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What Went Wrong & What Now

40 wins.

Some were blow-outs, a few were nail biters, and nearly none of them seemed certain.

Timberwolves_Big_Three RICKY&CHAOS HAPPYWOLVES

42 losses.

Most were agonizing, many were demoralizing, and some were embarrassing.

10th in the Western Conference.

Two spots out of the party that is the NBA playoffs. So close but, oh so far.

KevinLove 5wolf022513.jpg RICK
Woof. Sad pups barking.
It really is depressing looking back at the last decade of Twolves basketball now and seeing just how good this year was, and still feeling like it wasn’t enough. Plenty has been made about the many goals that didn’t get reached this year.
The goal to make the playoffs. The goal to finish at or above five-hundred. The goal to put together a competitive enough team to convince Kevin Love to stick around.

What Went Wrong

There were many reasons this team failed to meet their goals. Here are some of my thoughts.

1. Where they Over Confident?

It’s absolutely crazy to think this team could have had any inclination of being over confident. But even all the way back at training camp the effort from the starters wasn’t at a very high level, to the point where the bench was out performing the starters. Odd to think of that isn’t it? With how troubling the play of the wolves bench was this year. They talked about their goals like they thought, that with health, adding Corey “Chaos” Brewer, Kevin Martin, Ronnie Turiaf, along with the two rookies Shabazz Mohammed and Gorgui Dieng, that they would be set. 

And it didn’t help when the got out to big leads, because then they felt like they could let up. Occasionally they could, but what looked like inconsistent effort was a major issue for the Twolves this season. 

2. Streaky Offense

My fire and ice post highlighted this earlier this season. I thought, at that time, that it was a phenomenon bound to even out eventually, but it persisted. Turns out that the Wolves roster is loaded with notoriously streaky scorers. Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, J.J. Barea, Robbie Hummel, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Dante Cunningham, and even Ricky Rubio went through crazy cold streaks and studded spurts of hot shooting. Even Kevin Love isn’t the most consistent shooter. He’s great over the course of the year but he is very hot and cold in the shot making portion of his game. This is dangerous for a team, especially one that has defensive question marks. There was no certainty. One day the wolves scored 47 points in one quarter agains the Lakers back in November, and then only 42 in a half against Houston less than a week later. With the unpredictability that their roster is built around, its hard to know what to expect.  
3. Players Who Over Focus on One Aspect of the Game
The Wolves roster is loaded with players who do only certain things well and hyper focus on these things. No body is very well rounded at all. 
 Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves  COREY  JJ
  • Rubio struggles as a shooter because he always looks to pass. He’s thinking about passing 100% of the time even when he’s going up for a layup or jump shot.
  • Kevin Love has a tendency to be fighting for a rebound without challenging an opposing players dunk or lay up.
  • Corey Brewer bails on defensive possessions to leak out to try to catch an outlet
  • J.J. Barea get’s in crazy try-to-score-crazy-J.J.-baskets that work surprisingly well sometimes but frequently result in bad shots and stagnant offense.
  • Kevin Martin constantly tries to draw fouls on crazy off balance jumpers and floaters. This is a major problem when he doesn’t get his calls.
  • For the longest time Nikola Pekovic refused to take open jump shots.
  • Dante Cunningham rarely uses his athleticism on the offensive end. I mean he’s pretty good at the mid rage game, but he’s no LaMarcus Aldridge.
This was certainly exaggerated by injury, but the players on the floor rarely formed a cohesive unit. Teams that fare well in the NBA play well together as a balanced unit. Players have their individual roles but the roles have to mix together in to a winning recipe. Of course, the wolves on court reality had a lot to do with the make up of the roster, but the rotations didn’t seem to help. I hate to criticize Adelman’s coaching, I don’t really know anything about coaching. But from the eyes of a simple observer, things just didn’t seem right. With jump shot Dante, J.J. the rogue, sad Shved, zero knees Robbie, Luc Richard “matador “lock down” defender” Mbah a Moute, and one knee Budinger, leaving  the bench, who just didn’t fit. Without two starters on the floor, this bench brigade became a weather the storm group, until late in the season when they had some good moments of high effort defense and ball movement. Gorgui and Shabazz were billed by Flip Saunders  at training camp time that they had skills the Timberwolves needed. He suggested that they would, and I paraphrase, help the team now. Gorgui got a chance in the seasons garbage time and played great. Shabazz got no burn. When the team was lacking physicality and scoring, why did Shabazz not see the court? Then there’s the Derrick Williams trade. Sure, the Wolves needed defense, but the woes of the Wolves defense was not going to be fixed by adding ten minutes a game from Mbah a Moute. The Wolves offensive fire power was much more deadly when Derrick Williams, as unpredictable as he may have been, was on the bench. Derrick had the talent to go for twenty plus points. Why did we give that up for ten minutes of on ball defense? It’s all baffling. 

