As Hanny and Jim Pete repeated more than once, Wednesday night’s Wolves-Clippers matchup was likely the most highly anticipated game in the entire history of this storied rivalry. And it turned out more strangely than I could have imagined.
The strangest of all is a point that Myles alluded to in his writeup: Kevin Love actually did a solid job of forcing Blake Griffin into tough shots, but then couldn’t prevent Griffin from putting back his own miss, often in stunning style. Of course, Love then proceeded to grab 10 boards in the second half while matching up with the 7-foot tall, 300-foot wingspanned human elevator, Deandre Jordan. So I thought this called for some rebounding bullets. There’s also a little Jonny Flynn and David Kahn in this mix.
It’s hard to take anything away from the first pre-season game of October.
Sure, we want to believe that a 19-point win over the Lakers is something to boast about but the game itself was so weird and out of the ordinary from pretty much everything we’ll see this season that it’s hard for this exhibition to hold any weight for the upcoming season. Wins and losses mean nothing in the pre-season. And even though the Wolves should still probably lose to a Lakers team that doesn’t give Kobe Bryant more than six minutes on the court before letting him ice his knees, what can you truly take out of a game that was a basketball anomaly?
I think the best way to look at this game is through quick little observations about how guys played and the decisions they made on the court. It’s senseless to come out of this game with an opinion on the team and its individual players one way or the other. The only thing we should do is pick out things that seemingly could matter in the future and tuck them away in our back pockets. This way we’ll have something to base future performances on and figure out if they’re just figments of our fandom imagination or if they’re a trend built on momentum.
Here is a player-by-player list of observations (I went a little overboard with analysis here but it feels good to write about actual basketball again):
Michael Beasley – 21 pts, 4 rebs, 3 stls, 1 blk, 6 tos, 8/10 FG, 1/1 3FG, 4/5 FT, +13 in 18 minutes - It’s easy to get caught up in the fact that Michael Beasley scored so well in this game. But the way he scored in this game confused me in regards to what we should expect from him this season. Beas missed just two shots in this game and they were both in the key. Of the eight shots he made seven of them were outside of the key. He was shooting jumpers and they were wet all game. But that doesn’t really sit well with me.
Beas was a steal regardless of how he performs this season because it required nothing of value in return to acquire him. And if he can knock down jumpers consistently all season long then it will open up his game dramatically. However, we didn’t get a glimpse of how he’ll adjust his game when the jumper isn’t falling. Maybe that’s not a fair criticism now because the jumpers fell against the Lakers but considering he shot just 36% on jumpers from 16 feet and beyond last season, I remain a little skeptical. Regardless, he’s really fun to watch when he’s knocking down those shots.
- Beas was pretty sloppy with the ball when trying to make plays. He seemed to rush a little bit and that might have to do with the carelessness he showed in handling the rock. Six turnovers in 18 minutes is probably not going to be the norm from him and he won’t be facing Odom and Artest every night. But taking care of the ball a bit more will be important for this team.
- I noticed that Mike broke off plays in the triangle quite often to find his own scoring chances. Not necessarily a problem when the shots are falling but you don’t want someone like Michael Beasley thinking he’s Kobe Bryant in that system.
- The thing I really did like about this performance was the fact that Beasley was so aggressive. Yes, he was out of control at times but it’s good to see the Wolves MIGHT have someone who can be a big-time scorer. Let’s not crown him the absolute go-to guy just yet. I know it’s easy to get sucked in by this performance but I liked the mentality overall.
- Put Beas in the open court and I like what he can do with the ball. His turnovers seemed to happen most when space around the move he was trying to make was taken away from him. But give him room to operate in the open floor and I doubt many players can stop him in that situation.
Kevin Love – 11 pts, 8 rebs, 6 asts, 1 blk, 1 to, 3/5 FG, 1/1 3FG, 4/4 FT, +18 in 26 minutes
- Something I love to see from Kevin? He still flies down the court and forces his man to hustle in transition. But the beautiful part is he gets in front of his man and immediately grabs offensive rebounding position. This allows his teammates to take quick jumpers when open. If they miss, no big deal – he’ll be there to clean it up.
