Timberwolves 106, Celtics 88: Kevin Love is a Pirate

Steve McPherson —  November 16, 2013 — 16 Comments

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Before we get started, look at this:

RubioFakePassLayupCeltics

LOOK AT IT. OK, cool.

I can make this pretty simple: This is a game the Wolves were supposed to win and they did, even though they weren’t terribly great at any point, really. Yes: The Celtics got as close as 5 points at the end of the second quarter after Avery Bradley sunk a 3-pointer at the buzzer shortly after Jordan Crawford sank one (because hey: if your last name is Crawford and you’re playing the Wolves you should probably go ahead and just fire up threes at the end of quarters). But it wasn’t really the full-on kind of swoon we’ve seen from the Wolves before and Minnesota put the hammer down in a 34-point third quarter.

You want a good sign about how they closed it out? Their largest lead was 21 and they won by 18 points. This was not one of those games where it felt like they won by a lot more — it pretty much felt like they won by 18 points. Most of that can probably be attributed to Adelman leaving his starters in until well into the fourth, far beyond the point where the lead was all but secured. This is what was most interesting about a game whose lone bright point for the Celtics was the play of Avery Bradley, who scored 27 points and accounted for a full 30% of Boston’s points.

It’s interesting because Adelman has essentially three sets of guys to manage: the starters, the bench and the deep bench. At this point, the bench is Dante Cunningham, J.J. Barea and Robbie Hummel. These are the guys Adelman trusts to get into the game and work with the starters. The deep bench is Alexey Shved, Derrick Williams, A.J. Price and Gorgui Dieng, with Shabazz Muhammad consigned to some kind of deep, deep level of bench Hell, at least for the time being. Dieng is a rookie, so his minutes are naturally fleeting, and Price is a training camp signee, so he’s really just here for spot duty.

The plights of Shved and Williams are more troubling. Shved played minutes early on and did little to nothing on the court, going 0-for-2 and grabbing 1 rebound. When it came time to start switching the bench in late in the third, Adelman actually put Barea in for Martin with 2:17 left, then brought Martin back in for Rubio to put him next to Barea with 1:17 left. At the time, the Wolves had a 17-point lead and Adelman still didn’t trust Shved out there. Troubling.

And then there’s the fact that Hummel is eating up whatever minutes Williams likely thought were going to be his, and it was clear in Adelman’s postgame comments why he’s valuing Hummel so highly at this point. “He’s a solid player,” he said. “He’s been that way since the first day of camp. He’s always in the right spot. He understands — really — how to play the game. He doesn’t force anything, he stays within himself. He does what he can do and doesn’t do anything else. That’s why he’s effective.” I’m not convinced Adelman was consciously throwing Williams under the bus, but I think it’s pretty clear that he wants Williams to play more like that: to understand what he can do and just do it. Time and again last season Adelman said how Williams had to be more decisive with the ball, had to be ready to pull up and shoot or else drive or kick it around the perimeter, rather than standing with it and thinking.

Now some of this is not precisely Williams’ fault: what Adelman wants from him is the solid workmanship of a bench guy and what Williams has been working towards being his whole life is a starter with freedom. It’s this kind of clash — more than any question about Williams’ basketball abilities ot IQ — that make me think he’s going to be stuck for as long as he’s on this team. I firmly believe he could make a contribution for another team somewhere as a starting, smallball power forward if he’s given a chance to discover his game. But the quotes about Hummel show that this is Adelman’s world and the bench is just living in it. Adelman is never going to let the leash out enough for that to happen, and I don’t blame him because what he’s doing is more or less working.

Which brings us around to why Adelman put Rubio and Love back into the game with 7:50 remaining in the fourth with the Wolves up 17 and then put in Martin and Brewer with 5:22 to go and the lead at 18. He started pulling them out with about three minutes left in the game, but it seemed like he was trying to send a message on the second night of a back-to-back where they lost a bad game the night before: expect work. Adelman knew he had a cushion provided by two days off before the next game against Washington on Tuesday, so he decided to push the starters a little harder, and they responded by holding serve and keeping that lead intact.

