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Most recent 19 results returned for keyword: Thibs (Search this on MAP) FanRag Sports : When it comes to the 16-28 Minnesota Timberwolves, everybody wants to talk about Tom Thibodeau. “How...
When it comes to the 16-28 Minnesota Timberwolves, everybody wants to talk about Tom Thibodeau. “How is Thibs not winning with this roster?” bellows one faction of…..
#minnesotatimberwolves   #zachlavine   #nba   #basketball  
Zach LaVine's Shooting Evolution Driving His Impressive Growth
When it comes to the 16-28 Minnesota Timberwolves, everybody wants to talk about Tom Thibodeau. “How is Thibs not winning with this roster?” bellows one faction of fans and critics. “His best players are three 21-year-olds. Three 21-year-olds. Three 21…” chants another. Everybody wants to heap praise on Karl-Anthony Towns, who is more than deserving. […]
1 hour ago - Via Google+ - View - Mr Thibs : Bonjour
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22 hours ago - Via Google+ - View - Breaking Duluth News : Britt Robson When people on the Minnesota Timberwolves have gotten injured during this curiously dysfunctional...
Britt Robson When people on the Minnesota Timberwolves have gotten injured during this curiously dysfunctional 2016-17 season, it complicates the plans and strategies of head coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau. Not because the Wolves get worse and play in disarray, but because, at least for a while, they become strikingly more purposeful and coordinated. Back on January 9 at Target Center, shooting guard Zach LaVine pulled up wincing with a bruised hip and walked off the court toward the locker room just 53 seconds into the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks. The youngest player on the roster, second-year point guard Tyus Jones, stepped in as the pint-sized replacement versus the Mavs’ small lineup and played well enough over the final 11 minutes to bump a six-point lead into a 9-point victory. In the next two games, with LaVine in street clothes on the sidelines, the Wolves thumped a pair of teams headed to the playoffs this season, the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder, by double-digit margins. In many respects, the catalyst for these wins was veteran shooting guard Brandon Rush. After playing a total of 21 minutes in the previous three and a half weeks, Rush, the senior member of the team at age 31, was suddenly fulfilling every second of LaVine’s workload rotation, logging 36 and 39:53 minutes in the best back-to-back performances the Wolves have logged thus far this season. The most succinct way to describe Rush’s value is that he knows how to play team basketball. But the longer explanation gets to the conundrum of balancing success with development that has vexed the impatient Wolves players and their fans the entire season. After the win over Houston, Thibodeau talked about the style and attitude toward which he has been bum-rushing his youthful roster. “When guys are playing for each other and everyone has the discipline to do their job. When you have a drive-and-kick game [or] you can get into a spacing game off the post, or a spacing game off the trap [or] the pick-and-roll, there are a lot of times when you can share the ball.” Two nights later, following the impressive victory over OKC, he elaborated some more. “Offense is timing and spacing; everyone moving at the appropriate time; everyone doing their job, not making things up; everyone reading the ball and seeing what is going on. Whether it is a double-team [trap], or dribble penetration, or at the point of the screen if there is a flare in the timing of the roll [on the pick-and-roll], whether you are running to the rim or sliding behind, and finishing up your spacing. Oftentimes there is an initial cut [movement off the ball by a player] and if you stop you are going to screw up spacing for the next guy.” The coach’s description of the synergistic collaboration that timing and spacing can have on each other suddenly made me realize why Rush had been such an elixir for the team. It is not just that he flashes out to the corner to position himself for a three-pointer; it is knowing exactly when to do so and the benefits for the offense regardless of whether or not he gets covered, or whether or not the ball is passed to him. That knowledge of timing and spacing also works to Rush’s advantage as a defender. It is not just that he effectively left his man on the wing and hurried to double-team a big man, or rotated over to cover for a teammate on the pick and roll; it is knowing the vision of that big man in the paint relative to the man he was guarding on the wing; the time left on the shot clock; the relative skill sets of those players, and, finally, where his teammates were on the court. I said to Thibs that Rush seemed to be conducting a master class in this timing-spacing calculation and the coach was more than ready to answer. “He is a very smart player, outstanding timing and spacing. I think that comes from being a veteran.” He described how when Rush saw a pick-and-roll play happening between his teammates, if he was in a certain slot in the offensive placement as a teammate was rolling, he needed to “place behind,” meaning move out for a possible three-pointer. This either creates more spacing for the roll man by pulling his man away, or makes himself open for the trey if his man chose to deter the penetration to the basket. We had just witnessed two fantastic games by the Wolves, who played with a spirit and selflessness that was revelatory and rarely witnessed this season. It wasn’t all attributable to the presence of Rush and the absence of LaVine, of course. But it did put in stark relief the difficulties of playing three 21-year old kids — Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins as well as LaVine — whose phenomenal talent has always enabled them to passively ignore or downplay the obsessive details and awareness that synergize timing and spacing. So when Thibs was done raving about Rush, I passive-aggressively asked the coach the abiding question of this Timberwolves season: Do you have to sacrifice wins to get the kind of development you want [from the kids] this season? The question really had two connotations. One was, “are you choosing to do this sacrifice?” The other was, “is there a way to use your rotation to give you better balance between the two?” As I expected, he ducked both connotations with boilerplate clichés. “Every day we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We can’t feel good about ourselves. We have got to get ready for Dallas.” Thibs and the kids, the slam dance continues But Thibodeau doesn’t have to talk to provide an answer that is loud and clear. About 40 hours after his postgame remarks from the win over OKC, LaVine and his recovering hip returned to the starting lineup in an afternoon road game against Dallas. He played 33:39. Rush played 3:21. The Wolves scored a mere 87 points and ceded 98. By now it is obvious to the point of patent truth that Thibodeau has decided that this season will be devoted not only to Towns, Wiggins and LaVine playing together as much as possible, but doing so as the coach points out every mistake and foible in their processing, both on the sideline as they commit them, and in the film room later. It is a bold gambit designed to take the most talented young triumvirate on any one team in the NBA and fast-forward their development into savvy veterans. Furthermore, Thibs wants his star trio to utilize their phenomenal skills in sync with a disciplined system that maximizes everyone’s contribution and fosters teamwork. There are some huge risks, or at least complications, in this strategy. One is that by tutoring his vast knowledge of the game so hard, so fast, and so relentlessly over the course of the season, Thibodeau could muck up the positive, intuitively flowing elements of their spectacular performance and dampen their enthusiasm for the learning process. Each of the three young stars has a distinct personality. LaVine has the carefree affability of a gym rat. Towns has the earnest over-accountability of a teacher’s pet. And Wiggins has the implacable stoicism of a well-fortified enigma. But what they share is a lifelong ability to blow observers away with what they can do on a basketball court. If anything that has only gotten stronger and more ingrained as they find their way through this highest level of hoops competition. Because they play