How will Sam Mitchell coach the Wolves?



If you have ever played NBA Jam, those three phrases have a special place in your heart. And those three phrases are soon to be in action again for Wolves fans because training camp is less than two weeks away.

The Timberwolves’ main core is similar to last year, but they didn’t play together very much due to injuries.

Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, and Kevin Garnett only played together for a couple of games. And now, you can add likely the rookie Karl-Anthony Towns to the starting lineup. The Wolves’ roster has a lot to learn about each other in training camp and preseason.

Not only does the roster have to gain chemistry, but they also need to gel with the new interim head coach, Sam Mitchell. He’ll will run the same system as Flip Saunders, but he will also do many things different as well. They are two separate people, with different opinions and approaches.

How will Mitchell react to poor play? How will Mitchell react to the opponent going on a 10-0 run? How will Mitchell run practice? How will Mitchell prepare for a game? What kind of play will Mitchell draw up in the final seconds of the game? All those decisions will be different than Flip’s.

Sam Mitchell won coach of the year in 2006-07 with the Toronto Raptors. Even though that was somehow nearly ten years ago, that’s the year we’ll use to gauge Sam Mitchell’s head coaching ability.

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Some people love the idea of having a “players’ coach”. I hate it. That’s one of my best peeves in sports. I do not want any of the Timberwolves’ players feeling comfortable on the court because they have a “players’ coach”.

I want players to feel like they could lose their spot at any moment. Players need to respect their head coach, and all this mushy “buddy, buddy” stuff makes me sick!

Sam Mitchell isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. If Zach LaVine or Martin takes a terrible shot, he will let them know about it. If Mitchell doesn’t like something being done a certain way, he will get in your face. I like that. I want players to feel like they constantly have to prove themselves, because that’s how you become great.

One of the things that’s noticeable during Mitchell’s 2006-07 season with the Raptors is the minutes he gave to Chris Bosh, who was still a very young player — he averaged 38.5 minutes per game that year.

Last season, one of the complaints against Flip was how much he played Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins averaged 36.2 minutes per game. While that was almost ten years ago, that’s definitely something to watch for.

Another thing to watch for is shot selection. Last year, the Wolves didn’t shoot many threes. It was partly because the Wolves don’t have many three-point shooters and partly because Flip wanted Wiggins to score inside first before expanding his range.

As seen below, the Sam Mitchell Raptors attempted over 2,000 shots in the restricted area — understandable, as they had Chris Bosh. Another stat to look at is three-point shots attempted versus mid-range shots attempted. The Raptors attempted 1,447 threes compared to 1,789 mid-range jumpers. In this chart, I considered the mid-range jumper to be one step in front of the three point line.

Here’s the Timberwolves’ shot chart during the 2014-15 season. As seen below, the Wolves attempted almost 3,000 shots in the restricted area. The Wolves attempted 1,209 threes, which was 238 less than the 2006-07 Raptors. Minnesota also attempted 1,602 mid-range jumpers last season.

Sam Mitchell and Flip Saunders had very similar offenses (at least based on shot selection) besides the shots attempted in the restricted area. Mitchell’s team shot more threes in 2006-07 than the Wolves did during the 2014-15 season, and the three-point shot wasn’t even considered to be as valuable or necessary back then, either.

It will be a very interesting season. The Wolves have been aching for the playoffs for over ten seasons, and now, with a new head coach in place, it will take time to grow accustomed with one another.

The relationship that will be most interesting to watch in my opinion will be Rubio and Mitchell. Wiggins will play a lot, we know that. Garnett will be limited — we know that, too. But we don’t know how much trust Mitchell has in Rubio.

Do I believe in Sam Mitchell as a head coach? Enough to say that it wouldn’t surprise me if he was the head coach for the next five seasons!

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