Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 3.52.29 PM

A Sensitive Subject

The Dante Cunningham situation has not been an easy subject for the Timberwolves world. It’s certainly one that you feel as though you’re walking on eggshells around, carefully avoiding saying the wrong thing. Really, that’s also how I feel writing this, but it’s become a divisive issue amongst fans  on whether or not he should be playing or that Cunningham should be booed.

Take Tuesday night. Cunningham entered the game playing in his second game following both of his arrests. Some argued that he shouldn’t be playing, but as William Bohl of A Wolf Among Wolves noted, the team doesn’t have much of a choice:

As far the team’s handling of the situation, their hands are more or less tied. The Collective Bargaining Agreement does not allow clubs to suspend players while legal issues are ongoing. Employees at will – that is, non-union employees – could be fired in this situation. NBA players are union members, and their right to continue to work through pending legal trouble was a right they negotiated for.

So, there’s that. But as Cunningham entered the game for the first time, his entrance went mostly unnoticed by the crowd. It wasn’t until later when a single fan booed Cunningham and drew attention from surrounding fans, players and coaches. Being there, I can tell you that the reaction wasn’t positive to his actions. And when I said he looked like a jackass on Twitter, I got killed for it by a couple people, but that’s life. If you think that not supporting booing is mutually exclusive to supporting domestic violence, then I can’t help you.

After all, we don’t know the entire story and the legal process is still being played out. If history tells us anything its that these cases can change and claims can be proven faulty. It’s important to remember that we don’t know what happened and shouldn’t jump to conclusions either way. These claims are serious, if true. There’s also children involved, which is never good, and human beings who are dealing with a troubling situation. Do you think that your booing helps anyone involved?

Personally, it always strikes a chord with me when these stories arise. As a child I grew up in several of these situations. I’ve seen and heard horrible things directed at my mother that I will not elaborate on in respect for my family, but I do not take these things lightly. It’s not a situation that any child should have to be in, but for me it taught me every way that you do not treat a woman. Like, ever. Living your life in fear and never knowing what kind of night your going to have is not enjoyable, so I feel for his family.

And if the investigation comes back that these claims are true, then I’ll reserve my judgement for that time. But this is not my business, nor yours or anyone but the individuals involved. If you’re going to think that I’m condoning anything that allegedly (Keyword: allegedly) happened, you’re way off. I’ve been vocal about Jordan Hill (Plead no-contest to choking his girlfriend), Chris Cook (plead guilty to the same) and others, so I’m not having that. To simply jump to conclusions here feels like not truly understanding what these accusations truly mean.

You look at pictures on Instagram or see his family at games and this is all the more heartbreaking. It just seems so out of character and jarring in contrast to this perception. But that’s the thing with perceptions: they can be faulty. We don’t actually know these people, and that’s something that people on both ends of the spectrums deal with. Either we humanize them too much or we aren’t able to empathize enough, and that’s just human nature. We really can’t help that initial response (whatever that may be) since it’s the way that we are wired. But I look at this family and read the reports and am still stunned.

We may not know what happened exactly on that night, but we can grasp that it’s a negative situation. Clearly, there is a family that is struggling and there could be serious repercussions depending on how the investigation plays out that could have a lasting impact on them. But, yeah, booing is definitely the beneficial thing to do here. People here need help and they may need to take some time away to make things right. This is so much more than about basketball.

Some have asked, “Well, why shouldn’t they be booing?” And I can’t tell anyone what to do, but keep coming back to the fact that we don’t actually know anything! Well, we know there’s an ongoing investigation, but have yet to confirmed the stories. I’m sure Cunningham expects some jeers and undoubtedly has his own internal conflict over the situation as well. There’s a process, and the team is reserving their own judgement until that process is completed, and we’ll ultimately learn what happened then. As for me, I know how I feel about those who abuse women, and will never condone it. And I know which way my view will slant depending on the outcome. At this point, we don’t really know what we’re judging. We think we know, but we really don’t. All we know is that there is a family that is dealing with some issues.

This is more than just taking it to an accused basketball player. This is about real people and real issues. As for the boos, they do nothing to help anyone.

Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 10.37.44 PM

About Dieng Time?

Dieng or Pek? That shouldn't be the conversation...

Dieng or Pek? That shouldn’t be the conversation…

There’s been a lot of talk recently on the Wolves’ rookie center Gorgui Dieng. Most notably, David Thorpe had some overly nice things to say about the Louisville product’s development and, more importantly, his production over the last month.

The Timberwolves’ best news, though, has come in the form of their rookie center out of Louisville, Gorgui Dieng, who has exploded onto the scene and will now play a huge role in Minnesota’s future plans — a role that could also have a big impact on Love’s decision whether to stay in the Twin Cities.

Woah now! You’re telling me that Dieng could impact where Kevin Love is going to play basketball in a year and a half? Either Thorpe is psychic or he’s gone off the deep-end. But sure enough he stuck by his point/article and reiterated his enamor for the rookie big man on today’s version of TrueHoop TV.

Dieng has been a awful nice piece. I won’t fight anyone on that account. His per game numbers on the season are terribly misleading because of exactly what Thorpe said: Rick Adelman doesn’t want to play young guys unless; A) they can flat-out ball WITHIN the system; B) he’s forced to develop because management said so or now, in the Wolves’ case; C) injuries force Adelman’s hand to play unproven commodities. And if you argue with Adelman on that point, you’ll never win.

So instead, let’s take a look at his numbers for the past month since taking over for Nikola Pekovic, who is nursing a constantly troubled ankle that hindered him last year into this season. Firstly, Dieng’s numbers as a starter in eight games are pretty nice. He’s averaging just over 12 points and 12 rebounds as a starter. He boasts a solid true shooting percentage (59 percent) and, what I personally love, is that is usage rate is on the lower side compared to Pekovic, who runs as focal point 1B in Adelman’s offensive sets, especially early in ball games.

What Thorpe was so excited about in regards to Dieng was his defensive aptitude and the always-sexy athletic intangibles. He’s right that Dieng is a fantastic above-the-rim defender, whereas Love and Pek, now both average to above-average defenders, stay well below the rim, utilizing their strength to move bodies and grab defensive rebounds. At 6-foot-11, 245 lbs., Dieng is a force in the paint who can jump above the rim and force penetrating guards out and make some of the most offensively skilled big men to think twice about their movements.

