2012 Preseason

Timberwolves 81, Bulls 92: the centre cannot hold

I’ve made the case before that Derrick Williams’ development–either in becoming a consistent three or being traded for one–is essential to the Wolves’ coherence. With a consistent, dynamic wing scorer, the Wolves’ newly acquired white boy stew actually makes sense; without it, the team still feels to me haphazard and misshapen, an oblong collection of Stiemsmas and Shveds and Budingers and Kirilenkos.

I still hold to that notion, but if you want a genuine picture of incoherence, you should try that same collection of players without Kevin Love at its center. Because the Wolves’ lineup that showed up in Chicago on Friday night was about as wayward and rudderless as a team could be. Of course, in terms of sheer gloomy apathy this crew doesn’t hold a candle to last season’s daydreamy Wes Johnson/bored Anthony Randolph nadir. But when it comes to not-an-actual-NBA-team lineup collage, its pretty hard to beat the Wolves’ Barea/Roy/Kirilenko/Cunningham/Stiemsma starting five. Or how about this one: Conroy/Shved/Budinger/Williams/Amundson? I don’t even know what those words mean but those dudes did actually share the floor during Friday night’s third quarter.  Anyway.

Let’s Talk Offense

Aka: way number 1 that Love’s absence kills the Wolves. I realize that both Luke Ridnour and Nikola Pekovic were held out of the lineup on Friday and that lack of continuity surely hurt the team. But JJ Barea, who ostensibly knows something about Rick Adelman’s offense, was running the show for much of the night and the Wolves’ offensive execution and intuition were still every bit as awful as you might expect from a group that has barely played together.

They struggled just to initiate their sets; they struggled to move the ball; even that vaunted Barea-Cunningham pick-and-roll failed to generate scoring chances. Most Wolves’ possessions resolved into late-clock one-on-one battles and even when the Wolves did manage to penetrate the paint, Chicago’s aggressive help and rotation, coupled with the Wolves’ very tentative off-the-ball movement, prevented them from establishing any continuity. Countless possessions ended the way possessions tend to end when playing a very good defensive team: a long, tentative, somewhat open jumper by a big man with the shot clock running down.

JJ Barea was doing that thing where he practices his crossover dribble for the possession’s first 20 seconds. Greg Stiemsma was looking puzzled about where to stand. Andrei Kirilenko was handling the ball very much; Andrei Kirilenko was shooting threes. The Wolves looked just exactly like what they were: a team suddenly lacking the player through whom their entire offense runs.

Let’s Talk Boards

Don’t let the final box score fool you: the Wolves got hammered on the glass. After three quarters, they were being out-rebounded 36-27 and 11-4 on the offensive glass. (The final quarter was every bit the sloppy, pre-season miasma that you might expect, and the Wolves managed to scrape together some garbage timey boards. Now, I’ve got love for garbage time, even in the preseason, but I’m not crazy about its predictive power.) You might remark here that lacking Pekovic distorts the data, but I’d remind you that Big Pek, bless his heart, is actually a pretty below-average defensive rebounder for his position.

In other words, while its probably no surprise that a frontcourt of Dante Cunnigham, AK and Lou Amundson might not rebound the ball so well, I’m afraid we can expect that trend to continue even with the big man back in the lineup.

Roy Unbound

Wolves’ (terrible) color commentator Stacey King kept reminding us that, lacking knee cartilage as he does, Brandon Roy had “lost that first step” that once made him so fearsome a penetrator. But I actually felt that Roy’s first step was the least of his worries. In fact, with his still-elite footwork and ballhandling, he was the only Wolf who was consistently able to create space for himself off the dribble. What’s more, he showed a nice ability to rise up for his smooth midrange jumper.

The problems came when he actually got to the basket. Now, the Bulls are known as a team that collapses in the paint with a vengeance, but Roy was distinctly unable to attack the rim with any force. The second problem area was, no surprise, defense. Roy was defending out-of-position, against the longer Luol Deng, but was still unable to keep the ball in front of him or to keep up with Deng off the ball. My guess is that this will be a matchup headache for the Wolves all season.

The Golden Child

Finally, back to Derrick Williams. Here are some highlights from DW’s game on Friday: an alarmingly long and wide airballed three on his first shot of the game; another hard-to-watch three, this one embedded in the backboard about two feet wide of the hoop; a travel; a charge; a crushing rejection at the hands of Taj Gibson. Like I said, it sure would be great if Williams could become a consistent scorer but this is exactly the kind of game–tentative, riddled with awkward ball-handling and ill-selected shots–we saw far too much of last season.

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0 thoughts on “Timberwolves 81, Bulls 92: the centre cannot hold

  1. The Bulls are one of the best if not the best Rebounding teams in the league. It’s no surprise we were killed on the boards. Drawing conclusions about rebounding prowess without Love may be a little off base just using this game. Deng-Noah-Gibson-Boozer is formidable, and they played the whole night.

