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Wolves Lose to Suns and Some Better Stuff

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Following one of their best wins of the year, the Wolves managed one of their worst losses in Phoenix after holding a 10 point halftime lead. It's a day for major presidential primaries, some draft stuff, and you know, the usual.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

From John:

After shooting only 2-14 from 3-point land in the first half, trailing the Wolves 57-47, the Phoenix Suns came right back out and started gunning even more from deep after halftime. Eventually the shots were going to start falling—they were getting outstanding looks—and that's exactly what happened.

Phoenix went on to shoot 9-21 on threes in the second half and sealed the game on a late 3-pointer just as the Wolves did in Oklahoma City last Friday when Ricky Rubio hit a buzzer-beater from downtown.

Mirza Teletovic came off the bench and was letting it fly from deep on Monday night, going 5-9 from beyond the arc and launching triples almost immediately after catching the pass. There was no hesitation in his shot—something Nemanja Bjelica and Zach LaVine have both struggled with throughout the season—and he ended up dominating the fourth quarter. His final 3-pointer was the ultimate dagger that sent the Wolves to their 46th loss of the season.

With 1.2 seconds, Teletovic faded to his right, pulled-up over the gangly arms of Karl-Anthony Towns, and nailed the rainbow 3-pointer to lead the Suns past the Wolves, 107-104.

P.J. Tucker outworked the Wolves on his way to a season-high 23 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists. It was Tucker and Teletovic that led the attack for Phoenix—who entered the game 2-8 in their last 10 home games—while Brandon Knight struggled to get anything going throughout the night (3-18) as he dealt with Rubio's stingy defense.

For example...

Rubio was magical and it was disappointing to see such an excellent performance by him go to waste. He tied his career-high with 17 assists and for the second time this season tied the franchise-record (Poo Richardson) for dimes in one game (that included 12 in the first half alone). One of these days he's going to get 20 or more assists. It will happen eventually. Rubio also scored 13 points (again fueled by his ability to get the free throw line, 6-6) for his 11th double-double of the season and fourth in his last five games. He was a +17 in the first half and finished at +12, while adding four steals to the cause.

Tucker really went beast mode on the offensive glass, often making the Wolves pay for it. Andrew Wiggins was unable to effectively box him out on numerous occasions, but this was an experience Sleepy needed to have in his transition to playing a majority of his minutes at small forward instead of the two-guard. The Wolves were destroyed in the rebounding column on Monday night, most notably on the defensive side, though while Wiggins stuck out in a negative way the disparity wasn't entirely on his shoulders. The burly Tucker grabbed six offensive rebounds, Tyson Chandler (14 points, 11 rebounds) added five more to the column, Len had three, and the Suns finished with 19 total offensive rebounds as they completely controlled the glass (57-36).

The Wolves had a chance to snag the win before the Suns final possession, but they let another game slip away in the end. Zach LaVine's foul on Devin Booker late in the game was a real head-scratcher with the Wolves up by one point, and the sequence was unfortunate given his otherwise excellent performance. With a foul to give, Booker was fouled by LaVine with 9.2 seconds left, but the referees gave him a highly questionable continuation call that resulted in a three-point play to give the Suns a 104-102 lead. Wiggins responded in the clutch with a driving layup with only 4.6 seconds remaining to tie the game, and seeing him be the go-to closer was great to witness again, but Teletovic got the last laugh as noted above.

After an impressive road win in Oklahoma City it was the same old story that has come to define this season. The lack of bench depth (code for basically none) remains glaring and obviously keeps the team from consistently performing at this point. The lack of positive bench contributions continues to hamper this team and needs to be fixed in the summer; the reserves remain a complete non-factor and merely blow any lead the starters are able to build, usually within an amazingly short amount of time.

Mitchell called out the bench for their utter lack of production in his postgame interview (watch below), saying they need to step up and start playing defense (he is not wrong) and showing something. Anything really. He was clearly unhappy with his secondary options after the game, which was more than reasonable seeing as the bench scored zero points in the second half and did nothing productive.

Muhammad in particular was a train wreck after getting off to a great start in the first half. There were simply too many forced shots by him, and the tunnel vision that hampers his game was evident yet again. He drives with only one purpose and after defenses see him do it a few times, they make the necessary adjustment. Bazzy needs to adjust too.

Minnesota was again wildly outscored from 3-point range as another stretch four, Teletovic in this case, gave the defense nightmares throughout the game. They had no answer for him in the fourth.

When Sam Mitchell opted to play small-ball with Muhammad in for Gorgui Dieng late in the game, because Dieng isn't built to keep up with stretch fours. The downfall to this decision: two critical put-back dunks by Chandler as he went untouched. Pick your poison, I suppose. I would have kept Dieng in the game for his rebounding, and as Jim Peterson noted on the telecast, Dieng has as good of a chance of running shooters off the line as Muhammad does. It didn't really make any sense to leave Muhammad in the game when he was being a black hole offensively and has never fooled anybody for a defender to begin with.

The Wolves had their chances to leave Phoenix with a win, instead the momentum of beating one of league's top teams only three days prior simply fades away.

