Five Takeaways from an NBA Monday: Wiggins, Towns, Timberwolves are legit

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Another work week underway, and in case you didn’t spend your Monday night watching NBA games because you were too busy making silly complaints to Starbucks about their cups (you pay $5 for a cup of coffee and your moan about the cup?), here are five things you need to know from a Monday night around the NBA.

1) Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Timberwolves are legit. Coming into the season, Minnesota was considered a team to watch, a team with great young talent — Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, even Ricky Rubio is still fairly young — and a team a year or two away from being a playoff threat. That last part seems to be off — the Timberwolves are 4-2 to start the season, have the fifth best defense in the NBA (95 points per 100 possessions allowed), and will be a legit playoff threat in the West if they can sustain this.

The Timberwolves made a big statement Monday — they went into the home of a 7-1 team that won 60 games last season and were up by 34 points in the first half. They dominated. Part of that was this is a make-or-miss league and the Timberwolves could not miss: Wiggins was 8-of-10, Rubio 4-for-8, even Zach LaVine was 5-of-6. When LaVine is hitting heat check threes, you know it’s your night. Minnesota shot 63.8% in the first half. In the second half, they gave it all back (because they are young and inconsistent) but a late11-0 run late sparked by Wiggins (who had 33 on the night) secured the win.

Towns the defender is much better than advertised, he’s recognizing rotations and showing out on pick-and-rolls far better than most rookies. Combine that with quality wing defenders such as Wiggins and Rubio, and there’s no reason the Timberwolves can’t maintain a top 10 defense this season. If they do, they will be in the mix for one of those bottom couple playoff spots in the West, and do it a year or more ahead of schedule.

2) Bulls get win over Sixers with regular starting lineup, but changes may be coming. Fred Hoiberg had planned to make a change to the Bulls’ starting lineup on Monday — Joakim Noah was going to start in place of Nikola Mirotic. It didn’t happen because Noah’s knee trouble flared up, so Hoiberg went to his regular starters (Mirotic and Pau Gasol up front) and that was plenty good against the hapless 76ers, who were without Nerlens Noel anyway. For now the status quo stays, but Hoiberg is considering lineup changes.

I’m just not sure he’s considering the right change. Why not switch Noah for Gasol as the starters? First, Mirotic has been great for the Bulls offense, which is 9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor. Or, look at it this way: When Mirotic has been on the floor this season, the Bulls have outscored opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions, when he sits they get outscored by 7 per 100. Even when his shot isn’t falling the threat of it opens up needed space in the offense. Mirotic should start, but pair him with the defensive-minded Noah instead. Here are the Bulls front court combos through eight games (points per 100 possessions; and take it with a grain of salt, there is some serious small sample size theater here).

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The problem with starting Mirotic/Noah is you end up with Gasol/Gibson off the bench, but you can limit those minutes and stagger with the starters. Hoiberg has plenty of time to tinker with the rotations and see what works best and what doesn’t with this team, but the early numbers point to more Mirotic, not less.

3) The Kings are 1-7 and there are “in house issues” to deal with according to DeMarcus Cousins. Everything is not puppy dogs and rainbows in the Sacramento Kings’ locker room? Who could possibly have seen that coming? Sacramento was easily handled by San Antonio on Monday 106-88 (the Spurs owned the fourth) then after the game Cousins talked about a players’ only meeting saying there were things to deal with, reports James Ham of CSNBayArea.com.

“We got some issues that we got to, you know, carve out,” a cryptic Cousins said. “Can’t really speak on that, but one thing is, us players, we’ve got to stick together. Just with that, that will get us over or get us through most battles.”

“We got some issues in-house we need to figure out,” Cousins continued….

“It will be a players only meeting, but just to make it clear, I believe in every single person in this room,” Cousins said. “We just got to stay together. That part I’m not worried about, but it is issues we got to figure out.”

It’s not clear yet exactly what the problem is in the locker room. On the floor, the issue has been the NBA’s 27th ranked defense and constantly shifting rotations; how much that plays a role in the players’ issue is unclear as well. While Cousins and coach George Karl had a frosty relationship over the summer, the two have said all the right things of late. There is pressure on the Kings to get better — they move into a new building next season in the heart of Sacramento and owner Vivek Ranadive wants a winner, a playoff team to open that building. Right now the Kings look nothing like that kind of team.

I believe players-only meetings are overrated and usually have little to no effect. However, the fact the Kings need one eight games into the season shows the issues are real.

4) Emmanuel Mudiay blocked Damian Lillard, made big plays late. Emmanuel Mudiay is turning the ball over too much, and he desperately needs to improve his jumper, but through those rookie issues you can see flashes of a very good player (I’m in the Mudiay will be a steal camp). He was key in the final minute to Denver holding on to beat Portland on Monday night: With :56 left he nailed a 15-foot fadeaway to put the Nuggets up by four; with :18 seconds left he drained to free throws to keep that lead. Then he tracked down and rejected Damian Lillard at the rim.

There’s a long way to go with Mudiay’s development, but Denver is putting him in situations to learn and gain confidence. This was a big step in

5) The good news is Memphis looked better. The bad news is they still lost. I’m sure the Memphis Grizzlies players and coaches will say there are no moral victories and the bottom line is they are 3-5 to start the season after a 94-92 loss to the Clippers on the road. But this was a moral victory. Memphis’ defense was back, they were the first team to hold the Clippers under 100 points and kept L.A.’s offensive rating 5.1 under their season average. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for 44 points on 27 shots. Mike Conley looked good at the point. There were still some odd lapses — twice in the final minute they left J.J. Redick open and he burned them — but if Memphis plays like this most nights the wins will start coming.