for the least successful franchise in modern NBA history and are logging the heavy minutes that produce gaudy statistics, the core trio are ideal maws in the ongoing hype machine. Whenever the Wolves come to an opponents’ town, or play on national television, visiting media and other folks who don’t keep up with the team’s exploits have the easiest way to simultaneously promote and label the Wolves — a long-terrible team now slowly on the rise due to three incredible talents. And they are incredible. LaVine is a two-time winner of the slam dunk championship who has added a reliable three-point shot to his arsenal, teasing him out to be a potentially un-guardable matchup. Towns is the prototypical modern big man who can score from anywhere on the court and has skills that resemble a guard as much as a center. Wiggins may well be the best athlete of the three, with laser-quickness to his leaps and spins, and a thirst for being the go-to guy in crunch time. But in 43 games under Thibodeau, they have been less than the sum of their individual parts. On offense, they are more baton-passers than synergistic enablers. On defense, they are each wretchedly inconsistent and chronically prone to mental lapses that are often ruinous to team play. Put bluntly, the great danger here is that the heralded coach and the star trio are a bad match. The detailed, demanding Thibs is expecting that his kids want to achieve real greatness, which only comes with team success, and will thus trust and endure this often rocky and discomfiting crash course toward NBA maturation. That’s a lot to ask from a trio of publicity-pampered kids, who have entourages, be it social media or two-bit fame-by-association junkies, whether they want to or not. So alienation is one risk. Another is that, even if the kids buy in, the task Thibs is trying to pull off — the simultaneous maturation and cohesion of three alpha talents in breakneck speed with minimal veteran seasoning — is simply too ambitious to execute, and may cause more harm than good. (Over on the bench, Brandon Rush and Cole Aldrich are nodding their heads.) As if that weren’t enough, there is another ongoing drama on this team that is a crucial complication: The mess at point guard. Missing the point In the realm of things that are not plainly stated but remain palpable reality, the always frayed rapport between Thibodeau and holdover point guard Ricky Rubio has been an ongoing awkward component of this season. Rubio, of course, is a polarizing figure because of his remarkably dilapidated pros and cons as a teammate. Never has a player been better qualified to be a pass-first point guard. The breadth and dimension of his court vision, coupled with the nuance of the spins, angles and touch of his dishes make him a nonpareil ball-distributor. Those skills and his intense competitive desire also make him a frequently superb defender despite his relative lack of quickness. But, as everyone knows, Rubio is a historically inaccurate shooter, a crippling liability that has only grown more onerous in the modern NBA game, with its emphasize on magnetizing defenses out of position through space-and-pace marksmanship. Rubio has done everything he can — better shot selection, cajoling fouls, value-added leadership — but the problem persists and his reputation for clanking is now burnished to the point of embarrassment. From the start last spring of his five-year tenure here, Thibs determined that Rubio was not the point guard of this team’s future. Through his agent and with an occasional statement (during the off-season he said he wanted to play for a winner for a change) Rubio has indicated that he doesn’t appreciate the animus and would sooner be traded than put on the shelf. National reporters with access to anonymous rumors that are frequently specious agenda-setting volleys from their “inside sources” have had a field day doling out the imminent scenarios that have yet to come to pass. Meanwhile, the point guard Thibs clearly favors as soon as he can resemble a competent performer at the position, 22-year old rookie Kris Dunn, has been a magnificent disappointment thus far. And the point guard that Thibs has seemingly discounted out of his master plan for the future, 20-year old Tyus Jones, has outperformed both Dunn and Rubio in his very limited minutes thus far this season. The argument for Rubio, who began playing professionally in Spain at the age of 14, is that he possesses the experience, savvy and willingness to execute Thibs’ tutorial on teamwork to the core trio. Indeed, he has endured the indignity of standing in the corner while Wiggins frequently initiates the half-court offense, robbing the Spaniard of his prime value. It was also telling that when LaVine went down and Rubio had either Tyus or Rush as complements, his game was raised to new heights. From the game where LaVine limped off against Dallas up until last night against the Clippers in Los Angeles, Rubio had racked up double-digit assists, and 70 dimes overall, in five straight games. When players know how to use timing and spacing, Rubio will get them the ball. This brings us to the tilt against the Clippers, who were bereft of their two injured superstars, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. In the first half, Rubio was left wide open, as opponents are wont to do, and he badly missed all three shots he attempted. When the second half began, Dunn was the point guard. This time Rubio was the player sidelined with a balky hip. Dunn performed relatively well in the third quarter, and certainly better than his customary effort thus far this year. (More context: The game was nationally televised by TNT, meaning that the yuck-it-up contingent of “Charles, Kenny and Shaq” would take a whack at overlaying their extensive and accomplished personal experience on the court decades ago with the prevailing reputations of Rubio and the three stars and their otherwise woeful ignorance about the Wolves performance thus far this season.) Barkley, whose formerly incisive snap judgments have increasingly taken on the forays of a Ouija board the longer he’s been retired — especially if the team he is analyzing doesn’t play on TNT very often — proclaimed that the Wolves didn’t play with enough pace and that Rubio should be replaced by Dunn (the halftime take) and Dunn and Tyus (the postgame take). In the third quarter, Kevin Garnett was invited in by his friend and color commentator Chris Webber to provide his thoughts. KG, who clearly wanted a veteran mentorship role on the Wolves that was probably denied by Thibs, compelling his (perhaps temporary) retirement, opined that the Wolves needed a “culture.” He then noted that his former teammate and friend and last year’s Wolves coach Sam Mitchell was providing a culture for the 2015-16 edition of the team.   Webber, who is a smart and erudite commentator, took up the cudgel against Thibs on both fronts, agitating for more pace and a culture that sifts in more veteran leadership. All the while, the Wolves were climbing back into the game, mostly on the astounding offense of Towns, KG’s prime mentorship project last season, and Tyus Jones, who entered to start the fourth quarter and promptly provided the compelling spark that has become a staple of his second NBA season. The whole thing amounted to a classically dreadful-hopeful Wolves parfait. When the Clippers went super-small at crunch time, Thibs countered with the duo of Tyus at the point and Dunn using his physicality as a guard-forward beside the core trio. Got that? The 22-year old rookie Kris Dunn was the oldest player on the court for the Wolves, who proceeded to beat the Clippers for their ninth win in the past 19 games even as Webber was somewhat legitimately ripping Thibodeau’s process. The clear star of the game was Towns, who gave big credit and a shout-out to Dunn in the post-game interview. The rumor mills continues to churn out Rubio trade tidbits. Dunn continues to prove that as a point guard, he’s a hell of a defensive shooting guard or small forward. Tyus Jones continues to make his doubters look silly. And the Timberwolves continue to be the most compelling boom-or-bust future play on the NBA tote board.   | @MinnPost
The boom-or-bust risk for the star-studded Timberwolves
Put bluntly, the great danger here is that the heralded coach and the star trio are a bad match.
4 days ago - Via - View - Breaking Duluth News : Britt Robson Pity the poor souls whose job it is to peddle tickets to games played by the Minnesota ...
