Archives For 2011-12 Season

OKAY!

A lot has happened over the couple days and now we’re getting a better idea of the way this roster could look heading into next season. After missing out on Nicolas Batum (when evil Paul Allen wouldn’t let him go despite Neil Olshey wanting to let him go or at least work out a sign-and-trade), the Wolves were left with a plan B. Only nobody really seemed to know what the plan B was. The team missed out on Courtney Lee because… well… let’s just say negotiating issues, and it left the team without many options.

So here are the four transactions that have gone/will go down:

1. Greg Stiemsma signs with the team.
2. Wayne Ellington is dealt to the Grizzlies for Dante Cunningham.
3. Wes Johnson and a 1st round pick are part of a 3-team deal that brings back Brad Miller’s contract (CJZero corrected me that he’s going to Phoenix), Jerome Dyson, and a couple of picks.
4. The Wolves sign Andrei Kirilenko for two years and roughly $20 million.

Let’s look at these in order of importance:  Continue Reading…

How do you solve a problem like Barea?

Okay, J.J. Barea wasn’t really a problem last year, but he also wasn’t a solution in the way we hoped he might be.

Let’s get the negative out of the way first. In his first season with the Wolves, Barea was riddled with injuries throughout a good chunk of the season and he dribbled the life out of the basketball when he was on the court. The injuries didn’t seem like anything major that should mar his future seasons with the Timberwolves. He was banged up and pulling muscles you don’t want to pull, but he wasn’t suffering knee injuries or having chronic back problems. It’s possible they just happened. It’s possible they were related to the lockout and not being prepared for the regular season. Whatever the injuries were related to, it’s nothing that alarms me as him being an injury prone player.

It seemed pretty obvious — and Barea would be the first to admit this — that he had a problem adjusting to the new team/system/teammates in his initial moments of the season. He didn’t quite seem to know how to find the balance of what he should do on offense. Instead of moving the ball when he was faced with this unfamiliarity, he dribbled. And dribbled. And dribbled. AND DRIBBLED SOME MORE. It got to the point that you wanted him to shoot or get off the pot. Continue Reading…

Another year and another bundle of frustration for Michael Beasley and those that want him to be great good oh hell let’s just be adequately productive.

Michael Beasley had the excuse last year of the ankle injury that seemed to crop up every time he hit the floor. This year, he had the excuse of a lockout-hastened season, a new coach, a new system, new teammates, the sun was in his eyes, the locker room is too cold, the locker room is too hot, the arena is a little outdated, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia hasn’t been very good for the last three seasons and it’s affecting his mood, Anthony Randolph’s lack of emotion on his face is freaking him out, he has to keep an eye on Pek at all times, are they using that synthetic ball again?, and whatever else his supporters will try to figure out to throw at his detractors. That’s been the problem with Michael Beasley since he came into the league with Derrick Rose and Kevin Love, et al.; there’s always an excuse for why he isn’t better on the basketball court.

In high school and college, the competition sucks. We can pretend college basketball is the heartland of fundamentals and team basketball but the reality is college basketball is a big arena of suck. You can press against teams because the guards aren’t that good. Passes are off, dribbling is weak, shooting is off, and anybody with superior athletic ability and a pretty decent chunk of skills can pretty much show out each night. That’s what Michael Beasley did on the AAU circuit and that’s what he did at Kansas State. If he slipped up, it didn’t matter because the competition wasn’t good enough to stop him. Move to the NBA and the competition, scouting and preparation is far too good to just fake your way through the game. Anybody can end up putting up points at the NBA level but HOW do you put up points?

In 2010-11, when Beasley was battling ankle turns and jacking up shots to put up pretty points, he was doing so inefficiently. In the 3-point era (1979 to present day), 38 players have put up 20 points or fewer per game while attempting 17 or more shots per game. Michael Beasley is on that list and ranks 31st in WS/48. He’s sandwiched in between Isaiah Rider’s 2000 campaign with the Atlanta Hawks and Ron Mercer’s 2001 season with the Chicago Bulls. His PER for that season is 26th out of those 38 players, between Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in 1993 and Antoine Walker in 2005.

