Sunrise: a Timberwolves season preview 3-on-4
Friends, the longest night of the year has come and gone. The lockout is now, miraculously, a bitter memory. Ricky Rubio, Rick Adelman, Derrick Williams, the svelte, newly athletic Kevin Love and all of the rest of your Wolves will soon take the floor for an actual, certified NBA game. So how’s this gonna go? This year’s Wolves are a strange amalgamation of moving parts and oddly shaped puzzle pieces. Although we’re hopeful that something new and great is about to begin, there are still scads of unanswered questions hanging in the air. Zach, Myles and I have no better idea than the rest of you how this will all play out, but here’s our best shot untangling some of the riddles that will inform the Wolves’ season. All that’s left to do is play basketball. Read on…
The Timberwolves were terrible in endgame situations last year. How should they attack in crunch time this season?
Ben: Part of the reason they were so terrible is that their trademark problems–extreme youth, defensive disarray, lack of poise, an incredible capacity for turnovers–are only magnified late in close games. The other reason is that Kurt Rambis went almost exclusively with isos for Michael Beasley, regardless of matchups, in last-shot situations. That ended well exactly once. My hope is that Rick Adelman helps solve the first problem and Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea the second. I always prefer a distribution-minded point guard in late game situations because that means that all five players, not just whoever you imagine to be your best individual scorer, have a chance for a good look at the hoop.
Myles: Last year the Wolves spent crunch time watching Michael Beasley dribble away the shot clock before firing a last second heave. This year we just have more options to do the same. Without a legitimate post threat to work the ball inside/out and considering our sole creator of the dribble cant score, defenses don’t have to think much.
Zach: Offensively, I think the ideal crunch time lineup is Rubio, Barea, Beasley, Williams and Love. The best part about this lineup is it gives the Wolves two primary scorers (Beas-Love), two primary ball handlers (Rubio-Barea), and three outside shooters (Barea-Williams-Love). The Wolves need more versatility in crunch time than just Beasley isos. The isolation Beasley play should be if the play has broken down and they need to get a shot in four seconds. Defensively, I’d love to see Rubio, Lee, Wes, Love, Darko. It’s probably not smart to have two rookies defensively in crunch time, but I fully endorse baptism by firing squad, or whatever the phrase is.
How should Rick Adelman handle the Wolves’ congested frontcourt?
Ben: Good question (though of it myself!). There’s probably not space or time for Love, Williams, Beasley, Darko and AntRand all to play significant minutes. So Adleman is going to have to make some tough choices about who deserves burn–my sense is that if Derrick Williams can play even reasonably good defense, he’ll be stealing a nice chunk of Beasley’s minutes by season’s end. He’s also going to have to figure out a way to shrewdly use mismatches to his advantage, to hedge Williams’, Beasley’s and Love’s offensive strong suits against their defensive shortcomings. Glad I don’t have that job.
Myles: That depends on how much you believe in Anthony Randolph. I don’t. Pekovic is serviceable, but suitable only to give starters a rest and Tolliver, while perhaps our best defender, still won’t spend many significant moments on the court. That leaves our starters and a rookie until our 36 year old center returns from microfracture surgery. Give Williams heavy minutes and use the rest as necessary.
Zach: The odds of this team playing competent defensive in a consistent matter with their personnel are lower than Beasley’s assist rate. So the Wolves might as well maximize their scoring potential with the frontcourt. I don’t mind starting out with Darko at center to combat the opposing big man. Love at PF and Beas at SF will round it out. Then I’d bring Williams in for Darko, run him at the 4 and move Love to the 5. A couple short stretches each game, they should see if Pek and Randolph can give them any quick boost, but never at the same time.
The Wolves have three point guards. Is this going to work?
Ben: My first inclination is to say, “um, probably not.” But, again, it depends on how well Adelman makes use of mismatches. If he can figure out a way to defend the wing with Barea on the floor alongside either Ridnour or Rubio, the Wolves could really do some damage offensively.
Myles: Ricky’s sheer talent will make him the starter by midseason, if not sooner. This team needs to score and he’s our best chance to do so. Unfortunately, this will presumably lead to more J.J.Barea, since pairing J.J. with Ridnour would lead to even more mismatches. And though Ridnour may be the better player, he’s not our shiny new free agent acquisition.
Zach: It should work fine… right? Lots of teams have three point guards. It was a tiny sample size but I enjoyed the Barea-Rubio backcourt in the preseason. It only works if Barea is being an effective scorer, but you can play them next to each other for six to eight-minute stretches and then spell them with Luke and Wayne together. The thing about each point guard is they bring a different aspect to the offense. Rubio is the passing genius, Barea is the instant scoring punch, and Luke is the balance between the Spanish speaking duo. It’s not like they’re all three of the same type of PG.
Do the Wolves need to make another deal before the season begins or should they roll with what they have?
Ben: At first I was convinced that the Wolves needed to deal Ridnour for a wing scorer/defender. But I’m still curious about how much Wes Johnson was able to improve over the summer. If he can improve defensively (and the effort and intention is definitely there; the problems are more ones of awareness and anticipation) and become more offensively consistent, and if Adelman thinks he can balance that PG situation, it might be worth a wait-and-see.
Myles: Considering the lack of options at this point, it’d be wiser to wait, no? Perhaps some of our redundancies develop trade value in the early goings of this season or maybe a more suitable/attainable target becomes available towards the deadline. 40% of good trades is good timing. I just made that up it’s a good quote to go to commercial with.
Zach: If you can bring in a dynamite frontcourt player to put next to Love, and do it without giving up Rubio, I think you have to do it. Doesn’t mean they should actively pursue a trade because I would like to see what Adelman can get out of each player the Wolves have on the roster. But you also can’t rest on your laurels of having a bunch of potential and hoping it gets pressured into being a bunch of diamonds.