Author: John Meyer
Wolves' rotations more than questionable in loss to Heat
The early season bewilderment surrounding Sam Mitchell's highly questionable rotations continued Thursday night at Target Center as the Wolves were dominated by the Miami Heat on their home court.
But the Wolves interim head coach pointed towards the team's youth and the collective inability to share the ball as the deciding factors in the 12-point loss.
"The thing I laugh about every day is, they think they know how to play," Mitchell said after the game. "That's the toughest thing with kids today, they think they know how to play. It will take a certain amount of failure before they realize you're not going to reinvent this game."
Mitchell continued to express dissatisfaction over the lack of ball movement.
"When you have young players, the first thing they're trying to do is figure out how to play in this league. 'How do I get minutes?' That's the most important thing on their mind," he said before going on a tangent about too much individual play.
And it's true, the Wolves played selfish basketball. The lack of ball movement was obvious from the jump, but there was absolutely no rhyme or rhythm to the lineups Mitchell tossed out on the floor and ultimately it's up to him to put the right mix of players together to get the desired results. Ricky Rubio entered the game leading the entire NBA in assist to turnover ratio. It's well established that Rubio is the engine that drives the Wolves to competent play. He makes the offense go, and with him controlling the rock, running tons of pick-and-rolls, the ball movement is typically good.
There was very little of that action in halfcourt sets tonight.
Rubio also onlylogged 24 minutes on the night; a true recipe for disaster with all that isolation-heavy play when LaVine plays lead guard with Kevin Martin and Shabazz Muhammad as the wings. Rubio finished with nine points, five assists, three steals, and three turnovers.
"The game was out of hand. Come on now, I'm not going to leave our starting point guard out there in a game we're down 19 points when we have six games in the next nine days," Mitchell responded when asked if Rubio's minutes had anything to do with him not feeling well (he appeared to throw up water on the sidelines mid way through the game but looked fine a minute later when play resumed).
Eleven Wolves players received between 13 and 31 minutes in the game, from Adreian Payne's 13 minutes (9 points, 6 rebounds, five fouls, two turnovers, and one shove by his teammate Shabazz Muhammad after he appeared to hit him in the face accidentally) toAndrew Wiggins' rough 31 minutes and 5-18 shooting. Wiggins' early season shooting woes continued, as his attempts near the cup often rimmed in and out, and he settled for undesirable long contested two's off one dribble.
Towns only played 22 minutes. He struggled mightily against Hassan Whiteside (who posted 12 points, nine rebounds, and four blocks) as he shot 3-13 in 22 minutes. It was the worst performance of his bright young NBA career. But still, it felt like he was barely on the court. KAT was never able to get comfortable out on the floor and Mitchell wasn't willing to ride him out through the bricks.
Entering the fourth, the Wolves were shooting under 30 percent. They finished 30-85 (35.3 percent), were limited to 4-12 from downtown (not conducive to winning in 2015), and only scored nine fast break points. For a young team that should be able to run in transition with Rubio leading the break, well, that's a rather embarrassing number.
At the end of the night, the dreadful rotations seemed like an obvious place to start when describing the loss. Miami certainly deserves credit, their veteran-laden starting lineup dominated the Wolves starters, outscoring them by 52 points in the lethargic performance, but Mitchell needs to cut down the rotation and restructure the way he's currently playing the lineups. Right now he's relying on all five bench players on the second unit to keep the score within reason for the starters for long stretches of play.
Tonight provided further evidence that the second unit has little to no synergy. As another media member joked to me at one point during the third quarter, "they need five basketballs out there."
Where do the Wolves go from here?
"My biggest hope is that we learn from it, because there's going to be a next time when the ball isn't going in," Mitchell said during the postgame presser. "Larry Brown used to tell us all the time when I played for him, 'the only time players listen is when they fail.' When they're having success, it's hard to reach them."
His hope, of course, is that tonight's failures will yield future success. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many onlookers, future success this season might not be as easy to come by if the questionable rotations continue.
Muhammad (14 points and six rebounds) might have been the best player for the Wolves on the night, yet he was limited to only 22 minutes off the bench even as he worked diligently on the offensive glass with supreme effort to get them back in the game during the second quarter.
Muhammad summed up the game perfectly afterwards. "I think we didn't move the ball, I think we were playing really selfish out there," he admitted.
"I think if we move the ball, great things happen. That's something that we really need to worry about. We started off 2-0 and we were playing the right way, moving the ball and staying positive and now I don't know what you saw out there tonight. We were pretty disappointed with that performance. Definitely got to get to practice tomorrow and turn it around on the road."
Wolves Press Clippings
Outlet: Sporting Sota
Author: Drew Mahowald
Minnesota Timberwolves burned by Miami Heat, 96-84
Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined to shoot 8/31 from the field.
So, yeah, the Wolves lost.
