Archives For Sacramento Kings

Photo by Kris Krug

When we last left our early-millenial Wolves, their hearts had been broken in Los Angeles. It was now May of 2004, just over a year later and a whole lot has changed. Rasho, Kendall Gill, Rod Strickland and Anthony Peeler had all blessedly moved on, replaced by Sam Cassell, Professor Sprewell, Trenton Hassell and Ervin Johnson. Wally Szczerbiak and Troy Hudson had both missed significant portions of the season with injury. The team was still potent offensively, but with the addition of those veteran scorers their attack was craftier, more deliberate, and better balanced.

But the team’s real improvement was defensive, where they improved from 88 points allowed per 100 possessions in ’02/’03 to 84.2 the next year. Hassell’s manic on-ball D, Johnson’s stoic rim protection and even Spree’s boundless energy all had a galvanizing effect on the team’s defensive culture and particularly on their star. Because that year, KG was on a different plane of existence. He led the league in PER, win share and defensive rebound rate (he was third in overall rebound rate). Ron Artest was the official Defensive POY that season (please), but defensively KG was out of his effing mind. He was, rightfully, the league’s MVP. As a result of all of this, the Wolves had the league’s second best record (behind the Pacers of all teams–bet you’d forgotten that) with 58 wins and earned home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.

Continue Reading…

Ok, let’s take a deep breath. The Timberwolves are not going to start the season with an 84 game losing streak. They are not going to lose every game by 50. They are actually a real basketball team. And lets also take note of the fact that the past week’s blowouts came at the hands of some serious basketball teams. Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, the Lakers, even the Grizz and the Rockets (their strange record notwithstanding): pretty nasty. In any case, over the past two nights it’s been nice to watch the Wolves play two nicely competitive games and even (am I really about to say this?) pick up a road win for the first time in nine months. Observe me observing:

  • I would be remiss not to lead off with Michael Beasley’s visit from the Cannot Miss a Jumper Wizard. Considering what one might expect a 42-point game from Michael Beasley to look like, this one was relatively free of ball-stopping and heat checks (at least in comparison with his typical 4-17 performance–Beasley is that rare bird who takes more difficult shots the worse he’s shooting). He was aided by Omri Casspi’s generous on-ball defense and Sacto’s generally sluggish pick-and-roll coverage which gave him ample space to shoot, particularly in his tranced-out 18-point first-quarter. But Beasley also made good decisions, particularly when running the Wolves three-man weave. And he shrewdly adapted his game by taking the ball to the basket when the Kings began guarding him more tightly in the second half. He really played an awfully nice game.
  • One final Beasley observation: it’s remarkable how much more energy he plays with, how much greater presence-of-mind he shows, how much more purposefully he defends when he’s hitting his shot.
  • Darko looked sharp with that mouthful of blood. It was a nice counterpoint to the gentle way he feathers the ball at the basket. I wanted to compliment him on his second straight merely mediocre game after that string of nightmares last week. And yes, his on-ball defense against Samuel D’alembert and Pau was definitely an improvement. But the guy has still missed 14 of his last 23 shots, most of them from within five feet. Barely mediocre.
  • Games like this cause me to succumb to pleasant, summery daydreams imagining that Sebastian Telfair is a capable NBA shooter and thus, a viable NBA backup point guard. (This would be especially amazing considering that Mo Ager looks distinctly unsuited to the task.) Didn’t Bassie¬† look composed and fluid hitting those calm step-back jumpers, like it was some kind of routine occurrence? One thing that helped: being guarded by Beno Udrih.
  • The Wolves bring a certain edge-of-panic wildness to the task of running a half-court offense, like they’re playing a step-and-a-half faster than they’re really able. (This is particularly true when Corey Brewer or Bassie or Beasley are on the floor). When they’re not hitting shots this produces a nauseating turnover-ridden disaster, a total mess of traveling calls, ill-conceived jump passes and carelessly heaved cross-court giveaways . But when, like tonight, they are getting bailed out by supreme shot-making its actually kind of charming. To wit: Brewer’s awkward, falling-over fourth quarter floater; the play that ended the first half, in which Ager spent many seconds aimlessly wandering the backcourt before sort of fumbling the ball to Nikola Pekovic, who softly dropped it through the net as time expired. It’s ok to laugh now since they won, but really: have you ever seen so many ridiculous backcourt violations in your life?

