Nets 91, Wolves 83: Looking for the forest with all these trees

Zach Harper —  January 24, 2013 — 18 Comments

RubioInTheTrees

I didn’t expect to be writing this post.

At the beginning of the game, the Wolves were undermanned and completely overmatched. This Nets team is healthy and a lot better than what the Wolves are able to run out there. That much was evident in the early minutes of the game. I was going to write about Starbursts — you know, the candy? I was formulating my thoughts about Starbursts while hoping to catch a glimpse of a great pass by Rubio to placate my necessity to see him light up the Target Center. 

But that didn’t get to happen. The blowout loss fell by the wayside and instead the Wolves lost another winnable game. The Starbursts thoughts will have to wait for a 20-point loss later in the season. Instead, I’m left scratching my head at everything going on with this Wolves team. Personally, I’ve given up hope on this season. It’s not that this team isn’t good enough; it’s that they’re simply not healthy enough to continue to compete. Throw in Rick Adelman dealing with a serious family issue right now and there’s not much more you can ask of this team.

Instead, I end up defending Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea against people who don’t seem to realize they’re being asked to play this way on offense because they don’t have their ideal offensive options and system in place, due to injuries. Some see them taking less than ideal shots off the dribble and say, “these guys are shooting us out of games! Let’s get rid of them!” I end up responding with, “what is your plan to replace guys who are asked to take these shots because they’re the only ones left on the roster who can create a shot off the dribble?”

People don’t like thinking about context. They just want results. That’s the sports society we live in. They’re not right and I’m not right. The solution is probably somewhere in the middle. But unless you have a contingency plan for replacing guys like Luke and Barea — guys who have been forced to play outside of their roles while catching hell for it from fans that just want precious victories — it’s hard to really take those claims seriously.

Here’s the problem I had with last night’s game:

I don’t value wins in an upmountain battle over building up the franchise point guard. And apparently Terry Porter does.

Terry Porter has a pretty unenviable job right now. Fill in for Rick Adelman with a multitude of injuries. Use your coaching abilities to make up for five rotation guys, including your two leading offensive options, being out with injuries right now. You don’t get Pek, Love, Shved, Chase, and Brandon right now. You do get Stiemsma, Chris Johnson, Gelabale, Luke at the shooting guard, and Ricky Rubio on a minutes restriction. Now go out there and be somebody!

Porter seems like a nice guy. He seems like a solid assistant coach. Guys around the team seem to like him. I’ve never been overly impressed with his head coaching ability. He may have been screwed out of a job in a bad Milwaukee situation where his second best player was Desmond Mason and he was asked to win a lot of games. He was given a horrendous transitional situation in Phoenix, asked to win, and then fired after a 28-23 record to start out.

Those aren’t coaching situations in which you can be asked to develop as a head coach. You’re basically a paperweight on a desk while someone waits for a filing cabinet to be delivered.

With about four minutes left in the game and the Wolves down eight points, Ricky Rubio was set to check back into the game. Rubio had only played 24 minutes and was primed to get his final allotted time on the court. Then he was pulled back by Porter and never saw a second of fourth quarter action. The next dead ball was a timeout and that’s when Rubio was pulled back and informed he wouldn’t be checking into the game. As he put on his shooting shirt, he looked visibly upset and mouthed words I can’t repeat on this site.

What was the reasoning for sticking with Barea over Rubio getting some much needed building time on the court?

“JJ hit a shot,” Porter said after the game. “He hit a three. At first I was taking him out because I thought he was hurt and then he was fine, he made a shot, and I just rolled with him because he was hot. Made a shot. That was the only difference. Wasn’t anything Ricky did. It’s tough decisions, in regards to personnel at the end of games, who’s hot, who’s not hot. We just talked about it, just decided to go with JJ.”

Let’s talk about Barea being hot in the fourth quarter when it was time for Ricky to check back in.

J.J. Barea was “hot” at the time Rubio was available to check back in (2:19 was the next dead ball). Barea had just made a 3-point shot to cut the deficit to five points. Before that, he had made a layup. He had made two straight shots. The problem is there were over three minutes between those shots. To say one shot makes a guy “hot” while shooting the ball seems incredibly generous with the temperature assessment.

Barea made a layup at 5:31 left in the fourth and a 3-pointer with 2:36 left. He was hot. Before that layup, Barea had missed his previous three shots and turned the ball over once. He hadn’t made a shot since the 11:37 mark of the fourth quarter. Again, he was hot though.

