Wolves 90, Mavericks 82: “I don’t use crutches”

Zach Harper —  November 13, 2012 — 10 Comments

Adelman

Rick Adelman became a broken record last year. Someone for the Wolves would go down with an injury and he’d start talking about how guys couldn’t feel sorry for themselves and had to step up. They had to make the most of their opportunity to help the team. Ricky Rubio went down with his ACL injury. Kevin Love got a concussion. Nikola Pekovic had bone spurs in his ankle the size of Gibraltar. Pick any of JJ Barea’s 27 injuries from last year.

Guys went down and the Wolves went down with them. Nobody stepped up. Nobody cared. Everybody had the calendar circled for their vacation and not for the playoffs. Once Rubio was gone, the season was lost. Once Love was gone, the season was a joke. Once Pek was gone, it was the same old Wolves again. Adelman begged a set of players without anything close to a guarantee of a future with this organization to show some pride and we only saw it one game, when they finally broke their April losing streak. 

Zgoda Pek Tweet

This looks like another hilarious tweet in which a Pekovic quote tickles our imagination about the lore of his existence. But really, it seems to be the mindset of the team right now. The Minnesota Timberwolves of the 2012-13 season do not use crutches. They don’t use injuries as a crutch for what could have or should have or would have been.

Love goes down; Dante Cunningham steps up. Brandon Roy goes down; Chase Budinger steps up. Chase Budinger goes down; Alexey Shved steps up. JJ Barea goes down; Malcolm Lee steps up. Nikola Pekovic goes down; Lou Amundson plays 14 soon-to-be-forgotten but extremely important minutes.

Does anybody miss Darko Milicic, Anthony Randolph, Michael Beasley, or Wes Johnson right now? Me <EXPLETIVE> neither.

Yes, the Timberwolves have an inordinate amount of injuries right now. I say six of their top seven guys are down with injuries right now. You could argue that Alexey Shved has played himself into the top seven guys, and while it’s early, I wouldn’t be opposed to that thought process. Regardless of the power rankings of Wolves players you have in your head right now, six important members of the Wolves’ roster are currently hurt. Everybody wants to pretend this is some spooky occurrence, fresh off the heels of Halloween and everything that goes bump in the night.

The only thing that seems to go bump in the night right now is the Wolves. They’re sitting at 5-2, even after all of these injuries. They have wins over the Kings, Pacers, and Magic at home. They have big, inspiring road victories against the Nets and Mavericks. The latest one against the Mavericks may be the most special one of all in this early season.

OJ Mayo came into this game torching the rest of the league. He’s been lighting up backcourts left and right, unstoppable to the charms and whims of opposing defenses. He’s been playing like the player that was touted out of USC. Against Malcolm Lee and Alexey Shved, he looked like Michael Beasley in shooting guard form. Two weeks ago, I was wondering why Lee was still on the roster — wondering if his spot on the team was strictly due to a guaranteed contract Glen Taylor didn’t want to eat.

His last few games have been spectacular. There aren’t a ton of numbers that will wow you, although his scoring punch off the bench against Chicago was a nice surprise. His defense though seems accosting. He’s quick and reactive. You create space and he takes it away. His length and reach are like cat burglars coming to take your inherited fortunes. He’s not Avery Bradley or Tony Allen. He’s just your run of the mill pest, bothering the hell out of you like a kid who asks his mom 20 times in a row if she’ll take him to Best Buy.

Not only was Lee great defensively (not a shock) and competent on offense, but Alexey Shved had the best defensive performance I’ve ever seen him have. I’ve watched a lot of Shved over the last two years, prompted by Danny Chau to learn about and love the player who randomly ended up on our favorite team. I can assure you he’s never played defense like he did tonight. His hands were active, like an inappropriate senator at a charity mixer. His hands are usually active and trying to make up for his slow feet. However, tonight he was anticipatory and reactive. He got into the space of the offensive player and became the Seinfeld close-talker — only nobody knows what he’s saying in Russian.

Forget his 9-of-11 free throw shooting or his 16-5-4 line. He had three blocks and all of them were fantastic plays. There’s no reason to believe Shved will defend like this consistently any time soon, but now that he knows he can do it, it wouldn’t shock me to see Rick Adelman find a way to bring it out of him more often.

