achilles issue, big Pek hasn’t been able to produce to his liking. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and when on the court, has been burnt by opponents in the pick-and-roll. Fear not…. The Wolves have a fair amount of salary space. They are about $14 million below the cap as I type. So Pekovic’s $12 million contract is not a killer right now, and it runs through next season (17/18), so after it ends the Wolves will conveniently be looking to sign Wiggins to his first post-rookie deal. He may be a trade target but it is unlikely a team will bite. Unless the Wolves give incentive (1st round draft pick or an attractive asset/player). Pekovic’s best bet is to work hard this summer and through the first half of the season to come back for January/February 2017 healthy. If I were the organization I would let Pekovic take another six months to make sure his body is rested, closer to in-game fitness level, and healthy before getting him back on the floor. And even for floor time, it would be better for short spurts, five-to-seven minutes on the floor per half. I hope he can prove me wrong when I say he’s well past his best time on the floor. Or even, he’s well past his productive time in the NBA. Pekovic is a talented offensive player and gets rebounds when he’s able to move around. If his mobility is shot, he’s toast. Good luck, Pek.

Pekovic 15/16: 12 games, 4.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0 BPG…. Sad Days for Pek

Garnett, on the other hand is still mobile enough, an active defender, and an A-plus trash talker, but deals with achy old-man knees and a declining offensive game. I was lucky enough to see Garnett play in a win against Memphis last season. A rare game, because it was his last appearance of the 15/16 season. He is not going to provide a lot of help for Minnesota on the court, but Garnett will be there off court and his leadership will show. Expect a lot of DNPs and not-dressed-for-game for the Big Ticket this year as the reigns are handed over to Towns, Wiggins and company. For Garnett, it's nice to have an seven-figure salary to not play much. ($8,000,000/year)

Garnett 15/16: 3.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, .3 BPG.

The outlook of Minnesota is exciting, but it must prove capable of hanging with elite competition. The NBA doesn’t let you win, you must show it.

Here’s a summary…for Minnesota's 2016/2017 outlook.

Strengths – Dynamic roster, young team, high-energy players, rising star, new defensive minded coach, upset mentality

Weaknesses – Lack of spacing (Wiggins/Rubio), mediocre second unit (Bjelica/Aldrich/Rush/Muhammad), unproven (Dunn) in clutch or playoffs, needs to play better defensively (Lavine/Dieng/Wiggins), Inconsistent offensively

Possible Improvements – Steady backup SF, stretch PF, proven shooter

Dead weight – Pekovic, Garnett (combine to make $20 million this year, $12 million for Pekovic next year)

 

Salary situation:

Total: $80,791,446

NBA CAP: $94,143,000

MN BELOW CAP ~ $13.5 MM (Million)

Contracts

Ricky Rubio: 3 years remain @ $13.5, $14.2, $14.9 MM *ends 18/19*

Nikola Pekovic: 2 years remain @ $12.1, $11.6 MM *ends 17/18*

Kevin Garnett: 1 year remains @ $8 MM

Cole Aldrich: Signed 3 years / $21 MM in offseason ($7 MM a year)

Jordan Hill: Signed 2 years / $8 MM in offseason ($4 MM a year)

Brandon Rush: Signed 1 year / $3.5 MM in offseason

Nemanja Bjelica: 2 years remain @ $3.5, and $3.5 MM (QO for year 3)

Kevin Martin: 1.3 MM stretched over next three years (Counts against cap)

 

Rookie scale

Angrew Wiggins: 1 year @ 6MM, Team Option for 7 .5 MM next year, QO if unsigned for yr 3

Karl Anthony Towns: 1 year @ 6 MM, Team Option for next two years, QO after

Zach Lavine: 1 year @ 2 MM, Team Option for 3.2 MM next year, QO after

Tyus Jones: 1 year @ 1.2 MM, Team Option after, QO after

Gorgui Dieng: 1 year @ 2.3 MM, QO after. (Can be extended this year)

Shabazz Muhammad: 1 year @ 3 MM, QO after (Can be extended this year)

 Teams like to keep rookie scale contracts and use the Team Options built in, so these guys will be around unless something big happens.

