Monthly Archives: December 2011

Malcolm in the Middle

Malcolm Lee looked way better than I expected in his four minutes of burn in Saturday’s preseason opener. He’s gonna be pretty good.

SAMPLE SIZE!”, you scream.

The thing is, Minnesota has no viable option right now at the two, so Lee’s gonna get burn. How much, we still don’t know. But it’s clear he already has the handles Johnson lacks, the length Ellington lacks, the defensive chops Barea lacks, (presumably) the ability not to get hurt Webster lacks, and the UCLA/Ben Howland pedigree everyone lacks. NICHE!

Lee’s 29.5% 3PFG last year isn’t good, but Rick Adelman won’t be giving him those fringe rotation minutes to chuck threes. So keep an eye on Lee this season and see if you can’t help smiling a little, not just because of Lee’s showy ball-hawking but also because as the dust clears from Kahn’s draft night trading spree, it looks like he actually walked away with some value.

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The (preseason) Debut

It was just preseason.  It was just preseason.  It was just preseason.

With that out of the way, here are some thoughts on last night’s much-anticipated debut of Wolves rookies Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams:

* HOLY $%!# is this team fun to watch!  Rubio’s floor vision was everything advertised and more.  He quickly showed Minnesota how to rocket a skip pass to the opposite wing after peeling around a ball screen.  That pass isn’t there for many NBA guards.  For Rubio it just seemed like the natural choice.  It was the open man.  His bounce passes were flashy–sometimes unnecessarily so–and always on the mark.  The alley-oop to Williams is what fans will remember from the debut, but Rubio served a steady supply of dishes that–for one night–seemed to justify the hype.  Again though, just preseason.  What is refreshing to see is that while Rubio clearly can dominate the ball and make plays, he’s equally happy to push into the offense and make the simple pass.  He’s a true point guard.

* Derrick Williams shot the lights out.  He catches the ball ready to fire.  I was surprised to see him on the bench for such a long time to begin the game, but he took advantage of the minutes given to him.  Adelman used a small-ball lineup for much of the second half with Williams at the 4, and Tolliver at the 5.  Whether that group can rebound and defend remains to be seen.  What can quickly be gathered, however, is that surrounding Ricky Rubio with four lights-out shooters is a recipe for offensive success.

* Mike Beasley and Kevin Love were the star forwards that we saw for that early stretch a season ago.  Love’s jumper was in midseason form, and he pulled down his usual 15 boards in limited minutes.  Beasley was moving without the ball!  If there’s anything to gather from last night’s game in terms of the Adelman Effect, it is how Supercool Beas was being utilized.  He was curling off screens, drawing fouls, and burying the same dribble jumpers that make his talent special.  On defense, Love seemed to bang with Andrew Bogut okay.  That’s the sort of center that I envision Love defending.  His physical nature and low-center of gravity help hold position on strong posts like Bogut.  Beasley went under a screen or two and left his man open in the corner for a trey.  But, his overall effort was okay and he never became a problem on that end.

* Not such a great night for Wes Johnson or Anthony Randolph.  Wes’ offensive limitations were on full display once again, last night.  His ticket to the starting lineup will be through defense or nothing.  AR15 was pushed around by physical Bucks, and invited to take 13-footers on offense, only to force a dribble drive that wasn’t there.  These two are all kinds of long-and-athletic, but didn’t look comfortable in Game #1.  To crack the regular rotation, Wes is probably up against JJ Barea, and Randolph is fighting with Anthony Tolliver.  After one meaningless game, I don’t like either of their chances.

The next and final preseason tilt comes on Wednesday, at Milwaukee.  Here’s hoping that Rubio-Jennings II looks much like the first match.  Until then…

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CP3 Takes LA

The controversial Chris Paul trade negotiations have apparently come to an end, as the Clippers agreed to send both Eric Gordon and our Wolves 2012 draft pick (among other assets) to New Orleans for the superstar guard.  Setting aside the black eye that Stern’s involvement in this process has left on the league, here are some initial thoughts on the trade itself and what it means for the Western Conference landscape:

* The Clips are for real.  Point guard/power forward combinations have been a formula for success ever since Stockton and Malone.  It could very well be that the Clippers have both the best point guard and best power forward in all of basketball, in Paul and Blake Griffin.  Scanning through the West right now, I have to think the Clips are a Top-4 team and fringe title contender.

