Timberwolves 89, Rockets 107: Caring Is Creepy

Steve McPherson —  February 11, 2014 — 16 Comments

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves

Going into last night’s game against the Houston Rockets, the Wolves were in a flat spin and headed out to sea, losers of five of the last six and facing a team they match up with exceedingly poorly. Consider: without Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, their biggest impact players are at the point guard and power forward positions, while the Rockets’ most essential positions are shooting guard, small forward and center. The result, then, was to be expected—especially with Rick Adelman’s absence from the bench for personal reasons—against a team that’s not yet in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, but is still pretty damn good.

Not that the Wolves didn’t have their moments. You can see below that they actually ran a play:

They took advantage here of the Rockets’ sleep defense by running some nice action away from the pick and roll between J.J. Barea and Ronny Turiaf at the top of the arc. As that unfolds, Corey Brewer crosses the paint to set a screen on Kevin Love’s man while Love pops out to the 3-point line. The screen is actually sort of beside the point, as it turns out: Love gets enough separation from Omer Asik all on his own and then neither Chandler Parsons nor certainly not James Harden are clear on what to do so they stay with their men rather than rotating.

Sadly, though, this was the only 3-pointer Love made out of six attempted.

There was also this stunning and totally unexpected Alexey Shved dunk midway through the second quarter:

AlexeyShvedDriveDunkRockets

That dunk gave Shved eight points in under eight minutes on 3-for-5 shooting, including a perfect 2-for-2 from the arc. Sadly, though, from that point forward he was 1-for-5, including 0-for-3 from the arc. But more on that in a moment.

Although Ricky Rubio had a lackluster shooting night to go with nine assists and seven boards, he did have a couple straightforwardly great plays that are worth pointing out because of how direct and effective they were.

In the first part of this clip, Rubio grabs the defensive rebound and guns the straight beautiful bullet pass to the streaking Shved, who finishes with contact. Sadly, though, that’s the one from that 1-for-5 I mentioned above, the last shot he made in the game with 3:06 left in the first half.

In the second part of the clip, Rubio goes away from the screen set by Love and drives directly to the hoop for the layup. No contact, no attempt to draw the foul, just straight to the hoop. It doesn’t hurt that he’s being guarded by Jeremy Lin, obviously, but it often seems like Rubio’s forays to the hoop are 60% hoping to pass, 38% looking for a foul and 2% actually trying to put the ball in. It’s good to see him be direct in his action sometimes.

But enough with small parcels of praise. Let’s get to where the wheels came completely off the vehicle. With 5:18 to go in the third quarter, the Wolves were down 15 but over the rest of the quarter, they managed to cut that to just a four-point deficit. How did they do it? A couple Luc Mbah a Moute shots, a couple Chase Budinger free throws and a couple free throws and a bank shot from Kevin Love.

And then a crucial thing happened: Shved and Barea came back into the game. Shved’s tenure actually overlapped with the tail end of the Wolves’ good run, but he didn’t help much. He hacked Asik and sent him to the line (which isn’t terrible) but Asik going 1-for-2 briefly pushed the lead back to six before that Love bank shot got it to four again. And how did the quarter end? A Shved turnover. (Foreshadowing: DUN DUN DUNNNN.)

So going into the fourth down four the following sequence of possessions happened for the Wolves: Shved, missed 3-pointer; Barea, missed layup; Shved, turnover; Barea, missed layup; Shved, missed 3-pointer; Barea, missed 3-pointer; Shved, turnover; shot clock violation; Shved, missed jumper; Barea, missed 3-pointer; Love, missed jumper; Cunningham missed jumper. When Barea and Shved were subbed out for Rubio and Brewer, the Rockets had pushed the lead back to 13 and would never lead by less than 12 for the rest of the game.

Guys need rest, obviously. You can’t run your starters out there for the entire game, but it can’t get much clearer: Barea and Shved absolutely killed this team through a stretch when they just needed them to hold serve. After the game, Terry Porter, in his capacity as acting head coach, seemed completely unfazed. “Guys that normally have good shots: Alexey he struggled, J.J. obviously,” he said. Yes: obviously. “I can’t fault guys in regards of our execution, moving the ball,” he continued. He must have been watching a different game.

Does that look like good ball movement? Like good execution? I understand that with Dante Cunningham, Gorgui Dieng and Mbah a Moute on the floor in addition to Barea and Shved there aren’t a lot of offensive options, but if anything that should mean MORE ball movement to get open looks.