NOTES

  • Devin Booker finished with 16 points. He's going to have an excellent NBA career. March numbers (8 games): 23.6 points, 5.4 assists, 2.5 rebounds with .440/.295/.880 shooting splits in 39.1 minutes per game.
  • The Wolves (21-46) lost for the third time in the past four.
  • Zach LaVine got off to a nice start tonight, hitting on his first five shots on his way to 12 first-quarter points. He finished with 28 points (10-15) and entered the night averaging 17.0 points in 33.8 mpg over the last 21 games, shooting 49.6% (140-282). After going 3-7 from deep tonight, he's now shooting 42.5% (48-113) from deep over the past 29 games. All things considered, his defense on Booker was pretty sharp. I enjoyed watching LaVine run in transition with Rubio as the quarterback. That's a dynamic tandem and we have only seen the beginning of what they can be together when the Wolves get stops, which allows them to get out and run. LaVine's 3-pointer with 1:48 remaining tied the game at 98. Maybe run this action (below) a few more times down the road? Yes? I think so.

  • Minnesota fell behind 36-31 before Rubio checked back into the game. He lead the Wolves on a 20-5 run, giving them their largest lead of the first half at 51-41.
  • Andrew Wiggins extended his 20+ scoring streak to five consecutive games with 22 points (9-14) and four rebounds. 18 of his 22 points came in the first half. The Wolves ended the first half with fireworks...

  • After being held to two points and three rebounds through two quarters, Karl-Anthony Towns responded in the second half to finish with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Make that 38 double-doubles on the season. He entered the game 5th in the NBA in double-doubles. Not bad for a rookie.

Elsewhere

Today is a huge day in the presidential nominating races, with major primaries in several big states, including Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio.

It could result in either of the party races being all but over, or it could throw either or both races into doubt.

Moving on...

Someone asked over the weekend how often the best player in any given draft is taken with one of the top three selections. I thought that was an interesting question, given the era of tanking we are in and how much discussion there is of ping pong balls.  So I looked it up.  Turns out, the best player is usually not taken in the top three. 15 drafts, 1995-2009

1995:
Top pick: Joe Smith
Best player: Kevin Garnett (5th)

1996: 
Top pick: Allen Iverson
Best player: Kobe Bryant (13th)

1997:
Top pick: Tim Duncan
Best player: Duncan (1st)

1998: 
Top pick: Michael Olowokandi
Best player: Dirk Nowitzki (9th)

1999: 
Top pick: Elton Brand
Best player: Shawn Marion (9th)
*arguable. It could be Brand. Marion has more win shares.

2000:
Top pick: Kenyon Martin
Best player: Hedu Turkoglu? (16th). 
*arguments for: Mike Miller (5th), Jamal Crawford (8th), Michael Redd (43rd)

2001: 
Top pick: Kwame Brown
Best player: Pau Gasol (3rd)

2002: 
Top pick: Yao Ming
Best player: Amare Stoudemire (9th)
*possible argument for Yao

2003: 
Top pick: LeBron James
Best player: James (1st)

2004: 
Top pick: Dwight Howard
Best player: Howard (1st)

2005:
Top pick: Andrew Bogut
Best player: Chris Paul (4th)

2006:
Top pick: Andrea Bargnani
Best player: LaMarcus Aldridge (2nd)
*arguments for Paul Millsap (47th) and Kyle Lowry (24th)

2007:
Top pick: Greg Oden
Best player: Kevin Durant (2nd)

2008
Top pick: Derrick Rose
Best player: Russell Westbrook (4th)

2009
Top pick: Blake Griffin
Best player: Steph Curry (7th)

That's as far as I'm willing to go definitively, as more recent drafts are not yet clear. By my count, in only six out of these 15 drafts was the best player (or player who had the best career at any rate) taken in the top three picks. Frankly that's even less than I expected; I would have guessed at least half.

Have things gotten better in recent years? Not obviously:

2010: Best player is probably Paul George, taken 10th
2011: Best player is Kawhi Leonard, taken 15th
2012: Best player is Anthony Davis, taken 1st 
2013: Best player is unclear, but I'd bet on Giannis (17th).  Unlikely to be from top three (Bennett, Oladipo, Porter). 
2014: Who knows? Could turn out to be Wiggins. Or it could be Gordon (4th), Smart (6th), Rodney Hood (23rd) or someone else altogether. 
2015: Seems likely to be Towns.

This is not a scientific analysis of the value of draft position obviously, but someone brought it up and I thought it was interesting. The best player is likely to be in the lottery, but is relatively unlikely to be one of the top three picks.

Speaking of the draft, a call for a volunteer: Dan Antonio (formerly Madison Dan) is working on his draft model, but could use some help from someone with the skill of data scraping.  He needs the birth dates of the prospects for this year's draft. If you are knowledgeable about data scraping and are willing to help with this project, say so in the comments and I will put you in touch with Dan.

Today in history

44 BC: "Et tu, Brute?"  Julius Caesar stabbed to death in Rome. 
1493: Christopher Columbus returns to Europe after first voyage to the New World
1820: Maine admitted as 20th state to union
1848: Hungarian revolution breaks out against Hapsburg rulers
1869: Cincinnati Red Stockings form as first professional baseball team
1907: Finland  becomes first European country in which women have voting rights
1917: Nicholas II, last Russian Czar, abdicates
1923: Vladimir Lenin suffers 3rd stroke
1939: Hitler's German forces occupy Bohemia and Moravia
1946: British PM Attlee concedes India's right to independence
1961: South Africa withdraws from British Commonwealth
1969: SC Justice Abe Fortas resigns
1972: The Godfather premieres in NYC
1991: Four L.A. police officers charged in Rodney King beating

Today's musical birthday is "Lightnin'" Sam Hopkins, born in 1912 (d. 1982)

Have a great Tuesday.