Sunday, January 03, 2016

Things Get Worse and Worse for the Timberwolves

The Wolves started the year 8-8.  They are currently 12-22.  So they have lost 14 of 18.

Last night against the Bucks, the Wolves led 22-5 and lost by double digits.  A difficult thing to do, but even up 17 it never seemed to a fan like the Wolves would win the game.

The Wolves are a horribly dysfunctional team.  At the helm is Interim Head Coach Sam Mitchell, who should be happy to remain interim, because once he is fired he will be able to say that since he was labeled "interim" he was never given a fair chance.

The Wolves organization has no idea what it is doing.  It lost its leader Flip Saunders (who wasn't doing a particularly good job while he was alive) and has not really replaced him.  Of note to me last night was Sidney Lowe's doing a lot of coaching from the bench.  Sid is Sam's #1 assistant.  Here is Sidney Lowe's career coaching record:

Pros -- 79-228
College -- 86-78 (he coached at NC State and achieved 0 NCAA appearances in 5 years).

When Sidney (a nice guy) starts to take over the sideline, you are floundering.

Sam Mitchell has obviously been told that he has to play Tyus Jones.  Sam does not want to do so.  So Sam has an episode every game where he screams at Tyus for making a mistake.  To punish management for making him play Tyus, Sam has benched his only quality NBA shooter in Kevin Martin, telling him, "Sorry, I have to play the young guys."

And when Sam loses his mind and unloads on Tyus, Rubio (twice) and KG (once) walk out from the bench, remove Tyus from the situation in the huddle, and tell him what he did wrong and how not to do it again.  This creates a bizarre situation in which the head coach is irate at a player, but his teammates are not.  The players are the adult and the coach is the whiny baby.

Since Tyus has been playing (96 total minutes), Zach LaVine has been put back into his old position as an off guard.  Of course, what this has done is cut LaVine's minutes (Sam likes to play Wiggins at off guard, so LaVine doesn't get the 20-24 minutes he was getting when backing up Rubio).  What we have learned by watching Zach LaVine play off guard for 15 minutes a game is that he cannot do it.  He cannot catch and shoot.  He does not spot up in open positions at the 3 point line.  He does not do well coming off screens (does not use screens well or shoot well when catching the ball off a screen).  He is a very poor defender and thin and weak.  He is not an accurate shooter from any distance beyond 3 feet.  In his last three games he has registered a NEGATIVE game score for each game.  That is very, very difficult to do, and it certainly should not occur when your Usage Rate is pushing 29%.   What that says is:  you hog the ball a lot when you play and (over the past 3 games) you are one of the worst players in the NBA while you are doing it.  Wow.

So, what have we learned about LaVine?  He does well only when he can pound the ball for 5-15 seconds and basically wear out an opponent who tires of watching so much dribbling.  This is simply not a good strategy for a guy playing PG, but he is so terrible at playing off guard that to get any value out of him you would need to play him at PG and just let him be a far-worse Russell Westbrook -- a PG with a Usage Rate over 30.

Early in the season it was easy to see how much Kevin Martin and LaVine hated one another (at least on the court).  But we are now 34 games in and there are a ton of relationships that are poor:

-- Sam hates Tyus
-- LaVine hates Tyus
-- Martin and LaVine hate one another
-- Shabazz hates the fact that he is not playing more
-- Andre Miller hates the whole situation, since he cannot figure out why he is not playing or why the team brought him here,
-- Rubio just last night expressed his disdain for his teammates who could not hold a 20 point lead (therefore putting Rubio at odds with his fellow starters, since the bench was still up 15 when Ricky returned last night).

You can go through many on the Wolves roster and be baffled by what is happening:

-- KG - miraculously has turned it around from early in the year and has become a very good player, but can only play 18 mpg and never plays back to back games.  He needs 75 defensive rebounds to pass Artis Gilmore on the NBA/ABA list.  He is likely to get it.  But KG knows his body cannot hold up, so it is weird to see him accept playing 15 minutes when, at his position more than any, the Wolves need help.

-- Bejelica -- came in and played well for 16 games, then has turned just simply awful.  He and the huge guy for the Spurs were all-Euroleague last year.  The big guy is great for the Spurs, and "Belly" is awful.  He is probably a small forward in the NBA due to his complete lack of strength or toughness, but he is slow footed defensively, so he won't be a good defender as a small forward either.

-- Rubio -- he does nothing in the off season except practice shooting.  He still cannot shoot.  He is historically the worst shooter the NBA has ever seen.  Yet he complains about his teammates' play?  If you get your percentage up to 40%, then maybe you will have reason to start complaining.

-- Rudez and Payne -- Rudez and Payne give you about the same thing defensively (they will try hard but are terrible).  Payne and Rudez have similar shooting stats, but Payne has played twice as much.  Virtually impossible to tell why.