I get it: There are injuries; the All-Star break is coming; they’ve been on the road. And regarding the mood in the locker room, Love insisted, ““The mood is fine. We know that we’re just a little banged up right now. We just need to grind out this one on Wednesday, give ourselves the best shot and get the win.”

But nobody on the Wolves cares right now. Some guys are trying, some aren’t. Some are playing well, some aren’t. But to a man, they don’t care right now.

But here’s the thing: I’ve come to distrust caring. I don’t think the Wolves caring is the magical key to turning a disappointing season around. You can care an awful lot about something and still watch it fall apart right in front of you. The not-caring doesn’t usually precede the thing falling apart, in my experience, provided it’s something you did actually care a lot about at some point. No: what happens is disappointment and then dissolution and then distancing yourself from it because caring becomes too painful. It’s just easier to mouth clichés like Love or watch it all burn while you throw kerosene on it like Barea and Shved because actually caring is risky.

Like so many before it, this season is shaping up to be over before it’s really done. That’s a tough pill to swallow for both the fans and the players. But only the players are in a position to do something positive about it.

Steve McPherson

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16 responses to Timberwolves 89, Rockets 107: Caring Is Creepy

  1. Fire Adelman, trade everyone. I was saying this weeks ago, too bad nobody followed the idea. Name any player on the Timberwolves who is exceeding or meeting expectations? Ronny Turiaf? Is that it? Why would Kevin Love stick around this organization? Why not try to start over, as awful as that seems. We are staring straight into the face of finishing 9th in the west, the only on-protected pick that doesn’t get us in the playoffs. We won’t have a draft pick in this loaded 1st round because we are striving to be the best non-playoff team.

    I get it, the team is injured. Maybe instead of just throwing out the woe is me card though, let’s look at the fact that Pek has never played more than 65 games in a season. Since Love’s rookie season, his games played are: 60, 73, 55, and 18. In Kevin Martin’s last 7 seasons he’s averaged 50 games/season. The players seem to be injury prone, so we can’t use injuries as an excuse.

    Also – interesting note: Terence Jones was the pick the Rockets took with the Chase Budinger trade. Jones is averaging 12 pts 7.3 rebounds on 53% shooting. He is 22 years old and has no knee problems. He was 7-11 for 14 points last night. Budinger was 5-14 for 15 points. Obviously not comparable because we wouldn’t have drafted a PF and had a need for a 3pt “specialist”. (Spencer Hawes is shooting 40% on 3pts this year, averaging 4 attempts per game too)

  2. Thanks a lot, Obama February 11, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    Hey, let’s sign Spencer Hawes as a new 3-point specialist! The Fox Newsian angles on his post game quotes, alone, would make this team more enjoyable. (Alexey’s plummeting field goal percentage is an indictment of his failure to fully embrace the open market — capitalism! — while his fourth quarter turnovers would obviously be a misguided attempt at spreading socialism in the NBA.)

    Seriously, though, nice Shins reference.

  3. Hate to play the “let’s read Kevin Love’s mind” game again, but every time he plays teams like the Rockets, Blazers and Thunder, surely it must occur to him that during the time he has been with the Wolves, they have zoomed by his own team not due to any failing of his own, but because Kahn and Flip (mostly Kahn) have frittered away the team’s assets in a way that Morey, Olshey and Presti have not, and as a result the Wolves are where they are at. Which in turn begs the question, when will they ever get to where they are at? The Wolves have had 12 first round draft picks in the five drafts since Love was picked and that has led to one meaningful rotation player, Rubio. Setting aside specifically whom the Wolves “should” have picked with each of their picks, we can all agree the results have been abysmal. We can argue about semantics and say the Wolves didn’t lose Ty Lawson or Trey Burke because they wouldn’t have actually drafted them, the trading teams made those picks (while ignoring the not insignificant corollary that the Wolves held those picks and could have drafted those players if it had occurred to them to do so), they still didn’t do anything with the assets they had.

    K-Love isn’t talking about it because he is smart enough to know it won’t do any good, but we would be naive to think he hasn’t had his LeBron moment – i.e., he has done all he can, and now it is up to the organization to show it is as competent and competitive as he is. I can’t imagine getting killed by the Rockets at home will do much to help his mood when Morey is plucking guys like Beverley and Parsons off the scrap heap and picking Jones with mid-first round draft picks, while the Wolves have been drafting Lazar Hayward and Wayne Ellington and trading first round picks for Martell Webster and the ghost of Wes Johnson.

