Yesterday afternoon, a few friends and I made a trip down to Mankato for the Wolves' pre-season opener against Milwaukee. First of all, it was a nice, picturesque drive. Those of us who trek up north during the summer and fall should appreciate the night and day difference between driving north vs. south in our state.
I had intended to make this into the 2nd portion of last weeks' State of the Wolves: Kahn Edition write-up, but due to the lack of coverage on the game, will go with a recap instead. Part 2 will be posted in the coming weeks as cuts are made, and the roster appears more finalized. Onward to the game recap below the fold:
I knew the evening was going to be entertaining when the following happened within moments of each other:
- In walking up to the arena, a friendly, elderly bratwurst vendor was kindly inquiring with each passerby if they would care for a warm brat on a cool, autumn afternoon. Shortly after we approached the stand, a slick-looking man in a suit walks towards the entrance of Bresnan Arena, and like everyone else, is asked if he would care for a bratwurst. His response, in a sharp, condescending tone, "Not now!" Ladies and gentleman, David Kahn. Kahn's companions, Fred Hoiberg and family, picked up a few.
- Oleksiy Pecherov was the only player warming up moments before tip-off, sporting a full cast and showing a soft touch from all angles of the court. When pre-game entertainment arrived on the gym floor in the form of a local 8th-grade dance team provocatively dancing to suggestive hip-hop lyrics (what is wrong with our country, seriously?), what does Pecherov do? Stays on the court and continues shooting around, inches from the dancers as they completed their routine.
- My friend and I were asked to participate in the "spin-your-head-around-10-times-on-a-bat-,-run-down-the-court-and-make-a-layup game." This would take place during the second quarter on the gym floor, and the winner would receive an often heard of, but rarely seen "Timberwolves Prize Pack." We of course settled on splitting the prize pack in draft form, the winner of the contest getting the 1st pick in the Timberwolves Prize Pack draft. I barely won, lucking out. Prize pack in the mail. I can't wait to get my likely-too-small t-shirt. Silver lining: My FG% was higher than Corey Brewer's even after spinning around on a bat ten times, going 1-3 for for the contest.
On to basketball items. Since the outcome of the game is somewhat irrelevant, I'll approach this one in bullet form, loosely following the sequence of the game. And yes, this was a preseason game. It was clearly designed to feature one or two primary offensive sets. So, any generalization I make on a player's performance should be taken with a grain of salt given the circumstances.
- Our new offense is wonderful in terms of potential. Guys were cutting, curling, handing off passes, threading the needle, and above all: getting to the free throw line.Long gone are the days of "Drive and Kick, Drive and Kick, Drive and Kick, Miller falls over, Carney airballs a three." It was a great thing to see, and even a casual fan should notice the difference. Guys were moving and cutting, which is something we have never seen. Every possession appeared to have a clear purpose behind it. With that in mind, there was a lot of over-dribbling. There were a lot of unusual passes which lead me to believe guys weren't in the right spots about 40% of the time. Regardless, we are going to see a lot of creativity in our offensive execution, and a lot more free throws.
- The replacement refs would have called a foul if a player silently broke wind. I mean, these guys were whistle happy, especially on offensive fouls. I hope this isn't a sign of things to come, as I felt a lot of the calls were ticky-tack. I will say, the Wolves earned most of their free throw attempts due to their ability to penetrate the defense.
- Rambis was focusing mainly on dribble penetration and getting to the free throw line. There were few outside jumpshots taken during the game, and even fewer post-up situations on offense. Most of Jefferson's points actually came on mid-range jumpers. This was not alarming, but I sensed the team struggled to find open guys for jumpers on offense.
- Defense will need a lot of work. Ramon Sessions struggled to keep up with Jennings, but overall held his own. Pavlovic appeared to be a decent defender. Brewer was disruptive. I, like most, comment more on the offensive side so I will need to take a closer look over the next few pre-season games to get a better handle on our defensive issues, and improve accordingly in addressing both sides evenly.
- Kevin Love and Jonny Flynn were an excellent pick and pop combo, with Love extending his range and looking more confident with his jump shot. I like the idea of Love shooting more three pointers and am certain he has the ability to hit at least 1 or 2 per game.
