Archives For Steve McPherson

#TheReturn

Steve McPherson —  January 29, 2015 — 2 Comments

When he left town, it was with head down, a legacy of losing the only one he could leave behind him. And now, this Saturday, he’s returning to the arena he once called home. Get ready.

For Mike Miller.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets

If you had told me before the season began that an injury to Robbie Hummel was going to feel like the straw that broke the camel’s back, I wouldn’t have believed you. Given the Wolves’ history, I wouldn’t have said it was impossible, though. Yet here we are. After a sound thrashing by an Atlanta Hawks team that looked every inch the frontrunners in the Eastern Conference, we learned that Hummel had a “nondisplaced fracture of the fourth metacarpal in his shooting hand,” according to the Star Tribune, and so Hummel will miss the next four to six weeks.

More on that later, but more on the game right now: Man, the Hawks looks great. The Wolves started promisingly with an interesting lineup: Mo Williams and Andrew Wiggins as the guards, Thad Young at small forward, Gorgui Dieng at power forward and Nikola Pekovic at center. In some ways it mimics the lineup of Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad on the wings because Young — while an undersized power forward — is a physical handful for small forwards and he showed it, ending the game with 26 points including going 11-14 on contested shots. If the Hawks have any obvious weaknesses, it’s size. Center Al Horford is 6-10 and power forward Paul Milsap is 6-8, so the Wolves reasonably tried to outsize them and it worked. For a while. Continue Reading…

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This is my third year covering the Timberwolves as a credentialed media member and in that time (and in the year when I was still a season ticket holder writing on my own blog and, come to think of it, in most every year since Kevin Garnett left) the texture of a Timberwolves season has never wavered. Here it is: preseason hope and promise – whether for the playoffs or simply not being abjectly terrible at basketball – gives way to a swoon due to a.) injury b.) an intractable problem borne of i.) personnel or ii.) scheme or iii.) both and then there’s this stretch of nothingness, the horse latitudes, the doldrums, a bardo region, the heat death of anything interesting to talk or think about with regard to this team.

That’s where we are right now. Continue Reading…

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With 4:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, last night’s game was looking like a good road win for a Timberwolves team sorely in need of some positive reinforcement after dropping eight straight. Up to that point, Shabazz Muhammad and Andrew Wiggins had been the standouts, combining to score 49 points on 19-for-34 shooting, including 5-for-6 for Muhammad from 3-point range. Roughly a month ago, I wrote about how no two of Zach Lavine, Wiggins and Muhammad seemed to be able to have a good game at the same time, but this game showed how Wiggins and Muhammad could feed off each other’s games — sometimes literally in the case of an early alley-oop from the former to the latter.

Wiggins also did this: Continue Reading…

If you’re a fan of any one team in the NBA, there are players on other teams that strike fear in your heart. These can be particular to your team — the Trail Blazers’ Wes Matthews has attempted more 3-pointers against the Wolves (125) than any other team and has his best true shooting percentage (.643) against them — but there’s also that more general sense of unease that comes with watching Kevin Durant, LeBron James or James Harden handle the ball against your team in a close game. Anthony Davis is beginning to develop some of that, although the Pelicans’ general inability to consistently get him the ball is tempering it for the time being. These players are, in a word, threats, and that kind of threat is precisely what the Wolves do not have right now and haven’t for quite some time.

At their best, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love together had some of this, but they had to do it together. Rubio with the ball in his hands is a threat only so long as the players around him can consistently make shots and Love with the ball in his hands is a direct threat only so long as he’s catching it with space to shoot. Neither is capable of engendering that feeling that they could take a defense apart at any moment all by themselves. While it might be dangerous to build your whole offense around the kind of iso-heavy, hero-ball type game implied by this idea of being an offensive threat (viz. Knicks, New York), used correctly, this kind of threat can distort defenses and force them into mistakes.

In his last two games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets, though, Andrew Wiggins has shown the promise of developing into that kind of threat. Continue Reading…

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I didn’t go to my first funeral until I was in my mid-20s. This is not to say that I didn’t lose people in my family: both my grandmothers died within a couple years of each other and my dad’s brother died while I was in college. But for myriad reasons — timing, travel and, truly, fear of death as a real thing — kept me from attending their funerals. I think my understanding of funerals at the time could best be described as “death is unequivocally bad and scary and funerals must therefore be the same.” I didn’t understand them as part of the long, uneven grieving process.

Timberwolves power forward Thaddeus Young lost his mother this year, at the age of 26. I lost mine at the age of 30. Britt Robson’s column this week for MinnPost is an excellent and thorough look at Young’s struggles this season on the court with due deference given to the way his mother’s death has bifurcated his season into a before and after, but I wanted to talk a little about how a human loss seeps into every aspect of our lives for longer than we usually anticipate. Continue Reading…

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Fully healthy, the Timberwolves would still not be as good as the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder have Russell Westbrook back, and he went for 34 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds and could essentially get to the rim whenever he wanted by turning on the jets. The Thunder have eight players 6-10 or taller (if you count Durant, who is at least 6-10); the Wolves have one healthy player over 6-10 (Gorgui Dieng). No surprise, then, that Oklahoma City outrebounded Minnesota 47-30. The expected disparities were there: the Wolves took 7 3-pointers and made just one; the Thunder made 6 and took 23. If the Portland game the other night had everything going against the Blazers and for the Wolves — a genuine outlier — this was much more routine. Continue Reading…

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Taken as a whole, basketball teams can be viewed as their own living organism. People are, after all, not just one thing either, but instead made up of crisscrossing and often conflicting wants, needs, impulses, understandings and judgments. A person who can keep all these things in balance, who can understand that it’s less important to label impulses as good or bad and more important to understand where they come from and how to limit them or let them flourish, is said to be well-adjusted. At the height of their powers, people can harness their understandings — both intuitive and consciously learned — alongside both natural and hard-earned talents to create wonderful things and live happy lives.

