Timberwolves 95, Bucks 85: the disease and the cure

Benjamin Polk —  December 1, 2012 — 20 Comments

Kevin Love was laughing when he walked into the locker room following this unpretty win. He was laughing because he knew that, in past years, games like this–shots not falling, players injured and ailing–would have ended another uninspired, disheartening loss. Neither team was particularly elegant; neither team shot the ball well; the game was arrhythmic and undistinguished. Love himself, ghostly and wan after two wretched days of stomach distress, was struggling mightily just to run the length of the court. And yet, the Wolves, through a combination of spirited defense and timely playmaking, managed to eke it out. Love reflected for a moment on the passion and resolve shown by his new teammates: “I love this team,” he said. That’s great news.

Milwaukee Bucks 85 FinalRecap | Box Score 95 Minnesota Timberwolves
Kevin Love, PF 30 MIN | 5-19 FG | 4-7 FT | 14 REB | 0 AST | 15 PTS | +14Love was a shadow of himself offensively. His illness had sapped the lift out of his jumper; everything he threw at the basket–threes, free throws, even layups–came up short. Still, he managed to compete on defense and on the glass, which is remarkable, given how close to barfing he was throughout. On a night he could easily have spent watching movies in his pajamas, he hedged screens effectively, helped hard on penetration, took charges, battled for rebounds. Made me a little queasy just watching it.
Josh Howard, SF 24 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 8 PTS | +2Another fairly nondescript game from Josh Howard. I will say this: Howard is playing harder and with more emotional investment than I’ve seen him do in years. It might be wishful thinking, I still hold out some hope that those skills and that touch will return.
Nikola Pekovic, C 36 MIN | 5-12 FG | 4-6 FT | 16 REB | 1 AST | 14 PTS | +8Pekovic dominated Samuel Dalembert, as he loves to do, in his 12-point first quarter. But when the long and lean Larry Sanders entered the game, Pek started to struggle. Although Pek was able to use his considerable strength advantage to push Sanders around, he never did find a way around those long arms. But, like Love, Pekovic didn’t let his second-half offensive struggles prevent him from defending and rebounding with serious abandon.
Jose Juan Barea, PG 31 MIN | 6-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 5 AST | 15 PTS | +1Early on, Barea seemed in control of his game. He saw the floor well (which he does not always do), delivered some nifty interior passes and made sound decisions in the pick-and-roll. But as the game wore on he got up to his old tricks: dribbling into trouble, over-penetrating, playing too fast. Defensively, his game was just as mixed. There were times when his pressuring ball defense gave Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis problems; there were times when his aggressiveness gave them openings to blow past him.
Luke Ridnour, PG 36 MIN | 6-13 FG | 3-4 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 16 PTS | +10Ridnour’s numbers seem okay, don’t they? He managed to hit his spot-up shots and a few of his pick-and-roll jumpers to boot, which contributed to his solid shooting stats. But don’t be fooled; he had a really bad night. He struggled to create any offense off the dribble. And I don’t believe I can recall him ever looking worse on defense. He couldn’t stay in front of Monta Ellis and he couldn’t negotiate screens effectively. There are rumors that Ridnour’s back is bothering him; considering how stiffly he is moving, that wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
Dante Cunningham, PF 24 MIN | 2-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | +3Once again, Cunningham’s energy was a major boon for the Wolves. He found himself in some unfamiliar spots offensively–driving the ball to the hoop, shooting contested jumpers–but his defensive ferocity and his hunger for loose balls kept the team afloat during their rough third quarter. It’s easy to understand why Cunningham is eating up Derrick Williams’ minutes at the four.
Derrick Williams, PF 15 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-4 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 7 PTS | -2Another strange mixed bag from Williams. He rebounded with real energy, which is good; he struggled to close the gap on shooters, which is not so good. Most curiously, he failed to recognize that, when being guarded by a smaller player, he really ought to use that size and strength of his to power his way to the hoop.
Greg Stiemsma, C 11 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | +4Nothing much to see here. Stiemsma still can’t do much offensively, still does his part defensively, still struggles to see playing time when Adelman goes small.
Alexey Shved, PG 32 MIN | 5-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 16 PTS | +10Shved was the Wolves’ best player one important reason they managed to win the game. He was the only guard who consistently created scoring chances for himself and his teammates. And, amazingly given his rep as a defensive softie, he proved to be far superior to either Barea or Ridnour at staying in front of Monta Ellis. Also, he took, and hit, some pretty ballsy shots.

