The 2015 portion of the season started with somewhat of a roar but ended in more of a whimper for the Minnesota Timberwolves. With all hopes and intent of kicking off 2016 with a bang and battling late into the season in a somewhat wide open Western Conference (at least seeds four through eight), the Timberwolves can only hope that the following wishes and resolutions come true.
Coaching Change: Flip Saunders was part of the team that planted Sam Mitchell in the interim coaching position, with the apparent intent on returning to the role when healthy. While the team came out of the gate relatively strong, the Timberwolves quickly fell into their old ways. Following an 8-8 start, Mitchell has not really done anything to change their style of play once their failures started to mount, winning only three of their next fifteen games. Yes, they brought in a trio of vets to mentor their talented youth, but when Coach Mitchell gives the old dogs more PT than pups, the build for the future doesn’t bode well. Mitchell can’t be afraid to let the young wolves make mistakes and learn how to correct them. Is Mitchell a bad coach? No, he just isn’t the right man for the young Timberwolves. Once Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller all hang up their kicks, Mitchell will have a tough time relating to the young core, so why not bring in someone who can connect with them now.
Offense Strategy: Offensively, the Timberwolves need to get with the times and start launching from downtown. With only 15.9 attempts a night, the Wolves rank last in the league in the longball. The conundrum is: Zach LaVine, who puts up 3.5 attempts a night, comes off the bench for 24 minutes of action. Kevin Martin, who is their best long-range shooter at 37% and 2.8 attempts, is in the midst of trade talks and sitting on the bench in warmups. And rookie Nemanja Bjelica, who shoots a touch more than two and a half threes a night, sees less than 20 minutes off the bench. Who knows, a new coach means a new offensive playbook.
Whose Team Is It: It’s tough to determine who is the Alpha Dog of the young Wolves, chances are KG has more bark and bite than Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and LaVine put together. But going forward, the team has to figure out whether they want to run through Wiggins on the wing or Towns in the post. Neither is a bad option, but one has to play Robin to the other’s Batman. The problem is, neither appears to have the burning desire to step up and take the throne. Rather, they seem to be content to play more parallel to each other. At some point if the Wolves need a go-to guy for a bucket, the team needs to know who Plan A is.
Fav Five: Part coaching staff, part players. Through 31 games this season the Wolves have bounced between Ricky Rubio, LaVine, Martin and Prince being a part of the starting lineup. Yes, at times the alteration has been due to injury, but the lack of starting five chemistry has appeared to impact the team and players cohesiveness. If the team can lock down some sort of consistency with their lineups and substitution patterns, improved production may be a result.
Control the Scoreboard: There are 48 minutes in a game, not 12, not 24, not 36….48. Learn to play and compete in all of them. Stop giving away control of the scoreboard, especially in games in which the team in control of it during the first two or three quarters!
Take Care Of The Rock: The TWolves are among the bottom half of the league when it comes to taking care of the ball, averaging over fourteen turnovers a night. When the team is 16th in the league in points (100.6) and give up 103.3 (21st in the league) the math simply put makes a lot of sense. If you don’t have the ball, you can’t score and if you give it away, chances are the opposition is going to do something with it.
At this point, the Timberwolves are two games behind their most recent opponent, the Utah Jazz for the eighth seed in the West. Kicking off 2016, Minnesota squares off against the Milwaukee Bucks (their Eastern Conference doppelganger), the 76’ers, the Nuggets and the Cavs. If the Timberwolves can grab three W’s and keep the fourth game competitive, 2016 may, in fact, be a good year for fans in Minnesota.