Blazers 103, Wolves 95: We need to talk about things

Zach Harper —  November 24, 2012 — 13 Comments

Screen Shot 2012-11-24 at 12.18.54 PM

All of the talk and panic about this team last night seemed to be two-fold:

1) The team is 0-2 since Kevin Love surprised us with an early comeback. Is he hurting their chances of winning?

2) Derrick Williams has had two straight DNP-CDs. HIS CAREER IS OVER.

I feel like this is easily explained, or at least it should be pretty easy. In regards to Love, I really think fantasy basketball and basketball video games have skewed how we judge performance on the court. Numbers and stats mean the world and they exist in a vacuum. Kevin Love had 34 and 14 in his first game back. He had 24 and 13 in the loss to the Blazers last night. Those are good stat lines for any player, so he must have had an enormous impact on the game. And if he didn’t, why can’t he make this team much better when he comes back. 

In the first game of his return, Love had a huge impact on the Wolves… in the first half. At halftime, he was a +22 for the game and yet the Wolves were up just 14 points after two quarters. 14 points sounds like a lot and it’s certainly a nice lead, but there was a weakness in the bench execution on both ends screaming at us in the face, even when the score looked like the Wolves were in control. Because the bench couldn’t maintain or build on the lead, it allowed Denver to hang around. You can’t let good teams hang around. Hell, you can’t let anybody hang around as the Blazers showed us last night.

Love wasn’t able to capitalize on his hot start in the second half of the Denver game. He still put up numbers, but the sudden implementation of him into the Wolves lineup left a lot of people standing around and a stagnation that couldn’t be solved. In the Blazers game, it felt like a lot of the same things. Thee Wolves found something that worked in the first half. They pounded the ball inside and left Portland looking meager in a “man’s game.” The problem was the Wolves didn’t back up their play on the defensive side of the ball. They allowed the Blazers to hang around by giving up 3-point shots and all sorts of creations by the Portland backcourt.

Does this mean Love can’t positively impact a game even if he’s putting up stats? No, that would be a stupid assessment. Nobody thought that about Love in the first 40 games of last season. He was being touted as a MVP candidate because the upstart Wolves were nipping at the playoff heels in the Western Conference. The reason the Wolves haven’t won since Love returned Wednesday evening is they’ve only played three good quarters of basketball in their last eight. You can’t do that and win in the NBA.

The collective is an issue right now because things are a little awkward. The numbers Love is putting up are fantastic. But they’re just numbers. If the collective doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain, it becomes fantasy fodder and talk radio blabber. You can’t just plug someone into a lineup after weeks of injury and have that guy seamlessly take effect. If you’re playing Association Mode in NBA 2K13 and Love is out for two weeks, you can either have the computer adjust your minutes in the rotation or adjust them yourselves. When he’s healthy again, the computer asks if you want to tweak the lineup or have them do it for you.

What they never ask you is if you think the rest of the team will adjust to him right away. Kevin Love’s presence in the offense is a big deal. It changes a lot, especially when the team can’t run their typical system because of injuries. The injury to Love wasn’t what has kept them from being able to run more motion offense than pick-and-roll. It’s been the injuries to Love, Brandon Roy, Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, JJ Barea, and Nikola Pekovic. Adding Love to the lineup gives the Wolves a safety valve. And sometimes when you have a safety valve, you rely on that without finishing your end of the bargain.

I’m not saying this is Love’s teammates’ fault and he’s absolved. I’m saying there is a certain chemistry to be established and it has to happen within the parameters of the team construct. It hasn’t happened yet because that stuff is hard to establish on the fly. It will be difficult when Rubio comes back too. It will probably be easier because the Wolves will have had more time together and Ricky is such an unselfish player and not a focus of the scoring components of this system. But there will still be a level of awkwardness involved.

There is a chemistry rating in video games but it doesn’t truly affect your team if you play the games yourself. You just plug away, run a pick-and-pop, and let pixel Love do his thing. In the NBA, it takes a little more work than that. And it takes time as well.

As for D Dub, Rick Adelman said before the Blazers game that he wanted to find Williams minutes but also noted Dante Cunningham has been better, which he has. Adelman isn’t in the business of worrying about developing players. He was brought in to win games and you typically go with the guys who are playing better to accomplish that. Williams isn’t in the doghouse. If he were, Adelman wouldn’t say he’s trying to get him minutes. There just happens to be only so many minutes available with Pek, Love and Kirilenko all commanding a lot of minutes. With Cunningham playing well, that’s a lot of the backup minutes as well.

There’s a logjam of talent and production inside right now and it might take longer than this road trip for Adelman to see what he has, figure out where to go with it, and then allocate the minutes properly. There will be games when Williams is trusted and there will be games in which he never takes off his warm-up suit. In the short-term, it might mean something but in the long-term, it means next to nothing. I’ve already gone through my spiel about Derrick and I still stand by everything I said then. There isn’t much need to rehash it.

