February 21, 2018, 7:14 pm
As the All-Star break nears it’s conclusion, the Wolves currently sit at 36-25, which is good for fourth overall in the Western Conference and seventh in the entire NBA. They have the most wins versus the West in the league, and the best home record in the conference.
Despite all this, the Wolves find themselves only one game in the loss column from falling completely out of the playoffs. The season, which has gone so well with a top-five offense and a dynamic roster, still remains very much in the balance with just 21 games left to go.
When the Wolves were playing at their peak in late December to early January, it felt like reaching the two seed was a plausible goal and making the playoffs was an inevitable feat, a simple hurdle in a standard track meet.
After stumbling through a late stretch, including an active six-game road losing streak, it’s reminded that the NBA season resembles more of a steeplechase than a sprint.
The main obstacle for the Wolves has been their defense. Despite a third ranked offense, the defense ranks 26th and it remains the main issue in every loss. The Wolves have the best offensive rating in the NBA in losses, meaning every game they play in tends to be high scoring, they just don’t find a way to get a few stops when it matters.
Having a top-five offense and bottom-five defense is an unusual feat. In this current century (since 2000), only seven teams have achieved this. The Milwaukee Bucks in 2002-03, the Dallas Mavericks and the Seattle Sonics in 2003-04, the Sonics in 2005-06, the Washington Wizards in 2006-07, the Phoenix Suns in 2008-09, and last year’s Denver Nuggets.
On the other side of the spectrum, a top-five defense and bottom-five offense has occurred even fewer times. Only five teams, the Miami Heat in 2001-02, the Houston Rockets in 2003-04, the Chicago Bulls in 2004-05, the Milwaukee Bucks in 2010-11, and last year’s Atlanta Hawks, have achieved this in the same time-span.
All told, 12 teams since 2000 have finished the season on the “dramatic scale,” a top-five and bottom-five ranking. Less than half have even made the playoffs, only one has held home-court advantage and none have gone on to win a playoff series.
This puts the Wolves in a precarious position. Historically teams under these circumstances have not fared well, and there is little hope the Wolves will be able to dramatically turn things around in such a short span. The defense has been erratic all season, particularly on the road, and is unlikely to provide much aid when the team really needs it.
Among the 21 remaining games, 11 are away from the Target Center.
This does bring back the question of what the Wolves’ expectations are, raised at the beginning of the season. Having a winning record, being in the top-four and an incredible stretch as the hottest team in the NBA, perhaps the perception has changed a bit from simply “growth.”
With only a quarter of the season left to go, sitting in the pole position for a game-one in the Target Center come April, would it be a disappointment if that doesn’t come to pass? Despite 13 years of torment and failure, draft busts and trade flops, is it fair to expect it all to turn around so quick? As of now the answer is probably yes.
Even against the odds and their playoff standing on thin ice, anything less than that would be perceived as a failure. Consider where the Wolves got to this season. They jumped from a top-10 offense to a top-five, while remaining a bottom-five team defensively.
Without hardly even trying the Wolves have managed to improve their standing purely on as an offensive threat. If they begin to show consistent signs of development on defense, there’s no where to go but up. The original goal of “growth” still remains, but it’s directly tied to the standings at this point.
So long as the team continues to work on the defensive end and becomes a cohesive unit, they look to be a solid bet to hold steady in the playoffs.
It’s worth pointing out that 5-of-the-10 teams on the “dramatic scale” improved the next year, with the Hawks and Nuggets still to be determined (though likely looking at the former regressing and the latter progressing).
So the goal from the beginning remains the same, growth. Growth as a defensive team, getting off the “dramatic scale.” Growth from the young players, namely Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Building a team that is familiar with one another. The only difference in the goal now is the stakes got a bit higher.
August 24, 2019, 10:27 amKyle KuzmaPF, Los Angeles Lakers
Kyle Kuzma (sore left ankle) will not take part in the FIBA World Cup as Team USA announces its final roster.
Kuzma sat out Team USA's final tuneup against Australia on Saturday as Marc Stein reports that he is flying back to Los Angeles to get treatment. We should still expect him to be ready for training and congrats to Mason Plumlee for making the team as many speculated that he would be the final cut.
Source: Marc Stein on Twitter
August 24, 2019, 8:58 amKemba WalkerPG, Boston Celtics
Kemba Walker scored 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting with four rebounds with two assists as USA Basketball had it's 78-game winning streak in tournament and exhibition games snapped on Saturday.
