Wolves/Bucks redux: on backcourts

Benjamin Polk —  December 2, 2012 — 14 Comments

big-beautiful-buckOn Friday night, I made passing reference both to the Wolves’ anemic third quarter and to J.J. Barea’s tendency toward overdribbling and playing too fast. Barea tends to play a more even-keeled game when the offense is functioning well, as it was in the first half on Friday; he played within the context of the offense, scored 11 points on seven shots and dropped five dimes. But when the Wolves bog down offensively, Barea tends toward those bad habits. A perfect case in point is that third quarter, in which the Wolves scored 11 points on 19% shooting, committed five turnovers and had four of their shots blocked. It was pretty ugly and Barea was at the center of the ugliness. Two plays illustrate my point.

The first came at the 2:32 mark of that rotten quarter. Barea, as he does, was probing the perimeter, using multiple screens and eating shot clock in an attempt to find a driving lane. Finally, a little out of control and seemingly without a plan, he drove into the teeth of the Bucks’ defense. Seeing his path cut off in the paint, he jumped to shoot, changed his mind and shoveled the ball to Dante Cunningham at the elbow.

Barea’s wanderings had created poor spacing and pulled the offense out of its rhythm. Because of that spacing and because J.J.’s hurried pass had caught Cunningham wrong-footed and a bit closer to the hoop than he is comfortable, Cunningham’s defender was able to close the gap and force him to put the ball on the floor. This, needless to say, is not Dante’s game; he drove directly into the Ekpe Udoh/Larry Sanders buzzsaw and had his shot blocked. (Sanders’ 10 block performance is unquestionably amazing, but it was aided by the Wolves’ decision to continue taking the ball directly at him.) The Bucks were off and running in the other direction. So, Barea’s hurried pace and unpredictability put his teammate in an uncomfortable spot, out of the flow of the offense, forced to make a play he is not accustomed to making. This scene was replayed–with Love and Pekovic and Cunningham–throughout the quarter and is a hallmark of Barea at his worst.

Now, contrast this play to one that occurred with 5:30 left in the fourth. This time, Shved was running the show. Shved dribbled right, using a high Pekovic screen. Shved turned the corner decisively and threw a perfect skip pass to Cunningham, whose man had left him to help on the rolling Pekovic. Cunningham was perfectly balanced, wide open and at his favorite spot on the floor: at the elbow, 17 feet from the hoop. If you’ve watched the Wolves much this year you’ll know that this is DC’s shot. He nailed a smooth, perfectly in-rhythm jumper.

Now, Shved and Barea are both inveterate gunners and players who like to probe the outer reaches of what is possible. But, in the second half on Friday at least, Shved was the player who seemed poised and comfortable within the offense, who played deliberately and put his teammates in positions to succeed.

*     *     *

Finally, in response to our ongoing comments section conversation (which I love–keep ‘em coming), a note on Luke Ridnour. Before I go on I should say that I have a lot of admiration for Ridnour as a player. He began last season playing out of position, competing relentlessly on defense despite facing some truly unfair mismatches. Later, he ran the show with a game professionalism even as the team crumbled around him. And he did it all despite playing through injuries and an awful family crisis. If you ask me, it was a pretty courageous showing.

That said, I think we’re due for a clear-eyed appraisal of what he’s done this season. It is true that Ridnour does certain things that no other Wolves’ player can do consistently, that is, hit midrange jumpers, both spotting up and off the dribble. Despite his midrange proficiency, his overall shooting efficiency has been just average–.531 true shooting percentage, 31.8% from three, which is not very good. Still, on a team that has struggled so mightily to hit shots, I think that we can say that average outside shooting is more than welcome.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that our eyes have told us, and the stats seem to back it up, that of the Wolves’ three backcourt regulars–Shved, Barea and Ridnour–Ridnour has been the least capable of offensive creativity. His assist ratio is lower than both Barea’s and Shved’s; according to 82games.com, the Wolves perform six points per 100 possessions worse offensively with him on the floor than with Barea and about one point per 100 worse than with Shved.

Here’s some worse news. Ridnour is visibly less dynamic offensively than his backcourt mates, but the real issue is defense. Ridnour has never been a great defender, but things have taken a real turn for the worse this year. As I mentioned on Friday, its been rumored that his back has been bothering him; watching how he labors to move laterally, how he struggles to contest shots and fight around screens, we can only conclude that the rumors are true. 82games estimates that Ridnour’s opponent has compiled a PER of 26.0 this year, a number roughly equivalent to Chris Paul’s (and nearly twice Ridnour’s PER of 13.4). Now, estimates like that are far from an exact science, but in this case it bears out the observation that Ridnour has been getting shredded by opposing guards this year. And at no point (except perhaps in his matchup with the actual Chris Paul) was that shredding worse than in the first half against Milwaukee.

Benjamin Polk

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14 responses to Wolves/Bucks redux: on backcourts

  1. Video or it didn’t happen….

  2. First off, love the article, you keep em coming yourself! Second off, last year I watched almost every game until they fell apart. Ridnour seemed to be very capable on D even as u said with obvious mis-matches like guarding Kobe. He was a tough defender and contested shooters.
    This year, like you said, he is lacking and can’t stay in front of point guards. I don’t think he’s aged. His defense is suffering along with his back. Since we got J Howard AK can rest and get better. Ridnour doesn’t have that luxury. If Rubio comes back and Dee’s up like he can, him and shved should be ok. JJ is not a good defender neither has Luke been this year, but between them all, giving shved/Rubio the majority of the minutes, they should be ok and be able to outplay the oppenents backcourt. Once chase gets back? We Arr LLoaded. Look outman!!!