- Oh by the way, Kevin Love still can’t really defend. He had a decent possession against Odom in which he challenged the shot well. He does challenge jumpers quite nicely. But when big, agile guys put the ball on the floor against him or just try to muscle him inside, he gets abused.
- If the jumpers are falling, I’m pretty sure Kevin Love can get at least four assists per game just from handoff passes to shooters.
- Once again, the outlet passing is still outstanding. He got Corey Brewer his only bucket of the game with a great lead pass that lead to a breakaway dunk.
- Love’s between the legs pass was pretty unnecessary and fantastic at the same time. Might as well give them a show, right?
- As much as I lament the future of this team’s interior defense with Love and Darko on the floor together, they work really well offensively. Darko gets into space around the basket perfectly and is always waiting for the pass from Love. Love is willing to drop it off with quick shuffle passes as soon as the defense gets sucked in. The high-low game between them looks good so far with their decision-making.
Darko Milicic – 8 pts, 6 rebs, 5 asts, 2 blks, 1 to, 4/5 FG, 0/2 FT, +14 in 25 minutes - Probably unfair to judge Darko going against Pau Gasol in the first action of the pre-season but I was disappointed in his interior defense. His help was late or unaware. He struggles against lengthy players. And the only time he looked real solid in the post was defending Derrick Caracter (who Darko has a few inches on). His timing on the block against Caracter’s shot in the paint was perfect but it helps having the height advantage.
- With that said, I don’t think you can take TOO much from this defensive performance. It’s nothing to be ashamed of when Pau is outplaying you.
- I loved how active Darko was on the glass. Tons of effort there and he was ready to give the good, quick outlet pass as soon as he secured the board.
- He’s also going to get some good assists off those handoff passes. He moves his body into the defender who is chasing the man without the ball around the screen. Darko always sets himself before the handoff to avoid the offensive foul.
- We also got to see how Darko operates in the high-low. Love was spectacular in it and Darko was great at making the right play, whether it led to a score or not. He’s still not one of the best passing big men in the league but he can do some things when the triangle is running crisply.
Luke Ridnour – 6 pts, 7 asts, 1 reb, 4 stls, 2 tos, 3/6 FG, +15 in 28 minutes - For the most part, I liked what I saw from Luke. He was unselfish with the ball and is so good at shooting that pull-up jumper in transition. Luke helped well on defense with the way he trapped down and knocked away loose balls.
- Have to respect a two-on-zero fastbreak that results in setting up your rookie for an off-the-backboard alley-oop.
- Man-to-man defense is not looking too hot. Shouldn’t be a problem when he’s the backup point guard, once Jonny Flynn is back.
- Ridnour already seems to have the triangle down cold. He did a great job of making sure everyone was in position and making the right reads.
Wesley Johnson – 9 pts, 1 blk, 2 tos, 4/6 FG, 1/1 3FG, +11 in 21 minutes - Loved the jumper and how smoothly he got it off.
- Did not love how easily you can take him out of the offense by pressuring him when he gets the ball. This won’t get fixed overnight and maybe it’s just adjusting to the speed of the NBA game. But he can’t really handle the ball yet.
- His length and athleticism on defense is pretty nice. He helped very well dropping down to harass the post player and he can still stay out and challenge jumpers.
- His transition defense was really nice too. He gets in position by hustling down the court and then lets the offensive player make the commitment before reacting and uses his reach to make it difficult to get a good look at the basket.
Anthony Tolliver – 10 pts, 6 rebs, 3 asts, 2 tos, 4/7 FG, 1/1 3FG, 1/2 FT, +5 in 22 minutes - Tolliver is like a really good version of Brian Cardinal. I mean that as a compliment.
- He’s a really good spot-up shooter and can easily be forgotten by the defense.
