Tonight the Wolves face the Spurs in a "home game" in Mexico City, Mexico. As if the schedule couldn't be any more brutal. The Wolves will have their work cut out for them as well, as the Spurs as surging again despite the fact that everyone on that team is 85 years old. A few thoughts on where the team seems to be struggling of late will now follow.
As much as people tend to discuss the Wolves' lack of defensive efforts, I am really of the camp that offensive efficiency remains the de facto problem. Now, I don't want to underscore disasters like the Denver game, where Love and Pek couldn't have been paid triple their salaries to rotate or contest a shot inside against a team constantly attacking the rim, but I'd say it''s more like a 60/40 split of offense to defense. Here are two significant examples:
1. According to Teamrankings.com, the Wolves are 3rd in points per game at 105.9, but are 28th in 4th quarter points per game at 22.7.
2. The Wolves are 5th in 3 point attempts in the league at 24.1 per game, but 25th in percentage at 32.8%.
4. The starters are a group of set shooters, with the exception of Martin to some degree, and of course Pek in the post. Brewer, for example, is a disaster shooting off of the dribble, yet he does it a few times per game. I was at the Dallas game and while in the restroom (where they have the game playing on the radio) caught a stat from Rick Carlisle on the radio that Brewer has not made a mid range shot off the dribble ONE TIME this season, yet he continues to shoot those shots. I have been unable to verify this statistic but I assume it is mostly true. Though Rubio has improved the mid range the last few games, whenever either of those two shoot a mid range shot off the dribble you might as well gift wrap the ball to the other team. A wasted possession the majority of the time.
As expected, the Timberwolves cruised to victory against Kevin Garnett and the seemingly dismal Brooklyn Nets. This was a refreshing performance in many ways by the Wolves, soundly beating on the Nets early. They got off to a great start on both sides of the floor, taking Brooklyn out of whatever game plan that sorry line up may have had and torched them on offense with Adelmanian ball movement and efficiency. It was literally refreshing for the top performing starting line up in the league, that was able to get some rest as only Kevin Martin eclipsed the thirty minute mark.
While the class work this evening may have been below grade level, the Wolves came up on top, exactly as they had to.
Ricky Rubio: (12 pts, 2-3 Treys, 8 ast, 3 stls, in 24 mins) Grade: A-
Ricky’s productivity was stellar tonight. For his limited minutes he really stuffed the stat sheet. Ricky seems to always do what Ricky does. He effectlivly uses his length and disrupts passing lanes and makes phenomenal passes. He effectively had a ninth assist were he spoon fed Derrick Williams a lob that Derrick somehow couldn’t finish. Other than early foul trouble, this was an “A“ worthy effort, but against a higher caliber opponent, he needs to find a way to be disruptive while remaining on the quart
Kevin Martin: (17 pts, 3 asts, in 31 mins) Grade: B+
A six for sixteen night for K-mart is going to happen occasionally and while it is less that stellar, it effectively put 17 points on the board. Marin find ways to get buckets, something that the Minnesota Timberwolves have totally lacked from the shooting guard position. That spinning fading jumper was a perfect illustration of K-mart’s abilities. One instance stood out specifically was a play when Martin dropped of a sweet dish to Nikola Pekovic for three point play opportunity. A solid game for K-mart, but it could have been better. A tougher night shooting, and not much else to bring to the box score keep his grade from rising
Corey “Chaos” Brewer: (15pts, 3-6 Treys, in 27 mins) Grade: B+
Corey gave the T- pups a spark. He hit his corner threes, ran the floor and got the sweet block in transition. Corey played a big role in the Wolves quick start and brewed plenty of chaos on defense even though the stat sheet doesn’t necessarily show it. It was a solid game from Brew. There are always pros and cons when Corey brews chaos but he’s matured now from his younger years. Stuff the sheet a little bit more and pass out of shots that aren’t his cup of tea and his grade would fly high, just like he did on that sweet fast break throw down.
Kevin Love: (17 pts, 16 Rebs, 6 Orebs, 4 asts, 2 stls in 27 mins) Grade: A
For a short night this was quite a performance from Kevin Love. It wasn’t dominating. It didn’t provide any rim rocking dunks or display any streaks of expert long range marksmanship, but that sure is a stuffed box score, eh?
K-Love got it done tonight. Against that other Minnesota Kevin power forward guy too. One small highlight (as boring as it may seem) was Kevin’s ability to knock down free throws, making all seven freebies he shot (some gifted to the wolves by that other Kevin).
Nikola Pekovic: (15 pts, 7 rebs, in 26 mins) Grade: B-
This grade might be somewhat harsh. It wasn’t that bad of a game for Pek and he’s certainly been coming around as of late, but there are certain things a guy would like to see an NBA center do. One of those things is not air-balling hook shots. He got on the boards adequately, coming down with a handful of Brewer Bricks on offense, but it would have been nice to see him be a bit more assertive with his strength inside. One of these nights Pek is going to be brilliant, this was just not one of those nights. Thankfully, he didn’t have to.
