The Tie That Binds: Timberwolves-Nuggets Preview

Normally, I would talk about what has recently happened for both teams coming into the game tonight. I might talk about how the Timberwolves hung with the Pacers for 40 minutes before Indiana put them in the vice and slowly crushed the life out of them. I might want to play up some angle about looking to get back on the right track at home, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But you don’t want to hear that; no, not after the Derrick Williams trade to Sacramento.

Why is this relevant? Well, because it turns out that Luc Mbah a Moute — the player the Timberwolves received in return for Williams — is the common thread between both teams. No, Mbah a Moute never played for the Nuggets, but he almost did.

When Mbah a Moute’s contract was expiring in the summer of 2011, he was sought after as an upcoming perimeter defender in the NBA. Coming off of a rookie deal, he was a restricted free agent and Denver wound up making him an offer. Sure enough, the Bucks couldn’t let him get away, and certainly not at the inexpensive price tag of around $5 million annually. So, the Bucks matched and the Nuggets drafted Quincy Miller and Evan Fournier. Of course, they would trade for Andre Iguodala to be their shutdown perimeter player as a one-year rental. Although, Nuggets fans probably won’t want you asking about that.

What does this mean? Nothing really, but it’s just an observation that Mbah a Moute will make his Timberwolves debut against the team that he nearly landed on two years before. Oh, and the Kings are starting Derrick Williams at small forward, proving that they’re either masochists or they really can’t stomach starting Travis Outlaw or John Salmons any longer. I could see it either way, personally.

Where: Target Center; Minneapolis, MN

When: 7pm

See/Hear It: FSN and WCCO AM 830

What Luc Mbah a Moute Could Bring to the Timberwolves

Photo: NBA

If you’ve been on Twitter today and are a Timberwolves fan you’ve undoubtedly heard the Derrick Williams trade rumors. Apparently they spread locally and something was supposed to go down today, and it didn’t Then ESPN’s Marc Stein dropped these nuggets and some validity was added to the speculation:

 

By dealing Williams for Luc Mbah a Moute, the Timberwolves would get the consistent perimeter defender that the lost when Andrei Kirilenko headed east for Brooklyn. Mbah a Moute, averaging just 4.4 points per game, will never be accused of being a great scorer, but will score in the ways that Williams scored best: within the flow of the offense as a cutter/spot-up guy. In fact, MySynergySports.com  says that he has been above average in those categories so far this season.

Mbah a Moute has been damn-near shutdown on the wing so far, holding opponents to just 39.5 percent shooting and a strong 0.84 points per possession. For comparison’s sake, Corey Brewer is averaging 0.80 ppp and with Mbah a Moute, the two would combine to give the Timberwolves another defender on the perimeter. Now, would you ever play the two together? Probably not too much since they could leave the Timberwolves with too few scoring options on the court, but that might depend on the lineup. However, if they did play them both, Mbah a Moute has shown to be a better spot up shooter and Brewer a better transition player, so that could work; the only way to really know is to try it out.

For Williams, he would get the change of scenery that he needs. After a relatively productive season when he was asked to step up, his minutes have fallen and so has his production. Or his production is down because of his minutes…either way. With a healthy Kevin Love and Dante Cunningham, the Timberwolves just don’t seem to have a use for Williams. And without a superstar at either forward spot, Williams will have the opportunity to earn all of the minutes that he desires. Which is good, because he is a useful player when he is used right and can even be a capable defender for spurts.

Williams’ production has been concerning, but that’s more of an effect of the lack of playing time so far. The last time Williams has been asked to play this few minutes was probably, well, never. So, the adjustment to 14 minutes per game has made it difficult for him to get a feel for the game and in rhythm. Williams’ percentages have fallen from respectable averages of around .430 percent and .333 percent from three last season, to .335 and .133 this season, despite taking fewer threes per 36 minutes. For Derrick, he’ll be in a more advantageous position competing with Patrick Patterson and Jason Thompson for minutes instead of Love and Cunningham. If he can someday prove to be a serviceable small forward, he’ll only be competing with Travis Outlaw and John Salmons, so this will be a good opportunity for him.

