Potential is stupid.
I have discussions with basketball fans every night on the Daily Dime Live chat on ESPN.com and every night I read comments about how good several young prospects in the league are going to be. There’s nothing wrong with being excited about what could happen in the future. As a Wolves fan, we’ve been going through this mental process for years on years on years now.
Al Jefferson could be a franchise guy some day. If Gerald Green can get some consistent play, he’s going to be a steal for us. Good lord, did the Wolves really just bring back Sebastian Telfair again? Kevin Love needs to get minutes because he’d be the best rebounder in the NBA. Maybe if Jonny Flynn isn’t in the triangle, it won’t look like he’s trying to murder the game of basketball.
If Wes would just attack the basket… If we can get Ricky Rubio to just play here for a couple seasons… Michael Beasley’s scoring ability is like none other if he’ll just get better shot selection… THIS will be the team that Anthony Randolph finally shines on if he can get some minutes…
It’s always if, if and more ifs.
As Rick Adelman said in the preseason, “potential gets coaches fired.” And he’s right. Maybe the young players in need of just a little growth and some consistent minutes will realize their potential someday soon in the NBA. But with the turnover we see in the coaching ranks, what are the odds their current coaches ever get to reap the benefits of this newfound stardom? Also, look at the nine “what if” scenarios I laid out in the two paragraphs above; we’re certain two of the nine are legitimate success stories (sorry, Jonny) and the others look like dissipating dreams.
When you’ve been looking for potential for nearly five seasons, you start just saying, “screw the future, I want something tangible now.” You can’t keep spinning your rebuilding wheels every year and hope a stroke of basketball genius happens within one of your could-be guys.
What we saw last night from the Wolves’ role players was more tangible than potential. Derrick Williams had eight points and four rebounds in just 15 minutes. He got to the line seven times during those 15 minutes. But he really didn’t play that well. Anthony Randolph came in to the game briefly and managed to horribly goaltend a shot and commit two turnovers. Wes Johnson finally had a really nice game by attacking the basket more than just missing spot-up jumpers. Our potential guys (outside of Rubio) didn’t really do anything.
But what about our tangible role players?
Anthony Tolliver and Wayne Ellington came into the game like we’ve seen over the last few games, played their roles and sparked the final run that put this game away. Their isn’t a ton of potential wrapped around these two guys. Nobody is expecting Wayne to blossom into one of the key guys for this team, and Tolliver is the do-it-all electrical conduit we see taking minutes away from all of the frontcourt players oozing with potential. Yet, for a team needing to learn how to win now, they’re filling their roles on the team as well as Love and Rubio are filling their respective roles.
Wayne wasn’t really the volume scorer he had been the last two games against Atlanta and Sacramento. He had just seven points on five shots in the game, but five of those points came in the deciding stretch of this game, which secured one of the uglier wins the Wolves have had this season. First, he had the dunk, which was promptly followed by A.T. getting his giddy-up going to chase down a long rebound and take it the other way for a slam.
It was quickly followed by a Jason Maxiell free throw and Rubio setting up Wayne for a 3-pointer that gave the Wolves some breathing room in the form of a seven-point lead. It wasn’t a ridiculous splurge of scoring by the duo. It wasn’t Mike Miller going 6/6 from 3 the other night against the Spurs (believe it or not, Miller actually shoots 3s from time to time). It was just two role players, stepping up and making big shots to grab control of the lead and the momentum.
While he helped provide a spark in that moment, Tolliver’s biggest contribution came during the fourth quarter when he took the task of covering a statistically trending upward Tayshaun Prince, who had kept the Wolves at bay for much of the night with long jumpers all over the floor. Tolliver denied Prince the ball, he closed out hard without over-committing so Tayshaun couldn’t drive past him, and he refused to give enough space to allow for a comfortable shot. It wasn’t lockdown, suffocating defense in the traditional sense. It was just some lunch pail effort that wasn’t going to allow anything that wasn’t forced and foolishly praying for a safe landing.
Over the last two game recaps, I’ve talked a lot about role players on this team and sort of ignored the exploits of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. It’s not to say I’m not impressed by what they’re doing. Love’s effort on the boards have only been matched or bested by Amir Johnson and Ivan Johnson this season. The rest of his opponents? They haven’t really stood a chance of matching his intensity and borderline stalker-level obsession with corralling the caroms. It showed again last night against a physical Detroit frontline.
As for Ricky? He played a really questionable first half of basketball. He followed that up with a second half filled with the poise, playmaking and orchestrating of a team that makes me believe he could even direct Paul Walker into an Oscar nomination. He was constantly around to create turnovers for the other team, set up a lot of scores around the basket and helped stifle Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight into a combined 17 points on 7/23 chucking.
However, the role players in this game are what set this team apart from Detroit in the key moments of this finish. I didn’t even include the huge third quarter Pekovic had and the enormous presence (literally) he provided inside throughout this game.
Ben, Myles and I are going to have all season long to try to capture the greatness and genius Love and Rubio will provide us. I just want to make sure right now that I’m pointing out the tangible ignition from the guys we rarely pontificate about as we think about the future of this team.
Potential is stupid. It’s time to galvanize this team now.