That can’t be the reasoning for trying to win an unlikely victory and punting on giving Rubio a chance to get more experience and more strength-building with his leg. You can see that Rubio still isn’t strong on his leg. He’s planting funny on drives to the basket, he’s planting funny on defensive efforts, and his legs aren’t there on his jumper.

Every moment on the court is him learning to adjust his game while building strength. You can build strength in the weight room but it’s not the same as getting NBA resistance during NBA minutes. Practice isn’t the same. There isn’t any training that is as valuable to Rubio as being on the court within the allotted time. Unless he’s hurt or injured, there is no reason for him to reach his allowed minutes on the court, especially not for a guy that is “hot” by hitting one 3-pointer.

Was Rubio upset?

“Yeah,” Ricky admitted after the game. “But, it is what it is. TP thought that, I mean, he preferred to play the players that were playing and … I don’t know what to say.”

Is Ricky going to talk to Porter about the decision?

“Yeah,” Rubio confirmed. “I didn’t like it. I think he thinks it was best for the team. I want to know what happened, and we’re gonna talk.”

Rubio wants to be out there for a couple of reasons: 1) he loves to play basketball, and 2) he needs to play basketball. Rubio’s love for the game is unquestioned. Ask him about being out there after a win and his eyes light up. This kid wants nothing more than to play a winning basketball game while humming the Lion King soundtrack in his head. Ask him about a loss and he’s crestfallen, searching for answers on how to get this team back into the win column. It isn’t about keeping him happy; it’s about getting him physically healthy and back to 100%.

He needs to be out there because that’s the only way he can get better. This team is simply in the playoff hunt as much as they are right now because other teams aren’t as good as they had been projected. The Mavericks and Lakers are dealing with their own issues and it’s keeping them behind a Portland team that isn’t that good (because they have no bench) and a Rockets team that is kind of reeling this month (they’re also the third youngest team in the NBA).

Because of these four occurrences, the Wolves are technically there for the playoff push right now. But so much has gone wrong this month for the team, how can we honestly expect them to keep pushing forward on a consistent basis? We want them to. It would be incredible of they managed to maintain until Love and Chase are back with a healthy Pek, Shved, and Rubio back to playing without a minute restriction the final month of the season. Then we could see what’s what and watch them inspire this fan base with what we were hoping to expect in the preseason.

However, that should all be secondary because it’s a far-fetched fairytale at the moment. Possible? Technically, yes. Realistic? Unlikely.

Instead, I’d like to see Chris Johnson signed for the rest of the season, Derrick Williams trusted as much as he has been on offense to allow his game to grow, and Rubio given the precious minutes he’s given by the training staff to help his rehabilitation continue so we’re looking at a brand new player next season. I don’t envy the task Porter has right now. He’s filling in for one of the top coaches in the league with a roster so beat up the league had to give them an extra player right now.

Decisions like playing a “hot” Barea and keeping Ricky out of the final couple minutes of the game just don’t make sense to me.

Zach Harper

Posts

18 responses to Nets 91, Wolves 83: Looking for the forest with all these trees

  1. Derrick Williams got hot for a while, but after a miss he was subbed out not to return to the game. Porter has an odd notion of hot. I thought Barea was horrible in the fourth. I was sitting in my chair just waiting for rubio to come back in. I’m as disappointed as he is right now.

    Can we cut hayward and amundson now and sign johnson and gelabale for the rest of the season?

  2. “Instead, I’d like to see Chris Johnson signed for the rest of the season, Derrick Williams trusted as much as he has been on offense to allow his game to grow, and Rubio given the precious minutes he’s given by the training staff to help his rehabilitation continue so we’re looking at a brand new player next season.” — I could not agree more with this take. Barring some Disney movie miracle, we simply aren’t going to make the playoffs this year. So….what’s the next best thing? Well, you said it best; develop Johnson, Williams, and Rubio.

    On another note, I had a hard time sitting in my seat last night; due to what I perceived as terrible lineup decisions and substitutions. Dante should have played 40 minutes last night. Chris Johnson deserved 30. Stiemsma had no business playing more then 8 minutes (message to Greg: STOP SHOOTING THE BALL; you are a shot blocker, not a jump shooter. You’re hurting this team, and make yourself look far worse, when you try to score. Just pass the ball, set hard screens, and dunk). Ricky needs to play 30-35 minutes a game. He’s ready to do so and being on the court is the only real way to improve; which we need out him in his sophomore season – as of today, he has regressed. And finally, Gelabale should have played about 10-12 minutes, not 24. If Porter made these changes and we replayed the game it would absolutely be winnable.

