Welcome to Thursday’s Thoughts. This week, I give a quick Timberwolves Update, discuss my Top 5 of the Week, go over my Weekly Wagers, and have a bit of fun with things I like and dislike. If you’re not a fan of sports, gambling, politics, pop culture, or fun, then you probably won’t enjoy many (any) of my blog posts, but oh well read them anyway and you might be surprised.
With the NFL in full swing, and first week-plus of the NBA in the books, I present to you the Halloween edition of Thursday’s Thoughts.
In my pre-season write-ups, I predicted the Timberwolves would win 55 games. I thought that the Rudy Gobert fit was perfect. The good news is that the Wolves are 4-2 and on 55-win pace. The bad news? Minnesota was favored in all 6 games, and despite the Spurs and Jazz (both also 4-2) starting the season strong, they are two teams that Timberwolves should handle. The defense has not looked good, and the offense – while showing signs that it could be something special – has been inconsistent and riddled with miscues.
Rudy Gobert. Despite fit issues, Rudy Gobert is indeed still awesome. He’s averaging 15 points and a league-leading 15 boards per game. While his FG% has dropped from last season… He’s still 5th in the NBA and it feels like a product of small sample size. Based on what I’ve seen, I’d bet on him to lead the league in that category yet again (he’s led the league 2 of the past 3 seasons… finishing an embarrassing 2nd to Mitchell Robinson in the 2020-21 season). There has been awkward positioning offensively with cutters while Gobert tends to occupy the paint more often than anyone on Minnesota’s roster last season, and passers (DLo in particular) still habitually sending him bounce passes rather than lobs. Even through that, he’s been able to gobble offensive rebounds and finish with efficiency. I expect as the rest of the roster gets used to his size and skillset, he’ll be even more effective.
Kyle Anderson was the most applauded offseason addition to the Wolves – aside from Gobert of course – and he has played just 23 minutes this season before being sidelined for a back injury. Still, the Wolves have such a surplus of talent that his absence hasn’t even been noticeable. McLaughin missing Friday’s win over the Lakers had the same feel. Jaylen Nowell has taken the reigns as the top bench scoring option, and has demonstrated real playmaking chops. The biggest problem with Nowell so far this season is that he’s going to demand so much money that we will probably have to decide between retaining him or D’Angelo Russell in the offseason. He’s making a good case for himself. Even Naz Reid, who has put in limited minutes, has been largely productive. Shoutout to my favorite bench guy Taurean Prince (I will never not share this clip) – his contributions don’t always show up on the stat sheet, but he’s always making the smart play and doing the dirty work. His $7 million per year contract has already proven to be one of the best bargains in the league. Still, the biggest indicator that the Wolves have incredible depth We haven’t even seen Nathan Knight, Josh Minnot, or Wendell Moore Jr. for more than garbage minutes. As a Wolves fan, not having to rely on rookies and end of bench guys to contribute meaningful time is a breath of fresh air.
Two of the biggest candidates for making a leap this season were Anthony Edwards (my Most Improved Player prediction) and Jaden McDaniels. Both have shown all the growth we’ve expected them to show, and even more from McDaniels. He was already one of the best wing defenders in the NBA last season, and had shown some catch-and-shoot ability. This year, in addition to the simple 3-and-D excellence (and improvement), he’s added – or perhaps simply shown – an ability to attack defenders with the drive and finish in traffic. Even the most ardent supporters (of which I consider myself) didn’t expect that his offensive game would look this polished so early in the season. Another case of a guy who is going to get absolutely PAID. Anthony Edwards has already shown what he could be in the NBA – and I don’t think anyone is surprised to see him regularly putting up 30 point games (3 thus far, plus 29 against LA). His inconsistency has somewhat carried over from last year, but it’s nice to see that the development we all assumed would come… actually has come. The Wolves have a couple young stars on their hands.
Third Quarters. The Timberwolves have lost the 3rd quarter in all but the Lakers game. They are a combined -50 through 6 games in that quarter alone. I haven’t looked at the league data, but it’s safe to say that’s the worst in the NBA. I’m a fan of Chris Finch, but this feels like an area he needs to improve. When you consistently come out flat (it’s absolutely an effort thing – not an execution issue) it starts being a coaching issue. We’re only 6 games in (and indeed we won the 3rd quarter of the last game) so nobody is hitting the panic button, but it’s been disappointing to see effort issues affect a team this young.