From day one it seemed like it was going to be a challenge for Derrick Williams to succeed here. There was always one too many players in front of him and the Timberwolves tried to get him on the floor where and when they could. Last year, Cunningham joining the team immediately seemed like it was going to push him out of the rotation, and it did. This season, Chase Budinger came back and Robbie Hummel impressed Rick Adelman enough to earn his favor. Adelman spoke of Hummel on Media Day as a solid player that never tried to do anything that he couldn’t do, which was a fault of Derrick’s at times. This isn’t too say that Williams didn’t put in the work, because he absolutely did by losing weight, trying to work on his game and exerting effort on defense. This worked last season and Adelman praised him for it, but it appears this was always going to be his role on this team had everyone been healthy as they are now. It’s just where Derrick is at this point in his career, and he can have success in the NBA, but it just won’t be here.

As Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears reports, the deal will go through tomorrow pending physicals and Derrick Williams’ time as a Timberwolf will be done. Sacramento isn’t traditionally known as a hotbed for player development, but DeMarcus Cousins has made strides and Williams’ attitude and work ethic gives him as good of a chance for success as any. If this goes through, expect it to be a straight deal with no picks or cash being exchanged.

 

 

Wake me up when November ends: Pacers-Timberwolves Preview

Somethings really aren’t fair in life, like this month’s schedule for the Timberwolves. In each of the last two weeks, they have played two stretches of five games in seven nights, which is tough. Overall, they’ve played four back-to-backs as a part of a 17 game month. Sure, it all evens out in the end since everyone in the league plays the same teams, but when you’re in the midst of it, it is pretty unpleasant. And tonight, two nights after losing to Rockets on a second night of a back-to-back, will play no one other than the 10-1 Indiana Pacers.

Oh, joy. I can’t decide if this is less fair than having to play the Clippers twice on the second night of a back-to-back this.

As we knew last year, the Pacers were really freakin’ good, but they’re even better this year thanks to the further improvement of Paul George. He’s averaging 24.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists on .463/.366/.843 shooting, which is nutty. If having an MVP candidate in your favor isn’t enough, they still have Lance Stephenson, David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill. That doesn’t even touch upon the fact that their bench is really good. If the Timberwolves wanted a barometer of where they are now, they have a good one on the slate tonight.

The Pacers play with a style that is a complete opposite of the Timberwolves’. While Minnesota plays at the second-fastest pace in the NBA, Indiana prefers to slow it down as the league’s 26th-slowest. Not only do they like to control the pace, but they are the NBA’s best defensive team, which is a dangerous combo. To make things even more daunting, they are averagely efficient on offense despite what their ranking of 20th in points per game might have you believe since they operate at such a grinding pace.

The Timberwolves do have an opening for success, and that will be on the glass. Minnesota has been one of the league’s best teams and the Pacers have been average at worse. Therefore, the Timberwolves’ ability to crash the boards could enable them to control the tempo of the game and force Indiana to play their style and not allow them to get their defense set.

After tonight, the schedule eases up as November comes to an end and a victory over Indiana would be a huge morale booster going into December.

Where: Whatever-they-called-it-after-Conseco-Fieldhouse; Indianapolis, IN

When: 6pm

See/Hear it: FSN/WCCO AM 830

Timberwolves fail to launch, lose 112-101 to Rockets

You would think that although the Timberwolves were on the second night of a back-to-back on the road they would get out to a better start with all of the rest the starters had the night before after thrashing the Nets. But they didn’t. It’s not as if this was even a full-strength with James Harden out, which gave the Timberwolves several favorable mismatches in the back court.

The Rockets got out to an early 8-0 lead, but the lead soon disappeared as the Timberwolves brought the deficit to five behind a Kevin Martin three halfway through the first. Houston suddenly stopped being able to hit anything after a perfect start. Kevin Love looked out of rhythm and would finish with 27 points, 15 rebounds and two assists.

Yet, as we all predicted, it would be Aaron Brooks stepping up in Harden’s steed as he gave the Rockets a spark of the bench. Even more like we all predicted, it would be Brooks and Terrrence Jones leading the way for the Rockets, despite a solid game from Dwight Howard. Thanks to all of the contributions the Rockets received from their supporting cast, the Timberwolves were never able to seriously climb back into the game and spent much of the game trailing by double digits.

Even though the Timberwolves beat the Rockets in points in the paint and finished with the most points off of turnovers in franchise history in 17 years (1996, versus Golden State; 39 points), the Timberwolves just did not have it and fell to 8-6 on the season. The Timberwolves will look to get back on track on Monday when they play the, ah crap, Pacers. Welp. Here’s hoping they get their day of rest and rejoice that this jam-packed November is almost over.

