The Timberwolves aren’t the only team sliding down the standings. Before facing Portland on Thursday, they were third in the conference. After two straight losses, they’ve fallen to fifth. Not only that, San Antonio has slid to sixth as Portland and New Orleans have risen.
Two games now separate the Wolves from the fifth seed and missing the playoffs. The margin for error is incredibly small right now. And having played so many games so early, they’ll have fewer opportunities to make up any ground.
For instance, the Pelicans have 20 games remaining as of Monday night. The Timberwolves have 16. Granted, the Wolves own that tiebreaker but that doesn’t matter if the Pelicans avoid the tie.
Having six days of rest between games won’t help ease any anxiety. Having not played since Friday, the Wolves won’t play again until they host Boston on Thursday. One piece of advice: brace yourselves. The team is likely going to temporarily slide down the standings as other teams get more games in. After the next half-dozen games or so, the schedule eases up and may be able to make another push.
Karl-Anthony Towns is an all-world center and already one of the league’s best big men. You wouldn’t think that there’d be an ongoing conversation about his dearth of shots late in close games. But there is.
Towns had 30 points and 14 rebounds on 10-for-14 shooting entering the fourth quarter of last Thursday’s game in Portland. It was a close game as the Wolves held a rare lead on the road against the Blazers.
Towns shot 1-of-5 to start the fourth quarter but did not receive a shot after the six-minute mark. Despite the poor shooting start to the quarter, he was still shooting well on the night. With no Jimmy Butler, it should be easy to find looks for Towns rather than have Andrew Wiggins try to do everything.
In the fourth quarter this season, Towns averages 3.2 shot attempts, second-most on the team. Butler leads the team at 4.8 but shoots just 40.9 percent. Towns has been far more efficient in the final frame this season, hitting over 55 percent of his shots. Having the ball in Butler’s hands isn’t a bad thing but Towns is well-suited to carry this load.
Overall, Towns is using 20.2 percent of the team’s fourth-quarter possessions. Considering 18 percent is viewed as an average usage, this needs improvement. Butler, by comparison, has a 32.2 percent usage rate in the fourth quarter. A more balanced attack would lighten Butler’s load and make the offense less predictable. There’s no reason Towns should be fifth on the team in fourth-quarter usage — not when he’s performed so well at the end of games.
Matchups with the Utah Jazz have gotten testy this season. On opening night, Jimmy Butler did not want former Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio in the locker room. Then, Jeff Teague was ejected from Friday’s game for hip checking Rubio into the sideline, to which Butler responded approvingly.
In a conversation with Teague on media day, he mentioned that he hears from fans about how much they miss Ricky Rubio. Replacing Rubio was going to be unenviable for anyone but the consensus among fans was that he was their fourth choice: Kyle Lowry and Jrue Holliday remained with their teams while George Hill refused to play for Tom Thibodeau. That left Teague as the next best option.
As someone without inside knowledge of the situation, it seems that Teague may be frustrated hearing about who he isn’t despite being a proven player in his own right. As for Butler, his support of his teammate and locker room seems to be an old-school attitude of the opponent being the enemy.
However, frustrations and allegiances aside, you can’t have players checking others out of emotion. And this is coming from a hockey fan who thinks hockey fights are a waste of time. A better way to stick it to them would have been to beat them on their court in the thick of a playoff race.
Shabazz Muhammad spent parts of five seasons as a Timberwolf. After coming to the Wolves in a draft night trade in 2013, he quickly became a fan favorite with his frenetic playing style and scoring ability.
Unfortunately, Muhammad stopped growing as a player. He seemed to be on his way in 2015 when he hit 39.2 percent of his 3-pointers but in every other season combined he’s shot 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. If you don’t defend and can’t score, it’s hard to find minutes.
His left-handed hook shot was a potential threat. He has the size to post up smaller players and the left-handed shot is a nice changeup. However, you can’t just throw a change up every time. You need a fastball or a breaking ball. Muhammad never developed a step back, pump fake, or up-and-under move in five years. He went to great lengths to get himself in the best physical shape possible but his game didn’t grow along with his body.
Waiving Muhammad was the only option after failing to trade him. Despite carrying a minimum contract, Muhammad had a player option for next season. Teams may have been worried that he would opt in and eat a roster spot next season. With the season he’s had, they may have worried he’d exercise that option.
With Muhammad expected to suit up for the Bucks at some point this season, I will say this. Muhammad was always a pleasure to deal with in the locker room. The difference between his reputation coming out of UCLA and interacting with him was night and day. I’ll always remember how he came out and spoke to the media first after a tough loss when he had no reason to.
If you had to rank the top players from the University of Minnesota in the last 20 years, Bobby Jackson would surely make the list. The 1997 second-team All-American was taken 23rd overall by the Seattle Supersonics in the NBA Draft that same year.
Jackson was flipped on draft night to Denver in exchange for James Cotton and a second-round pick that would become Rashard Lewis. The point guard would play one season in Denver before being swapped to Minnesota along with Dean Garrett in a three-team deal.
Back in Minnesota, Jackson would prove that he belonged in the league. His efficiency improved dramatically from his rookie season, highlighted by his 3-point percentage rising from 25.9 percent to 37 percent. Jackson also proved to be durable, missing just nine games out of 132 possible games.
From there, Jackson signed with Sacramento for the 2001 season. It was here he would achieve his greatest success a player and as a team. Jackson had carved himself a niche as a steady backup point guard on some great Kings teams, including the one that faced the Wolves in the 2004 Western Conference Semifinals.
In 2005, Jackson was dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Bonzi Wells. He would eventually sign with New Orleans before being dealt to Houston. In August of 2008, Jackson was dealt back to Sacramento in the Ron Artest trade. After two more seasons as a King, Jackson retired in 2010.
Jackson has spent his post-career days as an assistant in Sacramento and Minnesota before returning to the Kings as a scout.