  4. @Mickey

    Take a look at the rest of the draft after Jones. John Jenkins, Evan Fornier, and Tony Wroten are the only other players that the wolves could have used. Wroten would not have been drafted as Wolves thought they had too many PG’s at that time. Jenkins is the only one that would have really filled in a need, but we all would be screaming reach if the Wolves took him at 18.

    The stat for Hawes is meaningless. No way to know who was available for trade at that time.

    Last point is you can sit here and critique Kahns mistakes all you want, but he has been fired for them, Sanders has less then a year in charge. Maybe we should give him a little time before we demand he blow it up.

  5. I haven’t been by here in a while because, frankly, I thought the site was glossing over some real problems with the TWolves earlier in the season. So I was delighted to read Steve’s excellent piece here. I mean, geez, he was even pointing out they don’t care. Then i got to the part where he defends no caring and….well… yeah, that’s pretty much how far we’ve fallen. We don’t even care about not caring anymore.

  6. Is it bad that I’m jealous of Bobcats fans right now? They even get to cheer for a rejuvenated Anthony Tolliver…

  7. Thanks for dropping by, Bob. Personally I think not caring about not caring is kind of the ultimate nihilistic state, but that’s just me.

  8. If I was GM over the last 5 years…

    Starting line-up:
    PG – Steph Curry
    SG – Gerald Green
    SF – Paul George
    PF – Kevin Love
    C – Nikola Pekovic

    Bench:
    G – Ricky Rubio
    G – Giannis Antetokounmpo
    F – Derrick Williams
    F – Dante Cunningham
    C – Taj Gibson

    You gotta hand it to Kahn for the 2008 draft. Since then, it has been an absolute disaster of roster building….
    Obvious f-ups include drafting Flynn over Curry and Wes Johnson instead of Paul George. At the time of each draft I hated our picks, and hindsight further prolongs the hate. I can’t remember which GM dumped Gerald Green for Kirk Snyder, but that was stupid. Taj GIbson was just sitting in the green room when Kahn drafted 3 PG’s in the first round of the 2009 draft. SHould have taken Taj instead of wasting a pick on Ty Lawson and then trading him to Denver for basically nothing. And then, my personal favorite, taking Shabazz Muhammed instead of Giannis Antetokounmpo in the 2013 draft. Time will tell, but this looks like another obvious f-up to me.

    Of my 10-man rotation, I would keep five of the players the Timber-wolves actually acquired and kept up to this point.

  9. Whoops! It was McHale that killed it in the 2008 draft, not Kahn. My mistake. Props to McHale for that draft.

  10. There is alot going on behind the scenes. There is no true leadership on this team. Love leads on the court with his great stats, but since he has been here he has publicly talked down on the organization and his teammates. Strong rumors that Love wants out, but has yet to deny any of these claims. Most times than not, when a rumor is this big and its not true, a player comes out and sets the record straight. You would think Love being so vocal about other things would of cleared the air by now for the organization, his teammates, and his fans. But we are left to wonder.

    Then you got Adelman. It seems to me like he punched out a long time ago and basically is just a warm body to look pretty during games. I went to the Suns game a few weeks ago and just by watching them warm up before the game, you could tell who came to play and who didnt. On the Suns side you have coach Hornecek talking one on one to his players getting them ready and letting them know what he wants out of them in the game while the rest of the team is lined up in perfect lines with there game faces on, taking jump shots and rebounding. You look over at the Wolves side, Adelman is know where to be seen. Players are doing what they want. Love is talking to some lady on the sideline, Cunningham and Brewer are throwing alley opps to each other. Some are shooting, others talking and laughing. No organization what so ever!

    The Wolves played horrible in front of a home crowd and Dragic completely owned our PG’s.

    Anyways, there is alot to fix with this organization. I hope Flip can work some magic. Love is gone, so they need to figure out the future now with a very strong draft class this year.

  11. @MAtt

    There’s no way we’d have realistically been able to roster 3 all-stars and Pekovic without heading into massive luxury tax territory. The NBA just doesn’t work like that, especially for small-market teams that don’t have a huge TV contract to fall back on.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree that Kahn’s poor draft record set this franchise back years, but literally every team in the league can do this same exercise. Almost a third of the league passed on Paull George…that’s just the nature of the draft.

    I’ve always thought the importance of drafting is not so much in landing all-stars year after year, but at the least getting guys that can fill a rotation spot and retain value for you years down the line. We literally have nothing to show for three top-6 picks in Johnny Flynn, Wes Johnson, and Derrick Williams.

