Patience is supposed to be a virtue, but there rarely seems to be room for it in today’s sporting world.
Rookies get drafted and we immediately start wondering how they’re going to get 36 minutes per game to fulfill their destiny of saving the franchise. If they’re a high draft pick, then immediate impact is expected and nothing can be brought along slowly. The problem with this intensity of expectation is it assumes every draft class happens in a vacuum.
There are some years in which a draft is loaded with All-Star potential. There are also some years in which you get unlucky by acquiring a top-7 pick because the talent pool just isn’t there. It’s hard to know it in the moment or even immediately after we start seeing these rookies at the NBA level. Because you “never know when a guy is going to surprise all of his doubters” and become an elite NBA talent.
Derrick Williams is caught up in this very problem right now, whether he’s aware of it or not. The number-two pick in the NBA draft is supposed to be a superstar, no matter what. And so far, D Dub has been underwhelming based on the stigma and expectations that come with the draft pick used on him. He isn’t starting and he isn’t getting consistent minutes. He doesn’t really fit in with where the Wolves are right now. Continue Reading…
Blake Griffin sells cars, Kevin Love sells deodorant (and Tequila, and weird Chinese sneakers)
Kevin Love responded to his omission from the list of All-Star starters with perfect poise. As he told Kent Youngblood of the Strib when asked about losing out in the fan balloting to Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin, “They’re fun to watch, they’re fan favorites. If you don’t like watching those guys play, you don’t like basketball.” (He also, in that same interview, had this to say about his ever-shaggier beard: “David Kahn doesn’t like it, so I’ll keep it.” I totally love that.) And he’s right: Blake Griffin is the guy who jumps over people, cars, Subway sandwiches, who throws down on faces, who is literally changing the idea of dunking before our eyes. Kevin Love is just his weird, ragged self.
Either way, don’t you worry about it. Love is sure to be included on the roster when the coaches make their selections on Thursday. After all, the guy is sixth in the league in PER, just a notch behind Derrick Rose of all people. He’s fourth in the league in scoring and second in rebounds. The man is an All-Star. What’s strange about all of this is that, although Love has now officially become a superstar, a max player and and a darkhorse MVP candidate, his scoring efficiency, rebounding efficiency and rebounding volume are all down from last year. Last year his true shooting percentage was .593; this year it’s at .578. His rebounding rates–he’s grabbing 11.8% of available offensive boards, 26.9% of defensive boards and 19.3% overall–are actually the lowest of his career. What’s going on here?
One of the most impressive and basic things you see Pek do each time down the floor is he runs as deep into the key as he can, seals the defender to his back and calls for the ball. Many times over the last few games, we’ve seen Ricky Rubio recognize this development, dump the ball into Pek and get a great scoring opportunity for Minnesota. It’s what you teach big men to do at a young age and Pek certainly attempts to comply with such teachings.
My thoughts exactly–and I’d even add that Pek also does this when diving to the hoop off a pick-and-roll, even when he doesn’t get the ball. (On one fourth quarter play against the Nets, he set a screen for Rubio, recognized that the Nets had switched and immediately bulled his away past Jordan Farmar to the hoop. Meanwhile, Rubio had kicked the ball to Love outside. Love missed his three but because Pekovic was able to take advantage of the mismatch and put back the miss.) As Zach alluded to, when Pekovic dives to the hoop and seals his defender–be it off of pick and roll or in transition–Rubio delivers him the ball in perfect rhythm. All that is left to do is pivot and lay the ball in; the seal, the pass, the pivot and the shot seem to occur as one fluid motion.
A few people have raised the idea that, because of Rubio’s role in Pek’s resurgence, it behooves Adelman to play the two of them together as much as possible. And this may be so, but I’d offer that crucial differences between how Pek was deployed this year and last play just as large a part. Pekovic’s great skills, as we’ve noted, are instincts without the ball, his soft touch around the rim and his obvious, raw, fleshy physical force. Post moves and ball-handling, not so much. And yet in the triangle, as administered by Kurt Rambis, Pekovic was asked to use just those skills. He generally caught the ball in the block, eight or so feet from the basket, forced to pound the ball and facilitate the offense; not exactly playing to his strengths there. Given a more appropriate context, both Luke Ridnour and Kevin Love have recently been able to deliver Pek the ball in good scoring position.
