Archives For Luke Ridnour

Do you remember the Wolves-Lakers game in March from last season?

The Wolves didn’t know it yet, but they were in the early stages of a 15-game losing streak to end the season and clinch the worst record in the NBA. What stood out that game was Wes Johnson went off against Kobe Bryant. He scored early and he scored often, totaling 29 points on 11/21 shooting. Kobe had an off night, partly due to Wes’ defense on him, scoring just 18 points on 7/16 shooting. It was a beacon of hope at the end of a tumultuous season.

Then this season happened and Wes has been so bad shooting the basketball that people (myself included) wonder why he’s even out there. His confidence has seemed shot and he wasn’t attacking the basket like he promised before the season started.  Continue Reading…

That was the weirdest and most fun comeback I’ve experienced in a long time.

There was no reason for the Wolves to win that game last night and maybe that’s why the comeback was so fun. Everything was working against Minnesota for so long in that game, that the comeback never really seemed real to me until the final minute of the game. The Wolves were essentially without three of their starters for most of this contest, even though they logged a combined 99 minutes in the game.

Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic were not good last night. Rubio looked slow and incapable of running the offense. He made a couple of 3-pointers, but he seemed more intent on earning foul calls than getting quality shots in the second half. Nikola Pekovic was playing on a bum ankle, but didn’t seem to be really affected by it. He just couldn’t make shots inside, no matter how many times he grabbed the rebound. And then there was Kevin Love.

Before the game, Love talked about how he’s wiped out physically. During the first few minutes of the game, it looked like something was seriously wrong with him. When Utah jumped out to an early lead, Adelman called a timeout to quell the storm. As Love came to the bench, he was completely red and sucking in as much oxygen as he could possibly manage. He had his head in a towel with Michael Beasley trying to offer words of encouragement. It looked as though he had an illness, and maybe he did if you consider pure exhaustion to be an ailment.

So there the Wolves were; getting their teeth kicked in by an impressive frontcourt. First 20 points of the game for Utah were scored in the paint. They were bullying Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic like it was two Darkos. Passes were being picked off, dribbles were being lost and the easiest of interior shots were complicated endeavors.  Continue Reading…

The Wolves got Kevin Love a couple of easy baskets against the Houston Rockets during their fourth and final meeting of the season by finding ways to get him moving across the lane and into the strong side of the floor. I thought I’d examine a couple of plays by breaking down how they developed and the options it leaves Minnesota on the floor. I figured I’d get my Sebastian Pruiti on for a little bit.  Continue Reading…

Stars in the NBA can be incredible, stat-accumulating displays of effort, skill and whatever that extra special something is that makes them the elite 1% of NBA players. We marvel at their touch, power, speed, agility, and hand-eye coordination throughout a basketball game. We want to buy their jerseys and show everybody which star we back on a nightly basis.

Stars are only as good as the role players around them. Many people feel like it is the duty and mission of NBA stars to make those around them better, and to a certain extent it certainly seems to be a recipe for success. However, the top players in the NBA can’t necessarily give the role players on their team the confidence to make big shots, or the wherewithal to know when to step up to close out a team. Continue Reading…

Monday night was a wonderland.

The ball was flowing like wine in the offense. There was help defense, scrappiness against the best team in the West, and a care for maximizing the possession inspired by our own Spanish sommelier. And you were there, and you were there, and J.J. Barea too.

Last night?

It was a flashback to last season, when we were screaming at the coach to get the bad lineup off the floor and wondering just how many turnovers had to be committed by the Wolves until we walked around Uptown punching every person you saw. What’s that? That was just me? Well then, surely you can empathize with the screaming at the coaching, yes?

I don’t want to absolve the team of any bad play because the effort from last night should be an overwhelming sense of embarrassment for them. It was the reason they’re currently on a 17-game losing streak dating back to last season. It was the reason that everybody used to laugh at the franchise, and feel bad or confused for why we’re all Wolves fans in the first place. However, the third quarter of this game was the exact feeling I felt when Kurt Rambis was on the bench.

