What's on the Menu? "mmmmmm . . . Basketball!!!!"

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 28. Minnesota Timberwolves

Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  5-25, fifth place Northwest Division, 15th Place Western Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 98.5  (20th)
  • Points Allowed: 109.0 (29th)
  • Team FG%: .435 (24th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .493 (30th)
  • Team FT%: .720 (27th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .338 (22nd)
  • Rebounds per game: 41.1 (23rd)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 43.6 (21st)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.5 (24th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 15.8 (5th)

Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:

  • Scoring (ppg): Thaddeus Young (14.3)
  • Rebounds per game:  Gorgui Dieng (8.1)
  • Minutes per game: Thaddeus Young (32.0)
  • Assists per game:  Mo Williams (6.5)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Shabbaz Muhammad (.500)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Mo Williams (.880)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Shabbaz Muhammad (.484)
  • Steals per game: Thaddeus Young (1.7)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Gorgui Dieng (1.6)

Worst of the Class: Andrew Wiggins

This may be a bit harsh to ask, but does anyone else feel cheated about the debut of Andrew Wiggins: the man who was supposed to be the player who would define a generation?  So far he has not had the breakout rookie performance that everyone had eagerly anticipated--especially from his fellow countrymen from North of the US border.  His thirteen points and four rebound would be decent for any other NBA rookie, but this guy is supposed to be far superior than any NBA rookie that has entered the league for quite sometime.  Sure, he is just 19, but so were +LeBron James and +Dwight Howard, the two last high school players to go number one in the NBA Draft, although many would claim it to being unfair to compare him to such high a bar.  Nonetheless, Wiggins'  so-so performance is a telling sign of the overall disappointing showing of this years NBA Rookie class--one that was supposed to be one of the best in league history.    

First of the Class: Shabbaz Muhammad

Last season Shabbaz Muhammad was the poster boy for the immature, irresponsible, disrespectful young players whom the media love to unleash their ire on.  Along with being considered a draft day bust, Muhammad was also thought to be on his way out with the arrival the team's hand picked savior in Andrew Wiggins; however, this season, this one time prodigal child has silenced all his detractors with a sophomore peformance worthy of recognition and respect.  Muhammad has made the 2014/2015 season his coming out party as he went from getting absolutely no time whatsoever to becoming one of the team's key contributors averaging 14.0 points shooting at a near .500 clip while torching the three point like at nearly the same proficiency.  His production peaked at a phenomenal rate in December when he was up to scoring 18.0 points and grabbing 5 rebounds per game essentially becoming the Timberwolves' primary offensive option that month.  If he continues his scintillating play, he might earn himself the league's Most Improved Player Award, or if not, will certainly be remembered as one of the feel good comeback stories of the year.     

After seven wasted years of attempting to rebuild after the post +Kevin Garnett era, the Wolves and their fans are once again back at square one having to once again say goodbye to another star in +Kevin Love starting again from scratch. Unlike the Garnett debacle, at least Minnesota fans could hold solace in the fact that not only did their team receive more than adequate compensation receiving two two of the last number one picks of the NBA Draft and a solid veteran in Thaddeus Young to help fill in the massive void that Kevin Love would leave behind.  To go along with their rather impressive haul, the Wolves also had a solid returning casts of veteran players in Ricky Rubio, agruably one of the league's top passing point guards as well as one of the league's top scoring shooting guards in Kevin Martin and a All Star caliber center in Nikola Pekovic.  Combine those three with the wealth of young raw talent that includes the first overall pick of last summer's draft and projected greatest NBA player in his generation, Andrew Wiggins, Wolves fans had something to be optimistic about despite the fact that their team had once again hit rock bottom.  Although their team would find itself on the outside looking in, at least the blend of youth plus experience would make it somewhat competitive and worth watching over the course of this painfully long regular season.

Unfortunately, bad luck would once again hit this already down and out Minnesota Timberwolves team as they would lose all three of their established veteran starters within the first month of the season leaving the small young cubs to fend for themselves.  First Ricky Rubio would be lost for the start of the season after playing just five games of the regular season, then both Martin and Pekovic would be sidelined for the rest of the season four games later thus resulting in a team that would have been considered as a hungry young wolf pack transforming into lambs to the slaughter. All of the sudden, the future of the Wolves would be placed in the hands of a bunch of teenagers as well as inexperienced twenty somethings who had just left college and be thrust into a pool of blood thirsty sharks looking for fresh meat. So far this young team has been obliging their opponents to use them as a virgin sacrifices over the course the first three months of the regular season as the Wolves rest at the bottom of standings falling just short of the perennial tanking +Philadelphia 76ers and the train wreck otherwise known as the +New York Knicks.  Fortunately for the Wolves, their fans have taken their poor start in stride as they had already set not only this season, but subsequent ones for a loss knowing full well that they will not see the playoffs for quite some time.

