I tried. I really tried to churn out some thoughts on the Wolves losing to CSKA Moscow on Monday night and just nothing appeared. The effort was there for me trying to write about what was an on-the-surface embarrassing loss to a really talented Euroleague team. But ultimately, I just didn’t care enough about the result or what we saw on the court from a team standpoint.
And really, that was the problem with the Wolves in that game as well. I’m not sure they cared enough about their opponent throughout the 53 minutes of action to really want to do what they were supposed to do. There were individual players like Derrick Williams, Othyus Jeffers, A.J. Price, and Ronny Turiaf that appeared to give a damn. They fought through as much as they could against CSKA Moscow and nearly walked away with a victory. But there were too many mental mistakes, too many lazy offensive sets, too many poor defensive rotations throughout the game to end up defeating a quality opponent.
Make no mistake about it either; CSKA Moscow was a quality opponent. They have six guys (seven if Sonny Weems is playing) that can play in the NBA right now. The rest of their team is full of solid players as well. It’s an opponent that even the third string of the Wolves should be able to close out, but you have to have a full game of effort in order to do that. The Wolves didn’t have that and it showed both in their play and in the way Rick Adelman discussed the game afterward.
That wasn’t the case Wednesday night against the Toronto Raptors.
Against the Toronto Raptors, it looked like the Wolves respected their opponent a lot more. I have no idea if they didn’t respect CSKA or if it was just the first preseason game so things were rusty or what; what I do know is that it looked like they cared a lot more Wednesday night.
Rather than trying to find a way to weave some type of message throughout each game and find some underlying meaning from preseason action, I think it’s probably best to just unload the random thoughts in an incoherent fashion just to get them out. Sound good? Let’s go player by player with random observations:
1) It’s really nice to have the best power forward in basketball back in the flow of things. He hasn’t looked great in the first two games but you can see just how much the defense swarms to him and what it can mean for other players. His game against the Raptors was a lot better than the CSKA game, although he did move the ball quite nicely against Moscow. This type of play in which the Wolves immediately throw it to Love on the weak side elbow as Kevin Martin cuts off of him could be an easy six to 10 points each game:
2) This will go double for Pekovic — and perhaps the Wolves are just slowly working into offensive options as preseason progresses — but I’m a little shocked at how little we’ve seen Love and Pek operating on the low block. He had a couple of possessions against the Raptors in which Love got the ball inside and went to work, but it’s been a lot of high post stuff with him early on. I wouldn’t mind it so much if we saw more high-low action to Pekovic, but again this is probably just them slowly working into the bulk of their offense.
3) The defense hasn’t been terrible for Love so far, which is nice? Rotations could be better and there were a couple of times in which it looked like he gave up a little ground in the post, but for the most part, I think Love has done a fairly adequate job of being in good help position. It’s a work in progress that will be entirely up to him.
1) I don’t know if Pek got stronger or if he’s just able to concentrate on doing his work inside more because Love is on the court to take some attention, but Nikola’s brutality is evident in the first two games. He’s just throwing big players around like they’re Slam Man training tools. Even when he was facing Jonas Valanciunas, who has bulked up considerably since last year, there were really only one or two times at the most in which he didn’t get to the spot he wanted on the floor. On the offensive boards, he’s taking the attention going to Love and using it to his advantage.
2) He has 20 points and 15 rebounds in the first two preseason games. His per-36 numbers for the preseason are 15.3 points and 11.4 rebounds. It means nothing but I figured it out so I thought I’d drop it in here.
3) I love the defensive positioning of Pekovic in the first two games. There were a couple times in which he was too slow to get over to cut off a drive, but for the most part, he’s turned himself into an excellent position defender. His help defense and pick-and-roll defense are great and can really only be beaten with athleticism in those times. However, sometimes he’s in position and just can’t get to a play because of the lack of leaping ability, like on this DeMar DeRozan lob:
He reacted to the play perfectly, but just didn’t have the hops to get there. I don’t think it will be that big of a deal throughout the course of the season, but there will be times in which he gets burned because of that.
1) Scoring attempts is going to be a new thing I track with Kevin Martin because it’s really the best way to evaluate how he acts on offense. There will be games in which Martin absolutely frustrates fans. He’s going to shoot a lot and because it’s a funky delivery with his jumper, people will then turn on it because it’s not aesthetically pleasing. We’ll get to this in a later post, but scoring attempts are an important way to look at the context of his usage.
The idea is that we’re adding field goal attempts to the number of free throw attempts Martin takes (after we’ve divided those free throw attempts by two). For example: in the game against Moscow, Martin took 15 shots from the field and eight free throw attempts. That means he really had 19 scoring attempts in the game. Why is this important to distinguish with him? Well, really I’d like it to be the way we evaluate all players in how many shots they take. But with Martin, his ability to take a lot of shots often sets up the defender for a little chicanery later on, in which Martin can use the flow of his offense throughout a game to draw a foul later on. He’s really good at doing this. I think we probably want him around 20 scoring attempts per game, because his career true shooting percentage of 59.6% tells us the more he’s involved with scoring opportunities, the better.
2) Against CSKA, we saw just how brutal his defense might be this season. I don’t think it will ultimately be as bad as when Milos Teodosic was going after him in pick-and-roll sets, but I think it’s something to keep an eye on. Much like Ricky Rubio, Martin gets caught up in screens and doesn’t do a good job of separating from them. The difference is Rubio knows how to make up for that by resurfacing with the offensive player and challenging the shot or taking away the scoring opportunity. Martin isn’t so good at that and opposing scouting reports know it. It will make the big men in the pick-and-roll defense all that much more important. It shouldn’t be a problem with Ronny Turiaf, Dante Cunningham and Nikola Pekovic, but it will be a concern with Kevin Love and Derrick Williams.
