You expend serious effort in an ultimately futile double-digit comeback, one punctuated by one of the greatest scorers ever breaking your heart on possession after possession. You get on an airplane that night, fly to Houston, Texas and then play in yet another NBA basketball game 24-hours later. Just thinking about this makes me want to ice my knees and take a nap. And yet the Wolves did this very thing and managed to put together their finest offensive performance of the season (and a pretty solid defensive one to boot). An aesthetically pleasing road win against a good team in which your most talented players really live up to those talents: this one feels pretty nice.
Pau Gasol is tall. Not the gangly, awkward gaited ‘tall’ that defines so many of the league’s big men, but an unreachably high, arching fluidity that confounds even the best defenders. Kevin Love isn’t tall. So our friend Kevin was in for a long night.
Gasol began by pump faking from the perimeter and driving across the lane with a hook shot. Then he caught at the elbow, immediately fading back and firing. When Love pressured him the following possession, Pau spun him through a series of pivots before simply rising and sinking a seven footer. It was a torturous display that continued throughout the quarter. You see, Love’s been labeled a bad defender, but he’s not bad at everything. Though not the quickest of cats, he moves his feet well and shows good instincts. Kevin just isn’t tall, which puts him at a disadvantage in the post and especially when closing out on seven foot Spaniards with stunning accuracy.
As promised, we were entertained. But with nothing to show for our efforts besides faint praise and yet another moral victory, we have to wonder if anything has actually changed.
Our Wolves are still a team with enough recognizable strengths to compete with anyone. Voracious rebounding, accurate shooting and a blistering pace have been the theme in several quarters of basketball brimming with potential. However this is also a team marred with glaring weaknesses, visible to even the most inept opponents. The lack of a dependable scorer, a propensity for carelessness and porous defense have left us scratching what hair we haven’t pulled out on many a night. One step forward, two turnovers and a failure to get back.
And so it began in Target Center this evening; another contender presumably content to delay the inevitable for forty minutes before sapping us of our will.
Michael Beasley continued to struggle. Gone was the ball stopping irreverence of games past, but the inattentiveness and inefficiency remained. Shots were rushed, entry passes were practically rolled into the post and an inability to do much of anything else rendered him useless. Since Beas is still the only player capable of creating a shot, sheer necessity will afford him several more opportunities, but a lack of productivity won’t be tolerated as tonight’s box score reflects: 2-6 FG, 3 REB, 1 AST, 2 TO, 4 PF (the last two courtesy of an unnecessary over the back and a shameless tugging on Bron’s jersey), 22 MIN (none in the fourth quarter).
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.
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.
You’ll have to forgive me for not knowing where to start. It’s just been so long. But I suppose as good a place as any is with three minutes and sixteen seconds remaining in the first quarter. Yes, 3:16.
I suppose you’ll also have to forgive the blasphemy, but I’m certainly not going to chalk this up to coincidence. The years of ineptitude and failure, the endless mocking of our faith; it all became prologue when our franchise’s savior took the floor at that fateful 3:16 mark.
Now we’re all quite familiar with the energy whisking through First avenue on these opening nights; a guarded optimism masking our eternal hope that small steps towards relevance will ultimately result in victory. The hope that there’s a plan for us. Like all other sports fans, we don’t just want to be entertained, we need to believe that it’s all worth it.
Well, the victories are still a matter for discussion, but there is absolutely no doubt that we will be entertained this year. Our imaginations are no longer relegated to the grainy confines of a YouTube box. With that first effortless flick of the wrist, confounding the defense and leading an open teammate to the basket, 19,000 fans leapt to their feet and exhaled in unison: Ricky Rubio is real.
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…
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.
The 2011 draft was always going to be a bit tricky.
In what was assumed to be, and what will most likely prove to be, a bad draft for teams seeking rescue from the lottery dungeon of the NBA, there was always going to be the very real possibility that the top picks in the draft may not be worthy of the stigma and expectations of being selected near the top of the draft. I, myself, was worried that selecting someone like Derrick Williams with the second pick would make us all fall in love with the number of the selection and assume he’ll come in right away and give immediate impact to the product on the floor.
Derrick Williams’ NBA introduction is having its ups and down, enough so that Adelman said he’s asking him now solely to focus on playing power forward.
So much for some fans’ expectations I’ve picked up on Twitter and this here blog that he’d overtake Michael Beasley for the starting small forward job by as soon as opening night.
Remember Beasley was the second overall pick in a stronger 2008 draft and he’s played three pro seasons already.
