Archives For Luke Ridnour

big-beautiful-buckOn Friday night, I made passing reference both to the Wolves’ anemic third quarter and to J.J. Barea’s tendency toward overdribbling and playing too fast. Barea tends to play a more even-keeled game when the offense is functioning well, as it was in the first half on Friday; he played within the context of the offense, scored 11 points on seven shots and dropped five dimes. But when the Wolves bog down offensively, Barea tends toward those bad habits. A perfect case in point is that third quarter, in which the Wolves scored 11 points on 19% shooting, committed five turnovers and had four of their shots blocked. It was pretty ugly and Barea was at the center of the ugliness. Two plays illustrate my point.

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All of the talk and panic about this team last night seemed to be two-fold:

1) The team is 0-2 since Kevin Love surprised us with an early comeback. Is he hurting their chances of winning?

2) Derrick Williams has had two straight DNP-CDs. HIS CAREER IS OVER.

I feel like this is easily explained, or at least it should be pretty easy. In regards to Love, I really think fantasy basketball and basketball video games have skewed how we judge performance on the court. Numbers and stats mean the world and they exist in a vacuum. Kevin Love had 34 and 14 in his first game back. He had 24 and 13 in the loss to the Blazers last night. Those are good stat lines for any player, so he must have had an enormous impact on the game. And if he didn’t, why can’t he make this team much better when he comes back.  Continue Reading…

The Wolves’ 3-point shooting last season was pretty atrocious.

Despite being 23rd in the NBA in 3-point percentage, the Wolves just kept chucking up shots from long range. They finished sixth in the NBA in attempts from downtown, even when you adjust for pace. Perhaps one of the reasons the Wolves kept shooting them was because of a confidence built up the previous season.

In the 2010-11 debaclypse season, the Wolves were deadeye shooters as a team. They shot 37.6% from 3-point range, much better than the 33.2% they managed in the lockout season. They had the fifth best percentage off the 10th most attempts. They liked to fire from deep and they were good at it. In fact, it was really the only thing they were good at.  Continue Reading…

Metta World Peace. Kevin Martin. Nicolas Batum. Russell Westbrook. Steve Nash. Eric Bledsoe. Some of these guys are scampering point guards, some are long, explosive scorers, some are bruising forwards.  What do these people have in common? The answer is they were all guarded by the 6’2″, 175-lb Luke Ridnour this past season. If that seems a little strange, well that’s just a testament to how strange and experimental the Wolves’ 2012 season was.

Many of these matchups were the result of Rick Adelman’s backcourt pairing of Ridnour with fellow point guard Ricky Rubio. The reasoning behind playing this unconventional lineup (apart from the always hilarious David-Kahn-loves-point-guards punch line) is actually pretty easy to understand. First, Adelman knew that without Ridnour his starting lineup would be hurting both for scoring and, outside of Rubio, proficient ballhandling. Second, and more basically; Adelman simply wanted his best players on the floor together as much as possible. (Incidentally, both of these needs were exacerbated by Adelman’s need to give Wesley Johnson 20 minutes a game.)

Oddly enough, it worked out pretty well for the Wolves. The Wolves were +22 overall with Rubio and Ridnour playing together. The presence of Ridnour’s offensive skills gave Rubio a perimeter safety valve. And Ridnour attacked his impossible defensive task with enough energy and guts to prevent the Wolves from being hurt to badly for their lack of backcourt size.

One of the mysteries of Ridnour’s career is that his perimeter shooting has been inconsistent, not from game to game but from season to season. Scattered throughout his career, Ridnour has three times shot better than 37% from three and twice shot below 30%. He finished the ’10-’11 season as the league’s fourth-best three-point shooters, at 44%, and then regressed to 32.2% this year. (More Ridnour-ian oddities: because of his tiny frame and lack of real explosiveness, Ridnour has typically been poor finisher; for most of his career he was a sub-50% shooter at the rim. This year, though he suddenly hit 65.5% of his shots at the rim, significantly above the league average. I’m at a loss to explain this.) So its a little bit difficult to predict just what kind of shooting performance we’ll get from Ridnour in the future. While its probably not reasonable to expect another season of 40% three-point shooting, I think we can certainly hope that in a less compressed, injury-plagued year, he’ll again be a solidly above-average shooter.

So Luke Ridnour is not a perfect player. He’s too small to be a great defender. His shot selection can be a little shaky. He can’t claim to have Ricky Rubio’s preternatural knack for playmaking. Nevertheless, Ridnour’s contribution to the team this past year can’t be overestimated. Early in the year, he provided much needed backcourt stability, easing Rubio’s transition to the NBA and running the point for the second unit as J.J. Barea battled through his numerous injuries. And later on, after Rubio went down, Ridnour became the team’s primary playmaker, the only player capable of making sure that the Wolves’ offense ran coherently. (As it happens, the Wolves’ offense was more efficient with Ridnour on the floor than with Rubio).

Only after Ridnour went down with his own season-ending injury and the team entered the final stages of its downward spiral did we understand the full extent of his contributions: his ability to coordinate an offense; his competitiveness; his simple professionalism. Luke Ridnour’s a nice guy to have around.