Britt Robson Pity the poor souls whose job it is to peddle tickets to games played by the Minnesota Timberwolves. It is bad enough that the Wolves own the lowest winning percentage of any NBA franchise in modern history: .390, based on a 28-year record of 859-1,345. And it is apparently not enough that the team has not made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season. No, for at least the past five seasons, the Wolves have underperformed even cynically modest expectations. In that regard, the 2016-17 campaign has been especially excruciating. The Wolves strode into this season with the past two Rookie of the Year winners, a two-time slam dunk champion, another lauded draft pick, and the most coveted coach on the market agreeing to run the team for the next five years. The odds makers in Vegas, who prioritize smart money over partisan emotions, pegged the over/under betting line on the Wolves’ win total at 40.5, which would represent a nifty jump up from the 29 victories lodged in 2015-16. Rounding down, it would compute to a 40-42 mark over the 82-game season, a .488 winning percentage that would equal their best finish in a dozen years. Instead the Wolves are 12-26, a .316 winning percentage that once again places them among the five worst clubs in the 30-team NBA. What makes this particularly galling is the ongoing close proximity of promising potential and pratfall performance. Wolves fans are appropriately burned out on legitimate hype. The fact is that Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns earned their Rookie of the Year awards. And Zach LaVine has progressed from a slam-dunking novelty into multifaceted scoring threat at shooting guard, making him one of the better-value picks in the 2014 draft. Few if any franchises have ever been able to boast of having three extraordinary athletes with such preternaturally advanced offensive skills who have all yet to blow out 22 candles on their birthday cakes. Towns, Wiggins and LaVine are quick, coordinated leapers liable to lift you out of your seat with a thrilling play at any time. The collective presence on the roster makes it no mystery why the Wolves fill 93.4 percent of the available seats when they go on the road, the 11th best draw in the NBA. At Target Center, however, the Wolves put fannies in just 71.4 percent of the seats, a home attendance capacity that ranks ahead of only Denver and Detroit. Part of that apathy is a decade-plus of missing the playoffs, but part of it is the numbing repetition of losing, right now, more than twice as often as the team wins. The “Big 3” merit the hype, but all the glitz in the world won’t obscure the sins of their youth, which include a melodramatic lack of focus and composure and a stubborn refusal to appreciate that they will continue to be mock-worthy underachievers until they learn how to play team defense. As the losses mount at an aggravating rate and volume, it is hard to remember that youth, or lack of experience, really is a viable excuse. Eight of the 30 NBA teams are currently winning at least 60 percent of their games. All of them have at least one starter who has been in the league at least 10 years. All but one of them — eighth-best Memphis — have at least four of their five starters with four or more years of NBA experience, and Memphis would qualify if Chandler Parsons were healthy. By contrast, the Wolves most grizzled veteran starter, Ricky Rubio, has five years’ experience, followed by Gorgui Dieng with three, Wiggins and LaVine with two, and Towns with one. Compounding the carnage wrought by this callow assemblage is the fact that Thibodeau is the Wolves' fourth head coach in the past four years. Core players who are still trying to get accustomed to basketball played at the highest level have had to learn a new system every season along the way. Whether Thibodeau understood the enormity of his challenge coming into the job or not, he has never faced this type of adversity, this broad-based weaning gap between gaudy potential and gruesome reality. His response has been a strategy of total immersion to fast-forward the development. The quintet of Towns, Wiggins, LaVine, Dieng and Rubio have logged a total of 720 minutes together thus far this season, far and away the most frequently deployed five-man lineup in the NBA this season. Second-place goes to the starters in Washington at 604 minutes, then down to 447 minutes for the Clippers’ starters, and 395 minutes in Oklahoma City. But here’s the rub: The Wolves quintet are minus 50 on the court together versus the opposition. Compare that to Washington’s plus 110, the Clippers’ plus 137, or OKC’s plus 33. Among the eight most frequently deployed five-man units in the NBA, the one from the Wolves is the only one that yields more points than it makes. What that means is that Wolves fans see the same group of players collectively fail night after night as Thibs force-feeds trial-and-error again and again. But wait! It gets worse. Pretending to be a good team The failure is not mercifully swift and decisive but tragicomically cruel, at once haphazard and predictable. Because for long and frequent stretches, the Timberwolves pretend to be a good team. Consider that coming into Monday night’s contest at the Target Center, both the Wolves and their opponent, the Dallas Mavericks, possessed records of 11 wins and 26 losses. But while the Mavs clearly deserved that ugly winning percentage, having been outscored by a whopping 202 points in those 37 games, the Wolves were a mere 66 points behind their opponents over the course of the season. After beating the Mavs by 9 Monday night, they are now 12-26, with a net point differential of just minus 57. There are 12 teams with worse point differentials per game than the Wolves, but only four of them have lower winning percentages. There is a statistic devised by the seminal baseball analyst Bill James, known as Pythagorean expectation, that calibrates what the typical record of a team should be based on the amount of runs (points) it scores compared to the amount it allows. This season, the Wolves’ Pythagorean record thus far is 17-21 — good enough to bag the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The Pythagorean record is an indicator of the beguiling raw talent on the Wolves roster. The real record is a reminder that this squad is decidedly not ready for prime time. But Thibodeau is hell-bent on getting them there as soon as possible. Hence, the Wolves have three of the five most-deployed three-player combinations in the NBA; a parlay involving Gorgui Dieng and the Big 3. Dieng-Towns-Wiggins is the second-most trio in minutes at 1012; just ahead of the Big 3 at 992 minutes together, with Dieng-LaVine-Towns ranking fifth at 941 minutes. Again, it is revealing to look at plus/minus, which can be a specious stat over the course of a single game or similarly small sample size, but a more reliable barometer when you are in the 700-1,000 minute range. Dieng with Towns and Wiggins is minus 7. Dieng with Towns and LaVine is minus 51. The Big 3 together are minus 71. Let’s connect the dots. The future of the Wolves franchise would seem to be their precociously talented but still very inexperienced trio of Towns, Wiggins and LaVine. In order to hasten their development, Thibs is playing them together an extraordinary amount of time. And in the short run, their collective inexperience — and, one could argue, their redundancy of skills and their need to sort out a proper pecking order — is hurting this team. The Wolves are minus 71 in the 992 minutes they are on the court together. The Wolves are plus 14 in the 842 minutes they don’t play together. But even this plus/minus differential doesn’t lay out the full extent of the pain on this learning curve. Just on the basis of points scored and allowed, the Wolves are a playoff team (albeit a terrible one squeaking in at the tail end of a top-heavy conference). What practically every Wolves fan knows — so we’ll spare you the raft of confirming statistics — is that the team routinely forfeits big leads and is especially lousy in the clutch. Or, put bluntly, they lose their focus and then lose composure. Over and over again. That is what young, inexperienced players do. Thibs has determined that he will trade the losses for the hastened experience up the learning curve. But for fans, especially those laying down good money to patronize this franchise, this process is a recipe for cynicism. Sure, there are die-hards who understand what is going on, who take succor in the dazzling slam dunks and nifty layups in traffic, the sky-walking rebounds and blocks and the sweet, rainbow jumpers. But even those folks can’t help feeling like Charlie Brown and the proverbial football being snatched away when they inevitably get invested in the outcome of the game. Bottom line, because the team is so young and so relatively healthy, loyal fans are treated to the same cast of characters yielding mostly the same result. It gets tedious, like one of those doorstop Russian novels — only poorly written, with precious few plot twists and a predictably disheartening resolution. Bjelly, Bazzy and Tyus, oh my! That’s why Monday’s win over Dallas was such a uniquely satisfying tonic, a break from the monotony not only via the victory but in the variation of players most crucial to securing it. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is usually not prone to boneheaded gambits, but by not double-teaming Towns and starting a dreadfully slow frontcourt of Andrew Bogut and Dirk Nowitzki, he paved the way for Towns to pour in 20 points in the first eight minutes en route to a 33-19 Wolves lead at the end of the first quarter. But it’s become a semi-serious joke that a double-digit advantage amounts to a death wish for these Wolves, and after building the lead back up to 21, they saw it sliced to seven at halftime, largely because Nowitzki buried three treys over Dieng in the final two minutes of the second quarter. The halftime stats revealed notable performances by two players off the bench. Stretch power forward Nemanja Bjelica was the more flexible and thus better defender to combat the scoring frontcourt tandem of Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes; Bjelly was plus 11 in 10:39 despite scoring only three points. The other valuable sub was Bazzy Muhammad, whose offensive aggression overwhelmed first rookie Dorian Finney-Smith and then second-year pro Justin Anderson. Bazzy had 7 points and was plus 12 in 11:42 of the first half while holding his counterparts to two points. In the third quarter, it looked like the Wolves were yet again going to fall apart. Indifferent defense fueled a 17-4 Mavericks run over a 7-minute stretch that reduced the lead to three at 71-68. But Towns, quiet since the first quarter, muscled in a layup, buried a 17-footer and blocked a shot that led to a Bazzy rebound and subsequent Bazzy slam off a feed from Bjelly. Thibs wisely played Bjelica the entire fourth quarter and likewise extended Bazzy’s run halfway into the final frame. But there was a third crucial sub during crunchtime — Tyus Jones, deployed as a shooting guard. In terms of sheer results, Tyus, the youngest player on the Wolves roster, has also been the team’s most positive contributor. His future status in the Wolves rotation is a subject that deserves its own column — others are probably writing it now — but for the moment, he is stuck firmly to the bench as the third-string point guard behind the steadily veteran presence of Ricky Rubio and the remarkable on-ball defense of Thibs’ favorite, rookie Kris Dunn. Before Monday night, Tyus had played exactly four seconds in the Wolves’ previous six games. But 51 seconds into the fourth quarter, LaVine pulled up with a grimace and simply started walking from the court to the Wolves locker room. Later it was reported that he suffered a hip contusion. It was an exceedingly rare circumstance where Thibs couldn’t deploy his Big 3 as another lesson in learning how to play under the heightened strain of the fourth quarter. With Dallas using an unconventional lineup of their top scorers on the front line and three ball-handling guards in the backcourt, the coach opted for Tyus over veteran Brandon Rush to play beside Rubio. And, as he has done all season, Jones delivered. Normally the floor general, he ceded that assignment to Rubio — whose vintage fourth quarter brilliance included 9 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals to go with his 3 turnovers — and admirably filled in as the shooting guard. Jones had zero assists but nailed all three of his shots, including a three-pointer on a feed from Towns that Thibs declared afterward was his favorite play of the fourth quarter. He also had an offensive rebound and a steal, didn’t force anything, and played capable defense. Bjelly, Bazzy (a game-best plus 17) and Tyus were the fresh faces in the crunchtime cauldron. The Wolves won for the 12th time in 38 games despite Wiggins and LaVine combining for just 18 points. Big decisions for growth or bust Will this boomlet signal a change in the rotation? Not likely, assuming that LaVine regains his health quickly. Thibodeau is playing the long game. At the very least, he is gaining all the info he can for some extremely consequential decisions at the end of this decision, if not at the trading deadline in February. He must determine if the Big 3 can indeed function together. If so, he needs to know what kind of players best complement them. If not, which player needs to be moved. Huge stakes are involved. Sooner or later, this franchise has to make good on its potential. Otherwise, the young core will leave, and some fat cat in Seattle or elsewhere will buy out the Target Center lease and take the team elsewhere. That’s a scenario even more dreadful to local hoops fans than the wretched play we’ve watched lo these many years, including this literally star-crossed season. | @MinnPost
Wolves win offers a welcome break from the miserable monotony of the season so far
The Wolves this year are like one of those doorstop Russian novels — only poorly written, with precious few plot twists and a predictably disheartening resolution.
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16 days ago - Via - View - Breaking Duluth News : Britt Robson It is tempting to refer to the 2016-17 Timberwolves season thus far as a roller coaster...
Britt Robson It is tempting to refer to the 2016-17 Timberwolves season thus far as a roller coaster: stupendous plays made with thrilling athleticism mixed with the boring predictability of brain-dead nervous breakdowns just when the fundamentals of teamwork are required to secure a victory. Depending upon the frame you put over the proceedings, the contrasts can be particularly stark. The Wolves thumped the similarly young and spry Milwaukee Bucks Friday with a glittering array of offensive highlights that produced 18 assists and only two turnovers in the second half. On either side of that gem were fetid embarrassments of indifference and incompetence, resulting in blown leads of at least 13 points in eventual losses to lousy opponents from Denver and Portland. Elevate the perspective up to a broad, overhead view, however, and you see that the roller coaster is more accurately a kiddie ride. The many thrills are dazzling enough, but rendered with the immature glee of short-attention spans preferring to linger in the revelry of the moment rather than parlay the energy boost into a recommitment to the mundane fundamentals. When faced with adversity, these Timberwolves don’t keep their focus and composure; they tromp the throttle and risk heroic short-cuts, bent on rapid rescue instead of step-by-step stabilization. Consequently, at best, their season becomes a sweepstakes for tots, an endorphin highlight reel in lieu of durable achievement, where a signature win occurs in Charlotte, or at home against Milwaukee. Elite opponents toy with these Wolves, deciding on their own terms when to snatch the win. The supposedly wise counsel to long-suffering Timberwolves fans is continued patience. In Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, the franchise boasts three exceptionally talented players who are all currently just 21 years of age. Logic stipulates that there will be growing pains, trials by fire that will sear the lessons of what it takes to succeed at this highest level of hoops into the DNA of their approach to and attitude about the game. Sure, the failures are frustrating for all concerned, but the fantastic gaps between the highlights and the bottom line are part of a time-honored process. The learning curve is as inexorable as the decaying curve that befalls aging athletes on the other side of the career spectrum. That’s the spiel from the level-headed sages, anyway. For those who watch these Wolves, however, it still feels like the “Big 3” are, for various reasons, incredibly slow learners. Slow reboot or stunted development? Even those who can rightfully take smug satisfaction from cautioning folks that this season’s Wolves weren’t ready for prime time did not likely envision a two-month intro where the ball club lost more than twice as many games as it won. Coming into the season, there were tangible reasons for optimism, most concretely the team’s 15-17 record over the final 32 games of the 2015-16 campaign. That was the one where the sages were reminding us that the Big 3 were just 20 years old; the one where the grouchy and much-maligned Sam Mitchell was the interim coach and Milt Newton handled the personnel with his hands tied as the franchise sought to clear its head and regain its equilibrium after the tragic and sudden death of Flip Saunders. That 2015-16 season wasn’t even completed before Mitchell was reportedly informed he was out the door and negotiations with current coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau were invited. The demanding and detailed Thibs seemed like an ideal elixir to hasten that learning curve for the precocious kids by administering a steroid-like dose of drilled fundamentals. The first 32 games of Thibodeau’s five-year contract produced a won-lost record of 10-22, five games worse than the Mitchell-Newton denouement. With the invaluable assistance of the Wolves’ stat guru, Paul Swanson, we can compare these two 32-game stretches. At first glance, what stands out is that the current Wolves offense takes significantly more three-pointers and significantly fewer free-throws than last-season’s edition. On defense, while the current team has been better at reducing the accuracy of field goals and three-pointers, they have allowed their opponents to get to the line far more frequently, resulting in a higher true shooting percentage (which weights the combined accuracy of threes, twos and free throws) than opponents managed in the final two months of last season. More specifically, the Wolves shot 220 more free throws than their opponents over the final 32 games of the 2015-16 season. In the first 32 games of 2016-17, that margin had been whittled down to just 10 more trips to the free throw line. The gap was narrowed almost equally at both ends of the court, with the Wolves shooting 104 fewer and allowing 106 more than in 2015-16. This fall-off on offense is partially a consequence of Ricky Rubio’s diminished role initiating plays in the half-court sets. In the final 32 games of last season, Rubio shot 139 free throws in 995 minutes of action. This season, that number has plunged to 63 attempts in 847 minutes. Because Rubio shoots better than 85 percent at the line, this has cost the Wolves 60 points.   