Timberwolves fall in DC, 104-100; bloggers write haikus

Funny story, and no I didn’t lose another laptop adapter. Anyway, I got off of work at 6:00 figuring that I would miss only part of the first quarter, which wound up being true. But then I didn’t realize the Wild hijacked the main FSN channel and spent another 15 minutes flipping through the channels before I figured to check the internet. The internet, Derek…what took you so long to check what channel it was on there. However, that was not where my stupidity ended. No, then I couldn’t find FSN-plus even though I know that I had watched it before. So I’m sitting on my couch flipping through the channels looking for this phantom channel as the game rolled into the second quarter before I finally found it.

No worries, I was still able to follow the game on Twitter — and the Timberwolves were doing really well without me — but what is even wrong with me lately? I mean, I turned to go to the court at Target Center last Saturday when they were playing the Celtics and accidentally headed towards the lockerroom, prompting a security guard to ask if I was from Boston. No, I’m not; I’m just directionally-challenged. Then, to top things off I wound up leaving my adapter behind. Go Derek!

Anyway, the Timberwolves did much better without me. They roared out to an early lead behind a Kevin Love three point barrage early on and finished with 15 points. Sensing that I just tuned in to the game, decided to forgo important things like transition defense and exerting minimal effort for simply contesting shots. But they still managed to squeak out a 12-point lead at halftime. Love led the Timberwolves with 17 points and six rebounds despite scoring a single point in the second. For the Wizards, John Wall’s seven assists at halftime gave Nene 14 points.

Can I stop here?

*mutter* *mutter*

Please, do I have to?

*RABBLE* *RABBLE* RABBLE*

Fine, I’ll finish this, but I get to do whatever I want at the end.

*rabble*

Okay, so you remember the bad transition defense? Yeah, that continued, and as an added bonus, we got discombobulated spacing! Hooray– not. The same Timberwolves team that committed just three turnovers in the first 24 minutes of the game managed to commit two in the first half of the third quarter. Two may not seem like very many, but it is when the Wizards had 11 points off of the five Timberwolves turnovers at that point. There was even one play in transition where Ricky Rubio had Corey Brewer in his sights for what should have been an easy layup and Brewer over-ran Rubio or Rubio thought he was going to stop cutting, so he would up bouncing the ball out-of-bounds between two Wizards.

Yeah, it was that kind of night.

However, it wasn’t just the turnovers that would derail Minnesota’s plans for victory. The shot selection, as a part of the overall decision-making was just “off.” Rubio and Love would begin their two-man game, yet instead of making a move that favored his strengths, Rubio cut to the corner and jacked up a fadeaway long-two. Or the back-to-back-to-back quick three pointer possessions. Or Kevin Martin attempting a turnaround jumper from just inside the two point line. Whatever it was– the spacing, energy, or whatever — the Timberwolves struggled to create good shots because they could not get into a good offensive flow. As a result, the Timberwolves wound up tied with the Wizards after three, 81-81 after a 16-point quarter.

Much of the fourth was spent with the lead see-sawing back and forth. And that made for a close game near the end. With the Timberwolves down 97-95, Martin would hit a three to put them ahead by one with about a minute remaining. Coming out of the timeout with :48 seconds left, former Timberwolf, Martell Webster would have your eventual game-winner to put the Wizards up 100-98 and the Wizards never looked back from there.

Love finished with 25-11-4. Robbie Hummel added seven points on 2-3 shooting to go with six rebounds. For the Wizards, Wall led the way with an impressive 14 point, five rebound and 16 assist game. Max player? Yeah, I think so.

Now, time for haikus! No, really…this is happening. Instead of getting up in arms over a sloppy loss in mid-November, William Bohl (@BreakTheHuddle) of A Wolf Among Wolves and Tim Faklis of Canis Hoopus and I decided to start tweeting postgame haikus. Here is what happened:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then we got some help from our friends (not that kind of help, mind you).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, and here’s an exchange our very own Tom Westerholm will appreciate:

 

And with that clunker out of the way, the Timberwolves play the Clippers tomorrow night at home. If this sounds familiar this is the second time this month that the Timberwolves are lucky enough to draw one of the Western Conference’s best teams on the second night of a back-to-back.

Timberwolves-Nuggets Preview: I’m going the other way, thanks.