Due to unfortunate circumstances, Rick Adelman couldn’t be with the team and I wish his family the best in this time of grieving. Because of that, we had Terry Porter calling the shots from the bench. After a frustrating first half of basketball in which the Wolves hung in the game despite playing horrendous transition defense, horrendous halfcourt defense and turned the ball over like Rick’s petition to the league got the green light, they had a chance to erase all of those bad feelings of fluster from the first half and come out firing back at the Bucks. Instead, the Wolves came out flat. The lead was quickly pushed from 12 to 19 and we all began to feel the equivalent of being a basketball POW.

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Friends, the longest night of the year has come and gone. The lockout is now, miraculously, a bitter memory. Ricky Rubio, Rick Adelman, Derrick Williams, the svelte, newly athletic Kevin Love and all of the rest of your Wolves will soon take the floor for an actual, certified NBA game. So how’s this gonna go? This year’s Wolves are a strange amalgamation of moving parts and oddly shaped puzzle pieces.  Although we’re hopeful that something new and great is about to begin, there are still scads of unanswered questions hanging in the air. Zach, Myles and I have no better idea than the rest of you how this will all play out, but here’s our best shot untangling some of the riddles that will inform the Wolves’ season. All that’s left to do is play basketball. Read on…

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BREAKING NEWS: Sources say, Wolves went 2-0 in the preseason against the Bucks.

So as we prepare for the Preseason Playoff series against the 2-0 Clippers, I thought I would share some notes I made on Wolves players from the two games we just witnessed.
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Two preseason games are in the book and the Wolves finish the 2011 preseason with two wins.

The first game was a whirling dervish of dribble penetration, kickout passes, and 3-pointers blanketing the Target Center like pure virgin snow. We were dazzled by even the simplest of tasks performed by Ricky Rubio. We reveled in the double point guard lineup that would have made the Double Rainbow guy lose his guano. We got to witness Michael Beasley isolations a plenty, Kevin Love doing ridiculous double-double efforts in limited minutes, and Derrick Williams showing us just how deadly and exciting he can be from all over the court.

Game two was a bit different, and probably more rewarding than the first game drubbing the Wolves put on the Bucks. This game was a STRUGGLE. They had to play Luke Ridnour and Malcolm Lee extended minutes at the point, with Ricky and JJ Barea staying home. It looked a lot like the Wolves from yesteryear, trying to manufacture structure and continuity despite being extremely sloppy with the ball.

Wolves were frustrated by the typically physical and opportunistic Milwaukee defense all night. Like a street side Three Card Monte dealer, your money was gone before you even knew you were playing the game. Milwaukee led 84-73 with 2:23 left in the contest. Then Kevin Love reminded everybody why he’s one of the toughest covers in the NBA. He made a hook shot inside. Then he tricked rookie Jon Leuer into fouling him on a 3-pointer. Next possession down, he drew a foul against Drew Gooden for two more free throws.

However with the Bucks up four points and just 20 seconds left in the game, I nearly gave up on the contest. I was very close to changing the channel to see how Rockets-Jazz was shaping up. I’m glad I didn’t miss what happened. Luke Ridnour stole an inbounds pass by Darrington Hobson. He kicked it for Love for a 3-pointer that brought the Wolves within one – 10 points for Love in just 1:43 of action. Ridnour then stole a horrendous inbound decision by Larry Sander, the Wolves found Beasley inside and he was fouled.

He dropped two icicles (frozen daggers) from the free throw line to put the Wolves up one, and then got a defensive stop when Leuer missed a jumper and the Bucks couldn’t convert the offensive rebound.

Even though it was a meaningless preseason win, I loved the end of this game for the Wolves. Sure, they Love and Beas going against a bunch of second-stringers for Milwaukee in the closing moments. But I like that Adelman just let them play and figure it out. Off the second Luke steal, some coaches would call a timeout and set up a play. Instead of doing that, the Wolves didn’t allow Milwaukee to discuss things and set up their defense. The Wolves just had to figure it out on their own and they showed a lot of maturity and tranquility in a moment of chaos and fervor that we would not have seen last year. It was a fun way to end the preseason.
I’ll have player-by-player bullet notes from the two preseason games up this afternoon. It’s so good to have basketball back.

