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.