Lost Weekend: picking out the pieces
The Wolves embarked on this week’s three game road trip shorthanded, something a team so inherently fragile can ill afford to do. Sure, they had enough to stride confidently through a culture of failure in Detroit, but Philadelphia and Washington while not exponentially better, were still equipped to withstand our best efforts this weekend. The losses did nothing for morale, of course, but when considering that we are in year one of yet another rebuilding project, it’s important to remember that no single number will be indicative of failure or success. There are more than moral victories to be claimed this season and any team worth its salt uses this time to re-focus their efforts on experimenting with solutions for the coming year. So perhaps it was best that Darko, Wes and Martell were gone this weekend. It gave us an opportunity to reconsider some things.
First of all, Nikola Pekovic is better than I thought. I’d become so distracted by his comical expressions and wagering on when his next foul would be that I never realized that I hadn’t given him much of a look. (Though you can’t really blame me, any minutes spent behind Darko are time for recuperation, not further analysis.) Well, I got that look on Friday when Pek played his best game of the season in just 13 minutes.
Now as always, the slightest measure of success on this team deserves the strictest of scrutiny as not to raise any irrational expectations, so yes, these were 76ers and no, they don’t have much of a frontcourt. However our surly friend still displayed the necessary strength and footwork to exploit these mismatches with a surprisingly refined post game. He easily established position, kept defenders off balance, made good decisions and finished with a soft touch. Most importantly, he moved with a purpose and assertiveness that continues to evade Mr.Milicic. He’s not quick enough to exploit or stay with much of the competition, which affects his defensive rotations and leads to many of these inevitable fouls, but this extended peek at him in a primary role is intriguing. I’d like to see more.
Many of the same things could be said after a weekend with Anthony Randolph. Good feet-though he may be overly reliant on that spin move-good hands, nice touch; he’s a capable scorer. Randolph is also a lengthy and explosive athlete who covers a lot of ground, a welcome sight for Kevin Love, who could use some help on the boards. But if I may paraphrase our compatriots at Free Darko, he bears the look of a man who enjoys playing basketball, not watching it. Those who dare look back on such days might even be reminded of Gerald Green; a body and skills tailor made for the modern game, but a wandering cluelessness to its structure. Risks are taken too often, offensive spacing is continually disrupted and defensive assignments are missed as assists whisk past his ears.
We’re desperate though, and as desperate people do, we’ll take one look at this attractively flawed specimen and say that we can fix it. That it just needs time, nurturing and opportunity. We’ll probably be wrong, just as we were with Gerald Green. But we will try.
So what happens to Darko, our $5 million man? (A cost-efficient mistake in today’s NBA, I might add) Will Rambis continue to suffer his timidity or will he be on a shorter leash, knowing that two eager, if slightly less competent replacements are available?
Let’s face it, there isn’t much visceral talent on this basketball team. For months, we’ve discussed how Kevin Love-our greatest asset-doesn’t look like a prototypical All Star. Or play like one, for that matter. Luke Ridnour, Wayne Ellington, Lazar Hayward, even Anthony Tolliver; they’re all relatively large men, yet still with the undefined muscles and approachable natures of mere mortals. Passing them on the street, an unknowing party may assume they’re athletes, yet wouldn’t be surprised if they were fledgling car salesmen or tax attorneys. Within the confines of an NBA locker room, they’re distinctively underwhelming.
They’re also all we had to defend Andre Igoudala and John Wall.
These young men are not only talented, but palpably so. Simply putting on their uniforms reveals a stature and confidence reflective of such unnatural ability. Then they start to move. Both roamed free amidst the short, flailing limbs of our perimeter players and both nearly collected triple doubles. Igoudala was special in his own right, yet another Team USA player who has thrived since the World Championships, but allow me to focus for a moment on John Wall, who is really, really fast.
No, really. He’s fast. Stuck on at island at the top of the key, Luke Ridnour sagged back five feet on Wall, daring an unreliable shooter to take an uncontested three. A sound strategy for any defender. But with one dribble and two steps, Wall still got by him for the bucket and a foul in the process. If that was disheartening for Luke, there was plenty more to come. In the second half, Wall caught a rebound directly under the Wolves basket. Five dribbles later, he’d sliced through four Timberwolves and left one behind for another layup attempt. He missed, but the effort wasn’t overlooked.
Wall moves so quickly, so easily that you’d swear he was simply running with the ball. He sprints, shifts and saunters with long strides, easy ball handling and keen reflexes. His speed defies angles though he knows exactly how to use his body. The way he hesitates, shortens/lengthens his gait and changes direction exploits any gap in any defense and he explodes through them all. Shortly after his failed attempt, Wall took three dribbles off an inbounds pass, weaved into the frontcourt, leaped from eight feet out, and slammed the ball past Randolph’s outstretched arms and through the basket. Fast, I tell you.
We have no such players. Nor any prospects. They are the type of rare, generational talents who make things quite simple to see: We’re not rebuilding, we’re just waiting. Be it through the draft, trade or free agency, we will not have taken any steps towards relevancy until we have someone like them. For some of us, there was a brief time when we thought we did, but sadly, The B-Easy Show will not be going prime time.
After some early scoring outbursts and a couple of game winners, we were enticed by his potential and understandably so. However he’s struggled as a play maker, is as prone to a defensive lapse as anyone and possesses a very limited scoring repertoire. Perhaps it was the matchup with another alpha and a homecoming that got the best of him, but those are the kind of circumstances we need our savior to thrive in. Instead, the road trip was filled with questionable shot selection as rushed threes and mishandled alley-oops missed their mark.
Our fair broadcasters, Jim and Hanny had a noteworthy discussion on the Beas this weekend. During a stretch of poor play that ended with two early fouls and a trip to the bench, Jim pointed out Beasley’s sluggish body language and how it might permeate throughout the team. To be fair, he also highlighted Beasley’s passion and talent as indicators that he might be a leader one day. The question, however, remains: Are leaders born or made? Is he a leader by nature or default? Just how much better can he get?
The Wolves are reportedly ready to offer Kevin Love a healthy extension and the time to decide on Micheal Beasley will come sooner than we think. We’re going to need some answers.