What did you think of the two games?

According to reports (who have sources on sources on sources), the Wolves have signed Jose Juan Barea, formerly of the Dallas Mavericks, to a four-year, $19 million contract.

Not exactly going after DeAndre Jordan, right?

In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what I was hoping for the other day. The Wolves need a defensive, athletic big man in the worst way, and JJ Barea doesn’t bring any of that to the team. But they also need a perimeter player who can create quality shots for not only his teammates but also himself. Barea definitely brings that to this team.

Am I talking myself into JJ Barea even though I worried some team out there would overpay him to be their starting point guard? Absolutely, I am. However, I do think there is a lot of good that comes out of this signing. Let’s discuss a few points.

- The money. Four years and $19 million seems like a lot for a backup guard, right? Maybe it does. But it’s also a pretty manageable contract over the length of the deal. As of right now, the Wolves have roughly $58 million committed to the roster for 16 slots (once Malcolm Lee signs). That means they’ll have to amnesty (most likely) Martell Webster to get to the allowable 15 players under contract.

After this season, let’s assume Webster is gone with the amnesty and Brad Miller is waived because his $5.1 million deal is only guaranteed for $848,000. With Beasley’s free agency, Randolph’s restricted free agency, and Anthony Tolliver’s contract being up, that puts the Wolves around $31 million in committed salary. Factor in the cap holds for Anthony Randolph and the extension to Kevin Love (even if it’s – gulp! – max) and you’re still looking at around $10 million in cap space for the summer of 2012.

The only current deals that run past 2013 are Luke Ridnour, rookie deals, and this Barea contract. Throw in Kevin Love’s extension (please, Kevin) and there is still plenty of flexibility for a team that just gave $5 million per season to the third point guard on the roster.

- The fit. This is the biggest question for the Wolves. How does Barea fit into the plan moving forward if the keys are supposed to be in Rubio’s hands? Let me off this analogy for you.

Some football teams have grind it out, power running backs that are there to bully you for four yards every rushing play and try to beat down the opposing team’s defensive front. They’re big, burly and just powerful enough to feel like you’re tackling a train. It’s a pretty good strategy in this situation to have a speedy, small-statured running back as the backup to this locomotive of yards per carry. It’s a change of pace that can be difficult for the defense to adjust to on random downs, even if they know the bruiser is out of the game at the moment and they get to see the quick running back.

I know that you’re probably thinking that Rubio isn’t a bruiser. They want to push the pace with him and Barea won’t push the pace anywhere beyond that speed. But here’s where the change up is. Adelman’s system doesn’t involve a ton of pick-and-rolls. It’s a lot of movement, backdoor cutting, and high post-centered sets. Teams will be prepared for that and try to be cognizant of all set-ups to fake out the defense. However, when you bring Barea off the bench, you can automatically throw in a few wrinkles of pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pop action to catch the defense on their heels.

Barea is one of the best pick-and-roll ball handlers in the NBA. He was 14th in points per possession scored last season while running the pick-and-roll. He’s not the ideal passer in that situation. In fact, he often takes the shot. But efficient points are something this offense didn’t easily come by last season. He’s also a very good scorer in isolation sets. He ranked 14th there too in PPP, shooting exactly 50% from the field in those situations.

The question becomes, well don’t the Wolves already have a player in Luke Ridnour who is also very good in those situations? Yes, they do. Ridnour ranked 42nd and 41st in pick-and-roll ball handling and isolation situations, respectively. He’s also a much better spot-up shooter, making 49.3% of his spot-up 3-pointers compared to Barea’s 30.3%. Defensively, they were the exact same player, tying 188th in points per possession given up overall.

So is Barea’s moderate increase in efficiency when isolated and in pick-and-rolls that important to justify the signing? I would argue that it is. Barea is an annoying mosquito to the defense when he’s on fire. And while he can be frustrating on nights his effect on the game is minimal, his offensive outbursts can be momentarily suffocating to opposing teams when he’s on top of his game. You can’t really say the same about Luke. Aside from an exciting triple-double watch at the end of last season, Ridnour was always fairly steady but never that momentum changing when he wasn’t turning over the ball at a career-worst rate.

