Celtics 101, Timberwolves 97: Will you accept quality before production?

Zach Harper —  December 18, 2013 — 5 Comments

RickyRicky

This was an annoying loss. There are a couple of go-to scapegoats you could give for this loss. Wolves were on the second night of a road back-to-back and we saw a lot of missed shots that would normally be easy makes. The Wolves were also playing without their second leading scorer and the 16th leading scorer in the NBA Kevin Martin. Losing all of that firepower will certainly hurt your attack, even though he hasn’t been good the last three games because of a knee issue.

The Celtics are also a much more competitive team than most initially thought heading into the season. Brad Stevens is a fantastic coach and they all seem to know the role they’re supposed to play. Give them the home court advantage and this is a team that can be a handful to deal with on any given night in the NBA. Those are all perfectly good excuses for why the Wolves didn’t win Monday night in Boston. And they had a chance to win. They were down one with about 30 seconds left until a wildly errant 3-point attempt by JJ Barea allowed the Celtics to get into the “fouling game.” Minnesota played horrendous, in “tough” conditions, and still had a chance to win this game on the road. Plenty of excuses at our disposal for this one.

Those excuses are crap. 

Look, they’re valid on some level because that stuff does matter. Not having Martin matters. Second night of a back-to-back matters. Boston being a tougher opponent than they might expect matters. But this is a game the Wolves should not have lost, no matter what the conditions were. They weathered the storm in the first quarter, received a huge boost from the bench in the second quarter (I almost had a stroke typing that), and had the opportunity to take control of the game in the third quarter.

Instead of taking advantage of that, the Wolves played incredibly sloppy. You had passes being thrown everywhere except their intended target. Easy shots inside were missed. Nikola Pekovic tried to run a fast break, which is funny until you realize getting the ball to a guard gives them a much better chance of scoring on that possession. Corey Brewer missed a dunk. Ricky Rubio hit the underside of the rim on a wide-open layup. It was a cavalcade of crap packed into a half of basketball that should have secured a victory.

The Rubio aspect of him missing so many shots seemed to be the topic of discussion in my Twitter timeline. I didn’t get to watch the game until well after it was over. The suggestions were to skip the majority of the game because it was so ugly, but I wanted to know what kind of shots Rubio was missing. Obviously, missed shots aren’t really the spot for moral victories. You can either hit them or you can’t and you don’t get half the allotted points for close calls.

There were three shots out of 12 attempted by Rubio in which I thought they were bad shots. That means even though he hit 16.7% of his shots, 75% of them were good shots (at least in my opinion which is certainly debatable on how accurate that ends up being). One of the two shots he hit ended up being one of the three shots I didn’t like from him. The 3-pointer at the end was a fine shot, I guess, but not one I’d like seeing him take most nights. It was ultimately meaningless so perhaps I’m just picking nits here. But that’s the way I saw it.

After writing about basketball since 2007, I’ve definitely migrated toward the idea of process over results. Results are great but the process will often win out. That’s what we see with the San Antonio Spurs, which I’ve written about before. It’s a culture I’d love to see fostered here with the organization, its players, its approach, and the fan base. I’d like to believe in the process winning out and not panicking. It’s pie in the sky but it’s the philosophy I’ve adopted.

Ricky Rubio is a terrible shooter. We’ve written about it on here a lot. We’ve read about it other places on the internet. None of it is a secret. I’m of the belief that his ability to finish is much more important than his ability to make a jumper, but regardless there are serious fundamental problems that need to improve with his shooting. His feet are awkward, his body hunched over terribly, his arms and release point all out of whack. It’s a mess. But an important part of that process of becoming a better finisher/shooter/scoring threat is shot selection.

I was happy with Rubio’s shot selection Monday night against the Celtics. A lot of those shots seemed to go in and out, which would be great if we were playing horseshoes but doesn’t mean much in the NBA. If Rubio is primarily taking good shots, then he’s solving half of the equation he can’t seem to figure out consistently. If he can adopt that good shot selection and begin to fix the shooting issues from a mechanical standpoint, we could see some serious results. That’s part of the process.

And I believe in the process. He needs to be taking quality looks at the same time he learns to capitalize on those looks. I don’t know if it’s realistic to expect any player to take 75% quality looks on a nightly basis, but ultimately that’s what he needs to strive for. If he can do it, we might see enough of a change in his approach and results to feel comfortable that the correct process was taken.

Overall, the Wolves lost another game they should have won. This may kill them in the middle of April, but I still look at their schedule and see a light at the end of the tunnel that doesn’t look like an oncoming train. They need to fix their issues right now and make it part of the process of learning how to win. And there is a process in learning how to win. I believe in it.

Zach Harper

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5 responses to Celtics 101, Timberwolves 97: Will you accept quality before production?

  1. I like Rubio’s progress so far, Even Kobe only makes one significant improvement over an offseason. Before his recent slump over the last few Games Rubio had a minor improvement in almost every statistic this year, with a large jump in 3 point percentage. The only decline was in the number of free throws, I think that was because no one sees a need to foul him when he drives at the moment. If he comes in next year with a similar improvement to his scoring in the paint that he added to his 3 point shot then you will see a career year out of Rubio. I think he does it, he seems to be aware of what the issues are and he is correcting them over time. If he can get his scoring in the paint to go from 39 to 48 or so then defenses have to play his drives completely different. It raises his scoring and his assists. I think 15-11-5 with 3 steals a game is not out of the question, and if he does it while shooting league average FG% then he will be an elite pg.

  2. I’m done counting moral victories. I agree that the process > results when you’re looking at individual games. However, it is a reoccurring theme for me to watch a wolves game and at the end think, “I can’t believe they played so awfully and almost won.” Good teams close out bad teams even when they’re having an off night and the wolves need to get over that hump.

    Zach~ What are your thoughts on Love’s shot selection this year? I get that Love is trying cement himself as a superstar and open up the offense by proving he’s a threat from anywhere, but I can’t help but cringe at his shot selection sometimes (turn around 2’s, hook shots from 10-12ft, heat check 3’s). I feel like the mark of superstar scoring is shifting from guys that can score 30 a night on 40% shooting to guys that can score 25 on 50%+ shooting per night because smart people are pushing the idea that how efficiently you score is just as important as your total output. Thoughts?

  3. Skunedog – Love is right in the middle of your numbers there, he averages 25 on 45% shooting. There are only 2 players in the NBA that average 20 and shoot 50%(Griffin and LeBron), Nowitzki is close enough to make it 3 with one good shooting night. LeBron is the only player averaging 25 and shooting 50.

  4. Jordan- you’re right. I rescind my former remarks. I thought LeBron, Durant, Harden, George, Aldridge were all pushing 25pts on close to 50% shooting but I was mistaken as only LeBron and Durant score as much with that type of efficiency.

    And the stats on Love’s shot chart undermines the eye test. He’s taking 40% of his shots at the rim, 33% from beyond the arc, 16% from close and 11% from mid-range which is pretty solid shot selection.

  5. I expected my research to back you up initially, sometimes watching Love it does feel like he is taking a shot just to see if it goes in. I think it feels that way because he is good at scoring at all parts of the court, but not truly elite at any of them. So he has no shot pulling down his percentages, but no shot pushing them up either.

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