As I sit here typing “Game 70”, it’s a surreal to think that there are only 13 games left in the 2016-17 season. It is cliche to say so much has happened and that the time has flown by this season, but I can’t shake or fully comprehend the idea either. This year has given us multiple answers to who exactly the Wolves are, and I’m just confused. From one week to the next, the definition seems to be continually changing.
There have been numerous instances that made us believe— Towns’ absolute dominance all over the offensive end, Wiggins’ improving decision making, big flashes from role players (Tyus Jones, Nemanja Bjelica, and Shabazz Muhammad), and Rubio’s immense leap in confidence. But if you’re like me, I struggle to shake the disappointment that the Wolves have only accrued 28 wins in 69 games.
As the realization is setting in that it is time to turn the page on playoff hopes and time to start talking about the draft, I am personally brought back to the frustrations— A 6-18 start, third quarter ineffectiveness, major defensive woes, and Zach LaVine’s injury. We entered this year expecting a “jump” and the reality is that the Wolves have sputtered. From a record standpoint, this season has not been all that different than many of the previous Wolves teams from the last decade.
Wolves Win-Loss Record Past 10 Years
2016-17: 33-49 (on pace for 33 wins)
2011-12: 26-40 (limited season due to lockout. Equivalent of 32-50 over 82 games.)
The 2011-12 and 2006-07 Wolves teams are the two most similar in winning percentage to this season’s team. The ‘06-07 Wolves were led by second-year head coach Dwane Casey and the five players who played the most minutes were Ricky Davis, Kevin Garnett, Mark Blount, Trenton Hassell, and Mike James. The ‘11-12 Wolves had a team that rendered similarly minimal inspiration. First-year head coach Rick Adelman’s rotation was led by Kevin Love, Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson, Derrick Williams, and Ricky Rubio.
To me, this is an undeniable reason to find excitement. The ‘16-17 Wolves may not have made the jump hoped for, but the ceiling of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng, and Zach LaVine is unquestionably at a different level in comparison to the two previous teams.
Tonight the Wolves play the San Antonio Spurs, a team in another stratosphere. Sure the Wolves are not in that stratosphere today, but for the first time in a decade, the progression towards the elite is in motion.
Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 8:30 pm CST (TV coverage on Fox Sports North and ESPN)
San Antonio is notorious (and smart) for their propensity to rest players, but it appears the Wolves are drawing the short straw this evening as they will take on a full-strength Spurs starting lineup. (Note: Pau Gasol is now coming off the bench.)
The Spurs have been on a bit of a slide, losing three of their past six games. This has created a two-and-a-half game deficit behind the Golden State Warriors for the number one seed in the Western Conference. On a larger scale, the Spurs have greatly exceeded expectations this season after having been knocked out in the second round of the playoffs last season.
On Saturday, I detailed the new-look Spurs who, this season, have taken a step back from their egalitarian-style, fully handing the reins to Kawhi Leonard. Check that out if you are looking for some detail on what this newest iteration of the Spurs looks like.
Expected Starting Lineups
PG - Ricky Rubio
SG - Brandon Rush
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Gorgui Dieng
C - Karl-Anthony Towns
Injuries: Zach LaVine (knee) and Nikola Pekovic (ankle) are OUT.
San Antonio Spurs
PG- Tony Parker
SG- Danny Green
SF- Kawhi Leonard
PF- LaMarcus Aldridge
C- Dewayne Dedmon
Injuries: Dejounte Murray (groin) is OUT.
As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Spurs match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).
Factor / Wolves / Spurs
eFG% / 51.1% (16th) / 52.8% (7th)
TOV% / 14.6 (20th) / 13.8 (13th)
ORB% / 27.4% (4th) / 23.7% (13th)
FTR / .280 (13th) / .272 (17th)
-It should be fun to see Omri Casspi make his Wolves debut. For Casspi, think of a better three-point shooting Nemanja Bjelica (because all foreigners must be compared to other foreigners.)
-Wiggins will likely ratchet his game up a few notches as this is a nationally televised game. The verdict is still out on whether this is a reason for excitement or derision when it comes to Wiggins.
-The Spurs have the second-best Net Rating (+21.0) in Clutch scenarios, according to NBA.com/stats. This was the crux for the Wolves in their last matchup against the Spurs, a game the Wolves were in control of for 40 minutes until the Spurs executed better down the stretch, winning 97-90 in overtime.
Prediction: Spurs 95 Wolves 92