That the Lakers are the NBA’s most colossal, most fascinating bummer has been well-documented. In the past, they were un-lovable but majestic. You could hate Kobe’s post-dagger jawfaces, you could hate Phil Jackson’s finely tailored beard and bullying spiritualism, but you could also marvel at their success and be awed by the sight of basketball beautifully played.
If a winning Lakers team evokes the smugness of a Magic of the Movies montage during an Oscars telecast, a losing one reflects a different and more forlorn LA—a million hideous publicist-planted upskirts and celebrity DUI mugshots and pill-powered Daniel Baldwin car chases, all narrated in the sneer-scream of a TMZ correspondent.
Not deliciously infuriating, then, just lonely and depressing. If the Lakers’ signature failing has been their caustic team culture, then a close second has been the awful, awful defense. Consider: their starting point guard is 38 years old and was, during his prime, among the league’s worst defenders; their two other veteran stars are playing the worst defense of their careers; their bench is populated by the Antawn Jamisons and Steve Blakes and Jodie Meekses of the world. Its easy to understand, then, just how badly the Lakers miss even a much-diminished Dwight Howard anchoring the middle.
There’s a kind of weird, inherent contradiction in writing about sports. Because here I am, preparing to build something out of words about a game played by people who don’t use words to illuminate, but rather to sometimes obfuscate, sometimes motivate, and almost always for ulterior motives. I don’t mean that athletes are dumb—far from it, actually. The clichés they often speak in are tools as surely as the pick and roll is a tool. I simply mean that I’m always striving to use words to carve away the noise from the game, to find some skein of sense—or at the very least, a clearer perspective—that can build a resonance for myself and, hopefully, whoever reads this, while athletes and coaches are packing together words for themselves, for their team, for the public in multi-layered and often contradictory ways. Continue Reading…
Did you happen to catch the shot of Ahmad Rashad and Michael “Air” Jordan wallowing away in MJ’s shadowy luxury suite? Here were greatest basketball player ever, captain of dynasties, phantasmagorically wealthy man and his best cigar buddy surveying the team he (MJ) owns and the players he attempted to screw to the wall just over a year ago–in what appeared to be wordless, abject boredom. Is this a product of Jordan’s legendarily psychotic vainglory gone to seed? Maybe the resentment inherent to graceless old age, the misery of being forced to watch young fellas many times your inferior playing the game you once dominated? Or maybe that’s just what it feels like to be the ruthlessly competitive owner of the NBA’s worst squad.
Because that’s what these Bobcats are. Coming into tonight’s game against the Wolves, they had lost 16 consecutive home games. They barely edge out the Wizards for the NBA’s worst record (and unlike the Wizards, have not won seven of their last 10 games). They are third worst in the league in offensive efficiency and are tied for last in defensive efficiency. This is a very bad team.
At the beginning of the game, the Wolves were undermanned and completely overmatched. This Nets team is healthy and a lot better than what the Wolves are able to run out there. That much was evident in the early minutes of the game. I was going to write about Starbursts — you know, the candy? I was formulating my thoughts about Starbursts while hoping to catch a glimpse of a great pass by Rubio to placate my necessity to see him light up the Target Center. Continue Reading…
Here’s a sight for you. If you had taken a peak down the Wolves’ bench in the fourth quarter of this rigorously un-lovely loss to the Clippers, you would have seen: Lou Amundson, Greg Stiemsma, Lazar Hayward, J.J. Barea, lots of empty seats. Larry Bird is not walking through that door.
Past Timberwolves teams have been dislike-able for a host of reasons. From last year’s grim-faced underachievers to the callow, talentless bunches of years past, there have always been reasons to distance your self from the awful things happening on the court. But, in their basic competence, in their plucky, Euro-inflected flair, and in their foreignness to the Wolves’ rancid culture, this team has been unprecedentedly appealing.
Which makes it all the more of a bummer to see them so completely threshed by misfortune that even home games against upper-echelon opponents have come to feel essentially un-winnable. Even before Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved hobbled off the floor, this game was pretty dark. Facing the single-minded, absurdly long Deandre Jordan, Pek was just 1-8 from the floor. Shved looked every bit the fatigued rookie, as he has for most of the past month. Dante Cunningham continued to awkwardly brick his signature jumper. Ricky Rubio continued to play as if he is recovering from a reconstructive knee surgery that kept him off the court for nearly a year. J.J. Barea continued to attempt yogic finger-rolls over multiple shot blockers. The Wolves hit 21.1% of their threes. They hit just 14 of their 35 shots in the paint (!!!). They whiffed on wide-open layups; they bricked dunks.