Dieng -- if ever there was a player who fans are split on, it is Gorgui Dieng.  If you go through his stats, he has really solid stats.  For example, his assist to turnover ratio is better than Towns' ratio.  But watching the guy play every other night, there are times that you simply want to kill yourself or him.  Can he allow yet another offensive rebound?  Get dunked on again?  Commit another just horrendous turnover?  It is rough to watch, even if the end result is pretty good.  It is like watching sausage get made.  It can turn you off in a hurry.

Wiggins -- remarkably, Wiggins is getting worse.  He simply cannot make a jumper, he is shooting 24% from 3.  He is still piss poor at getting steals, blocks and assists, and he has a 28 Usage Rate  and .054 WS/48 and at a VORP of less than zero.  This means that if you took a random NBA guy who played any and inserted him into the Wolves lineup, he would probably play around the same level, or better, than Wiggins.

Want to see a scary chart, Wolves fans?  Of the 6 guys in the league who have a Usage of 28+ and a WS/48 and VORP as bad as the figures for Wiggins (or worse) THE TIMBERWOLVES HAVE TWO OF THEM!!!!  Tony Wroten has been released.  Speights is fat and unhappy.  Kyrie (leg) and Kobe (age) have excuses.  Then there is Wiggins and LaVine.  Yikes. 

Sam Mitchell is not a winning coach.  He has had one season where he was slightly above .500, and that year he was named Coach of the Year.  He seemingly has no offensive or defensive strategy.  The Wolves played the Bucks last night and were absolutely beaten to death on side pick and rolls.  On both ends.  When the Wolves attempted to run a side pick and roll (guard goes outside of the wing screen) the Bucks aggressively trapped the dribbler and made an effective first pass almost impossible.  When the Bucks ran side pick and roll, the Wolves tried to help and recover, failing to ever actually recover and failing to get any help in cutting off the pass to the rolling player, resulting in constant scoring by the Bucks.

When someone is beating you to absolute death with one play, perhaps (rather than screaming at your players as if they had committed a crime) you should call time out and say, "Guys, that is not happening anymore.  Let's do this:  [fill in the blank]."  There is absolutely no clearer sign of a bad coach than a coach who just allows a team to beat him doing the same thing repeatedly.  I mean, OK, you cannot stop everything an opponent is doing, but you can stop one thing....right?   I guess not.

What is the remedy for the Wolves? Well, as I have said for years, it is a thankless job to make suggestions, since there is so much to fix.  But here goes:

1) The offense just simply has to take and make more threes.  Even if we are making fewer threes than we want, you cannot survive in today's NBA ranking 30th in 3-point attempts and makes and 25th in percentage.  Run your offense to set up some threes.  Every other team in the league is capable of it.

2) Trade LaVine to someone.  If you can get Nerlens Noel for LaVine (a rumored trade)?  Done deal.   If you can get a low #1?  A bag of practice balls?  Done and done.  He simply is not a winning player, and by the time he figures out how to be a winning player (if ever) he will be long gone from Minnesota.

3)  Sit down with Wiggins and explain expectations -- the typical NBA player is at his peak of athletic ability at age 27.  Andrew Wiggins will be crippled by age 27.  You simply cannot take the ball at 3-4 huge men every possession.  Work on your jumper, gain some weight, lift weights.  And, most of all, for the love of God, please try to put up stats that do not resemble Kevin Martin's non-shooting stats.  Try to get 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, 5 rebounds, 3 assists.  That should be your goal for the season.  These are the guys you should aspire to be:  If you do all of those things and work on your jumper, the points and accolades will come.

4) Fire Sam and the entire basketball side of the operation.  A secret that not many know -- the Wolves' non-basketball side (fan relations, media, etc.) is excellent.  The basketball side, however -- I mean, come on.  Look Glen Taylor, you need to go out and find competent people and give them a lot of money and power.  You simply cannot continue to allow marginal employees to run an organization that finally has a chance of actually becoming good.  Wiggins should be much better than he is and he has huge upside for talent.  Towns is a potential star (he is on pace for 6+ Win Shares as a 20 year old player).  Rubio, if someone could teach him to shoot, would be an above average NBA guard.  I know that I am in the minority, but I think Tyus Jones will become a good NBA player.

You need to find someone to accurately evaluate your assets.  Some examples -- I hate LaVine, but a lot of people love him.  So find an experienced NBA guy who can tell you "He is a _________ and we should keep/trade him"  Same with Pekovic.  Same with Dieng.  Same with Shabazz.  Same with Kevin Martin.  What are they as an asset?  Can they be starting players on a playoff team?  Good backup players?  Do teams elsewhere value them at a level above their actual ability (so we can get more for them than they are actually worth)?

You just never feel with the Wolves that they understand what they have or how to get the best out of it.  I mean, Bazz may be a 20 ppg guy.  He may be a guy whose defense is always so awful that he will never play 10+ minutes on a playoff team.  I'd say he fits roughly in between those two guideposts, but I have not been a successful NBA coach or NBA GM for 5-10-15 years.  Sadly, neither has anyone in charge of the Wolves currently. 

There.  Enough bitching for now.

1 comment:

Al Swearengen said...

I can't recall having seen the phrase "piss poor" in print in some time. So good to see. LOL