When this season started, Rick Adelman seemed to at least pretend to try to make it work with Beasley. He started the first seven games, averaging 12.9 points on 14.1 attempts per game. He shot just 39.4% from the field. Then he sprained his foot and missed the next 10 games. It gave Adelman an excuse not to have him in the lineup much anymore. When he came back, the team was playing pretty good basketball, figuring things out on the fly. Beasley was given the role of being the scoring sixth man off the bench. As long as they were winning, Beasley said he was fine with it. There were games in which this looked like a brilliant move. Beasley would actually attack the glass or play a little defense (not often but it happened!). Beasley would still jack up the same shots that frustrate coaches non-stop but there was intermittent effort.

As the season went on and things took a turn for the worse, Beasley never fully embraced his role as the Lamar Odom or James Harden or Jason Terry of this team. He broke off plays on the offense. If he got hot (remember the Clippers?), it all looked justified. When he wasn’t hot, it looked like Adelman was ready to try J.J. Barea at small forward instead.

Now the Wolves have to decide tomorrow whether or not a qualifying offer should be extended to Beasley. The qualifying offer would mean that (most likely) worst-case scenario for Beas is a one year, $8.2 million deal. If you’ve watched Beasley the last two years and aren’t related to him, it’s probably making you break out in cold sweats thinking about paying him $8.2 million for a year of basketball. That’s Kris Humphries money after all!

Believe it or not, I actually like Michael Beasley quite a bit. He’s fun to be around in the locker room. He’s a jovial and off-the-wall kind of guy. And MAYBE another year under Adelman and a full training camp with the coaching staff could finally right the ship that is Michael Beasley. However, at a certain point it’s no longer about the things going on around him. The things he’s choosing to do in the game of basketball are the only excuse for why he’s not playing up to his potential. He may figure it out some day and make everybody that didn’t give him a “long enough chance” look foolish.

I just don’t want the Wolves to continue to wait to see if THIS is the year he puts it together.

Metta World Peace. Kevin Martin. Nicolas Batum. Russell Westbrook. Steve Nash. Eric Bledsoe. Some of these guys are scampering point guards, some are long, explosive scorers, some are bruising forwards.  What do these people have in common? The answer is they were all guarded by the 6’2″, 175-lb Luke Ridnour this past season. If that seems a little strange, well that’s just a testament to how strange and experimental the Wolves’ 2012 season was.

Many of these matchups were the result of Rick Adelman’s backcourt pairing of Ridnour with fellow point guard Ricky Rubio. The reasoning behind playing this unconventional lineup (apart from the always hilarious David-Kahn-loves-point-guards punch line) is actually pretty easy to understand. First, Adelman knew that without Ridnour his starting lineup would be hurting both for scoring and, outside of Rubio, proficient ballhandling. Second, and more basically; Adelman simply wanted his best players on the floor together as much as possible. (Incidentally, both of these needs were exacerbated by Adelman’s need to give Wesley Johnson 20 minutes a game.)

Oddly enough, it worked out pretty well for the Wolves. The Wolves were +22 overall with Rubio and Ridnour playing together. The presence of Ridnour’s offensive skills gave Rubio a perimeter safety valve. And Ridnour attacked his impossible defensive task with enough energy and guts to prevent the Wolves from being hurt to badly for their lack of backcourt size.

One of the mysteries of Ridnour’s career is that his perimeter shooting has been inconsistent, not from game to game but from season to season. Scattered throughout his career, Ridnour has three times shot better than 37% from three and twice shot below 30%. He finished the ’10-’11 season as the league’s fourth-best three-point shooters, at 44%, and then regressed to 32.2% this year. (More Ridnour-ian oddities: because of his tiny frame and lack of real explosiveness, Ridnour has typically been poor finisher; for most of his career he was a sub-50% shooter at the rim. This year, though he suddenly hit 65.5% of his shots at the rim, significantly above the league average. I’m at a loss to explain this.) So its a little bit difficult to predict just what kind of shooting performance we’ll get from Ridnour in the future. While its probably not reasonable to expect another season of 40% three-point shooting, I think we can certainly hope that in a less compressed, injury-plagued year, he’ll again be a solidly above-average shooter.

