Editor’s Note: This article was written before last night’s 101-91 victory over the Miami Heat. Slight edits/adjustments have been made to compensate.
I’ve recently found it harder and harder to collect my thoughts and objectively attempt to cover a team that displays such a putrid effort on a nightly basis. In fact, the most consistent thing about this 5-29 Wolves squad is our glaring lack of desire and heart out on the court on a daily basis. Dwane Casey may have been fired last year for being too “inconsistent”; but I’m not sure Glen Taylor & Company were bargaining for a coach that is consistently bad, which is what we’ve got in Randy Wittman. Then again, they are all buddies so who really knows what’s going on.
I’m not at the stage where I’m apathetic enough to no longer care, and I’m also not yet extremely angry about what’s going on during the games. It’s true that watching the Wolves has been pretty depressing of late, but going into the season I expected a heavy dose of losing. Anyone that thought we wouldn’t lose a majority of our games was merely kidding themselves, or a tad bit delusional. My contention is that I did not think this team would accept losing to the degree that has been happening lately. Most nights the Wolves are a sad, sorry lot that looks like they’ve already managed to lose the game before tip-off. It does not appear that our team is adequately prepared heading into games, nor do they have competent leadership; be it on the court or at the top of the organization. When it comes down to it, I’m a die hard fan that will support this club to the bitter end, but if the Timberwolves Organization does not start turning things around soon, they will find themselves losing the attention and financial support of a large group of the fair-weather fans. I’m not using “fair-weather fans” in a derogatory way, but every sports team has its fans that support the team when they are winning, and appear to care a bit less when things are not going so well. From what Glen Taylor would like us to believe regarding his financial situation of owning the T-Wolves; losing any financial support is not an option he can readily or easily afford. Thus, the onus is on Glen Taylor and his cherry picked Front Office to turn this club around, before things become completely unpalatable to the vast majority of Minnesotans.
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How is it that a coach (our very own Randy Wittman) with a career 32.9% winning percentage (79-161), does not appear to be on the proverbial “hot seat?” It is almost mind boggling that this man not only has a job, but is actually being commended on his coaching efforts by our Front Office. Recently, Kevin McHale was quoted as saying the following about Randy Wittman and his job as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves:
"I couldn’t be happier with how he’s [Wittman] handling the team."
Is McHale insane? Obviously he watches the games, because I see him at the Target Center. How can he say the above sentence with a straight face? I’m not sure he could provide a bullet list of three points that would lead anyone to believe Wittman is doing even an adequate job as Head Coach. I wouldn’t even ask him to expound upon his three points, just simply provide to me a short list. I’d love to see what he comes up with. If McHale is truly happy with a 5-29 club (17-59 under Wittman) then us fans are in a world of trouble.
I know our talent level isn’t the greatest, but there is no excuse as to why we should have half as many wins as the second worst team in the entire league. The NBA is composed of roughly 400 of the best 1,000 or so basketball athletes on the entire planet. The disparity in talent amongst clubs should not be this inherently gaping. Sure, you’ll have the upper-echelon clubs with the bonafide superstars, but the lesser clubs should at least be roughly similar in terms of talent and record (in any given season.) I haven’t seen much this year that has shown me the Wolves have the potential to even be in the top half of the league within the next few years. Al Jefferson is a good, but not utlra amazing, starting piece of the puzzle. However, he can’t do it alone… and nor should he be expected to.
You can argue about our guards and the inconsistency in the backcourt until you are blue in the face, but I think the biggest roster/position item plaguing this team is the use of Al Jefferson at the Center position. Yes, it’s true that Rashad McCants is a streaky shooter, Marko Jaric can disappear for games at a time, and Sebastian Telfair can’t buy a lay-up. However, playing Big Al at Center (and thusly out of his natural Power Forward position), is hurting this team immensely.
I’ve spouted rhetoric about it being a bad decision to play Al Jefferson at the Center position, as opposed to Power Forward. Britt Robson and his dutiful band of knowledgeable commentors have said the same thing throughout the course of the season. Well, let’s prove why this just isn’t working. According to the fabulous website 82games.com , you can find “Player Tandem Statistics” for every possible two person combination in the entire league, for the course of the entire season. Granted, these stats aren’t absolutely 100% concrete “prove all” statistics, but they are useful… especially as the sample size grows. We’re now through 33 games and I think some things can be gleaned from this information. The following numbers represent the plus/minus in points per 48 minute statistics while two specific players were on the floor together:
– Al Jefferson and Craig Smith: -166
– Big Al and Antoine Walker: -97
– Big Al and Chris Richard: -31
– Big Al and Theo Ratliff: -2
– Big Al and Michael Doleac: 0
– Big Al and Mark Madsen: +1
This clearly shows the point differential disparity when Al is playing
Center, compared to Power Forward. The reason is, that other than a
very few instances, Craig Smith is always the PF and Al the Center when
playing together. Walker is always the PF and Jefferson the Center
when playing together. As the numbers attest, these player
combinations are downright putrid. However, from the bottom four
combinations, you can see the point differential shrink considerably.
