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Sunday, May 10, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA End of Season Worst to First Countdown: 30. Minnesota Timberwolves





2014/2015 Projection: 
23-59, fifth place Northwest Division, fifteenth place Western Conference

Actual Finish: 
16-66, fifth place Northwest Division, fifteenth place Western Conference


Projected
2014/2015 Finish

29


Actual 2014/2015 Finish


30
Team Statistics and League Rank


  • Points Scored: 97.8 (23rd)
  • Points Allowed: 106.5 (30th)
  • Team FG%: .438 (24th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .487 (30th)
  • Team FT%: .776 (6th)           
  • Team Three Point FG%: .332 (25th)
  • Rebounds per game: 40.9 (27th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 43.6 (17th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.3 (23rd)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 14.6 (8th)




Individual Statistical Leaders


  • Scoring (ppg): Kevin Martin (20.0)
  • Rebounds per game:  Gorgui Dieng (8.3)
  • Minutes per game: Andrew Wiggins (36.3)
  • Assists per game:  Ricky Rubio (8.8)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Gorgui Dieng (.506)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Kevin Martin (.888)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Kevin Martin (.393)
  • Steals per game:  Ricky Rubio (1.7)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Gorgui Dieng (1.7)

SDH’s Hero to Honor: +Andrew Wiggins 

Those who have doubted that Wiggins has what it takes to be a cornerstone of a franchise must have been certainly quelled given his rather impressive debut on the NBA scene.  Upon entering the league, the Canadian who was selected first overall by the +Cleveland Cavaliers, but then traded to the Wolves for +Kevin Love, was scrutinized by media pundits and scouts on everything from his shot mechanics and dribbling skills to his character and ability to lead a franchise; however, after a rocky start, he turned his game up a notch and silenced any doubters of his All Star potential.  The 19 year old certainly proved himself not to be a "hoser" as he led the team in scoring while improving his point production every moths from the paltry 12.3 points per game he finish November with to the whopping 23.3 per game he finished by season's end.  Not only has he proven himself the elite scorer that many were skeptical of him being, but he has shown signs thanks to his length and athleticism that he has the potential to be on of the league's elite defenders as well.  Although he had little or no competition for the rookie of the year race, Wiggins has certainly made it known that not only does he deserve the award, but also that he has a very long and bright future in the NBA.  



SDH’s Face to Forget:  Anthony Bennett

We now shift the discussion from one Canadian basketball player who has lived up to the expectations of being selected the number overall pick in the draft to the previous one, who has thus far failed miserably to achieve such feats.  Last season, Anthony Bennett went down in NBA history as possibly the worst ever rookie performance for a number one overall pick and had the opportunity to remake himself upon arriving to Minnesota with his teammate and fellow countryman Andrew Wiggins.  Unfortunately, his sophomore season was almost equally as bad as his freshman year in the NBA as he was almost a non-factor on the team appearing in just 57 games, and posted such pedestrian number as 5.2 points and 3.8 boards in just 15 minutes per game.  He started the season pretty good finishing the month of November with 7.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game while shooting a rather efficient .532 from the field; however, that was sort lived as both his production, his playing time, and his place in the roster's rotation soon began to disappear.  There is still hope that at the age of 22 along with his versatile skill set and size, he can still salvage himself a somewhat decent NBA career; however, do not expect him to be anything more than a solid role player, because if his play is a sign of what may come, his ceiling as a player has possibly already been reached.      

To be a +Minnesota Timberwolves fan has certainly been an exercise in masochism as NBA fans in that state have been forced to endure not only countless losing seasons, but a failed rebuilding period to go along with very poor executive decisions from their team's head office which resulted in the departure of another franchise player caliber star in Kevin Love just to see the team start from scratch once again.  This time the Wolves started with a new foundation built on the number one overall pick in the NBA draft, a long and athletic Canadian teenager who turned pro after completing his freshman year at the +University of Kansas , to go along with a crew of ragtag misfits who were just as young, inexperienced, and physically out-matched as he was.  It did not help when what little veteran presence the team had were sidelined for the majority of the season leaving the rest of the team, comprised of either teenagers or young men who had just reached the twenties to fend for themselves.  As can be expected, such a team that was so ill-equipped to compete in a grown man's league was made short work of by the more seasoned opponents and made their poor young cubs look less like "Timber Wolves," and more like "Timid Lambs" who were sent to the slaughter; nonetheless, despite the horrific and traumatic outcome to those poor souls, there can still be some positive signs of hope for the future.    This team has a roster that can be considered a virtual treasure chest of young talent mixed with veteran experience and had the Wolves been at full strength, they certainly would have given any NBA team a run for its money; Plus, fans can hold solace in the fact that with a 16 win finish, that will be the lowest their team will probably ever go thus giving a sense of hope that there will be nowhere else to go but up.