You can experiment playing Barea and Rubio together. I doubt it will even come close to working in the first two seasons, but it gives you options for creating havoc in the halfcourt that this team hasn’t had in a long time. It’s not a perfect signing, but it’s also not like we just signed the Darko version of a point guard to the roster either.

- Kahn point guard jokes. I love a good David Kahn joke as much as the next disgruntled Wolves fan, but the fact of the matter is this team doesn’t have a copious amount of point guards. They had two on the roster before the Barea signing and can use Malcolm Lee as a combo guard of sorts whenever they need to. But ultimately, Lee should be focused on filling the awkwardly vacant shooting guard spot on the floor for the Wolves.

A lot of NBA teams have three point guards on the roster. Yes, David Kahn “drafted three point guards” during his first draft for the franchise (even though Lawson was the Nuggets selection in order to complete the trade), but it’s much more with-the-times to make small forward or SF/PF tweener jokes about Kahn. Look at how many small forwards and 3/4 guys this team has. Forward-tweeners are the new point guards in Minnesota. Update your joke-making Rolodex, please.

Overall, I like the options that the Barea signing gives this team. I know there will be nights in which I will look back at my enthusiasm from this post and probably realize I was just happy the contract wasn’t for $30 million as I’m cursing his name during cold stretches. But there will also be nights in which this looks like a beautiful addition to the team as he and Kevin Love are surgically destroying the opposing team’s halfcourt defense.

This article is only partly about Scott Bakula

The NBA lockout rolls on, bearing with it all of its collected narratives. Incredibly rich men continue to beg to be protected from their poor decisions, both past and future. The union continues to accumulate missteps and ill-chosen statements. (Read this article now.) Childhood heroes–looking bloated and sad in ill-fitting but probably astonishingly expensive jackets, having long lost that joyfully redeeming glow that more than once reduced us to tears, having revealed over and over their crass, blandly corporate, brand-maximizing self-interest–continue to gravely disappoint.

It is inevitable, then, that at times like these our thoughts would turn to Luke Ridnour. (For one thing, he is exactly the kind of middle-tier player that this lockout is largely about.) Ridnour is a perfectly competent, perfectly likeable NBA guy (186th in #NBARank, with a score of 4.51 out of 10: just above average).  It helps him that he shot 44% from three last season and moved the ball in the open floor like an actual point guard (unlike some second-year PG’s we know). It helps him that he had a higher assist rate (29.9) than Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker and many others. It helps him–in my estimation, at least–that he looks like a pale, undernourished JV stowaway and yet moves on the court with the same lilting stride, the same aggressive confidence as all accomplished NBA guards.

In many ways, he didn’t deserve to be trapped on a 17-win team and in an offense that constrained his playmaking abilities. (Consider that last year he had the second-lowest usage rate of any starting NBA point guard, behind only Jason Kidd.) It’s true that Ridnour was prone to periods of strange shot-selection and wayward late-game decisions, but he often seemed, with apologies to Anthony Tolliver, like the only adult on an island of lost boys.

On the other hand, average point guards (who are not teammates of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James) are the stock-in-trade of bad teams. The Wolves’ offense was painfully stagnant for large portions of the season. And while this could be blamed on lots of things–Michael Beasley’s stolidly predictable solo adventures, the team’s barely rudimentary grasp of its own offense and that offense’s latent conservatism–it was largely because their point guards lacked the dynamism to shape the game; too much of the time they simply didn’t make plays.

At some point, the owners and the players will amicably wind up their dance; or they will collapse from exhaustion; or they will just eat each other alive, right there on the dance floor in front of everybody. At that point, Luke Ridnour–now on my side of 30, with no All-Star games in sight–will settle into the role that was probably ordained for him the moment he first stepped into a gym: mentoring a younger, more prodigious, more mercurial player. There are worse things in this world than nurturing something beautiful.