So Luke Ridnour is not a perfect player. He’s too small to be a great defender. His shot selection can be a little shaky. He can’t claim to have Ricky Rubio’s preternatural knack for playmaking. Nevertheless, Ridnour’s contribution to the team this past year can’t be overestimated. Early in the year, he provided much needed backcourt stability, easing Rubio’s transition to the NBA and running the point for the second unit as J.J. Barea battled through his numerous injuries. And later on, after Rubio went down, Ridnour became the team’s primary playmaker, the only player capable of making sure that the Wolves’ offense ran coherently. (As it happens, the Wolves’ offense was more efficient with Ridnour on the floor than with Rubio).

Only after Ridnour went down with his own season-ending injury and the team entered the final stages of its downward spiral did we understand the full extent of his contributions: his ability to coordinate an offense; his competitiveness; his simple professionalism. Luke Ridnour’s a nice guy to have around.

Martell Webster’s season will most likely be remembered with agonizing humor.

His blunder at the end of an overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets on February 20th was a frustrating mistake that potentially cost the Wolves a victory when the season still had life. He stole an inbound pass from Julyan Stone with the Wolves down three and just under four seconds left in the game, drove to the basket, and slammed it home. Rick Adelman said it was possibly emotions getting the best of Martell.

Martell explained his thought process as “But what was going through my mind was go to the rim and possibly get fouled. The contingency to that shot was get a bucket, get a foul, they miss free throws and we get another shot. It didn’t work out that way.” By the time he flushed the ball through the rim and the Wolves fouled Corey Brewer, there was only half a second left in the game and the Nuggets held on for victory.

He was the butt of the joke for the rest of the season whenever Wolves and end-of-game situations came up. In reality, it was a microcosm of sorts for how the Wolves played at the end of basketball games. Webster rushed through the motions and tried to extend the game. When the Wolves found themselves in “clutch situations” (plus/minus five points with five or fewer minutes left in the fourth or overtime), they had one of the highest paces in the league.

Considering the Wolves and their up-tempo DNA, it’s possible that was by design. They wanted to continue to run teams out of the building, no matter what the situation. But their execution in these situations left a lot to be desired.

There wasn’t really many clutch situations in which they were that close to having an advantage. When the defense was good, the offense seemed to not be able to match it. When the offense increased as the time ticked away in close games, the defense became pitiful.

Not all of those can be blamed on Martell Webster. In fact, very little of it can be blamed on him. Webster was not good this year. In fact, other than the five-minute season he had in 2008-09, he’s only had a worse PER once (9.9 in his second season) and WS/48 twice (.039 and .036 his first two years) than the 10.0 PER and .064 WS/48 numbers he put up this season. He also tied the second worse true shooting percentage of his career with a 53.3%.

Some of this could be chalked up to frustrating decisions with the basketball. Some of this could be due to the back injury he’ll pretty much have to live with the rest of his career. He’s a lottery pick that has never produced relative to his draft position, but he’s also a guy that can be a valuable veteran in the right role. And it seemed like for most of the season, Webster was accepting of and thriving in that role.

He has young players’ ears and even though he’s just 25 years old, he’s a seven-year veteran that has learned how the league works. He’s here to help the team but he’s also here for veteran stability.

Unfortunately on that particular February night in Denver, Martell will be remembered for not playing with stability or poise. He’ll be remembered for that embodiment of frustrating Wolves’ play at the end of clutch games this year. They made strides, finishing 7-7 in games decided by three points or less. But to be a serious playoff contender, the Wolves need all of their guys to continue to grow.