It is possible that before Oct 31st, Minnesota will extend Dieng or Muhammad to longer contracts. Watch for this, if they do, other bigger salary may be moved (Pekovic, Bjelica, Payne)

 

Trade watch: With the roster as is, I do not see Adreian Payne or Nemanja Bjelica on this roster in the future, they could be pieces in a Pekovic deal. Muhammad may also garner interest from teams.

Untouchables: Minnesota will not trade Garnett, Towns, Wiggins, Dunn, or Dieng this year. Rubio is unlikely, this year, but if he doesn’t produce well, he could be on the block.

 

 

Thanks for playing for Minnesota! – Greg Smith, Kevin Martin, Damjan Rudez, Tayshaun Prince, and Andre Miller.

Smith was a ten-day contract signee who was picked up the last half of the year. He will have another journeyman season. Good luck big guy.

Martin was a 4 year/$32 million dollar Free Agent from OKC who was eventually wavied via the stretch provision (a portion of his contract was paid out and the rest will be paid over three years to Martin). The former Thunder, Rocket, and King sharpshooter is now a member of the San Antonio Borg.

Rudez was a sharpshooter SF who didn’t get a lot of playing time because he was virtually unplayable for defensive reasons. However he did see time in 33 games, in limited time. He might land back in Europe.

Miller was a veteran backup but he’s an old man now and was there to provide veteran leadership. Prof. Miller, MD, we’ll miss you.

Prince was a solid backup but he was also aging and his offensive game shows. He couldn’t beat guys off the dribble so he could never get separation in iso, and required open looks to make buckets. Good luck, sweet Prince.

 

And now, AYOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

We Need To Talk About Kevin...

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Martin)

by Winter

Kevin Martin, Timberwolves SG  

Kevin Martin, Timberwolves SG
 

“Didn’t I see you on the floor last night?” I asked Kevin Martin.

“Nope.” The words fell dejectedly to the floor.

“That’s odd...” I said under my breath. I had sworn that I had seen him on the court. Was it just my imagination? “By the way,” I continued, hoping for the worst, “are you going to play Friday?”

A long pause ensued.

“Why?” he said. And he looked away, to the wall. It was as barren as his emotion.

“I just thought we would do something together. We’re a team. You’re part of the family, Kevin.” I pleaded.

“Do what?” He responded. For all it was worth, the wall could have been a better conversationalist.

“Maybe shoot some hoops, go out for dinner, hit the club.” My voice quivered. Like a guitar string buzzing out of tune.

“Okay.” he said. And he picked up his lunch, turned and disappeared.

 

This scene from the dark psyco-drama We Need To Talk About Kevin illustrates a picture that Kevin Martin may be going through. He didn’t get traded to a winning team, and now he’s hoping a buyout can get him out of this situation. A capable player who isn’t playing. And when he does, he plays poorly.

***

The Wolves started the year with a plan to bring in veterans to help mentor their youth. That idea has survived, to some extent, but as far as actual court production from these veterans? It has been a rocky road. Tayshawn Prince has been the most consistent veteran who gets playing time. He contributes positively defensively but isn’t much of a threat otherwise. Andre Miller probably was more an off-the-court guy with the young guards. He now has been bought out for close to a million dollars and has signed with San Antonio. Miller will probably end up coaching there after Pop retires. Kevin Garnett (The main Kevin on the Wolves) has been nursing a sore knee. That is actually just a veil for Gorgui Dieng and Karl Anthony-Towns to get playing time.

And alas, Nikola Pekovic is still injured. His Achilles injury takes a long time to recover from. After a month of sporadically playing, Pekovic felt discomfort in his foot, which according to the Wolves is natural, but he is now sidelined until further notice.