Williams is struggling with defending small forwards — namely Beasley in practice — out on the floor and for those who wondered at draft time how much he was a duplication of Beasley for now must ask themselves this. Is he rather a duplication of Love?
The allure of Williams was not only his athleticism and skill, but the versatility he should be able to give to the Wolves. He could theoretically dominate at both the 3 and 4 positions and allow the Wolves to play both big or small at any given time. Having him guard someone as skilled offensively as Michael Beasley in training camp was a perfect way to baptize him by fire. See if you can stop him, kid, and we’ll see where you fit in to what we do.
Problem seems to be that he’s not ready to play so much on the perimeter as his college exploits might have hinted. If Williams can’t play the 3 in the NBA right now, then he adds even more to the logjam in the (high) post. This might not be a problem, per se. Going small with Love at center, Williams at the 4 and Beas at the 3 is something we’ve all dreamed about when thinking about the lineups for this team. But knowing it will be difficult to go the other way and play Love with Randolph and Williams flanking him means the hopes of versatility with the Wolves’ lineups quickly begin to vanish like people in photo due to changes in time travel.
Hopefully, this is just a rookie trying to get adjusted to the speed of the game. It’s a bit early to start to worry if Williams is going to be a building block long-term. At the same time, having realistic expectations of what we can expect from him may make things more enjoyable this season, just in case he either starts off much slower than we’d like or ends up breaking through those realistic expectations to make things more exciting for us.
Maybe Williams will stretch out uncomfortable PFs on the perimeter and be able to blow by them with ease. Or maybe he’ll struggle being such a tweener at the 3 and 4 positions and go into the off-season looking to drop 20lbs like Josh Smith did this off-season.
Either way, I trust Adelman to figure out how to best use him and bring him along the correct way.
Our beloved Timberwolves are back in the saddle/Iditarod sled of shaping the roster and preparing for another hopeful season. And while it seems like this team is set with 13 players under contract and still two rookies (Derrick Williams and Malcolm Lee), the T’Pups remain heavily involved in the free agent sweepstakes. From what we’ve learned through various scribes (Zgoda, Spears, Stein, etc.) players like Jamal Crawford, DeAndre Jordan and Chuck Hayes are all being pursued like a canine chasing a rogue ice cream truck.
The shooting guard position for the Wolves is pretty weak. Between Wayne Ellington’s Wayne Ellington-ness, Wes Johnson’s inability to handle the ball or create off the dribble well enough to be a true shooting guard in Rick Adelman’s offense, and Martell Webster being slightly more adept at covering Wes’ offensive deficiencies, the Wolves could really use a shooting guard who can put the ball on the floor and create scoring opportunities in the halfcourt offense.
(Let’s just pretend Malcolm Lee will be brought around slowly, but I love his game and think he could eventually be an option for playing major minutes.)
Jamal Crawford does that and then some. He’s one of the best scoring 2-guards in the league. It may not be the most efficient brand of basketball. It may not be a consistent output when his shot isn’t falling. But he knows how to put the ball in the basket. Two seasons ago, Crawford had a career year, despite coming off the bench exclusively for the Hawks. He scored 18 points per game, had a true shooting percentage of 57.3%, and had the lowest turnover rate of his career at 9.9%. He was as efficient as ever. Crawford is also a human highlight reel waiting to happen.
But last year his productivity with the Hawks took a pretty dramatic dip. He wasn’t the consistent scoring threat the team saw the previous season. His shooting percentage was back toward his career rate, he was a below average 3-point shooter and he was turning the ball over a lot more while being involved less in the offense. When taking into consideration the idea of giving him a four-year contract, he’s going to be starting his twelfth season in the NBA and he’ll be 32 in March.
While it’s pretty obvious that Jamal Crawford is the sexier name of the free agent options, if the Wolves are going to find a way to work one of these guys into a pretty full roster then they need to make a concerted effort to sign DeAndre Jordan.
For lack of a better term, DeAndre Jordan was a bit spastic with the way he played his first two seasons. It was all dunks from accidentally being in the right place at the right time. He also seemed to be everywhere on defense but never in the right place. When he was around a shot, he usually tossed it in the other direction. He was active and showed determination to figure it out, but it was more awkward than anything.
However, last season DAJ broke out in a mini-spotlight next to Blake Griffin’s Epcot spotlight. He was defensively one of the best big men in the entire NBA from an individual standpoint. Jordan didn’t really have a defensive flaw last year. He played the post well, he rotated well, he played the PnR well, and he closed out on shooters well. While there were times that he was slow to see the play develop, after the first couple months of the season he was able to see things unfolding and respond quickly to it. If he has any real weakness defensively, it’s that he hasn’t completely filled out his lanky, broad frame. He could still stand to put on a few pounds of muscle while keeping his freakish athleticism.