Gorgui Dieng has exploded as a starter in lieu of Pekovic

Gorgui Dieng has exploded as a starter in lieu of Pekovic

But what I’ve noticed looking at the numbers is that Dieng only, and I stress only because of how Thorpe pumped up Dieng so highly, averages just over a steal and a block per start in an average of nearly 32 minutes in a game. Perhaps probing steals and blocks in just eight starts makes me look out to be a cynic but considering five of those eight blocks came in just one game, maybe you’d think more about Dieng’s rim-keeping abilities.

I know I’m being harsh. After all, the guy has a 99 defensive rating total on the year, which ranks him amongst some of the best big men (Tim Duncan, Deandre Jordan, Roy Hibbert, just to name a few) in the league. But that’s the point. Everyone is so hopped up about Dieng’s play, which stirs some converse feelings about Pekovic’s standing on the Wolves in the future.

Thorpe is convinced that Dieng is the answer and that the next proper move would be to exchange Pek for some help off the bench or perhaps try to lure one more star in here, at least for the short-term, to convince Love to stay five more years. I understand how refreshing it is to watch Dieng play but do we have to go back and remind everyone just how good and valuable Pek is to the Wolves too?

Pekovic is a better defender than what many give him credit for

Pekovic is a better defender than what many give him credit for

Pekovic came from nothing when he started in the league. He was foreign to NBA basketball and even the USA. He fouled too much, he was reckless and turnover-prone on offense and he didn’t seem to care all that much, taking after his good buddy Darko Milicic. But then something snapped, Pek got hot in his second season, corrected a lot of mistakes — many of which had to do with basic defensive positioning — and eventually performed consistently enough to land him a hell of a pay day last summer. Although the injury bug flies often near Pek’s home, he’s still a top-five offensive center with a knack for banging the offensive boards better than anyone BUT Kevin Love. Pek is actually the fourth-best starting center in terms of offensive rating and also a big-time free throw shooter at nearly 75 percent this season.

Pekovic clearly has value to this team, despite his faults of not being a great defender or a low usage rate guy on offense. But in terms of statistics, he and Love have formed a formidable pair over the past two seasons, which is why he was awarded his fat pay check in the first place. As we all know, statistics aren’t exactly the best way to measure a team’s success — the Wolves would be the first to claim that after this abysmal, disappointing season — and wins are still the ultimate decider. Footnote: Dieng has a .139 win shares per 48 compared to Pek’s .170.

Getting back to coach Thorpe’s idea of trading Pek to make way for Dieng as the new starter in Minnesota, I think it’s obviously clear that that’s not an easy decision to make. Dieng’s sample size as a starting NBA center is too small to determine is long-term potential, and Pekovic’s inconsistent court time could simply be chocked up to shitty luck.

So here’s an idea for ya: Keep BOTH of them!

I’m a full-believer that Dieng can develop into a quality starting center one day but he, just like every rookie, must go through the learning curve, which will see plenty of ups and downs. Just as Pekovic. And as for Pekovic, having watched him grow over the past three seasons, I fully believe that he’s a top-five offensive center — perhaps even top-10 offensive big man — in the NBA. Just like Dieng’s hopping ability and length, Pek’s size and brute strength are healthy qualities to have at your disposal, no matter who’s coaching. So what’s so wrong with keeping both?

Here’s how I see it. You have a top-five, rim-protecting defender with great agility, some good abilities on offense and always plays with high energy in Dieng. You also have a top-five low-block scorer, who is at the very least average on interior defense and a rebound mogul. One is still learning the game, such as positioning, trends and playing styles and the other has been forced to miss a lot of time due to injury. Also, according to both players’ by minutes averages, they both play their best ball when seeing the court anywhere from 20-29 minutes per game. 20 plus 20 is a full game of basketball, folks.

If you ask me, together, Dieng and Pek create one of the most dynamic, physically-gifted tandems the league has seen out of two centers in a very long time. There’s no reason to think that these two players couldn’t play together for the next couple years and make an impact on both ends of the court each and every night. Playing a “center by committee” isn’t a popular strategy but it’s one that could very well work in Minnesota given Dieng and Pek’s strengths, abilities and physical and mental boundaries.

That is why there should be nothing wrong with these two playing together. But still, the problem with many NBA critics today — myself included — is they’re too quick to judge and immediately look to fix any mistake or redundancy they can find. Just because Dieng has looked great in eight starts does not mean that the Wolves should trade away a center in Pek, who’s posted PER numbers of 21, 20 and 20 that past three seasons. That’s why it’s utter lunacy to think and act on such a short-term basis. Most of the time, you’ll just end up sounding like a fool when all comes to fruition. And believe me, I’ve fallen victim to this more than I’d like to know.

In the end it’s a “Why get rid of one when you already have both?” situation for me. There’s no reason to rush a decision of who you have to keep right now when you can enjoy having both of them for the foreseeable future. While I appreciate reading and listening to David Thorpe and others bask in Dieng’s glimmer of success because it has been a silver-lining to what is yet again a very depressing season, there’s no reason to throw ideas of moving in a new direction or trading anyone when, in actuality, keeping both could be all the depth the Wolves need in the first place.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 4.03.53 PM

Who Coaches the Timberwolves Next Season?

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 4.03.53 PM

It’s not uncommon in sports to have the coach become the scapegoat for a disappointing season. The Timberwolves’ Rick Adelman has been no exception with fans. Some have been frustrated by his rotations and questioning his in-game adjustments. There has been speculation that Adelman may walk away from the job after this season after his wife struggled with health issues last season. Consequently, this has led to even more speculation about who would replace him as coach in such an instance.

The first name that many fans have been drawn to is Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg has strong ties to the Timberwolves organization as both a player and management. Given the team’s history for bringing in former associate’s, this makes sense. My only question is would the grass be greener for Fred in the NBA? I’m not so sure. He has built a successful program in Ames, Iowa and was handsomely rewarded by signing an extension worth 10 years, $20 million. On top of that, college coaches have an iffy track record in transitioning in the NBA. It’s really an entirely different animal, but Hoiberg may still be able to reach professional players considering he was one not too long ago.