Webster is a reminder that grit and determination can get you on the court in the NBA. But he’s also a reminder to this young Wolves team that you have to keep your head when the game gets tight.

With just $600,000 of his $5.7 million contract being guaranteed before July 1st, we’ll find out in the next two weeks if he’ll get more chances with this team to learn how to close out games in the future.

The plight of Wayne Ellington was befuddling to many Wolves fans throughout the season.

We were a team full of shooters who could no longer shoot. After blistering the NBA with 3-point baskets when down double digits in 2010-11, the Wolves either regressed to the mean, had a lockout-induced outlier, or thought the new CBA brought about horseshoe rules in which close was good enough. Whatever the reasons were, Wayne Ellington seemed like a decent answer for a team that wasn’t making long-range shots.

He started out the first month of the season seeing solid minutes on the floor. Through the first 19 games of the season, he averaged 21.2 minutes per game and was providing an adequate threat for spreading the floor. Granted, these were all small sample sizes after a chaotic start to the season, but after going 1/6 from 3-point range in the first game of the season, Wayne hit 39.4% (13/33) of his 3s in the month of January while the team managed to make just 34.6%.

The team was still playing good defense during his extended minutes on the court as well (102.3 defensive rating in January; 99.5 as a team overall). Wayne’s defensive effort was often commendable even though he was a bit shorter than the wing scorers he was asked to defend. His footwork was solid and his effort to keep up was consistent. Unfortunately, he simply wasn’t tall enough to truly bother a lot of shots.

As Ben Polk mentioned in his Wes Johnson post, “But what’s really strange is that, given the depth of his offensive struggle, given his great athletic gifts and given his stated desire to be a great NBA defender, he would be so noncommittal on the defensive end.” The weird thing about the Wes Johnson experience is his minutes stayed consistent over the course of the entire season. He never dropped below 20 minutes per game in any month of the season. He couldn’t make shots and he didn’t seem engaged on defense. And yet he was consistently on the floor, perhaps in the hopes that Ricky Rubio could figure out how to make Wes work.

When February hit, Wayne Ellington’s minutes vanished. In back-to-back games from January 23rd and 25th, he logged 71 minutes. Over the next 13 games, he played just 96 minutes total. Why did Wayne fall out of favor with Rick Adelman’s rotation? Perhaps there were practice issues, although the team didn’t really have a lot of time to practice. Perhaps there were personality clashes, except nothing ever seemed to get out about Wayne or Rick being unhappy with one another. Perhaps it was the hope that greater “talents” in Martell Webster and Wes Johnson would figure out how to play in a budding rotation that was starting to take off even when their wings remained grounded.

Whatever the reason was, the Wolves’ best shooter was left for rotting on the pine during a key month of the season. It wasn’t a good move and it wasn’t a bad move. I don’t even know that it was a move at all. It was just confusing to watch one of the team’s best shooters struggle to find time on the floor when his shot had been threatening and his effort to play defense has shone through.

Wayne would regain minutes after Ricky Rubio’s injury but his shooting touch was inconsistent over the last two months of the season. It’s weird to think that Wayne Ellington was actually the answer at shooting guard during the season because he probably wasn’t. He’s a backup kind of guy and even then I’m not sure you have to have him in your rotation.

It’s also weird to think a guy that was providing a need and needed effort at a consistently struggling position for the Wolves would just stop playing without much explanation or proven alternative available.

Long-term, this isn’t a big deal but in the short term, it was pretty puzzling.

Let’s talk about the things that are and are not Wesley Johnson’s fault. The coming civil war in Syria? Not his fault. Being drafted ahead of DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe and Paul George? Not his fault. Being born with a sweet, mild demeanor? Not his fault and not really a bad thing either if your goal is to be a well-liked nice person. But if your goal is to be a terrific NBA player, a gentle nature is, while not necessarily a hindrance, an attribute best kept in its proper perspective.