4. When Wolves Reach, NBA Usually Teaches

Three players on the Wolves roster have a tendency to go for crazy steals. Ricky Rubio is always playing pressure defense, and Corey Brewer, especially at the end of the season, is always going for the pilfer. Even Kevin Marin has a tendency to take chances in the passing lanes. This is a major gamble, especially when this makes up more than fifty percent of the Twolves starting line up. It’s even more dangerous if there is not a capable rim protector in the front court, which of course neither Nikola Pekovic or Kevin Love are. Even near the rim, because Pek and Love are lacking vertical rim protection ability they reach at the last moment.

5. Major Defensive Lapses

This was the biggest reason that the team faired poorly this year. They couldn’t slow anybody down because they played defense like a slice of swiss cheese.
 
Many of the factors I mentioned above played into this: injury, player skill over specification, and reaching defense. This team had a lack of discipline on the defensive side of the floor. Their rim protection was dismal, unless Ronnie or Gorgui was in there. Their rotation and pick and roll defense left a lot to be desired. Because of their rotational mistakes, certain players, namely Barea, Rubio and Brewer, tried to do to much. 
 
Even in many of the Wolves wins this season, they gave up way to many good shots. I think specifically about the game against the Lakers when the wolves dropped 47 points in the first quarter. In that game the Lakers were getting anything they wanted. They were missing shots, but they were getting good open looks. When an your opponent simply misses good shots, you are not making stops. It may feel like that, and it may be the result if on the other end of the floor the flood gates are open.
 
Truth is, you can’t win in the NBA giving up open shots. You can’t over or under rotate, and you have to challenge every shot. The wolves couldn’t do this and they gave up way to high of a shooting percentage.

SIDE COMMENT:

The Wolves made a major blunder when they got rid of Luke Ridnour in order to keep J.J. Barea. Because of Barea’s electrifying style and unbelievable ability to get to the rim, a skill the Wolves do in fact lack, the organization over valued Barea’s offensive ability. Ridnour was certainly less flashy, but he took good shots instead of crazy ones. I think offensively their production is similar. Their value is basically a wash. But it’s on the defensive side of the ball where Ridnour added value. No, Luke Ridnour is not a great individual defender, but Luke caused problems. He was tenacious and made things tough for people. He got his hands on the ball when big guys brought it up and fronted his man. He used absolutely all of the strength and weight his body had to offer to guard guys that he probably had no reason guarding in the NBA. He may not have made that much of a splash using the eye test, but I think, considering the circumstances, his play was not a defensive liability. J.J. on the other hand, pressures his man on the ball, but commits ridiculous fouls out of some temper tantrum like emotional break downs, and flops like a portuguese striker to try and draw calls. One of these styles of play are better for the team and I’m pretty sure it’s the hard working, good positioned defense of players like Ridnour. Not to mention Ridnour’s constant and consistent effort and unwavering durability.

So What Now?

These negative observations leave the Wolves at a incredibly pivotal position. They must win a lot of games in 2014-15, or change is manditory. How do I think the Wolves manage to do this? First:

What the Wolves Have Going for Them

1. At Least One More Year of Kevin Love Getting Better

Every offseason Kevin Love has added something to his game. First he showed he could hit the long range shot. Then he further developed  his post game. Now he’s become a distributer, with his outlet passing and dime dropping in the half court. He’s even improved as a defender by being impressively willing to take charges. What is next for Kevin Love? I hope that Kevin Love takes more time this offseason working on his quickness to improve his defense and ability to create his own shot. If he could find better rhythm with that step back jumper, he could be even more dangerous than he is. This also has a lot to do with endurance. It’s odd because basketball endurance is not fixed by simply getting in good shape, by running or doing yoga. It’s something that has to go with prolonged workouts within the burst and jump constructs of the game. If he could build up his endurance, he’d be better off when called upon to make a big shot at the end of a game. It would also be great to see Kevin add to his repertoire low and high post scoring. The passing he displayed this year makes him deadly in this position, especially with active bigs like Pek and Gorgui. I fully believe that Kevin Love will come back next season better than ever. I’m certain he will continue to astonish me with the skills he adds.