Secondly, there’s Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. This is one that I personally doubt would happen. I mean, Tom Izzo is the face of the Spartans’ program with a great reputation and financial situation. Unless he’s yearning for the challenge to prove to him that he could be a successful coach at both levels, it’s hard to see.

Then there has been Jeff Van Gundy, who probably hasn’t coached since I was in elementary school. Van Gundy is apparently close with Flip Saunders, so there’s that, but Van Gundy has had a steady, less-stressful gig as a broadcaster, which no former player or coach would gladly choose to give up. After years of being off the court would he want to jump back in now? Is this the right situation for him to return? None of these questions I really have the answer to, but Stan Van Gundy, his brother, would be the more likely replacement than Jeff. Though SVG would require more shooters as he had in Orlando, but may do wonders for this defense. SVG is still a good coach who would probably be coaching had he not been fired by Dwight Howard. I mean, the Magic.

Finally, there’s Saunders himself who is the likeliest candidate at this point. Saunders has had the itch ever since he left Washington and was rumored for the Gophers coaching job before Richard Pitino was hired on. Additionally, he is close to Taylor and this way they wouldn’t have to pay someone else to do it.

Of course some of this will likely come down to Kevin Love. Love’s opinion likely matters and that’s one of the reasons besides being a good coach the team won’t push Adelman out the door. We don’t even know for sure if Adelman is leaving as nothing has been voiced publicly by any party involved. This conversation may very well wind up being for nothing, but this is kinda where we’re at now.

Another Back-to-Back: Clippers at Timberwolves Preview

I figured that since I have some time today before the game and that it’s been awhile since I’ve done a preview, I would do one for tonight. After all, tonight is one of those rare Monday night home games, so I may as well take full advantage. Tonight the Clippers roll in to town coming off of a good win against the Rockets on Saturday.

Los Angeles comes in having won 14 of their last 16, so, yeah, these guys are good. As for the Timberwolves, they dropped another one on the road last night in Brooklyn and will have a short turnaround before tonight’s game. Fortunately for the Timberwolves (and unfortunately for the Clippers), Blake Griffin is doubtful for tonight and Danny Granger is — now, stop me if you’ve heard this one before — out for a week with a hamstring strain. Also, there is still no sign of JJ Redick.

This actually comes as a bit of good news for the Timberwolves, especially if Griffin can’t go. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said earlier today that if Blake can’t go he’ll have to decide if this means going big or small. Since Chris Paul is his point guard I would say he’s overthinking this some, but we’ll have to wait until we get closer to game time to find out just what they’ll do. I would assume that if they do decide to go big Ryan Hollins would get the start and Glen Davis if they went small, but we’ll see. I’m a little sad they traded Byron Mullens so we won’t be able to watch him launch awful threes for 30 minutes, but oh well.

The Timberwolves continue to be mostly healthy, save for Ronny Turiaf and AJ Price. It’s unlikely Kevin Love will be confined to another 14 point and nine rebound performance like last night. It’s also hard to see Nikola Pekovic 13 point and six rebound perfromance, especially if the Clippers are without Griffin. Yet, I can almost guarantee you Corey Brewer won’t have another 21 point and four steal performance, but it would be nice to see Good Corey.

To my point about Pekovic, the Timberwolves’ frontcourt could be in for a big night. Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng shot a combine 7-11 last night and grabbed 17 rebounds. With no Griffin, the Clippers may have to lean on DeAndre Jordan a little more than usual, giving the Timberwolves an opportunity to test out their new found frontcourt depth. It’ll be interesting to see how the physical Pekovic fares at keeping Jordan out of the paint and also have the luxury of having Dieng’s length and shot blocking instincts to combat his athleticism. Really, Jordan isn’t much of a problem unless he’s within three feet of the hoop. Also, don’t be shy about using those fouls…

Anyway, game time is 7pm. TV is FSN and radio is WCCO AM 830, as always. You can also follow along @DerekJamesNBA on Twitter since I’ll be tweeting from the game.

THIS IS WHY YOU NEED TWO CENTERS: Timberwolves thrash Lakers 143-107

Follower screencapped me intently following my Twitter game.

Follower screencapped me intently following my Twitter game.

I don’t even know how to start this recap. I mean, how much is there really to talk about with a 36-point win. Really, the story of one quarter is the same as the next quarter, and the next quarter, and so on. We knew coming in the Timberwolves were the favorites, especially with Pau Gasol sitting out, and they backed that up. However, this doesn’t make for much of a story. Here were some follower ideas for a recap:

(Be glad I forgot about this idea. If I were to re-write this, I’d do this.)

 

 

Out of the gate, the Timberwolves set the tone with their frontcourt. Nikola Pekovic, playing his first game back after rehabbing his ankle bursitis, came out with 12 points in just 7:43 seconds of playing time on 4/4 shooting. Kevin Love did as well, with 12 points and five points, including 3/5 from three. Minnesota shot 65 percent, scored 41 points and held the Lakers to 24 points.

The throttling continued into the second when the Timberwolves padded their lead in part to a 12/19 shooting quarter, but also a five-minute scoreless stretch by Los Angeles. Things were so bad for the Lakers that Nick Young was their leading scorer with 11 points, but it took him nine shots to get there. Yet, the worst part was that I had Daily Dime duty and had to try to seem like an objective observer. But do you know how hard that is when the other team is so terrible?! I really was trying to be fair, but the only consolation I could find for the Lakers was that no one else got hurt.

You know the most exciting part of the third? Not even the fact that they scored 34 points in the quarter — just nine fewer than they had in the first half — but that their scoring was highlighted by Kent Bazemore’s 4/4 shooting. Yeah, that’s it. For the Timberwolves, Kevin Love notched his second career triple-double, and also became the first Timberwolf to do in under 30 minutes. To put it in simple terms: he was the Domino’s of gawdy stats. Or a better pizza place…either way; Love finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Perhaps the weirdest thing was the Timberwolves’ shaky bench not only holding a lead, but building on it. The Lakers porous defense and penchant for contested midrange jumpers on offense made it easy for the reserves to continue to push the lead into the 30’s and even 40’s. When it was all said and done, we witnessed history. The Timberwolves’ 143 points were a franchise record for points in a regulation game. On top of that their point total and shooting percentage (67) were the highest in the NBA all year.