Photo by Henti Smith

You’ll have to forgive me for jumping on the meme-wagon after just the first game. I certainly hesitate to add anything to the overheated squall this is likely to produce. But sometimes you just can’t pass it up. The barest facts: Kevin Love, the Wolves’ leading shooter, rebounder and best player by far in the preseason, exits the game with 8:39 remaining in the 4th quarter; the Wolves go on a small, but crucial 7-2 run to tie the game at 98; the run falters; Love does not return; the Wolves lose by one.

It had all the hallmarks of one of the more depressing stories of last season: Love (seemingly) inexplicably benched, sinking into a guilt/frustration cycle on his comfy seat, emotionally unable to cheer on his team as the Wolves get edged down the stretch and fans and media get apoplectic. I threw in that parenthetical “seemingly” because, despite the sheer stupefied disbelief of nearly everybody in attendance (myself included), there actually is a totally reasonable explanation for Love’s banishment. And it points to what I think is a really interesting clash of paradigms, of two different way of understanding the game.

Paradigm 1: Kevin Love is your best player. He has a gold medal that he can wear whenever he feels like it. He hit 14 of his 24 preseason threes and led the league in (at least one measure of) efficiency. He is one of the NBA’s finest, most ferocious rebounders. Ergo, he should play in the fourth quarter of a close game. This is the paradigm within which most of the discourse among fans, media and even coaches takes place.

Paradigm 2: For most of the game, the Wolves played defense more poorly than they had throughout the entire pre-season. They made mental errors; they rotated tepidly; they committed foolish fouls. Here’s Rambis on the team’s defensive failings:

The team defensive concepts weren’t there[…]Most of it had to do with our weakside defense not being in their proper help positions. Without boring you with all the details about where they’re supposed to be, but just our weakside, they weren’t active, they weren’t in their spots that they’re supposed to get based on where the ball is and what’s happening offensively. So we were very slow and indecisive in what we were doing there.

Oh, don’t worry Kurt, we’re not bored! When asked if defense was the cause of Anthony Tolliver snagging Love’s 4th quarter minutes, Rambis tersely replied, “Yes, I thought that he was moving his feet well. He challenged shots, he blocked shots. He did a good job defensively.”

This was true enough. During that key 4th quarter run, Tolliver was a model of defensive tenacity and awareness. First, he smartly trapped Donte Green in the quarter, entirely disrupting Sacramento’s offensive rhythm. Shortly thereafter, he was beaten on a basket cut by Carl Landry but quickly recovered for a majestic rejection at the rim (one of his four blocks on the game). On the next possession, Tolliver aggressively rotated to a driving Greene, forcing a pass to Jason Thompson, who missed jumper from far beyond his range.

When the point was raised that Love is “arguably the team’s best player overall” (this was Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, courageously voicing what we were all thinking and bringing Paradigm 1 squarely face-to-face with paradigm 2), Rambis interrupted, with a little edgily, “That’s your opinion…I thought Anthony Tolliver was doing the things defensively that we needed at that point and time in the ballgame.”

In other words, the team’s best player is whoever is playing the best on a given night, with defensive performance topping the list of criteria. Or, put more sharply: this is a 15-win team and 15-win teams have no “best player,” gold medals and preseason stats bedamned. This is really the essence of Paradigm 2: no matter who you are, you earn your minutes every night.

In this NBA, it takes some serious leather to bench your team’s most fan-favored, most media-gilded player simply because he didn’t play defense quite how you wanted him to. Now, I still think that Rambis ought to have reinserted Love once that Tolliver-fueled spurt had run its course. And because there is something chastening and amazing about the way he plays (not to mention that he really is the Wolves’ best player), I would ultimately like to see Love get more burn. But I must say that, despite myself, I find Rambis’ cussedly old-skool moral compass kind of charming. Very Dr. Jack; very Hubie.

Finer Days

Benjamin Polk —  August 3, 2010 — 9 Comments

So it seems like we’ve hit a bit of a dead calm in this strange off-season. Seems like weeks since we’ve had any puzzling transactions, baffling public statements or furious rumors. In the spirit of turning our minds away from the flux and uncertainty at the heart our current T-Wolves, I thought I’d bring us all back to what is most likely the greatest moment in Wolves history (holler if you disagree):

Uh, wow, Kevin Garnett was unbelievably good. Anyone else remember that?

Also: with all apologies to Kevin McHale’s second-finest hour (the first, of course, being drafting Da Kid himself), that Wolves crew, KG excluded, was really not very good at all. Can you believe that a team that started Ervin Johnson, Trenton Hassell, and an already fading Spree even made it to the playoffs, much less game six of the conference finals? I know that Hassell iced Peja that series and that Spree hit some big shots, but still, that team had no business being as good as they were. Seriously, how freaking amazing was KG? He was at least this amazing:

Maybe even better.