Defense. The defensive numbers probably don’t look as bad as they should. I was surprised to see Minnesota is 5th in defensive rating. Still this feels like a mistake from small sample sizes: of the teams Minnesota has played so far, only the Jazz figure to have above average shooting. Minnesota gives up the highest rate of wide open shots in the league, and are 26th in defensive rebounding rate. If those trends continue, the defensive rating will drop precipitously. Part of the problem seems to be Chris Finch electing to install a zone defense at times. I couldn’t find splits of the difference between when they plan man to man vs zone, but based on the eye test, switching back and forth between defensive sets has not gone well. Edwards has gotten lost at times, and Karl-Anthony Towns struggles with decision making on defensive reads, often sticking with the opponent closest to him rather than making the proper rotation. Finch probably wants to utilize zone because it limits opponents’ ability to draw Gobert out of his rim protection role, but it also complicates the rotations of the other players. (Yes, I know it seems ridiculous to say that a simple zone defense is making rotations *more* complicated, but it’s true). We’ll see if they continue to play zone or if Finch is simply using it as a way to switch up the looks opponents get while giving the team time to get used to each other in their standard defensive scheme. Either way, there is a lot to work on.
Karl-Anthony Towns. I expected (and still expect) a massive year from KAT. But I underestimated how much time it would take for him to get back to normal after being hospitalized and on bed rest for days, causing him to lose nearly 20 pounds (some reports say nearly 30 pounds) and miss most of the preseason. Upon his return, he has looked a bit out of sorts, less willing to bang in the paint. That hasn’t much mattered with Gobert taking the inside position, but KAT’s recovery was apparent early on. He’s seemed to improve each game, but he still doesn’t quite look 100%. Additionally, after saying “it’s not a time to be good anymore, it’s time to be great. Good is not good enough anymore” he fell back into some of his biggest problems from past seasons, namely fouling and complaining.
On the one hand, I understand Towns frustrations – he gets one of the worst whistles in the league, especially for an all-star. Take other star big men for example: Joel Embiid goes to the line an absurd 11.2 times per game compared to Towns’ 6.2. He shoots 1.9 more shots per game than Towns, but you just need to watch a single game to see the difference in how they’re officiated. Similarly, take a look at this video of Nikola Jokić – does it look familiar? Towns does this move fairly regularly, and he is called for an offensive foul 100% of the time. (To be clear, I think it *is* a foul, but it’s rarely called, and certainly inconsistently based on the player involved). Still, Towns needs to do better about keeping his emotions in check. Too often he lets a single bad call snowball into a frustration foul that takes him out of the game. Again, he’s far from the only star to complain – Jokić, Embiid, Luka Dončić, Chris Paul (though his brand of complaining is usually less animated and more targeted), and Ja Morant are all prolific whiners, but they tend to channel their anger and get focused on the game again far more quickly than Towns. When he keeps his mental toughness, KAT is one of the toughest players in the league to guard. If he’s going to lead this team, we’ll need to see that mental toughness on a more consistent basis.
Hero Ball. I’ve already mentioned 3rd quarters, and that’s where we’ve typically seen this issue manifest, but it tends to be a problem whenever there is a big possession. Edwards is the biggest offender, but we’ve seen a lack of ball movement, forced isolations, and inopportune heat checks from Russell, Towns, Nowell, and even McDaniels at times. The good news is the Timberwolves have some of the best offensive talent in the league, so the isolations don’t have disastrous consequences – indeed they’ve worked at times! But it’s not a sustainable offense, and it’s concerning that it tends to become the default in close games. When the offense is moving the ball and making the extra pass, it’s truly a beautiful sight, and they are absolutely torching opponents. Keep that rhythm, lose the hero ball, and this offense will be one of the best in the league.
Top 5 of the Week
The NFL is going strong, and this year has some of the most parity across the league as any in recent memory (with one caveat). Through 7 weeks, every team has won a game, and only 2 teams that have just 1 win (the Texans, who also have a tie; and the Lions, who already had their bye week). 7 of the 8 division leaders are only in 1st place by a single game or less (5 are within 0.5 games!) with only the Vikings leading their division by multiple games. With so much parity across the league, the Top 5 of the Week this week is the top 5 NFL Teams right now.