I’m still willing to be patient with Williams and hope by halfway through his third season, he’s a regular contributor to the greater good of this team. Right now, I’m not concerned with Williams and his playing time at all. I’m not concerned with how the Wolves treat the number two pick in the 2011 Draft because those just sound like numbers within a vacuum to me.

What I am concerned with is how this team is shooting the ball. Minnesota went 3-of-16 last night from 3-point range and 28-of-37 from the free throw line. The free throw line performance was just above the league average percentage of 75.3% but they still missed nine free throws in an eight-point loss. On the season, the Wolves are the 25th best or sixth worst free throw shooting team. Spin it however best works for you.

The 3-point shooting performance dropped them to 29.0% on the season — that’s 28th best in the league or third worst. This is the biggest problem I see with the team. Because they can’t run as much of their normal stuff, we’re seeing a lot of pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops. This is leading to bad-to-mediocre shooters tossing up relatively contested 3-point shots. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.

They’re not making 3s right now and instead of adjusting and pounding the ball inside with one of the best frontcourts in basketball, they’re just settling for shots. Chase Budinger isn’t walking through that door right now and until he is, the Wolves don’t really have a great shooter. People will complain about Luke Ridnour’s play, but considering he’s been the only “healthy” point guard the Wolves have had all season (other than Barea’s first few games), I’m willing to give Luke a pass. He’s playing with a bad back and trudging through it. He’s not missing games because the Wolves can’t afford for him to miss games. And he’s the one guy on the current active roster, outside of Love, who I want taking long-range shots.

Shved can take a few here and there, but I’d rather he’s attacking the paint and making plays inside. The Wolves can’t continue to settle for these shots because they haven’t proven they can make them. Things will eventually round into shape once the roster gets healthier. Remember, this was only the second game back for Love, Pek, and Barea after a long layoff for both. Much like kids at an eighth grade dance, awkwardness is bound to happen while everyone figures out where to put their hands and how to move their feet in rhythm with their partners.

I just don’t feel the need to panic. The Wolves might be bad on this road trip because they won’t have much time or practice to adjust to their “new” pieces. This team hasn’t been healthy since February and early March of this year. I’m just confident that in two months, we’ll be laughing about paranoia and knee-jerk reactions of the early part of this season. And in four months, we’ll be backtracking and saying we never truly thought certain players didn’t belong in the rotation.

Zach Harper

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13 responses to Blazers 103, Wolves 95: We need to talk about things

  1. I have said it for years that Love has stats but they tend to be empty stats. They do not lead to the team playing better nor the team winning. If I’m Kahn I sell high and work a trade with LA for Gasol and draft picks. Because as constituted this team is going NOWHERE!

  2. Advanced stats show you that this isn’t exactly true. He’s been near the top of win shares for the last two years and the talent around him has been absolute crap. Even last season, there wasn’t much talent on the team other than Rubio and Pek.

    As for your trade suggestion, any time you can deal a 24-year old All NBA guy for a 32-year old former All-Star, you probably have to do it. Factor in that Pau makes $4-5 million more per season than Love and it only nets you one year of salary relief and it seems like you’re stealing from Los Angeles. Especially when the team you’re trading with can’t give you draft picks for five years because of their trade with Phoenix took away their first round picks. This sounds like a no-brainer for the Wolves.

    By the way readers, that is how you sarcastically reply to a Lakers fan.

  3. It was frustrating to watch last night how our defense was completely unable to stop Lillard and Matthews. Time after time we got picked an a 3 ensued. And then on the other end we chucked up panic 3s to even the game instead of running plays and getting good shots.

    The inability to defend 3s is not something new for the wolves. We’ve seen it time and again for as long as I can remember.

  4. I kindly disagree with your take re: Derrick, Zach. His main use to the team at this point is as a trade asset. Look at our 2 guard position: Mal, Shved, Josh???? Really? This is what we want to roll with for the next 3-4 months till Chase comes back? Sure, midget JJ can play there some when Ricky comes back, but that is more situational in implementation. If nothing else, using Derrick to upgrade the 2 with a real 3 pt shooter allows Kahn to go to B-Roy and say “thanks, but we’re headed in a different direction now.” Roy can quietly retire knowing he left on his own terms and there is no worry of Roy mucking up the cap next offseason.

  5. Mark and everybody else, I sincerely apologize. Somewhere along the line, this site apparently gave you the impression that using the word “midget” or any other derogatory term was an acceptable thing. I guess that’s on us as the site editors for making people think it’s okay to say something like that.

    Let me be clear from here on out: be respectful or don’t comment on the site. Discourse and sarcasm is fine with me, but using terms like that, whether your ignorance to the term in today’s society makes you think it’s acceptable or not, will get you banned.

