Archives For Player Analysis

Malcolm Lee’s NBA career began pretty humbly. Before the season even began, Lee had torn his meniscus and gone under the knife. He was an injured rookie point guard with three guys ahead of him on the depth chart, one of them a Finals hero, another a boy genius. But things happen strangely in a season as breakneck as this one. Thanks to the Wolves’ plague of injuries, Lee went from wearing a suit, to playing in Sioux Falls (where I guess even the basketball players wear camo), to sitting on the big club’s bench, to logging serious minutes in a matter of weeks.

When he did finally find himself on the court, he looked every bit the overwhelmed rookie. Running an NBA team is hard; Lee was not quite up to the task, not quite prepared for the speed and complexity of the pro game. His ballhandling looked a little shaky; he didn’t see the floor particularly well; in his decision making, he often seemed a step behind the action. When he was on the floor, the Wolves’ execution was noticeably less crisp, their offense noticeably more stagnant. Lee turned the ball over on 20.9% of his possessions, and the Wolves’ offense was 5.9 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the bench.

Luckily for him, Lee was drafted mostly for his defensive skills and in this realm, things were a bit more encouraging. Like most rookie point guards, Lee was a bit lost in the weeds when it came to defending the pick-and-roll–his low point in this regard was getting repeatedly shredded by Jonny Flynn in Houston. But he showed quickness, energy and, most importantly, desire on the defensive end (although as the Wolves careened toward their catastrophic end, these latter two qualities seemed to wane a bit).

Nevertheless, life is tough for a young point guard trying to make his way as a defensive specialist.  Possessing neither the instincts nor the length of, say, Ricky Rubio, Lee will have to become a productive defender the hard way: through many minute and many repetitions. And for a player with so many offensive shortcomings, those minutes may be hard to come by.

By way of reviewing this strange season, we here at A Wolf Among Wolves are going down the Wolves roster, discussing each individual player’s season and their outlook for the future. We’ll start with the man in the suit, Darko Milicic.

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Back in October, while we were all still whiling away the lockout, I had this to say about Darko:

He is well over seven feet tall; he has supple feet; he handles the ball with rare ease. Unfortunately, he also seems intimidated by his own gifts and desperately afraid to succeed. We’ve seen too many dunks turned into layups, too many blown three foot jump hooks, too many looks of resigned relief as he settles down on the bench to believe otherwise. I’ve said it before: playing with Rick Adelman, a coach who loves those skilled, finesse Euro big men, seems like Darko’s last chance.

I’ll stand behind every word of that paragraph. Because despite Darko’s customarily great moments, moments that give you just a brief glimpse at what could be possible–his first half in Los Angeles against the Clippers comes to mind–this very large, very talented man clearly blew that chance. His PER was 9.0, his worst since he was a teenager, and three points below his already modest career average. He posted a true shooting rate of .458, embarrassingly bad for a center. His rebounding rate of 11.4 was also, as has been typical, far below average. As always, he blocked a shot or two (1.9 per 36 minutes); but even this was drop from his career numbers. Furthermore, his shot-blocking stats have always papered over the inconsistency of his defensive effort, a fact that was no less true this season.

The sad truth is that Darko has never been able to summon the consistent effort or focus or confidence necessary to be an effective NBA player, much less live up to his talents. And while Kurt Rambis (perhaps tantalized by the glow of those talents or, more likely, simply responding to a mandate from higher up the chain) persisted in giving Darko floor time, Rick Adelman, to his credit wasn’t having it. Here’s what Adelman told the Strib in March:

He hasn’t done anything to really give you a lot of faith that he’s going to go out and do the job. He’s gotten himself out of shape. He hasn’t been as drive (sic) as you’d like so when a situation like this happens, it’s time for someone to have their opportunity and get back in there.

Even when Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love went down and the Wolves were seriously thin on the front line, Darko Milicic remained suited on the bench’s second row. The team can opt out of his contract a year from now, but I would be surprised if we ever see the man in a Wolves’ uniform again.

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…

Miller moves on

Benjamin Polk —  April 30, 2012 — 2 Comments

I hope that the Wolves horrendous, disheartened season-closing efforts didn’t swear you off the team forever. Moreover, I hope that you checked out the team’s final game in which the woodsman, Brad Miller, dissolved into tears as he checked out of his final NBA game. And if you missed it (even if you didn’t) I hope you took a look at Zach’s moving and eloquent tribute to the man himself on Truehoop. Some choice words:

Miller is a beautiful passer. Watching him operate out of the post and the high-post throughout his 14 years has been a pleasure. He often seemed to know there was an opening to deliver the ball before his teammates even knew they were open. He could throw bounce passes, chest passes, behind-the-back passes, or whatever was necessary to get his teammates a score. The passes were on point, allowing the least amount of movement and execution to get a good shot off. When he integrated himself into Adelman’s system, he was thrown into a world that allowed his game to flourish.