You know what’s kind of crazy?

Kevin Love finished this game with 40 points and 19 rebounds last night, including 14 in the fourth quarter to close out the worst team in the NBA, and it’s probably his third best game of the week. The level of production and play Love is throwing at our eyeballs and his opponents’ defensive schemes are ridiculous right now. I like to fancy myself as a pretty good NBA 2K12 player. It’s really hard to put those numbers up in the video game, let alone with actual athletic giants flying around your personal space.

I’m having a hard time really getting excited about this win because they beat the worst team in the NBA. However, without Rubio, Pekovic, Barea and Beasley, it’s still cool to see Kevin Love take over a contest and just decide to win it. He didn’t win it on his own either. Anthony Tolliver had another phenomenal effort off the bench with a double-double (11 and 11). Luke Ridnour was slinging passes all over the court and finished with 15 points and 14 assists. The Wolves dominated the boards in a game that saw plenty of misses (40.7% FG for Minnesota, 39.7% for Charlotte).

Watching the Bobcats, I felt sort of bad for them. They do have talent in role player form. Bismack Biyombo is awkward and yet will be a really good rebounder and defender in this league. Kemba Walker might end up being a really good third guard on a team someday. Corey Maggette can still score. DJ White and Gerald Henderson are guys every team in the NBA would love have coming off their bench.

But they don’t have any top talent right now. They don’t have anybody who can take over a game for a six-minute stretch to give the team a little breathing room. They don’t have Kevin Love.  Continue Reading…

I’m not the biggest video game nerd in the world, but I used to go nuts over playing Mega Man. There was something so captivating about a guy in a little blue, pixelated suit, trying to shoot Kix cereal at bad guys coming at you from right to left.

Maybe I was just a huge Running Man fan as a child because there was the Light Bright guy trying to saw the Terminator in half or something. I’m not quite sure what the allure was. But I had a really fun time jumping and shooting at attackers from all angles. When they had a sequel of Mega Man in which you could earn powers and become a guy wielding wind or fire or earth or the Temptations, it was hard for me to imagine having more fun playing a video game as a kid. They had taken such a simple concept and added options for attack.

Mega Man had so many weapons now and it was fun to experiment with them on different levels and see which ones got you through the battles on any given pixelated plane. It’s a lot like watching Kevin Love the last two seasons. Kevin Love is the Mega Man of the NBA. He’s unassuming from the outsider’s perspective. You wouldn’t expect the evolution of a stretch-4 to be looking at your right in the face when you see him. Continue Reading…

Everybody loves March Madness and you can hardly blame them. The frantic, frayed late-game possessions; the mad, ten-man scrambles for rebounds and loose balls; the blood-thinning, oxygen starved comebacks; kids holding hands; grown men shedding tears: this stuff is truly compelling. But I will tell you now that I’m perfectly content sticking with the NBA, even as the tournament rages on.

For one thing, the players are better at basketball and I really appreciate that. But for another, even your average NBA game carries a certain narrative richness, a structural depth that the college game really can’t match. Matchups evolve over the long course of the game. Players surge and regress. Momentum wavers and shifts many times over.

Take, for example, this game here between the Wolves and the Jazz. There were at least three moments in the game when it seemed that the Wolves were poised to overtake Utah and make a significant run. And there were at least as many when it seemed that the Jazz had the Wolves buried. Wes Johnson went cold and then got hot. Nik Pekovic smashed, disappeared and then returned to smash again. The Wolves went through phases worthy, in their brevity and extremity, of a hormone-addled 15-year-old boy. First they couldn’t seem to cross half-court; then they couldn’t miss a shot; then they couldn’t manage an entry pass, despite many tries at it. Effing madness.

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The NBA trade deadline has come and gone and the Wolves roster looks exactly the same as it did when we woke up this morning. The juiciest rumor had been a proposed three-team deal between the Lakers, Blazers and Wolves that would have sent Michael Beasley to L.A., Luke Ridnour to Portland (along with Steve Blake and LA’s first-rounder) and netted Jamal Crawford for the Wolves. But when we saw that the Lakers had used their picks to score Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill, we had to know that the deal had to be dead.

Now, there’s no question that it might have been nice to see the Wolves improve the roster or net a pick by moving Beasley rather than allowing him to become a restricted free-agent this summer. And it would also have been nice to land Crawford, upgrading their offensive production at the two-guard. But to my mind, the price of that deal was a little high. First of all, while Beasley alone for Crawford might not have a been an exactly equal deal for Portland, Beasley and Ridnour together seems a bit much. Ridnour has actually been a more efficient, though considerably lower-volume, scorer than Crawford over the past three seasons.  He’s also a much better passer and defender, even when giving up multiple inches at the two.

Given that the Wolves claim to be pursuing a playoff spot this season, a starting backcourt of J.J. Barea and Jamal Crawford seems to be conspicuously lacking in an actual playmaker, someone who can consistently serve the ball to Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. And even if it was a Crawford/Rubio pairing the Wolves were ultimately after, Crawford has an opt-out clause in his contract for next season. In other words, the Wolves would have been trading their only healthy true point guard for a high-volume gunner who wasn’t even guaranteed to be around past July.  Seems like they lucked out to me.

