BREAKING NEWS: Sources say, Wolves went 2-0 in the preseason against the Bucks.
So as we prepare for the Preseason Playoff series against the 2-0 Clippers, I thought I would share some notes I made on Wolves players from the two games we just witnessed.
20 points, 1 rebound, 7 assists, 2 steals, 4 turnovers, 3 fouls, 8/17 FG, 2/4 3FG, 2/2 FT, 49 minutes, +5
After what Luke and his family went through during this offseason, I can’t imagine how hard it must be to get yourself back into the frame of mind that lets you concentrate on basketball. Overall, I thought he handled his role pretty well in his two games. In the first contest, he was completely overshadowed by what Rubio and Barea did, and that’s to be expected all season long. But for the most part, he shot the ball well and took care of possessions.
A lot of people seem to feel Luke is expendable right now, especially if Malcolm Lee can run some point as the third guard. With what I saw from Adelman’s lineup decisions in game one, it would be a mistake to jettison Luke this season. Having two rookie point guards learning on the fly without much practice won’t help solve the turnover issues from last season. With the grind of a truncated season, the Wolves will need to cycle between their three point guards quite often, especially if the plan to play Barea and Rubio at the same time works as well as it did in the first game.
Luke is a steady consistent hand at the point and there will be moments this season when the Wolves need him to calm things down. His pull-up jumper is still all kinds of deadly and he’s a weapon scoring in transition (even if his passing decisions aren’t great on the break). Score: 6/10
10 points, 10 rebounds (1 off), 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 turnovers, 2 fouls, 3/9 FG, 1/2 3FG, 3/4 FT, 42 minutes, +4
There are times I looked at Wes in the preseason games and thought, “This is exactly what we need from him.” He rebounded well in the first game. He had a couple of plays in which he had the ball moving toward the basket and found a cutter. It made me confident that his work this offseason changed his stripes. However, there were also moments during the first two preseason games in which Wes looked like the same limited offensive player we’ve come to want more from.
He didn’t show much strength in handling the ball consistently. He seemed willing to just settle for jumpers instead of getting aggressive going to the basket. And this is what this team desperately needs. If he’s setting up on the wing and in the corners to knock down jumpers, that works for me within the flow of the offense. However, he needs to keep the defense honest by making them pay for overly aggressive closeouts on his shots. A simple pump fake and drive to the baseline could be devastating with his length and athleticism, but he needs to be confident in making that move consistently.
Defensively, I thought Wes did a really good job. His biggest problem (and a problem for much of the team in Game 1) was staying close enough of perimeter shooters to not give up clean looks when the ball was swung to them. Overall though, he stayed with his man and was often where he needed to be in help defense. Score: 5/10
33 points, 8 rebounds (3 off), 3 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 2 turnovers, 4 fouls, 11/27 FG, 1/2 3FG, 10/12 FT, 58 minutes, +33
I will have a never-ending struggle with Beas unless he makes certain changes to his game. And it’s really just more of a problem of me not liking what he does. It’s fine as long as it’s working. In the first game, it looked as if almost every shot he took in the halfcourt offense was him breaking off plays and deciding to go one-on-one. Early on, he was matched up with Carlos Delfino guarding him and the Wolves made a concerted effort to put Beas on the low block. He took advantage of the mismatch pretty well and got decent shots from it. He also missed a lot of opportunities to find open teammates when the double came.
His perimeter game was on fire in the first game, even though the offense was being completely abandoned to get these shots. Some guys have the mentality that it doesn’t matter what the result of the last shot attempt was because the next one is going in. I don’t mind players having that confidence, and Beasley certainly has that confidence. However, when the shots aren’t falling consistently, is he willing to be the ball on the floor and get to the free throw line? He’s impossible to guard when he’s making the right decisions and not bailing the defense out.
