There is a lot of coach speak out there in which fans are forced to read between the lines. And it makes a lot of sense. You’re not going to give away strategies and team philosophies at will on most nights, especially during the regular season.
You can’t let the opponent for that night or for future nights know exactly what you’re thinking and how you view your strengths and weaknesses. It’s stuff they can probably figure out on their own, but you don’t want to do the legwork for them. But with Rick Adelman, there is an overwhelming sense of honesty that seems to come from his talks with the media.
I’ve learned in my brief time covering the team under his rule that if you ask an honest basketball question, you’re going to get an honest basketball answer from him. It doesn’t mean he’s going to open up his scouting reports and playbook for you to post on your website, but he’ll look you in the eye and discuss the matter at hand, assuming it’s appropriate to do so at that time.
When you’re dealing with veteran coaches that have put decades into the league, it seems like they soften up a bit in terms of trying to avoid questions being asked to them. A lot of younger guys will talk around the question, throw down some clichés and move on to the next tape recorder (are they just called digital records now?). But when you see guys like Don Nelson during his last few years in Oakland and Adelman now (who is probably on his last coaching gig before retirement) being asked about their players and happiness with the current state of the team, they almost seem to have far too much perspective to waste anyone’s time with a cliché-riddled answer.
You’re going to get honesty and it’s quite refreshing.
Last season, Adelman was happy to call out Darko for being out of shape or his team for not caring about winning when the season was residing in a dark place. He wasn’t going to destroy team chemistry with anybody that mattered to his plan and system long-term, but he also wasn’t going to worry about hurting feelings either. If you sucked and weren’t trying, Adelman probably wasn’t going to play you and wasn’t going to have any issues letting people know why.
Immediately at the start of training camp last December, Rick quelled any consideration and speculation that Derrick Williams might be ready to play the wing position next to Kevin Love and another big man. He mentioned that while they were pleased with Derrick’s shooting, they wanted him to learn the power forward position because it would be bad to throw so much at him. And after watching the team last season, that was a pretty good idea.
Derrick floated on the perimeter, seemed out of shape, and wasn’t attacking the basket at all. Occasionally, we’d see him spin off his man at the high post and throw down a perfect lob from Ricky Rubio, but mostly it was a lot of floating.
Then Williams decided to get a lot more serious about his career. That’s not to say he wasn’t taking it seriously before; he just didn’t have much of an idea on how to function as a professional because the lockout screwed up everybody’s scheduling. There wasn’t time for Adelman to implement his system during the truncated preseason. There wasn’t practice time to get everybody to work on things. There just wasn’t a real routine for Williams to learn.
This summer, he owned up to the idea of the team wouldn’t be needing to pursue Nicolas Batum in free agency if Williams had played better as a rookie. He got his septum fixed so he could breathe and he dropped a good chunk of weight to be lighter, quicker and more explosive. Many of us decided that it probably wouldn’t matter because our expectations for him might have been too high. Regardless, Williams took steps toward carving out a place on this team instead of just being complacent and hoping everything would come together.
After last season, Adelman had some pretty candid words about Williams:
“He wants to be a `3’ man. To be a 3 man, he’s going to have to be much more active and handle the ball and defend that spot. We’re trying to give him the opportunity to see what he can do because he can play both spots. He can’t just be a jump shooter at the 3 spot. He has to pound the ball inside and go to the boards. He’s bigger than most 3 men and stronger than most 3 men. He’s got to use those abilities.
“He does float. He can’t do it. He’s got to be aggressive all the time.”
“I’m definitely not sold on him. He’s never played it. He’s got to go and prove he can do it. If he can do that, certainly I’ll use him there because he’s got some skills there. Going to the boards and rebounding,that’s on him. He’s got to be a factor on the boards.”
So far this month, all you seem to be hearing out of the Wolves community is how good Derrick looks on the court. Whether you’ve read Jon Krawczynski’s article or Joan Niesen’s post or Jerry Zgoda’s blog on Williams, the resounding fervor that came out of Mankato was mainly about how aggressive and explosive Williams looks out there. Adelman has talked about how terrific Williams is looking and every tweet from the people at training camp seemed to be about his insistence on attacking the rim in scrimmages and drills.
It’s been a far cry from what we saw last year.
“You can talk all you want,” Adelman said. “Until you see somebody go out on the floor and actually attempt to things, then you can talk to them more. You talk(ed) for four months last year, and it was always an inconsistent effort.”
“He just floated last year,” Adelman said. “You’d see him once in a while . . . He just played with more authority today. He played harder. I think that’s the difference. You’ve got to play harder. You can’t cruise, or it’s not going to work.”
And really this team’s future may only be as bright as Derrick Williams can make it. Sure, they’re looking like they have the makeup of a playoff team right now, and that’s a start from where we’ve seen them the last few years. But when you look at what should be a really fun and exciting roster, a lot of questions short-term and long-term pop up.
How is this team going to defend? Is the ceiling too low for what will keep Kevin Love here long-term? Is there enough flexibility moving forward? Are there going to be enough assets to make a push for a big name player down the road (i.e. – James Harden)?
The Wolves seem to have a pretty defined ceiling. They can compete with the best long-term but can they actually beat them? If Love stays here and continues to improve, if Pek can rotate on defense and if Rubio can fully recover, then maybe they can. But if those things happen and Derrick Williams becomes a wrecking ball going toward the basket? And add in him knowing how to play the wing in Rick Adelman’s system of cuts to the hoop and devastation at the rim for someone like Williams?
He could be the difference between the Wolves being a really fun playoff team for years to come and the Wolves being a really fun title contender for years to come. Even if he doesn’t fit long-term in this system, having Williams improve into becoming a highly coveted trade asset could also end up being the push that gets the Wolves into title contention for the first time since 2004.
Regardless, I don’t think we’ll ever have questions about where Williams is in his development as a player and as a team player. As long as Rick Adelman is in charge, I’m pretty confident he’ll let us know where things stand.