  3. Unless something changes between now and the end of the year I hate to say it but if I am Rubio or Love I bolt and get the hell out of here first chance I get. Love is obviously not the happiest person to be on the team right now and what the hell is with this Rubio crap.. Above all else Porter needs to make sure he gets his minutes.. Another imploded screwed the hell up season from my team. Why even bother anymore.

  4. You are too kind, too understanding, too sympathetic in your assessment of Terry Porter’s coaching. His substitutions and second half adjustments require more of this sequential breakdown thinking than the ‘he’s in constant contact with Rick’ rubber-stamp acceptance given elsewhere.

  5. Man, I know it sucks to watch the Wolves go through this after such high hopes for the season, but at some point people need to relax and look at whats going on. I do not remember a team ever going through this many injury’s and complications with the head coach in one season. It would be easier to take if we haven’t been waiting for years for good things to come only to have them dashed against the rocks. But I like to think that at the end of the season we will see what this team really can do. Then rolling into next season it should all come together. The odds have to turn in the Wolves favor at some point. I just hope they don’t do anything to change to much just to make a push this year. It’s not worth it to risk the future.

  6. Rubio was on the bench holding his hand, which had apparently been injured, with trainers crowded around. Perhaps Porter didn’t want to risk further damaging it.

  7. So much to say, I’ll probably address every previous comment:

    – Hayward is already gone; he had to go in order to sign Gelabale. As for Johnson, the news crawl on NBATV indicated when they signed Johnson that they received an injury exception for having at least 4 players out for more than 2 weeks. Unless Roy makes an unexpected return, that should mean they can have a 16th guy until Budinger comes back (assuming he’s the first to return). Of course, that exception will always be a 10-day deal, and with both 10-day guys nearing the end of their first deal, they’ll have about 2 weeks to determine how to handle those roster spots.

    – I loathe playing “If I were coach…” but with Adelman still communicating daily with Porter, the rotations surprise me. It worked to replace Stiemsma with Cunningham in the 1st quarter, but then it meant playing Johnson and Stiemsma together in the 2nd. Joe Johnson’s one of the worst 2-guard matchups for a small backcourt, but instead of subbing in Gelabale early and having Ridnour and Barea play with the second unit, the mismatch persisted. Also, why not be cautious with Rubio’s minutes in the first 3 quarters? When I saw he had 24 after 3, I knew it would put them in a bad spot. Porter made the wrong choice in keeping him sitting, but he made a worse choice in playing him so much in the first 3 quarters. Why not take him out at the under 6 timeout in the 1st and 3rd?

    – Please. Stop. with encouraging Rubio and Love to leave. First of all, it’s not happening in the next two years; second, a statement like that is the epitome of everything I hate in MN sports fans: oozing with pessimism and/or superstition.

    – The biggest disservice fans can do for this team is not expect them to win games that they’re competitive in. If they don’t have it one night and get beaten by 20, so be it, but their games in the past week don’t fall into that category. I don’t expect them to make the playoffs, but I still expect them to play well in winnable games. I agree with Eric on this, though: at this point, their moves have to serve the dual purpose of finishing strong this season and positioning themselves well for next season.

    – About the officiating: I understand that not everything gets called, but that wasn’t the case last night. In fact, it seemed like the refs went out of their way to call the game in a way that favored the bigger and stronger Nets. It’s not more masculine, real, or competitive to not enforce the existing rules, and glorifying the play of guys like nut-grabber Reggie Evans while cracking down on Barea doesn’t make the game more “old school'; it makes the game a redux of those Knicks-Heat playoff games that everyone hated. News flash: the guys who blessed with a greater capacity to build muscle on their bodies aren’t automatically “tougher” than everyone else, nor do they deserve more benefit of the doubt.

  8. Nova fan, there was absolutely nothing wrong with Rubio’s health last night. That wasn’t why he didn’t come back in.

  9. I agree that continuing to push for the playoffs at this point is pretty foolish. Work on getting Ricky healthy and finding out what the Wolves have with Derrick and Chris Johnson while waiting for Love/Chase, etc. to return.

    One question: After the second ten-day contracts for Gelabale and Johnson, they’ll have to be signed for the rest of the year or let go. How does the roster spot count figure into that? Will they be allowed to keep 16 players past the second ten-day contracts or would they have to cut someone else in order to keep them both? If they have to cut someone, can I just nominate Lou Amundson now? If he’s not getting any minutes with as many guys hurt as the Timberwolves have now, why is he still occupying a roster spot?

  10. They won’t be allowed to keep either past the 2nd 10-day deal, and if they want to sign both for the rest of the year, they have to cut someone (but they’d also then have that 10-day for another player until fewer than 4 guys are injured).

