Among the ashes: Timberwolves 127, Suns 135

Myles Brown —  April 13, 2011 — 5 Comments

stairway

I honestly don’t know what to say anymore. Our pups are obviously frustrated with such a prolonged losing streak. It shows in their morose huddles, pained expressions and increasingly frequent outbursts towards each other. But they don’t make any of the necessary adjustments to rid themselves of this dark cloud. They aren’t rebuilding, they’re resigned; entirely too accepting of their fate.

There’s no communication. Every defensive stance is foiled by at least two Wolves wandering aimlessly about as though they’re merely waiting for the possession to be over rather than attempting to stop it. Oblivious to back door cuts, indecisive on pick and rolls, and late to rotate towards open shooters, our boys helplessly watched as three after three after three settled through the basket. After 81 games, it’s still unclear if such porous defense is more due to poor coaching or sheer ineptitude, but neither are excusable.

The offense isn’t much better. Their gaudy point total isn’t reflective of effort or execution, just prolonged exposure to a team as disenchanted with defense as they are. There weren’t recognizable sets, just a meeting of mercenaries that struggled even when they were winning. Little structure and less communication; too much ball stopping and too many self serving attempts to be the hero.

Sure, Michael Beasley had a few chest-pounding moments, but his ill advised, yet fortuitous shot selection didn’t impress me. A lazy jab step and forced three led to a fast break where he was outrun by Grant Hill, who was in his third year at Duke while Beasley was still in Underoos. It’s not so SuperCool anymore. In fact, it’s trite and counterproductive. Nothing encapsulates this season’s struggles more than watching Beasley trot out the same repertoire against every team as though they’re not all reading the same scouting report.

They’re all aware of his scoring mentality. He wants to shoot every time he touches the ball. No one expects him to pass. We’ve all seen him isolate himself for that same two dribble midrange jump shot. His right handed spin move in the lane is little more than a bad habit. Does he know this? Does he know we know this?

Guess what else they know? Make him work on defense. He doesn’t want to guard and will take shortcuts. He struggles to adhere to defensive principles, doesn’t handle pick n roll or rotations well and is constantly ball watching. He lost Grant Hill more times than either of us can count; leaving him to help players who weren’t in position to score, running under screens and moving his mouth far more than his feet. How can we improve if he doesn’t?

I could ask similar questions of our latest project, Anthony Randolph, but it wouldn’t help this angsty post or my building blood pressure.

Ultimately, I’m tired of endless attempts to construct an optimistic narrative-to inject some semblance of hope, progress or reason-despite all evidence to the contrary. Maybe I’m just in a bad mood. Then again, maybe I’ve come to the realization that none of this will change. That our best hopes are an ocean away or in a glaringly weak draft class. That a lockout could dissolve what little chemistry this team has concocted.

Yes, I remember the good times, I even saw some of them tonight; Martell Webster’s go ahead three, Beasley’s lone drive to the basket. etc. But they did little to distract me from this inescapable longing. I want to see competitive and exhilarating basketball. I need the reminder that this is supposed to be fun, that it isn’t always so predictable. I just want this season to be over.

The playoffs are here. Not for us, of course, but it’s still something to be happy about.

Myles Brown

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5 responses to Among the ashes: Timberwolves 127, Suns 135

  1. Here’s what I’m asking, “which is more likely to happen – both of these or just one of: Beasley getting traded; or Rambis getting fired.”

    I’m a Wolves homer, an eternal optimist, and yet even I can see the writing on the wall. The vision for how this team was supposed to have played has come out warped and twisted like that Twilight Zone episode of the guy who loves to read but ends up breaking his glasses in the end (http://www.onlygoodmovies.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/time-enough-at-last.jpg) – you can almost make out the words, but everything is just a little screwball. Is it Rambis? Is it various players? Probably a little bit of both.

    The reality of the Wolves, as I see it, is that there are players with talent who actually care on this team, and the Wolves’ brass needs to identify them and keep them. The rest they need to find opportunities to further their careers elsewhere. We have a bona fide outstanding talent in Kevin Love, and the next coach needs to figure out exactly what that means for a team. Any future success we will or will not have depends on that coach’s assessment of just what Kevin Love is (to a basketball team)? A #1? A HOF level between the gaps player? Something completely new? Rambis could be that guy, don’t get me wrong, but Laimbeer could be as well, or someone else. This is Kahn’s Scottie Brooks moment, especially with Rubio’s (and potentially Kyrie’s???) shadow looming large in the immediate background.

    What is abundantly obvious to most casual observers, in my opinion, is that this year’s team underachieved. Partly that was due to youth, partly due to coaching, and partly due to a FO accumulating talented yet flawed players who all need playing time to develop yet aren’t getting enough to work out the kinks (or even reveal them). Is Jonny Flynn horrible? Honestly, who knows? Put him on Denver or Milwaukee (e.g. on teams with PG friendly coaches) and the guy might look pretty damn good. Or what about Beasley vs. Wes Johnson? Who’s to say who’ll end up being the more meaningful pro (Beasley may always score better, but Wes has better D and intangibles, plus he’s willing to pass on a bad shot).