Defensively, Beasley looks lost in help defense. He’s shying way too far from the shooters and isn’t reacting quickly enough to close out when they get the ball. In the first game, Martell Webster was talking to him from the bench to “stay tight” on the shooters in the corner. As the game progressed, he was much better about it. In terms of on-the-ball defense, I thought Beasley looked much improved. There was effort and there was a plan for limiting his opponent’s shot options. That was very encouraging to see. I think we all just want to see consistent and positive decisions from him. Score: 8/10
43 points, 31 rebounds (6 off), 7 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 3 turnovers, 8 fouls, 14/23 FG, 6/11 3FG, 9/11 FT, 54 minutes, +31
Even though he’s a professional, there was a point in the two games in which I felt legitimately bad for Ersan Ilyasova. He had no chance trying to guard Kevin. Kevin’s weight loss has made him dramatically quicker in how he gets off the ground. He’s moving quicker side-to-side in the post, he’s quicker in the pick-and-pop, and he’s quicker off his shot fake and into the drive inside. Ersan is an excellent and versatile defender and he couldn’t do anything to slow Love down at all. In the post, it’s hard to judge because it was often against Drew Gooden, but Love looked great. His turn over his left shoulder for the right-handed hook was lightning quick. Against bigger defenders, it might be a problem to get that kind of space, but he looked comfortable going to that move. His shooting looks even more deadly than last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in the top 5 in 3-pointers made this season.
The worries that Love’s weight loss would hurt him in rebounding position were neutralized. He’s still as strong, if not stronger. He still has a great base to box guys out and he still knows the rebounding angles. If anything, he’s the same rebounder and just quicker getting to the board.
Defensively, I was extremely encouraged in the first game and deflated after the game in Milwaukee. In game one, his defensive rotations were extremely solid. He was anticipating where the offense was headed and cut off the driving lanes. He closed out well on shots. He looked strong in the post. In the second game, he was very off balanced. He didn’t know what to do with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on the perimeter. I know Moute is an improved long-range shooter, but Kevin fell for every pump fake and left the driving lane wide-open when he did it. It was nice to see improvements, but the Wolves need those defensive improvements to be there every night. Score: 10/10
7 points, 8 rebounds (1 off), 2 assists, 1 steal, 3 blocks, 2 turnovers, 4 fouls, 2/4 FG, 3/5 FT, 34 minutes, +3
It’s safe to say that I haven’t been the biggest Darko fan in the past. Last year, even though he guessed correctly twice per game and blocked shots, I felt his defensive rotations were lacking at best and he really didn’t have much of an idea how to play help defense. I’m not going to say he is completely turned around after two games, but I was very happy with what I saw out of him defensively. He was in help for most of the game. He was moving box to box when the ball swung around the perimeter.
In the post, his defense against Bogut was superb. This isn’t the same one-armed Andrew Bogut that couldn’t do anything offensively last season. Bogut’s elbow is fixed and he looks to be in phenomenal shape. That didn’t help him much against Darko though. Darko was physical with him in the post. When Bogut slammed into his chest, Darko absorbed the blow and still kept his position. His length was a huge bother on Bogut’s shot attempts. Darko played him about as perfectly as you can imagine.
Offensively, Darko is still a wasteland. He wants to take that lefty hook, even though he can’t make it with any consistency. He didn’t have many possessions go through him and yet still turned the ball over twice. His passing wasn’t anything to really admire. He did get the first dunk of his career. Glad the coaching staff informed him that dunking is legal. Score: 7/10
6 points, 6 rebounds (2 off), 7 assists, 2 steals, 1 turnover, 1 foul, 1/4 FG, 0/1 3FG, 4/4 FT, 24 minutes, +4
I’m going to attempt not to gush about Rubio’s one game because it could have just been a perfect storm. The team was clicking from 3 and Milwaukee had no clue what to do offensively. With that said, Ricky Rubio ran the team almost flawlessly. Put him in a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop just to the right of the top of the key, and you know the team is getting a good shot. It’s not just him finding the screener when he gets open. As soon as the momentum of the help defender from the weak side is shifted in a way that makes it difficult to retreat to the open shooter, Rubio has already begun his passing motion. The way he sees the floor is a stellar. Maybe Milwaukee just didn’t know how to deal with him and it will be easier to gameplan as the season goes on, but this Bucks team was the fourth best defensive team in the NBA last year.