Juancho Hernangomez missing Timberwolves workouts to film Adam Sandler movie

Timberwolves forward Juancho Hernangomez
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The Timberwolves, like the other seven teams not invited to the NBA’s restart at Disney World, are holding workouts.

Not in Minnesota: Forward Juancho Hernangomez.

Chris Hine of the StarTribune:

A team spokesperson said Hernangomez is filming Adam Sandler’s latest project in Philadelphia.

Netflix is producing the film, called “Hustle.”

And people thought LeBron James – also a producer of “Hustle,” which is about a basketball scout who finds talent oversees – prioritized Hollywood over hoops.

A Spain native, Hernangomez will be a free agent this offseason. The Timberwolves can make him restricted.

But how could anyone want a player who doesn’t respect the sanctity of voluntary workouts occurring several months before next season (besides his 3-point shooting, rebounding and defensive versatility)?

Buddy Hield fuels 76ers trade rumor

Kings guard Buddy Hield vs. 76ers
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A rumor emerged about the Kings trading Buddy Hield to the 76ers. It didn’t seem particularly credible.

But then Hield himself liked this Instagram post promoting a potential trade and apparently made a pro-Philadelphia comment on Instagram:

Hield previously laid the groundwork for an offseason trade request. He seemed unhappy at times in Sacramento this season, losing his starting job and even riding the bench when the Kings needed a 3-pointer.

The 76ers could use more shooting – especially if they hire Mike D’Antoni. Hield would definitely add value. A lineup where Hield and Josh Richardson defend guards and Ben Simmons plays point guard offensively and defends a frontcourt player is intriguing.

Hield is set to earn $24,931,817 next season in the first year of a four-year extension. That’s in the range of Tobias Harris ($34,358,850) and Al Horford ($27,500,000).

However, Horford’s trade value is at rock bottom. Tobias Harris would add only so much value to Sacramento, which already has Harrison Barnes.

Kings fans can hope for Ben Simmons ($28,750,000) or Joel Embiid ($29,542,010). But those stars are FAR more valuable than Hield. Besides, the 76ers said they wouldn’t trade Simmons or Embiid (though it’s unclear who exactly is running the show in Philadelphia).

Regardless of whether the Kings and 76ers could connect on a trade, Hield making these public gestures is an issue in Sacramento. It’s on new Kings general manager Monte McNair to manage this. After years of supporting Daryl Morey with the Rockets, this is a new challenge – being in charge while a player makes waves – for McNair.

Relatedly, McNair must also handle Bogdan Bogdanovic‘s impending restricted free agency. These look like warning shots from Hield as Sacramento determines its priorities at shooting guard.

Report: Philadelphia ownership wants Mike D’Antoni as next coach

Mike D'Antoni 76ers
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Philadelphia 76ers ownership (led by Josh Harris) reportedly has been very hands-on in picking the team’s new coach — even if that means a new direction for the roster. That hands-on style reportedly why ownership likes Elton Brand as GM and may balk at bringing in a big-name president of basketball operations — that person would want total control of basketball decisions. Right now, ownership is pulling a lot of those levers.

And ownership wants Mike D’Antoni as the next head coach in Philadelphia, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Sources have been saying since last week that the job is D’Antoni’s to turn down. They say he’s the guy the ownership group wants. One source even said the 69-year-old would have to bomb his interview with the Sixers owners not to be offered the job.

The problem is that Brand is supposed to have a huge input on the hire. The ownership is only supposed to approve or deny Brand’s suggestion. Now, word is leaking out that Brand is pushing hard for the Sixers to hire D’Antoni and that Joel Embiid gave his blessing. In addition, there are reports that the Sixers will make trades if D’Antoni is hired. The expectation is that he’ll have a say in picking players for his freewheeling style of play.

With Billy Donovan taking over in Chicago, the list of top candidates for the Philadelphia job seems down to two: Tyronn Lue and Mike D’Antoni. Lue would be the conventional choice, a guy who would try to make it work with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons together, along with Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, and Al Horford. Roster tweaks would be coming, but with Lue the idea would be making better use of the roster and style the 76ers have already built.

D’Antoni would be a radical change of direction — he is coming from a team that just started 6’7″ Robert Covington at center. The current 76ers roster would need changes to fit with D’Antoni’s freewheeling ways, and even then the coach would need to adapt what he wants to do. (No contract is untradeable, but moving the four-years, $147.2 million left on Harris’ deal, or the three years and $81 million on Horford’s contract, would require Philly to throw in a lot of sweeteners.)

D’Antoni would mean another change of direction in Philly, but that seems to be what ownership wants.

Bam Adebayo on injury: “I’m good,” expects to play in Game 5 Friday

Bam Adebayo injury
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In the final minutes of Miami’s Game 4 win, while Tyler Hero was knocking down shots and Jimmy Butler was getting to the line, Miami‘s Bam Adebayo was dealing with an injury, walking around holding his wrist, his arm dragging. He had gotten tangled up with Daniel Theis under the basket and clearly injured something.

The questions raised post game were about what happened, how serious it was, and could Adebayo be out for Game 5 on Friday? There was nothing official from the team but it looks like he will play, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press and Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel.

Adebayo had 20 points and 12 rebounds in Game 4, and his play is critical to Miami’s game plan against Boston. His ability to protect the rim at one end, then come out high to set screens and pull Theis out of the paint on the other end, is at the heart of what the Heat want to do in this series. If he is even slowed in Game 5 it is an advantage for Boston.

This time of year, and with the Heat one game away from the NBA Finals, no chance he sits if he can at all play.