Get To Know: Punch Drunk Wolves
Editor's Note: The Timberwolves community is fortunate to have a collection of dedicated, knowledgeable blogs that cover the team year in and year out. It's a network of gifted writers who bring a mixture of insightful analysis and humor to the game of basketball and the Wolves. Over the next nine weeks, Timberwolves.com will profile nine members of this community through a series of Q&A sessions with the founders and main contributors at each site. Part V focuses on Punch Drunk Wolves, which began its run in the Wolves' blogosphere in 2011 after years of dedication to the team as fans. Blog Name: Punch-Drunk Wolves Web Address: www.punchdrunkwolves.com Year Established: 2011 Main Administrators (with Twitter handles): Andy Grimsrud & Patrick Johnston (co-authored @PDWolves) What sparked the creation of Punch Drunk Wolves and what is the focus message you try to send to your readers? Andy G: I don’t think any one thing in particular “sparked” it. Pat and I have been Wolves fans since the franchise inception. He introduced me to Britt Robson’s legendary blog at The Rake, (Britt’s now at MinnPost, still doing his thing) which was really my first experience with great basketball writing and comment-board interaction. I was immediately hooked. Those conversations and debates moved over to Canis Hoopus, where I was a pretty active commenter and occasional contributor for a few years. At some point, starting a new site just seemed like fun—a new challenge and creative outlet. What is the focus message we try to send? Hmm, message might not be quite the right word, but I think a great deal of my writing is based on what I observe during Wolves games. That sounds self-evident, but it shouldn’t. Statistics pervade NBA blogging. They are helpful to analysis and every year it seems that a new wrinkle is added to the Moneyball evolution of sports. But at Punch-Drunk Wolves, we tend to be more descriptive than analytical. It’s just how we enjoy talking hoops and it’s our best way to provide a unique perspective. I don’t ignore stats – far from it – but if there’s a “focus” of the blog it is more in qualitative analysis and keen observation of player skills, habits, trends and quirks. Patrick J: I agree with most of what Andy said. We’ve been friends since we played basketball together in high school and have always talked hoops, basketball culture and history, that kind of thing—the stuff that you see in our blog posts, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly. But as for starting the blog, it was just by chance that each of us ended up in a place and time where, after college, we had the luxury of time to watch, think, and write about the Wolves and NBA —for Andy it was during law school and for me it was while I was finishing my Ph.D. Eventually, we just decided that it would be more useful to document our takes on a blog where others could read them and chime in rather than in a never-ending chain of emails. As that suggests, we don’t have any specific message we try to get across. Mostly it’s just stuff we find interesting. We don’t blog for a living, so it’s as much for us as for readers. And I think that’s mostly a good thing for everyone. On our site you won’t get the same routine every time, you’ll get genuine takes and a bit of randomness. I don’t think either of us is a contrarian, but we often find ourselves zigging when others zag. That isn’t by design, but to build on what Andy said, I think it stems from us having a somewhat different background and set of priors from most journalists and bloggers. What that amounts to is both keeping things fresh for us, and (hopefully) giving readers something that’s a bit different to look at. I think that is the main value a small blog like ours can hope to add to what’s already available in what amounts to the fairly ubiquitous print/blog/twitter coverage that is today’s media. What will readers find on PDW? Andy G: Recap posts after most games. Reactions to breaking Wolves news. “Inbox” posts where we pull an email conversation and put it live on the blog – with a few edits, of course. Random opinion pieces in topics ranging from NBA rules, league history, and player technique. Sarcasm, ALL CAPS, and semi-obscure references to movies like Above the Rim and Roger Dodger. Occasional artwork and fun with Photoshop. You won’t find ads, “content farming,” etc. We only write when we want to. We have fun with it, above all else. Patrick J: That’s right. The best thing about blogging is that you get to cover whatever it is you’re in to. All of our posts are Wolves or NBA-related, but we have fun with the medium and purposely write conversationally. What readers see on the site isn’t that different from our private email chains or the conversations we’d have over a beer. (I shudder to think how many “It Was A Good Day” and #winningtime references we’ve slipped into posts and tweets over the last year. We recently added a “Glossary” page to make things easier on readers.) From a feedback standpoint, why do viewers choose to come to PDW? Andy G: I honestly don’t