Dude was a baller. I’m sad to see him go.

In case you wanted to know almost everything I think about Kevin Love, here it is all spelled out in today’s Truehoop. This here’s the gist:

We’re all enchanted by the mythology of the high-volume scorer. We love to see players enter that altered state of consciousness in which the game is reduced to the simplicity of an attacker, his defender and the dance the two of them perform together. But Kevin Love — the superstar role player, the sweet-shooting banger — complicates this mythology. A great portion of his charm and effectiveness lies in the contradictions and dissonances in his game, the strange, unprecedented way he plays. Do we really want him to accede to the conventions of superstardom? Do we lose something essential when a measure of that offbeat magic is drained away?

In case you wanted to know what I think about “Brand New Love” by Sebadoh, I really like it.

Check out this video from TrueHoop TV with Henry Abbott and David Thorpe glowing about Kevin Love figuring out there is no spoon.

The problem with Kevin Love’s numbers is he only gets them because he’s on a bad team. If the Wolves were a team capable of making the playoffs, he wouldn’t grab nearly as many rebounds or score nearly as many points. He’s just a product of nobody else on the team being capable of putting up numbers. Sure he’s one of the top rebounders in the league but if they had anybody else on the team that can rebound, he wouldn’t grab a lot.

Remember that nonsense?

One year, 2/3s of a season with a Spaniard, and a Hall of Fame coach later, Kevin Love isn’t just putting up insane numbers; he’s making it hard to discount him as an MVP and All-NBA 1st team candidate.  Continue Reading…

Because he has set the gold standard for point guards over the past decade and because people are enthralled, to an embarrassing degree, with appearances, nearly every white, assist-happy point guard to emerge into the league in recent years has been compared with Steve Nash. (Every time Luke Ridnour did anything last night, Suns’ announcer Eddie Johnson would remind us that coming out of college Ridnour was considered “by everybody,” to be “the next Steve Nash,” which can’t possibly true. Is that true?) But this has been particularly true in the case of Ricky Rubio, who not only seems like Nash’s heir as The League’s Most Visionary Passer but also shares with Nash a certain flouncy-haired, European, soccer-playing panache and a preternatural feel (probably also soccer-related) for the games’ overarching organizing principles.

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These things happen.

We can’t all be Kobe Bryant. In fact, these are the nights we wonder how Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant. He should’ve been in bed like the rest of us; wallowing in self pity and reaching for that second pint of ice cream. Instead, there he was, pirouetting into those patented fadeaways, jumping passing lanes, and whipping assists to teammates. If dislocations, torn ligaments, aching knees, a broken nose and a concussion won’t slow him down, then Kobe has simply run out of ways to amaze us. We applaud his excellence with a yawn and shake of the head.

Kevin Love, on the other hand, didn’t play tonight; presumably bed ridden with reported flu-like symptoms. This doesn’t make him weak, or any less of a competitor, it just makes the Wolves a befuddled mess. They’d gotten by without him before–including much of the previous night–however those are the exceptions, not the rule.

Or did you expect the bench to outscore our starters for the second straight contest? Well, they did (49-36), but Kobe (31) almost did too. There simply weren’t enough shooters to keep the defense honest, there weren’t enough post threats on either side of the ball  to negate the Lakers size advantage, and there never has been a slasher to keep things moving, much less compete with a Hall of Famer.

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It’s a shame to see all that Kevin Love does and wish he would do more. But watching Elton Brand dismantle him in the post probably made some of us do just that. Early in the first quarter, Brand recovered a loose ball at the elbow, sized up Love with a dribble between his legs, put his back on him and pivoted into a fade away 12 footer as fluidly as 33 year old knees can be expected to. Not pretty by any measure, but sound and effective.

Kevin attempted to fire back from the perimeter but continually missed the mark. His shots were flat and rushed. Philadelphia’s defense certainly took much of the credit, but this also bore the look of someone shooting simply because he was expected to. Not to say that he shouldn’t, only that he has more options. Love only made two shots in the quarter; a layup in transition and a hook shot over Brand off a post up. He missed five jumpers.

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