Much of that has been recouped by the more frequent trips taken by LaVine (32 more made free throws) and Towns (23 more). It is interesting to note that Wiggins, who has been accorded more of the playmaking duties over Rubio, actually has made 21 fewer free throws than he did over a 32-game span a year ago, despite playing more minutes. Other significant drop-offs occurred from Gorgui Dieng (46 fewer made free throws in 51 fewer attempts, despite 63 more minutes played) and Bazzy Muhammad (34 fewer makes, 45 fewer attempts, 154 fewer minutes). On defense, it is logical to assume that the surge in trips to the line by opponents is a result of the Wolves contesting shots and rebounding more diligently. The effective field goal percentage of opponents (which factors in twos and threes without free throws) has dropped from 53.6 in the final 32 games last season to 52.8 under Thibs. And the rebounding percentage has noticeably risen from 48.8 last season to 52.2 this year. But two things about this comparison should concern even those who counsel patience. One is that the Wolves are deriving less benefit from ostensibly better performance. During last year’s closing 15-17 record, the team was outscored by 90 points overall. In the first 32 games of this season, Minnesota had cut that gap to minus 66, yet at 10-22 had dramatically fewer victories to show for it. The other area of concern is the relative lack of at least statistical improvement by the team’s two cornerstones, Towns and Wiggins. Towns’ numbers look remarkably similar to his rookie season in this 32-game comparison. In a miniscule 9 fewer minutes this year, he has one more rebound, the same number of assists, six more turnovers and six fewer steals. He has scored 25 more points but less efficiently, with a true shooting percentage that has dropped from 59 to 56.3. For Wiggins, there is apparent regression. He has logged 51 more minutes and scored 30 more points, but with a plunge in true shooting percentage from 57.6 to 53. His assists actually fell, from 75 to 72 (in line with his turnovers, which went from 76 to 72), and while he has grabbed 28 more rebounds, he has 13 fewer blocks and a dozen fewer steals. More significantly, Wiggins was plus 38 with a PER (a measure of total efficiency) of 17.69 in the final 32 games of last season. In the first 32 games under Thibs, he is minus 34 with a PER of 15.73. By comparison, LaVine has made larger strides toward realizing his potential this season, earning the expansion of “the two cornerstones” into a legitimate “Big 3.” In 50 extra minutes, LaVine has added 138 points over last year’s 32-game sample. He has scored more efficiently, boosting his true shooting percentage from 57.7 to 59.8. His assists and turnovers per minute played are almost exactly the same, and his steals and blocks are down while his rebounding is up slightly. In other words, LaVine is solidifying his role on this ball club. He is a scoring shooting guard who can space the floor with his three-point accuracy and get out and finish with a flourish in transition. He still has huge issues with his defense, which results in him having a lousy plus/minus mark and net efficiency rating. But at this point, while his overall versatility and subsequent ceiling is probably lower than either Towns or Wiggins, his skill set is the best defined and most predictable of the trio. Yes, he is arguably being utilized more intelligently than Thibs is deploying Towns and Wiggins right now. But within his limits, the reliability of his virtues are a boost to the team’s plans moving forward. He is improving faster, if not yet further, than I anticipated, and if he can upgrade his defense to mediocrity, I will happily concede that I underestimated his value in the NBA. Still part of the master plan? Another thing that is striking about the 32-game comparisons is how little Thibs has deigned to supplement his core starters with steadying veterans coming off the bench. In my optimistic season preview back in October, I wrote that “Center Cole Aldrich and swingman Brandon Rush are savvy veterans coming over from successful stints on winning teams. Both can step in with the starters and actually boost production under certain matchups.” Nope. Aldrich has played beside Towns just 125 minutes this season, and has logged just 362 through the first 34 games overall. His usage is declining as the season progresses — he’s played 57 minutes the past ten games. That’s 57 more than Rush, who hasn’t set foot on the court since December 11 and has been in action a whopping 35 minutes since Thanksgiving. During huddles and timeouts on the sidelines, they and fellow vet Jordan Hill have clearly checked out in terms of seeking to provide a role, encouragement or other input. It is by now clear that Thibs has opted for full immersion as his development strategy. Not only the Big 3, but the other starters are being fully vetted for potential synergies and corrosions in their teamwork. Thibs had made no secret of his desire to supplant Rubio with rookie Kris Dunn — asked to comment about Rubio during a stretch when he racked up 20 assists and zero turnovers, Thibs unilaterally presaged his answer by noting that Dunn was also playing well — but the coach has nonetheless accepted the reality that his Big 3 are best developed with a competent veteran point guard in the mix, and Rubio is averaging more minutes-per-game than he did a year ago. Thibs has shortened his regular rotations essentially to eight players, with scoring specialist Muhammad getting 20 minutes and Dunn and stretch power forward Nemanja Bjelica about 16 minutes apiece over the last ten games. The oldest player among these eight is actually Bjelica, but he is a European import with only 1,600 total minutes of NBA experience. Dieng and Rubio are the other greybeards at age 26. Dieng has always been at best a capable glue guy, and Rubio’s role has been diminished in favor the kids this season. Translation: Thibs is sacrificing victories for speedier maturity in his young core. The guy who controls both the payroll and the playbook, he was viewed with skepticism because of his “win-now” philosophy in Chicago. But flipped the keys to the franchise over the next five years, he seems determined to watch this callow core repeat their mistakes over and over, in silly defeat after silly defeat, until they get sick of it and batten down their composure and commitment. Was this the plan all along? It didn’t seem like it in the preseason, when Thibs created a formidable five-player bench unit with Aldrich and Rush anchoring the aforementioned three subs. A wretched 6-18 start perhaps reordered his priorities and helped him determine that if the kids were slow learners the lessons had to be boldfaced by the team’s status in the standings. Whether or not Thibs knew the Wolves would succumb to pratfalls out of the gate, the Big 3 certainly were ambushed by their own ineptitude. The good news is that Towns seems to have absorbed the consequences of his early-season hubris and gone back to playing like the future Hall of Famer he appeared to be as a rookie. LaVine has grown. One would hope that Thibs is discovering that “point Wiggins” may not pan out. In any case, it isn’t hard to see how the Wolves could have stolen two or three more victories by extending their rotation to develop stable roles among the bench unit, and plugging in key substitutions when the kids began to swoon on the court. Those two or three wins would have the Wolves in the thick of a desultory race for the final playoff berth in the bifurcated Western Conference, which has seven good teams and a host of suspect pretenders for the eighth seed. If the Wolves somehow manage to make it, the Big 3 will be responsible. More likely, the kiddie ride will continue until April. | @MinnPost
Was sacrificing wins in order to let the 'Big 3' mature Thibs' plan for the Wolves all along?