I mentioned a caveat above – while there are a lot of teams fighting for division titles, it feels like there are less actual contenders. Feel free to debate who is the best between the Eagles, Bills, and Chiefs, but I’ll leave that to the Colin Cowherd’s of the world. It’s not interesting to me. They’re the 3 best teams, so put them however you want, but I’m going to make this list into the top 5 NFL teams who aren’t those 3… Yes, I realize that this is just the 4th through the 8th best teams, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue, so TOP 5 OF THE WEEK.
Honorable Mention: New York Jets (5-2)
Despite inconsistency at the QB position, the Jets have continued to find ways to get it done this season. Their defense has looked solid, and Sauce Gardner has shown he’s going to be something special in this league. Unfortunately, just as the offense was starting to find it’s footing, rookie star RB Breece Hall got injured for the season. Michael Carter (and now a trade for James Robinson) should be able to adequately fill in, but for a team that has won a number of close games, it feels like the loss of Hall might be the difference maker. Hope they prove me wrong, because Jets fans are awesome (shoutout DiLo).
5. Dallas Cowboys (5-2)
The Cowboys somehow went 4-1 (losing only to the Eagles) with Cooper Rush starting (throwing for 191 yards per game lol) in place of the injured Dak Prescott. I didn’t think last years defense was replicable, since they forced 34 turnovers. Still, so far this season, they’re on pace to force 29 turnovers, and their defense no longer looks like it’s just opportunistic, but is actually stopping opponents. The run game is real, and the offensive line is looking good. If things break right (it’s the Cowboys, so they won’t), this team could be dangerous in the playoffs.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (4-3)
This is probably too high of a placement for how bad the Bengals have looked at times, but over the past 2 weeks, we’ve seen the Joe Burrow I think we all expected to see to start the season. The defense has holes, and doesn’t look great, but this is one of the best offenses in the league, and I wouldn’t bet against Cincinnati against many teams. Ja’Marr Chase being out hurts, but it shouldn’t be more than a few weeks. The timeline is up in the air because given his ‘physical makeup’ the team hopes his hip will heal faster than the average person. In other words… he’s literally BUILT DIFFERENT. (sorry I couldn’t help myself). Still, the Bengals have a ton of weapons offensively, and I trust in Burrow to make it work without the star wideout for a few weeks. If his most recent performances are any indication, last season’s improbable Super Bowl run is looking less improbable by the week.
3. Minnesota Vikings (5-1)
At some point, winning ugly games stops being about luck, and starts being a habit. The Vikings have a 2.5 game lead on the division, and while I can’t help thinking it’s a bit fluky, they also have a complete roster and a balanced scoring attack. The defense has been somewhat inconsistent, but – aside from the blowout in Philly – has made big plays in big moments time and time again. This prediction is probably my least confident of anyone on this list, but I can’t find many flaws. I don’t think this team can beat the top teams in the NFL, but it is just a good solid team that doesn’t lose to teams it shouldn’t lose to.
2. New York Giants (6-1)
The Giants have yet to score more than 27 points in a game, and every single game has ended in a 1 possession game. Still, similarly to the Vikings, they just find a way to win. They have one of the toughest defenses in the league, and a resurgent Saquon Barkley has transformed them into a competent offense. Daniel Jones has made some strides, but he’s still got a ways to go before I have confidence in him. They don’t play the Eagles until December, so we’ll have to wait until then to see them against one of the top teams in the league, but I think this team is real, and I’m excited to watch them fight it out for the NFC East.
1. Baltimore Ravens (5-3)
It doesn’t feel right putting the Ravens over the Giants when they just lost to them a few weeks back, but I just think this Baltimore team has the highest ceiling of the group. Lamar Jackson is a legitimate terror to opposing defensive lineman, and even with the running back carousel and the (hopefully short-term) loss of Mark Andrews, he was able to lead the Ravens to a win last week over a solid Browns team. The defense isn’t quite as stout as we’ve come to expect from the Ravens, but they still have their signature dominant pass rush led by Justin Houston, with Calais Campbell (back from injury this week) and Jason Pierre-Paul contributing as well. I expect the Ravens to be among the top teams in the league going into the playoffs, and I’m excited to see them make some noise.
2022 Record 8-8
I’m back after an okay 3-2 in week 6 before missing last week due to the start of the NBA season. Looking to get back above .500 for the first time in a few weeks.
