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For two-plus years, we talked about the expectations of Derrick Williams. The NUMBER TWO PICK IN THE DRAFT had to be a star because that’s what you are when you’re picked so highly in a draft. It doesn’t matter if the draft is good or the draft is bad. It doesn’t matter if you’re supposed to be a project or you’re supposed to contribute right away. It doesn’t matter if the team has a spot in the rotation for you now or if it is going to make you wait a short while to get in there and prove you belong.

We like that number of where he was picked because it’s part of the NBA lottery. And throw the word lottery into something and we’ll start expecting to get rich quick. That’s just the culture, especially in sports.

What are the expectations when you’re traded for that NUMBER TWO PICK IN THE DRAFT though?  Continue Reading…

How should a superstar be? Should he be a grudge-carrying sociopath like Michael Jordan? A mercurial loner, a la Kareem? An ebulliant cheerleader like Magic? Or a Duncan-esque Buddha? Should he be a high-volume one-on-one scorer or a group-first facilitator? We tend to talk as if there is one way to be great in the NBA, a set template that every elite player must follow. We measure success in championships and then retrofit our champions such that they suddenly, upon winning, fit that very template. Dirk, for instance, miraculously transformed himself overnight from a beta-male into lionhearted champ, without changing an ounce of his game or personality. Kobe went from bratty wunderkind to Jordan’s heir to petulant ball-hog and back to Jordan’s heir again, all in one career. For some reason, we seem more comfortable molding superstars–and all players, really–into templates that are familiar-unto-cliche than in appreciating the overflows of wild identity that make them so fascinating to begin with.

So: Kevin Love. When the collective mind attempts to process the idea of Love as a superstar, said mind melts. Love crashes the computer. First of all, as Ricky Rubio, in his perfectly plainspoken way, put it last month, Love is not a leader. He is a little sulky on the court and tends to retreat into his own bad mood when things go wrong. He’s not a primary ball-handler and so doesn’t drive the offense in the way that the league’s other elite players do. He leads the Wolves’ simply through the force of his production, but he doesn’t project gravitas like LeBron and Durant and Chris Paul. What’s more, he doesn’t really look like an elite player (and I don’t mean what you think I mean). Love is among the first wave of superstars to fully exploit the margins of the most high efficiency spots on the floor: the three-point line; the paint; the free-throw line. And while Kevin Durant gets a similarly high yield from those spots, Durant comes by that yield in more recognizably superstar-ish ways (if a 6’10″ human bird with an impeccable handle could ever be called recognizable). He slashes to the hoop out of isolations; he takes leaning, Jordan-esque, off-the-bounce jumpers.

Continue Reading…

Just Returns

William Bohl —  June 2, 2014 — 14 Comments

2013 NBA Draft Lottery

This weekend, Kevin Love took a well-publicized trip to Boston, feeding the frenzy surrounding the bizarre courtship that’s underway for him, a player under contract for the 2014-15 season. Some may view the jaunt to Beantown as little more than a 25-year-old multimillionaire kicking back in one of America’s finest cities; the more cynical among us look at it as a calculated maneuver to inform the Wolves front office (and, perhaps, the fan base) that he’s already begun to move on. Continue Reading…

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We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

As a human, Corey Brewer is about as steady as they come: good-natured, jovial, with a broad smile and an easy manner, quick (but not overeager) to crack jokes in the locker room, nearly always willing to talk. It’s hard not to be won over by him. After his 51-point outburst against the Rockets late in the season, he said, “I felt like I was in high school again! Everything was going in, but I was just playing, I wasn’t even thinking about it until somebody was like, ‘Yo, you got 44. You can get 50 tonight.’ I was like yeah okay whatever. I actually got 50!”

But on the court — and that 51-point game folds neatly into this point as well — calling Brewer mercurial does a disservice to mercury. If a player like Kevin Love is a noble gas — destined for a double-double nearly every night, more or less immune to the vicissitudes of individual matchups — then Corey Brewer is francium, an element whose most stable isotope has a half-life of 22 minutes. Continue Reading…

Kevin Martin2

We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2012-13 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

Kevin Martin came to the Timberwolves via a July 11th sign-and-trade deal, inking a 4 year, $27.75 million contract, and immediately became the best shooting guard in Minnesota history. For a team that ranked dead last in the NBA in perimeter shooting in 2013-14 and in the bottom half of the league in free throw percentage, K-Mart was a sight for sore eyes. Employing unconventional (though effective) shot mechanics, the tenth-year man from Western Carolina brought a 38.5% career mark from outside the arc to Minneapolis. Between Martin, a healthy Kevin Love and a healthy Chase Budinger, the Timberwolves had every reason to hope their offensive woes would be solved, at least partially, by the sheer force of success from three-point land. Observers also wondered if his ability to get to the foul line (where he converts 86.9% of the time, 24th-best in NBA history) would return after a year of being utilized primarily as a spot-up shooter in Oklahoma City.