We have kind of been talking about tempering expectations over the last week or so. The Timberwolves are extremely banged up and I think it’s becoming apparent that without a shooter (Chase Budinger) to space the floor and without an All-NBA focus of the offense (Kevin Love) for the defense to key in on, we’re headed into a very dark and murky area of not knowing which team is going to show up most nights.
The natural inclination is to find someone to blame. The blaming of Love seems to have passed through our area for now. Since he’s not around and won’t be for a couple of months, there’s no point in belaboring the point and hammering down a guy that can’t prove anybody right or wrong. His hand just won’t allow it. And thankfully, fans seem to acknowledge that for now and I haven’t really seen any blame placed on his beard. However, you still have someone to blame. Eventually, it will be Rick Adelman because the coach always takes the fall at some point. But for now, his situation doesn’t allow him to be with the team and our thoughts go out to him and his wife right now.
So who else is blame-worthy? A lot of the sentiment peppering the Twitter waves last night went toward the guy pictured above. No, they weren’t blaming Tony Parker. I mean… Parker was a big part of why the Wolves got destroyed. He had 20 points on 10-of-15 shooting in just 29 minutes of action. He did whatever he wanted out there.
No, people started freaking out about Ricky Rubio, saying he shouldn’t be playing if he can’t produce like we need him to produce. I’m not going to lie; this enraged me. It enraged me because it seemed so short-sighted and desperate. Is Ricky Rubio 100%? Not even close. Is Ricky Rubio 80%? I’m not even so sure of that. I know Rubio definitely isn’t healthy enough to do what he did last year consistently. That much is obvious. But to pretend that Rubio has been bad this season because he’s not scoring the ball or even looking to score the ball seems odd.
Each game for Rubio is a building block. It’s not a building block for improving his game, necessarily. That will have to come during the summer months and into next season. That’s when we’ll see if he can improve his impressive but flawed set of skills. It’s a building block with his body and more specifically his leg. If you notice on every single shot Rubio took last night, they were all short — every single one of them. Rubio’s feel for the game is still impressive. He knows where to deliver the ball most of the time.
However, his feel for when and how to score is back to square one. There is a certain snap of the wrist you can have in passing the ball that doesn’t need much leg strength at all. That’s not the case with shooting a basketball. You want your legs on that wall; you need your legs on that wall. Shooting a jumper without legs is like throwing a football off your back leg. There are times you’re going to complete the pass to the intended receiver but most of the time you’re looking at it going the other way.
Sitting Rubio, even when he’s struggling, is not the answer. He needs to continue to build strength in his legs and confidence in his game. It will waver from time to time but ultimately, it’s a lot better than the alternative. The alternative brings about more questions about his game. Not letting him play his allotted minutes leads to a lack of trust in his game and in his body, and it also leads to atrophy.
And you know how the old saying goes: atrophy never leads to a trophy.
Okay, that’s not a saying. I just made it up. But it kind of makes sense.
If you want to blame something, then blame injuries. They happen and they suck but they’re a part of the NBA. There seems to be a team every season that gets blitzed by them and never quite recovers. Apparently, it’s the Wolves’ turn to suffer through this for whatever reason.
The Wolves got done in by the bench of the Spurs last night. Their bench was A LOT better than our bench and it showed. They had more skill and more energy. I don’t think that would necessarily be the case if these two teams faced each other completely healthy, but “what if” scenarios don’t do anything but make you daydream about a healthier time. The Spurs kicked the Wolves’ butts fair and square. A lot of that could be you’re asking the Wolves’ reserves to be starters and their reserves to be part of the second unit.
Greg Stiemsma, Dante Cunningham, and Lazar Hayward are being asked to do way too much because of injuries. Alexey Shved is being asked to create way too much and you can see how inconsistent his production has been lately because of it. There isn’t any real blame that has to go around right now. Guys are hurt, units are depleted, and our one “savior” is trying to get his body right. He probably won’t accomplish that until next season. Maybe he can get consistent play when March rolls around, but most likely, we probably won’t see him being consistently back to himself until October of this season.
For now, we’re just hoping to see some highlights here and there.
It would be nice to see consistently competitive games but that’s going to be hard against the elite of the NBA. This is what the Spurs do; they destroy those that are beneath them. And the Wolves are definitely beneath them for the time being.
It’s pretty incredible how Ricky sets guys up with the simplest of passes. Derrick Williams has been pretty great about setting his feet over the past 15-20 games and really looks like a good spot-up shooter out there with Rubio. Rubio mentioned after the game that he’s looking to make the extra pass if it’s there, and if not then he’s looking to take the shot himself. Right now, the extra pass is the way to go.