Four Things We Saw

  1. Another note on the absurd swagger of Alexei Shved, the scrawniest Timberwolf. Here’s an incomplete list of some stuff he did in the game’s last three minutes. Off a high screen-and-roll he dribbles to his right and lobbed a rainbow of a skip pass over everybody to Luke Ridnour who hit the wide open jumper. He was wide open because nobody in the arena besides Shved knew he was standing there. Two possessions later, he tries the exact same thing again and throws the ball away. One possession after that, with the shot clock running down, he very calmly nails a 29-foot three that seals the game. Skinny, slope-shouldered white kids with braces simply do not do that where I come from.
  2. Shved’s gutsy fourth-quarter scoring was thrilling and all, but with Love and Pekovic combining to hit one out of their 17 combined second-half shots, the Wolves’ defense was the truly decisive factor in the game. In the first half, Jennings and Ellis slashed into the paint mostly unimpeded; considering their recent run of hot shooting and the Wolves poor record for defending the perimeter, things were not looking good. Two factors turned the tide. First, Shved entered the game and immediately used his length to impede Ellis’ driving angles and contest his shots. What’s more, although Shved sometimes struggled to negotiate screens, he recovered to attack the shooter with more energy and purpose than either Ridnour or Barea have managed to muster.Second thing. In what has been a focus of the Wolves’ defensive strategies in recent weeks, Love, Pekovic, Stiemsma and Cunningham began to do a much better job of hedging on pick-and-rolls, preventing Jennings and Ellis from turning the corner with speed, giving the primary defender time to recover and the rest of the defense an extra second to rotate into position. By the second half, the Bucks were reduced to a series of long, contested two-point jumpers, the lowest efficiency shot in basketball and were well on their way to a 36% shooting night.
  3. The Wolves’ ridiculous spate of injury and illness permanent flux has forced Rick Adelman into some rather tortured lineups. The first of these was a pairing of Dante Cunningham and Derrick Williams with a center. These were Williams’ first minutes of the season at small forward; as I mentioned above, he struggled to find his way, both within the offense and in the more mobile, perimeter-oriented world of wing defense. This combination was a +2 on the night, but was a part of the Wolves’ run of hurried, ineffectual third-quarter offense.The second was a three-guard array of Shved, Ridnour and Barea that Adelman used late in the fourth. And although one would think that some, ah, ball movement issues might arise out of this alignment, Shved’s late game takeover made the issue moot.
  4. I know that Monta Ellis is a terribly inefficient scorer. I know that he dribbles too much and takes way too many long, contested jumpers. I know he doesn’t play much defense. But I really cannot help loving the guy. I don’t think there’s a player in the league who more perfectly combines quickness and grace around the basket. He moves at impossible speeds, but with exquisite balance. He changes direction in mid-dribble, and in mid-air, while maintaining perfect equipoise. He shot 8-22 on Friday and just about every minute of it was beautiful.

Benjamin Polk

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20 responses to Timberwolves 95, Bucks 85: the disease and the cure

  1. How can you say Ridnour had a bad game? This is the problem with sports writing now days. People who have no idea what they’re talking. Just speaking their bias for individual players positive or negative. You give Love a B. What? At least sports writing should come from an angle of truth. Barea plus 1 on the +/- B-. Love could shoot 5 for 19 and you give him B. BIAS BIAS BIAS writing is not sports writing it is spreading ignorance. Facts don’t matter arithmetic doesn’t matter. If you want to write fiction write a novel.

  2. Bob McFlallergizzle December 1, 2012 at 3:05 am

    Did Kevin really say “I love this team”? That’s some really promising stuff. Almost as promising as that charge he took in the fourth. Good to see the big fella putting his body on the line on defense. And Shved, well, the dude’s a baller. This team is looking up!

  3. The best lineup to close out game is going to have to be Rubio-Shved-AK-Love-Pek. Ridnour and Barea are way too erratic for my liking. As you described, they cannot be trusted late in games with making quality decisions. There’s a reason with Shved-Luke-Barea all in the game, it was Shved that was handling the ball.

  4. so you only allow comments that support your views?

  5. how can you give your lowest grade to a guy who scored the most points on the team in a game? Answer that and then ask yourself if your bias? and then if the answer is no to being bias, ask yourself, why do i lie to myself?

  6. Ok i’m done pitching you crap after this…. really man come on, Ridnour the lowest grade? If you want to be taken seriously, you obviously took time to write it, why not try and do it to the best of your ability to be sports writer and not a campaigner for certain players by dogging other player.