The results were somewhat mixed. Statistically, Martin turned in a season on par with his per-36 minute career averages. He scored 21.5 points, grabbed 3.4 rebounds and dished out 2.0 assists on 43/39/89 shooting splits. Over his decade in the league, those numbers are 20.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 44/39/87 splits. On the surface, he seemed like the same guy he’s always been, but once you look a little closer, you begin to see that wasn’t exactly the case.

Continue Reading…

If standing next to Zach Galifianakis is the Michael Jordan of this picture, the Mickey Mouse shirt is the Scottie Pippen

If standing next to Zach Galifianakis is the Michael Jordan of this picture, the Mickey Mouse shirt is the Scottie Pippen

We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

Here’s something I didn’t expect to see when I pulled up Nikola Pekovic’s page on Basketball Reference: in 2013-14, he improved his points-per-36-minutes, his PER, his true shooting percentage and his field goal percentage, and held just about every other category steady. Somehow I thought he had been a little worse this year than last. Maybe it only seems weird because of the price tag that comes along with those numbers. In 2012-13 he did it all for $4.8 million; in 2013-14 he made $12.1 million. Continue Reading…

Let’s get some things out of the way. We all know that the Wolves’ bench was terrible this season. There are a number of reasons for this: J.J. Barea running the show; injuries to Chase Budinger, Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf; the lack of second-unit wing scorers and three-point shooters. And while all of these things forced him into a more prominent offensive role than one might deem advisable, none of these things are specifically Dante Cunningham’s fault. He is an undersized four with incredible hops, a great motor and an occasionally accurate midrange jumper. It’s unwise to expect much more than that.

But still, in the season’s first three months, when the Wolves lost all of those close games and their bench was particularly awful and they could have really used some production from anybody at all, Dante Cunningham was terrible. In the first 31 games of the season, he hit just 42.9% of his 177 field goals, the great majority of them wide open jumpers and none of them threes. In that time he attempted just 10 free throws. That’s low efficiency offense right there.

Even his vaunted defensive energy was inconsistent this season. When Pekovic and Turiaf were hurt and before Gorgui Dieng discovered himself, the Wolves really needed Cunningham in defensive freakout mode. Much of the time, it didn’t happen.

And all of this before Cunningham allegedly did some terrible things:

The woman, who is not named in the complaint, told police he kicked down a locked bedroom door, grabbed her around the neck and slammed her against the wall, choking her for 15 to 20 seconds during which she could not breathe.

“Victim’s eyes were watering and she felt like she was being strangled to death,” the complaint alleges.

Nice. Just a few days after being released from jail, Cunningham violated his restraining order by allegedly texting “terroristic threats” (that is to say, a threat to “directly or indirectly, to commit any crime of violence with the purpose to terrorize another”) to that same woman. I say “allegedly” there, but police actually confiscated his phone and reviewed the offending messages. There’s not a whole lot of reason to doubt the charge. It’s also worth noting that Cunningham has made no effort to deny any of it.

At the very least, Cunningham is guilty of some egregiously poor decision-making–not to mention being a massive, aggro jerk–of a kind that makes discussing his value to the Wolves’ bench seem crass and irrelevant. I’m sorry I had to do that. The reality is likely much, much worse. Given the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the Wolves had no option but to play Cunningham his usual minutes over the final games of the season, blithe and gross though it may have seemed. But now Cunningham is a free agent; the Wolves have the luxury of letting him fade away without a sound.

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We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2012-13 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

“When J.J. Barea gets that steely glint in his eye, the possession is only ending one of two ways, and neither are not shooting. You saw that glint most often this past season somewhere around the mid-third quarter, at the point where the Wolves had let the lead slip enough that it was in jeopardy, or else had fought back enough that it was within striking distance. As Barea received the ball on the inbounds pass, someone on our row of the media section would likely mutter, “It’s going up.” Or maybe as Barea brought the ball across the half-court and held one hand up in a fist, someone would joke, “That’s the number of passes that are going to happen on this play.””

Recognize that? It was Steve McPherson’s roster review of J.J. Barea in May of 2013. Tempted as I was to make the backup point guard’s review nothing but the above quote, plus several pictures of him arguing with officials and links to unflattering videos such as this one, I ultimately decided any evaluation of Barea’s season ought to be more nuanced than that. Continue Reading…

Businger

We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

Who is Chase Budinger? And is it more troubling if we don’t know the answer to that question, or if we do? We are talking, after all, about a player who was brought over from Houston as a key piece of the puzzle to fix the Wolves’ offensive woes, a guy who was supposed to be a seasoned vet of former head coach Rick Adelman’s system. And yet in two seasons on the Wolves, Budinger has played in only 64 games and for just 1,259 minutes. By contrast, Terrence Jones — who was selected by Houston with the 18th pick acquired from Minnesota for Budinger — has played 2,354 minutes in that same stretch. J.J. Barea played 1,471 minutes this season alone. So have we seen enough to know? Or is the fact that we’ve seen so little the more telling thing? Continue Reading…

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports dropped one of his patented “bombs“, which is usually fun, because he (often unexpectedly) reports a big piece of league news. But in this instance, for Timberwolves fans, the Woj-bomb was more of a vague reference to a landmine somewhere along Flip Saunders’ path, which wasn’t much fun to wake up to. Continue Reading…