Head Coach and team General Manager Flip Saunders once again has inherited another disaster zone after having fled one in the Nation's capital; however, unlike his stint with the +Washington Wizards, where he was both unfairly blamed and subsequently fired for, at least he is starting at ground zero whereas the situation in Washington had deteriorated to a point where it was no longer salvageable.  At least in Minnesota, he will have the chance to build from the ground up and has a young, talented, athletic albeit very raw core of players as a foundation which include both the number one picks from the 2013 and 2014 NBA Drafts; in addition, Saunders does not nearly have the pressure to succeed as he did in his previous stint in Minnesota, nor in his other earlier held head coaching positions in Washington  and +Detroit Pistons.  In fact, the injuries which sidelined three of the team's key players from last season can be seen as more of a blessing than a curse as he is more capable of giving his young proteges more of a chance to play than they would have had Rubio, Martin and Pekovic not been sidelined for much of the season due to injuries.  Had they been not injuries, young talents such as rookie point guard Zach Lavine or second year center Gorgui Dieng would not have had the minutes nor the productive seasons that they have had so far. Right now, the 19 year old Lavine has held his own on the court as the Wolves' starting point guard averaging nearly nine points, four assists and a steal per game while Dieng has had a phenomenal sophomore season doubling his production from his rookie season in all statistical category.

Their progress as well as the solid, although not very spectacular play of Andrew Wiggins thus far plus the rejuvenation of overlooked players such as former first round picks who had very lackluster rookie debuts in Shabbaz Muhammad, and Anthony Bennett have given the Timberwolves' front office and coaching staff quite the dilemma.  With their young players putting up solid performances thus far while their key veterans from last season sitting out with injuries, what will the coaching staff and front office do once they return back to action?  Both Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic were acquired in order to complement both Rubio and Love in the starting five, but with Love in Cleveland and the team heading into a new direction, both Martin and Pekovic seem quite out of place and almost a impediment to the development of the team's young core.  What makes matters even more complicated is that Pekovic, who was tabbed as the team's center of the future before being superseded by  his younger counterpart in Dieng, is in the second year of a five year 60$ million deal and it will be quite difficult to unload his contract considering his current status.  Martin's contract is not as bad considering he is in the second year of a 28$ million deal which makes his much easier to move; but to do that, the Wolves may have to take back a player with significantly less value than Martin in order to get any deal done.

The Wolves have already started cutting ties with the previous regime by first trading away swing man +Corey Brewer as well as injured big man +Ronny Turiaf to the +Houston Rockets for second year guard Troy Daniels and two second round picks.  Although he provided a solid defensive presence leading the league in steals per game as well as decent offensive production, it became blatantly apparent that Brewer stood in the way of the development of the Wolves' hand picked star Andrew Wiggins and with the sudden emergence of Muhammad, it was just a matter of time that Corey had to go.  Brewer may have been the first, but he will certainly not be the last to bid farewell to Minnesota as the Wolves continue to cut ties as well as cap space to truly hot rock bottom and start at ground zero.  The second most likely candidate that may get the heave ho is power forward Thaddeus Young, who came in from the +Philadelphia 76ers in the Kevin Love trade and currently leads the team in scoring as well as minutes played; nonetheless, with his contract expiring at the end of the season it is doubtful that neither Young or the Wolves will want to continue their professional relationship.  At 26 years old and nearing his prime as an athlete, Young certainly does not want to waste his best years playing one a losing team heading nowhere while the Wolves will welcome getting at least something moderate in return instead of seeing him walk away as a free agent for nothing.

The most likely scenario will see Young being traded by the regular season deadline or during the All Star break when contending teams from both the Eastern and Western Conferences will be gearing for a final push for the playoffs; however, the same cannot be said for Martin and Pekovic due to the length of their contracts and the difficulty to find a deal that will best benefit the Wolves both in the short and long term.  The only player that both the front office and coaching staff of Wolves may see as a keeper in this transition period is Rubio, who when healthy has proven to stand among the top play makers in the league with his passing skills, strong on the court intellect and his ability to play lock-down defense on the perimeter.  At just 24 years old, Rubio has not only the experience, but the cunning and the insight of the most seasoned of NBA veterans thus making him a must have for a team of young, raw talented that not only lack the experience, but also any sense of direction.  Coach Saunders will certainly appreciate Rubio's leadership capabilities along with his ability to get the best out of his teammates, especially with the case of the future of the franchise, Andrew Wiggins playing alongside him in the backcourt.  There will be plenty of highlight videos to look forward to with Rubio at the helm lobbing passes to high flyers as Wiggins, Muhammad, Lavine, Dieng and Bennett to name a few; however, all of this is determinant on Rubio's health which he has shown to be less than reliable and until he proves that he can maintain himself through an  82 game season, then all of that potential will disintegrate.

Once again, all that Wolves fans can do is hope that this time their team's rebuilding efforts will finally come to fruition after having their hearts cut out seeing its first attempt at returning to respectability shattered to pieces.  Losing Kevin Love was a huge blow, but at least the Timberwolves have a chance to recuperate much faster thanks to the arrival of Anthony Wiggins whose skills and athleticism give both the team and its fans plenty of optimism for the future.  Add along such diamonds in the rough as Bennett, Lavine, Muhammad, and Dieng into the mix, there is plenty to be excited about in the Twin Cities; however, it will certainly be a long tough road for these young basketball prodigies and there is no guarantee that the Timberwolves will even succeed with this rebuilding attempt.  They have the bad fortune to be stuck in the unforgiving Western Conference where even a 50 win season only guarantees a sixth or seventh seed in the playoffs once the regular season comes to a close so four, five, six,  seven or even eight years down the line the Wolves would be at an early first round elimination. If that is the case, then Wolves fans may once again see the departure of another NBA star and wait another decade for a chance to return to relevancy in the NBA.