After the game Adelman praised the team’s energy and felt everyone had a solid game, which is always a good thing. Really, this was the perfect way to follow-up Wednesday night’s blowout of the Hawks: with another blowout.

“Wait. I thought you capitalized the title for a reason, but you only mentioned one center? Do your job!” 

Easy. I was working towards that.

It’s been the latest #hotsportstake around these parts to talk about trading Pekovic in favor of starting Gorgui Dieng without really having any real reason whatsoever. I wrote about it on Monday for Hardwood Paroxysm, but can rehash my main points quickly: 1) Good teams have depth and now they do, so why not keep them; 2) Dieng and Pekovic are not redundant skill-wise, so why not keep them; 3) We haven’t seen nearly enough of Dieng to know that he can be consistent, but we know Pekovic will. Then there’s a fourth that Steve McPherson of A Wolf Among Wolves brought up, and that’s the fact that they will cost roughly $14 million dollars combined for the next three years; that’s a bargain.

Tonight we saw each player showcase their strengths. Dieng had 14 points, nine rebounds and a block. Yet, he had five fouls in 22 minutes because he struggled at times to get in the right position. Pekovic on the other hand finished with 26 points on 9/10 shooting and three rebounds. In almost exactly the same amount of time he finished with two fewer fouls. The two players scored in their different ways– Pekovic with his brute strength and Dieng by taking advantage of easy looks.

The Timberwolves are undoubtedly better with both players, and again, no one is making them choose between them! I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been subjected to so many terrible teams and we’re just not used to having nice things, but this is what good teams have. Playoff teams need depth, and while they may not be one this year, they will have the postseason as a goal next season. This is literally what the team has been searching for as long as I can remember and now they have it, so they’re not going to break that up.

While Pekovic may deal with his nagging injuries, it’s nice to know that Dieng could be a reliable spot starter in that event. That way a guy like Ronny Turiaf is now your third center, but also a viable backup for a few games. See, this is how injuries don’t derail your season. It’s awful, I know, having two good players, but we’ll just have to make the best of it.

“I think his experience, playing, it’s going to help him,” said Adelman after the game. “I think he has some confidence and the guys are getting more confident that they can throw him the ball at the basket and he’s going to make it.”

From the sounds of it, Adelman is also okay with having two good players at the same position. This should go without saying, but it gives a coach options and avoids any drop-off at the position when one goes to the bench. When you can alternate between two players who are efficient, can rebound and play proficient defense in their own way, you are in an advantageous position.

Anyway, why don’t I touch on some other things.

– Shabazz Muhammad didn’t check in until the game was well within hand with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but when he did he played well. Muhammad went 4/4 from the floor for nine points, and scored from all areas of the floor including three; the midrange; and even a Dwyane Wade-esque tear-drop floater while driving baseline. Some lamented his late check-in to the game, but it really didn’t matter when Adelman put him in.

– The Timberwolves committed 21 turnovers to the Lakers’ eight, but won by 36. This is atypical of a team in this game but they made up for it by dominating the second-chance and points in the paint battles.

– There were zero lead changes. The Lakers’ biggest lead was…zero. Conversely, the Timberwolves’ was 41. Tonight’s only tie was at tip-off when it was 0-0. Yeah, the Lakers are bad.

– Tangent: All of this talk about the Timberwolves having to prove to Love that this will be the best shot at his long-term success, but nothing about the Lakers having to prove that they will be good again any time soon? Obviously acquiring Love would speed up that process, but they need more pieces to go with him still. Yeah, his parents and girlfriend live there, and he went to school there, so there are ties, but you would think that this has to come up. Also, “But the Lakers always find a way!” is not a real argument; it’s a seven-word revisionist history on the Lakers’ track record.

– Ricky Rubio’s steal tonight was his 175th of the season, tying Ty Corbin’s record set in the ’89-’90 season.

– If you don’t high-five kids when you come out of the tunnel, you’re a terrible person. Also if you don’t share the media room M&M’s.

Investments and Exchanges

628x471

Transactions are subsidized by investors under the impression their ‘stock’ or investment will compliment the others within their investment portfolio.  In a way NBA GMs, and more specifically Flip Saunders, are investors consistently entertaining potential exchanges doing business on the open market. Hence, in NBA terms, trades, draft selections and free agent acquisitions are all investments. This is not a breaking discovery.

Earlier this season the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Derrick Williams for Luc Mbah a Moute. While it’s still too early to have received dividends — exchanging the former number-two overall draft selection for a player with a defined skillset — the interchange didn’t result in the obtaining of a player whose value is ‘in the red,’ nor did the Wolves sell an asset that is making a significant impact for a different firm or, in this context, franchise.

Determining Asset Value

Williams, the highest draft pick selected in franchise history did not implement, nor sustain, his presence within the roster during his time with the Wolves. During his rookie season, whilst appearing in 66 games (15 starts) he failed to score at least 10 points per game. Williams also struggled playing under the NBA’s dynamics. His three-point shooting was non-existent (less than 30%) and the inability to consistently connect on free-throws (>70%) posed frustrations for all those expecting greater things from Williams during his rookie year. Conversely, he was still a rookie and first year players hardly ever perform to their potential upon entering the league.

Last season, Williams marginally improved in certain aspects of his game. He appeared, and started, in more games because of Kevin Love’s absence. With experience under his belt, Williams bumped up his averages in nearly every statistical category. However, there were still questions surrounding the Wolves investment. Was Williams, who stands at 6-feet 8-inches tall, a power forward or a small forward (swingman). Was he better adept playing the 3 or 4 position in Rick Adelman’s offense?

Adelman’s variation of the Princeton offense opts to run offensive sets from the high post. Most possessions start with Ricky Rubio feeding Love at the elbow, or the areas above the free-throw line. This is expressed statistically in terms of ‘touches per game’ thanks to NBA.com’s player tracking. Love averages 86.9 touches per game, the sixth most compared to the rest of the league, he is the only non-point guard in the top 15 in this category. Rubio, the Wolves starting point guard, averages less touches per game (83.2) than Love. Some of this can be explained by Love’s rebounding, a rebound is considered a touch, but most of his touches are attributed to Adelman’s scheme.