Basketball teams aren’t so different. The Spurs are the Spurs not because of Tim Duncan, not even because of Gregg Popovich, but because they’ve developed an understanding of how the whole can be greater than the sum of their parts. They get the players they need and leverage their skillsets in ways that maximize their contribution to the whole. And they do it patiently, putting the bench players on the floor regularly and often in high-pressure situations so that over time their interactions with the other players on the floor become a seamless dance. The timings become precise, nearly instinctual; the spacing is balanced unless they want to unbalance it and tilt the floor. This idea of the team as a single larger organism is what allows us to say a team has an identity and, top to bottom, the Spurs are as close to a hive-mind as you’re going to find in today’s NBA.

The Los Angeles Clippers — who soundly thrashed the Minnesota Timberwolves last night 127-101 — are not there yet. If the Spurs as a whole are a mature organism, operating at or near the height of its powers, the Clippers remain a capable but occasionally impulsive young adult. After an inconsistent start to the season, they’ve now rattled off five consecutive wins and won seven of their last eight. Against the Wolves, things started to hum in the second quarter as plays unfolded beautifully and Chris Paul picked apart a Minnesota defense that lacked Ricky Rubio. As it was against the Trail Blazers the night before, Zach LaVine’s arrival in the game heralded the collapse of the defense as pick and roll after pick and roll freed up the ballhandler, allowing him space to dish to the diving big man or kick the ball out to the perimeter for a 3-pointer, where Los Angeles took 34 to Minnesota’s 12, making them at a 44% clip to Minnesota’s ghastly 17%.

Against the Wolves, the Clippers looked — if not exactly Spurs-ian — then at least comfortable in their element, running plays that cascaded into secondary action and got them the looks they wanted, even when they didn’t fall. Sure, the Clippers’ roster has some questionable pieces like Glen Davis, but even he managed to make a positive impact in the game by being a giant body against a Wolves team lacking in size.

As for the Wolves, well, let me talk about another organism: my nearly 3-year-old daughter. Continue Reading…

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(Once upon a time, friend of the program Matt Moore wrote a wonderful post about why the Oklahoma City Thunder fell short against the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs last year. He looked at everything: the departure of James Harden; the perpetually woebegone Scott Brooks; the injury to Serge Ibaka. All of it. And what he found is that none of that was really to blame, although each thing certainly plays its part in ways. At the bottom of all of it, the Spurs were just better. So just take that article and in place of the Thunder — a team with one of the two best players in the league, two of the top 15 or 20 and probably three of the top 40, plus many years and many playoff runs together — and substitute a Wolves team whose ten available players together have played 297 minutes (or roughly six games) more than Tim Duncan alone. They played the Spurs tonight and lost, badly. To quote Gregg Popovich from after the game, “It wasn’t a fair fight.” Wiggins got aggressive and good in the third quarter, Bennett had a career high with 20 and several strong dunks. That’s my recap.)

Earlier today I needed a break from basketball-related activities. This is maybe something that sets me apart from your real “hoops junkies,” which I am definitely not. I am not a “cannot get enough of basketball” person. I can get enough. So I just wanted to dial up a movie on HBO GO and watch it, maybe take a little nap along the way. Continue Reading…

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True story: I could find exactly ZERO pictures of Knicks-Wolves games that had any players who would actually be playing tonight. So you get Kevin Love and MWP.

With the Timberwolves set to square off against the visiting New York Knickerbockers tonight, I exchanged email questions with Knickerblogger‘s Robert Silverman so we could each learn a little more about one another. My responses to his questions are up on Knickerblogger right here, and his to mine are below.

For as long as I’ve been following them (which dates back to the late ’90s), the Knicks have always seemed to have a “we don’t rebuild, we reload” attitude that has resulted in a lot of hand-waving but not a lot beyond first round playoff exits. Is there some sense that with Phil Jackson the team is actually building something now instead of just paying it lip service, even if the early returns are not great?

So far, without a doubt. For the most part, fans are aware that this is going to be a transitional year, filled with nights where the team looks downright terrible. In a related story, as I’m writing this, the Milwaukee Bucks closed the second quarter on a 22-6 run, and the Knicks couldn’t stop anyone from getting to the rim, were absolutely walloped on the glass and got shredded from downtown by some dude from Jonathan Fire*Eater. Wait, that was Ilyasova? Lawdy. Anyhoo, yes, the pains from growing will be legion, but having faith that there’s an actual plan in place as is infinitely preferable to the world’s saddest free agency carousel, with the likes of Allan Houston, McDyess, Starbury, Steve Francis, Eddy Curry and STAT posited as franchise “saviors,” but instead just clogging the cap, glumly slumped on too-small plastic horses. Continue Reading…