A woeful shooting performance from the Minnesota Timberwolves and some dazzling plays from Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat led to the Heat thumping the Wolves by a score of 96-84 on Thursday night.
Wade led the Heat in scoring with 25 points (11/19 FG, 1/2 3pt FG, 2/5 FT) to go along with five rebounds, two assists and three steals on the night. Additionally, he hit a 65-foot shot at the halftime buzzer to push the Heat’s lead from seven to ten after two quarters of play. (Is it just me, or do teams hit long buzzer-beaters against the Wolves way too often? It seems like it happens all the time. Nick Young did it for the Lakers in the first game of the season.)
Anyway, Chris Bosh contributed 16 points (5/11 FG, 1/2 3pt FG, 5/6 FT), 12 rebounds and two assists while Goran Dragic scored 18 points (7/12 FG, 1/3 3pt FG, 3/4 FT) and dished out three assists. Whiteside chipped in 12 points (5/9 FG, 2/2 FT), nine rebounds, and four blocked shots.
For the Wolves, the starting unit that had been so effective the first couple games struggled mightily, getting outscored by Miami’s starting five 81-29. Wiggins’ 12 points (5/18 FG, 1/3 3pt FG, 1/2 FT) led the starters, while Ricky Rubio added nine points (2/6 FG, 5/5 FT), five assists and three steals.Off the bench Shabazz Muhammad was the most productive Timberwolf, scoring 14 points (5/10 FG, 4/5 FT) and also grabbing six rebounds in 22 minutes of action. Kevin Martin also tallied 14 points (4/10 FG, 6/6 FT) for the Wolves, who shot just 35% from the field for the night and 33% from three-point range.
Sam Mitchell’s rotations continue to be confusing, especially as it pertains to the point guard position. Zach LaVine, despite struggling all of last season and through four games this season running the offense at the point, continues to get minutes there when true point guards Andre Miller and Tyus Jones are sitting on the bench.
Towns officially had his worst game as an NBA player, scoring just six points on 3/13 shooting. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that he was going up against one of the best young centers in the league in Whiteside, and it’s not totally crazy for a rookie to struggle against him.
Adreian Payne played 13 solid minutes for the Wolves tonight, scoring nine points on 3/4 shooting and playing within himself much better than he has in the past. On days when Garnett rests due to a back-to-back, Payne’s minutes will be important.
One last note here for Wolves nation: RELAX. The Wolves are sitting at 2-2 after four games while playing less than two weeks removed from the death of their head coach. While there are certainly some issues to be confused about, let’s not get all fussy about it. The Wolves aren’t a playoff team this season, anyway.
Wolves Press Clippings
Outlet: Punch Drunk Wolves
Author: Andy G.
Heat 96, WOLVES 84: Wolves Rotations Not Competitive In these rebuilding stages that the Timberwolves have unfortunately found themselves in for the better part of the last decade, it seems there are two basic ways to watch their games. One way is to watch them as if what happens on the floor matters, and the other is to watch them as if it doesn’t.
Last season, we were basically forced to go the latter route.
The Wolves began with high hopes; higher than most people found reasonable, anyway. Flip Saunders was running the front office, and named himself head coach after Rick Adelman stepped down. In a move that signaled an interest in coaching a competitive team, Flip added a detail to the Love/Wiggins swap that sent out a future first round pick to bring back Thaddeus Young, a quality veteran forward. Coming off a 40-win season and having replaced Love with Young, Flip spoke confidently that he could lead his team to a competitive season, while also developing his new young talent.
He might have been right, if not for some early injuries and then his organizational audible to focus on the next draft instead of that season’s win-loss record. Consider that the Wolves opened the season with a close road loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, who went on to lead the Warriors 2-1 in the Western Conference Finals. After beating the Pistons, the Wolves lost a heartbreaker to the Eastern Conference Finalist Bulls; you might remember Andrew Wiggins fouling Jimmy Butler with a second to play. After that, the Wolves beat the Nets by 7 to get back to .500. The Nets were not bad, and that was a decent road win. And after THAT, at Orlando, Ricky Rubio sprained his ankle, causing the Wolves to lose in overtime and then tank the season.
Once Rubio went down, Saunders saw that his team had no chance to contend for a playoff spot. Rather than grind out 24 or 25 wins, he sat his quality veterans for most of the season’s games, and instead won 16, and eventually the draft lottery, too. He drafted Karl-Anthony Towns, and the rest is history.
It’s great that the Wolves got Towns. It really is. David Thorpe just tweeted that Towns has a higher ceiling than Anthony Davis. That seems like hyperbole — it probably is — but enough people latched onto it that it shows how much excitement there is right now about Towns’s potential. Between he, Wiggins, Rubio, and maybe one more of the Wolves youngsters with upside, there might be a nucleus forming that can make the playoffs in a few years and contend for a championship a couple years after that.