know—I’m just flattered that there’s been feedback at all. When the blog started I never imagined that we’d get on-air shout outs from Jim Petersen, or any of the links and retweets from respected writers that cover the team and the league. I hope that people come to the site because they find information and style that isn’t available elsewhere. We’re not trying to be the best, but just to be unique in a way that pushes the Timberwolves conversation forward. Basketball’s supposed to be fun. It sometimes seems like people forget that. Patrick J: The feedback we’ve gotten has been pretty amazing. Getting a little bit of support from Britt Robson and Stop-N-Pop when no one knew who we were was the biggest boost initially, and we’re in debt to people like Britt and Jim Petersen, who had national reputations to protect and still stuck their necks out for us. But I have no idea why people keep coming back, other than to admire the super-cool banner Andy’s dad made for the site. What keeps you so dedicated toward analyzing and following the Timberwolves each year? Andy G: The enjoyment of it and nothing else. Yeah, the Wolves have struggled in recent years, but there’s always hope in the NBA. Kevin Garnett proved that here in Minnesota. Ricky Rubio might just do it all over again. Pro basketball is the best entertainment in town. It’s fun to take that excitement and run with it a little bit on our blog. Patrick J: Despite having struggled for much of the franchise’s history, the Wolves have never been uninteresting. It’s the ephemera, not the standings, that keep me coming back. The personalities, the enigmas, the styles. Think about the cast of characters: Bill Musselman; Tony Campbell & Doug West; Randy Breuer; Shane Heal (and Shane Heal’s Twitter account); Kevin Harlan; Spud Webb; John Thomas & Trevor Winter; Bobby Jackson; Rick Rickert?; James Hollywood Robinson & J.R. RIDER & Ricky Buckets (oh my!); Christian Laettner; Kevin McHale; KG; Steph Marbury; KG & Steph Marbury as a combo; Chauncey Billups/Terrell Brandon; (Sam & Spree (what if?); Wally Szcerbiak; Skita’s Summer League; Gundars Vētra (!); Stojko Vranković (!!); Employee No. 8 & Shaddy McCants, who watched as much basketball while standing on the weak-side wing as I did on TV during some games; Malik Sealy, RIP; Roy/Foye; Corey Brewer; Corey Brewer’s goat; Randy Wittman; David Kahn; Kurt Rambis press conferences; Michael Beasley; Michael Beasley’s estate sale; Anthony Randolph; Darko; Pek; Bassy Telfair, NYC’s Finest; Syracuse lottery picks; Is-Ricky-Gonna-Come-Here-And-If-So-When?; Shved; Bill Bayno; Good and Bad J.J. The list could go on forever. Every one of those guys somehow intrigued, entertained, inspired, or infuriated me. The bottom line is, there’s something for everyone. In good times and bad. How could you not keep coming back? Favorite Wolves memory? Andy G: The 1996 Draft. Looking back, it was a mistake to trade Ray Allen for Stephon Marbury. At the time, it was cause for celebration of the most exciting player tandem in basketball. There is no comparison in today’s NBA for how cool that young combo of KG and Marbury was. It’s a shame it was so short lived. Close runners up would be Rubio’s arrival – which brought with it competitive basketball – and of course the deep playoff run in 2004. Patrick J: It isn’t one single moment. It’s a collection of memories of watching Corey Brewer as Timberwolf, playing defense and chasing loose balls with reckless abandon, like his life depended on it. Brewer struggled in Minnesota, but he did the best he could and he played his heart out every second he was on the floor. Ricky Rubio has Brewer’s best qualities, and, in addition, he’s (obviously) extraordinarily skilled. I suspect my favorite Wolves memory is still to come, and it will involve Ricky putting those qualities and skills on full display in the NBA Playoffs. Biggest decision the Wolves need to make/address this offseason? Andy G: Whether to keep the current crew together, and hope to finally stay healthy, or to reshuffle the deck. I think there is a strong feeling here that the Wolves were robbed of at least one recent playoff appearance due to unlucky injuries. Ricky tore his ACL when the team was hovering around the eight seed. Love broke his hand before the most highly anticipated season in almost a decade. But even if people think they would have been in the playoffs, the fact is that they weren’t, and losing tests patience. Every off-season involves some degree of change. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if there are minor tweaks or major overhauls. Regardless of the scale, they need to add some perimeter shooting. Patrick J: Retaining Pek. Upgrading the SG position is also critical. How do you view the Flip Saunders hire as the new President of Basketball Operations? Andy G: Flip is obviously a person that Glen Taylor is comfortable working with. I’m interested to see how the dynamics play out between Flip in the front office and Rick Adelman on the sidelines. Both men are accomplished coaches. Now they’ll need to form a working relationship to maximize talent accumulation (and retention) and team performance. It’ll be interesting to see how it all works. Patrick J: Honestly, I can’t say yet. He has limited experience in that kind of role. Some bloggers were immediately against the move, but I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude. I don’t think I’ll be able to decide until I get a better sense of how he goes about the job. Specifically, I want to see how he approaches talent evaluation overall, and whether he can exploit difficult but available opportunities to give the team the best possible chance to win. These include things like extensive international scouting and successfully leveraging data analytics as a complement to traditional scouting. If you’re making selections for this team in the draft, who do you ideally take with that first pick? Andy G: Ideally they would have won one of the top three picks and have a crack at Nerlens Noel or Ben McLemore. But at the ninth spot, I’m less concerned with specific players than the philosophy that goes behind the decision. I don’t want to see the team draft a wing in the lottery just because they feel like they have to. It should be about identifying somebody that—in a year or two—can be an impact player in the NBA. If they don’t feel this about any available players, perhaps they should trade the pick. One name to keep an eye on is Sergey Karasev from Russia. He’s billed as an NBA-ready wing with a sweet shooting stroke. The Olympic connection with Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko might make Minnesota a comfortable fit for the young player coming over from Russia. Patrick J: I’m on record as an Anthony Bennett fan, but more generally, I think the Wolves should take the best player available regardless of position. If that happens to be a shooting guard, great. I think Ben McLemore is going to turn out to be a really, really good NBA player. Ditto Victor Oladipo, who has the makings of a Tony Allen or an Avery Bradley caliber defender. But given that all of these guys will likely be gone by the time the Wolves pick, I’d look hard at trading the pick and then targeting Karasev with their second first-rounder. He’d be a nice NBA player anywhere, but I think he’d be a great fit here. What was the most enjoyable storyline in the NBA this season? Why? Andy G: All of the great shooting. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and many others helped show why the NBA game is special. The shot making is downright ridiculous. Patrick J: Carmelo Anthony. His carrying a mediocre Knicks team to 54 wins and winning the scoring title did a lot to counter the narrative that he’s just a volume scorer. I’d rate Steph Curry and GSW’s run, and Kyrie Irving’s emergence as the most entertaining player in the NBA, as runner-ups. Which beat writers do you follow closely to get more information on the Wolves? Andy G: Darren Wolfson always has the latest scoop. Jerry Zgoda has solid, day-to-day team coverage. Patrick J: Wolfson, Zgoda, and Jon Krawczynski mostly, but I try to read everyone. Google News is your friend. Which are some of your favorite NBA- and Timberwolves-related blogs you follow? Andy G: Lots of great Wolves sites. Canis Hoopus, MinnPost/Britt Robson, A Wolf Among Wolves, TWolves Blog, Howlin’ TWolf, timberpups.com. I’m probably leaving some out. Zach Lowe at Grantland does an incredible job of covering the entire league. Bill Simmons—the famous founder of that site—continues to write about the league in ways that are fun to read. The team websites on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network are generally very good. Ditto SB Nation. The Knicks and Blazers seem to have especially good writers. Patrick J: That’s a solid list. In addition to Andy’s list, I was a huge FreeDarko fan, and still seek out Bethlehem Shoals’ stuff, so I was humbled when FreeDarko alum Dr. Lawyer Indian Chief recently guest-blogged on our site. In addition to blogs, I’d plug a few other mediums as well: Twitter and long-form journalism. Twitter is without-a-doubt the best information gathering resource available to humanity. For NBA fans, there are a bunch of folks there whose Twitter presence is purposefully more substantial than their blog presence— the legendary @netw3rk, for example. (That said, netw3rk is no slouch in the blogosphere either.) I think you’ll see this model more and more in coming years—writers, who may or may not blog, using Twitter as their main medium. As for longform, some of the stuff that’s out there is simply incredible. You can’t get anything like it anywhere else. Jonathan Abrams is the king of the art form. His Malice at the Palace oral history is one of my favorite reads ever. Jay Caspian Kang is doing good stuff too, like this piece on what it’s like to be tagged as the next Jeremy Lin as a prep schooler at Oak Hill Academy and this one on the culture of online gambling. Caspian Kang also wrote one of my favorite novels of the last few years as well, The Dead Do Not Improve. I can’t recommend it enough for those rare moments when you need a breather from NBA hoops.