It didn’t seem like it in the preseason, but a wretched start to the season perhaps reordered Tom Thibodeau's priorities.
21 days ago - Via - View - Breaking Duluth News : Britt Robson Heading into tonight’s game against the Sacramento Kings, the Minnesota Timberwolves are...
Britt Robson Heading into tonight’s game against the Sacramento Kings, the Minnesota Timberwolves are belatedly playing their best basketball of the season. Were it not for a fourth-quarter meltdown last Saturday against a Houston Rockets opponent that had won nine straight games, the Wolves themselves would be riding a four-game winning streak. As it is, they have had to settle for the humbling satisfaction of posting their first consecutive victories — in games 27 and 28 — at home versus Phoenix and on the road in Atlanta earlier this week. In my last column, I wrote that the Wolves’ road win against the Bulls on coach Tom Thibodeau’s return to Chicago felt particularly resonant because it broke a pattern of inept defense and spectacular dysfunction under pressure. The headline of the column posed the question of whether it might be a “signature win — or an ephemeral outlier?” Thus far, it has been a meaningful pivot in a positive direction. From Chicago onward, the Wolves have allowed opponents to shoot just 41.8 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from three-point range. They have contested shots without fouling; opponent free throws have dropped from 25.7 to 21.7 per game over the last four contests. Better yet, this sturdier, more diligent defense has emanated almost exclusively from the starters, the majority of whom are 21-year old kids constantly told how wonderful they are and are going to be, even as they besmirch the plaudits with a steadfast disdain for well-calibrated fundamentals. The Wolves of 2016-17 have been less than the sum of their gaudy parts — amiable egotists ambling along the long road to genuine team synergy. But recently they have been getting a grip, which has allowed Thibodeau to relax his own well-intentioned choke-hold on the proceedings just a bit. Those who handle the scoreboard and other record-keeping duties at center court of Target Center report that Thibs has been a little more restrained during his manic id-fests on the sidelines in recent games, and the coach has also taken pains to better separate the sin from the sinner as mistakes are committed on the court. “I am always disappointed in losing, but I am not disappointed in our team, in our effort and the way we keep working to improve and build habits,” was one of his many recent statements seeking to draw this distinction. Another reason for the Wolves improved play of late is the diminished caliber of the opposition. After an 11-game stretch against teams that all currently sport winning records (the Wolves won twice), Minnesota is currently enmeshed in a 12-game run in which all but two foes currently possess losing records. (The pair of high-caliber opponents are OKC on Christmas Day and Utah on Jan. 7.) The remaining five games on the 2016 calendar year will offer a pretty decent test of how well the Wolves can sustain their improvement on defense. The opposing offenses are mediocre but not wretched, ranking anywhere from 12th to 23rd among the 30 teams, and no lower than 18th if you leave out a reprise against Atlanta the day after Christmas. If Thibodeau’s renowned principles of team defense are indeed becoming ingrained to the point of habit, there is an opportunity to climb the standings — at a point where the bifurcated Western Conference finds the Wolves, with a still-miserable record of 9-19, merely two-and-a-half games away from the 8th and final playoff seed. Exhaustive habits and veteran disappearance It is becoming increasingly apparent that an ongoing theme of this season will involve the heavy minutes Thibodeau plays his three kids — swingmen Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine and center Karl-Anthony Towns. LaVine (1st) and Wiggins (5th) currently rank among the NBA’s top five in minutes per game, and Towns is 14th. The situation is pertinent because a significant cause of discord between Thibodeau of the Bulls front office in Chicago was the belief by team executives that he was overplaying his core personnel, at the risk of underperformance, if not injury. During the recent four-game boomlet, Thibs has relied even more on the youngsters, with LaVine and Wiggins both averaging more than 40 minutes and Towns clocking in at 38.5. (The numbers are somewhat inflated by the five extra minutes each played in overtime versus Houston, boosting their 4-game average by 1.25 minutes per game.) Is this iron-man regimen borne out of desire or necessity? The dangerous temptation for Thibs is that one bleeds into the other; that his desire to foster the good habits for genuine teamwork that he craves as quickly as possible compels him to regard an onerous workload as a necessary part of the process. The off-season moves that Thibs and his general manager Scott Layden enacted always pointed to the notion that this would be a season of heavy immersion for the young core. The three veteran free-agents they signed were all journeymen with inexpensive contracts that, in the case of two of the players, were guaranteed for this season only. Only center Cole Aldrich, signed for $22 million over three years, is expected to be a meaningful bench player moving forward. The obvious plan was for Thibs to get a thorough look at his lauded batch of young talent and then use the copious money he had saved this season under the salary cap to splurge on the right veterans to caulk the seams. He and Layden will bank the rest for the huge contracts the Wolves future stars are inevitably going to receive. To avoid potentially huge personnel mistakes over the next couple of seasons, that strategy almost requires arduous minutes in group interaction among the three kids. Even in that context, however, it is remarkable how deftly Thibs has shunted his free agents to the side. Coming into this season, swingman Brandon Rush seemed like a potentially key component off the bench, an outside marksman who could spread the floor and also provide the guidance of his experience with a championship-caliber ballclub in Golden State the past few years. During the preseason, there was even some speculation that Rush might crack the starting lineup so that Thibs could bring LaVine in as an instant-offense sixth man. Instead, Rush has logged but 121 minutes this season and scored a grand total of 17 points. Yes, he’s been hampered by a chronic toe injury, but one gets the impression he’s an afterthought for Thibs whether healthy or not, an impression he cements with a carefree attitude and disinterested body language during timeouts and other interactions on the sidelines. Signed for one year at $3.5 million, Rush seems destined to languish during his lone season in Minnesota unless an injury or sudden shift in strategy jolts the status quo. Rush is a workhorse compared to combo forward Jordan Hill, who has seen the court exactly 16 minutes thus far this season. Given that Hill’s 2-year, $8-million contract (with the team holding the option on the second season) was actually a pay cut for him despite the inflated salary frenzy that occurred this off-season, nobody expects a dominant role player. But neither did many folks anticipate that Hill would be among the disappeared, falling behind even Adreian Payne in the Wolves rotation. He has assumed the Rony Turiaf role as the dread-headed bench anchor, with a laid-back demeanor that, accurately or not, adds to his stoner vibe. The point is, neither Rush nor Hill have sufficient standing on the team to exert any veteran leadership. And while Aldrich has been much more useful, he clearly isn’t regarded by Thibs as vital to the rotation, having sat out two of the past five games entirely when opponents went with small lineups. Big 3 relationships Assuming they have the strength and endurance to soldier through this season under the current circumstances, the three kids are certainly going to provide Thibs with a complete picture of their skills sets as individuals, and, more importantly, in relationship to each other. Towns-Wiggins-LaVine rank fourth among all three-player combos in minutes together with 728, and the duo of Towns and Wiggins is third in the two-player lineup category with 882. While the starters in general and these three in particular are beginning to coalesce, the growing pains are apparent, particularly on defense. For example, according, in