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Speaking of Ricky Rubio, if you didn’t get the chance to see last night’s game, you missed some real gems. This one is a must-see; the aspect ratio is weird but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. Enjoy:
The amazing thing about this is that the ridiculous around-the-body dribble was clearly both improvised and fully necessitated by the play. Do you see how Farmar bites on the feigned behind-the-back pass? And how that little lean opens up a nice little lane into the corner for Wes to slide into?
Watching the Indiana Pacers punish the Wolves with physicality the other night made me a little jealous. The Pacers want to punish you. They want you to feel their presence every second of the ball game.
The Pacers entered last night’s tilt with a single goal: to beat the living hell out of Our Beloved Puppies.
Here’s what I think was going through the head of each and every single Indy player:
“You want to run the pick and roll? We’ll crush the pick. You want to throw your body around on the defensive glass? We’ll grab at you until we get called. We’ll poke, pry, hustle, and hack and we’ll beat your finesse. We’ll beat you because you’re soft. We’ll beat you because we’re better. We’ll beat you because our bigs are bigger and our wings can play. We’ll beat you because our coach has an edge.”
I don’t know if this model of play is sustainable in a league in which scoring is valued by the rule-makers and ratings-counters. It’s hard to sell something as ugly as woodshed basketball when you’re trying to convince people they need season tickets to see your product. People love to see scoring. They want to see dunks, no-look passes, and 3-pointers raining hellfire on the nightly opponents.
I, myself, love a free wheeling team. Other than having an affinity for watching Kevin Love’s child-bearing hips remove opposing players from rebounding position, seeing Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, and others whip the ball around the court has given me a joy with this team that I haven’t felt since the KG era. Sharing is caring and sharing is also selling you a team for consumption.
But there is still part of me that wants this team to have a bully and a presence inside. I think it’s pretty safe to say that Darko isn’t that guy. Despite David Kahn’s best attempts to sell this roll of the dice to everybody years ago, the production just isn’t there and probably never will be. Continue Reading…
Pau Gasol is tall. Not the gangly, awkward gaited ‘tall’ that defines so many of the league’s big men, but an unreachably high, arching fluidity that confounds even the best defenders. Kevin Love isn’t tall. So our friend Kevin was in for a long night.
Gasol began by pump faking from the perimeter and driving across the lane with a hook shot. Then he caught at the elbow, immediately fading back and firing. When Love pressured him the following possession, Pau spun him through a series of pivots before simply rising and sinking a seven footer. It was a torturous display that continued throughout the quarter. You see, Love’s been labeled a bad defender, but he’s not bad at everything. Though not the quickest of cats, he moves his feet well and shows good instincts. Kevin just isn’t tall, which puts him at a disadvantage in the post and especially when closing out on seven foot Spaniards with stunning accuracy.
Dirk Nowitzki didn’t play against the Wolves Wednesday night. Does it cheapen the road victory?
It’s easy to look at this game flippantly and just assume the Wolves got a road victory in Dallas because the Mavericks were missing their best player. And on many levels, that certainly helps the gameplan and execution of the Wolves on both ends of the court. It changes the game for both sides and gives the Mavericks fewer outs on broken possessions. However, to look at Dirk’s injury and then ignore the Wolves’ bevy of bang-ups is too much oversight and not enough credit for the Wolves’ gritty performance in Dallas.
No J.J. Barea, no Luke Ridnour, no Martell Webster, no Malcom Lee. That’s a lot of guards on one roster to be absent from a game. It left the Wolves with Ricky Rubio, Wayne Ellington and Wes Johnson as the only players familiar with the backcourt.
The kind of strain that can put on such a young backcourt is immeasurable. The Dallas Mavericks’ defensive system isn’t the title-clinching plastic bag that is not to be used as a toy we saw last year, but it’s also not the essence of benevolent resistance you would assume from a unit anchored by Brendan Haywood. Dallas was the third best defense in the NBA heading into this game, and despite missing their franchise’s best player and leader, they still had a very deep and difficult backcourt ready to battle two wing players and a microphone rookie point guard. Continue Reading…
It was good to see our old friends in Los Angeles. Especially since we were looking our best.