  3. frnorth: quite possible the worst comment i’ve ever read, not to mention the stupidest.

    I agree, i think most of the problems Ridnour is having are related to his back. If he goes down for any length of time before Rubio is back we are in big trouble. I’m hoping he can continue to stick it out for a couple more weeks, at which time he’ll be able to get some treatment/rest and then get his customary 15-20mpg the rest of the way.

  4. pagingstanleyroberts December 2, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    Agree with the the back thing; he’ll probably sit for a while when Rubio returns. The other part of this is based on the bigs. PnR D is based on team concepts, and this team’s success on D will be based on positioning and help much more than on 1v1 battles. Offensively, I think a lot of it is chemistry. Barea and Ridnour didn’t play much together before JJ returned; Lee played so little in the preseason that any fluidity he and Ridnour have is coincidental. One of the bigger problems is the inability to generate offense through dribble handoffs, which were very successful for them last year. All of their guards can get in the paint if they’re on the move, but only Shved is really capable of beating someone 1v1 (also Roy, but none of us know what the future holds with that situation).

  5. Shout out to brett bruner for prompting this post.

  6. brent

  7. Don’t. Feed. The trolls.

  8. Ridnour’s defense has been pretty atrocious this season. All you need to do is look at the boxscore of every point guard he’s played this season. If you’re a guard with a decent handle, you’ll get around him more times than not

  9. I really like the way this team competes on a nightly basis. Even if Luke is hurt, I still feel like he’s out there doing everything he can. At least Adelman recognizes his limitations and puts things on Shved in crunch time.

    I even feel like DWill has played better lately. He obviously still has no confidence in creating for himself, but if they can put him in good position he can still score and hopefully get some confidence going.

    Shved is just so fun. Like Rubio last season you see clearly that these guys are used to playing pro ball. Even when Shved makes mistakes that look horrible, he comes right back and attacks, and doesn’t shy away from the pressure.

    Now if only Pek could jump a little higher so he could dunk on people when he catches the ball under the rim……. ;)

    I really enjoyed the last game, because it was an ugly win. You could tell that everyone on the floor cared, and were competing hard. On a night to night basis that will lead to very positive things.

  10. Ridnour is ok. He’s back hurts him, but he’s ok. Better than some guards we’ve had lately. Names like Telfair and Flynn come to mind. Luke tries at least. He’s probably better as a 2 than a 1. Question is who should start at 1? JJ or Shved? Thing is, with all the injuries we’ve had so far this year, we’ve only lost 2 games by double digits, 19 against Raptors and 11 against Golden State.

    There’s a lot of talk about how bad certain players are at D. Fact is we’re allowing the 5th FEWEST points per game. we’re scoring the 3rd fewest points per game. It used to be the other way around. We used to score a lot but also allow a lot of points. We’re 7-8 and Love just got back and doesn’t have his shooting touch yet, and Rubio isn’t back yet. I think we’re doing good so far. Ridnour is doing his share of the work. Once Rubio is back, he’ll probably go back to playing 2. No point in knocking him for having to play 1 at this time. He’s doing it well enough.

  11. Rick isn’t going to adjust the starting lineup for Ridnour until his back gets bad enough for him to sit or Rubio is back playing significant minutes – whichever happens first. Despite the tough matchups with starting PGs and the defensive liability he’s become, Luke has does a great job of competing and setting the tone in the starting lineup over the last few years. So it seems too reactionary for Rick to adjust the starting lineup at this point (a guy who left Wes Johnson in the starting five for the sake of continuity). Especially when Shved provides an identity for the second unit and has enough energy saved up in the fourth quarter to defend the ball well when we really need it.

    Despite the losing record and soft schedule so far, this is exactly where we wanted to be in anticipation of Ricky’s return (sans additional injuries). Still, Holiday tomorrow and then Rondo on the back end of a back-to-back terrifies me. Good luck, Luke.

  12. I agree with everything you said about ridnour. The only positive aspect of his game is his spot up shooting, but any pg with an athletic bone in his body is getting to every spot he wants to get on the court. It may not mean that the opposing pg is going to score a lot of points or even rack up a lot of assists, but it forces the twolves defender to help constantly.

    He also cant get to the spots he wants to get to, and is at best a undersized 2 who is a huge defensive liability whether it is at 1 or the 2.

  13. Glad to see a post on our backcourt woes, because I think it’s what separating us from being good and underwhelming. Ideally Ridnour and Barea are backups, but they have gamely stepped up take on bigger burdens. It’s just tough for them to defend, especially when 1. so many backcourts in the league are fast and athletic and 2. Ridnour and Barea are so short.

    I’m not willing to say that Shved is the ultimate answer though. I love his boldness and creativity in the fourth quarter, but he really needs to eliminate those leaving-his-feet-in-traffic-without-a-plan-and-turning-it-over possessions. I suppose that’s a symptom of his youth and lack of experience, but it’s what me simultaneously nervous and excited when he has the ball.

    Is Rubio the savior here? We’ll see how well he moves and defends coming back from injury. His perimeter defense, as has been noted on this blog and others, is debatably more important than elite playmaking, but if that’s absent because he isn’t moving the same…

  14. I love Luke Ridnour.

    He’s just a great team guy.

    I think that he is hurting and once Rubio returns he will, hopefully, get some recuperation time. I always thought that Luke was signed as a back-up…a steady hand….as a mentor for the elusive ( at that time) Rubio. He has given much, much more to than that to this franchise since he arrived…and through some sticky moments for him personally.
    Okay his stats don’t read great but he’s one of the good guys and for that simple reason I’m prepared to cut him a little slack.

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