Then there’s Andrei Kirilenko. There will be discussions of “I know it’s early but AK has to be an All-Star” or “is it possible for Kirilenko to make All-Defense First Team” or “Kirilenko needs to get some kind of award for the way he’s playing this season.” I don’t care about Kirilenko getting awards or accolades for his play. All I care about is he’s on this team and making every minute he’s on the court a joy to watch. The movement without the ball has become something fans are noticing as it’s developing.

The connection he and Shved have is looking scary for opponents. Tonight, they missed on a couple of alley-oop attempts and connected on that play above, but eventually those will start to fall nine times out of ten. The chemistry is there with his countryman and it will continue to grow with the rest of the team. Watching Kirilenko move without the ball makes me a smarter basketball fan. He teaches you without ever saying a word.

I have thoughts I want to get out on Pek, Cunningham, and Derrick Williams, but I have a feeling they all deserve their own post — not just a paragraph in a game recap. I will say this about each:

    • Nikola Pekovic had 20 points on 13 shots and was +21 in 27 minutes on the floor. He also had three assists before stepping on Vince Carter’s foot and rolling his ankle. Pek says he’s fine and will be reevaluated Tuesday. He played with bone spurs in his ankle last season; I wouldn’t be shocked if he started against the Bobcats Wednesday night.
    • I could watch Cunningham and Kirilenko in the lineup all day. Defensively, they fly around and challenge everything. They’re trying to deflect passes and knock away low dribbles in the paint. The two-man combination right now has a +17.8 points per 100 possessions so far this season. And on offense, they’re both moving without the ball so fluidly.
    • Before Williams gets thrown under the bus by the fans, let me say I thought the first few minutes he was on the floor tonight were spectacular. His defense was great, he rebounded the ball well, and he had a sick reverse dunk on the baseline (pictured below). Then he committed a stupid turnover on a fastbreak, Adelman decided to go with Cunningham the majority of the night, and when Derrick came back in, he was pretty awkward.This inevitably leads to the “he sucks; we need to trade him for a good shooting guard” talk that is as over-reactionary as it is contradictory. Again, most of this deserves its own post and will hopefully get one tomorrow or Wednesday. As Jon Krawczynski said to myself and Alan Horton on Twitter tonight, “Sorry, but that’s on Adelman. Can’t sit a guy for 2 1/2 quarters, then throw him back in there and expect him to roll. And I love what DC is doing. He’s earning those minutes. But no way DWill can find a rhythm the way he was used tonight.”I agree with this and I disagree with it at the same time. As a professional, Williams ultimately has to be ready to play whenever he’s called upon to take the court. He’s talented enough to get the job done, even if he is still extremely green. With that said, NBA players constantly talk about routine, set rotations, and show themselves to be creatures of habit. When your routine is all over the place, it does make it a lot harder to find that rhythm. Granted, he’s as responsible for that as Adelman, if not more. But this isn’t NBA2K13 where someone just grabs a controller and directs him. There are tons of variables in this equation.

      So far, I’ve been very impressed with his defense this season and it looks like his rebounding is improved. But we’ll get deeper into that in the next two days.

One final note before I end this:

JimPeteTweet

Jim Petersen tweeted me incredibly outlandish and flattering things during a broadcast tonight. Everybody can go kick rocks!

Zach Harper

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10 responses to Wolves 90, Mavericks 82: “I don’t use crutches”

  1. I realize you said Dwill deserves his own post, but whats the deal with him? He has flashes of greatness. There was that game last year against the Clippers (maybe?) where he took over and couldn’t miss. His athleticism and quickness make the rest of the league look like old men, when he wants it to show, and I think he could be an amazing 6th man coming off the bench like Harden did for the Thunder. However, like you said here, he is not getting his minutes, hes not getting in rhythm, and he seems awkward at times. I realize this is a team sport, but I dont recall many plays designed for him. He seems to kill it on a 1 on 1, but Adelman has him as a role player or getting the ball in poor situations and forcing tough shots. Is there a fix for this? Is there a type of offense that Adelman doesn’t run that would better suit William’s abilities? Are we going to wait and see if Rubio will help bring out some of his better qualities despite getting less minutes behind Cunningham and Love?