Williams, still, is too small to successfully post-up on most of the league’s power forwards, lacks ball-handling skills, and never became instinctive enough to perform some of the off-ball cuts required in Adelman’s system. During the 2012-2013 season, Williams shot 33 percent (10 of 30 FG attempts) in post up situations. Ideally, he would have taken — and converted — more attempts in Love’s absence, but that wasn’t the case. Williams is also not a very good distributor; expecting him to make passes outside of the high post like Love is simply unrealistic.

This team wasn’t the adequate opportunity for Williams to succeed, although it’s fair to say he didn’t grasp the opportunity placed before him. Adelman and Saunders moved Williams accordingly because a young player still may have value elsewhere. Howlin’ T-Wolf’s own, Derek James, narrated more about Williams and his new opportunity with the Kings. There was no uproar among the Wolves fans base regarding the trade — the transaction that sent Williams to Sacramento was seemingly the best scenario for all parties involved.

What about the asset the Wolves received in return?

On a personal level, the timing of the trade seemed strange — why now? Could the Wolves have moved Williams prior to the season? Why not hold onto the asset until closer to the trade deadline when, theoretically, Williams may be more valuable to any ‘buyers’ hoping to acquire his services. All of that remains speculation.

@talkhoops I agree with that. But what they got in return. Not helping at all.

— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) March 17, 2014

Michael Malone, head coach of the Kings, began starting Mbah a Moute just before he was sent to the Wolves in exchange for Williams. The following quote was published at Cowbell Kingdom, strangely, on the same morning the trade had been announced.

“He’s a guy that’s kind of made his name in the NBA as a defensive player,” Malone said. “And he’s a guy that when he was in Milwaukee and I was coaching in Cleveland, he would literally guard one through four – Mo Williams to the power forward. So, I think he has a high IQ and he embraces that end of the floor.”

Exchanging Williams for Mbah a Moute was an obvious effort to fulfill the defensive void lost when Andrei Kirilenko declined the option to resign with the Wolves during the offseason. Corey Brewer, albeit he led the league in points scored in transition opportunities at the time, is neither the resourceful offensive player or defensive force that is “AK47″. It’s well-established that Adelman was not a proprietor of Williams, so, swapping the underachieving, misfit player with a capable and versatile, defensive component was undoubtedly going to be a net-positive for the Wolves moving forward this season.

As previously stated by coach Malone, MBAM’s reputation as an NBA player is defined by his defense. During only nine games with the Kings, Mbah a Moute scored a mere four points and collected three rebounds whilst averaging 21 minutes per game. These numbers are small, but, his aforementioned defensive prowess remains as the primary reason the Wolves parted with Williams in exchange for Mbah a Moute.

Dividends

Upon thorough analysis, an investment option promises safety of principal and a satisfactory return. Operations not meeting these requirements are speculative.

While there are moments when it seems Williams is ‘flourishing’ with the Kings; perception is not always reality. Sacramento is 24-44 and the third-worst team in the Western Conference. Williams has exploded on multiples instances this season, offensively anyway. He had a 31 point performance in a win over the Dallas Mavericks last December, but it’s his production against his former team that has Wolves fans up in arms. He has played an average of 27 minutes per game, and during that time, Williams averages 16 points and six rebounds a game when facing his former team.

Those explosive performances may have been detrimental to Kings opponents, which in some cases has been the Wolves, but aren’t enough to justify Williams status as a second-overall draft selection. Yes, not all expectations may be paired with the draft-selection number, but his talent and potential made him the undeniable second-best prospect behind Kyrie Irving. Thus far, Williams (22) status remains as an underachiever since he entered the league.

Not long after the Kings acquired Williams, they obtained Rudy Gay by way of trade from the Toronto Raptors. This was another forward that would sit before Williams on the depth chart, he’s started in only 13 of his 54 appearances since his departure. 

As for the Wolves; they’ve had larger proverbial fish to fry throughout the season. While Mbah a Moute hasn’t made a noticeable difference since his arrival, he didn’t and hasn’t provoked the Wolves execution deficiencies during late game situations. MBAM hasn’t hindered the Wolves, if anything, there’s been more dispute regarding Adelman’s use of the defensive specialist, or lack thereof. Back in January, the Kings defeated the Wolves at the Target Center, Mbah a Moute recorded a DNP-Coaches Decision and watched helplessly as Gay and Williams combined for 49 points.

“… (I) came within about two seconds of putting him (Mbah a Moute) in the game, but … I don’t know … I tried to go with the group that has been playing pretty good — the bench — and it didn’t happen. So, it’s certainly something that you can look back on and think about that you could have done. That’s where he can be very, very helpful.” -Adelman said postgame after the Wolves three-point loss.

Investment Protection

Ultimately the trade is neither a win or loss for the Wolves yet. Mbah a Moute scores only three points and collects two rebounds playing an average of 12 minutes per game in 42 appearances since arriving from Sacramento this season. He’s going to continue producing lackluster offensive numbers because, as we know, that isn’t MBAM’s game — he’s a defensive player. To date, Adelman has used 10 lineup variations of which have played for over 40 minutes on the floor, together, this season. Only two of the qualifying groups of five have a defensive rating that is less than 100 (defensive rating is defined as how many points opponents score per 100 possessions), both of those lineups feature Mbah a Moute.

The Wolves have underachieved this season, but this may end up being the best season in franchise history, excluding the Kevin Garnett era. I expect them to win 40 games, something they haven’t done since the 04-05 season when they recorded 44 wins, but they will also likely miss the postseason. Meanwhile, Rubio and Love have remained healthy (knock on wood), Kevin Martin is playing as well as any shooting guard in franchise history, Chase Budinger may potentially return to his pre-knee surgery form and Nikola Pekovic — aside from his injury woes — is inked to be a Timberwolf for years to come. In addition to the offseason retained and acquisitions, draft selections Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng have both shown signs of visible progression at their respective positions.