  6. The biggest thing I’ve noticed over the last two games is a the distinct lack of defensive intensity that carried the Wolves earlier in the season when they only had 9 healthy bodies. AK47 needs to step back up as a leader on the floor despite Love being back. AK CARRIED this team thru the first 9 games of the year!

  7. Zach, do you really want to stand by this statement as a Wolves fan that hasn’t seen meaningful basketball in a LOOOOOOONNNNGGGG time?
    “I’m still willing to be patient with Williams and hope by halfway through his third season, he’s a regular contributor to the greater good of this team.”
    Well, absent meaningful playoff basketball this season, K-Love will be itching to go. I guess by the middle of NEXT season, Derrick’s 12 minute spurts of PT will have all set to replace Kevin. Lovely.

  8. Yes, I’m realistic about the situation at hand. I actually wanted to write an article about this topic, but I’ll delve a bit into it here.

    If Kevin Love wants to leave, he wants to leave. People can pretend that a winning team is all that’s needed to keep him here but it’s going to go much deeper than that. Even if the team has a chance of going to the Western Conference Finals within two years, he’s going to want certain things.

    He’s going to want a guarantee or a sense of comfort regarding the head coach of this team. There’s a very real chance Adelman could be looking to leave around the same time. And if he is, the replacement will have to be K Love approved. That’s easier said than done.

    But most of all, Love is going to want the respect a franchise player feels he deserves. That means getting the contract he wants and working with the people he wants to work with at the top of the organization. If David Kahn is still here, I’d imagine he’ll be gone. If Kahn is gone, it will probably be a lot easier to keep him around.

    These two things will most likely mean a lot more to him than replacing Derrick Williams at 21 years old with a more shooting guard this season. There are long-term priorities at play here and a roster Love is largely happy with right now probably does mean much when it gets down to the business aspect of it all. We’ve seen that a lot recently. Love probably won’t be any different.

  9. Good stuff, Zach. I liked the numbers you put out in analyzing Williams’ performance. He’s a very talented player and (light years from Beasley) is coach able. He’s basically done everything the coaches have asked for. He came in in great shape, he’s rebounding and defending better and is heeding Adelman’s direction to not settle for the jumpers and take it to the hole. Dude just needs to learn how to finish and also absorb contact. I think Williams is going to be a terrific nba player. People so quick to call him a bust will look foolish in a year or two.

    But the guy needs to play. It’s on Adelman to figue out how to get him minutes. As JZgoda points out, Williams biggest challenge now is figuring out how to play in Adelman’s motion offense rather than trying to be the focus of the offense (like he was at AZ).

    I love Adelman; along with Rubio and Love, he’s the best thing that’s happened for the Wolves. My concern is that, after decades in the league, he may be succumbing a bit to the “crotchety old(er) coach syndrome”, relying too much on steady but less talented veterans and having little patience for young, developing players. Adelman has to find ways to get Williams involved, for the long-term benefit of the team.

  10. Ask the Lakers about how instant chemistry is . . . of course there is no need to panic. This team has young talent, depth and a good coach, so the ingredients for a decent multiyear run are there. Rubio isn’t back yet. I always thought the 55+ win talk from ostensible experts was silliness . . . that is an unprecedented jump for a sub-500 team that isn’t adding a Duncan or LeBron. I feel like we won’t see what this team is really made of until after the All-Star break.

    Still, Derrick Williams is a bit lost, and one does get the sense that Adelman simply doesn’t have much use for him. It’s hard to see that changing now that a healthy Love is in the fray. The Roy experiment is pretty sure to be a mild failure. None of which is disastrous, but adjustments need to be made, and assets reevaluated and reallocated.

  11. Kevin Love, currently is among the worst defenders in the NBA. The defense against Golden State today was terrible. If Kevin Love does not take defense more seriously bench him and play Cunningham with Pek at the end of the game.

  12. Just a small town girl November 25, 2012 at 3:18 am

    Damnit zach! Now if kahn reads the comments section on this webpage he might not give us love for pau. And he’ll know we don’t have draft picks!

    Anyhow, as a lakers fan, don’t worry about this loss-they beat the crap out of us with dwight howard also returning from injury (Sort of), and we’ll probably still be in the playoffs. (Tied for the 8 seed with the tiebreaker is how a REAL man gets into the playoffs. Or a very inconsistent one.) You guys will be fine, espc. once you get dudes back from injury.

  13. Well, it’s not like we haven’t seen this before.. At least us Euro-centric NBA fans, who followed Adelman from the Kings to Houston and now to Minny.

    For K Love put Webber or McGrady: Adelman’s team overachieves with the star out, plays great motion basketball, stumble when he comes back and the offense becomes predictable, everyone starts suggesting trading the star, etc etc..

    It breaks my heart but it looks like it is true: Adelman is great at building Euro-type teams with lesser parts, but cannot win in the NBA because he cannot use his stars greatly. The 2002 Kings team came so close only because of all-star seasons from Divac, Peja *and* Webber, with Bibby as the greatest 3rd option ever.

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