(You’re welcome for that clarification. If you had been confused all of these years, trying to bat a ball through a hoop or dunk a four-seamer, consider this your liberation).
But although you will find few similarities in the sports themselves, there are some striking similarities between two pro teams that occupy Target Center/Field on the west side of downtown Minneapolis.
(There’s Target Center in the background of Brian Peterson’s amazing photo from the 2014 Home Run Derby. And there’s the rainbow even farther out).
If you’re looking for some clues on how 2017 might play out for the Twins, you should follow the trail of breadcrumbs left by the 2016-17 Timberwolves. For example:
*Both organizations went into their seasons with new personnel bosses in charge. For the Wolves, it was head coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau along with GM Scott Layden. For the Twins, it’s president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine.
Both sets of men seem to be taking a slow build approach to their jobs and are using their first seasons to evaluate existing talent rather than blowing up rosters.
For the Wolves, that has meant heavy minutes for core youngsters like Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and (before he was injured) Zach LaVine. It meant bringing in a few free agents, but none that rank among the top eight on the team in minutes played this season. It has led the Wolves to rank dead last in the NBA in bench minutes and bench scoring, a factor that can’t be overlooked when judging their season.
For the Twins, you could see things playing out similarly: taking their lumps with Miguel Sano at third base and a bunch of young talent in the outfield to get a better sense of both their development and what kind of supplementary players they need around them. There will be extreme highs and extreme lows, but probably modest overall gains.
*One could even draw some direct parallels between players on each roster.
Towns = Byron Buxton (breathtaking stars in the making with equal desires to be great).
Wiggins = Sano (jaw-dropping ability but questions about consistent effort).
LaVine = Jorge Polanco (undeniable talent but uncertainty where they fit into the roster).
Ricky Rubio = Brian Dozier (young veteran constantly being rumored to be traded).
* Both teams still have a glaring need: stopping the other team from scoring. The Wolves showed glimpses of turning a defensive corner right after the All-Star break, but they have fallen back on old habits. The Twins figure to have a few good pitching runs throughout the year, but overall the staff is the most likely thing to hold them back this season.
*It’s unfair to say both organizations “punted” on their seasons. A more generous person might say both are judging progress by metrics and methods other than wins and losses.
For the Wolves, it has added up to a season that feels like a modest improvement, but still a disappointment. They had a .354 winning percentage two years ago. It will be better this year — probably more like .400 — with a handful more victories. The bigger leap fans hoped for didn’t materialize, which is disappointing. Thibodeau bears some responsibility for that, but the better judge of his methods will come next season and beyond.
For the Twins, it figures to play out the same. They had a .364 winning percentage last year, when they went just 59-103. If they win 10-15 more games this season, it will be an improvement but not a success. Once Falvey and Levine have had a full season to evaluate the roster, we can better judge their methods in future seasons.
If that’s too depressing a thought on Opening Day — that essentially these past six months of watching the Wolves is simply changing sports and venues across the plaza — remember this: the process of improvement, while painful, is also fascinating and sometimes fun.