2. Rubio’s Post-Allstar Break Shooting Percentage

While hovering around forty percent is not a shooting percentage, it has to be encouraging that the last two months of this seasons Rubio shot the highest percentage of his career. His steals and assists were coming at a great clip as well.  I hope Ricky finds away to play some nice friendly games this offseason, and focuses on trying to be a scorer. I made a joke that ricky needs to get in some semi-pro-league and organize a condition that every basket made from an assist he makes only counts for half the value, so he can focus on letting his shots fly and attacking the basket in game situations. Of course that is extreme, but I still think the idea is good. Ricky has passing in his blood and the subconscious and  desire to dish dish dish, compromises the effectiveness of his bucket making. Considering Ricky really only has two years of NBA experience, he is doing very well. 

3. Kevin Martin’s Scoring

When Kevin Martin is healthy, the Wolves offense is flat out explosive. He scored nineteen points per game this season. That’s better production out of the shooting guard spot than most Twolves’ teams have had. While he is leaving his prime, he’s still a scorer and has a huge role on this team coming into next season. 

4. Pek, Gorgui and Ronnie

      PEKSMASH  RONNIE    DangDieng
Next season, these three guys should really shore up the center position. I would think that with appropriate minute distribution these three could bully the crap out of other teams big guys and give the Wolves a distinct advantage at the five spot. Of course there are no guarantees that limiting Pek’s minutes will cure his injury woes, it would be foolish to expect that to solve the problem completely. Take, for instance what happened to Ronnie this year. He had two freaky injuries. Anyone can land on a guys foot like he did and be out most of the year. Anyone could get up ended and smash their elbow on the floor. But nonetheless it doesn’t mean this wasn’t a raw deal. I think this is a fanstastic one, two, three punch at the big man position, not to mention having the option to have Kevin Love slide down their occasionally and space the floor like a boss. 
5. Budinger’s Health
There was word that Budinger’s surgeon said that it would probably take a year to feel fully comfortable with his new knee. For a couple of games at the end of the season, Bud looked like he was getting back to form. Hopefully we can get a season of healthy Bud next year, and the wolves bench scoring woes will be partially alleviated.
6. A Tenacious Talented Scorer On the Bench

Once again, back in training camp I remember hearing about Shabazz Muhammed’s scrappiness. That he was crashing the boards with great effort and scoring the ball with his will alone. This guy is talented. He has NBA skills, shooters touch and skills to capitalize upon his strong frame. I think there’s a good chance Shabazz could open the new Timberwolves coaches eyes and become a solid bench player or someday even a starter for the Wolves. What I thought was more encouraging about Shabazz was that he proved doubters wrong. Not by the way he played, but by the way he handled not playing. There’s no doubt he would have rather been on the court but he sounded completely sincere in interviews when he talked about putting in the work. It’s a really good thing when talented players know how to work. I hope Shabazz goes to work this offseason building on his game and dropping some weight to help with his conditioning and quickness. 

So What Now?

It’s not like the Wolves are over because they failed to reach their goals this season. I think they can still right the ship. Somethings that could help are:

1. Refining the Roster’s Balance

The roster looks way better theoretically in it’s balance, but it needs refining. The Wolves need to find players in the draft and free agency who can balance out the teams abilities and mentalities throughout the rotations.
 
The Twolves don’t have a lot of space to add new player, or very much money to add any big name talent. I’m curious however, what they could do in the trade market. Players like Barea, Mbah a Moute could be tradeable (Wally’s World’s post made great, and unfortunate, points about the trade value of players on this team). The question is what could they get in return? I think what they need is they need to sign or trade for a back up point guard who is athletically competitive and can play defense. I was hoping Alexey Shved could blossom into that role but that seems unlikely now. I’m curious if anyone has any better info on UCLA prospect Zach LaVine. Comparisons have been made between him and Russell Westbrook, and I can’t help but think it be fun seeing that kind of athleticism and aggression playing for the wolves. It would also be good for them to add a balanced role player on the wing. Someone who can shoot and play some defense. I think of a guys like Fransico Garcia or Carlos Delfino. 

