Archives For A roster of Wolves

This is Anthony Randolph with his shirt on backwards.

Not to get into the habit of quoting myself, but this is what I had to say about Anthony Randolph last fall:

It’s hard to tell what will become of this strange dude. But here’s my best guess: with his blank, far-away demeanor, Anthony Randolph falls into that vast category of NBA player with overwhelming talent but a temperament that prevents that talent from ever fully flowering.

Sad to say, but I don’t think that’s changed much over the ensuing season. There was hope, of course, as there was for every Timberwolf, that Ricky Rubio could manage to invigorate Randolph’s career, could teach him to play, as it were, as Steve Nash and Jason Kidd have done for so many of their teammates. There were glimmers, early on, that this might actually be possible: the incredible back door alley-oop that Rubio gifted to Randolph was a sign that, just maybe, AR’s immense talents had found a home.

But, just as it did for Darko Milicic, precedent willed out. Rick Adelman soon grew tired of Randolph’s bipolar effort and his finesse-at-all-costs approach to the game. By midseason it appeared that Adelman would have preferred to forfeit a game than hand Randolph meaningful minutes. But then everybody got hurt. Adelman was forced to choose between Randolph and Milicic as his big man of last resort; Randolph began to log his first serious minutes of the season.

And the results were pretty much what you would have expected them to be. Randolph had his requisite share of fine games–28 points on 11-16 shooting against the Nuggets, 22 and 11 three nights later in Oklahoma City. And he had his share of stinkers–a combined 2-15 from the field in the two games following his OKC triumph. For a man playing the majority of his minutes at center, he still takes in inordinate amount of jumpers (58% of his shots, as it happens) without making enough of them (38.3%) to justify that volume.

He boasts a true shooting rate (.532) and rebound rate (13.2) that are decidedly below average for his position. (A very curious thing: Randolph’s rebounding stats–both his per-minute numbers as well as his rebounding percentage–have steadily declined every year since he entered the league. That really is not good.) His PER (17.6) is rescued only by the sheer volume of shots that he takes which, for a a player of such mediocre efficiency, is no real rescue at all.

And we haven’t even gotten to the worst of it. 82games.com estimates that Randolph’s opponents averaged a PER of 21.8 when they played against him this year, the worst such number on the team. Estimates like that are clearly not an exact science, but they correspond with what we saw. We saw a player with only intermittent focus and energy, particularly on the defensive end. We saw a player reluctant to do the hard yeoman’s labor necessary for good post defense. Randolph was surely one of the players that J.J. Barea had in mind when he assailed his teammates effort, commitment and just basic level of caring. This off-season, the Wolves can either make Randolph a one-year qualifying offer or sign him to a multi-year deal. Don’t expect them to do either.

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.