This play got me so excited for a healthy Rubio teaming up with Andrei Kirilenko. Rubio often can beat his man baseline, dribble through the paint and find a cutter. AK is so good at cutting from the weak side that it opens up a lot of possibilities. The great thing about this play is Kirilenko does a slight fake to the baseline before cutting more toward the hoop. I had a great angle of it from the other side and DeShawn Stevenson was looking toward the side, just searching for movement that way from Kirilenko. That slight fake to the baseline moved Stevenson out of the way and opened up an easy lane for Kirilenko to receive the ball. It’s just brilliant basketball.
Ricky and Derrick have tried this spin-off-the-high-post lob play like four or five times this season and Ricky has come up short on every pass, which is odd. This time, he made up for it right away by stealing the pass and finding Barea for a wide-open 3-pointer.
The Wolves were 1-for-2 on lobs to Stiemsma that he tries to bank in with a tap tonight.
I don’t see why you’d ever trap Ricky off the pick-and-roll. It’s not like taking away his jumper is a key to stopping them. You leave someone open and he’ll find it. Or he’ll start the ball movement for a hockey assist.
Derrick Williams is going to get a lot of this pick-and-pop chances with Rubio. His feet are set so he’s going to knock it down.
This last pass wasn’t an assist, but good lord it was fun. He tried it once, threw it off of John Jenkins’ thigh, chased down the ball, and threw basically the same pass again. Pek didn’t finish the play but he got to the free throw line.
A few of the readers from the last 3-point shooting audit suggested that this should be an updated post every month. All of the numbers for this post are through the win over the Suns and don’t include last night’s debacle to the Utah Jazz.
At a certain point, the 3-point shooting has become laughable to me. Part of me is frustrated but part of me is Rene Russo in the movie Tin Cup as I watch Kevin Costner egotistically club golf ball after golf ball into the water hazard as he tries to prove through machismo and grit that he doesn’t have to layup on the par-5 18th hole at the U.S. Open. He’s good enough and strong enough to clear the water and get onto the green. Russo (his girlfriend/shrink) in this scene at one point just starts laughing and cheering him to keep at it, even if it means he sinks all of his golf balls into the water and he isn’t allowed to finish his one final shot at glory by being disqualified from the tournament.
The Wolves are such a historically bad 3-point shooting team right now that I’m now finding myself maniacally laughing whenever a long distance shot clangs off the iron. There are two teams in NBA history who have attempted more than 13 3-pointers per game while shooting under 30% from beyond the arc. One of those teams is the Charlotte Bobcats from last season. That’s right; the worst team in NBA history shot 29.5% from downtown while attempting 13.5 3-point shots per game. The other team? You’re currently rooting for them.
The Wolves take 19.5 3-pointers per game right now and are making just 29.3%. At a certain point, you start wondering if actual wolves could make a higher percentage of these shots or if the team could make some by accident when trying to throw alley-oop passes. The fact that they’re historically bad at this just floors me for some reason.
What I feel like is we’re watching one of those “coin pusher” machines you find in casinos. Continue Reading…
Complain about officiating or the effort or the energy or whatever. Doesn’t really matter. The Wolves played like absolute crap in this game. It happens every once in a while in this league. You hit a road game, you don’t have anything to offer that night, and the home team blows you out. The Wolves have been on the winning side of this equation before and they’ve been on the losing side of this equation before.
Tonight was the losing side and the Jazz just absolutely outplayed them in nearly every way. There isn’t much analysis that can go into it. The team still can’t make 3-pointers. They shot 2-of-17 from the field. It was the eighth time in team history they’ve shot worse than 12% from 3-point range while taking at least 17 3-point attempts. They’re 1-7 in those games with the only win coming on opening night against the Kings this season. It’s not a recipe for success and at a certain point, you have to wonder if they should even take more than a few 3-pointers in a game anymore.
But we’ll get into the 3-point debacle of the season more in the next post.
I don’t really want to talk about the game directly because it was just a bad game. We can eviscerate the people involved with it, but I’ve never been one for overreacting to a small sample size of “evidence.” What I really want to talk about is the lack of athleticism within this team right now. Continue Reading…
In so many ways, Ricky Rubio’s season debut against Dallas was a mirage. Forget even the idea of someone not named Adrian Peterson performing at an elite level after nearly a year of rehab. Its hard enough to get a surgically repaired knee–and the rest of the body for that matter–to get used to the rigors of the NBA season. From the AP:
Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio will not travel with the team for a two-game road trip to Utah and Denver this week because of back spasms. Rubio missed the game against Phoenix on Saturday after being unable to get his back loosened up. Coach Rick Adelman says the team is just being cautious with Rubio, who is coming back from a torn ACL in his left knee. Rubio has played in five games this season after making his debut in the middle of last month. Adelman thinks some of Rubio’s back issues could be caused by him overcompensating for a knee that has not yet gotten back to full strength. Rubio hopes to be ready to play at home on Saturday against Portland.
As we probably could have expected, this is going to be a long process.