Walker continues to assert himself as the team's best player but USA losing to Australia was the much bigger story in this one. Harrison Barnes also played well as he chipped in 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go with six rebounds. USA will take on Canada on Monday in their last exhibition before taking on the Czech Republic in the first official match of the tournament on September 1.
August 24, 2019, 8:44 amDerrick WhitePG, San Antonio Spurs
Derrick White left Saturday’s game after tripping and hitting his head on the floor.
White left without help but there is no word yet on whether he is dealing with a concussion. He finished with eight points, hitting 6-of-7 three throws in nine minutes with another update sure to come. The third-year guard put up top-125 per-game value, playing 25.8 minutes in his second season. Even with the return of Dejounte Murray, White should still be worth a roster spot in most standard leagues.
Source: Jeff Garcia on Twitter
August 24, 2019, 8:42 amMarcus SmartPG, Boston Celtics
Marcus Smart, sidelined for almost three weeks with calf tightness, returned to action on Saturday as USA lost to Australia in their exhibition.
Smart only played nine minutes in this one but still managed to score 7 points with three assists days after being named one of the team’s co-captains. Coming off an NBA All-Defensive First Team selection, he produced top-100 per game fantasy value as it seems he may have finally fixed his shot after shooting under 40 percent from the field in his first four seasons. He also produced a career-high in both steals and triples with 1.8 and 1.6 respectively as his career seems to be on the up and up.
August 24, 2019, 8:39 amPatty MillsPG, San Antonio Spurs
Patty Mills went off in the fourth quarter and finished with 30 points as Australia beat USA 98-94.
Although it was only an exhibition, it was still a huge moment for Mills and the Australian team in front of a huge crowd as they handed the US team their first loss since 2006. Mills was serenaded with MVP chants as Joe Ingles also played well with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting with four rebounds and seven assists while Andrew Bogut came off the bench for 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists in 20 minutes, shooting 7-of-8 from the field.
August 24, 2019, 12:37 amKyle KuzmaPF, Los Angeles Lakers
Kyle Kuzma is out for Team USA's tuneup up game vs. Australia with a sore left ankle.
Kuzma is being held out of this one for precautionary reasons. There's clearly no need for USA Basketball to risk him further injuring the sore ankle. This does not sound like a serious injury and should not affect his fantasy ADP on draft day.
Source: USA Basketball on Twitter
August 23, 2019, 6:02 pmDwight HowardC, Memphis Grizzlies
Dwight Howard has agreed with the Grizzlies on a buyout, and will sign a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers.
The Lakers are giving Howard an opportunity to be fantasy relevant. When given minutes, Dwight can produce double-doubles with the best of them, but he has been changing teams for years now. He will be worth a gamble at the end of your draft if camp with the Lakers goes well, but this is a non-guaranteed deal, and he only played nine games last season.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
August 23, 2019, 2:18 pmMarcus DerricksonPF, Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks signed Marcus Derrickson to an Exhibit 10 contract on Friday.
It looks like Derrickson will be a G-League option for the Hawks, so there's nothing to see here. At one point he was competing for the last roster spot on the team. We don't need to keep of track of every computer-generated player.
Source: Chris Vivlamore on Twitter
August 23, 2019, 11:01 amMarreese SpeightsC, Free Agent
Marreese Speights will work out for the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday according to Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype.
Speights spent last year playing in China and will attempt his NBA comeback with the Lakers. who are in desperate need of an additional center. He is among three centers the Lakers are looking into, the others being Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah. Of those three, Speights unquestionably has the best floor spacing ability, which would be his strongest bet to eke out those other two for the job.
Source: Alex Kennedy on Twitter
August 23, 2019, 10:15 amTrevor BookerPF, International
Trevor Booker has worked out for the Nuggets and has workouts planned with the Bucks and Clippers, according to Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype.
Booker was out of the NBA in 2018-19, spending the season in China after he didn't get any offers in free agency. He did return to the US to undergo a procedure on his foot but is apparently fully recovered. The last time we saw Booker he split 68 games between the Nets, Sixers and Pacers in 2017-18. If he does make a successful comeback he'll have no fantasy relevance.
Source: Alex Kennedy on Twitter