For Derrick Williams, seeing few instances of improvement playing for another team is no reason for worry. He’s a young and developing player with freakish physical attributes. However, Williams now plays on a dysfunctional, losing roster and hasn’t presented any consistent production that has me stressing over his departure. As a fan, I would wish Williams all the best.

In the case of Luc Mbah a Moute there isn’t enough samples insisting his production has hindered the Wolves in the slightest. He’s certainly not the most potent offensive player, but, for now he’s an irreplaceable presence on the defensive end that the Wolves don’t possess. Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad, Chase Budinger, Robbie Hummel and Dante Cunningham are all offensive minded wing players, this signifies that Mbah a Moute is a complementary asset to the roster currently in place.

The market is always fluctuating and there are those constantly watching the rise and fall of investment values as they occur. Thus far, the Wolves swapping stock with the Kings is a wash. Neither Williams or Mbah a Moute have payed excessive dividends to their respective brokers, or firms. However, the state of things in Minnesota remain unfathomably more promising than the state of Sacramento — perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the Wolves early season investment helps get things ‘in the black,’ somewhere the franchise hasn’t been for quite some time.

Playoffs?! – Upcoming Schedule Will Test Wolves’ Determination

Playoffs?!

I can’t remember when exactly I began affectionately referring to the Timberwolves as the “Pups”, but I do know that this started for me when the Wolves no longer were one of the youngest teams in the league.

A friend of mine took issue with that once, seizing the opportunity to let it be known that not only are they not young enough to be called “pups” anymore, but their opponents won’t be especially intimidated by the name. I jokingly replied that perhaps they are more deserving of being called “pups” than “wolves” with their inability to make a return to the playoffs. “They make the playoffs, they played like wolves,” was the thought. While this conversation took place last season, I completely believe it applies to the team’s current situation as the 2013-2014 regular season winds down. Quite frankly, lately I don’t feel like we’ve been watching a team that believes in their own ability to make the playoffs and hasn’t been putting up the kind of effort that could have them more in the mix than they currently are. In other words, they’re not playing like hungry wolves in a time that it’s crucial. The Wolves have gone every-other over their last six games and have been outscored in the first half in four straight. I guess I’m just wondering where’s the fire? Have too many players bought into the idea that anything at this point is too-little-too-late? All three of those losses came against Eastern Conference teams that are currently scratching and clawing to stay alive (New York), battling for playoff position (Toronto) or fighting to stay in the playoffs (Charlotte). I’m not saying any of those games are easy by any means, especially considering the Knicks have won six straight by double-digits, but those are the games a team desperate to make the playoffs needs to have. Currently sitting in 10th place in the conference with 17 games to play, Minnesota is four games behind Phoenix for ninth, 5.5 games behind Memphis for eighth and 6.5 games behind Dallas for seventh. As fans, we torture ourselves with the thought of: “There’s still hope.” Sleep is lost, tears are shed and fits are thrown as we live and die with every possession with that thought in mind. Luckily (if there is a “luckily”), with three of the next four games being played against the seventh, eighth and ninth-placed teams, the Wolves aren’t completely out of it. This classic film dialogue sums up Minnesota’s playoff odds kind of perfectly:

Wolves: What are my chances? NBA: *pause* Not good. Wolves: You mean not good, like, one-in-a-hundred? NBA: I’d say…more like one-out-of-a-million. Wolves: *long pause* So you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance!

You’re damn right, Wolves fans! At Dallas, at Houston, versus Phoenix, at Memphis. That’s the opportunity that begins tonight. The four games will be played over six days, with the games at Houston and Memphis being pivotal back-to-backs. As reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nikola Pekovic, dealing with ankle soreness, will travel with the team for the games at Dallas and Houston, but is doubtful to take the court. There is no update for Ronny Turiaf’s return as of today either. Following an impressive first start on Sunday against the Kings, we can expect to see Gorgui Dieng continue to fill in for Pek – at least for now. While it was nice to see the big man denying all those shots and doing a better job of staying out of foul trouble against the Kings, I’m hoping Dieng will be able to improve on getting the ball in the Wolves’ hands following a block instead of looking to swat it as hard as he can. All three of Dieng’s first half blocks against the Kings ended up staying with Sacramento and resulted in buckets. This might not necessarily be something we will see change much as the year winds down, but it is something to keep an eye on. Speaking of eyes, are you still rolling yours at the thought of the Wolves having an outside chance of sneaking into the playoffs? Hopefully taking a closer look at the upcoming stretch of games will get you to stop being such a negative Norman.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 19 – AT DALLAS (MIN leads series 2-1)

  • Dallas owns an impressive 22-10 record at home, but did lose to Minnesota when hosting them way back in November. Ah, November, when playoff hopes were as high as ever.
  • Nine of Dallas’ remaining 14 games will be played at home.
  • Dallas enters the game having won five of their last six, including wins against Portland, Indiana and Oklahoma City.
  • This game will be the second of eight consecutive home games for the Mavs. Not only are they hot coming into tonight’s game, but they won’t be playing an away game until April 3 thanks to this ridiculous stretch.
  • In their three meetings this season, Dallas has outscored Minnesota in the first half by an average of 4.3 points.
  • Minnesota has outscored Dallas in the second half by an average of 6.6 points.
  • Stop that man: While Monta Ellis has had more success against the Wolves this season, Dirk Nowitzki has been heating up lately and could be in for a big game. With averages of 22.3 points, six rebounds and 3.3 3-pointers over the last three games, Nowitzki is gaining momentum at the right time for the Mavs.
  • What to look for: Upon looking back at the box scores, it was almost impossible not to notice the free throw and foul disparity. In their three meetings, Minnesota is 67-for-83 from the free throw line compared to Dallas’ 31-for-40. That’s right, more than twice as many attempts. In the second game alone Dallas was charged with 26 fouls to Minnesota’s nine.