Bench Bright Spot:
J. J. Barea: (8pts, 2-4 Treys, 2 asts, in 15 mins). Grade: A
J.J. stepped into his role tonight and did just was the Twolves needed. He came into the game when Ricky got into foul trouble and scored the basketball, hitting two threes early and providing the offense with a needed spark. He also made a slick play saving a loose ball directly to K-Love for an assist as the first quarter came to a close. Bottom line: J.J. did his job tonight.
Dante Cunningham: (7 rebs, 3 ast in 19 mins) Grade: B
Dante also did his job. He took his shots and nothing else. He moved the ball, evidenced in his three assists for the game and he hustled all day on defense as Wolves fans have gotten accustomed to seeing. Two for five shooting could certainly be better, but he took his shot and if anybody remembers last year: Dante can hit his shot.
The rest of the bench was relatively dismal. Wolves forth quarters in blow outs seem to become a “gall Dieng it, “don’t do it Derrick! “ and “you’ve got to be Shvedding me” kind of event. Light in the dark there can be found with Gorgui Dieng jumping over somebody, Derrick’s one effortless successful dunk, and Robbie Hummel’s tenacity and tendency to always be in the right place.
Anyway, it was sweet game: a breath of fresh air for players and fans alike. It’s always good to see a team win the games they should win, but as evidenced by these grades, things could still be better. Professor Adelman should hope for better test results had Brooke Lopez and Deron “The Real D-Will” Williams showed up.
Dass a wrap. Class dismissed.no comments
Last night at some point during a frustrating game in which Chris Paul turned the entire Wolves roster into mincemeat in the 4th quarter, we sent out the following Tweet:
Now, the humorous thing about the tweet is it is actually true. None of the usual hyperbole spouted from our Twitter account was present in this intense "financial analysis." Assuming CP3's gross basketball salary (not even counting endorsements) is around $18,000,000 (I can't recall the initial number I used last night, but it is higher below after digging), it proportionally worked out that Chris Paul receiving a flopping fine is akin to a fairly average middle-class salaried human being reprimanded a trip to Quizno's, or a few gallons of gas, for flopping. It is often discussed that fines in the NBA don't illicit a change in action, as a $5k fine is "nothing to these players" and that turns out to be truer than we thought. In fact, wouldn't a fine this small make you want to flop MORE, start a pool with other players, and see if you can continue to get away with it? It is a joke, really.
For fun, let's take this one step further. Earlier today I asked for some ideas on who the most notorious floppers are in the league and pooled together some of the responses and, utilizing the superb shamsports.com, here is what a flop for said player would "feel like" at your relatively paltry salary. Simply find your approximate salary (I figure few millionaires read this site), then match it up to your favorite knucklehead, and quickly realize that, with the exception of Robbie Hummel (added for fun as a minimum salary rookie), a flopping fine is no more impactful than a parking ticket. And while someone with more skills than I should make this into a program where you can enter your salary, pick a player, and get a result, we don't quite have those resources at the moment, so apologies. Enjoy:
Tonight was a huge test for this Timberwolves team. A week ago this squad went into Staples Center and almost defeated the Los Angeles Clippers, formally known as Lob City. This wasn't just a big test for this Wolves squad, but also for Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio as he faced off against Chris Paul for the second time this season. A test that was failed, both by the Wolves and Rubio, as Minnesota fell short after a late push in the 4th quarter led by Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. Los Angeles handed Minnesota its second loss at Target Center this season with a final score of 102-98.
Through three quarters, Clippers star Chris Paul was held in check by Minnesota. He played to Minnesota's hand and let his supporting cast help him through it. But during crunch time, Paul showed why he should be in the MVP conversation this season. Halfway through the fourth quarter, Paul stepped up, as a star should, to help his team stop a late game run by Minnesota, by draining two three's as well as a jumper right in Rubio's face. Frustrated, he couldn't hang with Paul. He gave head coach Rick Adelman a helpless look as Chris Paul, seemingly effortlessly, put the game out of reach. Paul finished the game with 20 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, and four steals. When the time came for Ricky to step up and make a play, he was not confident in the jumper he worked all offseason on, and was unable to orchestrate a response on offense.
Now, i'm as big of a Ricky Rubio supporter there is. Like most, I was ecstatic when Kahn drafted him and always believed he would end up playing in the frigid Minnesota winters. I know the season is still very young and Rubio could find his shot, but it's time for him to live up to the max contract the team allegedly saved for him. Rubio's stat-line in the loss: five points, six assists and four steals, although he did a good job taking care of the ball with just one turnover.