2. Finding the Proper Coaching Candidate

I argue that the Wolves should employ a simple offensive systemI think they must hire a coach that will design the offense defined by what the Wolves players do well. Because the Wolves are in win now mode, they have to play within themselves. The Twolves will be a great offensive team next year, even if they’re just as unbalanced and streaky as they were this year.  I think the Adelman years have been great in developing, Ricky, Kevin and Pek into the kind of offensive players that have the basketball IQ to succeed in the NBA. I do think a lot of the time players are stuck in their head when running an offense like Adelman’s. When it works, it’s a powerful well oil machine, but when a gear gets stuck, it gets a little clunky. I think about it like this. If the Timberwolves basketball team are a pack of Wolves/Huskies, Rick Adelman has been strapping them to a dog sled and teaching them to pull their way towards a goal. A dog sled is a precision machine, everything works together, everything does its job. But I think this next coach should metaphorically cut the lines a little bit. A pack of dogs is going to eat. So I’d say, it’s the primal offensive instincts of this talented offensive team that must be tapped into.  On a more specific level, I think this coach also should develop some plays specifically designed for Rubio to go to the rim, or hit an open shot. Run them repeatedly in training camp, and about three times a game.

Most importantly, this coach has to stress a defensive mentalityThis is really the key. When a team is talented on offense, I think for the most part players natural instincts will kick in and that will take care of itself. The defensive side of the ball needs to be emphasized in every single way. The wolves must be highly engaged on defense. They must play with respect to the abilities of the other players on the court. For instance, if your are Ricky and Corey, maybe you lay off the on ball steal attempts a little bit when the Bruise Brothers, Pek and K-Love, are on the floor, because they are not great at protecting the rim. But when Ronnie or Gorgui are in the game, they can be more free to go for those game changing steals. Simple things about defense in basketball such as, denying players the ball just has to be emphasized. A few games this year, especially two of the games against OKC, Corey Brewer put on a ball denying clinic. He hounded Kevin Durant and just was always throwing his lanky lanky arms around in the path between KD and the ball. KD can’t really be stopped. That’s becoming an NBA reality, but the harder for key players to get the ball the better.  

My key thought about NBA defense it’s not really about stopping the team every time, but about impeding the flow of the opponents offensive machine. Get in their and muck up the gears. If the defensive is disciplined and high energy, I think the Wolves could have a team long and athletic enough to really cause some problems. I don’t even think this takes very much. Another key thought about defense is that a lot times you play great defense and an opponent still scores. The defensive mind set has to look past this. It has to see that possession as a victory because the shot that was forced was a low percentile shot, or it was taken, theoretically, by Serge Ibaka, or better yet Kendrik Perkins, instead of KD.

3. Execution

Whatever the Wolves do, they need to execute. This sounds simple, but somehow they have to learn from this year and find a way to make plays in the fourth quarter. We need a player that can step up and hit the shot, or at least be a threat to hit that shot, to take some pressure off of Kevin Love. We need a coach who is invested and engaged in putting his players in places where they can succeed. I can only recall a handful of times this year that Adelman drew up a play and it actually looked like it worked. The most memorable one being K-Loves game winner in the opening game of the season. The Timberwolves need to execute. That’s the bottom line. If they are going to try to rely on their offensive firepower they better not go ice cold when it counts next year.

Concluding Comments

This year’s Twolves team was certainly a disappointment, but, as fans, we really shouldn’t get all bent out of shape about it. If any of you guys are like me and endured this decade of Twolves suckery like I did, you’ll know just how much better this team was that so many before it. The Western Conference is a crazy place, and will be even crazier next season with the development of young stars, and a potentially healthy Kobe Bryant. Nonetheless, this year there were two surprise teams. Portland and Phoenix jumped up from the basement. There is always potential for change. If the wolves can make the sorts of additions and changes that they need to make to keep themselves competitive throughout entire games, we should be in for a fun 2014-15 season.
 
All is not lost, just anticlimactic. Twolves fans are once again left playing the waiting game. It’s another important offseason, and it all starts with draft time. I’ll chime in with my draft thoughts when the order is set it stone. (Wouldn’t it be awesome if the Twolves actually got lucky in the lottery? … I mean, we can always hope)




 

About Michael C. Boosalis II

I'm a guy who loves Jesus, family, friends, encouraging Brothers & Sisters in Christ, prayer, worship, sports (Twolves, Twins, Vikings, Golf), poetry, piano, guitar & Opera. After graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College in 2012, I have been living in Minnepolis, exploring my interests in journalism, ministry, music performance, creative writing, teaching, and urban farming. Just about every day, I hope to spend some time into my two blogs,"tobeafruitfulbranch.blogspot.com," about life as a follower of Christ, and "A 612 Sports Persepctive," that compiles all my writing about sports (mostly Twolves, Vikings and Twins) as well as chip away on my plethora of ideas for short stories, and a novel I have been working on. I've been a Twolves fan ever since I can remember

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