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:
Archives For Ricky Rubio
Over the next few days on A Wolf Among Wolves, I’ll be breaking down the play of Ricky Rubio since he’s returned from his ACL surgery last March. When Rubio came back on December 12th against the Dallas Mavericks, we all wondered how long it would take him to regain his form. In an attempt to figure out the turning point for Rubio and how we can track his change, I’ve decided to chart various parts of his game. In some areas, I’ve found improvement and in some areas, the numbers don’t bear out a lot of change. But what I have found — and something everybody has noticed — is a change in his game recently that reminds us of his incredible play as a rookie. Today, I’ll be breaking down Ricky Rubio as a scorer:
We’re starting to see results.
The box scores of Ricky Rubio the past few games have been nomadic, moving all over the place. His aggressiveness on the basketball court has been something that we didn’t see in his shortened rookie season. It’s a new style of play in which he’s looking for his own shot because he knows he has to get the defense to respect the chance that he might try to score. If this threat isn’t there, even in the back of the defense’s mind, then it’s a lot easier for them to sit in his passing lanes and ruin the effect he has on a basketball court.
His aggression isn’t something we saw right away. The flashy passing was there the night of the return against the Dallas Mavericks back in December; however, he rarely looked for his own shot in an attempt to keep the defense honest. This could have been due to a lack of confidence, a lack of conditioning in his body, or a lack of strength in the leg he worked so hard to bring back to a professional athletic environment. But regardless, there had to be a turning point with Rubio that finally brought about the spark we’ve seen through him. Continue Reading…
I’ve got a big three-part breakdown of Ricky Rubio starting Friday, and it’s a lot of writing so I don’t want to put too much thought into this blowout loss. Plus, how many ways can you state that the Wolves lost another key player to injury, tried to fight the best they could, Ricky Rubio played really well and encouraging basketball, and it wasn’t even close to enough to earn a victory.
Nikola Pekovic went down with an abdominal strain and found himself out the rest of the game with the ailment. He played nine minutes in the game and then for the remaining 39 minutes of action against a surging Western Conference team, Minnesota found themselves once again without four of their five ideal starters. Kevin Love was out, obviously. Chase Budinger is still out, although he’s running now and will be reevaluated in two to three weeks. Andrei Kirilenko missed the game with a calf injury.
The only player there in the starting lineup and getting regular minutes is Rubio. He was spectacular with his passing for much of the game, and he even made a few jumpers. He finished two rebounds shy of a triple-double, but he wasn’t good enough to lead second and third stringers to victory on the road. Kenny Smith talked about how Rubio has to learn how to score and dominate the game in other ways. 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.
It’s kind of the same old story this season, right?
The Wolves are talented enough to stay competitive with just about any team in the NBA, but they’re not healthy enough to overcome the wave of talent, execution, and production that a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder can throw at you. The Wolves need a special set of circumstances to overcome a team like the Thunder. They beat them earlier in the season, but had the luxury of a home environment at their disposal. They also had a balanced attack from a lot of the players, including J.J. Barea going nuts in the fourth quarter of that game.
This time, the bench carried the Wolves when the starters were largely ineffective. The Wolves got 59 points from four bench players, thanks to Barea, Alexey Shved, Dante Cunningham, and Greg Stiemsma stepping up to the challenge. And this was kind of a long time coming from a few of these bench guys. For Alexey, it was the first real good game he’s had since the loss to Memphis. For Stiemer, he hadn’t really produced much since the win over New Orleans. For Dante, it was the first real good game since the loss to Portland.
On a night in which Nikola Pekovic was completely neutralized by the duo of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, the Wolves badly needed the bench to step up and keep things close until the starters could find a rhythm. The problem is the Wolves’ starters never found a rhythm. This often leads to the knee-jerk reaction of shuffling deck chairs on a sinking ship, but I like the balance of the Wolves’ rotation based on what is available to Rick Adelman. Continue Reading…
Maybe the Wolves shouldn’t explore the Mozgov/Pek backup plan after all?
In a game that was incredibly fast in the first half because of a lack of calls and completely bogged down in the fourth quarter because of 23 foul calls and 38 free throw attempts, the Wolves had to power through their first game back from the All-Star break. Luckily for them, they have the most powerful guy in the NBA with Nikola Pekovic. It’s amazing how a guy with so much brute strength can have such a feathery touch when it comes to scoring with hooks and push-shots around the basket.
There was one shot in particular in the second half when he used about four or five bounces on the rim and backboard before the shot dropped in which I thought he was practicing for Plinko on The Price Is Right (Actually, how awesome would Pek be on The Price Is Right?). The thing with Pek is he’s a rare breed of center now. In the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s, the NBA was ruled by powerful guys on the low block who could move mountains with a drop-step. Because we have such a faster and more athletic game now, guys like Pek just don’t come around anymore. 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?
When you’re a losing team and you have injuries all over key parts of your roster, you need a full team effort to pull out victories. It isn’t getting good performances just from your remaining top players. Of course, you need good games from them but it takes a village to raise a victory, or something like that.
It also helps playing a really bad team. It gives you more and less pressure at the same time, which is an odd thing for a team to manage. The Cleveland Cavaliers are not a good basketball team — at all. They have Kyrie Irving, who might already be a top 5 point guard, and if he’s not then he’s knocking on the door like one of those creepy stalkers in the movie The Strangers. 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.
Let’s say you were trapped in a cabin somewhere. No, this isn’t some bizarre R. Kelly musical idea; I’m serious.
Sometimes I watch this team shoot 3-pointers and I feel like I’m trapped in a cabin. I typically get this feeling when I review all of the 3-pointers from the past month, chart down the results, and realize progress hasn’t been made. For a while, I thought it might feel like a zombie apocalypse survival journal, but I ultimately determined this wasn’t the feeling. Continue Reading…