The Wolves first nationally televised matchup in ages furthered a few story lines and revised a couple others. Kevin Love is indeed that good, Ricky Rubio is clearly ready for prime time, we aren’t pushovers anymore and maybe Darko isn’t such a bum after all. Of course we already knew this, but it was important that everyone else did too. Whatever degree of relevancy we’d attained through a bevy of highlights this season crept closer towards legitimacy with Friday’s win.
Which also brings expectations. However, they aren’t so lofty that we can’t see the truth. This was a winnable game. But it was also the fourth in five nights and it showed.
Kevin Love’s post game is progressing. He looked surprisingly comfortable with dropsteps and stepthroughs against the Clippers and even wiggled his way up and under early this evening. Though he remains undersized and earthbound, Love is slowly becoming crafty enough to maneuver the block against bigger defenders. Problem is, our young man has seemingly delayed this development and abandoned a reliable midrange game to cement his reputation as a sharpshooter.
You may have heard that there is a famous rookie playing for the Timberwolves. That this rookie is becoming beloved by his hometown fans and a darling of the national press. That this rookie is hugely impacting his new team’s fortunes on the court–on offense, on defense, in wins, in hope and happiness. What is a bit strange, though, is that this rookie is not Derrick Williams, NCAA tournament icon, second pick of the 2011 NBA draft, answer to our wing scoring prayers.
Williams so far shares Beasley’s predilection for the off-the-dribble midrange jumper (a taste I’d love to see him weaned off of). But he has been more dynamic than Beasley as a ball-handler, more willing and able explode into the lane and draw contact. And I’ve also been impressed with his willingness and ability to scuffle for easy baskets on the glass and in transition when the offense is not flowing through him (which it usually isn’t). In Williams, I think we’ve seen the inklings of a fairly uncommon virtue: fearlessness and skill with the ball coupled with patience.
All of this is true, I suppose, but five games or so later, it’s not exactly getting at the heart of the matter. Because the truth is that right now Williams looks fairly lost offensively, unsure of how to adapt his game to his new surroundings.
If you’re not already, now is a good time to familiarize yourselves with our friends over at The Classical.
The Awl’s David Roth, who’s penned a few wonderful pieces for us over the years. Nathaniel Friedman, formerly of Free Darko and patron saint of esoteric hoop musings. Eric Freeman, half of Yahoo!’s Ball Don’t Lie and two-thirds of the internet’s Gossip Girl references. And now, Ben Polk, guest starring with a thoughtful look at our own Ricky Rubio.
Much like Rubio, Ben weaves the wonderfully complex-fans undeniable attraction to both Rubio’s game and personality-into shockingly simple insights:
Great passes come just before, or just after, we expect; or they are delivered from an unconventional spot on the floor, or at an impossible angle, or travel some exotic trajectory (for example, through Dirk Nowitzki’s legs) en route to some unforeseen recipient. They can even, as with Ricky’s ridiculous lob to Anthony Randolph, do all of the above. Incredibly, for all of its exotic disruptions, a great pass, like a magic trick or a joke, usually ends with some dumbly obvious result: a dunk; an uncontested layup; a wide-open corner three. This is the real thrill: a great pass only reveals something that (we feel) should have been plainly before our eyes all along.
Something that may have gone unnoticed last night, many nights actually, is our Wolves improved defense. If any one man receives the lion’s share of credit for this, it should be our new taskmaster, Rick Adelman. However over at the mother ship, our fair leader, Henry Abbott, shines some light on who’s making a difference on the court. Surprisingly enough to some, it’s our offensive wunderkind, Ricky Rubio.
BasketballValue tells us that when Rubio is on the court, the Timberwolves are giving up 95 points per 100 possessions. When he’s off, that number is 104. It’s early yet, and those adjusted plus/minus numbers are particularly vulnerable to small sample sizes. But it looks right now like Rubio is already a difference-maker defending NBA guards, and that his impact on defense rivals all that stuff he’s doing at the other end.
Derrick Rose was every bit himself last night, with 31 points and 11 assists. But injury or not, he should’ve had more. To these eyes, there were at least a half dozen instances in which Rose’s maddening changes of direction were anticipated and stifled by Rubio, who finished with four steals.
There were several concerns about Rubio’s game before he ever donned a Wolves uniform: His shot, his athleticism and even though he was ACB’s 2009 Defensive Player of the Year, many questioned if he could keep up on this level. One by one these myths are slowly being dispelled, if not completely eradicated.