Suns 127, Timberwolves 120: The best of both worlds?

Zach Harper —  March 24, 2014 — 21 Comments

LoveContest

We’ve been here before, hoping for competitive losses.

I should clarify. I’ve certainly been here before. I can’t assume you guys are necessarily there with me and based on the frustration flowing through my Twitter feed and some of the local media on Sunday, I might be mostly alone on this one for now. That’s probably the case because this is the latest in a season the Wolves have been competitive in about a decade. It’s also probably because the expectations heading into this season were competing for the playoffs. With roughly three weeks left, it would take two monumental collapses and the Wolves not collapsing to make that a reality.

Because of the draft pick implications heading into the game against the Phoenix Suns, my hopes for the game were for it to be extremely competitive and for the Wolves to protect their draft pick lives. Losing to the Suns was going to all but guarantee they keep the pick, assuming the Suns don’t come through on the 1.8% chance of landing a top 3 pick on the night of the lottery (that’s also assuming they don’t make the playoffs). The Suns making the playoffs altogether would actually be ideal because the Wolves would almost certainly keep the pick.

What I wanted out of Sunday’s game happened. 

I’ve stated it before but I don’t want the Wolves to tank. I just want them to make sure they keep their pick and I’d love for them to finish at least with a .500 record so we can snap a streak of losing seasons. Granted, that’s not exactly a true moral victory by any means, but as we all know it sucks rooting for a losing team year in and year out, and that’s at least something that can realistically be stopped in the final 14 games of the season.

In the process, I want the team to play well, I want Kevin Love to continue being an awesome star player, and I’d love for Ricky Rubio to play extremely well the rest of the season. As of right now, it looks like I’m going to get my wish. Love has been spectacular all season and Sunday against the Suns he was great once again. Aside from a few coverage gaps on pick-and-pops against Phoenix, I thought his defense was good in the game. He was absurd on offense up until the final moments of the game when he struggled to keep his offensive play going and the team just couldn’t make enough shots.

He finished with 36-14-9 and a +3 on the game. Such is life for Love this season.

Rubio was ridiculous against Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Dragic is always a tough matchup for Rubio, but with Bledsoe in the lineup, Rubio started out on him, got him into early foul trouble, and then moved to Dragic. It seems like an insignificant thing, but I really feel like it helped get Rubio’s head in the game properly, as he attacked early and often, which we’ve seen out of him as of late. All of the talk about Rubio not showing any improvements this year is officially wrong.

Since January 1st, Rubio has played in 37 games. During this time, his shooting percentage is 41.2% and his 3-point percentage is 38.5%. While he’s not exactly John Stockton right now, these are remarkable improvements from Rubio on the floor and exactly the kind of play that can boost his play moving forward. He’s no longer a scoring liability. While he doesn’t score often, he does have a good chance of putting points on the board when he gets a chance, and he proved that in his 19-point effort against a really good backcourt.

He also gave us one pass that I simply didn’t know how to describe. It wasn’t something we’ve never seen before out of a point guard, but it was something that in the moment left me audibly exclaiming, “Oh my god!” with William Bohl in the media row as we tried to figure out exactly what we saw. The television angle doesn’t do it justice the way our vantage point showed us.

Would you like a closeup of this pass? It will give you the grainy, European highlight footage appeal we used to rely on when it came to Rubio’s incredible plays in Spain, almost a throwback of what dazzled us for years before he suited up for this franchise.

RubioPass

Now check it out with the view moved a little up so you can see me being super professional, as I react to the pass and William covers his mouth as he yells.

RubioPassMe

This play was just so damn fun to see in person.

Aside from the two young stars of this team (in different senses of the word, mind you) playing extremely well against a good Western Conference team, this loss certainly had its frustrations. The Wolves had a huge lead at one point, after setting the tone and destroying in the first quarter. The Suns acclimated themselves to what the game situation was over the course of the next three quarters, and took advantage of an underperforming bench unit once again to erase a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and walking away with a much-needed road victory.

The Wolves sorely missed Nikola Pekovic in this game. His absence meant the Suns could gamble by going small and when they did it in the fourth quarter, their spacing on the floor left them a lot of room to get shots off and beat the Wolves’ defense. Even when the defense of the Wolves was good, the Suns had better offense, possibly beaming from confidence of staying in this game and executing a late rally to steal the victory. The Wolves could have gone with Gorgui Dieng over Dante Cunningham, but you’d had risked him defending the perimeter or sinking in to protect the rim and leaving open 3-pointers instead of mildly contested shots at the rim.

The fans who have decided that Rick Adelman doesn’t know anything about basketball will tell you the Wolves win this game with Gorgui playing in the fourth. I honestly have no opinion on the decision because it would have presented a different set of problems for the Wolves to solve defensively. I would have been fine with either decision because either decision should have been good enough to win. The Wolves just didn’t get it done.

The reason I’m fine with the outcome of the game and not frustrated is because of my re-calibrated expectations of what I want the rest of the season. Top players to play like top players. Fun basketball that results in competitive games. Don’t finish below .500 once the final game is over. Do the best you can to accomplish all of this while securing the first round pick. I’m not asking anybody to join me on this. We all decide to get different things out of this season or even the rest of this season, and what’s right for me as a fan doesn’t have to be right for you, and vice-versa.

