I’m typically in my most tangential state when I’m in the midst of reading a good book, so bear with me for a little while here.
My seemingly never-ending quest for slivers of clarity about the future has me finally reading Nate Silver’s excellent “The Signal and the Noise” from 2012. It’s a complex book, but it boils down to a simple idea: Information is great, but simply having it doesn’t make you smart. In fact, it can make you dangerously dumb. Silver made his name primarily from political forecasting (FiveThirtyEight), but the book spans a lot of different topics.
In a whole bunch of fields, figuring out what information is useful and relevant (the signal) and what is distracting and irrelevant (the noise) is critical. Separating out the two is the key to making good forecasts and predictions.
We live in an increasingly noisy world on multiple levels, and that has only increased (exponentially, one would imagine) since the book was published five years ago.
We are overwhelmed by data (not to be confused with information) constantly, across multiple platforms. When you are bombarded from all angles, it becomes that much more difficult — but that much more important — to determine what is useful and what isn’t.
(As an aside, I’ve been fascinated since reading last week about a lab in south Minneapolis known as “the quietest place on Earth.” The space, which was originally used primarily for product testing, is now also being used to “reset” brains overwhelmed by the literal and figurative noise around us).
With that as a preamble, you all probably read the headline and are now wondering: What does any of this have to do with the Timberwolves?
So here it is: Any offseason is filled with a lot of new information, and this one for the Timberwolves was particularly packed. They made a huge trade for Jimmy Butler. They dumped Ricky Rubio. They signed veteran free agents.
And a lot of us (the Wolves included) spent months trying to discern how all of this was going to fit together. It was exhausting, and by the time Wednesday night rolled around there was more a sense of relief than excitement. Now we can finally start getting some answers — filtering out the noise and trying to find the signal.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that we still have to be patient. Our information is woefully incomplete.
The temptation will be to look at what happened Wednesday — a 107-99 loss that I called “extremely annoying,” which I meant — and draw hard conclusions that these are the same old Wolves in many ways, even as they are reassembled with new parts.
New point guard Jeff Teague didn’t play in the fourth quarter and was overmatched at times on defense. Does that mean swapping out Rubio for Teague was a mistake? We don’t know yet. (Rubio’s Jazz won their opener, but Rubio was a minus-14 for the game).
Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins talked going into the season about the need to improve on defense, but Wednesday looked a lot like last year. Was that just a bunch of offseason noise? Again, it’s one game. It wasn’t encouraging, but it’s one game. (The same would be true, by the way, if they had played great D).
The bench provided a spark largely unseen last year. Will that be a trend the Wolves can count on? Maybe. Maybe not.
The Wolves’ offense looked clunky and disjointed. Is that a function of not having enough time together and/or playing the incredibly focused Spurs, or is this really just not going to work?
It’s way too early to tell. Some of the best “Super Teams” have struggled early before hitting their stride about 25-30 games into the year. LeBron’s Heat. LeBron’s Cavaliers, Part II. Even the Kevin Garnett/Latrell Sprewell/Sam Cassell Wolves of 2003-04.
Then again, that shouldn’t just be a default excuse. When KG went to the Celtics with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce — a team on which Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau was a key assistant coach — the team started 29-3 on the way to an NBA title. The chemistry was almost immediate.
Other teams with high expectations, meanwhile, never figured it out.
“There’s going to be an excuse every night if that’s the road you want to go down,” Thibodeau said after Wednesday’s loss. “But that’s not what we want to do. We have to take a look at the film, try to learn from it and be better next time. We just have to do better.”
This team should be better in December than it is right now. As this evolves, trust what your eyes tell you — as long as you aren’t looking for things that aren’t there or only at the things you want to see. Trust what the numbers tell you — as long as you’re looking at the right information and filtering out the bad.
Impatience triggers noisy data. The Wolves are going to test your patience again.