Archive for Jacob Wandersee

The Veterans against the Gunslingers

I was considering many different topics these week for this column. Unfortunately, everything locally seems pretty bleak. The Vikings didn’t make the playoffs. The Wild recently lost to two of the worst teams in the NHL. The Timberwolves let Butler get his revenge in a 149-107 shellacking, which is more points given up than some All-Star games.

I thought about the upcoming weekend and decided to look at the NFL playoffs, since there are a couple of very intriguing match-ups that are going to take place Sunday afternoon.

Both games feature a veteran Hall of Fame QB squaring off with up-and-coming potential stars of the future. In the NFC, we have 40 year old Drew Brees of the Saints on one side of the field with 24 year old 3rd year QB in Jared Goff of the Rams on the other.

The Saints come into the game after a 13-3 season and a squeaky win against the Eagles last week. Boasting the 3rd highest scoring offense and a top half defense, a balanced effort makes the New Orleans tough to beat – it seems like they bounced back from the Minneapolis Miracle reasonably well.

On the other side are the Rams who use the 2nd best offense in the league to outscore teams. Their defense isn’t as great statistically, but they have the players that can perform on an individual game basis.

In the AFC, it is a similar story at the QB position. On one end, we have truly the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady, who at 41 years old looked quite spry as the Patriots dominated the Chargers last week. The Chiefs bring to the table an MVP candidate in 2nd year gunslinger Patrick Mahomes.

The Patriots had a down year, as far as the Patriots are concerned. Finishing with only 11 wins, it seemed New England kind of took on the Golden State Warriors strategy. Get through the regular season without getting hurt or showing too much strategy and turn it on in the playoffs. I’d say their 41-28 trouncing of the Chargers more than proved that theory correct.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs found themselves the Steph Curry of football in Patrick Mahomes. Throwing for almost 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns led to 35 points per game and 12 wins. The Chiefs are surely looking to outscore everyone on their way to a Super Bowl.

When looking at both of these games, it really boils down to one x-factor in my mind. Do you want experience or youth at the quarterback position in a big game? In those pressure moments, when every single throw counts, who do you want leading your team down the field?

Goff and Mahomes have not been in a moment this big before while Brees and Brady have been there so many times that it is tough to count. Goff and Mahomes will have their moment eventually, but I’d like to see two of the greatest ever to play the game in one final duel and that is exactly what’s going to happen.

Saunders Name Lives On

This might be the most eventful 20-21 season the Minnesota Timberwolves have ever experienced. As a fan it has been nothing short of frustrating to watch everything unfold the way it has. It seemed there was no light at the end of the tunnel; that this year was going to be a complete waste and the future was dim at best.

Coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to suck the life out of both the team and the fans. Jimmy Butler flexed his ego on everyone and seemingly ruined the season before it even began. Andrew Wiggins wasn’t taking the next step, Karl-Anthony Towns was regressing statistically and rookie Josh Okogie after a promising start wasn’t even seeing the floor.

I should say former coach Tom Thibodeau as owner Glen Taylor finally made the move that we all had been waiting for since October and let Tom go. But what would this mean for the rest of the season? Who would take over?

Enter Ryan Saunders, a name we should be all too familiar with. Saunders has been an assistant coach for the Timberwolves since 2014 where he started when his dad, Flip Saunders, was the Head Coach.

If you aren’t familiar with the Saunders name, I’ll quick give you a reminder as to what Flip meant to Minnesota basketball. The Minnesota Gopher standout started with the Timberwolves as a General Manager in 1995 and quickly became the head coach. Flip was directly paired with Kevin Garnett in their time in Minnesota, making the playoffs 9 straight years and getting to the Western Conference Finals in 2004.

Saunders returned to Minnesota as the President of Basketball Operations in 2013 and again quickly also became the Head Coach in 2014. Flip orchestrated the trade for Andrew Wiggins and drafted Towns with the first overall pick in his time as President, two pivotal moves to the current state of the Timberwolves.

Flip died in 2015 of Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 60. Apart maybe from Kevin Garnett, nobody has meant more to the franchise than Flip has.