This isn’t exactly the same Denver Nuggets team that took the season series from the Timberwolves 3-1 last season. Head coach George Karl is gone in favor of Bryan Shaw. Forward Andre Iguodala hit a game-winner last night…for the Warriors. Even Masai Uriji has moved on to become the general manager of the Toronto Raptors. And now we’re hearing about forward Kenneth Faried on the trading block.

Despite this amount of turnover, the Nuggets still sit at 3-4, with three wins in their last four games. But how do you lose that many key pieces and still remain moderately competitive? Well, their schedule has something to do with it. They have two ‘meh’ wins against the Lakers and Jazz who are a combined 5-14, but one against the Hawks that is legitimate.

It’s not as if the Nuggets do anything particularly well, but they don’t do anything terribly either. They’re 23rd in eFG%, which is bottom-third in the league, but not horrendous. Additionally, they’re not good or bad on the boards…just adequate. Are they good defensively? Kinda, but they’re nothing special. In short, this Nuggets team is just “here.”

That said, they do have some players. Center Timofey Mozgov has been remarkably efficient, and Ty Lawson is off to a decent start to the season. There may be no JaVale McGee, but Anthony Randolph will be available for all our entertainment needs. No Danilo Gallinari either, but there is a chance JJ Hickson could do this again. Wait, scratch that last one; why would I want that to happen?

As for the Timberwolves…we get to watch Kevin Love be brilliant every night with Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio by his side. While the Timberwolves have gotten better, the number say they are still steadily improving with figures now in the upper-half to third of the league. Their rebounding has come along a good ways since the start of the season and they are still 18th in the league in eFG percentage with Nikola Pekovic beginning to get in rhythm. You don’t have to take my word for it, see for yourself:

Timberwolves four factors

Thank you for the data, Basketball-Reference.com. I love you so much I’m naming my first child after you.

 

 

 

 

Not that these figures guarantee anything, but it’s just an encouraging trend to note. Tonight’s game is the first of a home-and-away back-to-back with tonight’s game in Denver and returning tomorrow night to play the Boston Celtics.

Where: Pepsi Center; Denver, CO

When: 7pm

See/Hear It: FSN; WCCO AM 830

 

 

Timberwolves-Lakers Preview: WHY WON’T YOU DIE?!

I should clarify something: I don’t actually want anyone to die. It’s just that this Lakers team on paper looks like a team that should be among the dregs of the league, but they not — and games aren’t played on paper — and the Lakers are somehow 3-4 and hanging around in the middle of the Pacific division standings. This team was supposed to have lost too much in the offseason without bringing enough back in, and to top it off they’re doing this all without Kobe Bryant.

They are quite the puzzling team in that we don’t really even know what to make of them. Through seven games we’ve seen them blown out and we’ve seen them blowout or steal wins from some good teams.

Here is a list of things this Lakers team hasn’t been very good at: making shots within the arc, making free throws and forcing turnovers. But they have been the league’s ninth-best three point shooting team and fourth-best defensive rebounding team which has kept them competitive throughout the early stages of the season. When you rebound well defensively you eliminate second chance point opportunities and are able to control the pace of the game. Coupled with strong three point shooting, you’re making high value shots while eliminating a way for your opponents to get second chance points– a dangerous combination on any given night.

This is what 3-4 looks like: boom or bust.

This is what 3-4 looks like: boom or bust.

The Timberwolves have not been a great defensive rebounding team so far this season, but they’ve been about an average offensive rebounding team this season and will need to continue to do that tonight. Additionally, even though the Lakers have shot the ball well from distance, the Timberwolves have forced opponent’s to shoot the three at the ninth worst efficiency in the league. In doing so, the Timberwolves will ideally be able to force one of the league’s worst offensive rebounding teams to step up or allow their opponent to control the game.

Minnesota also loves to force turnovers while Los Angeles really hasn’t so far. The Timberwolves are the fifth best team in forced turnovers percentage and the Lakers are the third worst, coming at 27th. While the Lakers have been good at avoiding turnovers, they will be tested by the Timberwolves’ defense and could present an opportunity for the visitors to come away with a victory in game one of this back-to-back.

 

Then there is this subplot bubbling below the surface of this game. Yes, the last time the Timberwolves beat the Lakers at all I was a senior in high school and the last time they beat them at Staples Center I was but a sophomore. That’s a really long time, so it’s understandable that a lot of fans are going to be watching tonight to see if the drought ends tonight. Sure, there have been some blowouts and some close games in this 22 game losing streak, but the Lakers were almost always the better team.