  2. My only worry so far is the amount of minutes ridnour is playing, better hope barea is back just so he can spell ridnour hes close to playing 40+ and eventually thats going to tire him. Williams needs to understand hes not the best player on the floor anymore, watching the game made me realise the biggest difference between cunningham and williams is that cunningham just gets it. he knows where to be, when he wants to set a screen its solid, when hes slipping them its quick and decisive. I hope williams can get there- our greatest upside lineup maybe williams at the 5 against smaller team with love-AK-shved and rubio.

  3. DWill has been given ample opportunities by Adeleman to do what he needs to do. The only problem with him is he hasn’t done it CONSISTENTLY. Since last year he has been like that, looked lost most of the time and had a hard time finding his spots in the court. Dwill was my top choice for the draft last year. I thought he would be an elite player even though he was a rookie. I still think he could have been one if he didn’t play for Adeleman. Good thing about Dwill is when he is hot, he is really hot. I remember that game vs the lakers (the cursed game where rubio got injured), Dwill was looking like an all star. He was felt offensively and defensively. He not only was fighting for the rebounds but was getting blocks. And you think after games like that why Adeleman isn’t starting the guy. But then you see Dwill’s dark side. When he is having a rough night offensively, it seems to affect every part of his game. He misses three in a row, suddenly he slacks off in defense, he doesn’t rebound, and just looks lost in the court. He seemingly is drained of all the intensity he has. This is the mentality he has to overcome to be a good player. He needs to do other things well if his offensive game is off. He can’t just hang his head. He should remember Ricky vs the Clippers. Adeleman needs to see Dwill’s competitiveness in a consistent basis for him to trust him again.

  4. Great article… D-will will continue to be used early, play bigger minutes when he plays well, and given the opportunity to develop. Can’t say to much about him, he will need to make the transition to SF, AK is here to give him time for that transition, When Love is healthy, all other PF’s on this team will fight for limited backup minutes. When Ricky is healthy the same is true for PG, Pek is so big, and expends so much energy, that Greg/Lou will get their minutes no matter if Pek is healthy or not, and Shved/Lee/Budinger/Roy if health will fight for minutes at SG/perhaps also SF. By mid-January it is possible that this injury plagued team could be full strength. We need to be very careful we don’t bring in a “Beasley” type player, where the ball enters a dead zone on offense, and we leave an area of the floor unguarded. Stick with this group and coach Adelman, as he accomplishes the impossible, He’s already successfully lead us through the difficult.

  5. Hey, just wanted to thank you for the great writeups. Really fun to read.

  6. Hey Zach!
    How would you feel about a trade of D. Will for Tyreke Evans or Evan Turner??
    Do you think this is possible? If so, would you like it?

  7. Best Buy brat, Seinfeld close-talker and handsy politician all in one piece. Impressive, sir.

  8. “His hands were active, like an inappropriate senator at a charity mixer.”

    I love you, Zach.

  9. D Will is going to have to adapt to the SF position. There is no way he beats out Cunningham at this point for backup PF once Love comes back. We obviously need DC out there to bring that energy and defense, and he mixes very very well with Shved and Kirilenko.

    D Will is quickly becoming a surplus asset- If this team was healthy, how would he even be finding minutes? I would much rather have Love, Cunningham, Kirilenko, or Budinger on the wings than Williams, despite his athleticism.

    To be clear, I do not want to trade Williams, but he is our 5th wing if this team was healthy. He is very fortunate to be playing any minutes at all. How do the Wolves maximize the value of this asset?

  10. pagingstanleyroberts November 14, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    It’s time to stop focusing so heavily on Williams. Should the expectations for him be any different than what Jazz fans expect of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter (at least until Jefferson and/or Millsap leave town)? He’s improved some, shown some of the same red flags as last year, and the team has played well with him and without him. Just let him fill a role in the offense, take away the isos, make sure he defends and rebounds, and make him be a system player first. If people can’t get over that he looks like this and he was the #2 pick, that’s their problem, not his. His job is to improve every day and ensure he’s ready when called upon.

    Also, enough with discussing hypothetical “if they’re healthy” lineups. Tonight’s lineup shows how delusional that idea is. They need all of these guys, and more likely than not, they’ll continue to need all of them at various points during the season.

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