- I have only seen more airballs in pick-up games at the gym after work. From both teams.
- The Wolves attempted 56 free throws last night. Jonny Flynn scored all of his points at the free throw line (14). Though the replacement refs were whistle happy, it is safe to say these free throws were well earned.
- For no reason at all, debated shouting "Fire Rambis" at one point during the game. I had no basis or reasoning, it just was a natural impulse that crossed my mind. Love the guy as coach so I have no idea why.
- For a team looking to push the tempo, I was unimpressed. There seemed to be several opportunities to ignite the break on the outlet that were not utilized. The only long outlet pass was from Mustafa Shakur, which was intercepted.
- Sat in front of a large group of 8-year olds who were very loud and obnoxious. And worse yet, they had no clue what they were talking about basketball-wise.
- It is a good sign when the words " we have never seen something like that happen in Wolves history" are uttered multiple times throughout the match. This was a reference mainly to our revamped offense, but also a reference to a flying and flailing Brian Cardinal completely leveling a Timberwolves dancer during the 2nd quarter as he went after a loose ball. Then I thought to myself, "imagine if your last sight on this planet was Brian Cardinal flying towards you like a beacon in the night." Perhaps an idea for the next Final Destination movie.
- Overall, I see the makings of a clear identity and remain optimistic. I think our SG position is going to be difficult to follow due to the lack of a clear 1st 2 guard in the rotation. We will see a lot of variation before the pecking order is established. There were plenty of sloppy plays, turnovers, and lost possessions. But, a good start to a new identity.
Some Player by Player Thoughts
- I can't say enough how happy I was with Kevin Love. Working harder than anybody out there, getting his boards and his points. Due to limited minutes, I don't have a clear cut idea on how he and Al play off of each other in the new scheme. The Toronto game on Friday will be a good case study, given their strong post presence.
- Corey Brewer is running out of time. He was disruptive on defense, but offensively Rodney Carney looked better in a half court set. He was totally stuffed by Bogut twice in the opening moments, and overall looked just as hurried as his first game as a Wolf two years ago. Kahn should re-think his stance on picking up his option and give it some serious thought.
- Jonny Flynn can get to wherever he wants, whenever he wants. A solid passer and makes us forget Telfair altogether. I felt at times he was a little too unselfish out there and would have liked to see him create his own jumpshot off of a screen/dribble. But again, I think the focus on the game was dribble penetration alone from a coaching perspective.
- Aside from Love, the guy I was most impressed with was surprisingly Sasha Pavlovic. I found myself really wanting him to play more and stay in the game. He had a really solid game (aside from the turnovers), and he has the nice ability to create his own jumper off of screens. His shot release is also silky smooth, and his defense was nothing to sneeze at either. This is exactly what Cleveland fans have cautioned us on, however, in that he will have 1 great game followed by several bad games. Looking forward to seeing his next stat line and we should continue to watch him closely.
- Ramon Sessions had a rocky game. A few nice trips into the lane including one incredible dribble drive layup, but he had an off night with a team-high 6 turnovers. He struggled with his passing, and struggled getting by his defender. I am not concerned.
- Wayne Ellington had an off-shooting night, but displayed a nice ability to shoot off of the dribble against his defender. Again, another trait we haven't seen being used to Mike Miller's catch and "shoot" routine.
- Brandon Jennings career prediction: a few decent years stat wise, but a perennial clown. Every shot he took was ill-advised and the guy just doesn't appear to carry himself well at all. Don't let the stat line fool you, unless you look at his team worst minus18. That says it all. A ball hog who can't shoot. Great combo.
- No sign of Jason Hart, Jack McClinton, Devin Brown, or Alonzo Gee. I expect them to get burn in the next game if a few aren't cut by then.
- Jared Reiner could be a good source of comedy if he makes the team.
That about wraps up my thoughts on the night. Feel free to ask any further questions in the forums, or in the comments and I'll do my best. I had to recall that from memory so I am likely forgetting quite a bit. Next game: Friday vs. Toronto at Target Center.