On Monday, we wondered aloud about the consequences of losing Ricky Rubio for the season. We suggested that Rubio’s defensive skills–his “ability to create turnovers, disrupt the pick-and-roll game and conjure frenzied defensive energy”–might be even more keenly missed than his mystic passing. And, gracious, did that ever prove to be the case against the Suns.

Since the great Garnett-Stoudemire clashes of the mid-aughts, the Suns have had a knack for drawing the Wolves’ defense into a state of shambolic chaos. In those days, the looming nightmare was the choice between stopping Stoudemire’s rim assaults and staying home on Phoenix’s shooters. On Monday night, Suns’ big men Robin Lopez, Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris attempted only 19 shots between the three of them. But this had less to do with any concerted effort on the Wolves’ part and more to do with the fact that their perimeter defense was so unmercifully rotten that the Suns’ guards had little reason to ever dump the ball inside.

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I kept waiting for Jonny Flynn to check in.

I’m not even trying to be a smartass here. That game felt a lot like last season and it was a malaise over the team that I just didn’t want any part of anymore. Maybe that’s why it’s taken a day for me to sit down and write this recap. If I don’t write it, if we don’t talk about it, if we pretend everything is just fine then maybe it will go back to how it used to be. But that’s not the reality. The reality is injuries happen and everybody has to deal with it.

To expect the Wolves to lose Ricky Rubio Friday night and then come into the next day’s game without a practice and without a shoot around and still come out with fire seems a little unfair. The Wolves had very little time to process the news as a team. There were certain members of the team that probably assumed the worst Friday night. There were guys that didn’t know the news until some time on Saturday. The “grieving process” was truncated much like this season.

Even still, the Wolves had a home game against the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday night and there was no reason to lose that game. We all had flashbacks to last season. Kevin Love put up insane numbers once again. His 31 points and 16 rebounds happened almost effortlessly. He tipped in missed shots. He faced up and made jumpers. He got to the free throw line and made nine of those 10 attempts. It was a pretty easy scoring night as he put guys like Lance Thomas and Gustavo Ayon in a hurt locker for much of the game.

Speaking of effortless, the Wolves’ defense seemed to be completely uninspired. They gave up 44 points in the paint to a Hornets team that employs Chris Kaman as the best scoring option. Only eight of his team-high 20 points came inside. The rest were on jumpers from all over the baseline. Marco Belinelli, Gustavo Ayon, and Lance Thomas helped score inside. The Wolves watched the ball move and then reacted. There was little anticipation. Positioning was off-kilter.

Everything was a fog of excrement.

Offensively, it was probably worse. The team turned the ball over 17 times and gave up 25 points off of those turnovers. In the previous 10 games with Ricky, they were averaging 13 turnovers per game and only 15 points off of them. Luke seemed tentative setting guys up early and it set the tone for how the rest of the game finished. Guys didn’t move the ball like they had been doing. Movement without the ball was minimal.

As Inspectah Deck once said, “Life without Ricky shouldn’t be so tough.”

I’m not so sure that the Wolves were running a lot of plays under Ricky. It was basically calling out a pick-and-roll half the time and seeing where his magic carpet ride of passing would take them. Saturday night, that carpet was stuck in neutral and incapable of going anywhere. Broken plays turned into facepalms. Executed sets became bailouts for a horrible Hornets team. The Wolves got out to a decent start offensively because Love and Pekovic were dominating the interior. Once the Hornets closed off offensive rebounding areas, the Wolves had no answer.

Malcolm Lee made his debut and he wasn’t terrible. His defense, especially the help defense, was vaguely energizing. He blocked a couple of shots, got a steal and sealed off driving lanes by Greivis Vasquez. Offensively, he looked like a deer in headlights trying to set the team up. He picked up his dribble early to move the ball to the next station. He had one nice drive to the basket that he ended up missing a layup to finish. Other than that, there wasn’t a lot of leadership with him on the floor.

Wayne Ellington had the cobwebs dusted off of him and he scored 12 points off the bench. He was one of the few guys that didn’t hesitate when he got the ball. He just caught it and fired, like you’d expect an NBA shooter to do. It made me think that the Wolves are going to need more of this and more of Beasley initiating offense off the bench if they want to survive the next 24 games.

The Wolves shot poorly (5/23 from 3-point range), only Luke moved the ball (mostly in the fourth), and you rarely saw this team get out in transition to get easy scoring chances.

Maybe this game was a wakeup call for Minnesota. Ricky is gone, this is the worst it can probably get, and the team needs to rally for the rest of the season. Or maybe this is the norm of what we’re going to see – a lot of flashbacks from last season in real time right now. Personally, I’d be shocked if Adelman let this team feel sorry for itself for very long. This isn’t Kurt Rambis sauntering through his workday. This is one of the better NBA coaches of the last 25 years figuring out adjustments for this team.

Here’s hoping we don’t look down the bench anymore out of habit and wonder when Jonny Flynn will get minutes.