Jazz 106, Wolves 84: The air up there
This game was crap.
Complain about officiating or the effort or the energy or whatever. Doesn’t really matter. The Wolves played like absolute crap in this game. It happens every once in a while in this league. You hit a road game, you don’t have anything to offer that night, and the home team blows you out. The Wolves have been on the winning side of this equation before and they’ve been on the losing side of this equation before.
Tonight was the losing side and the Jazz just absolutely outplayed them in nearly every way. There isn’t much analysis that can go into it. The team still can’t make 3-pointers. They shot 2-of-17 from the field. It was the eighth time in team history they’ve shot worse than 12% from 3-point range while taking at least 17 3-point attempts. They’re 1-7 in those games with the only win coming on opening night against the Kings this season. It’s not a recipe for success and at a certain point, you have to wonder if they should even take more than a few 3-pointers in a game anymore.
But we’ll get into the 3-point debacle of the season more in the next post.
I don’t really want to talk about the game directly because it was just a bad game. We can eviscerate the people involved with it, but I’ve never been one for overreacting to a small sample size of “evidence.” What I really want to talk about is the lack of athleticism within this team right now.
The first obvious reaction is a joke about how white the team is and that being the reason for a lack of athleticism. As predictable as that is, it’s actually quite inaccurate for what the reality is and inaccurate for what I’m actually discussing here. This team has a lack of athletic play within the parties involved and it’s beginning to frustrate me a little. There are plenty of athletes on this team. And I don’t just mean “they’re professional basketball players so of course they’re considered athletes” or something mundane and boring like that. What I mean is there are legitimate NBA athletes on this team.
But you’d never know it by watching them right now. A big part of the lack of athletic play is due to Ricky Rubio being injured/working his way back so you don’t get the defensive athleticism of Rubio or the action moving toward the basket. Also, not having Chase Budinger anywhere close to coming back hurts the athletic potential of this team. However, the real issue is the athletes on this team don’t have any athletic action on the court.
Dante Cunningham, Derrick Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, and Alexey Shved are all more than capable athletes for what the Wolves need right now. You see it occasionally with Kirilenko, but really it hasn’t been consistent enough to be an overwhelming force on offense. Defensively, he has plenty of athletic action in motion. Cunningham and Williams are spectacular athletes who have been floating a lot more than they’ve been attacking. This has been a problem with Williams since last season, but it’s slowly getting better.
With Cunningham, he’s become so good at the pick-and-pop that I think it’s stopped him from rolling hard to the basket and ripping offensive rebounds into his hands and out of the hands of the Wolves’ defenders. We don’t see the needed ferocity with these two guys moving toward the hoop on offense. A lot of that could change with a healthy Rubio on the court but the Wolves don’t have a healthy Rubio on the court right now.
When Shved is on the floor, I don’t think he uses his athleticism nearly enough. This is a guy who can get to the basket and exploded for quick finishes around the hoop. He relies far too much on his jumper right now. His jumper is good, but getting him to draw some contact or create more things at the rim would be a nice change. We could see plenty of this off the ball when Rubio is back but again, Rubio isn’t close to being back to what we need him to be.
Kirilenko still gets a lot of dunks and it’s hard to ask him to do a lot more than he’s already done. But certain things have to happen to ignite this putrid offense right now and none of it is happening from the perimeter. They need athletic action at the rim from their athletes. They don’t need hesitation. They need the system of back-cuts and moving without the ball to be utilized by the athletes capable of thriving from it. Long-term, this probably isn’t a problem for them. However, losing games right now mean just as much as winning games when/if this team is finally healthy.
Wolves fans seemingly have wanted the process of this team turning into a playoff contender to be sped up and to skip steps. That can’t happen in the NBA. You have to take steps for a reason and with the injuries so far, it’s understandable that sometimes the steps are sideways instead of forward. A speedy process isn’t going to happen. This roster is going to have to grind out the process if they want to reach their goal and I believe it’s extremely possible it happens this season.
The team is 14-14 even with all of the issues we’ve seen so far. The sky isn’t falling and the hand shouldn’t be hovering over the proverbial panic button. But until the outside shots start falling, adjustments within individual attacks have to be made. That starts with this team using their athletes as athletes. This team has those athletes. It would just be nice to see them uncaged a little more often.