    I’ll close with this observation – following this Wolves team over the past 2-3 seasons is an exercise of attrition in regards to one’s true basketball beliefs. Is it talent? Coaching? FO moves? Is it all about getting the players to buy in, or accumulating talent? In the end, no matter what you believed going in to your Wolves fandom, there are only one or two tenets left standing, and even those are wobbling. My personal desire is for a new coach, specifically Laimbeer, who buys into the idea that players have strengths and that we’ll dictate our game to those strengths until others consistently beat us at it. Our young squad has too little experience for Rambis’ style – that works with HOF caliber players like Kobe (or dare I say Love) and vets, but not young’ins. Jonny Flynn – beat that guy with your quickness and score, if not, pass. Wes, go for that alley oop. Darko, dunk the damn ball. If not, Pek, dunk the damn ball.

    This year’s team had a legit chance at twice as many wins (34) with half as many plays if they had simply played to their strengths. That’s my opinion. Rubio or Kyrie is the key, as well as what is decided what Kevin Love is to a team. Beasley, Darko, and Jonny are on my short list for those on the way out. AR love gets at least another year. In Love we trust.

  2. You pretty much summed up the way I feel about the team. Really I think it just comes down to too many players that are just not intelligent combined with the fact that they don’t play very hard.

    Beasley, Flynn and probably Randolph are all pretty stupid players, take bad shots and are constantly getting lost of defense and generally do not have a good feel for the game. In high school and college they look awesome because the ball is always in their hands and they are too athletic for a normal person to guard.

    In the pros their is only one ball and their glaring flaws are exposed by other players that know how to play basketball.

    I don’t know if changing the coach will help or not, but when your primary ball handlers and ball dominators generally make poor decisions with the basketball and play almost no defense it is hard to win games.

    Apparently even games where you shoot 56% from the field and score 120 points.

  3. Biggity, as a long time canis reader I’ve missed your comments.

    I too have wished that Laimbeer had a chance to coach this squad. What they need is a simplified offense that like you said, plays to their strengths and hides their weaknesses.

    As far as other potential coaches (big if, first got to get rid of Rambis) I’d love someone from the Rick Adelman school. Adelman is a genius at tailoring his game plans to what he has to work with. He’s scheme neutral and that’s what our puppies need.

    As far as positives this year? I’ve loved watching Anthony Tolliver play. Works hard and seems to actually get the concept of defense.

  4. I completely agree Biggity. I’ve stuck by this team since it’s inception, and as a displaced Wolves fan, it is getting harder and harder to do so given the nature of this team. I thought they could at least squeeze out 20 or so wins, and even placed a bet with a co-worker to back it up, so you can imagine my disappointment with the way this team finished the season. And with a weak draft class this year, and no draft pick next year, what do we have to look forward to? For me, it’s hope that they will get rid of Kahn, so at the very least the team can perhaps start rehabbing it’s national image – a perennial loser with a joke of a GM – and start gathering some support and optimism, which might help translate into good players and wins. That failing, I guess I could try and root for a more local loser team like the Clippers, b/c at least I can watch and cheer for the Blake show. Many sighs.

  5. And we also now have to come to terms with the fact that the three players in this year’s draft with a chance to make an impact more or less out of the gates with this team (Irving, Williams, and Barnes, who may or may not even come out) are all players who play spots where we already have logjams of guys.

    Williams plays essentially the same position as Beas; an undersized 4 who uses his range and shotmaking ability to take advantage of mismatches on offense. He plays more within a system than Beasley has ever had to and plays with some verve and actual talent on D, but he still doesn’t really fit on this team. It remains to be seen if he can keep up with a 3 on defense, but the smart bet is that we don’t need another undersized 4 whose main contribution would come on the offensive end.

    Irving is about as pure a point as you could ask for, and I would say that he’s better than both Rubio and (obviously) Flynn now, but we would have to move one or preferably both of those guys if we were to take him on. He seems like the best possible option to me, at least. At the very least his constant smile and outspoken leadership would be a godsend on a team where, as has been pointed out many times on this blog, the body language of the team is constantly terrible.

    I think Barnes is the wildcard pick, as he has the body and the bball IQ to be a GREAT player. Watching him this year, though, I’ve been consistently worried by his passive shot selection. He LOVES to take 18-20 foot jumpers off two or three dribbles (Beasley-style). That shot works in college, where nobody expects you to be able to make those shots or has the athleticism to bother you even if they did, but in the NBA, as we have seen with Beasley, it just doesn’t play that well. Still, Barnes is really coachable and passes better than Beas ever has, so I’m hopeful that he would be a solid pick for us if we can’t nab Irving.

    I’m just thinking out loud. After this terrible year, it’s perfectly justifiable for us to write long, rambling draft assessments, right? Wait ’til next year, right? (Unless there’s a lockout.)

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