After Cole Anthony ripped out our hearts in the most predictable way, the loss last night versus the Orlando Magic became the biggest standout since the gut-wrencher the game last year in Oklahoma City that derailed the season. That was the third game of what ended up being an eleven game losing streak, dropping to 10-11 on the season and never returning to .500.
Anthony ripped out our hearts in more ways than one, though. Today I’m here to prepare Minnesota Timberwolves fans for a messy breakup. Several wonderful Wolves fan friends have texted me over the past couple of weeks, asking when we’re gonna dump Ryan Saunders.
But has he been that bad? Is he really the problem?
Umm… yes, sometimes singularly. Click here to get your breakup music ready, and let’s dig into The Seven Things I Hate About You, Ryan (from last night). “1, 2, 3, 4… Shhhhah!”
Saunders waited until 4:37 left in the 4th to bring back his “best” player (FOR NOW) in D’Angelo Russell. By then, my guy DLol got cold sitting on the bench. Maybe Saunders doesn’t know that the ice in his veins isn’t literal (shoutout Chelanga on the assist). Russell is a shooter, and he needs to stay warm and in rhythm.
In fairness, the Wolves were ahead by ten points at the time, but once again, the drawn up offensive sets collapsed and became DLol trying to save the possession with ball screen action into a heavily contested midrange stepback. These shots, especially at the end of games, have been problematic repeatedly, and Saunders needs to figure out how to get his team to gel offensively in crunch time without Karl-Anthony Towns, or things are about to get Sam Cassell ugly. Take it up with Chuck, not me, Sam!
2-5. Jordan “J-Macky Mouse” McLaughlin
The real problem for me, though, was that Jordan McLaughlin stayed in the game when D’Angelo came back, especially when two other guards are on the court as well in Josh Okogie and Malik Beasley. And when DLol runs the offense, I’m not sure what use Mc”Laughin” is.
He is the worst choice to set screens, he’s not a large target on cuts, and he isn’t going to be able to effectively defend Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, James Ennis, Aaron Gordon, or Nikola Vucevic, which was the lineup that Steve Clifford used against Minnesota with 2:45 left in the game. The Wolves were shockingly still up double digits at the time.
Naz Reid had a solid game defensively for the first 2.5 quarters, but predictably, he was easily beaten off the dribble by Aaron Gordon. It looks like the Wolves are trying a 3-2 zone with one forward on the court. McLaughlin covered the weak side baseline (frontcourt) (should be Jarred Vanderbilt or Jaden McDaniels here), and it looks as though it was his job to tag the cutting Fournier. He doesn’t have the length, though, to help in time and do anything about the Fournier layup.
Again we have points due to J-Mac not having the length to stop Terrence Ross. Josh Okogie helps a little too much, and it opens up for an AG three. McLaughlin would get those points back with an and-1 layup that would give Ross his sixth foul and bring in the far smaller Cole Anthony, but it would prove to be too little, too late (more breakup music for you):
Here we have the obvious. 5’11” J-Mac < 6’11” Vuc in the paint. Yet, Saunders STILL trots out the four-guard lineup. It’s honestly as though he is already purposefully tanking. McLaughlin subsequently came in clutch with the wide-open read to Reid on the other end, but again who cares if you’re this on defense:
Maybe his nickname should be Macky Mouse?
Okay, one last McLaughlin mistake! It was really a Naz mistake, but James Ennis was so wide open that I have to give it to both of them for not seeing him:
Having Vando or McDando out there would have made a difference defensively. Still, they also would have offered some different off-ball skills (screening, passing, shooting for McDaniels, rim running for Vando) offensively, so I’m not sure they would have been giving up much on that end either.
The third and maybe most egregious mistake by the Minnesota coaching staff last night came in the form of substitutions. With 16.4 seconds left, Saunders elected to KEEP McLaughlin in the game. Thankfully Steve Clifford was forced to take a second timeout, at which point Vanderbilt subbed in.
He corralled the rebound for which the Wolves were so desperate — they ultimately lost the rebound battle 48-43 — and he was able to dribble the ball twice. WHERE WAS SAUNDERS WITH ONE OF HIS TWO TIMEOUTS??? I like subbing offense for defense, but when a sub 50% free throw shooter gets the rebound, you have to be ready to call a timeout to get your best shooters in the game.
7. Get guys on the ball
And yet, the Wolves were STILL up by two with 4.6 seconds left. The Checkers Champ said, “King me!” but Steve Clifford was playing chess. Four and a half seconds should not be enough time for Orlando to get a clean look without a timeout, especially coming from the team that went through essentially the same situation against OKC last year. Saunders had ample time to get Beasley to cover Cole Anthony from the moment he touches the ball, but he was too late.
Check it out at regular speed:
Here it is again in slow motion:
You know what they say. Fool me once, strike 1. Fool me twice, strike 3 (why is there Curb music?).
This is likely a lost season anyway, but soon the Timberwolves may have to part ways with their high school sweetheart. Before they do, though, I thought we should mention the seven things we like:
1. Your suits
2. Your encouragement
3. The way you crouch like your dad
4. Your player friendliness
5. Your Positivity
6. Your Humanity
7. You’re Family
No matter what happens, we love you Ryan! And who knows? Maybe there’s another hometown sweetheart to woo.