Take 5: Warriors, Wiggins, Winning

Minnesota+Timberwolves%27+Andrew+Wiggins+%2822%29+in+the+first+quarter+against+the+Miami+Heat+on+Sunday%2C+Oct.+27%2C+at+Target+Center+in+Minneapolis.+

Carlos Gonzalez, Minneapolis Star Tribune | TNS

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins (22) in the first quarter against the Miami Heat on Sunday, Oct. 27, at Target Center in Minneapolis.

By TPN Staff

The sports staff takes a look at several of the storylines permeating through the sports world right now, including the downfall of the Warriors’ dynasty, the gamble of the Miami Dolphins’ tank job and an NBA player who could make a sneaky bet for Most Improved.

Tanking: NFL Edition

The 0-7 Miami Dolphins are tanking this season. Head Coach Brian Flores may not admit it, but it’s true. Miami has traded talented players like Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kenyan Drake to stockpile future draft capital, currently sitting on 13 total draft picks in 2020. 

This tanking doesn’t seem to be confined to one team. The Bengals, Redskins, Jets and Falcons are all headed on a crash course for the No. 1 pick come draft time in April. 

We’ve seen this phenomenon happen in other sports. For example, NBA teams like the Philadelphia 76ers have engineered losing seasons to ensure high draft picks. League commissioner Adam Silver even reformed draft lottery odds to discourage teams from tanking — something that we have yet to see as an effective practice.

Now, other NFL teams don’t have the draft capital or lack of talent to blow up in such a blatant fashion. And most teams simply don’t have the audacity to risk an all-or-nothing strategy that hinges on successful picks. Coaches and general managers typically value holding their jobs and would get the boot from owners who want to field a competitive team. But the Dolphins aren’t like most NFL teams. 

By blazing a path of purposeful futility, the Dolphins are heavily banking on the success of the strategy. They’ll serve as a petri dish for how tanking in the league is perceived. Let’s not forget that the Cleveland Browns were a former tank team as well, and their results have been shaky

With so many roster holes to fill, the Dolphins are betting big on their future. Whether it goes down as pure genius or utter incompetence is anyone’s guess.

— John Riskis, Staff Writer

Suns finally starting to shine

No NBA team in recent history has been as consistently bad as the Phoenix Suns, who since 2015 have failed to win more than 24 games. Over the past four years, Phoenix has established itself as a bastion of mismanagement and a doormat for the rest of the league.

But a strange thing happened this past offseason — the Suns made a series of moves that were oddly competent. They acquired several solid, defensive-minded players including Ricky Rubio, Aron Baynes, Dario Saric and Jevon Carter to bolster their porous defense. Combined with a promising young core of blossoming superstar Devin Booker, 2018 No. 1 draft pick Deandre Ayton, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges, the Suns boasted a quietly talented roster entering this season.

As it turns out, adding good defenders has resulted in a drastically improved defense. Who would’ve guessed? Phoenix currently ranks eighth in the NBA in defensive rating, way up from its 29th-place finish from last season.

The Suns’ new complementary pieces have done exactly what they were supposed to do, and the team is 3-2 as a result. That includes wins over the Finals favorite LA Clippers and another against the reigning runner-up Golden State Warriors in which Phoenix led 43-14 after the first quarter. The Suns’ only losses have come by one point each to the likely playoff-bound Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz.

Many will write off Phoenix’s early success due to the small sample size, but make no mistake — this team is for real. The Suns check every box of a successful NBA team: shooting, defense, depth and a bona-fide superstar. That might not be enough to make the playoffs this year in a loaded Western Conference, but don’t be surprised if Phoenix flirts with postseason contention late into the season.

— Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

Warriors’ dynasty comes to a close

The Golden State Warriors’ dynasty over the last five years is finally over and done with. The team no longer has the essential pieces to win in the NBA playoffs. With Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala gone, the weight falls on Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and newly acquired D’Angelo Russell. However, Thompson is out until at least the All-Star break with an ACL injury and Curry broke his hand Monday night.

The Warriors have essentially been stripped of the ability to play the way they’re accustomed to. They used to win by scoring absurd amounts in short periods of time, opening gaps the opposing team just couldn’t fill. On defense, Golden State would smother teams with Thomspon, Draymond Green and Iguodala leading the way.

Frankly, this just isn’t possible anymore for the Warriors considering Durant’s departure and the injuries to Curry and Thompson. For now, the team will lean on Russell and Green.

They’re both above average players, but they can’t singlehandedly keep the Warriors in the playoff hunt for half the season.

By the time the whole roster is healthy, chances are they’ll be struggling for a late seed. The roster is relatively talented when fully healthy but not enough to make a sizeable impact in the West. If this team somehow ends up in the playoffs, they’ll most likely face a top-seed powerhouse like the Lakers or Clippers. Even at full health, this season’s Warriors would stand no chance in the playoffs.

Sorry, Warriors fans — your annual parades are over.

— Ben Mankowski, Staff Writer

Wiggins wins Most Improved Player

Andrew Wiggins came into the NBA with lofty expectations after being selected with the first overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Up to this point in his career, he’s failed to reach those expectations.

However, this is the year Wiggins regains his once-promising form from the 2016-17 season and wins the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

Wiggins is the starting shooting guard for a Minnesota Timberwolves team that has turned some heads to open up the season, winning three of its first four games. Superstar center Karl-Anthony Towns has led the Timberwolves’ charge with an MVP-level effort so far, but most expected Towns to produce at such a level. What we didn’t expect was for Wiggins to also elevate his game.

Wiggins is dropping 20.3 PPG while shooting 41.9% from the field. These are both improvements from last season, and he is also averaging a career-high 5.8 rebounds and 82.4% free-throw conversion rate with a career low in turnovers.

Despite the small sample size, Minnesota fans must be excited by Wiggins’ production to start out the season. His numbers will only improve as the season progresses en route to winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

Towns’ and Wiggins’ performances this year will land the Timberwolves in the playoffs after the entire league wrote them off. This duo will be revived and the league will fear them for years to come.

— Tyler Moran, Staff Writer

A KAT fight in Philly

Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns were suspended for two days for an on-court physical altercation between them. Both star players will serve their suspensions starting with Saturday’s games. 

Surprisingly, Ben Simmons will not have to serve any type of punishment for his role in the altercation, and the referees and other players viewed him as a peacemaker. Simmons was seen pulling Towns away from Embiid and then putting him into a chokehold.

The beef didn’t stop there, with both players taking to social media and propelling the incident even further with mockery and profanity. Furthermore, this wasn’t a singular incident — trash-talking between the two dates back to 2017. 

Philadelphia and Minnesota will face off again on March 24 in Minnesota — a date NBA fans will certainly want to mark on their calendars. Chirping from both sides is to be expected, and another altercation of some sort is highly likely. Embiid has long been the troll king of the NBA, and he has met a worthy adversary in Towns. Though the potential for violence is not an example the NBA wants to encourage, the league ironically benefits from such scuffles when they make waves through social media and news cycles. 

— Sam Krimins, Staff Writer

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