I can’t say I disagree with the approach. If this team is going to go into the playoffs and make some noise there, the starters have to be accustomed to playing big minutes. There’s a certain amount of conditioning you can do with drills and cardio work, but there’s also game conditioning, a lot of which is mental. So pulling the starters with a big lead late in the third and then putting them back in is a way to get them used to be called on whenever the need arises, a way to keep them from getting comfortable, from getting complacent. Prior to the game, Adelman talked about the bench and said, “If someone doesn’t play one night and then they play the next night, how are they going to respond? Are they ready to go or not? It’s about getting your team established. It’s hard on players: they don’t play or they don’t play the minutes they’d like and they’re going to be upset. But you’d really rather have them upset than not.”

But that could just as well apply to anyone on the team. Players need to be ready to respond to so many different situations throughout the season: to play when they’re tired, or sick, or nursing an injury, or when their girlfriend broke up with them, or whatever. The situation is not always going to be ideal so it helps to push them. That has to be weighed against injury concerns, obviously, but there’s something to the idea of playing to win and not simply not to lose. Adelman is trying to instill the former in this team and move them past the latter.

Steve McPherson

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16 responses to Timberwolves 106, Celtics 88: Kevin Love is a Pirate

  1. Good recap- I missed the game so I needed this. Interesting contrast between Robbie and Derrick. Will sure be something to watch going forward.

  2. I agree that Adelman is likely trying to send a message with his praise of Hummel. And I agree that Williams is just unfortunately a poor fit with being stuck behind one of the top PFs in league and not really being able to grasp the glue guy stuff that Hummel is doing so well at this point.

    What sucks is I don’t see how the Timberwolves can manage to salvage any value for Williams if he’s not playing?

  3. Williams has looked good in his few minutes with the starters, but when he has to play with the rest of the deep bench his effort lacks and the inability of the entirety of the deep bench makes it very difficult for him to do anything offensively. He really needs a guy like Rubio to really shine, but Adelman is set on not giving him meaningful minutes. Williams is just going to continue to lose trade value at this point and I don’t see that changing. I say get what we can for him and move on, some team may be willing to give something in return who understands how to better utilize his talent.

  4. Williams could definitely be in a better spot, but at least he’s not drawing the same Adle-hate as Mohammed. If it we’re up to Adleman at this point, he’d trade Williams for a bucket of practice balls, but he’d let Bazzy go for some gym socks. Maybe a latte.

  5. Enough with this stupid idea that Adelman doesn’t like either Williams or Muhammad. Williams is good enough to play but is stuck behind a better player in Cunningham. He has started every time Love has been injured and still not shown he can do much that helps anyone but himself, and he doesn’t do that particularly well.

    There is nothing that Muhammad has shown that indicates he’s ready for the NBA. Absolutely nothing. Not only that, but how many rookies are currently in the rotation for playoff contenders? Schroeder, Adams, and Hardaway. That’s it. I wish one of the writers on this blog would write a longer piece than I can write in the comments that shatters this absurd myth. He had all of summer league and training camp to seize a spot, and he didn’t, because he’s either not ready or he’s not good enough for the NBA. I think I’ll go with the opinion of the guy who plays young players when they’re good over some KFAN talker that has no traction in reality.

  6. I’m not a Williams basher. He’s gotten better every year. But here’s one thing that bugs me and I bet it absolutely drive Adelman nuts. Anyone else notice that sometimes when Williams is moving through the offense, he’s almost skipping? I mean like a first grader skipping to recess! He’s not walking and he’s not hogging the ball or stopping the offense, but he’s certainly not making hard cuts. Must bug the hell out of Adelman. I say it’s simple…. If Derrick stops skipping, he’ll play more.