  11. Lou wasn’t even on court yesterday. I think Johnson is an enormous upgrade over him. Cut Lou and sign Johnson. That way they could sign both of them.

  12. Eh. This is frustrating for us all. Over the last few years Ive noticed that there is the same group of fans that tend leave comments daily as I do. I can see all their frustrations they post and yes, it is hard to be a Wolves fan. Yes, with the way things are going now, it is hard to see a bright future. Yes, I enjoy reading Zack Harper’s blogs and his knowledge of the game. Personally I think Kahn is going to do something crazy by the deadline/and or during the offseason. I really really think Loves days as a Timberwolve are numbered. His antics on the court and then the Yahoo ordeal may be a good red flag to sell high now. I wouldnt be mad. So keep your head up Wolves fans, I feel your pain. I think a little more patience as fans will pay off.

  13. You also forgot to mention that Barea had three assists and seven points in that fourth quarter when scoring was needed. With Rubio in,shooting bricks and no on the floor who could score, we might have by twenty.

  14. Hi,

    What a great way to justify the poor performance of Ricky Rubio. What is not right to try to justify disregarding the player (JJ Barea) that throughout the campaign with Pek and Kirilenko have kept the team afloat. Forgive my honesty but I think you were watching another game or just do not want to see reality.

    I’m a fan of Ricky, but honesty goes over anything and Rubio actually had a lousy game. JJ Barea despite his personal war with C Watson, was keeping the team alive expectations toward a possible victory. Although everyone knew that it was almost impossible.

    Sincerely,

    Raphiel

  15. Not sure why my previously-submitted comment got deleted but let me rephrase it. We fans who pay to get into the arena every night — some of us anyway — still want to live in some fantasy that the team might actually win. Yeah, I know, it’s nonsense, but that’s kind of why we pay and at a time when the Timberwolves not only aren’t pricing their tickets to the product provided but are raising the prices, I’m not sure this is out of line.

    If Rubio needs to use games as practice time, I guess that’s OK. But he can’t shoot and he’s surrounded by people who can’t shoot and if Barrea gets a little hot in a game the Wolves have a chance to win, I’m not sure I can hold that against Porter. And, fact is, Barrea has won more games for the Wolves this year than Ricky has.

    Yes, yes, I know that isn’t a long-range answer but at some point, winning has to matter if for no other reason than to start the process of ridding this arena with the culture of losing.

  16. Great point, Bob C.

    Barea creates his own offense and can break down a defense and Rubio is best as a faciliator. If you had 3 other scorers on the court, let Ricky do his thing. Unfortunately, that’s not available right now.

    Got to go for those Ws and build a reputation and an attitude for bringing it.

  17. I agree with Bob in the idea that it’s important for the ticketholders to have a consistent goal of winning in mind, even with the injuries. This is feasible for a lot of reasons, and it should be expected. For me, it’s just that the disappointment is reduced if they lose now, but that should be the case no matter what. I want to see good things and should have some expectation of such, but it’s still just a game. I like discussing what went right/wrong, but it’s still a product that I’m choosing to watch and means little in the grand scheme of things.

    Where I disagree with a few people is this notion that Rubio wasn’t a better option in crunch time. First of all, everyone talking about how Rubio doesn’t work without shooters surrounding him is neglecting to mention how much of his value comes from finding guys near the rim and how much the Wolves’ first option is getting to the rim. They don’t need 4 other scorers with Rubio; they need 4 finishers. With Cunningham, Johnson, and Kirilenko out there, that was still in play. Also, teams can get back into games with turnovers and transition points, and even Rubio in his current situation is far superior to Barea in that area, especially with Kirilenko and Cunningham as ballhawks flanking him and Johnson inside to alter shots. Finally, all of the comments fail to mention the most obvious point: why not play them together? They were already pairing Ridnour with Barea for the final 4 minutes, and it’s not like Ridnour played well enough to merit being on the floor.

    One thing everyone has to remember with Johnson and Gelabale: when they’re out there, there are limited plays the team can run because they don’t know most of them. What that leads to is a lot of basic pick and rolls, which can work, but the defense knows what’s coming; if Barea is paired in the backcourt with Gelabale, the defense also knows that JJ is running the PnR because Gelabale can’t (he’s not a strong ballhandler). Their diversity will increase with time, but when either or both are in the game right now, it puts more pressure on the other guys on the floor to do more with less.

  18. I was half expecting when seeing the weather channel’s list of storm names they’re using for winter storms that somehow Winter Storm KAAAAHHHHHHNNNN would mess with Minnesota.

Leave a Reply

*

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>