(Note that the spreads come from PaddyPower.com or Bovada.lv, depending on which site I’m gambling on a given week).
MIN-3.5 vs. ARI
Minnesota is undefeated at home, and the Cardinals are without James Conner and Hollywood Brown. The addition of DeAndre Hopkins helps, but I’m not sure we can expect the Cardinals to put up big numbers on the road. The Vikings are coming off a bye week, and I expect the offense to be firing on all cylinders. If it’s a shootout, I’ll take the Vikings at home.
CIN-3.5 @ CLE
I mentioned them above, and I love them for the same reason here. Despite the loss of Chase, this offense is built to score a lot of points, and Joe Burrow has been excellent. The Browns might try to slow down the game with their run game, but if they get behind, they’ll need to start passing. The Bengals should take care of business.
GB+10.5 @ BUF
The Bills are coming off a bye and have been arguably the best team in the league this season. They have dominated opponents and run up the score at times, to the point of Josh Allen getting pulled at the end of games. The Packers have looked awful, with Rodgers showing inaccuracies on his deep throws, while consistently blaming his teammates (I have thoroughly enjoyed this). Still, I think Green Bay is better than they’re given credit for, especially with Aaron Jones looking strong recently. I don’t think this one is as much of a blowout as the line suggests. Bills win 30-21.
Raheem Mostert over 9.5 Receiving Yards
I usually don’t include player props in here (mostly because there are SO many bets available, and it’s hard to be comprehensive), but this one stuck out to me. With Tua Tagovailoa active, Mostert has hit the over 4 of 5 times. The Lions have been gashed by screens, so it really only takes 1 catch to get there. I’m hammering this over. (looking forward to getting clowned when Mostert gets 0 targets).
Framley Teaser League
In addition to my regular picks, I’ll also be giving my weekly teaser selections here. For those unfamiliar with teaser leagues, I’ll give a simplified version: Each person (or team) selects 4 teams each week, and the betting line is adjusted by 10 points in favor of the team you select (e.g. if you choose a team with a -3 line, their new line would be +7). Each team that goes 4/4 gets paid by all those who had at least 1 missed pick (and paid extra for more misses). I’m currently on a team with a friend – Nicholas – where we select our picks together, so he has 50% say in these picks, and our conversations will be a recurring theme here.
2022 Weekly Record: 2-5
The lines for this league finalize on Wednesdays, these are our Week 8 options:
This week was the least contentious of all of any of the weeks we’ve had so far.
Nicholas: Minnesota, Buffalo, Giants, Philly.
Me: I like those, but I also like Dallas – the Bears stink.
Nicholas: Over who? Giants are probably my least confident of the group.
Me: I’m fine with any of them, but Giants are the only road team in the group, so I’m fine removing them.
Nicholas: Okay great.
Final picks: DAL+0.5, MIN+6.5, PHI-1, BUF-0.5
2022-23 Record 1-0
Due to the nature of daily NBA games, I won’t be able to post a blog in advance of all of my picks. So my solution is that I will tweet out my daily picks on Twitter (Follow @blogintherough) and keep track on there. This will include all of my NFL and NBA (and sometimes EPL or Rugby as I’m feeling it) bets. I’ll still do my weekly write-up on the logic for my NBA picks for the day I post:
MIN -5.5 @ SA
The Wolves and Spurs played twice in the past week, splitting the matchup and each winning one game. Still, the Wolves have looked like the far better team, and I can’t see them losing to the Spurs again. As long as the Wolves don’t blow the 3rd quarter, this one should be over early on.
GS -7 @ DET
The Warriors have struggled a bit, but the Pistons have been awful. Cade Cunningham has taken a leap, Bojan Bogdanović is shooting lights out, and Jaden Ivey looks like the real deal. The Pistons have shown the ability to score, and they play like one of the fastest teams in the league. But they might be the worst defensive team in the league, and they have very little shot at slowing down the defending champs. Warriors by a billion.
CLE -4 vs. NYK
The Knicks haven’t looked bad, but the Cavs have already put together a series of impressive wins to start the season 4-1. Donovan Mitchell has hit the ground running, and looks like a great fit next to the twin towers of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. I was dubious on the defensive fit, but it has looked good, even without Darius Garland (who will remain out against the Knicks). This is just a case of the home team being the better team, so 4 points isn’t enough.
