Archives For injuries

rubio smile

It’s frustrating, right?

For two years, we’ve had hope that the misfortunes of this franchise, which have often been used as setups to punch lines about the Wolves, were going to turn around. The Wolves have a roster that includes the number two pick of a recent draft, the best power forward in the NBA, a point guard prodigy that has been competing at a professional level since he was 14, and one of the best coaches of the past 25 years. We’ve had a big man made of granite emerge from the depths of the roster.

But the Wolves have also had a horrible run of injury “luck” in the past calendar year. Ricky Rubio tore his knee, Nikola Pekovic had bone spurs, Kevin Love had a concussion, Love broke his hand, Chase Budinger tore part of his knee, Brandon Roy had the same issues, Andrei Kirilenko got dinged up, Ricky Rubio had a back issue, Kevin broke his hand again, Pek strained his groin, AK hurt his calf, then his quad, Pek strained his abdominal, etc. Let’s not forget the scary stretch for Rick Adelman in which his wife had medical issues, which she hopefully can put far behind her very soon.  Continue Reading…

The Josh Howard Era Begins

Steve McPherson —  November 15, 2012 — 5 Comments
HOWARD

You rang?

What can the Timberwolves expect from Josh Howard?

Well, first of all, the Josh Howard the Wolves signed on Thursday to a one-year contract for the veteran minimum is not the Howard who was an All-Star for the Dallas Mavericks in 2007. And this 32-year-old Howard is not the ACC Player of the Year that the Wolves passed over in the 2003 draft for Ndudi Ebi. But with Timberwolf bodies hitting the floor more often than they do for a Drowning Pool cover band, the hope is only that Howard can fill a need for scoring and experience on a team that went from deep and experienced to considerably thinner and greener.

Howard played last year for the Utah Jazz and had a respectable season. Coming off the bench for most of the 43 games he played, his per 36 minute numbers look mostly good: 13.5 pts, 5.7 rebs, 1.8 asts, 40% from the field, 77% from the line. His 24% shooting from distance is troubling, though, on a team already starved for 3-point shooting. Asked last night before the game about who has the green light from long range, Adelman winced and said, “The way we’re shooting 3s? Luke? Maybe?” So Howard won’t be much help there.

So where could he succeed on offense for a Wolves team that doesn’t have many options? With an overall .8 points per possession last season according to MySynergy Sports, Howard is not an offensive machine, but he did manage to notch 1.23 ppp on cuts, 1.01 in transition, and .95 off screens. The good news is that these types of plays are what the Timberwolves are largely relying upon right now, with Kirilenko doing great work both cutting and finding cutters and Shved pushing the ball in transition.

On the downside, he scored only .67 points per possession on spot-ups, .73 as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls, and .79 on isolations. Although Adelman’s system has managed to hold together in places so far, we saw last night against the Bobcats what happens when it breaks down. In his postgame conference, Adelman admitted, “Down the stretch, it was like, ‘What are we going to run? Who are we going to go to?’” When plays aren’t getting executed crisply, teams often break down into drive-and-kicks, pick-and-rolls, or isos, and in those situations Howard is not efficient.

Some of it comes down to size for him, both on offense and defense. At 6’7”, he’s undersized for the small forward position and although he was once quick, at 32, it’s doubtful whether he can keep up with smaller, quicker guards at the 2. Watching video of him, he seems to have trouble shaking his man on pick-and-rolls, regardless of whether or not he gets the switch. And on defense, he allowed almost a point-per-possession on 61% shooting last year when defending the ball handler in pick-and-rolls.

The Wolves will almost certainly announce this move by saying they’ve signed “former All-Star” Josh Howard, but make no mistake: that’s not who they’re getting. But of course, with so many players out of pocket and the end of the bench coming into play, there was every reason to make some kind of move. If Howard can do what he does best and minimize his weaknesses, there’s reason to hope he can be an effective stopgap solution for now and a help off the bench later in the season.

Miss u guys

Here we are — two peas in a pod.

Both the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves have been survivors through the first two weeks of the NBA season. We both lost our star power forwards for about a month to start the season. They’ve lost Shawn Marion after a hot start; we’ve lost Chase Budinger, JJ Barea, and parts of Brandon Roy after our hot start. This leads to the inquiry by some as to whether or not this basketball team or even Minnesota sports in general are cursed.  Continue Reading…

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Is this an option? —@alongerlook

So, uh, I don’t know how to break this to you but … wait, bad choice of words. You see, sometimes, things happen and … no. This isn’t going well.

