Archives For Steve McPherson

glengarry-glen-ross

I was going to start this post by saying, “Summer League is not really about wins and losses,” but then realized I was hedging: Summer League is NOT about wins and losses. What it is is a living breathing existential paradox. On the one hand, it’s an inherently fragile and unstable arrangement, a weird bardo region where agglomerations of rookies, sophomores and journeymen masquerade as NBA teams while competing for the glory of … something via a tournament that each team seems more interested in losing. On the other, it’s where professional basketball reaches maximum entropy, an undifferentiated state where possessions are born and die in a vacuum without accumulating any meaning beyond their short lifespans.

So how did the Wolves do? Well, they finished 2-4 but see above. The returns on rookies Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III — both based on what I got to see of them and talking to other media members and the buzz on Twitter — are good overall. In last night’s consolation game (the team’s fourth in four days), LaVine had 22 points, including going 9-10 from the line, a very positive sign for a player about whom there are some questions with regard to his physicality in getting to the rim through contact. Robinson had 17 and, although he struggled with his shot to the tune of 2-6 from distance, his overall game looked solid, if not particularly polished. Overall, he’s shot 38.5% in Summer League, but neither his jumper nor LaVine’s (who shot .397) look broken. Like most rookies, they need to adjust to the speed of the game, the length of the 3-point line and hundred other little things.

They both seem to feel pretty secure in their self-assessments after their first taste of quasi-NBA action.

“I’m a very confident person and I always hold myself to high standards,” said LaVine after the Wolves final game, a 97-78 pantsing of the Pelicans. “You know, there’s a lot of doubters on me and I always like changing people’s minds. You know, ‘Am I NBA ready?’ and things like that.”

LaVine’s tack of “prove the haters wrong” is a time-tested one, a solid choice for a rookie and one that works pretty well as he continues to navigate the fallout from his less-than-ideal word choice after being picked by the Wolves. He went on to tick off all the right things to work on and/or show in Summer League.

“Show people that I can play point guard, run the team, knock down shots, play good defense and help the team win. I know we didn’t win many games, but we competed and that’s the main thing coming out here: getting a feel for the game and competing.”

Summer League might be wearing me down to a nubbin, but LaVine was very positive about the experience. “This is one of the coolest things,” he said. “I feel like I’m going to be in it next year as well and it’s really enjoyable. It’s good for the fans and there’s a lot of excitement getting out there with your team.”

He also continued to flash some considerable charm when I asked him about how he’s enjoyed Las Vegas outside of the basketball so far. “Hey I’m 19: there ain’t much for a 19 year old to do in Vegas. But I kick it in my hotel. Me and my whole family went bowling. I beat my little sister and my dad in bowling — no, wait: my dad beat me. I’m not very good.”

Glenn of House Robinson, Third of His Name, King of the And-ones and the Second Round was as steady in talking about his game as he was on the court, where he neither over- nor underwhelmed but instead did chunks of good stuff here and there. Basically, perfectly whelmed.

On the broadcast of the Wolves’ first Summer League game, Mateen Cleaves commented that he thought Robinson’s game might actually work better in the NBA than in college and I think Robinson’s Summer League performance showed flashes of this. He’s athletic and a capable finisher, but not an overwhelming physical force at the college level the way, say, Derrick Williams was. Williams’ physicality hasn’t translated so far at the NBA level, but Robinson’s — which is more reliant on opportunism at the rim — could, especially if he gets his 3-point shot sorted out enough to make people bite on it.

“On the court with a point guard like Zach or with Ricky Rubio, I love penetrating and reading other players,” he said. “I think it’ll be fun. I think my game definitely fits the NBA style.”

Most heartwarmingly, he said he was a big fan of NBA 2K and when I asked him about which teams he uses, he said, “Man, now I just play with the Timberwolves.” There’s something so endearingly sweet about a guy getting drafted and then playing with the team who drafted him before he’s even hit the court with them.

Of course, this Wolves Summer League team had to endure the swirl of rumors and jokes (many of them by me) about whether Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett were going to suit up for them in Vegas. There’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the roster, but that’s nothing new at this point in the year. Last year, the Wolves player who looked the best coming out of Summer League was center Chris Johnson, who was waived before the season started.

