Archives For Minnesota Timberwolves

There are few things in basketball as deflating as watching an opposing midrange jumpshooter on a hot streak. You know that, even with his impressive arsenal of fades and stepbacks, when he shoots that beautiful 18-footer over his defender’s outstretched hand, he is taking the least efficient shot on the floor. He is doing exactly what you want him to do. And still, the ball goes in the basket.

For the most part, the Wolves defended DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay the way that you hoped they might. They walled off the paint, prevented layups, kept the two long slashers off the free-throw line, stayed at home on three-point shooters. There are a few quibbles here and there–we might’ve liked to see Andrei Kirilenko give Gay less room to maneuver at the point of attack; they blew a rotation with two minutes to play that resulted in a DeRozan three-point play–but, in general, when we see anybody besides Dirk Nowitzki circa 2010 taking contested long-range twos, we can conclude that the defense has done its job. Nevertheless, there were Gay and DeRozan deploying their full array of pivots, hesitations and crossovers, hitting contested jumper after contested jumper.

Still, a team could do worse than allowing its opponents’ two best scorers–both unreasonably accurate from outside and preying on mismatches–to tally 51 points on 46 shots. Much more problematic, if you ask me, were a) the Wolves’ inability to fully capitalize on their 40-16 free-throw advantage and b) their inability to parlay moderate leads into decisive leads, to complete the job of beating a team that, for a while, was begging to be beaten.

Lets dispense with part ‘a’ quickly, because it is both aggravating and tedious. The Wolves, as they do, got to the line a lot. And, just as typically, they missed 25% of those free-throws. They missed three out of their last six free-throws and, of course, Ricky Rubio missed the one that would have tied the game at 94 with 1.7 seconds remaining. There, done.

Now for ‘b.’ The Raptors played some stretches of truly listless defense, in which, for instance, Alexei Shved was allowed to dribble unimpeded to within five feet of the hoop and loft an uncontested floater and Chase Budinger was given free reign to run off flare screens, rise up with a nice, clear look at the hoop and hit some perfectly relaxed, unimpeded jumpers. What’s more, the Raptors were saddled with the problem that neither Jonas Valanciunas nor Aaron Gray seemed capable of single-covering Nikola Pekovic without blatantly fouling him.

And so, in the first three quarters, the Wolves were able, with relative ease, to cruise out to leads of nine, eight and 11–but no more than that. That they were unable to extend those leads into more forbidding territory is a testament to their simple lack of consistent execution. A case in point are the minutes following the third-quarter Andrei Kirilenko three that gave the Wolves their one and only double-digit lead. Ricky Rubio penetrates the Raptors’ defense but delivers a pass to Pekovic’s feet. Derrick Williams falls over while attempting a rather ornate spin move in isolation. Luke Ridnour dribbles the ball out of bounds. Rubio attempts to initiate the offense by entering the ball to Kirilenko at the elbow; but AK does not fully seal his defender and Rubio’s pass is too casual. Rudy Gay jumps into the passing lane and streaks to the other end of the floor for a breakaway dunk. The Wolves go to a 2-3 zone in order to contain Kyle Lowry’s dribble penetration–and yet Lowry still manages to split the two backcourt defenders and hit an open floater at the third-quarter buzzer.

And things only got worse over the first few minutes of the fourth quarter when Rubio got his rest and J.J. Barea took the opportunity to perfect his ball-pounding, clock-killing, impossible-jumper routine. Its worth noting that at no point during the 12-4 run that brought them back into the game did the Raptors look particularly dynamic on either end of the floor. Minnesota’s slack execution simply allowed them to crawl back into the game.

By the time Rubio had settled things back down with a series of shrewd pick-and-rolls, in the process remembering to take advantage of Pekovic down low, the one truly shining matchup advantage at the Wolves’ disposal, Toronto had gained a measure of confidence. Their defense started to buzz, Gay and DeRozan got hot. It ended badly.