Which finally brings me to Kevin Martin. The shooting guard that has played with Minnesota the last two years after signing a four-year $28 million contract. Last year he missed over half the season with nagging injuries. This year he has only played in 39 of the 60 games due to more injuries and a lot of trade related DNP-CD’s. Martin is a curious case. The T-Wolves are currently holding on to the 5th worst record. Philly, The Lakers, Phoenix, and Brooklyn all have worse records with 20 or so games left. Playing Martin in close games (Or even not so close games) may help the team win games. Something fans enjoy. But on the other hand… that inherently reduces Minnesota’s chance at a better lottery pick. But let’s be honest, Kevin Martin isn’t going to move the needle much in terms of wins most nights. His WS/48 (Win Shares per 48 minutes) are .049.  In other words he contributes to a win about 5% of the time. That number has fallen dramatically. Over 100 points since his one season in OKC. His defensive metrics also pan out as one word: miserable. The eye test validates this. He has no intention to ever rebound. His go-to moves are not as clean as they used to be. He doesn’t get separation as well, and his 3pt consistency is way out-of-wack. His form always throws me a loop, so it’s hard to judge if something mechanically is amiss. As someone who watched him in OKC intently, and caught many games his two first years here in Minnesota, I have seen him go from “elite” level shooting to merely average. He might be able to get some defenders to bite with his nifty, crafty game, but he definitely cannot play pick and roll defense or stay in front of about 90 percent of NBA players on the wing. He gives up points on the defensive side of the ball. His FG% and eFG% have fallen this year, yet he still clocks out as a better 3pt shooter than most of the Wolves roster. At this point he is kind of wasted space on the roster. A poor defender and a declining offensive threat. He still has something to offer, to a team out there.

Before the trade deadline, Martin requested a trade. The Wovles honored this and began not playing him while trying to find a new home. From what I’ve witnessed in his game this season, they were probably embarrassed to play a player which would bring his trade value down. Unfortunately for Minnesota, this is the age of information, and no other team took the bait. From what I can speculate, and this is true left-fieldism at its absolute best, teams around the NBA did not want to take on Martin’s $7 million cap hold for this year and $7.4 million for next year while giving up even second round picks or match salaries with other players. Who wants a 33 year old vet who is trending down in all statistical categories with $14 million guaranteed?

The answer is nobody. And the buyout window was approaching faster everyday.

Now that the deadline has come and gone, the only other option is a buyout. The two parties are discussing a buyout for Martin, just as they did with Andre Miller. For those of you who are not familiar with what a buyout entails, here are the steps of a buyout.

1)      Player and owner decide this action –

a.       Lump sum buyout

b.      Player gets remaining year’s contract paid to him over X years. This X years sticks on previous team’s cap space and that team cannot re-sign him during this time.

2)      If agreed upon, team waives the player, player then enters NBA waiver period

a.       If he is ‘picked up’ on waivers, new team must pay current year’s salary and remaining contract.

b.      If player ‘passes’ waivers, any team is able to sign him (barring original team) as a free agent

3)      After passing waivers, player and owner commit to terms of payment and player is able to sign a new contract with new team.

 

In THIS situation, if Martin is waived before the end of today, he can sign with a playoff team and be eligible for the playoffs. If he isn’t, well he cannot play in the playoffs. A non-playoff team can still sign him

Next year, he will likely be a Free Agent and sign a smaller contract in the range of $3 to $5 million and could fit into Mid-Level Exception status for some teams. Who knows?

 

So who would be interested in Martin?

Miami just signed Joe Johnson, Golden State signed Anderson Varejao, Dallas signed David Lee, Oklahoma City has an open spot, but they traded for Randy Foye, so they’re likely out, Cleveland might be interested, but I’m not sure. Atlanta might be, but they wanted Joe Johnson. LA Clippers traded for Jeff Green and probably won’t go for another wing player. Portland? Maybe. An East team may take a shot at this. Chicago could use a shooter, but they’re full on roster. Houston, back with a team he used to play with although now is an entirely different supporting cast, could be an option too. Time will tell, but I expect this buyout to happen very soon.

This will move Minnesota, more importantly, into a new direction. Gone will be the salary spent on Martin, and his departure will clear up space for their core to earn what they deserve, long-term. Pekovic is still on the books through this year, next year, and the year after that. His injury concerns are not ideal, but he can still provide help off the bench. He may be a buyout candidate next year, if his condition doesn’t improve much. Wiggins, LaVine, Towns, are the focus of the core, and the future of this team too.

There, now that we’ve talked about Kevin, let’s talk about Ben Simmons (Or other prospect in the 2016 NBA draft).