the 825 minutes Towns is on the court with LaVine, the Wolves are -68. In the 167 minutes Towns plays without LaVine, the Wolves are +6. The difference is defense. When Towns and LaVine are together, the Wolves defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) is 111.4. Without LaVine, Towns has a defensive rating of 106.1, a 5.3 points difference that swamps the 0.8 point gain in offensive efficiency when the two are paired. But before we blast LaVine’s shoddy defense, consider that Towns drags LaVine’s defenses numbers down more than vice versa. That 111.4 defensive rating as a pair plummets to 100.8 points per 100 possessions when LaVine plays without Towns. The discrepancy comes from LaVine playing more often with the bench, which has better defensive numbers and worse offensive efficiency. Hence, unlike Towns, LaVine’s offensive efficiency suffers by 5.4 points per 100 possessions in lineups without KAT. What is revealing either way, however, is how much better the Wolves have played defense when Towns and LaVine are separated. Another compelling comparison (with a hat tip to Wolves status guru Paul Swanson and updated numbers from is how much better Wiggins plays when LaVine is off the court. In 777 minutes of Wiggins and LaVine together, the Wolves are -56. But in the 255 minutes Wiggins plays without LaVine, Minnesota is +16. Again, defensive efficiency is the biggest negative factor. By contrast, LaVine’s per-minute plus/minus numbers are essentially the same with or without Wiggins on the court. To complete the roundelay, let’s look at the Towns-Wiggins combo. What jumps out here is how vital Wiggins seems to be for Towns’ effectiveness thus far. Yes, Towns and Wiggins are -26 in their 884 minutes on the court together. But in the 108 minutes Towns plays without Wiggins, he is -36, a whopping -12 points per 36 minutes. What this all suggests is that if the Wolves can find a more rugged wing player to play small forward, pushing Wiggins back to shooting guard, he would be more effective. At the same time, making LaVine a dynamic sixth man off the bench with quality defenders also shows signs of promise. All this is a work in progress, of course. And the progress currently consuming Thibs is how to make the “Big 3” mesh as a unit. Last but not least…. The one place where the notoriously stubborn Thibs has seemed to alter his outlook recently is in his resignation that he needs to accommodate the reality of Ricky Rubio as his primary point guard. For two columns in a row now I have threatened to do a deep dive on Rubio’s enhanced status and the way that he and Thibs have sought a middle ground. I promise to get to it sometime in 2017, after Minnpost returns from its holiday break. Until then, here are two fine stories from the Wolves beat writers from the two dailies, Jace Frederick at the PiPress and Jerry Zgoda at the Strib . In clichés about holiday goodwill, I’ll close with a sincere thank you for the loyalty and intelligence of my readers, who have made this gig so enjoyable over the years. As we knock off another calendar, know that I treasure your eyeballs and your insights and look forward to more mutual revelry in life’s greatest game in 2017. | @MinnPost
The Wolves get a grip
The team's sturdier, more diligent defense has emanated almost exclusively from the starters.
1 month ago - Via - View - Breaking Duluth News : Britt Robson When the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night, it felt like a...
Britt Robson When the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night, it felt like a significant, potentially resonant, victory. The win interrupts a downward spiral that has been ugly enough to call into question the team’s psychological equilibrium, the balance and character of the roster, the players’ relationship with new coach Tom Thibodeau, and the ongoing wisdom of “staying the course” during a pivotal season of supposed maturation that seemed perilously close to going off the rails. Thibodeau is renowned for being especially capable of enhancing team defense by instilling disciplined principles with relentless logic and attention to detail. He was awarded a five-year contract to be both head coach and president of basketball operations primarily because that quality seemed like such a good fit in molding the Wolves trio of burgeoning young talent, including cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and two-time slam dunk champion Zach LaVine. But in losing three out of every four of their first 24 games, the Wolves not only displayed the careening inconsistency and lapses in concentration and composure that are hallmarks of youth; they regressed on the fundamentals of team defense that is destined to be the foundation of any future identity for a team guided by Thibs. After yielding 105 points or more on just 7 occasions in their first 15 games, the Wolves let it happen nine times in a row — 8 of them losses. What made it worse was that these breakdowns began to happen most frequently in the fourth quarter. In the four games before going to Chicago, the Wolves had surrendered 33, 36, 35 and 38 points in the final period. This wasn’t a garbage-time trifle either — the Wolves led in two of those four contests and were within 8 points in another when the quarter started. During the second half against Detroit last Friday, the Target Center crowd briefly booed the Wolves for the first time this season. Two nights later at home against Golden State, Minnesota blew a 10-point lead by ceding those 38 points — a season-high for an opponent — in the fourth quarter. That set the stage for Tuesday in Chicago. It was a nationally televised contest mostly because it marked Thibodeau’s first return to the Windy City as an opposing head coach after leading the Bulls to the playoffs five straight seasons from 2010-15. Midway through the first quarter, ESPN showed a clip of Towns saying the Wolves players knew how much this particular game meant to Thibs. Those words seemed damning because the Wolves were in the midst of playing their worst defense of this already sorry season. It honestly felt like the players were pretending to enact Thibodeau’s principles, diligently going through the motions until the crucial follow-through that deterred the opponents. Players were scrambling back in transition, their eyes locked on the man they were guarding while seemingly keeping their distance as the action moved up the court. They never closed out on the midrange shooters, nor put themselves in a position to defend the passes going to cutters heading from the wings and baseline toward the basket. They allowed Chicago’s big men to establish such an advantageous position in the low post that even subsequently contested shots were easily converted. The Bulls sank 16 of 22 shots in the first period, matching the season high of 38 points yielded by the Wolves for a second straight quarter. Chicago scored on 12 of its first 14 possessions to begin the game, racing to a 26-6 lead after just seven minutes of play. The teams then played on mostly even terms, but only because the Wolves offense began to click. With 6:30 to play in the second quarter, the Bulls bumped their lead up to 21, with the game at 51-30, by hitting five shots in a row. Then, inexplicably, the long-dormant Wolves defense began to gel. At first, the Bulls helped by missing some open looks. But the surge began almost immediately after Thibodeau brought his starters back in (LaVine was already on the court with the four reserves). Most noticeably, tandem big men Towns and Gorgui Dieng began rotating better and more aggressively to shut down points in the paint. Another key improvement was transition defense, a horrendous weakness throughout the season. When the Wolves have functioned well at getting stops at all, it has usually stemmed from their offense generating enough made baskets that the team has time to prepare at the other end. But on Tuesday, the Wolves shot just 40.5 percent in the second half and still limited the Bulls to 31.8 percent accuracy. Throw in the final 6:30 of the second period, when Chicago converted just two of 12 shots, and Minnesota allowed just 28.6 percent shooting over the final 30:30 minutes of the game. For just the second time this season, they triumphed despite scoring fewer than 100 points. Through the fire It is, of course, dangerous to assign too much weight to single contest over the course of an 82-game season, and especially to claim it as a potential bellwether of improvement for a squad that still ranks 27th in defensive rating (points