Although in our hearts we always suspected it to be true, we couldn’t help feeling a little distressed over Rick Adelman’s admission yesterday that he is considering walking away from the Wolves this coming summer. (Though you certainly can’t blame the guy for wanting to actually live with his ailing wife, especially after a pair of seasons as cosmically aggravating as these past two.) We can talk all we want about Derrick Williams’ development or Nikola Pekovic’s contract, but the truth is that the middle-term future of this franchise rests entirely upon the relationship between Rick Adelman, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. Take out one vertex of that triangle and, one suspects, the entire spindly structure might collapse.

Continue Reading…

Roy “Dr.” Hibbert

The Wolves’ street-clothes squad boasts a pretty impressive resume. You’ve got multiple All-Star appearances, a Defensive Player of the Year, a former Most Improved Player candidate, even some MVP votes. What’s more, whoever has been dressing Nikola Pekovic deserves a firm handshake. That fitted herringbone blazer? the deep pink tie? the open-collar-plus-gold-chain combo? Dynamite.

In contrast, no one would say that the Wolves’ actual active roster is brimming with talent. In essence, you have a future-superstar with a sub-40% shooting percentage leading a crew of backups and D-Leaguers. This is a team that can compete for victories under certain circumstances–like when the Washington Wizards lay a total egg on the road, or when, say, the Spurs rest all of their good players–but that on most nights has very little chance to win. (I should mention: no shame in being a backup or a D-Leaguer. The NBA is much the better for the Dante Cunninghams and J.J. Bareas and even the Chris Johnsons of the world.)

Continue Reading…

Here is Rick Adelman on the Wolves’ leaden, dispiriting loss to the Mavs:

We just didn’t have any energy. We had shot after shot and missed shot after shot. They ran a lot of people in in the first half. I know they were thinking we played last night and the travel. We just wore down…They are willing but we were a step behind and I think it’s physical and mental both.

Very little needs to be added to that assessment. There is, of course, the ongoing problem of the Wolves missing almost all of their best players and trotting out a threadbare crew of role players and D-Leaguers. Add to that the fact that they were playing the night after an exhausting loss in Denver, a very late flight and losing an hour of sleep…well it all adds up to some fatigued, uninspired basketball.

Continue Reading…

On the surface, the Nuggets and the Wolves in their current state of frontcourt decimation seem to share a common profile. Both teams run radically simplified half-court offenses and generate many of their best looks off of opponents’ turnovers. Both teams rely heavily on the energy and wiles of their backcourts and depend on dribble penetration to create looks. Neither team shoots threes well; both teams require on heavy outputs of energy to play their game.

But two crucial differences make those commonalities merely superficial. The first is that while Denver is absurdly deep, rich with players who fit the profile of their team’s game, the Wolves are down to their last nine ragtag dudes, many of whom are not what you might call All-Star material. Its a lot easier to sprint up and down the floor when you know that a breather is right around the corner and that your team won’t be the worse off for it. The second is that the Wolves play that way by necessity, out of desperation, while the Nuggets do so by design. When you play with such simplicity, chaos and pace, you are in the Nuggets’ wheelhouse. And nobody does it better; if you get drawn into their game, particularly on their home floor, where the thin air seems to corrode your lungs and turn your legs into noodles, the Nugs will run you through the thresher.

Continue Reading…

The Timberwolves were playing without three of their four essential players and therefore faced an insurmountable talent disadvantage. They missed many free-throws and even more threes. They labored to salvage tiny scraps of offensive production. They lacked the personnel to seriously impede their opponent’s offensive execution. Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before. Once revealed, the patterns are relentless. Nevertheless, some observations on this loss in Portland:

Continue Reading…

There are lots of reasons why the Timberwolves are a poor fourth quarter team, why they’ve lost ten times (worst in the NBA) after carrying a lead into the final frame. Those oft-mentioned ‘intangibles’ are part of the problem: maintaining composure and focus when things get wild; summoning the energy and determination to make the essential plays. An example of the former might be Ricky Rubio spinning wildly through the lane before lobbing the ball over Nikola Pekovic’s head and out of bounds with 3:18 remaining and the score tied at 93. Or Derrick Williams turning down a wide-open midrange jumper in order to mow down the perfectly positioned Carl Landry. An example of the latter might be, for instance, failing to defensive rebound a missed free throw down by two with 38 seconds left.