ORL +9.5 @ DAL
Orlando is 1-5, and the losses have not been close. Dallas has been up and down, but they are a good team – as you can expect from any team with Luka on it. The Magic won’t win this game, but I expect them to keep it close. Paolo Banchero has been a revelation – his size and athleticism were already known, but the touch, composure, and ability to use his size to his advantage are mature beyond his years. He’s excellent, and I expect him to be a regular name on the all-star team in short order, if not this season. They are a young team with growing pains, but the effort is there, and I really like the 9.5 points. Also, as an added bonus, take the over on Banchero points (23.5) and you can have some fun rooting for this young star.
Things I Like and Things I Don’t Like
Midseason NFL Trades.
I can’t believe we’re 7 games into the season and have already seen 2 feature running backs traded to new teams with Christian McCaffrey relocating to San Francisco and James Robinson getting moved to the Jets to replace the injured Breece Hall. I like that teams are willing to switch it up and get value where they can. It makes teams more fun to watch and makes for more interesting scenarios when there is a possibility for impact players to be moved.
I don’t like
Fantasy Football Trades. First off, I acknowledge that nobody cares about my fantasy football team (or anyone else’s) and that nobody wants to hear details of individual trades. That’s not what this is… well I mean look at this:
I find it frustrating that trades become exceedingly difficult in fantasy football because invariably 75% of the league overvalues their players (to their own detriment), or are too focused on ‘value’ or ‘winning the trade’ than they are with maximizing their roster and winning their league. It leads to a lack of players movement, which just inherently makes fantasy football less fun.
Surprising Teams. The Jazz, Spurs, and Trail Blazers are all currently in the top 4 in the West. If you had that on your bingo card, I’m calling bullshit. I noted in my preseason write-up that the Jazz and Spurs weren’t going to be as bad as people think (over/unders of 24.5 and 22.5 respectively) and they’d be tough teams. Still, even I didn’t expect them to be anywhere near the top of the West.
Lauri Markkanen has been outstanding, and the Jazz currently have 6 players averaging double figures. The Spurs have looked scrappy – if still lacking in top-end talent – and Pop has seemingly worked his magic to get his team ready. Still, the biggest surprise to me is the Trail Blazers. I like a lot of the guys on the roster, but questioned how they would fit together. Chauncey Billups has done a great job in opening up the offense and letting Damian Lillard do his thing. They’re early candidates for Coach of the Year and MVP.
I don’t like
Whatever the Lakers and Nets are. The Nets are looking like they might be my worst pick of the season. They don’t really have an identity, and the product on the court is ugly. There is a ton of isolation ball, and the defense is consistently in disarray leading to a 1-5 start. For the team I picked to win the East, this has been a brutal start. Ben Simmons has been bad, Kevin Durant (and, well, the entire roster) has been ice cold from deep, and Kyrie Irving looks off – the transition to playing with Simmons seems to have affected his chemistry. Plus, Kyrie Irving is posting anti-Semitic Alex Jones videos and then playing the victim when asked about it – what a garbage human. He makes me happy that the Nets look awful.
With regards to Los Angeles, usually I’d love to bask in the pleasure of watching the Lakers fail, especially at the hands of Russell Westbrook… Still, this is just getting sad. With Anthony Davis out, and a makeshift roster of spare parts, we’re wasting one of the last years of LeBron’s dominance. He’s going to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most points of all-time this season, and I can’t help but be a bit disappointed that it’s going to happen with LeBron on the outside of the playoff picture.
NFL International Games. Who doesn’t want more NFL? I wish there was an international game every week, even if just to extend the hours and give us 4 time slots instead of just 3. I’m literally smiling ear to ear as I write this and watch the first game of the day. Which brings us to…
I don’t like
NFL International Matchups.
Who came up with the idea of playing the worst possible games abroad? This season had the first ever matchup of two teams that were above .500 when they played abroad (Packers vs. Giants) and now we subsequently have this pitiful Jacksonville vs. Denver matchup. I understand that much of this is happenstance, but man watching this game has been painful (not complaining – it’s still more football!) but let’s get a couple of good teams for once. Excited for the Bucs/Seahawks Munich game in a few weeks to hopefully right the proverbial ship!
ON TO WEEK 8!