Every player has bad stretches, even the great Michael Jordan went through them. But usually when you play the best player at your position, you step your game up. This didn't seem to happen with Rubio, who failed to fascilitate the offense for the team early on. Where are the dazzling Rubio passes and quality fascilitation he is known for?
Through 12 games this season Rubio is averaging eight points, nine assists and three steals.
And while it's very early to start talking about his next deal, as of now those are not numbers worthy of a maximum contract despite his elite defense. And while some scoring regression was likely given the addition of Kevin Martin, it is time to see some growth. Ricky needs to develop an offensive game in order to help this team stay in games when Martin and Love aren't getting quality looks. In order for Minnesota to get to the next level, given the lack of cap room and assets available to add other pieces, they need Ricky to make a leap. Look at the elite teams in the Western Conference: Clippers (Paul), Oklahoma City (Russell Westbrook), San Antonio (Tony Parker), Golden State (Curry). They all have an elite point guard running the show. Based on what we have seen thus far, Rubio has a very long way to go until he is in the same conversations as these other players.
Kevin Love and Martin are tearing it up to start the season. Nikola Pekovic is coming around, having another solid game tonight. Brewer adds energy to this squad, along with JJ Barea stepping it up of late. Chase Budinger is on the mend and Robbie Hummel has shown he can fill in. And while Rubio's flashy passes and electric defense is great, It's time for the offensive aggressiveness to come alive inside Ricky. You can say that Love is the anchor to this team, or even Martin. No, the way I see it, this is Rubio's team. He makes the offense run and flow. He is the motor that runs this squad.Time will tell, but at the end of the day, this Timberwolves team will go as far as Ricky Rubio will take them. Hopefully, Ricky can get back on track as Kevin Garnett comes back to the Twin Cities for a reunion against his former team on Friday.no comments
The Wolves continue their absurd schedule tonight, after finally getting an extra night of rest, with a dreaded 4 games in 5 nights stretch as a reward, and their 3rd and 4th back to backs of the year. To add salt to the wound, each of the "-to backs" are against Western Conference contenders. Stern's last dance against the Wolves. The "easy" teams are on rest nights and those are the ones the Wolves really must win. If they split the 4 in 5 stretch (2-2), this will be fine. Even better if the pups squeeze out a win vs. Houston or LA, but wins against the Nets and the Wizards, two Eastern bottom-feeders, is a definite must.
A few keys tonight against Washington (2-7):
Tonight is a must win. I know this sounds simple, but one of the trends thus far are a lot of teams starting off the season with an easy schedule, such as Portland. The difference between the Blazers and the Wolves thus far has been Portland winning just about every game they have played, even on the road, against said inferior competition. I'm not sure whether it is a start of a trend/concerning or just the team needing to "gel" (overblown cliche' generally uttered by coaches on the hotseat, might I add), but the Wolves have lost 2 of their 4 games against sub-.500 opponents. During the season some teams will just let a few get away (this is how the 2009 Wolves somehow managed to win 15 actual NBA games), but seeing the Wolves lose to Cleveland and Denver, mainly due to a lack of overall effort, is a bit concerning. Those are the games you absolutely have to win in order to maintain a rank in the west hunt, particularly with New Orleans underperforming thus far (bounceback ahead?) and Kobe returning to the sidelines in short order. And while the Blazers will most definitely take a big tumble as soon as they play actual NBA teams on the regular, their consistent winning thus far at least puts them in the playoff hunt for now barring one of their annual collapses.
While the Wolves just recently enjoyed their first extra day off of the season, 4 games in 5 nights is indeed a first (and last) of the season. These are brutal, brutal stretches. You may recall an injury-depleted Wolves win against Houston last January where the Wolves emerged to a surprising win. This was Chris Johnson's temporary coming out party as the recently-departed center scored 15 points on perfect shooting, with Gelebale adding 11. The major, major caveat here is that Houston was playing its 4th game in 5 nights and shot just 32% from the floor. Here is the box score. The point is, 4 games in 5 nights is not easy. it does no services to fans, creates a bad product, and results in bad basketball and Chris Johnson guaranteed contracts. The Wolves, coincidentally, end this stretch against Houston on Saturday where the Rockets will most assuredly exact their revenge. And even more humorous? The Wolves only get one extra day of rest after this stretch and then have to go to Indiana to play the undefeated Pacers. You can't make it up. The point is: try not to get discouraged if the team comes out of this with more losses than wins.
Luckily, over these past few games, our old pals JJ Barea and Dante Cunningham seem to have woken up a tad. JJ is averaging 13.3 points on 59% shooting these last three games and has hopefully returned to a somewhat less maddening role. Cunningham is putting up similar positive results offensively with 53% shooting and 10 points a game (as well as 5 steals vs. Boston), both far cries from their less than stellar beginnings. Robbie Hummel has worked his way into the rotation as well, and can help spread the floor with his outside shooting touch. This uptick in bench production is a nice sign moving forward and this improved play must continue in order to get through this stretch in one piece.
