Wiggins dribbled to the right baseline, and Khris Middleton and Jerryd Bayless impeded his movement. Wiggins raised the ball over his head to pass out, but on the way up the two Bucks slapped it away. Whether the referees decided it was a foul or not is a fairly moot point. From my angle a mere 25 feet away, it sure appeared the young North Star was mugged. The replay told a much less biased story, he wasn’t, but I attest with homer-subjectivity there was fair reason to be upset.
In the time it took you to read this paragraph, the Milwaukee Bucks stormed back from a 25-5 deficit, to win by ten. A hearty ten. Ten that felt mostly effortless. Ten simple points that the Timberwolves just couldn’t make. With multiple magnificent looks at the basket against a moribund defensive effort by Milwaukee, Minnesota was unable to muster a meager, measly ten points. All this, after OJ Mayo was MIA with a double-technical ejection. The final score being 85-95. If you’re counting, after being up 20, they were outscored 90-60. Ouch.
Meanwhile, my mind meandered to a man named Martin, sitting on the Minnesota maple in a crisp grey suit. Veteran SG/SF Kevin Martin, while privately asking for a trade that the team is honoring, is also the Timberwolves’ best chance at spacing the floor when playing. He has been consistently accruing DNP-CD’s while the team tries to find a new home for the former King, Rocket and Thunder sharpshooter. It makes sense, Martin is a proven player in the NBA, the Wolves really don’t need wins, they need another top-five draft pick in the 2016 Draft. And they have Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller for veteran leadership. Just….none of them shoot 3 pointers well.
So, I submit myself to cheering for the losses to add up. It would be nice, though, to see Minnesota regain a little defensive swagger like they showed for a handful of games before Thanksgiving, for the sake of good basketball. Alas, that is not the case. New rookie, and hometown kid, PG Tyus Jones is making opponents’ collective mouths water when he steps on the floor. “We’re gonna burn this kid.” They think. Welcome to the NBA, Tyus. In every game in his nine so far, Tyus has failed to post a positive +/-. Obviously, he’s getting minutes for a good reason. Besides schooling youngin’s on the post-up, what use is playing the aging Professor Andre Miller M.D.? It is better for the Wolves in the long term to give Jones some run in case Ricky Rubio breaks again.
The rest of the bench hasn’t been exactly helping too much. PF Adrien Payne and PF Nemanja Bjelica haven’t had the touch lately. Bjelica, for what it’s worth, has not looked the same since recovering from a knee injury earlier. Adjusting to the NBA grind is obviously taking its toll on the Euro league MVP. Damjan Rudez. There, I wrote his name. That’s more than can be said about his contribution since being swapped for Chase Budinger sometime in the past. Rudez is a player on the Timberwolves if you didn’t know.
The real onus falls on the starters to turn their game up to be competitive. However Tayshaun Prince, Kevin Garnett and Ricky Rubio are not the best scoring options. They might help prevent the ball going in the Timberwolves’ basket, but often fail to score more than 25 points between all three. Wiggins and Towns take on the load to score, and opposing defenses know this. They’ll let Prince score 10 or Garnett take long jumpers. They won’t be able to keep it going the whole night. The bench mob can only do so much, and cannot be a consistent crutch to lean on. SF Shabazz Muhammed has been easily the best wing player for Minnesota outside of Wiggins. Yet, he is undersized to play SF against most teams’ starting wing scorer. C Gorgui Dieng is still a bit too thin and too reliant on his midrange to be a threat inside. I did see Dieng hit a 3 in a win versus Utah, and this season he is 1-for-1 on 3 point shots ( I just researched his percentage). A laughable moment in Wolves research history. Dieng doesn’t inspire fear in any opponent either.
The X-factor on the Wolves right now is combo-guard Zach Lavine. On any night he could shoot 60 percent and drop 25 points. However he is just as likely to be around 16 percent and a 4-spot. The inconsistency in Lavine’s game is frustrating. The kid’s got game, much like a raw Russell Westbrook, but it may take a few years for him to really get it. Lavine is shooting 41.7 percent from the floor this year, it is his 3Pt percentage that fails him. At 31 percent beyond the arc, he just isn’t making opponents scared. Taking that number with Wiggins’ 23 percent from 3 this year, and the Wolves’ really have no wing sharpshooter. Oh yeah, there’s a guy named Kevin Martin still getting DNP-CD’s.
Karl-Anthony Towns is having an excellent year, but still has problems with fouling, and other normal rookie in the NBA things. Against the 76er’s, a lowlight-loss to boot, he racked up early fouls and was limited most the night. So far it looks like Jahlil Okafor, the number 3 overall selection behind Karl-Anthony Towns has his number in the first two outings of their careers. Let’s keep an eye on this intriguing matchup! Towns, though, for his credit is holding on to averages of nearly 16 PPG, 9.3 RPG, almost 2 BPG and shooting over 50 percent from the field. Sign him up long term ASAP. And get him some help, please!
With a heavy dose of western-conference foes on the Wolves’ schedule in the next month, and five total games against the Thunder and Cavaliers, Minnesota may well be on track to sink below dysfunctional Phoenix and Anthony Davis and the rest of the New Orleans Pelicans in the standings. Thus, increasing their chances to sluff-off the rest of the year for developmental purposes. I’m not a true advocate of tanking, honestly. No team should try to lose on purpose. But it really does benefit this squad to add another piece to specifically space the floor for Wiggins, Towns and Rubio to operate. A dynamic replacement to Kevin Garnett, i.e. Ben Simmons would be perfect too.
In other news, “The Godfather”, floor bound Serbian national C Nikola Pekovic may return to action this month. He has had a bevy of foot injuries the past few years. First the ankles, then the Achilles, what is next? Well at any rate, Pekovic can provide a little boost to the bench scoring while not jumping too much. The scoring, even ten points on a night here or there, would be much needed for this team.
In January, and I am no sports line predictor, but I would only favor Minnesota at home vs Denver and at home vs Phoenix. In all other games, whether Houston, OKC X3, Cleveland X2, Dallas X2, NOLA, Memphis, Portland and Utah. Barring the winds of winter rising to give all the opponents a collective cold-night shooting, I see this being a very cold month for the Timberwolves.