This has to do with Al playing PF when matched with the other four
players. Each of these combinations involving a “true Center” is
vastly superior to an Al/Smith or Al/Walker combination above.
One might say that four "Al/Center" combinations will score less points as a group, and that is correct. However, they also give up less points as outlined below:
– Al Jefferson and Craig Smith: Wolves Points Scored 92.7 – Opponents Points Against 111.6
– Big Al and Antoine Walker: Wolves Points Scored 97.3 – Opponents Points Against 112.3
– Big Al and Chris Richard: Wolves Points Scored 82.6 – Opponents Points Against 98
– Big Al and Theo Ratliff: Wolves Points Scored 93.8 – Opponents Points Against 94.6
– Big Al and Michael Doleac: Wolves Points Scored 89.1 – Opponents Points Against 89.1
– Big Al and Mark Madsen: Wolves Points Scored 82.8 – Opponents Points Against 82.4
In conclusion, it drives me nuts that Wittman continues to start and/or play Jefferson at Center. Based on the above two sets of statistics, it appears like it is infinitely worse for Big Al to be playing Center for our squad. I don’t know what Richard did in practice to not deserve minutes, but I think at this point he’s probably our best bet as the “Center of the future” amongst the above 7 players. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve our Center position through either a trade, the draft, or free agency; it just means we should give Richard more freakin minutes. I’m not the biggest fan of the “plus/minus” statistic when analyzing it based on individual games, but I do take it into account when the sample size is large enough. And to me, this is pretty stark.
Does anyone else remember the “Braintrust” telling us that the Wolves were going to be a fast breaking team before this season started? I remember it, but have largely yet to see it happen. I believe the Wolves are averaging something like 7 or 8 fast break points per game, which is pathetic. There is no reason this collection of youngsters should not be out and running when given the chance. Sebastian Telfair seems capable of running the point while fast breaking, Corey Brewer is a good wing, and Big Al gets up the court on offense better than most opposing big men. So, why don’t they run more? You’d have to ask Wittman, because I have no idea.
Is Foye going to play again this season? By all accounts from what we heard on Monday, it appears likely:
"They showed us the last test four weeks ago and the test today and you can clearly see that it’s healed up," Foye said. "They said, ‘Just work your way back in slowly but surely.’ And they gave me the go-ahead to start doing stuff with the team."
We found out today that he has been cleared to practice with the team, but only in non-contact drills. So, what’s the deal? Is he still not ready? Will it be another month before he can play? Honestly, it is better to take it safe than rush him back and risk potential re-injury, but why doesn’t the Front Office come out upfront and tell this to the fans/media? What are they hiding? We (Wolves Nation) have been given precious little information the past 2 months in regard to what is actually wrong. One of our forum members, “Pants” has his own take on the situation:
From Coach Randy Wittman:
“Q: On the best-case scenario with Foye:
Wittman: I can’t give you that, because I don’t know. We have to go from him doing this stuff out here with no contact, to contact, to where he is with cardiovascular (progress). We can’t rush him out there when he’s not in good shape. He’s going to hurt himself if we do that. I wish I had the powers and abilities to foresee the future and give you, "In 17 days, he’ll be fine." But I can’t.”
A forum post by Pants:
“Does Wittman not know what the concept of a “best-case scenario” is? They didn’t ask him for an exact prediction of what will happen. They should have asked me.
The best-scenario is simple. In two-weeks his knee shows no signs of further breaking down. At which point he’ll ease back in to playing and by April he’ll be averaging 20 ppg and 6 apg during which time the Wolves string together enough wins so that they aren’t in the conversation as being the worst NBA team of all time. If you have an issue with that prediction, take it up with Jeff Van Gundy as he coaches this team in 2008-9.”
Well said Pants… we could only pray that Van Gundy is here next season.
What is the point of this article you ask? Just more senseless “Wolves bashing?” No. I do not believe the points I have presented were senseless or contrived at all. Its one thing to sit and mope during a season like this, but articulately pointing out flaws can do nothing but good. Perhaps word will get out that Al Jefferson should never play Center (only if Wittman’s son reads this article to him though, because I’m not completely convinced Wittman can.) Maybe someone in the Front Office will start releasing more accurate and honest injury information. Maybe other things will change. Who knows.
As for the rest of the season, I do not think the Wolves will set the all-time mark for futility, which is currently a 9-73 season by the ‘72-’73 Philadelphia 76er’s. If Foye returns completely healthy, it can only help the situation. The month of January is tough, but I think we’ll make up some games at the end of the season when other bad teams are tanki… err, losing close and well contested games. The best case scenario is probably around 15 or so wins, with the worst case scenario maybe 10 or so wins. I just hope the Wolves players will show improvement and play hard. That’s certainly not too much to hope or ask for. It is imperative that we find out which youngsters and guys with expiring contracts can truly play, so that we can at least attempt to find out who we should keep or release for next season… and the future The losses will keep coming, no one disputes that. However, it was apparent from the beginning that this season was going to be about something other than actually winning games in the "here and now."
I will say that it was enjoyable to finally watch a game last night and be bored… not because of poor play by the Timberwolves, but because the opposition looked terrible and was utterly dominated nearly the entire game.