3) Martin only played six minutes in the Raptors game because of a sore Achilles’ tendon. Of course.
1) Corey Brewer is definitely better than what we saw from him his first time in the Twin Cities. I’ve been very impressed with his on-ball defense in the first two games. In Denver, he was overly aggressive and gambled a ton. His reasoning was he played like that because he knew he had JaVale McGee to deter shots at the rim if he gambled incorrectly. He knows he doesn’t have a shot-blocker here to be that way. He’s been much more measured in the way he cuts off driving lanes.
2) He’s still a bundle of chaos, both good and bad. He had a lot of breakaway moments in which he attacked in transition against Moscow. Some of them were serene enough for him to finish the play; others were not. He’ll still frustrate fans at times, but overall, I think his offensive impact will be good.
3) His ability to leak out without hurting the defense is unmatched in this league and he moves along the baseline so well that he’ll get lots of chances around the rim off of focus moving toward Love, Rubio, and Martin.
1) Don’t look now but Ricky is shooting 53.8% from the field in his first two preseason games!
2) But seriously, he looks so much more comfortable scoring the ball right now and it’s something we saw progress during last season when the Wolves didn’t have a ton of scoring options due to injuries. He was 3/4 in the restricted area in Game 1, finishing a couple of times against a defender. In the Raptors game, he missed both attempts inside but his all three of his jumpers. It’s not cured but it certainly looks more comfortable.
3) His defense is sooooooooooooooo good. It really is. He still gets caught up in picks a little too long for my liking, but he’s going to make an All Defensive team in the next couple of years.
1) With the Chase Budinger injury and not a ton of depth in the backcourt this year, the pressure is on Alexey Shved to perform. He looked terrible against Moscow and he looked fantastic against Toronto. I think a lot of that was how they used him. He’s more comfortable next to J.J. Barea than running the show himself. It probably means the Wolves need to keep a third point guard because Alexey looks a lot more competent as a catch-and-shoot guy than a creator off the dribble because he doesn’t attack the rim enough.
1) There is too much holding onto the ball with Derrick. There really is. He’s playing better than what we saw last year when he made some good strides, but there have still been too many times on the wing when he’s received the ball and the offense just stops or lags. That has to continue to lessen as he gets more experience.
2) His rebounding is terrific. He really is so good at going after boards with his athleticism.
3) The defense on the wing has been both good and bad. Rudy Gay was a good matchup for him because it’s a quick, but physical wing player that will give Williams trouble. He can’t leave strong side shooters as much as he does. He can’t float into the lane and forget about the perimeter.
4) Against the Raptors, he used the baseline beautifully. I don’t know if that’s an influence from Martin and Brew, but I like seeing it from him. He also seems to be much more comfortable around the basket.
1) The success of the second unit will probably hinge entirely on Ronny Turiaf. His defense is very good and he’s constantly talking out there, which is something the team needs to get better at doing. But even as important as Shved and Barea are to generating points with the second unit, Turiaf’s defensive impact will be the most important.
2) He’s finishing at the rim and moving really well on pick-and-rolls. We saw a little of that with the Clippers last year, but I hadn’t realized how comfortable he is. It’s like a Joel Anthony that can catch and finish.
1) He only played six minutes in the first game and he looked pretty lost when he was out there. Defense was decent though.
1) He’s still my pick for the 15th spot on this roster. His defense is good, not just for a role player or potential 10th or 11th guy on the team but overall. It would be a welcome addition to this league.
2) He doesn’t take bad shots and he really attacks the rim intelligently. His huge hands help him rebound, score around the basket, and keep opposing offensive players in place when he makes sneaky contact.
1) Price played well in the game against CSKA and scored the ball nicely, but I’m not sure I saw enough team play to feel like he should be the 15th guy.
1) Robbie’s shot looks like it’s going in every time, but what else does he bring the team? Figuring out where he stands outside of shooting the ball is the key to him making the team.
1) We didn’t see DC in the first game due to being ill, but he had some nice run against the Raptors. I’d like to find a way to get him more shots around the basket. He’s a nice safety valve on pick-and-pops but I feel like his athleticism allows him to be more of a force around the rim.
1) I think we’re going to appreciate the existence of Barea a lot more this season than in the past. He’s the only backup point guard the Wolves have to rely on right now and his game is probably better than we give him credit for, even if he does shoot a lot. How he helps lead the second unit will be key to his acceptance with the fan base, but I think we’ll see solid play from him.
1) I like him but I don’t know if he needs to be on the team over Chris Johnson because that seems like the victim of circumstance if they’re going to keep two fringe guys.
1) He protected the rim nicely but looked a little lost on a couple of rotations. However, I think he’s just one of the players that needs to be thrown into the fire and see if he can swim. That’s the expression, right?
2) He had a couple of post moves in the game. One was him coming across the lane and taking far too long for him to get his own shot. It didn’t end well. The other move was quick and concise, which is exactly how he needs to score if his number is called.
That’s all I’ve got. Remember if the game isn’t on League Pass or Fox Sports North, you can always search for a FRONT ROW seat for a SPORTS event. You can also search for a HUNTER that would typically venture into a STREAM if you catch my drift.