2014-15 Season, Game Analysis

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:

“Don’t laugh! This ain’t reality TV!”

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.

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8 thoughts on “Spurs 123, Timberwolves 101: This ain't reality TV

  1. The LaVine-Rubio pairing works if they’re able to whip the ball around the perimeter and execute the same high-speed dribble handoffs that Rubio and Barea did when Ricky was initially a bench player in his rookie season. Another ballhandling threat enhances Rubio’s offensive impact as long as there’s movement and he’s not forced to primarily be a spot-up shooter.

  2. I think LaVine, Rubio will work out fine, The thing that LaVine lacks is a high BBIQ making him play PG and knowing the plays will help him with the exact problem Shabazz is having. Knowing where to be on the floor.

    Also The thing about Shabazz that gives me hope is his tenacity to work on his game. I Hope he can work on his own BBIQ and fix that outside shot.

  3. Don’t understand all this talk about Shabazz being out of position. Yeah, he is, but so is most of the team. There’s nary a sequence in a recent wolves game where someone isn’t out of position to some extent. We’re young, and that explains it some, but it has been a chronic problem for this team in recent seasons. LaVine’s inexplicable high position at the end of the Houston game is a recent, infamous example. People talk about it as a tough learning experience for the kid, but why would you ever take that defensive position in that situation? I’m worried this problem is more than growing pains.

    Adleman didn’t play young guys last year when it needed to happen more. He made a point to not give them minutes. And he was awful at teaching them and getting them to improve. That legacy is in danger of continuing for some reason. Now we must play our young guys, and we have more and better young players. Yet, I am starting to fear we aren’t teaching them in the right way.

    LaVine could be a smallish 2 with some ball handling and start in the future. He could also be a bench scoring force who plays combo-point off the bench. There’s no shame in that role. Agree totally he’ll never be a true point and shouldn’t be treated as such.

    Shabazz is indeed strange. He’s become so good at his tiny palette of skills that he can be quite effective. I wonder if he is sustainable or usable in a starting role if his palette remains this limited. He needs to expand his skills, I think, not just know his places on the floor. He needs to add some sort of longer range shot. After the novelty wears off, he may look like a classic role player. I have higher hopes for him than that, but it is up to him.

  4. I think it’s too early to tell what either player will be once this team starts playing meaning basketball again. I think Shabazz is a unique player, for sure, that at this point is probably best used as an energy/scoring punch from the bench. That being said I don’t see why we should limit him to that. He got virtually no burn last year, is in great shape this year (which has really opened up his game this year) and who clearly already has the ability to get buckets. Sure, he’s not a distributor, but there is something to be said for a high usage player who scores at a high rate, efficiently. Someone whom you don’t have to run plays for and while maybe a bit of a black hole also never turns the ball over. The wolves had a player that was not unlike this a few years ago: Al Jefferson. Al was never a great defensive player and rarely passed. But what did he do when he gave you the ball? He scored the ball and rarely turned the ball over in trying to do so. Those are valuable skills and Bazz is definitely young enough and athletic enough to continue to improve his game and put effort into his D. What’s to say he can’t be a starter on this team next year after a year of seasoning and another off season where he develops his game and body?

    Lavine simply is showing some of the upside potential that made him the lottery pick that we made him. Is he our PG of the future? No. Rubio is that guy. Can he play PG? Sure. He may not be a pure PG but there are so few of those in the league anymore. How can we fault him for that? He’s 19, thrust into starting at a position he hasn’t played full time since HS. Do Westbrook, Bledsoe, Knight, Reggie Jackson & heck Irving really look comfortable doing anything but score the ball and then pass out after they garner enough attention from the defense? Apart from their size, athletic ability and handle none of these players are traditional PG’s nor did they look comfortable running an offense as rookies. I wouldn’t right Lavine off just yet.

    All in all though, you have to be encouraged by the flashes that some of these guys are showing. Bazz is finally putting in some productive minutes and Lavine and Wiggins are showing that they should have decent strokes to go with their freak athleticism. Add in Rubio and Dieng we have a couple of pieces worth investing in. In a season of losing, that’s more than some can say.


  6. First off, we don’t know what the team is running on either end. The evidence doesn’t point to Flip unintentionally keeping Shabazz down; he was playing on opening night despite missing most of the preseason and not showing much progress in summer league. It’s not a stretch to assume that they’re cataloguing how often a guy makes mistakes on either end, so they’re not swayed by anecdotal evidence like LaVine’s misstep at the end of the Rockets. The reason the Spurs can win by 20 with Parker and Manu out is because their process is flawless. It’s the reason they keep beating more-talented teams like OKC and the Clippers in the playoffs. Everyone is where they’re supposed to be.

    Second, everyone knew the risks with Muhammad were partially about keeping him focused and motivated. So far, it’s paid off, considering a lot of people assumed he’d be a bust. If this is what they need to do to keep him playing well, it’s worth it. After all, most of his big games are coming in losses (usually blowouts).

    This narrative that Adelman held back anyone’s development needs to stop. Dieng and Muhammad showed improvement throughout last season. They didn’t play because the team was fighting for the playoffs and went with more experienced players who (and this is key) were better than Dieng and Muhammad for most of last season. Rubio played in crunch time in his first NBA game against the eventual Western Conference champs, Love became an elite offensive player, and Pek became a starting-caliber player under Adelman. Adelman just accurately determined that David Kahn’s pet projects (Darko, Williams, Johnson, Beasley, Randolph) couldn’t help his team, and none of them have proven him wrong.

  7. Adleman was horrible as a coach and a developer of talent while in Minnesota. Period. He should have retired instead of taking the Minnesota job. I was very excited when I found out he was coming to MN. I don’t think anyone quite expected what we got.

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