Ryan stayed on staff through both Sam Mitchell and more recently Tom Thibodeau’s stint as head coach and on Tuesday he won his head coaching debut. In a 119-117 thriller over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Ryan had the team playing loose, playing uptempo and the players responded well. Ryan even ran Flip’s favorite play “552 Twist” to start the game – which resulted in a basket.

When the final buzzer sounded, the players jumped up and down celebrating and mobbed Ryan on the sidelines. Players hugged him, high-fived him and everyone on the team was all smiles. When he walked into the locker room, he got mobbed again by all the players who dumped water on him and presented him with the game ball.

Despite his young age, and two players on the roster being older than him, Saunders is respected around the league as bright young NBA mind with the knowledge and experience to get it done. Being a positive thinker, a great motivator, an approachable authority figure and a good basketball mind is a great place to start as a head coach.

I’m not sure if this means they will make the playoffs this year or if Ryan will be hired as the full time coach for next year, but what we do know for certain is that he learned from the absolute best. The Saunders name is back and we finally have something to believe in again.

 

Better Luck Next Year Vikings

There are a few reasons that the NFL is still the king of sports. Other sports are creeping up in popularity and the NFL does plenty of things that make you want to hate it (IE ignoring concussions, making dumb rule changes, having almost exclusively old racist owners with a puppet Commissioner), but they definitely do a few things right.

First, the NFL will always benefit from having a reliable 17 week season. The NBA, NHL and most certainly MLB seasons will always be far too long to keep a casual fan’s interest.

Second, and what I want to focus on, the nature of the game is polarity. There are 7 (out of 12) new playoff teams this year from last year and you might notice that your Minnesota Vikings didn’t make the cut.

Now, let’s flashback to the summer of 2018. Ahhh what a time to be alive. The Vikings were coming off a 13-3 season where everything seemed to somehow work out perfectly. We had a backup quarterback, a backup running back, a makeshift offensive line and a great defense. We had the Minneapolis Miracle.

Add onto that historic Viking season a franchise quarterback, a potential star running back, a stout defensive tackle, a new exciting and innovative offensive coordinator, and that same great defense… Man everyone’s heads were way up in the clouds.

Conversations usually were focused on “NFC Title game or bust” among fans. Coaches and players were thinking Super Bowl. Sports Books had the Vikings tied for 2nd in Super Bowl odds. It was considered blasphemous to even consider that the Vikings could have a drop off this season.

The reality, like I referenced earlier, is that nothing is promised in the NFL year over year. You might have the best coach, the best players and the best fans and things don’t pan out the way you think they are going to.

Minnesota made a lot of moves on paper that made sense. Signing the best option on the market at QB in Kirk Cousins, extending key defensive players, signing DT Sheldon Richardson, hiring John DeFilippo as the Offensive Coordinator; these were good decisions. They might even prove to be fruitful in the 2019 season.

Unfortunately, things just didn’t work at all and unless you’re the New England Patriots, that is just the way it goes. Thankfully, even at my young age I understand this and can accept the bad with the good. “The Cardinals knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs!” “He missed it. Blair Walsh missed it wide left.” “Brett Favre throws across his body and it’s been intercepted.”

Better luck next year Vikings, but who are we kidding?

What Really Matters?

After working for KFAN for a couple years, I got to know a lot of the talent and became big fans of their shows. One of my favorite shows to listen to (usually on a daily basis) is The Power Trip Morning Show. Every morning at 6:30 am or so they do a segment called “What Really Matters”.

If you’ve ever listened to the show, you already know that although it is a “sports-talk” station, they definitely don’t like to dwell on sports for too long. In this segment, Cory Cove reads of a boring stat or sports fact and as they put it, Chris Hawkey reads something that will change your life and has nothing to do with professional or amateur athletics.

This article is What Really Matters on paper.

The Minnesota Timberwolves blew a 14 point 4th quarter lead on Wednesday to fall to the Detroit Pistons in overtime 129-124. The Pistons scored 40 points in the 4th quarter as the Wolves fall to 14-17 on the season. Derrick Rose had 33 points and 7 assists in 38 minutes in the loss.