THURSDAY, MARCH 20 – AT HOUSTON (HOU leads series 2-0)

  • The Rockets possess an even more impressive home record at 27-7 and haven’t lost in Houston since Memphis beat them by one on January 24.
  • Houston will play seven of their 15 remaining games at home.
  • Houston is currently third in the NBA in scoring (106.4 ppg) while Minnesota maintains the fourth-best ranking in that category (106.1 ppg).
  • This marks the third of four contests these two will play against each other this year. The final game of the season series will be played at Minnesota on April 11.
  • The Rockets have gotten off to great starts against the Wolves in the first half, averaging 11 points more than Minnesota.
  • Stop that man: Fox Houston reports that Howard is iffy to play tomorrow night with a left ankle sprain, which could open a window of opportunity for the Wolves. James Harden was absent from the first game between these two, although his presence didn’t seem to be missed. Harden has had some huge games recently, including a couple of 40+ scoring outbursts in the last 11 games, and could be in line for some extra shot attempts if Howard sits.
  • What to look for: Besides the status of Howard, it will be interesting to see how many 3-pointers the Rockets attempt. Houston went an impressive 17-for-31 against the Wolves in their first meeting and hit 11-of-27 in the second game. All five starters have scored in double-figures for the Rockets in both games and Houston was also able to overcome a 23-10 turnover deficit against Minnesota in their first meeting. C’mon, man!

SUNDAY, MARCH 23 – VS. PHOENIX (Series tied 1-1)

  • The Suns post a respectable 16-16 record on the road, including a win in Minnesota. The game at Minnesota kicks off a three game road trip for Phoenix.
  • Nine of Phoenix’s 15 games left will be played on the road.
  • Phoenix has outscored Minnesota by an average of four points in the first half.
  • The Wolves have outscored the Suns by an average of eight points in the second half.
  • Stop that man: While Goran Dragic hasn’t been putting up huge assist numbers recently, he still is averaging 19 points and four assists over his last five games. Back in their first meeting, Dragic went for 26 points, nine assists and 6 rebounds in 41 minutes and is capable of such a performance on any given night. Dragic was held in check for the second meeting, scoring 16 points before fouling out, which could have played a big role in Minnesota’s win.
  • What to look for: The second game between these two featured a Pek-less Wolves team rallying in the fourth quarter to pull out a nine point win. Phoenix out-rebounded the Wolves by 12 that night and amassed nine blocks in the game. It remains to be seen if Pek will be able to play by then, but I’m curious to see how those numbers will sway with Dieng getting more playing time. Phoenix’s 3-point shooting will be key in this game. The Suns shot 11-for-29 from behind the arc in their win over the Wolves; 3-for-15 in their loss. A combined 34 turnovers (PHO – 19; MIN – 15) between these two teams made for a sloppy game last time around, so we should all make a sacrifice to the basketball gods to ensure that doesn’t happen again. No one wants to see that.

MONDAY, MARCH 24 – AT MEMPHIS (Series tied 1-1)

  • Memphis is 20-14 at home this season and will be coming off back-to-back games against Miami and Indiana in their two games prior.
  • The Grizzlies and Wolves will still meet one more time in Minnesota on April 2.
  • Memphis is 7-3 in their last 10 at the time of this writing, the best record in the last 10 games of any of these teams being written about.
  • While Memphis is 25th in scoring (95.8 ppg), they are third in points allowed (94.6 ppg).
  • Seven of Memphis’ final 16 games will be played at home.
  • Stop that man: Zach Randolph has been excellent in his two games against the Wolves this year, averaging 23 points, 12 rebounds and 4.5 assists. The first game was played without Marc Gasol, but his return didn’t seem to slow Randolph down that much in the second meeting as Randolph still put up a double-double.
  • What to look for: What was interesting to me was that Gasol returned in the second game to face the Wolves without Pek, yet Minnesota still ended up +8 in rebounding. Dieng played 13 minutes that game, being held scoreless and accumulating a -14 spread while on the court. These two teams play close games regardless of injuries, however, the second game of a back-to-back may make things difficult for the Wolves in this one.

The best-case scenario for these games would obviously be 4-0, but that seems to be a bit too hopeful to me. A more realistic best-case scenario sees the Wolves pulling out wins against Dallas, Phoenix and Memphis. The Wolves are 4-11 on the second half of their back-to-backs, but a win against Memphis is essential to keeping their playoff hopes alive. With the majority of Phoenix and Memphis’ games on the road, and Dallas playing so many games at home, the Wolves are likely looking to the Suns and Grizzlies to start losing in order to climb back into the mix. Four games behind the Suns with a game against them can eliminate that to three games behind. Two wins in the remaining games against Memphis would drop their deficit to 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies. The odds are very slim, yes, but it really isn’t impossible to see them inching closer to the final playoff spot if, and this is a big and important “if”, these pups can channel their inner-wolves.

Gorgui’s Block Party: Timberwolves top Kings 104-102

Kevin Martin has owned Ben McLemore this season

Kevin Martin has owned Ben McLemore this season

The Kings came to Target Center at the end of a seven game road trip and playing on the second night of a back-to-back. The Timberwolves needed a win to keep their small playoff window open, but would have to do so without the services of Nikola Pekovic. On the other hand, Sacramento would be without DeMarcus Cousins, mostly nullifying Pekovic’s absence. And when Mike Malone slotted Aaron Gray at the center position, Rick Adelman countered with Gorgui Dieng. Not exactly the premier matchup the Target Center faithful were hoping for, but it would work for a night.

Looking to put this one away early, the Timberwolves came out blazing. Kevin Martin dished to Kevin Love from three and Ricky Rubio did the same nearly a minute later to reclaim the lead early in the first. Minnesota continued to build their momentum with a 12-3 run with 6:41 to go in the frame. Then the Kings would rally behind the superb bench play of former Timberwolf Derrick Williams. Williams quickly hung 10 points on the Timberwolves, even with Corey Brewer and eventually Luc Ricard Mbah a Moute on him. It was fitting since Williams said before the game that while he has nothing but good things to say about the Timberwolves, he still got especially excited to play in Minnesota. Fortunately, the Timberwolves were able to take a modest -32-29 lead into the second quarter.

Though the Timberwolves led by as much as 10 early in the first, they were now locked in a game of battleship because their defense had become as bad as the movie of the same name. In fact, the only real playmaker on defense was Dieng– who finished the first half alone with three blocks. In spite of Rudy Gay (3 for 8 in the first half), the Kings shot the ball incredibly well and kept the turnover battle even to keep them in the game.

