Wolves 93, Pistons 85: It’s time to galvanize

Zach Harper —  January 19, 2012 — 15 Comments

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.

Zach Harper

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15 responses to Wolves 93, Pistons 85: It’s time to galvanize

  1. Nice writeup Zach. I was pleasantly surprised with Wayne as well, how well he guarded Ben Gordon, and Tolliver’s offense was like a nice bonus. How much time will Tolliver see when Beasley is back? Will Webster break his way into the starting lineup and push Wayne to the 3rd alternative, behind Wes(potential he has).

    We do need that additional scorer that Beasley can be, but what to do about Wes? Taken 4th in the draft, he is so inconsistent that you can never know if he will be worth that starting spot or not. When Webster is back I’d like to see Kahn trade Wes’s potential for something tangible. Something to complement Pek at the 5 (please, don’t even try to call Darko a basketball player).

  2. Good write up, Zach. It would be nice to have a third reliable star (Williams?), but if you can have two really good players and the right role players around them, that can be a recipe for success (or at least making it to the playoffs).

  3. I was worried when we lost to the Bucks and then Toronto because it seemed that we were in for another season of potential not back up with wins. It’s nice to see them win a game they surely should have lost by grinding it out and playing some good defense (playing Detroit does help.) Those are the games that playoff teams win. I think towards the end of the season Adleman will have a good look at everyone on the team and should be able to decide who to keep and who to get rid of. But it’s nice to see a future this close instead of somewhere down the road.

    It was also nice to see Wes drive to the basket. I hope he gained the confindence he needs to do more of that. I think he can be a really good player once he gets that aw shucks grin off his face and plays with some intensity.

  4. Lets just realize the people we have and build around. Yes, Wes could be considered a “bust” because he was taken 4th overall. But lets be real, that draft was awful after 3. Couple guys are solid, but they were late picks.

    We need to realize that Wes may not be that go to scorer, but he could become a 7th man who can just go play ball. Build around these guys like Rubio and Love with guys like Wes, Beasy, Tolliver, etc.

    Lets not get too caught up in where people were chosen. We need to start filling “fits to the team”.

  5. Thanks, Ivan. I don’t see Tolliver’s minutes being reduced unless he suffers an injury. I doubt Rick will continue to trot Beasley out there unless he’s producing and playing defense. We’ve seen the quick hook with him early this season and I’d expect that to be a trend. While Wes has been atrocious, he’s driving to the basket more lately and I think that’s a good sign. I’d like to see him with Rubio more before we give up on him as a role player.

    Thanks for the kinds words, Ryan. Lots of teams can compete with two really good players. Need shooters, a guy who can score off the dribble and a big defensive big man.

  6. Eric, I was pretty worried too, and especially when the Kings and Pistons games started out so slowly. I assumed it would be a repeat of the Cavs game. I wanted to see them blow out the Pistons and show they were more Sixers than anything, but Adelman was happy with the way they battled for that win. Maybe that’s the step before blowing out the bad teams.

  7. Brett, I’m with you on the “who cares where they were drafted” idea. It’s not Wes’ fault he was picked 4th in a bad draft. He doesn’t really deserve the expectations that come with that number. However, it is his fault just how bad and unconfident he seems out there. I really think playing with Rubio can solve a lot, especially if they get him moving without the ball more. I liked a lot that he didn’t just settle for jumpers last night.

  8. From what Ive seen, Wes is pretty athletic. He seems to be able to create off the dribble but only around the 3 point arc and top of the key. He has a good vertical and a soft touch. Why doesn’t he work in the post more? I think it would be a great feature to his game seeing he goes up against alot of undersized shooting guards.

  9. Good write-up. The key: We have 7-8 guys with “potential.” A roster should maybe have 2-3 of these because there aren’t enough minutes. We need at least two 3 for 1 trades. Trade the potential for a more bona fide player (to some team without young talent).

  10. I was thrilled to see Ellington take the ball hard to the basket and throw one down. He’s got the athleticism to make that play but hasn’t always looked for it. It looked like when he took off for the rim like it was going to be another one of those deals where he pulled up to try and get the short jumper or maybe the difficult left-handed lay-up, but he was aggressive and threw it down. If he does that more consistently, takes smart threes, and doesn’t jack up contested shots early in the shot clock while working hard on D (he’s not a great defender, but effort overcomes many many sins) he will be a very valuable player for this team.

    Rubio’s presence on the floor emphasizes how important it is for the Wolves not to “load up” (seriously, Tom Hanneman, find a new call) for early contested shots…because when we’re patient Ricky will find a player a better shot.

    I noticed something on Rubio’s D last night that I don’t see from a lot of PGs: he contests almost every pass his man makes, even when it’s the easy flip to the wing player looking to make an iso play, or the high toss to the big man who’s going to send it right back to the PG. I love that effort (I recall Rondo doing it too) and with those long arms and constant effort, he’ll get a lot of steals from lazy PG play.

  11. If you really adopt the “potential is stupid” mantra, here’s a suggestion from Zach Lowe at SI:
    trade Beasley and/or Wes Johnson for Ray Allen (on the last year of his contract).

    Maybe it’s not the best long-term move, but as a fan I would love to see Ray Allen spotting up for the corner 3 when Rubio drives. Maybe we could even make a legitimate playoff push this year and in the offseason use the twin bargaining chips of newfound success and $10 million of salary space to sign a serious perimeter threat.

    …or maybe this Rubio kid has just made me lose my appropriate sense of pessimism too quickly.

    http://nba-point-forward.si.com/2012/01/19/blow-it-up-finding-sensible-trades-for-bostons-big-three-vets-no-easy-task/?sct=nba_t2_a7

  12. Get outta my head Mr. Harper! Great article

  13. I’d really love to see Ellington get more minutes at the 2. Well, actually I’d love to see him get the start over Ridnour or Wes. It’s obvious that when we need a bucket there’s not many choices to turn to. Without Beas, who I cannot stand btw, we don’t have a player that can create his own shot. Ellington can be like a Ray Allen Jr. since he’s a spot up shooter and is great coming off of curls. With RIcky’s passing ability I think Wayne could give us a few spot up jumpers a game that would really help the offense out. His D hasn’t been bad and his effort is there. But since Wayne will probably never get the start thanks to horrid draft picks and that “potential” that comes with them, I’d like to see Love get more opportunities when the offense goes stagnant. He can occasionally get us a bucket in iso, so I’d like to see them iso him a little more when we go into a funk. Oh and Pek needs to be the starter ASAP. Please stop subjecting us to Darko. Love at the 5 with D-Will at the 4 just too small IMO. Let Pek and Randolph(or hell even Darko off the bench) carry the load at the 5, please. Just remind Pek before the game that it’s not football and that they do call fouls.

  14. Agree. They are 6-8 and have around a +2 average win/loss margin, by far the best for a team with a losing record. They are already a good team.

    I didn’t watch much television for the better part of 3 years, and then I come back to see them making every other team work their asses off for a victory. With a little luck, they might have well been 10-4. It’s the carryover pessimism (of being the punching bag of the NBA for all that time) that makes people say words like “potential” and “improvement.” No one dares venture that they are actually GOOD, for fear of being wrong. It’s also that pessimism that probably affected the team early in the season, i.e., the players weren’t accustomed to having so many chances to win games.

    But they will. I think the emotional scars of the last few seasons will manifest as ravenous hunger to win games. They are the wolves, after all.

  15. what about trading a couple guys with potential to get back KG? i think he would be good to have around for the young guys on this team and would be nice to have coming off the bench. the celts aren’t ruling out trading their big three for young talent, and his contract is up in the offseason

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