  7. Love the Onibaba reference. Love the Wolves through the ups and downs. Rejoicing that there are ANY ups. Still trying to decide on my last two League Pass teams out of five: I’ve got the Wolves, Grizzlies, and Rockets. Suggestions?

  8. Actually Luke drained a crucial three that was set up by Shved in the 4th quarter. Fact is Luke was, is and will never be a good enough PG. He is though a solid pure shooter who knows how to move without the basketball. And when Luke is free, its almost automatic when he shoots. He will definitely start over Shved especially when Ricky gets healthy. The chemistry Ricky and Luke had last season was solid and I dont think Adeleman will revert from that. The pivotal thing about this team is Ricky. He is the only PG we actually have. Luke, Barea and Shved are all semi PG but you know that they are not too good as play makers. At least not as good as Ricky. I would rather have those guys shooting the ball or penetrating. And when those stretches of shittery come (when we cant buy a basket during the 3rd), Ricky’s play making will be really needed, giving our guys easy shots. And Im really happy about Dwill’s performance, he had 7points 10 REBOUNDS in 15 mins. Which was really really good considering how useless Stiemsa is. Im glad he is getting his legs back, hopefully he do this consistently.

  9. As much as I love Shved , I think we’ll see Bud in end of game situations. He’s a smart player, rebounds and shoots/spreads the floor. Remember the record with Bud in the lineup. I can’t wait to see him play with RR.

  10. @Murph – I think you malign Ridnour a bit, I remember him basically having to run the team last year with no offensive options at all. He’s not a game changer, but a solid player. And Pek maybe a defensive liability late in the 4th with Love in as well?

    Nice post, fun to see a banged-up team with a weird box score come up with the W.

  11. Kevin Love really did say “I love this team.”

  12. I see no reason we can’t see a line up of Rubio Shved Buddinger Love Pek. Although at this point it looks like coach likes to have Luke and his experience in the game. With a healthy chase I don’t see who you could take out when the game is on the line… Hopefully come March we get to find out.

    Fyi thanks for the article.. Agree or disagree it was good reading

  13. Don’t be fooled by Luke’s stats. He gives up way more points than he scores with his horrible defensive effort. And has zero creativity when handling the ball, does nothing to help get teammates open looks. Dribbles the shot clock right down with no idea what he is going to do with it. Hence our very poor 4th quarter scoring recently. At least Alexy and jj can create despite there occasional turnovers.

  14. The reason we won’t see a starting line up of Rubio, Shved, Buddinger, Love, and Pek is that it leaves out Krilenko. It would be a crime against fans not to start him when he’s healthy.

    Guess that’s not a bad problem to have: too many start worthy players.

  15. I was at the game and while I don’t think Luke had his best game, (and he is blatantly struggling with his back tendering him useless on defense), we don’t have anyone else to throw out there. Coach A. obviously is aware of his defensive liabilities, but the dude hits shots. He’s not a creator like shved and Rubio and AK, but he’s lights out and a much more consistent shooter. Once Rubio gets back and before chase returns, Luke is really the only trustworthy spot up shooter (matter of time til Love proves me wrong). His midrange jumper is a layup. Very useful part of the team ESPECIALLY when his minutes start depleting and he doesn’t have to stay in front of a quick PG.

  16. people relax, yes luke isn’t the best perimeter defender out there. yes he’s not the best creator out there. point is, once RR gets back he’ll be a back-up PG, and he is a solid back-up PG. i’m just hoping he can get some rest soon so his back doesn’t go totally kaput. Hopefully he gets some rest this weekend here and can hack it out for a couple more weeks. Once RR returns he should be 20mpg max. Ridnour moves w/o the ball well and hits open shots at a respectable clip. Conclusion: he does alot of stuff well. aka a perfect back-up. problem he is a starter for now. relax.

  17. Don’t. Feed. The. Trolls.

    Having said that – some metrics like Luke this year (WS48), and some don’t (Simple Rating at 82games). What I see with Luke is that he’s a pure shooter with neither the size nor athleticism to make him elite. He’s a steady presence, and honestly he’s been worth every penny of the contract we signed him to, if not worth more. Last year he battled on defense, and this year he’s battling a bad back. He’s a consummate pro, and a guy I hope we keep around because he can knock down shots. With the ascendence of Shved and the eventual return of Rubio, Ridnour is the exact kind of guy you want on this team because he’s probably the best at knocking down midrange to longrange shots. Offensively positions don’t matter. Luke will find a way to be open without the ball (see the long Shved pass). Defensively he can’t be worse the Roy, and Rubio and Shved are both long enough to handle most SG’s passably. If you’re going to hate on Luke, back it up with hard data. I don’t accept opinions based on how you felt. Get with it or get ignored. My prediction is that Luke stays – after Budinger he simply offers too much of what Adelman wants – competent shooting and the recognition of when to shoot and when to pass.