- He showed good hands and nice quick moves inside to get a good scoring opportunity. He attacks the length of the opposing defense really well.
Corey Brewer – 4 pts, 1 reb, 1 stl, 2 tos, 1/9 FG, 0/1 3FG, 2/4 FT, +7 in 23 minutes - Rough day for Corey but he did play pretty decent man-to-man defense. It still has the potential to be special someday if he can get stronger.
- Other than that, he had a truly horrible performance. He forced shots miserably all over the floor and his passing was way too chaotic. Instead of forcing up shots, it would be nice to see patience from him and have him move the ball.
Martell Webster – 24 pts, 2 rebs, 1 ast, 2 tos, 8/13 FG, 3/5 3FG, 5/7 FT, +6 in 30 minutes - Loved the way Martell played and thought he was the best player on the court throughout this game. His jumper was deadly and he was very concise with his movements when attacking the basket.
- He’s another guy like Beasley that you don’t want to just fall in love with the jumper. He’s so athletic and strong with the ball when he wants to be. You’d like to see him use that to get into the paint more.
- Even though it’s not totally fair to compare the three players at this point, you can see the difference between Webster on the floor and guys like Brewer and Wesley on the floor. Martell does a nice job of being a leader and steadying force. He and Ridnour will probably have a very positive influence on this young group.
- When he gets hot, he’ll be the main recipient of those handoff passes that create jumpers off the screen.
Wayne Ellington – 9 pts, 1 reb, 2 asts, 1 to, 4/10 FG, 1/2 3FG, +4 in 20 minutes - I don’t like Wayne Ellington playing the point. He didn’t do a poor job out there but he dribbles way too much. It’s probably just because he’s not used to playing the point and it can get better with experience. I just wasn’t comfortable with him running the offense.
- I do love when Wayne gets to be a scorer first and foremost. He’s so good at being aggressive and getting quick shots off. We saw a lot of that in the summer league when he was playing well. I think he can be a valuable scorer off the bench in that type of role.
Lazar Hayward – 2 pts, 0/1 FG, 2/2 FT, +1 in 4 minutes - Didn’t see much out of him but his move to the basket that resulted in his free throw attempts was a strong, concise move.
- He rocks a headband nicely.
Kosta Koufos – 0 pts, 5 rebs, 1 to, 0/1 FG, -2 in 11 minutes - Good work on the boards but overall, he’s just not very good.
- Should be in the D-League the entire season.
Nikola Pekovic – 7 pts, 3 rebs, 2 asts, 1 stl, 1 to, 1/1 FG, 5/6 FT, +3 in 12 minutes - His only made shot was a very quick baseline hook shot that reminded me a little of what Pau Gasol does with his left hand so well. Would love to see more shots like that from Pek.
- It’s almost guaranteed when you throw a crosscourt pass, Pekovic will get completely lost defensively. I don’t know if he has trouble tracking the ball or just staying with his man but he’s sort of all over the place and not in the fun Josh Smith way.
- Very slow to the baseline, even in the post. He doesn’t do a great job of cutting off angles when guys make quick moves in the post.
- Establishes position so well on offense. It would be nice to see him hold that same position on defense.
- He’s pretty much going to be strong than everybody on the court at all times.
- I loved how aggressive he was in getting to the basket and then getting to the free throw line. This guy will put up points in any amount of minutes on the floor. He’s a flat-out scorer.
Is it just me or does he look like one of the guys from Superman 2? Can we start calling him “Non”?
Final Thoughts on the Game - The interior defense is still pretty bad. It can get better with experience but I don’t have much confidence in Darko, Love, Beas or Non being able to stop anybody consistently inside.
- Wolves help defense is good but they get lost in rotations easily. Once they get out of proper rotation, it’s a free-for-all.
- The high-low with the Wolves frontcourt is going to be a thing of beauty. All four of the main frontcourt players can be very effective in it.
- The triangle offense always looks smoother when jumpers are falling.