Ideally vs. Washington the Wolves can enjoy another one of their patented blowouts. Despite the Wolves being dealt a fairly pleasant hand in terms of quality of opponent thus far, they have responded by winning four games by 18 or more and are 3rd in the league in point differential behind Indiana and the Spurs. This is a great trend that builds confidence and puts less strain on the starters late in games. Washington, ideally, will be one of those opponents, leaving the Wolves with enough juice to compete tomorrow in a rematch against the Clippers.
In terms of matchups, the two match up nicely in favor of the Wolves. Love and Nene are both physical players, and despite Nene's size and physical stature, he is a very poor rebounder for his position. Love should be able to dominate Nene on the glass. With the Wizards missing Ariza tonight, Brewer will face off against Martell Webster and given his penchant for bone-headed plays and Wittman's penchant for bone-headed coaching, hopefully the Wolves can take advantage of Brewer/Love leakouts and build a lead easily, with Martin shooting well after a rough shooting night from outside at Denver on Saturday (1-7 from 3 and 6-18 on the night).
All signs point to an easy win tonight. If not, this stretch could be rather brutal and may quickly write ill fortunes for the rest of the month, and the standings.no comments
It would be easy to say that the Cleveland game was an anomaly, but it really wasn't. OK, building a 39 point lead against a team that is supposed to contend for a playoff spot, while shooting near perfect from the field, may end up being the highest point differential the Wolves achieve this season, but the offense has been cooking to start the year. Even without Kevin Martin, the Wolves were able to absolutely roast the Cavaliers, getting contributions from a wide range of players in order to will the victory. But rather than dissect the play these past few games, let's review a few recent bits of news for the team as it faces another set of back-to-backs.
1. Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic were crucified a bit early in the season, as each started off very slow offensively. Pekovic was the biggest surprise, averaging 39% shooting through his first 5 games. In these last 4, Pek has rounded in closer to form and upped his shooting percent to 58%. In a similar trend, Rubio started shooting 29% the first five games, and shot 47% these last 4. Encouraging trends for those fans worried about their offensive regressions.
2. Kevin Martin was out with the flu the other night, but was healthy and ready to go the next day. He started feeling better right around halftime of the Cavs game, and was perfectly fine the next day (hangover? Nah). He will start tonight at Denver where he will be matched up with Randy Foye. For a player who has had his fair share of injuries over the years, giving Martin a night off while the rest of your team more than makes up for your absence is a nice thing.
3. Chase Budinger has been cleared to rejoin the team and has been engaging in set shooting and light running as he continues his journey towards a welcomed return. It remains to be seen when he will return to the court, but based on how injuries have been treated in the past, I would guess news on his return will remain mum and we will find out shortly before tip-off of a game in order to throw off any strategy from a given opponent. This has been an ongoing trend in the league and I suspect it happens here. My guess is early/mid December, despite the reports of Christmas. But, just a guess.
4. Taking a look at the NBA standings, there have been quite a few outliers to start the season. For the Wolves, currently at 6-3, this is a record you would and should expect from a playoff team. The health has fared relatively well through the first 10-12% of the season and the Wolves have proven to be a formidable foe to any team in the NBA, netting some quality wins against quality teams, and being 2 single field goals away from an 8-1 record.
Please click "Read More" for the rest of thoughts on this weekend...
You heard it here first: last night the Wolves trounced the Lakers and earned a blowout victory, Rubio scored a triple double, and a 22-game, 6-ish year streak came to an end. Fantastic game. But a little bit less satisfying than beating the Lakers at "full strength: (read: Kobe in the lineup, surrounded by the same garbage, otherwise known as a completely beatable team).
Thus tonight the Wolves face their 2nd back-to-back of the season. The first time around on night 2 @ CLE, the starters began the game flat in the first quarter, allowed high-energy Cleveland to get ahead, which resulted in the Wolves never quite being able to get back into it until the very end (mostly a result of Brewer being awesome and Cleveland being not awesome), where JJ Barea fumbled the ball late and our chances of a victory tumbled along with it. It is games like that that will hurt in April if the Wolves are still vying for playoff positioning.
That being said, barring a minor miracle, I expect the tables may turn tonight. Adelman's game plan is clear: start the game playing at a crazy pace, shooting as many 3's as possible in order to build a large lead, then slow it down a bit in the half court in an effort to maintain the momentum through the remaining 3 quarters. Get Pek involved, get Ricky his looks, balance the scoring, etc. Thus far, it has worked. Many people lauded the Martin signing, but as of now it is looking like his production will vastly outpace what AK47 did last year. Dare I say it, but having to pick between the two, especially considering AK is facing another injury-riddled season in struggling Brooklyn, I am thrilled with having Martin on the squad vs. AK.
