The Wolves lost this one before they even lumbered onto the court tonight. The events that have transpired over the past few days have clearly knocked the wind out of this already deflated roster, and we’re unfortunately left with a team that looks defeated before the season has even begun.
I’m not above the “But it’s only preseason” argument, but let’s be honest: this was a pathetic excuse for a professional basketball game by any and all standards. This team was outplayed after they were publicly humiliated this past week, a laughing stock of NBA Twitter and the presumable lede in what’s sure to be a fantastic season debut of NBA Desktop.
At least what happened earlier this week was entertaining; tonight was just sad.
With no Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins out expecting the birth of his first child, we got plenty of playing time from Josh Okogie in this one, and judging by his performance tonight and throughout the rest of this preseason, he could wind up being one of those divisive players among Wolves fan circles. There’s no question he’s a spark plug on a team that’s currently running on fumes – deflecting passes, sticking his nose in to draw charges and running the floor with purpose – but his shot looks terrible so far (he was 3/8 from the field tonight). And you can only hope that he keeps his head up and keeps shooting, but who is going to encourage him to do that? Thibs?!
When it comes to Okogie and, more broadly, the youth and future of this team, it comes down to this: Is Thibs the kind of guy we trust to build them up and instill the confidence young guys need when they’re in a slump or part of their game is off? If you look around the league at some of the best coaches – Gregg Popovich, Brad Stevens, Steve Kerr, Quin Snyder, Erik Spoelstra – all of these guys have reputations for building relationships with their players and treating them with respect, which obviously correlates to success on some level (not to mention the fact that each of those coaches is all the while adjusting to the modern NBA). Do we have any evidence that Thibs has done this?
Coaching aside, tonight’s game was more of the same from what we’ve come to expect: awful defense across the board. The Bucks made 25 threes while shooting 52% from deep, while the Wolves matched that with 10 makes on 30%. The Wolves are equally bad at defending the three as they are at making them, and that is truly impressive.
One thing that shouldn’t get lost here is the fact that the Bucks are turning into a very fine team. Giannis is obviously an elite talent, and he showed it by nearly posting a triple-double before halftime while posterizing any poor sap sporting a Wolves uniform. He finished with 32/12/10. On top of that, the Bucks have surrounded him with shooters, which opens up the floor for him to dribble-drive the opposition into the ground.
Something intangible that Milwaukee seems to also possess that the Wolves do not is an established chemistry on the court. The Wolves flat-out don’t jive when they’re out there together, whereas the Bucks seem to have cultivated a culture that their players have bought into. Not to keep pointing fingers, but the problems with the Wolves seem to keep circling back to Thibs as the source.
As for highlights from tonight – well, there weren’t many. Jeff Teague hit a couple early threes with a quick trigger and no hesitation, which was nice to see (he finished with 18/4/2). Taj Gibson was in there working as always, finishing with 21 points and seven rebounds. Other than that, this game was a lost cause after the first quarter. The now-famous third-stringers got some run in with a few minutes left and they actually looked really good. That squad was +9 in the short time they were on the floor.
But overall this team is gasping for air with the season opener in San Antonio just four days away. The team we saw tonight will not last in the voracious Western Conference, and it’s becoming more and more clear that a solution starts with the personnel. Tonight was a shining example of how ineptitude at the management level trickles down and infects everything beneath it.