The Minnesota Vikings play the Detroit Lions this Sunday at noon at Ford Field. At 7-6-1, the Vikings control their own destiny when it comes to making the playoffs. With wins against the Lions and Bears, the Vikings will be the 6th seed at worst. If the Seattle Seahawks lose to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, the Vikings could potentially even jump to the 5th seed.

Now for What Really Matters.

Tim Parochka, my cousin, has returned home for Christmas. I’m sure most of you do not know him and you probably are wondering why this really matters to you… and it might not. But it matters to me. And I will tie it back together in the end so it matters to you as well; trust me.

He has been in Washington DC for a few years now working for Sirius XM Radio on their golf channel. He is my oldest friend and was the best man at my wedding this past August.

We’ve played basketball together, he let me co-host his weekly radio show when he worked at 1390 The Fan in St. Cloud, we’ve podcasted and we’ve simply just been a good pair of friends.

Since his move to Washington DC to grind through the sports-talk and radio world, it has been difficult to come home often. But he is home for Christmas as he got in on Wednesday.

I stopped by his house and it was like he had never left in the first place. We immediately talked about the Timberwolves roller coaster of a season, the Vikings chances, and started naming random NBA role players from the past 30 years. Malik Rose by the way.

Sports are great for your competitive spirit, but even more importantly, they are great for the social aspect. Sharing memorable wins and devastating losses with friends and family and then proceeding to talk about it every time you see each other create fun (or tragic) memories. I’m not really interested in watching games by myself. I’d much rather watch it with Tim, my family or my friends because it isn’t as much about the sports as it is about the friendships.

So, you might not have your cousin returning from far away, but it is the Christmas season and I’m sure many of you have family that is coming home, maybe for the only time this year. Watch the Vikings game together, talk about how much you dislike Jimmy Butler and make time to spend together because that is What Really Matters.

Merry Christmas!

 

Expectations and Complications for the Vikings

13-3. A Miracle season. A returning “star” running back. The arrival of a star defensive tackle. Resigning core players. The 84 million dollar man coming in like a knight in shining armor. Expectations couldn’t have been higher.

This season has not panned out how most experts or fans thought it would. In August, the words “Vikings” and “Super Bowl” were constantly being uttered in the same breathe and seemingly for good reason. After a 13-3 season that fizzled out quicker than a candle in a hurricane, the Vikings brought back Dalvin Cook, signed DT Sheldon Richardson, and of course signed QB Kirk Cousins. Why wouldn’t the Vikings repeat last year’s magic? The team on paper was simply better.

The NFL is a little more complicated than that. There are few teams that seem to be able to repeat success year after year after year. When you look at those teams, there is usually one key factor that stays steady with those teams. The Patriots have Brady, the Steelers have Roethlisberger, the Colts had Manning, the Packers had Favre. These kind of quarterbacks don’t come around very often and nobody would expect Kirk to be mentioned in the same class as these guys.

Another key factor, for the Vikings specifically, is the offensive line. A quick glance at the advanced statistic analysis site Football Outsiders shows the Vikings offensive line ranked 31st. The last I checked, that is not great. That isn’t even average.

The Vikings have quality players across the board that could be key players on a Super Bowl team. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are in the top 5 for receiver combinations in the league. Dalvin Cook is an explosive and quick runner when given the opportunity. Our defensive line, headlined by Danielle Hunter, has been great most of the season.

But it takes more than good players to have a good team. The defense struggled early because Mike Zimmer was over-complicating things. The offense has been up and down to the point where Zim fired Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo only 13 games into his stint. I really think losing Offensive Line coach Tony Sparano really is a major factor for the lack of performance from the offensive line.

The reality of the NFL is that it really is quite unpredictable. Every year different teams with high expectations fall off the cliff while teams who were supposed to be bad rise to the top. It simply is the nature of the league. It is very hard to win consistently.

Last year, the Vikings were an under the radar team who had the stars simply align for them and they almost took advantage. This year, Minnesota was a Super Bowl favorite who is now clinging to the 6th seed in the playoffs with a 6-6-1 record.