The Clippers will be a challenge. A back to back win in LA would be monumental and would turn a heck of a lot of heads. It will be tough. The Clippers, though 4-3 have had a brutal schedule to start and this is just their 3rd home game of the season. I suspect they will be comfortable, hungry, and very well may return any hot start in kind with 2 of their own wing sharpshooter out there. In addition, DAJ, much improved this year, has always been a bothersome matchup for Pekovic. And there is that Chris Paul Guy. And Griffin. I hate to rain on the parade, but it would be a shocker if the Wolves emerged tonight with a win. I don't think Wednesday's rematch against Cleveland will bring similar results.no comments
As many of you are well aware, the Wolves' bench has fallen surprisingly flat to start the year. Like any current Wolves information, it has been covered ad nauseam at just about every Wolves-related touch point on the internet. In each of the past few contests, the starters have been forced to overextend themselves, playing long, hard minutes, often in a battle to do whatever they can to bail out the non-existent production of the second unit after they (quickly) return to action. The blame can be placed everywhere, for those looking to place it:
1. JJ Barea, while providing really the only semblance of consistent scoring production aside from a dabble of Williams, has had a very difficult time facilitating the second unit. This, of course, would be improved if the bench unit weren't shooting 36.2% which, as Britt Robson pointed out, is good for last in the league. JJ continues to be perhaps the ultimate love/hate player in the league, and his early runs have been mired by bad decision making and shot selection as well as failing to provide a rhythm from the 1 spot off the bench.
2. Shved. I'm not sure whether Shved is having a shooting funk as much as he is having a mental funk. Something is up. It would be inappropriate to speculate what that may be, so I will not. He clearly does not have the mental toughness to succeed at this point in his career. And while he had a very nice start to the year last season, his play completely derailed after the all-star break and that negative trend seems to have continued its decline over the summer into what we have witnessed thus far. If his worse-than-poor play continues, he simply does not belong on an NBA floor; and sadly, benching Shved would only make whatever mental drawbacks he is facing continue to haunt his once-promising career. Unless he turns around his play, I don't see his Timberwolves, or even NBA, career lasting much longer.
3. Williams, despite a fairly promising pre-season and a notable increase in defensive effort, remains the Williams we know and love. While Williams has continued to show "occasional flashes" of NBA productivity, his overall fit and presence on this roster continues to baffle the mind. Flip electing to pick up his $6 million+ option is appearing to make his contract borderline untradeable in this harsh, increasingly finance-driven trade market of the league. GM's in this league, particularily the ones manning the young teams, are likely well aware of Williams up-and-down, average-at-the-very-best play that has defined his career and will not be fleeced in trade. Derrick is who he is at this point, a player who will not live up to his potential as a #2 pick and, like hundreds of other bench players, will likely continue his inconsistent production for the duration of his career. There really isn't anything wrong with such a career either, taking the draft pick out of the equation of course.
4. Dieng. I had no idea the Wolves had administered a new rookie hazing ritual of requiring all rookies to dip their hands in a bucket of butter before a game. Thus far, he has looked extraordinarily out of place, and more nervous than Anthony Bennett has in Cleveland. Of course, we are just five games in, but Dieng's play the other night goes to show you how much mental toughness this second unit lacks. Dieng has shown an ability early to be a rim protector, and while getting a high amount of blocks, his foul rate may only be rivaled by Trevor Winter who, as some may remember, played 5 total minutes of NBA action with the Wolves and in those 5 minutes committed 5 fouls and was never heard from again. The ultimate Moonlight Graham moment (even more fitting because Moonlight was from Minnesota).
5. Cunningham. Dante's lack of defensive rebounding skills and poor shooting have rendered him of little use to start the year. We can feel confident enough that his famous elbow shot will start to drop and his confidence will improve from there. HAM was a big part of last year's team and I fully expect us to view him in the same light on an annualized basis at the completion of the season. Flip will then likely award him with a 3-year, $18 million contract. Just kidding. Maybe. Crap, that's totally going to happen, isn't it?
Furthermore when you continue to look down the rest of the roster, it remains befuddling that the remaining spots are filled with developmental guys who, at this point, Adelman is uncomfortable with playing. I'm talking about Muhammad, Hummel, and Price (and Dieng to a lesser degree though he is being forced into bit action). I ask this question: if Adelman will not give these guys playing time, or shuffle the rotation, then why are they even on the roster? The Wolves currently are "wasting" about 4 total roster spots to developmental players who are currently not getting the experience they need to play when, not if, WHEN, the starters fall to injury. And as much flack as many gave for the Muhammad selection, he was surprisingly active in the pre-season and showed some solid signs of adjusting his game to the NBA. Is there any universe out there right now where Shabazz isn't on the floor playing harder, stronger and faster than Alexey Shved, providing some energy and helping these bench guys pull their heads out of their behinds? Doubtful. The makeup of the bottom half of the roster is baffling and will likely haunt the Wolves when the starters get banged up due to being over extended. It makes sense having recently drafted rookies on the team, and to build your bench via good drafting, but having a Hummel and a Price on this team when there are minimum salary veterans (such as DeShawn Stevenson, Marquis Daniels, among others) waiting for a phone call remains confusing and counter-productive.
