While the Sacramento Kings loaded up on veterans with playoff experience in the offseason, the Minnesota Timberwolves chose to stick with their youth movement.
After running through the Kings by a final of 113-104, the T'Wolves are now 3-0 against Sacramento this season. They still trail the Kings in the standings, but it’s not hard to see Minnesota making a giant leap next season with all of this talent.
The Kings haven’t had the luxury of drafting first overall in back-to-back seasons like the Timberwolves. Minnesota has struck gold with both Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, but that is to be expected out of the top pick.
“Towns and Wiggins, we never could find a pulse or a control of them and they were mostly in the paint,” George Karl told reporters following the game. “The presence of the paint was a little wacko, I guess.”
Towns dropped in 26 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked four shots in 29 minutes of action. He can hit you from the outside, take you off the dribble and kill you in the post. His game says seasoned vet, not 20-year-old rookie.
“He’s been playing well all season,” Rajon Rondo said following the game. “I think he’s around 18 and 10, so for a rookie that’s very impressive. He’s only going to get better and there’s nothing that he can’t do. He can stretch the floor. He’s making plays off the dribble and he can rebound the ball. He did all that tonight as well.”
The Kings had no answer for Wiggins, either. He came in averaging 27.2 points per game against Sacramento in his first five contests of his career. He fell short of that number Wednesday night, but scored 23 on 10-of-15 shooting.
But this group is more than just Wiggins and Towns.
While the Kings were busy drafting Nik Stauskas with the eighth overall selection in the 2014 NBA Draft, the T'Wolves found better value in Zach LaVine five picks later at No. 13. The high-flying UCLA product scored all 23 of his points in the deciding second half. He torched the Kings from the outside, hitting 4-of-7 from behind the arc.
Ben McLemore was the Kings' top selection in the 2013 draft, going seventh overall. While it’s too early to call him a bust, the T'Wolves are loving the player they got 14 picks later. Taken 21st overall, 6-foot-11 Gorgui Dieng is developing steadily in year three, while McLemore has taken a step back.
The 26-year-old big hit jumpers and did the dirty work for Minny, finishing with 16 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. His seven points and four rebounds in the fourth quarter were huge.
There are plenty of ways to build a winner in the NBA, but the Kings have wiffed in the draft more often than not, while the Timberwolves are clearly building something in Minnesota. The Kings have a better record overall, but they have been handled by the young, upstart T'Wolves all season.
Vlade Divac and his staff are going to have to put in solid work this summer to avoid getting leapfrogged in the standings by this team.
The Kings have struggled all season turning the ball over, and Wednesday was no different. Through three quarters, Sacramento had already turned the ball over 16 times leading to 22 points for the T'Wolves.
“Most of our turnovers I think are disturbing are the risky ones, I call them football passes,” Karl said. “We throw a pass and it has a 60 percent chance of completion rather that a 99 percent chance of completion. And we have risky opportunities rather than basic solid opportunities.”
Like most nights, the culprit was Rajon Rondo who finished with a team-high six turnovers, many of which were completely unforced. Rudy Gay came in second with four gaffes, most of which came on isolation plays.
“It starts with me,” Rondo said. “I’ve got to continue to make the simple pass. Turnovers and offensive rebounds. That’s been a thing that’s been bothering us all season. We still haven’t found a way to stop it. It’s an up and down season as far as turnovers, but still the same result, so we’ve got to find a way.”
Through 70 games the Kings are 27th in the league in turnovers, giving the ball away 16.3 times per game. It’s hard to compete on a nightly basis when you don’t value the ball, and the issue is wearing on the team.
“Spacing, everybody’s in each other’s way,” Darren Collison said. “Stuff that you learn during training camp. When you have bad spacing, you’re going to have turnovers. It just falls back to the basics. We never really got over the hump of trying to understand spacing and execution, so you’re going to get bad turnovers.”
COLLISON SPEAKS HIS MIND
Following another disappointing loss, a clearly frustrated Collison spoke on the team’s struggles.
“Same stuff every night,” Collison said. “Inconsistency. Not being able to put four quarters together. Not being able to play together as a team defensively. Not being there for each other. Same stuff.”
“I mean, it’s not just the players,” Collison continued. “It’s coaches included. Coaches and players. Everybody. It’s not just a particular group. We’ve got to find a way to come together and figure out something to finish the season strong. It’s not about wins and losses obviously at this point, but it’s about finishing the season the right way and going out there and playing hard.”
Collison is usually reserved in his comments, but with the Kings dropping to 27-44 on the season, someone has to speak honestly about the current state of the team.
The Kings returns home to face the Phoenix Suns on Friday night. They’ve lost seven in a row on their home floor and have a dismal 14-20 record at Sleep Train Arena this season despite averaging just under capacity (99.6 percent) for their 34 home dates.
With only seven games left at before the team moves to a new building later this year, the fans are showing up in force. The team will look to do the same to end the season on a positive note.