Because no matter what kind of person you are, the passivity and seeming indifference with which Johnson approached his job this season is something that you can control. I’m personally not too mortified by things like a player laughing on the bench during a blowout loss; we’re all unique after all, and process things in strikingly different ways. What’s a bit more concerning to me is that Johnson seemed to bring no particular passion or investment to the actual task of playing basketball.

Its not even his offensive reticence that really puzzles me. Although let’s be clear: Johnson had a terrible offensive season. I challenge you to find an NBA starter with a PER worse than Johnson’s 8.08.  (Ups, I found one: DeShawn Stevenson, though he started fewer than half as many games as Wes.) And I certainly also find it strange that a player would seem less confident playing with Ricky Rubio and under Rick Adelman than he did in his first year learning the Triangle and that, under those circumstances, he would become a less intuitive passer, a less efficient shooter and turn the ball over at a higher rate. And it’s no doubt strange that, though he had clearly worked on his skills over the long off-season, Johnson’s game would remain so remarkably static and one-dimensional, that his midrange game would remain so undeveloped, that he would make even fewer attempts to attack the basket and draw contact (dude only went to the line 34 times in 65 games).

Yup, that’s all really strange. But what’s really strange is that, given the depth of his offensive struggle, given his great athletic gifts and given his stated desire to be a great NBA defender, he would be so noncommittal on the defensive end. We’ve talked about this before. But it remains a mystery. Why doesn’t Johnson, pursue his man around screens, or deny passing lanes or rotate to the basket or close out on shooters with more vigor? I really have no idea.

This season, many people wondered aloud a player struggling so badly would be given starting nods so frequently. Considering the Wolves’ limited options on the wing, this wasn’t something that ever particularly bothered me; after all, Johnson finished games much less frequently than he started them. And in any event, it was certainly to the Wolves’ benefit to give Johnson–just one year removed from being the third fourth pick in the draft–every opportunity to improve.

But he didn’t improve. And so in addition to wondering how that possibly happened, we have to wonder how much better we can expect him to get. Was this merely a crises of confidence? a dark spell that the lithe, formerly pure shooting kid can be coached out of? Or is Wes Johnson simply one of those players temperamentally unsuited to the NBA? I’d love to know the answer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I really wanted Nikola Pekovic to win Most Improved.

This isn’t just because he’s a T’Wolf or because I’m terrified he’ll give me the guillotine if I don’t say this. I appreciate the fact that he went from being a borderline “we can’t play this guy at all” player his rookie season to the other team thanking Tebow when the rare moments Pek got into foul trouble. For some reason, I wanted the words “most” and “improved” to actually mean “most” and “improved” when we looked at Most Improved Player this season.

Ryan Anderson has won MIP because he played more minutes and took more shots this season on a playoff team. That’s it. This isn’t a jealousy thing and this isn’t a biased homer thing. Ryan Anderson was exactly as good last year as he was this year, except this year he had a different role on the team.

It’s not even that I think Pekovic deserves the honor more; it’s that I think Ryan Anderson doesn’t deserve it at all. Some people will claim Anderson helped Orlando win games and that’s why he earned the award. They’ll claim his defense was much improved and his rebounding was better. I don’t buy it.  Continue Reading…

Minnesota sports fandom entails a kind of perpetual anxiety. We worry that the rest of the country will see us as quaint or provincial, not to be taken seriously. We lost the Lakers and the Stars to more temperate climes. Our football and baseball teams, both collegiate and professional, toiled away for decades in a concrete, plastic and teflon model home, a cut-rate interpretation of some Carter-era child’s sci-fi fantasies. Gopher football has been an en-domed joke, prey to decades of charlatans, incompetents and opportunists. The Twins are called the Twins. None of this helps.

The Wolves have been the worst, though, wandering through most of their existence in a state of dorky, benighted ineptitude. Consider: their expansionary brothers, the Orlando Magic, made their first Finals before the Wolves could boast of even one All-Star; the Wolves forfeited years of draft picks in a harebrained scheme to sign Joe Smith; in order to salvage a draft pick they lost in their undying quest for Marko Jaric, they tanked a game in the most horrifically obvious way possible; you don’t really need me to go on do you?