But aside from the bench play, there are a few other patronizing critiques we must mention thus far over the first 5 games. The first is the play of Nikola Pekovic.
It remains to be seen what is up with him to start the year. There has been a noticeable lack of post touches, the elite footwork and positioning that once allowed Pek to thrive has all but vanished. When he gets the ball, often Pek rushes in the post a la Darko (yes, I said it), leading to another wasted possession. He is shooting just 41% from in close, which is not nearly effective enough for any player in this league. Now, 11 and 10 averages is nothing to sneeze at by any means, but we have seen a much more passive Pek to start the year. Part of this could be the complete lack of Pek and Roll plays that so much defined that legendary pre-Rubio-injury run of 2011. Pek was so good at moving off the ball and off the pick that it completely tore several teams apart during that period. Now? The play is gone, rarely, if ever used. My only question is, why?
Pek's shot chart (NBA.com Stats). Not to be confused with Rubio's.
The second issue has been Rubio, our lone folk hero left in the sports scene. To start the year Ricky has been trying hard to find his shot, often taking shots early in the clock or early in a play in an effort to keep the defense honest and play closer on him in a effort to open up the floor. Unfortunately, he has not converted on these attempts over these past three games, shooting an abysmal 5-26 from the field..This has lead to a multitude of challenges in the halfcourt, where the Wolves are currently 25th in the league in points per possession in half-court sets at 0.82 points. Due to Rubio's complete inability to contribute offensively thus far in the season, the defense can sag off of him and cut off just about every passing angle, rendering the Rubio magic near useless unless the Wolves are in transition, where they do their most damage speeding up the pace. The half court will continue to be a massive challenge unless Rubio starts converting shots. I'm not talking about improving his percentage by 5 pts., I'm talking a total overhaul. The defense can surrender 1 or 2 successful mid range shots from Ricky if it continues to make our half court efficiency reek in this manner. It is bad, and the lack of PnR for Pek (or anyone) and Rubio's angles being nullified is the bulk of the problem.
So, tonight we face the Mavs. The Mavs are a peer. A team fighting for a low playoff spot and also playing well at 3-2 to start the year. For the Wolves, the laurels have been properly rested on. It would be pretty surprising to not see an eff-you game from all starters to quell these recent fears from "Wolves Nation" as it were. Barring a catastrophe, we should be 4-2 by night's end.no comments
Game 4 is at 6PM this evening. The first back to back test of the year against a potentially sneaky good Cavaliers team.
A few thoughts:
The Bench Must Rise. Last night we saw three starters log 40 minutes: Love, Rubio and Pekovic, with Martin also logging 35. As much as this 3-0 start has been a solid run, riding the starters that hard is not a sustainable strategy given the health history of the squad. With Turiaf and Chase being out for who knows how long, we need a spark. Given the team is on the 2nd night of a back to back, it would be pretty surprising if RA ran the same rotation. Dieng is quite likely to see his first set of meaningful minutes this evening, and it wouldnt surprise me to see Shabazz on the floor for a few as well. Ok, that would be surprising. RA was forthcoming about Gorgui being "nervous" against OKC, so perhaps he held out the young guys from the high-pressure situation of MSG.
Ideally, this would come in the form of Alexey Shved. In whatever time he has gotten thus far over the first three games, there aren't exactly a plethora of kind words to share. He has looked sullen, lost and has not been shooting the ball like the team needs him to.
Offensive Efficiency = winning basketball. Last night against the Knicks, the Kevins combined for 64 points on 31 shots. I can't even begin to describe how staggering this number is. What is even more remarkable is Kevin Martin had just twelve of those attempts and still managed to score a "quiet" 30 points. Ever since Martin first landed in Houston a few years back and Daryl Morey called him "the most efficient scorer in the league," that label has followed him ever since. It showed tonight. What makes it even more of a perfect match is combining him with the other Kevin, who puts up mid-high 20's in scoring when healthy and brings equal efficiency numbers to the table. Both players are superb 3-point shooters and also get to the free throw line at a high rate. Having two of the most efficient scorers in the league play together on a nightly basis is going to lead to some pretty staggering scoring runs that will be a blast to watch.