This is also the beauty of the NFL. A win at home against the Dolphins and a win at Detroit might be enough to squeak into the playoffs. Once you are in, really anything can happen. You can win on a 61 yard miracle play or you can get blown out 38-7. Regardless of what happens, enjoy this frustrating, crazy, fun, and unpredictable ride… Because we get to do it all again next year.

 

The Sum is Greater than the Parts

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Timberwolves. In case you didn’t read it, I will give you a brief recap. It was a piece being (probably unrealistically) optimistic that the Wolves could be a better team without Jimmy Butler. That his demeanor, his distractions, and his overall horrific presence in the locker room leaving this squad would free up everyone to just play basketball again.

Thus far, they just might be a better team without Jimmy Butler.

After starting 4-9 with Jimmy, the Timberwolves have since gone 7-2 and are 11-11, a half a game back of the 8 seed in the playoffs.

After being ranked 29th in the NBA in defensive rating with Butler in Minnesota, the Wolves have gotten their SEASON TOTAL ranking all the way down to 16th.

Without Jimmy Butler, the Minnesota Timberwolves had the 3rd largest victory in franchise history, beating the San Antonio Spurs 128-89 on Wednesday night. Two important things to note in this game: 1. The Wolves held the Spurs to 9 second quarter points and held them to a 39% shooting percentage for the game. 2. Newly acquired Robert Covington was +44 when he was on the floor, the highest plus/minus in franchise history (other than 4 starters of a 2001 blowout of the Bulls. Shoutout to Joe Smith! – completely worth the 4 1st rounders)!

There are plenty of reasons this turnaround has happened. First, Robert Covington has shined like nobody really thought possible. The current NBA leader in steals has been nothing short of spectacular in his time in Minnesota. Not only is he the steals leader, but he is the only player with over 30 steals and blocks and the only player in the league in the top 20 of each category. Averaging 14 points, 6 rebounds, 2.75 steals, 1 block, and 3 made 3’s a game at a 40% rate, Covington is exactly the “3 and D” support piece that they needed to find success.

Another huge reason the Wolves have been fun to watch is the renaissance of Derrick Rose. Rose is 2nd on the team in scoring at 19 points per game (off the bench mind you! Do I hear MVP chants? Alright maybe just 6th man of the year). Averaging 3 rebounds and 5 assists helps round out his game and sporting a Player Efficiency Rating of 20.7 (which is right behind Towns), Rose has fully exceeded expectations.

This might have to do with his increased focus on being a pesky defender… Or it might have something to do with his 48.6% 3-point percentage, the highest of his career by over 14%. Or it might just do with his endless heart, dedication, and determination to be a great player and teammate. This was seen when Derrick scored a career high 50 points on Halloween in a 128-125 win over the Utah Jazz, as he cried and his teammates mobbed him overjoyed for the former league MVP.

It is amazing what getting rid of a horrible teammate can do to a team’s morale.

Lastly, we cannot forget about the centerpiece, Karl-Anthony Towns. Although he has seen a slight dip in points and field goal percentage, Towns has still been the workhorse and leader of this team. He hasn’t made a big step up like some were hoping, but at 20 points and 12 rebounds on 50% shooting (and 40% from 3), he has been a steady star for this improving by the minute Wolves squad.

You might have noticed that I did not mention Andrew Wiggins. There is a lot to be positive about with the way the Timberwolves are playing and I wanted to focus on that. Averaging a career low in points per game and a shooting percentage that is 7% points worse than his career low, it is sad to think about. Hopefully he can turn things around.

See? Even mentioning Wiggins brought my mood down. Back to the happy thoughts. Jimmy Butler, the arrogant, selfish, mean spirited, horrible teammate is gone and gone for the better. Yes, Jimmy was a great player, but his presence made basketball miserable for everyone.

We might not win a title this year, but I know I am having a heck of a lot more fun watching KAT, Covington, Rose, Gibson, Teague, Dieng, Jones, and Saric play and grow together as a team. And based on their performance and attitude, I would guess they are having more fun playing together too. They might not be a list of All-NBA players, but trust me, the sum is greater than the parts.