allowed per possession) and at 7-18 holds the third-worst record in the NBA. But there are reasons for optimism. The Wolves stiffened instead of wilting in the second half of a close game, and played taut defense for the final three quarters for the first time this season. They were led on defense by their starting unit, who had collectively been outperformed at that end of the court by the reserves thus far. Furthermore, Saturday’s home game against Houston marks the end of what has arguably been the most brutal stretch in the schedule that Minnesota will encounter all season — 11 straight games against teams with winning records. By contrast, 10 of the next 11 opponents currently have losing records, although Atlanta (who they play twice in this span), Milwaukee and Portland are all just one game under .500. Finally, coming back from more than 20 points down in Thibodeau’s heralded return to his old stomping grounds relieves some of the pressure that had been building around this team’s underachievement. There has been increasing speculation, by me and others, that the coach’s seemingly joyless dedication to discipline might be harshing the buzz by which his inherently carefree core of kids have been playing this game all their lives. Put simply, Thibs keeps talking about “speeding up the process” of development. But what if his impatience and perpetual sideline haranguing was instead retarding it? Tuesday’s win lets some of the air out of that theory. Over the next few weeks, we’ll learn whether the Chicago win marks a signature pivot, an ephemeral outlier, or something in-between for the Wolves fortunes over the rest of the season. But for Thibodeau, it is encouraging motivation to maintain business as usual. So let’s finish off by looking at one of the two most controversial aspects of his coaching thus far. Too many minutes? The knock on Thibs from his otherwise ballyhooed tenure with the Bulls was that he overplayed some of his key performers, such as Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, wearing them down and making them more susceptible to injury. This theory acquired greater currency when it was embraced by the Bulls front office in what became an unpleasant turf battle that eventually prompted Thibodeau’s exit — and his subsequent demand that he be given control over personnel matters as POBO along with his head coaching duties with the Wolves. Sure enough, in his desire to fast forward the development of his core youth, Thibodeau is playing them often and together. LaVine (2nd), Wiggins (8th) and Towns (18th) all rank among the top 20 NBA players in minutes per-game. And collectively, they comprise the third-most used three-player combo in the league. The play of Wiggins represents the most unqualified endorsement of this strategy, because throughout his NBA career, he has performed better under a workhorse regimen. There have been five games thus far this season where Wiggs has logged more than 40 minutes. In those contests, he has shot 49.1 percent from the field, 58.3 percent from three-point territory, has a whopping usage rate of 30.4, and the Wolves are plus 8 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court. These are all well above his composite marks in each category. The discrepancy is even greater in the five games where Wiggins is playing on the back to back with zero days rest. Yes, these five-game samples are small, but in his previous two full seasons the stats at reveal that Wiggins was arguably a better player, and without question a better, more accurate shooter in games where he either played heavy minutes and/or was operating on zero days rest. In that respect he and Thibs are a wonderful match. The effect of heavy minutes on Towns and LaVine are more difficult to assess because, unlike Wiggins, they don’t have a steady diet of ample playing time to generate adequate sample sizes; Towns is only in his second season, and LaVine only became a full-time starter this year. Overall, the biggest difference between Towns as a rookie, playing 32 minutes per game, and Towns this season, playing 35.1 minutes, is that he is shooting more often per minute and less accurately. The drop in his field goal percentage is related to both his low post and midrange game. From less than five feet, he is shooting 58.4 percent versus 65 percent last season. Move it out to eight feet and the drop is from 61.9 percent to 56.5 percent. And from 16-24 feet out, Towns has gone from 50.6 last season to 31.8 percent. But this decline doesn’t seem related to a bump in playing time. On the contrary, the most unambiguous trend for Towns under a heavier workload is diminished accuracy on his three-point shooting, the one aspect of his game that has improved (albeit just a titch) this season. Again using the splits at, we see that Towns shoots 11.8 percent from long range in the 8 games in his career playing over 40 minutes, and 23.7 percent in the 19 games he has logged with zero days rest. The accuracy steps up with each ten-minute increment taken off Towns’ playing time, while his most accurate zone in terms of time between-games is one day’s rest. Likewise, there are no real red flags on LaVine’s added workload, despite the huge jump he has taken, from 24.7 minutes as a rookie to 28 minutes last year and 37.7 minutes this season. LaVine has missed one game with an injury after playing all 82 last year, but it was a minor ding and the rest was precautionary. His field goal, free throw and true shooting percentages are all career highs. His three-point percentage is slightly below last season’s, but the long range jumper is a much bigger weapon in his arsenal. LaVine (and his team) still suffers from a lousy net rating — the Wolves fare better against their opponents when he sits compared to when he plays. But it is some consolation that he has narrowed that negative number to a career best -6.2 points per 100 possessions, down from more than 10 points his rookie year and -6.9 points last season. In any event, the additional playing time hasn’t made him more toxic, and at least the eye-test indicates that he is getting better at team defense and shot selection, his two biggest foibles. One more interesting statistic. After playing point guard the majority of the time his first season and a half in the NBA, LaVine is strictly a shooting guard this year. Yet his rate of unassisted field goals is actually higher this season than a year ago. This is the result of the other controversial element in Thibs’ coaching style to date — his desire to let his young playmakers create shots on their own rather relying on the point guard to be the offensive catalyst. That strategy—and the ongoing mess at point guard that may or may not be a consequence of it — will be the subject for another column in the near future. | @MinnPost
The Wolves' victory over the Bulls: a signature win — or an ephemeral outlier?
The win interrupts a downward spiral that has called into question the team’s psychological equilibrium, the character of the roster, and the players’ relationship with Tom Thibodeau.
1 month ago - Via - View - SportsAsToldByAGirl : +Dwyane Wade get ejected from game last night against +Minnesota Timberwolves as they closed out for...
+Dwyane Wade get ejected from game last night against +Minnesota Timberwolves as they closed out for Thibs
Watch the video: Dwyane Wade Gets Ejected From Game | Timberwolves vs Bulls | Dec 13, 2016 | 2016-17 NBA Season
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NBA Yesterday: Happy Homecoming For Thibs As Timberwolves Win
The Skip Pass is your home on FanRag Sports for insights and nuggets on each game played in the NBA. This is different from your regular game recap or box score. We want to take you inside the game and call out things you might have missed. Focus Game: Timberwolves at Bulls, Thunder at Trail Blazers […]
1 month ago - Via Google+ - View - Rahul Chonkria : How can Chicago cheer for Thibs and boo Rose? These fans man
How can Chicago cheer for Thibs and boo Rose? These fans man
1 month ago - Via Community - View - World Basketball News : Butler, Gibson gearing up for emotional reunion with Thibs: Butler, Gibson gearing up for emotional ...
Butler, Gibson gearing up for emotional reunion with Thibs: Butler, Gibson gearing up for emotional reunion with Thibs
1 month ago - Via - View - Paola Perez :

The return of Thibs is near
After five years of coaching the Bulls, Tom Thibodeau is returing to the United Center to face the Bulls on Tuesday with his Minnesota Timberwolves.
1 month ago - Via Google+ - View -