Spurs 123, Timberwolves 101: This ain't reality TV
“This ain’t reality TV!”
That’s one of the big lines from the movie The Departed, delivered by Jack Nicholson in a bizarre role that both fits, doesn’t fit, and falls everywhere in between. It comes during a scene in which (SPOILER ALERT) the tension surrounding a Boston crime boss, an undercover cop, and a bunch of lackeys has built to an uncomfortable level. The undercover cop (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is on the verge of being found out and murdered by the crime boss (played by Nicholson). DiCaprio’s character just watched a fellow henchman die when Leo was close to getting busted and soon after the death, DiCaprio, Nicholson, and several henchmen watch a news report revealing that the body had been found and the deceased had been identified as an undercover police officer.
The henchman responsible for burying the dead body is wondering how the police found the body so quickly, and Nicholson is furious at everything going on as his empire is starting to unravel. As Nicholson berates him for not doing his job properly, the henchman laughs at the colorful analogy Jack offers up for where the body was dumped. The laughter adds to the vitriol and frustration suffocating Nicholson and he screams:
Now, I love the movie The Departed. I find it to be highly re-watchable, despite the fact that the more times you watch this movie, the more holes and weak performances you end up seeing. It doesn’t make it a bad movie by any means, but you’re also left looking at a movie that loses a little bit of its luster from the first time you see it. The first time I saw this movie, I was blown away. Maybe I was caught up in the recency of it all or I just liked Leonardo’s performance in the movie so much, but I immediately thought it was one of my favorite movies I had ever seen.
The second time I watched The Departed, I wondered what was missing between the second viewing and the first one. So much of the allure of the movie was gone, and while I was enjoying it, I wondered if I had been drunk during my first viewing. I watched it again and still enjoyed it but there was a festering dissatisfaction growing. I watched it a fourth time later on in the week, showing it to someone for their first viewing and trying to concentrate on different performances throughout.
I loved DiCaprio’s performance even more than the previous times. I still enjoyed Matt Damon’s performance even though the accent was a little disorienting. Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin were really good in their roles. The henchmen were all fine to good. I disliked Vera Farmiga’s character, but I kind of think that’s the point at times with her as she’s unnecessarily torn between two men. But the elephant with the bad accent in the room is Jack Nicholson’s character.
For lack of a better word… his performance sucks. Like… the only time I can remember someone mailing a performance in like this was the Wolves over the final 20 games of last season. It feels like Nicholson is improvising his lines, and I’d be shocked if Jack wasn’t the one who cooked up the “reality TV” line, himself. The thing about that “This ain’t reality TV” exclamation is it doesn’t work and it doesn’t fit. And yet, somehow it’s still alluring. It’s honestly what has kept me coming back to this movie and checking it out whenever it’s on TV.
It’s so awkward and forced. You can’t imagine how it made it through the edit bay. And yet, I find myself anticipating the delivery of this line every time it’s on. Even though I still enjoy this movie as a whole, I’m drawn to the morbid curiosity of seeing something so out of place and I enjoy the execution of the moment, no matter how poorly it goes. It’s the same result every time. I watch. I marvel. I giggle to myself. I give a mental fist pump. And I watch the same thing finish out just as I knew it would.
The experience is the same with watching Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad on this battered Timberwolves team. I supported the drafting of both players and yet have a hard time figuring out where they fit in the grand scheme of things as the Wolves move forward. LaVine is much easier to figure out than Shabazz. I’ve never seen anything from LaVine, which indicated he should be a point guard in the NBA. I love him as a combo guard and think he could excel in a few years as a Jamal Crawford-esque Sixth Man. The dude is a scorer and sometimes that scoring brings out some passing opportunities that he can take advantage of.
Even with LaVine putting up 22 points and 10 assists, I’m not sure how you watch him play so far and think, “That guy is a point guard.” Granted, he’s forced to play it right now because of injuries to Ricky Rubio and Mo Williams, so it’s great to see him excel in it, but he struggles to run an offense just like you’d expect from a 19-year old rookie combo guard.
Locking up Rubio long-term with his extension clearly shows that the point guard duties of LaVine will be limited, as they should be. Trying to figure out whether or not he and Rubio can start in the same backcourt together over the years is a bit confusing as well. There’s still so much development to be done and experience to saturate into the playing DNA of LaVine that nothing needs to be determined now. I know that I enjoy watching him play on offense and think he could develop into a solid defender with his length and athleticism.
The bigger question is what do we make of the future of Shabazz Muhammad?
He’s a power wing. He loads up on the left block and just muscles his way past shooting guards, small forwards, and even some power forwards. He’s as efficient of an inside-the-arc scorer that you’ll find this season. He seeks out contact because his strength is his biggest asset. With “very tight” coverage (0-2 feet), he makes 44.8% of his shots. With “tight” coverage (2-4 feet), he makes 57.6% of his shots. “Open” coverage (4-6 feet) has hit making 50% of his shots and he hasn’t missed with 6 feet of space or more this season. That strength is why he’s such a good low block scorer and it’s why his offensive rebounding capabilities are so good. He’s not a guy that scores off the bounce and he doesn’t take outside shots. He’s this uniquely bizarre scoring force.
Over the past five games, Muhammad has averaged 18 points and 5.4 rebounds with 58.3% from the field. His activity and hustle make up for him being out of position on both ends of the floor. Eventually, the understanding of where he is supposed to be has to come or he simply won’t be good enough to earn minutes on the floor. It’s what kept his physical gifts off the floor last season and it’s what keeps him from consistent minutes when this team is healthy this season. Coaches love effort and they love activity, but they have to trust you know where to be on the floor in any given situation, especially on defense.
Moving forward, I do love the current young core of the Wolves. I’m fine with them getting heavy minutes during this period of injuries, but when the team gets healthy, I hope Flip returns to making them earn their minutes over the veterans in front of them. I think it sets up a healthy dose of competition within the team and forces the young guys to bring their exuberant energy and athleticism while forcing them to improve their understanding of the mental aspect of the game. I think you’ve seen that pay off early with Andrew Wiggins. I think we’ll see that weed out which players belong in Minnesota and which ones don’t jive with the future of this rebuild.
I’m not sure how it all fits together, but you can learn to appreciate something like that.