If you have kept tabs on the Wolves this season (or perused every box score and watched a good number of games on League Pass in my case), you’ll notice a few things about this squad. They score a lot, they’re not overly efficient and they don’t play very good defense individually or as a collective unit. This theme has obviously been quite evident in the box score on many nights this season. As the Wolves muddled through an up and down first 33 games, fans anxiously awaited the return of Ronny Turiaf and Chase Budinger, telling themselves that they would be the difference makers. So far, that hasn’t been the case. One big exception would be Monday night’s tilt against the Bulls where Turiaf looked like an All-Star caliber center with a 14 point/7 rebound/3 block line and Bud was knocking down outside shots and playing extremely efficient basketball making 5/7 shots for 12 points. Then again, the Bulls were without one of the league’s best rim protectors, Joakim Noah. The previously injured duo followed those stellar performances up with a combined 7 points on 3/10 shooting against an injury-ravaged Pelicans squad on Wednesday night and 10 points on 4/9 shooting last night against the Grizzlies. Turiaf did play a solid game overall, though, with 10 boards, 2 dimes, 1 steal and a block. With last night’s loss to the Grizzlies, the Wolves’ winning percentage is, once again, that magical percentage they seem to be so infatuated with: .500. It would seem, at this point in the season, that the Wolves are who they are. They are not, however, who we thought they were. As Rick Adelman stated in a recent interview, “This year, we made changes, and it looks better. It is better. But how much better can we be?” Fans and pundits alike expected a playoff team, almost from the outset. What they got instead was a middling team that looks like it’ll be on the outside looking in come playoff time. So, what can be done? Despite winning 5 of the last 7, the Wolves need to make some major improvements in a few areas if they hope to make the playoffs and be competitive.
Efficient Guard Play
If you’ve watched the Wolves late in games, especially during one of their 13 losses by 4 points or less, you’ll notice a common theme: they don’t execute well down the stretch. Though the Wolves are obviously not a good defensive team, they fall short in another key area, that being efficient play by their guards (especially their point guards). While Ricky Rubio does a lot of great things for the Wolves, having him on the court late in close games has become problematic for several reasons. He seems to become more prone to turnovers in these situations and since he is such a suspect shooter to start with, late game execution suffers. The obvious solution to this problem is trading for someone that can both handle the ball and shoot a little bit. Though they don’t have much to offer from an asset standpoint, they have a few expiring contracts and desirable young players and could probably swing a deal. Fortunately, Wolves brass are already apparently thinking the same way:
The thought from Doogie is that the Wolves would involve a third team to which they’d trade JJ. Andre, though he is practically ancient, would bring some much needed stability to the point guard position. Not only is he an intelligent player, an excellent ball handler and someone that can make an open three, he has attitude. He’s the kind of player who won’t back down as the clock winds down. Let’s just hope that the Wolves are able to make it happen.
I’m sure you all knew this was coming. Though the Wolves have looked like defensive titans over the past handful of games, they need some help defensively. Once again, they don’t have much they can part with and still hope to remain on their current trajectory, which is to become a playoff team for the first time in 10 years. That’s why I recommend that the Wolves start giving Luc Mbah a Moute, The Prince, a lot more playing time and start dialing back the playing time of Corey Brewer. We’ve already seen what Corey has to offer, and it’s clear now that he is strictly a role player, if it wasn’t clear already. He has no business starting for the Wolves or any other team for that matter. While he is one of the best leak out artists in the game, he’s not the elite defender that many make him out to be and he has a tendency to pull a disappearing act on many nights. He is an effective role player, though, as he proved in Denver. What the starting unit needs right now more than anything is some defensive ability. Mbah a Moute gives you that. He has the defensive chops that many seem to think Brewer has. Though it’s damn near impossible to slow down guys like LeBron and Durant, Prince Luc has had success doing that. He may be the best individual defender the Timberwolves have and he’s not seeing the court nearly enough. The combination of Rubio, Martin, Love and Pekovic are sorely in need of some defensive help and I believe that Mbah a Moute can provide that. If Brewer were to then start coming off of the bench, the second unit could look like this:
PG J.J. Barea
SG Corey Brewer
SF Chase Budinger
PF Dante Cunningham
C Ronny Turiaf
Not half bad. Though he’s not a great shooter, Brewer is a good cutter and an opportunistic player offensively. The second unit would actually improve offensively with the addition of Brewer. And, as we all know, the 2nd unit could use some help scoring the ball.
Late Game Execution
I hesitate to question the play calling or schemes of a coach with over 1,000 career wins and one who will certainly be headed to the Hall after his retirement. Instead, I’m going to question the execution of the players on the court late in close games. I’m going to make some general statements based on what I’ve seen in the games I’ve watched. It seems to me that players are taking too many chances with the ball and taking too many long shots, whether they be 2′s or 3′s. If a team is playing in a tight game, and especially if they’re ahead, they should be taking very few 3-pointers unless they are wide open. That is especially true for a team that ranks a very mediocre 18th in team 3-point field goal percentage and has few very capable 3-point shooters. The Wolves happen to have two of the very best inside players in the game in Love and Pekovic. Why not take advantage of that when games are close? Late in games, the Wolves should be focusing on taking care of the ball and working the ball inside.
In summation, though the Timberwolves have been just a tad inconsistent this season, they have a multitude of things to feel good about and a solid collection of talent. If they’re going to be a playoff team in their current iteration, though, they’re running short on time with Adelman nearing retirement (possibly even after this season!) and the remaining time before Kevin Love absolutely 100% takes his talents back to sunny California dwindling. They need to make a few key changes, in my opinion, if they hope to break the playoff drought. What do you think they need?