Sound D on the Wings = winning basketball. What has been a surprise this season, particularly vs. the pre-season has been the team's commitment to defense. Nearly every player has made positive defensive plays to start the year against two of the best scorers in the league in Anthony and Durant. Pek himself has been solid inside and Love's effort on the defensive end as well as providing team leadership have all been above average. Tonight vs. CLE the Cavs provide a bit of a different problem, a high scoring PG. The defensive strategy will have to change somewhat in order to contain him. The good thing is Kyrie has had a pretty rocky start to the year offensively. This trend could either continue into tonight or we could have a breakout game on our hands. I fear the breakout game. Keep him honest, sir Ricky. And helpers.
Tonight against the Cavs, I would expect the starters to be a bit gassed. 40 minutes of fast basketball, followed by a flight and another game the next day may lead to some sloppy shooting, and it would be surprising to see another hot start. The key is Rick finding a good balance of minutes in order to sustain the energy into the 4th quarter. However, If Martin and Love can put together another barrage of points, the Cavs may not be able to keep up.
Doesn't this offseason feel like it has taken an eternity to pass? Last year we at least had Olympic hoops to hold us over for a few weeks in August. This year, we have had to pretend to enjoy baseball for far too long. The Vikings have been an abysmal cesspool of ineptitude, which has provided no solace while in NBA purgatory. The Wolves are back, and hopefully ready to FINALLY enamor the city once again.
Since just about every iteration of every Wolves preview has already been published with a smattering of predictions that the Wolves will finish as a 7th or 8th seed team if healthy, will not be able to defend well, etc. etc. etc., I will attempt to spare the repetition. Maybe. Here are a few quick and hopefully different "keys to success" for the year, several of many, in an effort to not waste your time by repeating the obvious (e.g. Love, Pek and Rubio need to be awesome).
1. Myth: "Ricky Rubio needs to improve his jump shot." This, to me, is easily the biggest myth surrounding Timberwolves basketball (aside from the fact that this team isn't good). This miscast idea that Rubio's future success is hinged on him becoming a better outside shooter. A deadeye jumpshot would help, but it is not the main problem facing Rubio's inconsistent scoring contributions. Rubio has 3 point range. He can hit a few at a passable clip. What makes Rubio so difficult to watch when he is attempting to score is his inability to finish shots near the basket. This is what Rubio needs to improve upon in order to be discussed among the stalwart defensive/distributing PG's such as Rajon Rondo or Jason Kidd, his most commonly cited comparisons. Perhaps this is a bit of hyperbole, but Rubio's inside game is at a high school level of development, or lower. The moves are not there, the touch is not there. He can get to where he wants on the floor despite a lack of explosiveness, but when he gets near the hoop to attempt a shot, even on fast breaks, it is usually accompanied by an awkward, sliding fadeaway to the left that rarely goes in. Think JJ Barea's backdown move/fadeaway from about 2 feet south of the free throw line and the subsequent "Clang" off the front of the rim. Only with Rubio, there is a "thump" as the ball hits the backboard and nothing else, and creates one of several wasted possessions per game. It's bad. And as much as many of us fans are enamored with the kid, I think we can start to come to terms with this dreadfully underdeveloped portion of his game.
To rub salt in the wound, understand that Rubio's inside shooting percentage was 41% last season, which tied for worst in the NBA with former Wolves darling Randy Foye. This is a full 14 percentage points below the league average. He is horrendous in close. If you want an area for improvement, this is most certainly it. Especially considering a lot of Rubio's damage should theoretically be done in the open court on fast breaks, with him often times finishing the break with a layup. Let the jumper come naturally, as it will.
2. The Wolves need to stay healthy, and more importantly, play through some pain. "Wait, this isn't a unique idea!" I know, I know, but it is relevant enough, and too big of a factor to ignore, and related to the next two points.The injury conversation has been discussed ad-nauseum in the Wolves' corner of the internet. It has been the same song and dance for about two years now and if you are reading this, this paragraph is going to be far from insightful (probably one among many, but I had to whip this up quick). The season is once again dependent on whether our oft-injured stars can play more than half of a season. Oft-injured AK47 is out and has been replaced with the also oft-injured Kevin Martin. The story continues.
The good news is, just about everyone is healthy for opening night, which did not happen last year. But understand this: tonight will, in all likelihood, be one of the healthier teams we see at any given point in the season. Pek will miss time. Martin will miss time. Ditto Love and Rubio. These 4 just aren't a durable bunch and I highly doubt this changes much now, most particularly Pek and Martin. But one of the things Flip discussed when he was hired, was determining solutions for players to play through their injuries. It seemed anything as small as a papercut put a player on the scratch list for a week or more last season. The bottom line is, the elite teams of the league aren't guys who trot around the court injury and pain free. A sore ankle isn't something that should keep you out of NBA action. And last year, when little bit injuries like this happened, the lineups the Wolves trotted out were nothing short of unwatchable. Thus:
3. It is imperative someone make a "leap" from the bench unit. This should be Derrick Williams, but let's not hold our collective breath. It could be Shved. It could Barea having a healthy resurgence. Maybe Bazz plays his way into the rotation and continues his plot to become the next Lance Stephenson with his rebounding and inside game. But it has to be someone. Anything less is an instant trip back to the lottery. There are going to be plenty of nights this season where at least one of the "core 4" are out, and we just can't handle situations where the bench guys pull a Greg Stiemsma and get totally exposed while playing starters minutes. The mental toughness has to be there. An encouraging sign was the play of Shved and Barea in the preseason. Both played with their usual warts fully visible, but both shot the ball very well from outside, and Barea emerged as a shockingly efficient scorer in those games. Hopefully he sustains at least a somewhat favorable fraction of this production into the season. For if he doesn't, and the bench continues the deer-in-headlight routine in times of need a la last season, it could get quite ugly. Good teams have players who step up in times of need. For the past two seasons, the Wolves lacked exactly that.