    Moving forward, unless Alexey really starts taking off as a shooter, I think what we’lll see post Rubio return is mix of personal, meaning that Rubio will probably be paired more often than not with Luke and Alexey will remain second team and paired with other guys. In other words, I think Rick will look at this and say to himself, ‘If I put Ricky and Luke together, I can get the best of Luke (and Ricky) without making Luke work too hard, and then I can let Alexey do his thing without getting into a distribution tiff with Ricky.’ Something like that. Then again, the Adelman offense seems to really work well when there are at least two really good ball handlers on the court, and preferably three. More than Love, it’s amazing to me that Ricky yet again may be the whole key to making this thing work. Alexey against scrubs 6-8 minutes a game is good news for Wolves fans.

    Lastly, Lion. I don’t know if I want to see him traded or if I want to see him stay. What I do know is that I love how he has been competing for rebounds, claiming them with authority. I see it as a positive that he is attempting to add value in other areas, even if his shot isn’t falling. Dude is a PF, and that’s too bad. Dante fits better as a backup PF on this team, and that’s not Derrick’s fault. I guess I ultimately root for Derrick and want to see him do well. His improved D is great, his improved rebounding is great, and I guess I still think that he’ll be traded for a complementary piece because that’s how Adelman rolls. We’re trying to win now, not later. Derrick is expendable. We will thus get whatever we can get for him. It’s too bad, really, because I really wonder what he could become in a couple years. Dude may yet still figure it out.

    Pop quiz – what viable three point shooters are out there available to sign off the street? That is the single biggest need left on this team. I’m not sure what’s going on with Roy, and frankly I have written him off on this season. If he comes back, great, and if not, thank god for Shved. My personal pipedream (despite him not being a good three point shooter) – a Derrick Williams to Chicago deal for Luol Deng. Barea and Williams works in the trade machine, or Luke and Williams. He’d give us length, defense, scoring, and intangible at the SG/SF position. He’d give us flexibility. He’d allow us to match up well with any other WC opponent, either starting or coming off the bench. A Deng/Love/Pekovic/Rubio/Kirilenko/Shved/Budinger/Cunningham hybrid could handle just about anything anybody could throw at us. For Chicago you’d essentially be making Boozer available for trade because of Lion. And why would Chicago go for it? Lion is younger, cheaper, and has show defensive chops. The potential that he could excel with Derrick Rose is pretty intriguing, don’t you think? Especially with Noah as a last resort?

  18. Shved is a deadly closer. He and Rubio will be money during end of game situations. The guy can make shots when it counts and Rubio can make the proper plays! Im so glad Adeleman finally moved Luke to the 2 spot and started JJ as a PG. Luke is a deadly SG because he moves well without the ball and can really shoot. Plus he can drive the ball when needed. I love how Dwill showed up that game. Full of energy and a little bit more confidence. He had 7points and 10 big rebounds in only 15 mins! Thats the best I’ve seen him so far. The team is shaping up. They have adjusted well defensively. Im happy this team is learning from their mistakes. go wolves!

  19. I actually like the Deng idea, but I don ‘t know ifwhat sort of mode Chicago is in. Bulls fans do seem to hate Boozer. I also don’t know the extent adding Deng would affect them on decisions on guys like Bud and Pek next summer. Interesting idea, though.

    But I actually suspect Williams only has value as a complete buy low guy for other teams.

    Another issue is power forward is absurdly deep around the league. Off the topic my head, the only teams that don ‘t seem to have aneatablished “starter ” at the 4 are Orlando (how many “HOOSIERS”jokes would adding JJ Reddick to this team? Although objectively speaking, Reddick could be an amazing piece) . Or Washington (grantland pointed out they’ve given Jan Vesely starts at the 4, and he has more fouls than points this season.)

    I

  20. The Deng trade proposal is interesting. However if you include JJ or Luke in the deal that leaves us thin at PG w/RR coming off surgery. Ricky has a set-back or a flare-up and you are down to one PG and Lee as a back-up. Not exactly something i’m comfortable with. If we are going to trade Williams I’d rather do it for a pick and then sign Pietrus. Guy is still pretty young, plays defense, has a decent shot and is a gamer. However all things considered, nothing is going to happen until February.

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