Technically, I got everything I wanted out of Sunday’s game because of this. But I’m not sure it’s an actual way to live or root for sports. I’d love for the Wolves to still be in the playoff hunt, but I can compartmentalize the improvements made this season while hoping for tweaks to an existing plan that I still believe in heading into next season.

It’s the best of both worlds when you once again find yourself in the middle of a basketball zombie wasteland. I guess…

Zach Harper

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21 responses to Suns 127, Timberwolves 120: The best of both worlds?

  1. Oh Well hope springs eternal for next season. Good to see Dieng getting some mins and hopefully the wolves get lucky in the draft

  2. I was there and from where I was sitting (*cough* nosebleeds) the three bad things about this game were terrible perimeter defense, Brewer, and Barea. I’m tired of the Barea conversation that goes nowhere. But Brewer just looked horrible out there at times. Completely lost on defense, not one close-out where he didn’t fly by his guy leaving him wide open, and some boneheaded moves on offense. I’m thinking he should not be a starter on this team. Maybe a energy bench guy. If we keep our draft pick I hope we take a solid 3. Cleanthony Early anyone??

  3. I know this sounds crazy but if Dieng continues to play well and the Wolves decide they want a game-changer, shouldn’t they consider trading Pekovic? He’s their one real valuable chip and as good as he is, he probably isn’t a good enough defensive pairing with Love for the team to ever be a real contender. Wouldn’t a team like Toronto that thinks it is one star away be interested in doing something like Vasquez, Amir Johnson and Steve Novak plus their #1 (projected to be around 20th) for Pek? Two picks in a draft this good and deep could result in some quality pieces. Amir is still young and an underrated small-ball center, Vasquez is the perfect backup PG and Novak is cheap and can shoot. I think the best chance the Wolves have to get good is to follow the Suns/Grizzlies model and just load up on good players and role players rather than try to build a big three or whatever. And if a team loaded with developing talent wins 50 games next year, how can Love walk?

  4. If Dieng can sustain this level of play I wouldn’t mind trading Pek even though I’m a huge fan of his. He gets hurt every year. Of course, if Dieng keeps this up we wouldn’t have to give Pek so many minutes… I guess it would depend in who we got back for him.

  5. No Zach, you’re not alone. I really thought after the 4-1 road trip we were going to see a major run and then the home stand happened and the wheels came off any chance of seeing the post season this year.

    I mean we have been saying it all year and it sucks to see something in December and January that for some reason the people we trusted with the direction of this franchise could not see at all. The bench sucks. Barea sucks… I knew Flip really believed the bench would be fixed once Chase came back. I said wayyyyy back then that counting on a dude coming off his second knee surgery was dumb.

    the 13th pick? yeah that’s not going to fix a damn thing. I mean don’t get me wrong I will take a #1 in a good draft over nothing. (How the bleep does Kahn make that trade? I mean C’mon really how did that happen?) But you don’t count on the 13th pick in any draft as the dude who makes a difference on your team.

    Brewer came back to MN unfortunately it ended up being the same Brewer who left. full speed out of control dynamic energy that is as useful as idling a car in a MN winter for 20 minutes. Wasted energy that goes no where.

    Anyhow let’s skip all of that it’s been said so many times before and like Brewers game is a complete waste of energy.

    Let’s talk about next year… Did you see the Iowa State game? Great game… did anyone else walk away wondering if Hoiberg might look good on the MN Wolves bench again? As the head coach..

  6. Rubio was fantastic in this game and hat tip to fivethirtyeight for highlighting why Rubio’s steals are so important. http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-hidden-value-of-the-nba-steal/

    farnorth~ I’d also love to see Hoiberg come back to take the helm of this team. That or can you imagine if the Wolves were able to lure Shaka Smart away from VCU? Rubio, Brewer, and Dieng would go absolutely bananas in the Havoc-defense.

  7. I’m not saying they’re bad choices but I’m curious as to why this fan base seems so intent on bringing in a coach from the college ranks with Hoiberg, Izzo, or Shaka. He wouldn’t come here but ideally if Rick is gone I want Stan Van Gundy to come in.

    However, I think George Karl is a real possibility in a reality in which Glen Taylor talks Flip Saunders out of coaching this team, but I feel like fans would be disappointed if we grabbed him. What’s with the college intrigue? I get Hoiberg because of the local ties and familiarity, but I honestly wonder what it is about him that makes us so sure he’s a good NBA coach in the waiting.

  8. I too have re-tooled my expectations for the season and am happy with what is happening on the court. I did the same after the Pittsburgh game in London for the Vikings this last season. I wanted a competetive game every game (week) after that and wanted the result being a loss due to the pending doom of not making the playoffs. When you almost lose to what was the worst team in the NFL to that point and you’re now 1-3, you tend to re-tool your expectations to find some positives. For the Timberwolves I started the re-tooling at about the All-Star break. The amount of luck/happenstance that had to happen was just too great for this Wolves team to make the second season. I am content (not “happy”) with how this season is turning out to be due to that re-tooling. Less JJ next season (read: none; due to a trade), more practice time with Mbah a Moute and a motivated Love/Rubio should result in a better year next season.