Continue Reading…

At the beginning of the season, as the Wolves added white dude after white dude to their roster, we discussed the team’s unprecedented racial makeup. We wondered about the potential interactions between these strikingly white Wolves and their mostly white fanbase. We discussed the Wolves’ potential as a kind of old school/new school hybrid, a stylistic melange that would incorporate and complicate nearly every archetype in the NBA pantheon.

More specifically, we wondered about Ricky Rubio’s recovery and whether his reunion with Kevin Love could possibly live up to our wild hopes. We wondered how Love would mold his newfound superstardom and how that stardom would interact with a new, suddenly competent, set of teammates and with a fuller expression of Rick Adelman’s offense. We wondered what moves Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved might bring to the dance. How would J.J. Barea’s antic freestyles play against Kirilenko’s humble, heavily structured game? What does a Shved/Rubio backcourt feel like? Does Brandon Roy even have knees? And what is a Shved anyway?

Continue Reading…

It’s strange to listen to coaches and players and announcers attempt to make sense of the Timberwolves’ current situation. Over and over we hear testaments to the team’s professionalism and resolve, evocations of the stoic warrior ethos: we keep playing; we play with who we have; we all sacrifice more; someone new has to step up. And from their perspectives, this makes sense. After all, even with a lineup as decimated as this, what else are you going to do? The games are on the schedule. You have to play them. The only alternative is a kind of numb, Anthony Randolphian apathy, which, while probably justified by the circumstances, only makes things more painful.

But the hard fact of the matter is that the Wolves–particularly now that they are without J.J. Barea and Andrei Kirilenko–are so undermanned, are stretched so thin at every position that their chances of beating competent NBA teams are awfully remote. Despite the stoic rhetoric, you could see the heft of this realization weighing on the players’ faces at the end of this game. Deep inside, they know: When they play their guts out against good teams, they lose by less than ten points. When they are truly mismatched, or when they are not quite at their best, they get hammered. At certain moments the absurdity of it all seeps through the cracks. What is happening here? Where is Kevin Love and why is Mickael Gelabale getting serious minutes for an NBA team? Why are we even doing this? That’s despair talking. And–get this–we’re not even to the All-Star break.

Continue Reading…

The Timberwolves’ free-throw shooting is occasionally mediocre and often terrible. Their three-point shooting, as has been well-documented in these very pages, is historically awful. So when you’re thinking about the team’s chances on a particular night it’s important to realize: the Wolves, in essence, begin nearly every game in a scoring hole. In order to have a chance to win, they have to make up for and exceed this almost pre-ordained deficit by surpassing their opponent in other phases of the game.

This, I think, is a useful way of analyzing Friday night’s loss to the Knicks. In a six-point loss, the Wolves made just one fewer field goal than New York. They grabbed two more offensive rebounds and went to the line seven more times, the latter of which suggests that despite the nearly identical field goal percentages, the Wolves actually did a better job of creating good scoring chances than did the Knicks. All of that looks pretty good, right? Well how about this: the Knicks made 16 of their twenty free-throws (80%) and the Wolves made 19 of their 27 (just 70.4%). And now the really bad news: the Knicks made a below-average eight out of their 26 threes. The Wolves? One for 13, which is 7.7% if you’re into math. The rough reality becomes apparent: when you shoot threes that badly, playing your opponent evenly is simply not good enough.

Continue Reading…