  7. Still recovering from being trampled by your high horse gjk. No one seems to be suggesting that he doesn’t like them personally; I’m sure they get burgers at the Adelman’s BBQ. Evidence that he doesn’t appreciate their game? I don’t know, maybe that Adelman has said more positive things about Hummel’s game in one week than he has about Williams in 2 years? Maybe that many teams work their 1st round rookies into bench production and not solely the super garbage of garbage time?(BTW, no one, and I mean NO ONE ever talked about Bazzy as a rookie starter for any team). But you can wait for a longer article.

  8. Please with the high horse nonsense. What about Williams’ game deserves respect? He’s a mediocre to bad shooter from every spot on the floor, his indecisiveness mucks up the offense and makes it easier to defend, he’s a bad passer, and he’s shown indifference/unwillingness/inability to play within the team’s sets. He can rebound better than Cunningham, but that’s about it. This team has a perfect example of a player whose game wasn’t respected by previous coaches and became one of the best players in the league, and he got much less leeway on offense in his first 2 years than Williams has had.

    As for Muhammad, the guys who play on other playoff contenders have earned it. Hardaway plays for the Knicks because he’s aggressive and tenacious while showing good athleticism, Adams plays because he’s physical and athletic, and I haven’t Schroeder play. As the 3 examples show, most rookies ride the bench for playoff contenders unless they’ve earned the playing time or fill a need in the rotation.

    And as for Adelman’s public comments, he’s commenting on the guys who seem to be doing well. Does he need to comment on everyone? Positivity about one player doesn’t mean negativity about another.

  9. Hummel is a rookie olaying significant time for a playoff contender.

  10. True; I shouldn’t have left him out. He’s probably earned a spot in the rotation when Budinger returns, unless Shved turns back into the guy who played so well early last season. Maybe Muhammad will be better than him, maybe he’d lose to Muhammad in one-on-one, but his game is more suited for NBA success now, and not every rookie needs to be worked in during their first season in order to have a good career.

  11. I’m really hoping D. Williams can bring a productive bench player back. Cause he is not a productive bench player. I think that’s all we can reasonbly hope for in a trade for him. Try to target teams like Charlotte or Phoenix who can afford to play him big minutes (though I have not looked at either of those teams’ rosters for potential trade matches) and grab a veteran bench player who fits the system. And do it soon. Our bench is pathetic.

  12. Give Williams to Utah for a guy like Alec Burks. Sturdy player, predictable but consistent, overall could be a good fit in Adelman’s system. He could be a perfect 1/2 guard for this team to provide some good bench minutes, and Utah can play Williams as much as they could ever want. Throw in Shved for a draft pick, and you’ve got a deal in my opinion.

  13. I think the only team on the planet that we could possibly hope to trade Shved to is Brooklyn.

    They don’t look like they have anyone we would want (that would fit the salary slot).

  14. @Nick I agree adding a solid wing like Burks would be nice, but I don’t think that makes much sense to acquire Dwill looking at it from Utah’s perspective. They’re committed to giving a power forward a ton of minutes this season too with that extension they gave to Favors.

  15. @Alex Then we need to get a 3rd team involved in that trade. But I think it has to happen sooner rather than later. Every game DWill plays, his trade value goes down. He needs to be shipped to a team that doesn’t have a future at the PF spot, possibly one that has just given up their franchise player (Atlanta, I’m looking at you) or a team that has one that isn’t going to be around for much longer (Dallas). Anyone see players on either of those teams that would be enticing for the Jazz? Enough to make that trade, anyways?

  16. This is the proposal I came up with: http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=mzk66o4

    The Jazz get a good veteran who can lead the team for a while, Dallas gets a PF who can start at the 3 and play minutes behind Dirk at the 4 until he retires, and Minnesota gets some better and more consistent wing depth.

    That being said, I doubt that Minnesota moves any players this year. They won’t make moves until they start to lose because of the lack of bench production. Look for a trade right before the deadline, if at all this season.

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