Kevin Love broke his hand this morning while working out and will miss 6-8 weeks, meaning 16-21 games, meaning up to a quarter of the season. There: I said it.

Two things come to mind immediately: This is terrible and this isn’t so bad. Let me start with the latter. Although the Wolves have stocked up impressive depth at the point guard position, with at least five players on the roster capable of playing the one-spot (Ridnour, Barea, Rubio, Shved, Lee), the elephant in the room this offseason has been how many players they’ve acquired that would be best at the four but won’t play there because of Love. Kirilenko was most effective in his last season at Utah at the four, and while Adelman maintains that Williams has to play both forward positions, he is—as of right now—still better suited to playing power forward. Add in guys like Amundson and Cunningham and the Wolves have some pretty solid, if not outstanding depth at the position.

Compare this all to last season, when Love going down would have meant a rookie Williams, Tolliver, and Randolph rotating at power forward, with maybe Beasley getting some minutes there. Hardly awe-inspiring. If the tenor of the locker room has genuinely changed, this also might be the best test of that. Last season, this would have absolutely torpedoed the team’s confidence. It’s now time for the much-vaunted veterans the team acquired to step up and show that they can lead.

And while what we’ll see out on the floor to start the season isn’t a lineup you can confidently pencil in for a 7th or 8th seed the way we all were, uh, yesterday, it’s at least conceivable they hold serve, and maybe even learn way to play effectively that the presence of Kevin Love would never have revealed. Love’s production can’t be duplicated, of course. But I think it can also be plugged back in without disrupting things too badly because so much of it comes from rebounding, put backs, and spot-ups. The offensive plan doesn’t revolve around him the same way it does for Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant.

Now let’s go back to the terrible part. This is terrible for this fanbase. Rubio’s injury was already a blow to its newly-earned happiness, and I think we’d almost talked ourselves into thinking we could make it through to Rubio’s return without too much further disappointment and then this happens. There’s an unmistakable “Why can’t we have nice things?” vibe to this whole thing, and it’s a mantle that’s discomfitingly comfortable for a battered fanbase.

And no one must have felt as bad about this as Love did when it happened. For a guy who’s put a lot out there about the team competing and not giving up, who’s put his name on the line by calling out the management in the offseason, this must be a terrible blow to his sense of himself as a player and leader. Now he has to watch them come together—or not—while he’s on the bench.

I’m going to resist the urge to come to any grand conclusions right now. This is still unfolding and I’m still processing the ramifications. Everyone’s been saying that when the Timberwolves take floor this season, it will be a whole new team. That statement will be even more true now, and not in a good way.

I think it’s safe to say the nail in the playoff coffin has been inserted.

After the loss to Boston on Friday, the Wolves had a favorable stretch of games in which they could presumably sweep them and end up climbing above .500 and right into the Battle Royale playoff fight. After the first two games of this stretch, the Wolves have dropped both while trying to shuffle through injuries and playing atrocious defense all around. Wolves are now five games under .500 and free falling into a lottery position they don’t get.

I think to expect playoffs as an actual possibility, even if it’s mathematically possible, is just irrational hope wrapped in a warm blanket of denial. Luke Ridnour is probably gone for a long time after that ankle injury tonight. Even if it’s just three or four games (by some miracle), there are only 11 games left in this season. Pek came back tonight and gave good minutes, but they were probably able to afford his absence a lot more than Luke’s.

Maybe JJ Barea can come back on Wednesday and play some good basketball. Maybe Pekovic’s ankle will still be okay (he told Adelman after the game that only his conditioning gave him problems) and he can build on his minutes while still scoring efficiently. Maybe Malcolm Lee will grow with each outing and give the Wolves some really solid minutes at the point.

Even then the Wolves have 4.5 games to make up with just 11 to play. The math looks funny to me.  Continue Reading…

The Portland Trail Blazers have experienced a remarkably tumultuous season so far. They began the year setting fire to the league. They were humming on offense, beating really good teams, doing a fair impression of a serious contender. Then everything came apart. By the trade deadline, the coach had been fired and half the team had been traded away.  This looked for all the world like a team entering shutdown mode, playing for cap room and lottery positioning.

Except, strangely, they haven’t really been much worse than they were before their grand implosion. Nevertheless, I had somehow conceived of this as a winnable game for the Wolves, as if a formerly good team playing out the string was somehow more vulnerable than a formerly good team playing without four of their top six players. But I was wrong about that.