    If you think Derrick Williams has it within him to become a Wing Scorer, you need to pass me whatever it is your toking. He can’t dribble, he can’t finish on a dribble drive, he can’t shoot from distance, he can’t shoot free throws, he turns it over, he’s a poor rebounder for his position, he’s a poor passer. He should have been traded a long time. Expecting him to be anywhere but in Adelman’s doghouse is a fools errand.

  2. I’m not going to draw too many conclusions from this. The Bulls played all of their regulars (except of course Rose) and generally played them starters’ minutes, so what Ben was referring to as garbage time was actually the Wolves playing their backup unit against the Bulls’ bench and then their starters (who they brought back in at the halfway point). A starting group filled mostly with backups and/or newcomers against the Bulls’ largely-intact D? It would’ve been a great sign had they been better against that group, but not doing that doesn’t spell doom. If this team suffers more injuries during the time Love is out, then all bets are off with this team’s floor. The stats are against them being a good defensive rebounding team while Love is out, so I agree on that.

    I don’t see why it should be considered a concern that Kirilenko was initiating the offense. Their best chance to win without Love is to put the ball in his and Roy’s hands. Each can pass, each wants to make the right play, and each is the most efficient player they could have getting shots for other people and/or drawing fouls.

    The biggest concern should be working all of these newcomers together. The best team in franchise history (03-04) was 9-8 in their first 17 games. Adelman’s experimenting now, but I hope it’s allowing him to figure out how to hit the ground running in the season opener. The extended experiments to begin last season (Darko starting, Beasley playing 30-plus minutes) can be avoided this time around.

    1. First of all, let me say that its possible that I overreacted to the game last night. This game was painful to watch and really flooded me with memories of similarly clueless, uninspired performances from late seasons past; my emotions got the better of me here. But.

      Sean, while you’re right that it might be a bit unfair to judge the Wolves’ rebounding against a Noah/Deng/Gibson et al. front line, I’m still not too hopeful about their chances against anyone. I mean even a Pek/AK/Cunningham frontline is nothing special rebouning-wise, and thats the very best the can do. We will see lineups with Amundson at center; those lineups will not rebound well. And my (admittedly unstated) point about garbage time was not that the Bulls were playing scrubs but that the Bulls’ fourth quarter effort was at a garbage time-ish level.

      And PSR, I have no problem with AK initiating the offense. I do have a problem with him holding the ball and attempting to create in isolation off the dribble, which he did a lot of last night. Not his fault, to my eyes, merely a result of the Wolves’ inability to get anything going out of their sets. Again, probably could have been more specific about that.

  3. Yeah, I should’ve qualified this statement: their main facilitators with this group have to be Roy, Barea, and Shved off the dribble, AK47 on the move and closer to the hoop, and Pek in the post. I still think Williams will be able to create something for himself at some point, but who knows. The other guys have to move, screen, be prepared to shoot in their comfort spots, not turn the ball over, and pass.

    Also, I have to say this: it makes no sense to me to keep Amundson. I don’t even think he has that high a level of BBIQ that keeping him instead of, say, Chris Johnson is a good idea (wish they’d considered him more seriously). I certainly hope he doesn’t see the floor as anything but a smallball 5, and when Love comes back, there’s no reason to play him.

  4. Ben Polk: way to admit your over-reaction here. Chicago has better talent and a a proven coach. Their defense was the main reason the Wolves struggled all night. Will MIN get better at penetrating good defenses? Yes. Will they be able to beat a team like CHI when Ricky and Kevin come back? Yes.

    D Will: I wanted to believe that you were a beast coming out of UA. But this last preseason game, (which was ANOTHER big opportunity for you to show some semblance of a #2 overall pick) you looked foolish. And not just on the super slow mo replay of Taj Gibson reverse posterizing your weak “take” to the rim. You made consistent mistakes on both ends of the court.

    Derrick, you had plenty of chances late last season, and again this summer, and again this preseason, to prove that you should not be traded. To prove that you are the beast that dominated for a season with the Wildcats. Now its looking like you are untradeable. Yikes! How can you peak as a 19 yr old college freshman?????

  5. By the way PSR: Lou Amundson is a wonderful compliment to either Pek or Love on the court. But dont expect him to create any offense other than pure hustle rebounds and putbacks. He will certainly be hanging around all season, and will be a fan favorite. Not a 5 but plays hard enough to be effective defensively at the 5.

  6. Amundson isn’t a wonderful complement to anyone. He’s a good offensive rebounder, and that’s pretty much it. He definitely doesn’t complement Pek because he has to stay near the basket, which brings his defender toward Pek; with Love, it’s better, but only because there’s more space than there is between him and Pek. He’s serviceable at best, and he doesn’t show enough toughness or BBIQ for them to not take a chance on a taller/longer/more athletic player, especially since they were already 4-deep at the 4 (including AK). Dante will be a much bigger hit with the fans than Lou.

  7. Naaaah.. I like Louis better than that guy you were talking about that they invited to camp. Hes just got stuff you cant measure. And I disagree that he isnt a wonderful compliment to Love/Pek. Louis would be wonderful to play along-side and Im sure Love and Pek woudl side with me on this one. Thanks for your opinion though. I agree Dante is going to be a fan favorite

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