In terms of scoring, Rubio doesn’t really have the willingness to try. He had a beautiful step-through move off dribble penetration that resulted in a left-handed layup. He took a couple of jumpers that missed the mark. And he had an attempt inside off of an offensive rebound that he completely rushed and tried to sneak past the defender to no avail. He just doesn’t really look to pass. Obviously, he’s not even half the shooter as this example, but it reminded me a lot of Steve Nash in his Mavericks days. Adelman may have to force him to look for his own shot. I believe he can improve his jumper because his free throw stroke is pretty pure. He just has to find a way to get the same motion on the way to the top of his shot.
Defensively, he gambles A LOT. He was constantly playing passing lanes and cheating over in help. Some nights this will be a huge benefit and he’ll take advantage. Some nights, he’ll get burned backdoor like the Bucks caught him on a couple of times. Milwaukee posted the bigger Shaun Livingston against Rubio a few times and it looked like a weakness. This could be a persistent problem when the Wolves go with Rubio and Barea at the same time. Ricky just isn’t strong enough yet to bang inside. That could also take a lot of teams out of their offense when they try this, so it could be indirectly disrupting for opponents. Score: 9/10
14 points, 3 rebounds (1 off), 6 assists, 3 turnovers, 3 fouls, 5/10 FG, 2/3 3FG, 2/2 FT, 26 minutes, +21
Only one game for Barea too, but he showed the same spark that helped the Mavericks go all the way to winning the championship. He’s a streaky scorer and really good at getting into the paint. He may end up being more of a spot-up shooter than an initiator like he was in Dallas, but he didn’t seem resigned to settling for jumpers against the Bucks. He’s a tiny guy compared to everybody else on the court, but his strength inside is still impressive to me. Brandon Jennings allegedly put on 10lbs of muscle in the offseason and it didn’t show at all against Barea. He bounced off JJ every time JJ got into the lane. The pick-and-pop with both Love and Williams should be a thing of beauty for Barea as well. It puts so much pressure on the defense because his pull-up jumper is so deadly.
Defensively, I wasn’t crazy about his ability to stay with opponents off the ball. He seemed to be watching a lot, but that could also be getting used to playing with a new group of guys. Teams are going to post him up, just like Rubio, throughout the season and it will be on the Wolves to help him out. Barea can do a decent job of playing the pick-and-roll on defense, but those are two concerns I saw heading into the season. Score: 8/10
6 points, 6 rebounds (2 off), 1 steal, 2 turnovers, 4 fouls, 2/3 FG, 2/2 FT, 16 minutes, -3
Pek is still Pek. We only saw a couple of brief glimpses at the weaponry of using Pek, but I think Adelman will find ways to get Nikola the ball deep in the post. He’s so strong with the ball on the low block and it’s going to be a load for defenders to keep him off the block and stop him from getting a good shot off. He looks so uncertain with the ball in the high post, and I think he’ll be susceptible to quick doubles when he has the ball there. Turnovers within the flow of the high post offense could be a huge problem.
Defensively, he still fouled a lot per minute in the two games. His help defense is very unaware but I thought his post defense was solid. The problem with him is he keeps his position really well but is slow to get his hands up to bother the shot. Maybe he just needs a little more experience or maybe he just isn’t quick enough to react. Score: 5/10
18 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, 3 turnovers, 3 fouls, 7/12 FG, 3/5 3FG, 1/1 FT, 35 minutes, +19
We saw what a weapon Derrick Williams can be when his outside shot is falling. In the first game, he was assassinous from long range and just had the one air ball to sully his shooting night. He found his way into the paint a couple of times and showed he really knows how to use his leverage in the high post to spin on the defender and rain down thunder from Rubio’s heaven.
The problem I saw with his game throughout both games though is that he’s very perimeter oriented. He’s almost too perimeter oriented. I’d love to see him looking to attack the basket more and get to the free throw line. Only one attempt in 35 minutes isn’t exactly what you want from someone who is supposed to be a mismatch problem all over the floor.
