On Friday, in my conversation with Sam of Raptors Republic, I said this about our Wolves: “they are grotesquely inconsistent when it comes to playing team defense, sustaining the kind of effort, awareness and concentration that a team needs to compete…the Raptors were worse than terrible in [the last] game; the Wolves are more than capable of returning the favor.” God, did that ever turn out to be true.
Earlier on in that same chat, I took Michael Beasley to task for his relatively one-dimensional, high volume, low efficiency offensive game. Well, I don’t take any of it back. But, after Beasley limped off the floor in the second quarter and the Wolves thereafter relied on a steady stream of contested jumpers, it again became evident that it really helps to have at least one player on the floor who can create his own shot. Remember that from last year everybody?
And I know we’ve also all been hard on Luke Ridnour in the past. Clearly, he’s no one’s idea of a dynamic starting point guard and he does take some curiously chosen jumpers from time to time (although, did you know that he’s tied with Mr. Love for ninth in the Association in three-point shooting, at 43.9%?). But with Jonny Flynn and Sebastian Telfair at the helm, the Wolves were lost on the wild seas. Don’t let those deceptively average stat lines fool you; these two guys were a nightmare of over-dribbling, jump-passing, terribly chosen shots and awful indecision.
Now, I know that Telfair hit two incredibly clutch threes in the fourth quarter that kept his team temporarily in the game. But those shots–off the bounce, early in the clock, before any other Wolf had touched the ball–those were not good shots. And the Coney-Island-vs.-everybody mentality that they produced (Bassie and Flynn are two of the most egregious heat-checkers you’ll ever see) led directly to Telfair forcing an early-in-the-shot-clock, shallow angle, heavily contested jumper with the Wolves down by six and desperately needing a basket. The Raptors certainly played more active D than they did last Saturday, but they still boast the NBA’s worst defensive efficiency. The Wolves, though, were such an inconsistent, unfocused mess, that they were in no position to take advantage of it.
Its also really hard to win when you can’t defend anybody. The Wolves certainly displayed their typical lapses in defensive execution–ambivalent help defense, indecision on the pick-and-roll, slow rotations to jump-shooters, rotten transition D (this latter thing was exacerbated by turnovers and other terrible offensive possessions). They also struggled to pursue Demar DeRozan around screens and contest his jumpers (this was mostly Corey Brewer), to stay in front of Andrea Bargnani on the perimeter (thinking of Darko here), and to keep Amir Johnson off of the offensive glass (Love seems to struggle most with the long-limbed, tremendously explosive types).
But they were mostly plagued by their inability to contain Jose Calderon, especially on pick-and-roll. Neither Flynn nor Telfair were able to exert any meaningful ball pressure on the Spaniard (Flynn’s confused, listless attempts to negotiate screens are just painful to watch). And the Wolves’ big men were equally abysmal in their attempts to impede Calderon with hedges and shows (Darko again). Calderon is a nice passer and all but his 19 assists on Friday, a mix of open-court dishes and breezy roamings through the lane, had to be among the easiest of his life.
The Wolves were undermanned today, missing their leading scorer and their starting point guard; for these reasons, I suppose we could all be forgiven for simply forgetting this rotten game. But the reality is that, under the very best of circumstances, the Wolves are a sub-mediocre offensive team and, in absolutely all circumstances, a truly terrible defensive one. And what improvements we do find in the latter category are so incremental and erratic as to be very, very hard to spot. The reality is that only their unusually prolific three-point shooting prevented them from being blown out by the Toronto Raptors. Can you tell that this is really starting to annoy me?
By the way, Kevin Love is an All-Star. That’s cool.