Malone also said that he was concerned about the matchup between rookie Ben McLemore and Kevin Martin since Martin annihilated the rookie in their previous meeting. Martin had 16 points in the half, while finishing with 31, but got McLemore to foul out of the game while going to the line 14 times on the night. Additionally, Martin made all 14 attempts that not only made the fouls worse, but negated much of an overall poor shooting performance by Martin.

Williams really was the spark for the Kings since Isaiah Thomas had been kept mostly in check with five points, but his six assists still made his impact felt. The energy the Timberwolves initially had faded by this point and found themselves down 54-53 at the half. I don’t know if the team knew that it was supposed to blowout the Kings because I was there and all the games I’ve been to have been blowouts, but they were in a very close game. I mean, it’s not like they were missing one of their best players or anything.

Despite blowing a double-digit lead and letting the visitors build on that momentum, the Timberwolves had done an admirable job of not letting things get out of hand. They quickly regained the lead with a Rubio dunk and Love’s three pushed their lead to six. Yet, the Kings would manage to tie things up late in the half thanks to Isaiah Thomas who had 13 of his 18 points in the quarter. Also, defense…the Timberwolves were not about to try winning this game with defense.

Some important things of note happened in this quarter. First, Dieng earned his first career double-double while staying out of foul trouble. Secondly, Martin made his 1,000th three. Finally, Thomas dished out his 1,000th career assist. Why did I make a note about Isaiah Thomas? Because Isaiah Thomas is the fucking best. In short, cool stuff happened tonight. For proof, Thomas was the only who was impervious to Dieng’s shot blocking.

The two teams traded the lead for the first half of the fourth quarter in what wound being an exciting finish. They say basketball is a game of runs, but this is how the fourth played out: Timberwolves lead by four, then Kings lead by three, Timberwolves lead by five, and then Kings by one.

And after Williams made the free throw to give them the late lead, the Timberwolves charged back. Love hit what would be the go-ahead three pointer and Martin nailed a pair of free throws to put them up five. Then, Isaiah the Great hit a three to cut the lead to 102-98 with with six seconds left before hitting another triple to bring them within one. You could hear the collective gasps of the now-engaged crowd as Thomas hit the second three, but Martin would put the game away for good with two more free throws.

Love finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Martin burned the rookie for 31 himself. Williams gave the Kings 26 points and 11 rebounds off of the bench in just under 28 minutes. Thomas finished with 27 points, seven assists and six rebounds and him keeping the ball out of Gay’s hands late enabled the Kings to give the Timberwolves a late scare.

However, the player of the game was undoubtedly Gorgui Dieng. Hell, the story of the game was Gorgui Dieng. His 12 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks saved the game for a Timberwolves team that was short both Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf. Had he also not avoided foul trouble the team would have been scrambling at the center position for help. Yeah, he finished with four fouls, which is high-ish, but he played 37 minutes.

After all, this is the same player who averages 7.4 fouls per 36 minutes.

Adelman praised Dieng’s performance afterwards saying, “He has habits when the guards are coming at him or people are coming at him of getting his hands down and that’s where he gets his fouls. He just needs to use his length and keep backing it up, don’t just go after the guys. Back it up and you don’t have to block, you just have to alter the shots. The more he got into the game, the better it was. The other thing was that he worked really hard and he played 37 minutes and handled it. That gives him a lot of credit for the extra work he has been doing.”

We saw the positive change during the game, for instance, when Jason Thompson would go to back Dieng down and Dieng kept his hands up and forced Thompson to take an absurdly difficult shot over his wingspan. The worst thing a rookie can do is try to do too much and that sounds like what is at the core of Dieng’s foul trouble. An altered shot may not show up in the box score as a block, but it does show up as a missed field goal, and that’s as good as a block. Remember, even without Cousins, if he is unable to do this the Timberwolves likely don’t walk away from tonight with the win given the play of his teammates on defense.

As a whole, the more Dieng has been able to stay on the floor this season, the better. On-court the Timberwolves are a -12.9, but a dreadful -17.9 with him not on the court. Coupled with a 97 Defensive Rating and we say that Dieng is not just a defensive playmaker, but that he’s also been an impactful defender as a whole.

Furthermore, his 11 rebounds were just shy of his rebounds per 36 minutes average of 12.6, including an impressive 3.9 offensive rebounds per 36. This means, of course, that he is giving his own team second chance points and taking them away from opponents. In fact, Dieng grabbed three offensive boards and the rest of the Timberwolves grabbed four.

Yeah, his offense isn’t there and maybe it never really gets there, but so what? He still finds other ways to affect the game and not everyone needs to be a scorer. Besides, when healthy, this team does not need him to be a scorer. In fact, he may be the last guy or second-to-last guy they need to rely on to score. Adelman decided last minute to throw him in the starting lineup once he found out the Kings were starting Gray and the rookie made the most of it and gave his team the boost they needed. That’s what good teams get out of their rotation guys on a consistent basis, and has been something that has been lacking all year long.

There was a funny moment on the sideline when Dieng took the final free throws of the game. Dieng, a poor free throw shooter that is shooting 44 percent on the season, missed the first of two attempts. Adelman burned a timeout with one second left in the game that seemed to lack any and all reason. Of course that wasn’t the case. Adelman said afterwards that he called it to tell Dieng to just hit the rim. However, Dieng tells it differently. Dieng said while laughing that Adelman called the timeout to miss the free throw, but how to miss it if he is going to miss it. Adelman also added that they would have been happy if he had made one, but wanted to make sure that if he missed it he at least hit the rim in order to avoid penalty.

“I was just like ready. I was ready to play. I knew they needed me tonight and the other guys on this basketball team. When you got a chance you just have to step up,” said Dieng about his surprise start.

Cousins or no Cousins, Dieng knows that he has a job to do. He added, “I think I’ve faced a lot of guys in this league already. I played against Bynum and Dwight Howard and all those guys. I choose to be a basketball player, and I don’t mind facing him”

This is probably way too many words already, but the way Dieng played as a rookie as the only real center left on their roster was impressive. He saw extended time and did not shy away from the challenge. For this, Dieng is truly the player of the game.