But for now, there’s the question of what happens in a typical game at Target Center. We go to 41 of them each season, and expect to draw some takeaways. If the games are going to be like last season’s, that becomes very difficult. Zach LaVine was producing like an All-Star last April, but nobody thought too much of it, because of the context in which those numbers came. More advanced stats pegged him as one of the league’s worst players. Andrew Wiggins also produced a lot, and looked more professional doing it – hence his Rookie of the Year award – but likewise drew skepticism from the analytics crowd that felt he was inefficient and not necessarily a future star.
The point is, when the games are not competitive, the entire framework of the discussion is destroyed. It is supposed to begin with each team trying to score as many points as possible, and prevent its opponent from doing the same. When one of the teams has a different objective, then we begin to wonder why we are watching in the first place.
The Timberwolves, through acting coach Sam Mitchell, have announced that this season will be more about developing their young players via actual in-game experience than it will be about trying to win those games. We are seeing evidence of this already. Despite the fact that the Wolves won their first two games against weak opposition, there are trends in their rotation to suggest they may not seriously compete against most playoff teams.
In tonight’s game at Target Center, the Wolves faced their first good opponent in the Miami Heat. Eleven different Timberwolves played over 10 minutes in the game. Rubio, the team’s best playmaker and defender, played only 23:50, while his backup, the mostly overwhelmed LaVine played nearly as many (20:11). When asked about Rubio’s minutes, Mitchell went on the defensive. He explained that he wasn’t going to leave his starting point guard out there when they’re down 19 points with 6 games coming up in the next 9 days. “Want to just put a dunce hat on my head and just say I don’t know what I’m doing?”
The problem with that answer is that misrepresents how the rotations actually went in this game. Rubio was taken out with 4:44 to go in the 3rd Quarter, when the Wolves were down by 10 points. He did not check back in until 5:17 was remaining in the game. Now the Wolves were down by 18 and, yes, the game was out of reach. If the rationale was to hold him out because of the stated reason, then why sub him back in at all? But more importantly, why is Ricky sitting for nearly an entire quarter straight, in the middle of the second half?
Ricky hasn’t played enough in any of the games, this season. In four games he’s played 32, 30, 32, and 24 minutes. He’s averaging fewer than 30 minutes per game, despite the fact that he’s by far the Timberwolves best guard, he’s young and under contract for three more years after this one, and the team does not currently have a backup that can lead a functional offense. (To say nothing about defense.)
Shabazz Muhammad and Kevin Martin are the second unit wings, and each is aggressive in hunting for his own shot. The problem with that second unit is that it does not have a playmaking guard to make sure that the offense starts correctly, and that the ball moves at least a little bit to make defenses work. If it were up to me, I’d play Rubio 6 or 7 more minutes per game, to get him staggered in with the second unit scorers, and then play Andre Miller for at least one shift as well. As things are going, with the LaVine/Martin/Muhammad trifecta of non-passers, the Wolves second unit is learning more bad habits than good ones during games.
Speaking of Muhammad, he is the other Wolves player that clearly needs more minutes. It’s probably worth starting him over Prince, which would accomplish two basic things: (1) Get a non-gunner in that second unit (assuming LaVine continues to play heavy bench minutes at the point); and (2) Take some pressure off of Andrew Wiggins as a first-unit scorer. Prince is a longer, and better defender than Shabazz and the first unit D (which has been very good so far) would take a hit. But on balance, against the league’s better teams, it’s worth exploring what a foursome of Rubio/Wiggins/Muhammad/Towns can do as it develops chemistry on both ends of the floor, over time.
Some of this is rambling and repetitive, and barely any of it touched on tonight’s game. The Wolves were handled by the Heat and they looked really bad for most of the game. Ricky actually played pretty solid basketball, but his opponent Goran Dragic played a beautiful game and was frustrating him at times. Wiggins and Towns couldn’t buy a basket; Wiggins’ struggles continue. Nemanja Bjelica lost some minutes to Adreian Payne after he continued to pass up open shots and instead commit traveling violations. Payne remains out of control and unpopular with his teammates. LaVine and him exchanged words after they screwed up an entry pass. Shabazz shoved him in the face after Payne cracked him with an out of control attempt at a rebound. (Payne concussed Gorgui in a similar way, last year.)
D-Wade was smooth and effective. Bosh was solid. Hassan Whiteside was at times overwhelming. The Heat second unit played very hard, particularly in perimeter defense. They were impressive.
The Wolves play next at Chicago in a rare 5:00 Central Time game. That’s on Saturday night. Here’s hoping that, even with development on the mind, Mitchell tightens up the rotations to allow for competitive basketball against the league’s best teams. Sure, they’ll get whacked a few times regardless of who they play what minutes, but they should at least try their best. There should be no reason that this team cannot feel like learning is happening while also trying to win with players like Rubio, Wiggins, Towns and Muhammad doing the heavy lifting.