4. The "Relative Depravity" bit among the fanbase. I have been casually reading Malcolm Gladwell's newest book David and Goliath which is an interesting read about why underdogs tend to succeed, and why we may have advantages in certain situations where we appear to have a disadvantage, and vice versa. One of the examples in this book is how high school academic prodigies attend Ivy League schools, and after a dozen years of academic triumph, develop feelings of inadequacy as a result of taking on the toughest and most challenging course loads in the world, and not seeing the success they saw in high school. As a result, certain folks in certain fields get overwhelmed with this false sense of relative inadequacy, and change to an easier major. The argument here is that this wouldn't have happened had they, say, attended a less competitive school, where the course loads are more manageable. This is called "relative depravity." Being an Ivy League graduate (if you make it through) may not appear to be as advantageous as one might think, vs. being one of the smartest students at a less prestigious university. Sort of like how Kevin Love blew up on an awful Timberwolves team a few years ago.
The key here, as it applies to the Wolves, is that the fanbase (me definitely included) tends to seem a bit more downtrodden and discouraged coming into this season than last year. So many injuries to this squad (which lead to actual starting lineups of Rubio, Ridnour, Gelebale, Cunningham, and Stiemsma in professional basketball games) have lead to a bit of a mischaracterization of this team as being not very good. Since we are so used to seeing awful lineups go up against healthy teams, we think we are worse than we are. Some seem to expect similar results, or modest improvement, this year even if the team is healthy. This just isn't true. Remember early 2011. This was pretty much the only time our "big 3" played together consistently and it was easily one of the most exciting times in T-Wolves history. These 3, with a vastly inferior supporting cast than we see today, beat teams like a then-good Dallas, San Antonio, and LAC on the regular. While the defensive issues will keep this team from getting very far into to the playoffs, with good health, the Wolves are absolutely poised to be the surprise team of the Western Conference. IF the health is favorable, and IF someone from the bench unit makes a significant leap in their game this season to help spell the inevitable, hopefully short-term, injuries that will occur. These are two big "if" statements, but there is plenty of reason to be optimistic and not think too deep into last season's almost comical barrage of injuries which is simply the only reason the Wolves ended up back in the lottery.
Tonight vs. Orlando:
So, all of that being said, we are finally here, and playing what should likely be yet another another exhibition-level contest against a team that is in the midst of a tank, and also began its season against the Pacers last night. Now, after being physically dominated by the Pacers, they have to play against what could very well be one of the most up-tempo teams in the league. I don't love the Magic's chances tonight.
Keys for tonight:
-Trap Jameer and Afflalo. Keep Jameer from distributing and deny Afflalo 3 point shot attempts. Luckily this isn't a game where Love and Pek have to work too hard defensively to deny their matchups opportunities, so keep Harkless from being active from the mid range, and stay tight on Afflalo from outside and the starting unit should have little difficulty controlling the game early.
-Keep Vucevic off the glass. Luckily there is nary a better rebounding duo than Pek and Love in the league ready and hungry to thwart one of Orlando's limited NBA advantages.
-Prevent Oladipo from having his first of many breakout games. Luckily his outside shot still needs work, and Turiaf has shown he can adequately and surprisingly defend well at the rim. Keep him out of the lane where he does his finest work and Shved hopefully won't look like too much of a defensive liability as the backup 2. It would seem VO is on a 20 minute limit to start the year, but if he comes in and lights up the Wolves bench early, he could be the x-factor for Orlando tonight in keeping the game close.
-Beat them offensively. This is going to be a common theme for the Wolves this season. All too common. The Wolves are armed with vastly superior offensive weapons than Orlando and the Magicians shouldn't fare well attempting to keep up with the Wolves on the scoreboards. This should be an easy win.
Final prediction....6th seed in the West. 50-32 record. Because why not be optimistic and bet high? The playoff picture never ends up how we imagine pre-season; the mighty fall (here is looking at you Grizzlies and Spurs, my "mighty will fall" picks) and the little guys rise. The Wolves are the Warriors of this season. I believe!