But in the years since the Kevin Garnett trade (oh sorry, there’s another one), this anxiety congealed into something more existentially dreadful.  These Wolves’ rosters were so haphazard, their coaching so misguided, their play so callow and inelegant and futile–they were, in short, so embarrassingly bad–that we wondered whether what we were watching was actual NBA basketball at all. The anger that we have all often expressed at Kevin McHale, David Kahn, Glen Taylor and Kurt Rambis is, if you ask me, actually an expression of a deep fear, the fear that we might have invested ourselves in a doomed enterprise.

Rick Adelman and Ricky Rubio’s greatest gift to their fans may have been simply restoring a sense of competitiveness and seriousness, of basic competence, to the proceedings; the fans responded to these gifts with fairly undiluted euphoria.  All of which made the team’s catastrophic unraveling at season’s end even more disheartening.

Continue Reading…

Jazz hands

The Utah Jazz made the playoffs.

This means the Minnesota Timberwolves will have a first round pick in this year’s allegedly loaded NBA draft. Acquiring Utah’s pick closes the books on the Al Jefferson trade from before last season. We basically ended up receiving movable parts, draft picks we could sell to pay off Kurt Rambis’ deal and this pick.  And this pick, which will fall between 15th and 20th, gives the Timberwolves something to look forward to on draft night.

Don’t get me wrong; I’d much rather this team was relatively healthy and in the playoffs. Even if this meant getting steamrolled in the first round by the Spurs or Thunder, I’d gladly accept that first round experience for such a young squad over trying to figure out what the middle of the first round on draft  night will look like. But that ship sailed a long time ago, when Ricky Rubio’s knee gave out and the Wolves stopped being a competitive team. There was nothing after that night that looked much like what we were seeing with Ricky out there. There was the win in Phoenix and Kevin Love’s 50-point effort in OKC. Other than that, this team became what we saw over the last two years. They were lacking everywhere that counted, especially the win column.

Two things were accomplished this April: 1) the Wolves finally stopped losing all April games with their win over Detroit and 2) the Utah Jazz locked up a playoff berth and give the Wolves some action in the first round.

Sure, David Kahn still seems to be a controlling partner in the structuring of this roster. Maybe Rick Adelman and his crew have more of a say in personnel decisions than we know. Maybe Kahn is still the go-to guy in the front office before Glen Taylor signs off on a deal. I am not overly confident that Kahn will make the right decision here. What I am confident in is that even if they screw this pick up, I find it hard to believe the result will be a player worse than what we saw from the Wolves’ wing players this season.

Now we’ll start looking at draft prospects like Quincy Miller (I’ve been praying for him for months), Terrence Ross (a dead-eye shooter), Royce White (pretty impressive overall talent who is apparently afraid of flying), Jeff Taylor (good defender who just found his stroke this season), Dion Waiters (scoring… SO MUCH SCORING), or even Austin Rivers (that one guy’s kid who most people already don’t like). These seem like the most likely wing players available in our pick range. We could also package the pick and someone like Derrick Williams for a veteran player. We could try to snag a disgruntled wing veteran (hopefully not Kevin Martin) and bring in some much-needed experience and leadership on this squad.

Sure, the Wolves traded a mid-1st round pick two drafts ago and all they got was this lousy Martell Webster haircut, but I’d still take that over trying to talk myself into Luke Babbitt for five years.

The key point is the Wolves have options. It’s not as good as the playoffs would have been, but we now don’t have to hear four hours of Tanguy jokes before the Wolves pick at 57. We get our David Kahn jokes much sooner!

I’m not happy with the way the season ended for the Wolves, but I’m happy we now have something to look forward to before free agency begins. Thanks, Utah. Now please lose your last game. We’ve got a draft pick to prepare for.