The one thing you can count on is A LOT of Glengarry Glen Ross jokes in recaps this season.

In no particular order.

  • Zach LaVine was largely as advertised. Fast and athletic, there’s a kind of wide-eyed innocence about the way he moves with so much more purpose with the ball than without, about how he sort of habitually performs a little inside-out sizeup dribble when he’s squared up to his defender. Nerves were evident early on when he lost his grip on the ball on a drive, but he settled in, particularly once the game was called a tie and the dunking exhibition started. More on that in a moment.
  • Shabazz Muhammad showed a lot of the same gusto that was his calling card late in the season last year, going up hard for dunks and muscling his way into the lane for rebounds. He still loves the left block and that little jump hook, but that’s fine. Obviously, this pre-pre-pre-season is a time when players have to balance a desire to try new things or show their progression with the need to prove they can do what they’re good at consistently. It can be a tricky balancing act.

Continue Reading…

chandler-parsons

There’s a scene in 1995’s Casino where Sam Rothstein, played by Robert DeNiro, loses it over a blueberry muffin. He explains to Philip Green (Kevin Pollak) that he has to let the people he employs know that he’s watching “all the details all the time, that there is not one single thing [he] will not catch.” He points to Green’s muffin.

“Look at how many blueberries your muffin has and how many mine has. Yours is falling apart, I have nothing.” The film cuts to the kitchen where Rothstein upbraids the baker: “From now on I want you to put an equal amount of blueberries in each muffin.”

“Do you know how long that’s going to take?” asks the baker. Continue Reading…

LaVineDraft

What does the Zach LaVine pick say about the state of the Timberwolves?

According to Flip Saunders, LaVine was seventh on their board, so getting him feels like a coup to the front office, even if he’s not ready to be an immediate contributor. “Some players you go after, they have the ability to hit a home run,” Saunders said at a brief press conference immediately after the pick. “Some players that are ready-made players, they’re only going to be doubles hitters. This guy has the opportunity to be a home-run type player.”

The pick as it relates to the Wolves right now, though, could go in a couple different directions. On the one hand, it (along with the pick of Glenn Robinson III) signals the Wolves’ desire to fill a need for the team as currently constituted: athletic play on the wing. No one on the roster last year — from Shved to Budinger to Brewer to Martin — was going strong to the hoop from the wing position. Brewer got there on the break, but that was as often a disaster as it was successful.

The problem with this is that in spite of Saunders’ insistence that LaVine can play physical and GM Milt Newton’s belief that LaVine is a guy who can go get a basket or get to the foul line, the fact is that LaVine is more or less the same size as Shved (6-6, 185 lbs) and we’ve seen how physical he can(‘t) be. Also, as Layne Vashro points out in this post for Canis Hoopus, LaVine only got to the rim 1.5 times per 40 minutes, and only shot 46% there when he did. Continue Reading…

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We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

As a human, Corey Brewer is about as steady as they come: good-natured, jovial, with a broad smile and an easy manner, quick (but not overeager) to crack jokes in the locker room, nearly always willing to talk. It’s hard not to be won over by him. After his 51-point outburst against the Rockets late in the season, he said, “I felt like I was in high school again! Everything was going in, but I was just playing, I wasn’t even thinking about it until somebody was like, ‘Yo, you got 44. You can get 50 tonight.’ I was like yeah okay whatever. I actually got 50!”

But on the court — and that 51-point game folds neatly into this point as well — calling Brewer mercurial does a disservice to mercury. If a player like Kevin Love is a noble gas — destined for a double-double nearly every night, more or less immune to the vicissitudes of individual matchups — then Corey Brewer is francium, an element whose most stable isotope has a half-life of 22 minutes. Continue Reading…

If standing next to Zach Galifianakis is the Michael Jordan of this picture, the Mickey Mouse shirt is the Scottie Pippen

If standing next to Zach Galifianakis is the Michael Jordan of this picture, the Mickey Mouse shirt is the Scottie Pippen