  9. I say a coaching change because I am not sure Adleman has the desire or ability to inspire a group of athletes to come together as a team. Why a college coach? probably wishful thinking that all it will take is a couple of bench moves and a new attitude to put this team on the right path.

    But this is year three and you cannot say there have not been some strange coaching decisions I just have to wonder if maybe the coach could have done a better job this year.

  10. I’m with Zach on Van Gundy. Besides it being on Adelman to make a decision, this is probably all on Flip and Taylor, and if the rumors about Flip wanting to coach are true, then it’s really all on Taylor. Honestly, unless this franchise has embraced a more detail-oriented and smart approach to picking talent (my hunch is no but I don’t know that for sure), a veteran coach will work better for the same reason Adelman is still one of the top 15 coaches in the league (even this season): they have something of enduring value (for Adelman it’s play design) that has proven to win games. Van Gundy is the top choice, though, due to his understanding of spacing, outside shooting, and defense.

  11. I don’t mind the idea of a coaching change. I certainly don’t want Flip to take over for a myriad of reasons, but if Adelman isn’t 100% in this then I’m happy to entertain a change.

    The team has improved each year he’s been here but if you think the improvement isn’t enough to warrant him staying — couple with the family issues possibly draining him too much mentally and emotionally — I think that’s a fine conversation to have. I certainly haven’t agreed with all of the decisions he’s made, especially this season, but I think assuming a different outcome would have happened had he gone another way isn’t something I’m willing to assume as a fact.

    Not saying you’re doing this but I’ve had this conversation A LOT on Twitter.

    In terms of a college coach, I don’t mind the fresh approach and maybe Hoiberg would do that, especially having NBA experience as a player. I just have no clue if he’ll be a good NBA coach or not.

  12. I think it would be interesting to get an honest opinion from Love on how he thinks Adelman is coaching nowadays. An earlier Kevin Love would blast something in a newspaper or twitter on how he felt about it but at that time he thought Adelman was a coach which he always wanted to play. It would be interesting to see if he still feels that way because everyone in the locker room doesn’t really say much about the guy or his coaching. It would also be interesting to talk to Martin and see if he noticed a drastic change from Adelman’s coaching with the Kings & Rockets vs this season. If anyone who currently plays could tell you if Adelman is still 100% into it or not it would be Martin. If a change is made I am all for either Van Gundy. College coaches are so hit or miss considering a college coach manages kids and has total control and NBA coaches manage personalities for a common goal and have a lot less control.

  13. No to Jeff VG. Stan is a progressive coach who understands the game; Jeff is Scott Skiles with a better personality for TV.

  14. Yeah, I don’t think JVG would be a good fit for this team, but I would love SVG. I never thought Adelman would want to coach here so I guess I’ll trick myself into the same hope.

    As for Adelman and Martin, I’ll see what I can get out of Martin this week about this topic.

  15. Zach, that will be one interesting take. I know Martin is going to have to walk a fine line. But his observation would really be something I would like to hear.

  16. Agree that Rubio’s development is the most important thing to watch for the rest of this year. And would be great if Gorgui continues to look like a rotation player. He could be important to reduce Pek’s minutes. I don’t see getting much for Pek in a trade, given his big salary and ankle concerns.

  17. Also agree that perimeter D is a huge issue for this team. Martin and Barea are huge liabilities and Brewer doesn’t help the problem as much as he should.

    I keep hearing that, statistically, the Wolves are actually a good defensive team (something about defensive efficiency). Get real, that’s gotta be a statistical mirage. They are 26th in points allowed. And do you notice that at the end of close games, the Wolves struggle to make shots but our opponents usually have no trouble getting good looks? Usually those shots go in and sometimes we get lucky and they don’t (see Dirk’s recent shot). Defense is a huge priority to address this off-season.

  18. The thing that frustrated me most about this game was our opponent. I mean, Phoenix’s best player is Goran Dragic and they are going to the playoffs or just barely missing. Is there anyone other than Dragic or Bledsoe that you would really want on the Wolves? Some decent bench players, but probably not. I’m not sure this is all coaching, but it does give me some hope that a coaching change and maybe a couple of new supporting players could really turn this team around.

  19. I think I know where it stems from because I was there for this roundtable of sorts this past week. I think it’s running with a little bit of information and assuming a lot, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it all came to happen. From what I’ve been told, Wolves won’t decline Rick’s option for next season but it’s very possible Rick will decline it.

  20. I hope Rick retires. Hear me out on that thought. Say Rick returns and we have some success. How does the very likely fact he will be gone after next season anyhow play into Love’s decision to stay?

    What if we hire a new coach, fix the bench and also have some success. Which scenario sounds better if your Kevin Love after next season?

    If we wait to move on than 2015 is unknown, if we move on now we still have a chance to build and remove the unknown from the equation. We just better be spot on with how we fix this roster. We need a bench that is not -11 regardless of what we do.

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