Defensively, he struggled to stay out on shooters (again, it’s a troubling theme for the whole team), but other than that I didn’t really see much wrong. He’s a rookie that is between positions so he’ll probably struggle in many areas of defense throughout the season. But as long as he stays aware in help, he should be fine. Score: 7/10
13 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, 1 turnover, 2 fouls, 4/10 FG, 3/4 3FG, 2/2 FT, 33 minutes, +20
The Wayne Ellington I want to see is the Wayne Ellington we saw on the perimeter in the second game against the Bucks. He was confident and didn’t hesitate to shoot. However, he kept sliding inside the 3-point line and he’s just not very consistent at making long-range 2-pointers. I’d almost rather he take 60% or more of his shots from 3. It makes sense to use him in this manner since he’s struggling to take the ball to the basket. He’s like a shorter version of Wes Johnson on offense. Knock down 3s and there is a place for him in the rotation. Score: 5/10
9 points, 5 rebounds (2 off), 1 steal, 2 blocks, 3 turnovers, 5 fouls, 3/8 FG, 2/6 3FG, 1/1 FT, 36 minutes, -1
AT may end up being the most consistent reserve big man the Wolves have all season. He’s perfect for Adelman’s system in the high post. He can pick-and-pop all day. He’s a good enough rebounder and he’s a good enough help defender. The problem for him is going to be the team wanting more players who attack the basket inside. He doesn’t really do that. If Williams struggles to find his way, AT should be ready to step in. Score: 4/10
12 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 4 turnovers, 3 fouls, 4/7 FG, 1/1 3FG, 3/4 FT, 28 minutes, +2
Much like Rubio and Barea, we only really saw one game from Malcolm and I liked what I saw. He seemed very hesitant to start the offense at first and it showed in him picking up his dribble to early on possessions and not being able to get good entry passes to the next area of the offense. He quickly calmed down and appeared to get very comfortable with how he helped attack the Bucks defensively. Because he’s a rookie, I would rather have him in the change of pace off the bench type of combo guard role, instead of being a straight backup point guard. He showed an excellent shooting stroke.
Defensively, he had a hard time dealing with Beno Udrih. Beno is tough to guard in the pick-and-roll because he’s so deadly shooting the ball from midrange. I’d almost rather Lee have to guard shooting guards at this point because he seems too uneasy figuring out where the offense initiator is going next. However, he’s so quick with his movements and I thought he did a good job getting around screens for the most part. He’ll eventually turn into an excellent defensive guard at both positions. Score: 6/10
3 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, 5 fouls, 1/7 FG, 1/2 FT, 25 minutes, -14
There’s nothing to really say about Bonzi. He could end up being a problem for opposing teams if you use him on the block, but he’s a problem for you offensively and defensively everywhere else. It’s been nice seeing you, Bonzi (now watch him make the team). Score: 1/10
8 points, 4 rebound (3 off), 4 turnovers, 2 fouls, 1/7 FG, 6/8 FT, 20 minutes, -10
Decided to save Anthony Randolph for last. For someone as allegedly full of potential as Randolph is, I can’t remember a player looking worse in back-to-back games than Randolph. He didn’t look anything like the player we saw in the last half of last season. He looked like the clone of what I saw from him in Golden State and New York when his decision-making and awareness were so bad that he couldn’t find time on the court for teams in desperate need of size. When he caught the ball, he was timid. When he made a move to get a shot, he seemed unsure of what the actual end goal in this entire process was supposed to be. He was careless with the ball and turned it over four times in just 20 minutes (a turnover rate of 27%, which is astoundingly bad).
Defensively, he seemed to have no clue where he was supposed to be or what he was supposed to do. It was like watching a rookie out of high school in his first pro game, except this is going to be his fourth season. I have firmly believed that his decision-making is what keeps him from getting on the court, and not just bad coaching. Even though it is just two meaningless preseason games, it’s hard to see him really earning minutes on the floor if he’s going to appear so inept at the concept.
If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, Adelman and his staff will find it for Randolph. But I was continuously baffled by every possession he had on both ends of the floor. Score: 3/10