    Compare the Wolves bench to that of the Thunder, for example. The Wolves have nearly $15 million in cap space dedicated to the trio of Barea, Budinger, and Mbah a Moute. Nearly a quarter of the team’s cap space is invested in underachieving role players with little upside. The Thunder have roughly $6.5 million in cap space spread between 4 young reserves (Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams & Perry Jones). All 4 are playing meaningful minutes for a playoff team and are still on their rookie contracts.

    It’s not always about landing the “diamond in the rough”, someone like a Paul George at pick #10 or even a Chandler Parson in the 2nd round. What’s important is getting something out of your picks, and the Wolves have never been able to do this. Until Flip is able to turn around this teams draft record, we will always be fighting this uphill battle.

  12. @matt

    So you are saying that with your picks the Wolves would have had the same record every year that they got anyway? Start with the first draft, if the Wolves got Curry and Gibson then they are in no position to get Paul George. From there they have late picks.

    You are right though, passing on Curry was a giant mistake. Nobody thought George was a top 5 pick, Cousins is the one in that draft that most people thought the Wolves should take. It also nice to see that you knew to trade Ellington for Cunningham

  13. I’m game for the rebuild. We’ve seen what Adelman can do with this constructed roster, and it’s just time to clean the slate. I know everyone get’s so defensive about this idea, and I don’t know why. To be honest I’d rather watch a young coach and new players than this. Kevin Love’s numbers are indisputable and frankly he’s one of my favorite players. But does anyone at this point in time really think he’s going to stay, nor can he lead this roster to the playoffs? I don’t think so. Things just seem off. If I was Flip, I would be trying so hard to trade Love and or Rubio to get back into the top 7 or 5 in the draft. Or at least get two more lottery spots. For this franchise to make it and have sustained success it has to be done through the draft. We’ll be in in this perpetual losing spot until we get the next Durant/LeBron in the draft. I think Jabari Parker could be that.

  14. @Matt….I don’t get into that “coulda, woulda, shoulda” junk because different picks in years past with different players would have yielded different pick slots most likely in the years ahead and it’s hard to “predict” who would have been available at the theoretical picks the Wolves would have had. I do agree with you though in that I haven’t liked almost any of the picks they have picked since, well, Garnett…with the exception of Rubio, Loren Woods, Rashad McCants and Pek. It’s too bad McCants is a self-loathing basketcase because I think he would have made a great player without that personality.

  15. I have been watching this team for a long time now. I watched through the small periods of success (when the Wolves lost every year in the first round…that is now considered success). I also watched them get to the Western Conference finals and lose (of course). Man, that seems like a long time ago.

    This team is going no where fast. Their best player does put up big numbers; you can not fault what Love does on the court. Also, they have some other pieces (Pekovic and Martin). But, beyond that, this team is tough to watch. I have been a Ricky Rubio backer since day 1. I watched the team go 20-20 and then watched him get hurt and then watch them go into a tailspin a couple of years ago. I thought, once they get healthy, they will be tough to deal with. The next year was injury plagued. But with Rubio, the problem there is…he is either regressing or staying the same as years ago. That is (obviously) not a good thing. Does anyone think he has gotten better? Against other PG’s on a nightly basis, I am not thrilled about the matchup. And if you are to talk about PG combos (Rubio/Barea), vs the other team, I almost always think we are at a disadvantage.

    Shved: I felt like I was watching Little Big League the other night – you know when the dude got a seeing eye single that bounced through the hole and everyone (including the kid manager) cheered like it was amazing. Shved had 1 good half of basketball. How many good halves has he had this season. I don’t think you need more than 1 finger to count them all. He is unimpressive and can’t hack it as an off guard. He might have a chance as a back up PG but that is it. They have mediocre players beyond that: Mbah A Moute, Brewer, Cunningham, Hummel, Turiaf – these guys are all good bench players: maybe like the 9th,10th guy on the team.

    I want to talk about the woe is me scenario and say small markets can’t compete but that just isn’t true. San Antonio, OKC: these teams have been on top for a long time due to good decisions.

    They need to move on from this era. Kevin Love will not be here in 2 years. Trade him while his value is at its peak. Knowing the Wolves, they won’t get anywhere close to equal value in return, but it is better to get multiple pieces in return than to see him walk away for nothing like he will (no doubt) do in a year and a half from now.

  16. @Matt: You mean with you as a time-travelling GM…

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