Continue Reading…

Lost in the the euphoria over Kevin Love’s 31-31 game and the Wolves’ recent two-game winning streak, plus the carnival of horrors that preceded all of this has been the fact that the Wolves have been fairly well carved up by injuries. Because of mostly solid work by Sebastian Telfair, Luke Ridnour and Wesley Johnson, the absence of folks like Jonny Flynn and Martell Webster hasn’t had had an obvious impact. (Although, two things: first, this team is 30th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in defensive efficiency so it’s not like things have been humming along without a hitch. Second, I suspect we’ll only understand the full importance of Webster’s loss after he returns.) But the real impact of these injuries hasn’t been on the starting lineup; its been a huge loss of depth on the bench.

Deep Tracks

To wit: earlier in the year I speculated about this hypothetical second unit: Ridnour, Johnson, Corey Brewer, Anthony Tolliver and Nikola Pekovic. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? But because of the aforementioned injuries, plus bumps suffered by Ridnour, Pekovic and Wayne Ellington, the Wolves sported this illustrious fivesome in the first half of Sunday’s game in Atlanta: Brewer and Tolliver with Lazar Hayward, Sundiata Gaines and Kosta Koufos. Now, that would be a pretty wicked D-League starting five but it seemed like maybe not a coincidence that the Hawks managed a 21-8 run in the first half, while the Wolves’ starters rested.

The Wolves played energetic, competitive basketball for the rest of the game–they shot 47.4% and played committed defense–but  never really recovered from that first half swoon. And there’s a pretty solid reason why. A short while back I commented that when things were going well, the Wolves offense had a certain wild charm. But ok, to be honest, this wildness–a tendency to mishandle the ball, to make passes to nowhere–is mostly not charming at all. Mostly its just really aggravating. Telfair, Love and Michael Beasley had 15 turnovers between them and this carelessness repeatedly prevented the Wolves from making inroads into the Hawks’ lead.

Dark Night of the Soul

You know what else prevented that? The fact that Darko Milicic is still totally lost in the wilderness. It seems hardly possible that a 25-year-old athlete in perfect health could actually look haggard, but Darko does. His dreadful lack of confidence, his “disgust” with himself (his words), is written all over his wan face and embodied in his slumped shoulders and timid play. Darko’s line on Sunday is pretty bleak: 1-7 shooting for two points; two boards; three blocks; two assists; two turnovers.

Even the lone bright spot–those three blocks–belie the reality of the situation. Darko couldn’t stay with Al Horford who scored the majority of his 28 points (on 9-14 from the field, 10-10 from the line) against the big Serb. Darko couldn’t keep Horford away from the hoop when he faced the basket; he couldn’t recover quickly enough on pick-and-rolls to deter easy layups; he couldn’t keep Horford off of the glass or challenge Horford’s jumper.  Horford is the shorter guy by at least four inches but he got his shot pretty much whenever he wanted.

Even so, as those stats show, Darko’s real damage was on the offensive end. The profile for this 1-7 nightmare is pretty familiar. Darko performs epic low-post contortions in the service of terrible, awkward shots–an off-balance twelve-foot skyhook and a ginger baseline reverse (one bricked, the other rejected) are pretty typical–and then blows the easy looks he does get.

But this isn’t even the worst of it. Because the center is generally the fulcrum of the triangle, the offense tends to flow through Darko when he is on the floor. Entering the ball into the post is meant to ignite a flurry of passes and cuts, to set the offense in motion. But Darko’s play has been so labored and so indecisive that the Wolves’ offense seems to stagnate whenever he touches the ball, those two assists notwithstanding.

Kurt Rambis appears to recognize this. So in the third quarter he began running the offense through Kevin Love (who finished with only 22 points and 17 boards–weak) on the weakside post, leaving Darko to languish  out of the play. Finally, with 2:18 remaining in the third quarter he replaced Darko entirely, bringing in Anthony Tolliver and moving Love over to center, as he did against the Knicks on Friday. Love is certainly no natural “5”, but the offense suddenly began to hum and the defensive energy increased palpably. The Wolves put together their best stretch of play, outscoring the Hawks 39-30 the rest of the way.

Things could get better for Darko Milicic. His shot could start falling. And this could energize the rest of his game, give him the heart to pursue the ball and defend with some guts. But when, in his NBA career, has this ever happened? We have to begin wondering, 11 games into his four year deal, if these disastrous crises of confidence are not a definitive element of Darko’s on-court self.