In fact, freakish athleticism isn’t a term that does DAJ justice. When you watch him move around the court, he almost appears to be teleporting. He seems to instantly travel 10 feet at a time with his long strides. This helps him immensely when running pick-and-rolls with his point guard. As soon as he seals on the pick and turns his hips toward the basket, he’s already four-feet from where the screen was set. One step later, he’s gathered his balance and is exploding for the alley-oop.
Jordan was third in the NBA in dunks last season. Of his 234 made field goals, 158 of them were dunks. 205 of his 234 made field goals were at the rim and he only took eight shots beyond 10 feet (making none of them). This may seem like he’s extremely limited offensively, and maybe he is. But he also doesn’t try to do a whole lot on offense that isn’t in his skill set. You won’t see him posting up a lot and hold the ball on the block for long stretches of the shot clock. He knows his limitations.
The problem with acquiring DeAndre Jordan is he already turned down a five-year, $40 million deal from the Clippers and he’s a restricted free agent. With the stunning result of the Clippers already signing Caron Butler for three years and $24 million, they’re showing they’re willing to overpay players right now. With DAJ being one of Blake Griffin’s best friends, it seems they would match whatever it takes to keep this duo together.
The Wolves have roughly $5 million in cap space and 15 players under contract after they presumably sign Derrick Williams and Malcolm Lee. That doesn’t leave a lot of room to make something happen for Jordan, when he’s looking for eight figures on his contract and you have to push that to around $12 million or higher to make the Clippers blink at matching the deal. To make this happen, the Wolves would need to drop the amnesty hammer on one of their guy or trade one of the bigger contracts.
The problem is we don’t have big contracts to get rid of. Some people would say to amnesty Darko, but he’s only making $4.7 million this season and the Wolves need depth in the frontcourt. You could amnesty Brad Miller since he’s not really going to be able to contribute much after his knee injury anyway, but he makes roughly the same amount as Darko and could be a great mentor for young guys learning Adelman’s system.
So is the answer to deal Michael Beasley? Do we amnesty Martell Webster? Webster makes the second most on the team with $5.2 million hitting the salary cap. The Wolves wouldn’t be saving any money long-term because his salary for next season is only guaranteed for about $600,000 against the cap. They’d also be losing one of their few options at shooting guard.
With Beasley, it would free up a presumed headache within the organization (that could easily be saved and become an All-Star but that’s a conversation for another time), a logjam at the small forward, and about $6.2 million. That gives the Wolves a starting price tag of $11.2 million for Jordan. Would that price tag and acquiring Beasley in a sign-and-trade coupled with the suffocating guilt possessing the Wolves’ 2012 first round pick be enough for the Clippers to accept the deal?
This would be the best-case scenario for the Wolves in many ways. You free up a potential distraction by moving Beasley – as fair or unfair as that may sound. It would give the Wolves a fantastic, young interior presence around the rim on both ends of the court, and even if he doesn’t improve much past what we see now, four years and $44 million of this DAJ isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s not the best bang for your buck, but there are worse contracts for big men to have.
If it plays out this way, we’d be looking at a potential depth chart of:
PG: Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour
Wing: Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington, Malcolm Lee
Wing: Derrick Williams, Wes Johnson, Lazar Hayward
Post: Kevin Love, Anthony Randolph, Anthony Tolliver
Post: DeAndre Jordan, Darko Milicic, Nikola Pekovic, Brad Miller
There are a lot of options and versatility that comes with that depth chart. Sure, it leaves the Wolves pretty outmanned at the shooting guard position, and perimeter scoring would be a bit lacking. But Rick Adelman’s offense is designed to get different parts moving and having the ball swung to find them. This works out well for a young, athletic team like the Wolves.
It would be nice to acquire someone like Crawford or Arron Afflalo (also a restricted agent), but their asking price might be more than the Wolves should have to fork over to acquire them. I’d much rather put the money toward improving the middle of the paint and building outward.
Finally, Wolves have been in talks with Chuck Hayes as I mentioned above. Hayes is one of the best post defenders in the NBA, despite being just 6’6” soaking wet. He’s also a fantastic passer from the post and high-post. But I don’t know he’s exactly what the Wolves need, especially if they have a chance at an athletic big man like Jordan. And he’s fixed his free throw stroke so we wouldn’t get to live this roller coaster very often.