Yet, now things are a little different right now. The Lakers are in a weird place between competing for a playoff spot and rebuilding. I liken it to denial and like to think of their roster as Mitch Kupchak saying, “Rebuilding? No. Yeah, we lost Dwight Howard, but we got Chris Kaman and Nick Young is going to be a steal. Oh, and Wes Johnson is just about to get it, just you wait.” Basically, Kupchak is building a clear bridge to nowhere while telling us that we’re going somewhere. For the Timberwolves, as long as they can extract useful contributions from their bench on at least a semi-regular basis, they’re going somewhere and the Lakers won’t be there. I don’t mean the lottery, either.

Of course, beating the Lakers tonight at this stage in the season doesn’t actually mean anything in the grand scheme of things. However, to a group of people looking to overcome years of futility against the same franchise, this means something. It’s no longer a relevant footnote and a weight to be lifted off of their back. So, it means something without actually meaning something. Make sense? It might be more fun to beat a stronger previous incarnation of the Lakers, but at this point we’ll just take what we can get.

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

When: 6:30 pm CST

See/Hear it: FSN and WCCO AM 830

 

 

 

A tale of two Kevins: Timberwolves down Mavs 116-108

There were two main things that determined tonight’s outcome: 1) Both teams making runs and 2) the abilities of the Kevins Love and Martin to lift the Timberwolves over the Mavericks at home.

Essentially, each team traded runs, but it was Kevin Martin’s three with 5:03 left in the third to put the Timberwolves up by 11 that put them in control of this game. Jose Calderon hit a pair of threes and Jae Crowder hit a layup to bring the Mavs back within three. In the third with the Mavericks threatening, Martin again rose to the occasion, hitting a 20-footer and then sinking two free throws later to put the Timberwolves up 89-83 early in the fourth quarter. However, Dallas would manage to stay close, keeping their deficit within three before Love hit a huge three pointer with 2:12 left and the Timberwolves never looked back.

Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis led the  way for the Mavs. Calderon added 21 points and seven assists, while Ellis added 23 points on 24 shots. Dirk Nowitzki added 14 points in 31 minutes on top of that. For the Timberwolves, Corey Brewer put up 17 points, three rebounds and four assists and Martin finished with 32 points and five boards. Ricky Rubio’s six points, four assists and three rebounds may not have stood out, but his three steals made an impact on the defensive end.

However, the real star of the game was Kevin Love, who was threatening to put up his first NBA triple-double in the first half. Seriously, 15-10-7 at halftime? Just unbelievable.

Coach Rick Adelman spoke this offseason about how he wanted to see Love be more of a facilitator than he had been in his career, and now we’re seeing it, and the Timberwolves are reaping the benefits. Love has now dished out five or more assists in a game in four consecutive games, the longest streak of his career. Adelman’s vision was for Love to not only expand his game, but to make his teammates better and we’re seeing that. Whether it’s rifling a cross-court outlet pass to a streaking Brewer or his pass from the high post to Derrick Williams making a backdoor cut to the basket. And when you have two of your best players, the other being Ricky Rubio, being so willing to pass it’s infectious– the Timberwolves had four players finish with four or more assists last night (Barea and Brewer being the other two).

By increasing his assist totals, Love has not had to sacrifice the other aspects of his game. Love is still scoring at 27.2 ppg and leading the league in rebounding yet again with 14.7 per game. Now in his sixth season, Love’s assists per game average would be twice as high as his previous career high of 2.5 without having to compromise any other area of production. If this sustains itself over the course of the season, Love will not only have established himself as a more complete player, but cement his status as the best power forward in the game. Oh, and he’s only 25, so he will likely continue to improve as he moves towards 30.

Love’s 32 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists was his second game of the season with at least 30-15-5, while the rest of the league has none. In fact, since entering the league in the 2008-09 season, Love has the most 30-15-5 games in that time while also essentially missing last season. Tonight a few of Love’s teammates had some big games, but Love was pivotal in helping making plays for them. Not to take anything away from Brewer or Martin, but Love played the role of facilitator to near-perfection last night.

Now, the Timberwolves stand at 4-2 after snapping  their two-game losing streak and begin a road back-to-back in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers beginning Sunday.