At some point in Sir Paul McCartney’s week, month, maybe even year as he planned this Sunday, the Beatles legend decided he was going to be in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center for a 1pm matinee start time for a game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Brooklyn Nets. Maybe he headed to brunch in the area first. Maybe he decided to eat at home or at a hotel or wherever legendary musicians partake in the practice of satiating their hunger on a Sunday morning.
Regardless, McCartney wanted to attend this Nets-Wolves game.
The Nets have virtually no hope, as they spend their next couple of years in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is their existence following shooting for the moon when they brought Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the franchise. They’re not even close to good enough to make the playoffs. They don’t get their pick this season, they get to swap picks with Boston next season if they’re so inclined, and they don’t get their pick in 2018 because that’s headed to Massachusetts as well. As we know, the Wolves haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004, and they haven’t had a winning season since 2005.
Possibly knowing all of this, Sir Paul McCartney still decided his Sunday afternoon needed this Nets-Wolves action. This blew my mind when they showed him during the game. After I had barely put my mind back together, L Boogs sent my the picture at the top of this article with one of the most famous people in the world celebrating the free t-shirt he must have caught from a t-shirt gun.
SIR PAUL MCCARTNEY CAUGHT A T-SHIRT FROM A T-SHIRT CANNON AND LOOKED MORE EXCITED THAN HIS FIRST APPEARANCE ON THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW.
You know what’s great? He got to see the Wolves put on a show. I’m assuming he was there to see Karl-Anthony Towns, who grew up across the river/bay from Brooklyn. Towns had a tough match-up with Brook Lopez. While he had a decent first half (10 points on 4-of-10 FG, five rebounds) in his battle with the big man, we saw a much better second half (14 points on 6-of-9 FG, five rebounds) while playing much better defense against Lopez and whomever he was matched up against.
He even finished off this nice display of passing from the Wolves, which sent Kevin Garnett into a positive yelling spectacle.
— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) December 20, 2015
As happy as I was for Sir Paul McCartney to get to see another 20-10 game from Towns (most among rookies, tied for sixth in NBA), I couldn’t stop concentrating on the play of both Ricky Rubio and Gorgui Dieng. I don’t think it’s a shock to hear I wasn’t a big fan of Dieng’s play over the past year. After being so high on him as a prospective starting center in the NBA following his rookie season, I was really disappointed by what Dieng showed last season.
He was an awful rim protector, and while I didn’t expect him to fix the defense during that season, you wanted to see a better performance than allowing 55.7% of shots at the rim against him to go in. He just seems too good, even as a second year player, to perform that way. But that was last season, right? That was just a bad, chaotic affair. That’s what I was hoping to be true. The first 14 games of this season, Dieng was actually worse. He allowed 56.8% on nearly 10 attempts per 36 minutes. I was starting to think Dieng getting worse at this in his third season was going to be bad news for his long-term projection.
Something changed though. Dieng went from having a very disappointing start to this season (6.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.9 blocks in 19.6 minutes with 50% from the field) to turning the corner big time. Over his last 13 games, Dieng is playing more minutes (28.2), so his scoring (10.5), rebounding (8.0), and blocks (1.2) have all increased (but so have his per 36 averages). He’s also playing more minutes because he’s playing much better defense and he’s earning his time on the court.
Over the last 13 games, Dieng is allowing just 46.8% at the rim on just over nine attempts per 36 minutes. That’s in the same neighborhood as guys like Towns, DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside, and Al Horford. It’s better than what Derrick Favors has allowed this season. I’m not sure how much this holds for the rest of the season, but the numbers back up the eye test right now for Dieng, and that provides the hope of a combination like Dieng and Towns working together.
Dieng was spectacular off the bench against the Nets. His post defense against Lopez got better as the game progressed, and he made a bunch of plays they needed him to make. Rubio set him up perfectly to be effective without having to do more than he should. He finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists off the bench — the first 20-10-3 game for a reserve this season and 22nd of the past five seasons. He’s truly developing right now and looks like a completely different player than he did even two weeks ago.
— FOX Sports North (@fsnorth) December 20, 2015
As for Rubio, he’s one of 13 players in the NBA with a free throw rate of at least 0.58. That means for every 10 shots he takes, he’s attempting 5.8 free throws. Eight of those 13 players shoot below 70% from the line. Rubio and Mario Chalmers are the only guys above 80% on that list and Rubio is the best in that group at 85.7%. While everybody focuses on Rubio’s inability to make field goals at an acceptable rate (yes, he’s historically bad), it ends up being garbled noise in how we evaluate his game.
In the past, the field goal percentage was a much bigger problem for Rubio because he wasn’t getting to the line enough to offset it. Rubio currently places 10th among point guards at 1.23 points per shot (tied with Kemba Walker and Jeff Teague). It doesn’t mean he’s absolved of criticism for not making shots, but being the guy with the highest free throw rate on the team and a very good rate of accuracy on those attempts allows his defense and passing to matter more.
— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) December 20, 2015
He was dealing against Brooklyn. He had 11 first half assists, and finished with 15 overall. He had 26 potential assists in the game. His passing has been pretty great in the past three games as he’s rebounded from a bit of a roller coaster stretch the week prior. We’ve seen a much more consistent Rubio the past three games, blitzing the opposition with his defense and his play-making ability.
And while I don’t believe steals necessarily denote good defense being played, Rubio’s 14 steals over the last three games have had serious impacts. He’s smartly doubling the post against guys like DeMarcus Cousins and Lopez. He’s leaving his assignment with less than two seconds on the shot or game clock to double team the player with the ball. He’s in a zone for defensive play-making right now and showing how effective he can be without scoring.
He still needs to become a decent finisher or the shooter we saw from 10-23 feet (39.6%) last season rather than the 32.5% shooter from 10-23 feet we’re seeing this season. Rubio got by on 1-of-6 shooting today because 1) the Nets are awful and 2) he got to the free throw line seven times, but those calls won’t always come. Maybe we’re seeing the effects of Mike Penberthy not being around the team 24/7? I’m not sure what the regression is due to, but at least the rest of his game hasn’t regressed.
I’m not sure how high or low you can get with this game. Had they not beaten the Nets, it would’ve been one of the rare losses I found completely unacceptable this season and would’ve had a bit of a meltdown. I’m just happy Sir Paul McCartney got to see a show from the young Wolves. And that he didn’t leave empty-handed.