Similarities Between The Twins And Wolves
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA Today (Zach LaVine)Obviously there is no perfect way to compare and contrast two teams, especially in different sports. There are a lot of similarities between the two teams right now beyond disappointing 2016 on-field performances.
MIGUEL SANO and KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS
These are two big men who were signed with big expectations.
Sano was considered one of the best amateurs from the Dominican Republic in the last 15 years. The Twins signed him to the top signing bonus of the year. Towns was clearly the top players available in the draft in 2015 after just one season at Kentucky.
Towns was the unanimous choice for NBA Rookie of the Year when he averaged 18.3 points with 10.5 rebounds. Sano finished third place in American League Rookie of the Year voting despite not being called up until July. He hit .269/.385/.530 (.916) with 17 doubles and 18 home runs.
Sano took a step back in 2016. He hit .236/.319/.462 (.781) with 22 doubles and 25 home runs. He set the Twins record for strikeouts in a season and didn’t find a defensive position. Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game so far this season, both improvements. Yet there are times when we read that he hasn’t stepped up yet as much as some would like.
In both cases, if those are bad seasons, it symbolizes just how much talent each has, and how good they can be in the coming years.
BYRON BUXTON and ANDREW WIGGINS
These are two tremendously gifted athletes selected high in the draft creating tremendous expectations.
Wiggins was the #1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014 and soon traded to the Wolves in the Kevin Love trade. Byron Buxton was the second overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Twins and was #1 or #2 in the national prospect rankings three straight years.
Wiggins won the 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year when he averaged 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds. Buxton struggled in the big leagues until September when he began to show just how good he can be. Buxton hasn’t shown consistency in the big leagues yet. And Wiggins can score 40 in one game and go 2-15 from the field in the next.
Both were said to be much stronger defensively than offensively but their athleticism gives hope that they could become all-around players. Buxton has all five tools though he has struggled with the offense for the most part. Wiggins has increased his scoring each year from 16.9 to 20.1 to 22.1 this season. He’s averaging 4.2 rebounds with 2.4 assists.
MAX KEPLER and ZACH LaVINE
When the Wolves selected LaVine out of UCLA with a mid-first round pickin 2014, it raised some eyebrows. He’s a uniquely-gifted, athletic talent who was very raw when he was drafted. Flip Saunders moved him around a little bit, often playing him at point guard in an attempt to improve his all around game. He has gone from 10.8 to 14.0 to 20.8 points per game. He’s become more than just a flashy dunk champion. He’s become a real three-point threat. He needed more time to develop but he has developed into a key contributor and big part of the future.
Kepler was signed in 2009 out of Germany. He needed a lot of development and spent extra time down in the rookie leagues. However, as he moved up the ladder, Kepler started putting up more numbers. As he reached AA in 2015, he was sitting at 6-3 and 220 pounds. He was the Southern League MVP and the Twins choice for minor league hitter of the year. He filled out the stat line, hitting for average, showing power, getting on-base, stealing bases and playing good defense at multiple positions. While there isn’t a slam-dunk contest in baseball, but Kepler’s athleticism gives him a good chance of being a well-rounded player.
JOSE BERRIOS and KRIS DUNN
Berrios was a supplemental first-round pick in 2012 and debuted in 2016 before his 22nd birthday. He continued to improve and became a Top 25 prospect in all of baseball. Kris Dunn had a solid career at Providence to the point the he became the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft.
Berrios certainly struggled in his debut in 2016, posting a 3-7 with an 8.02 ERA and a 1.87 WHIP, but that doesn’t (or shouldn’t) take away any of the luster of his potential. Likewise, Kris Dunn has had a frustrating rookie season. To this point, he is averaging just four points per game, with 2.5 assists and 2.2 rebounds. Then again, he’s been averaging just under 16 minutes per game.
Both are known for their work ethic and should have stronger sophomore seasons as they get more opportunity.
JORGE POLANCO and TYUS JONES
Polanco was signed the same day that Max Kepler was signed. They were added to the 40-man roster in 2013 after strong seasons in Cedar Rapids. Polanco - out of 40-man roster necessity - debuted with two very small cups of coffee in 2014. The same thing happened in 2015. Early in 2016, he came up and sat on the bench most of the time. Finally after Eduardo Nunez was traded, he began playing every day. Given the opportunity, he hit a solid .282/.332/.424 (.757) with 15 doubles, four triples and four home runs. The question with Polanco is more his defense. He struggled at shortstop statistically. He would likely move to second base with a Brian Dozier trade, where he would probably be better, but certainly not a Gold Glove caliber player.
Apple Valley native Tyus Jones went to Duke where he won a National Championship as a freshman and was named the Final Four MVP. He decided to come out for the draft and the Cavaliers selected him with the 24th overall pick in the 2015 draft. Flip Saunders made the trade to acquire the point guard. As a rookie, he played an average of 15 minutes in a little less than half of the games. This year, he’s averaging a little over 10 minutes in a little more than half of the game. However, he has improved his shooting, including hitting 44% of three-pointers so far. One would think that if/when the Wolves trade Ricky Rubio, Jones (and Dunn) would both see quite a bit more playing time. Jones has improved his offense and defense. Because he is not a big guy, he will struggle defensively, particularly down on the post.
Maybe there are other similarities. Could you compare Gorgui Dieng, a defensive stopper/rebounder to a guy like Ryan Pressly. Both have been around a few years and can be solid performers and may be underrated.
Or maybe we could say that Trevor May and Shabazz Muhammad are similar to their teams. Muhammad comes off the Wolves bench and can provide energy and some instant offense, hoping to end a run by the other team and giving the team back momentum. Maybe he could be compared to a Trevor May who is brought into the game to keep the opponents from taking back a lead and can energize the crowd by throwing hard and getting strikeouts.
Who is the Ricky Rubio of the Twins? Maybe Eddie Rosario?
Maybe a couple of these are stretches, but it doesn’t lessen the thought that there are similarities.
The teams are young and their core players are very young. Maybe the concept of ‘veteran leadership’ does have some value. On a smaller roster like the Wolves, it may have an even more important role.
The Wolves core - Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine - are all 21-years-old. Kris Dunn is 22.
The Twins core - for their next playoff run (we hope) - includes Miguel Sano (23), Byron Buxton (23), Jose Berrios (22), Jorge Polanco (23) and Max Kepler (23).
Fans of these two teams should feel excited about the future of both organizations despite all of the losing in these seasons. There is value in taking lumps, making improvements and hopefully becoming a team that knows how to win.