Timberwolves 114, Pistons 101: I have looked into sadness
Look, we know this season has been sort of frustrating for the Minnesota Timberwolves and their fans. The close games have left us wondering just how unlucky/unfortunate/unwilling to hit a shot a team can be. They’ve shown flashes of brilliance all around, put up the kind of team numbers that scream playoffs, and yet it looks like they’ll need a minor miracle in order to push their way into the playoffs.
I’ll have to admit that between Steve McPherson being incapable of recapping a win and the Wolves being incapable of winning more than one quarter against the New York Knicks the other night, it broke me in terms of holding out hope for this season. Now I’m just hoping the Wolves finish out the season strong without losing their draft pick in the process (seriously Kahn, how do you not hold out for full lottery protection, you incompetent monster?!). That’s pretty much what it’s come to unless some serious moving and shaking happens above them. And I guess I’m fine with this after the blowout victory over the Detroit Pistons Friday night.
Granted, I want this team to make the playoffs. It’s not because I think Kevin Love will leave if they don’t. I’m not exactly worried about that right now and probably won’t be until 2015 free agency starts. It’s because I actually really enjoy watching this team play basketball, even through all of the frustrations this year, and I think watching them in that environment would be a fascinating learning experience for them and for us. I’m not sure we actually know what this team is after 61 games, which is a weird thing to consider.
This might speak to the lack of identity this team seems to have. I don’t feel like I know enough about why there isn’t a lack of identity, partly because it’s hard to really be able to weigh/gather enough information with so little access this season. Last season under the Kahn regime, assistant coaches were fair game. You could talk to them if you needed to and they’d often give great insight into what was going on with the team. Under Flip Saunders, that opportunity is not really afforded to the media. It’s something certain teams do around the NBA. For example, the Oklahoma City Thunder do the exact same thing.
But not having that avenue to “inside knowledge” makes it even harder to get a grasp on a team that doesn’t seem to really know their own identity. We start guessing because we look at the record, look at the numbers, watch the games, and try to draw conclusions for why things happen the way they do. But it’s all just guessing with this team because they are so confusing. They’re good but they’re not good enough. And that’s a pretty painful thing to realize when hoping to solve the playoffs issue. Being good but not being good enough could be Flip Saunders doing a poor job in the offseason (some may say he did but I actually like what he did) or it could be Saunders not being able to clean up the mess David Kahn left with this team (they’ve made big strides within the organization, not just the roster, but it’s still very much a work in progress).
The thing I noticed the other night though is it could be worse — a lot worse. I watched the Detroit Pistons, a team that is also fighting for it’s playoff existence, and I didn’t see hope. I saw confusion. I saw lethargy. I saw a bastion of incompetence. That Pistons team is an absolute mess and they’re kind of stuck in this rut, thanks to Joe Dumars, for the next few seasons. They took a core with two really good, promising big men in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, and they put them with a point guard who is more concerned with getting numbers than running a team and a power forward masquerading as a small forward who looks like he’s pretending to be an NBA superstar.
Adam Carolla has this bit in which he says Pam Anderson looks like someone who is trying to impersonate what a hot woman would be and act like. She’s not actually acting like a person. She’s doing the actions you would assume a provocative celebrity woman want to do in order to grab attention. Female celebrities who are actually hot and alluring don’t have to do that stuff. That’s exactly how I feel about Josh Smith. He should be a superstar in the NBA. He has all of the tools to be one of the 10 best players in the league, even now. And yet we see a player doing what he thinks a star player does.
He takes deep shots, he goes one-on-one, and he tries to control the game with his actions. In reality, most NBA superstars actually control the game with the threat of their actions, forcing the defense to make decisions and then capitalizing on those decisions. It’s the biggest difference I’ve seen in Kevin Love’s game this year compared to years past. His decision isn’t made before he makes a move; he’s making moves based on the decisions the threat of his offense forces the defense to make. Josh Smith just makes decisions, like when you’re trying to dominate with one player in a game of NBA 2K14 and you want it to look extra cool.
It doesn’t help that he has a point guard with a similar mindset and who tried to show he was better than Ricky Rubio the other night, rather than trying to get his teammates involved and the offense flowing. 18 minutes into the game, the Pistons had three total assists. I believe Rubio had four or five on his own. This team doesn’t play as a team, they don’t go through Drummond and Monroe nearly enough, they don’t allow their role players (Kyle Singler, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Will Bynum) to give nearly enough support until it’s garbage time.
After the game, Rick Adelman and Ricky Rubio were both asked about the fourth quarter. The Wolves controlled the basketball game for the first 36 minutes, building an enormous lead. The bench unit had the chance to close out the game and get some valuable time on the court together. Instead, they didn’t play with energy and effort; they played like an NFL team going into a prevent defense and just waiting for the clock to tick down so they can go to a late dinner. The lead was cut to an unsafe number, the starters came back into the game, and finished out the victory. When asked about the fourth quarter after the game, Adelman and Rubio both essentially said they could focus on the negative of the game when they go over the film the next day, but there wasn’t a reason not to feel positive about the win that night.
That might be where I am with this season. There are probably things we can ultimately figure out about this team if we dig deep enough, but that might be something that just has to come in the offseason for me. For now, I’ll just enjoy the positive things in what has been the most successful non-Kevin Garnett season in franchise history with their next win. They’re looking like they’ll play meaningful basketball in April. There is progress being made but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough progress for all of us to be happy. So for now, I’m choosing to just be more accepting of watching a good team that is fighting (inconsistently but still fighting) for this season.
It could be worse. You can be locked into a Pistons team that just doesn’t give a shit as a whole. You could be locked into a team that is still currently run by Joe Dumars and doesn’t seem to know its way. It doesn’t make the Wolves’ mistakes this season excused. They still need to iron out the problems, make as much of a push as possible, and be better for next season. But I looked into actual despair the other night and it at least put me at ease a bit.