Even though the season was a complete wash, there were still a bright spots that shined through an otherwise bleak and dismal season which was primarily highlighted by Minnesota's young core of rookies and sophomores led by their two 19 year old phenoms Anthony Wiggins and +Zach LaVine--both of whom virtually carried their inexperienced and injury plagued team throughout the entire 82 games.  Wiggins shined brightest of all as he proved worthy of his first overall draft status as he led the team in scoring in place of the injured Kevin Martin thus earning him NBA Rookie of the Year Honors; however, the biggest surprise had to be LaVine--a player who at first was not expected to play at all, but was suddenly thrust into the spotlight thanks to injuries of the team's starting point guard, Ricky Rubio.  At first LaVine seemed quite overwhelmed often resembling a deer caught in headlights, but a the season progressed, he grew from an insecure youth who often looked confused and unsure of his rose on the court and blossomed into a a much confident player who showed that at the tender age of 19, he can still certainly hold his own in the NBA.  His first two months came with a mixed bag as he both gave what looked to be a solid contribution on the court with his 9.0 points, 2.5 five rebounds, and close to four assists per game, but those impressive numbers were offset by his rather shaky shooting (.404 FG%, .256 3ptFG%) which can be considered understandable considering his age as well as his limited experience and understanding of the professional game.  Unfortunately, LaVine would struggle the next two months of the season as both his playing time and his production would see dramatic decreases to the point where he finished the month of February averaging just 4.5 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.4 assist per game in just under 12 minutes of playing time; however, upon the start of March, he suddenly reawakened posting his best numbers of the season with 13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while shooting an amazing .426 from beyond the arc--and he was not finished yet.

As if his sudden emergence was not good enough, LaVine took his game to stratospheric levels as he resembled an All Star finishing the month of April with 21.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game while shooting rather proficiently at .470 in the last 15 games of the regular season thus making his rookie performance almost as impressive as his 2014 NBA Draft classmate, Andrew Wiggins.  Wolves fans had to be delighted at the prospect of both their highly touted rookies exceeding even the most optimistic of projections, but that was not the last of good news as they would receive even more glad tidings and hope for the future with the breakout performances from second year players +Gorgui Dieng and Shabbaz Muhammad--two players who did not show much in their rookie years last season, but virtually stole the show from their most seasoned veteran teammates.  Similar to LaVine, Dieng was thrust onto the center stage thanks to the unforeseen season ending injury of the Wolves' high priced center +Nikola Pekovic and did not fail to disappoint as he posted a rather respectable showing of 9.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.7 blocked shots in the 73 game he played--49 of which he started; however, Dieng would be outdone by Muhammad, who went from being an absolute disappointment his rookie year to a far improved sophomore campaign.  His rather poor rookie performance both on and off the court had placed Muhammad on the team's "Black List" and was expected to be discarded by mid season, but he bounced back his second year showing a far more improved, mature and focused player than he was before and turn him in the eyes of Wolves fan from "Complete Zero" to "Fan Hero."  Although his season was cut short after just 38 games, his bounce back performance from his forgettable rookie campaign was rather noteworthy as he came of the bench to average 13.5 points and 4.1 rebounds while shooting a rather proficient .489 from the field and .392 from the three point line in number 23 minutes of playing time per game and had he continued playing, he probably would have been in the running for the league's Most Improved Player Award had he not been sidelined for the remainder of the regular season.

So in spite of all of the chaos and turmoil that had marked this 2014-2015 campaign, Wolves fans still had plenty to cheer for thanks to the superb breakout performances of their team's two rookies as well as the rather notable contributions of two second year players to go along with it; however, the good times would not end there as they would be given an extra treat to help digest the prospect of a long road ahead until their team becomes respectable.  By the league's mid season trade deadline, they would receive to surprise parting gifts in big men +Adreian Payne and Justin Hamilton--two players that saw little if any playing time in their former teams, but upon arriving in Minnesota, made the executives whom callously discarded them look like complete fools as they too proved their worth with impressive finishing performances.  Upon being drafted by the +Atlanta Hawks, Payne had not seen any playing time whatsoever either spending much of his rookie season either riding the pine at the end of the bench or bumming around with the team's +NBA DLeague affiliate, the +Bakersfield Jam; however, upon arriving to Minnesota he proved to be quite a valuable asset providing a solid 7.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in the last 29 games of the season.  Hamilton had spent much of his NBA career bouncing from the +Miami HEAT and +Charlotte Hornets as well as the D-League, but had a chance to prove his truth worth in the last 17 games of the season with the Wolves where he put forth a solid performance that will certainly give numerous NBA teams the incentive to give him a second look with his 9.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.  Both Payne and Hamilton would have either spent the rest of their seasons either rotting in the bench or rushing to find their next paycheck had not the Wolves opened their arm to them and they showed their appreciation by giving solid contributions making it not only a beneficial transaction for both parties, but also more seeds of hope for a fan base that has suffered for so long.

After all the turnover as well as the turmoil that has marred this past season, the Timberwolves have emerged from it much stronger than it ever has been with the prospects of having two potential superstars in Wiggins and Lavine as well as two emerging young talents in Dieng, Muhammad, Payne and Hamilton to go along with returning veterans +Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and Chase Buddinger. Not only Wolves fans, but head coach Flip Saunders, must be salivating at the prospect of having all those players coming back next season as they could form quite an impressive nucleus to build upon for years to come and add the fact that they enter the off season with a chance to attain possibly the number one overall pick in this summer's NBA Draft makes the future even brighter for a franchise and a fan base that have had very little to be cherry about.  Just picture all the amazing highlights with Rubio at the helm pushing the ball with two young studs in LaVine and Wiggins on each side with Dieng, Bennett, Buddinger, and Muhammad witing in the wings for an alley-oop; however, all of this is just fantasy unless the team is is at full strength--a problem in which Minnesota has suffered to ensure for over the past few year.  So here's to keeping an open mind and optimistic attitude because right now that is all that T-Wolves fans have at this moment; however, at least both the team and fans have something going for them and that is that they cannot get any lower than they already are.