We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

Here’s something I didn’t expect to see when I pulled up Nikola Pekovic’s page on Basketball Reference: in 2013-14, he improved his points-per-36-minutes, his PER, his true shooting percentage and his field goal percentage, and held just about every other category steady. Somehow I thought he had been a little worse this year than last. Maybe it only seems weird because of the price tag that comes along with those numbers. In 2012-13 he did it all for $4.8 million; in 2013-14 he made $12.1 million. Continue Reading…

Businger

We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

Who is Chase Budinger? And is it more troubling if we don’t know the answer to that question, or if we do? We are talking, after all, about a player who was brought over from Houston as a key piece of the puzzle to fix the Wolves’ offensive woes, a guy who was supposed to be a seasoned vet of former head coach Rick Adelman’s system. And yet in two seasons on the Wolves, Budinger has played in only 64 games and for just 1,259 minutes. By contrast, Terrence Jones — who was selected by Houston with the 18th pick acquired from Minnesota for Budinger — has played 2,354 minutes in that same stretch. J.J. Barea played 1,471 minutes this season alone. So have we seen enough to know? Or is the fact that we’ve seen so little the more telling thing? Continue Reading…

NBA: Orlando Magic at Minnesota Timberwolves

We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

Men who are 6-foot-10 and 249 pounds are not often called a small thing, but Ronny Turiaf was definitely one of the small things that the Timberwolves could have used more of. Even sidelined for a big chunk of the first half of the season with a radial head fracture to his right elbow suffered in the second game of the year and then troubled by a knee injury that limited him in the second half, Turiaf was a vocal leader of the team. And when he actually played, the Wolves were 16-14, good for a winning percentage of .533 — better than their .488 season. And although Gorgui Dieng blossomed late and showed flashes of being the kind of defensive presence on the interior the Wolves sorely need, it was actually Turiaf who led the team in both blocks per game (1.6) and blocks per 36 minutes (3.0). Continue Reading…

Gary Oldman Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz: We might as well be dead. Do you think death could possibly be a boat?

Guildenstern: No, no, no … Death is … not. Death isn’t. You take my meaning. Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can’t not-be on a boat.

Rosencrantz: I’ve frequently not been on boats.

Guildenstern: No, no, no — what you’ve been is not on boats.

—Tom Stoppard

There’s a natural tendency for us to want endings to resonate. It’s why we put so much stock in things like the finales of Breaking Bad or True Detective or Lost. An ending is supposed to cast light back on what came before, to contextualize an experience, to put a punctuation mark on it. Even those of us who are pretty much okay with ambiguous endings like the fade at the end of The Sopranos or Don Gately waking up alone on a beach on the last page of Infinite Jest can still get suckered by that craving for some kind of final chord, whether resolved or suspended, a giant crash of three pianos playing a giant E at the end of “A Day In the Life.”

When this kind of closure fails to appear in sports, it’s doubly troubling. Every team — like more or less every person — likes to imagine themselves at the center of whatever story is being told, but the truth is that every season is only going to offer up one main character, one triumphant hero. There’s a reason Sports Illustrated puts out a handsomely bound edition that collects everything written about the Super Bowl or World Series or NBA Champions. Collected into a narrative that ends in crowning victory, everything starts to make sense.

But along the way, major supporting characters, minor supporting characters and extras all fall under the blade in service of that bigger story. If the eventual NBA champion is the hero of The Odyssey, enduring detours and overcoming challenges on the long road home, the runner-up is the hero of Hamlet, coming tantalizingly close to victory only to be felled at the last moment.

Which makes the 2013-14 Minnesota Timberwolves sort of like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Continue Reading…

20131002__10-2 Wolves Kevin Martin

If you have ESPN Insider and a stout constitution, you should go read Tom Haberstroh‘s post on the Timberwolves in general and Kevin Martin in particular in the superclutch (defined as one possession games in the final minute) right here.

But if you don’t, let me share the highlights (read: lowlights).

I present to you the single craziest stat of the 2013-14 season: In one-possession games (score within three) in the final minute — also known as “superclutch” situations — the Timberwolves have been outscored by 49 points in 22 minutes of action this season. I repeat: 49 points.

Minnesota’s opponents have scored 96 points to the Timberwolves’ 47. The Timberwolves have been more than doubled up in these tight situations. The result is that, when it should be a coin flip in these situations, Minnesota has lost 18 of those 25 games. Continue Reading…