* Randy Foye, of Foye-for-Roy fame here in Minnesota, may quickly become a relevant NBA player.  With Gordon departing, the off-guard job in LAC is up for grabs and perhaps open for auditions.  Some are speculating that newly-acquired Chauncey Billups could play the two, next to Paul.  I don’t know if it’s that simple.  Chauncey is a point guard.  That’s where he’s made his money.  Foye, for better or worse, has become a natural off-guard.  With two supreme defender magnets in Paul and Griffin at his sides, Foye might find a freedom rarely enjoyed by NBA wings.  Just last year when Gordon was out with a month-long injury, Foye put together nine games of 20 or more points.  He may relish in this role between superstars.  I hope so.  He’s a class act who didn’t ask for the scrutiny of being traded for a great like B-Roy.

* As a diehard NBA fan, I have to pretend not to see the (obvious) signs of corruption that creep into the storylines from time to time.  Whether it be the Knicks and Bulls winning the draft lottery, Tim Donaghy fixing games with his whistle, or, as with this very transaction, David Stern playing God with fair Chris Paul trades, the league sometimes seems a bit sketchy.  Why does this matter?  Because the league-owned Hornets now possess the Timberwolves 2012 Draft Pick, and have a rooting interest in the Wolves being terrible.  Until Stern finds a buyer for that team, he has an interest in maximizing its value.  What better way to do that than pair Eric Gordon with the #1 Pick in the draft?  I’m going to pretend this doesn’t matter, and that the Wolves will be so good this year that their pick isn’t even in the lottery.

In any case, it’s nice to have this saga behind us.  Once D12 heads to Jersey, all can focus on the basketball being played rather than the next big trade.

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Timberwolves Season Preview

It seems appropriate for the first real post on Punch-Drunk Wolves to be a preview of the Wolves’ upcoming season.  With major additions to the roster (Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams) and to the sidelines (Coach Rick Adelman) there is, I think, some genuine excitement about this season from the Casual Minnesota Sports Fan.  This is significant for the team, and it makes the opening weeks and months crucial to establish a renewed relationship between this team and the sports fans that extend beyond the state’s hoop junkies.  Here are some preliminary thoughts on what some of this will look like, some questions to be answered, and one man’s predictions for 2011-12.

Coach Rick Adelman

Fresh off of 15 and 17-win seasons, the Timberwolves inexplicably hired the best available coach in the world.  Rick Adelman is one of the greatest coaches in recent NBA history.  Since taking over for the Sacramento Kings in 1999 where he paired with Princeton legend Pete Carrill, Adelman has implemented a high-post offense that encourages passing and backdoor cutting that is simply not seen in other NBA arenas.  This has allowed Adelman’s teams to thrive–sometimes to the point of serious championship contending–without having an A1 Superstar Go-To Guy that NBA champs always seem to have.  Chris Webber and Peja Stojakavich were phenomenal players with the Kings, but neither was a guy who would demand the ball, clear everybody out and take over down the stretch.  The Kings (and later the Rockets) passed and cut the way good college teams do, only with the benefit of the NBA’s strict defensive rules and elite shooting ability in the corners of the floor.  When it’s clicking (and it clicks more often than it stalls) it’s a beautiful thing to watch.  Minnesota is crazy for its Gophers and Big Ten Basketball.  Rick Adelman’s offense should be a welcome site for those college-ball fans who flip the channel over to FSN North when the Wolves are playing.  It is a team concept, five-on-five rather than one-on-one.  Fans will enjoy this.  The days of Isaiah Rider, Al Jefferson, and Michael Beasley holding the ball for five seconds while the others stand around watching should be over.

Rubio!

Ricky Rubio has finally arrived in Minnesota.  The two-year wait seemed more like an eternity in part due to the point guard that was selected moments after him in the 2009 Draft.  Jonny Flynn’s struggles are well-documented and I’d just as soon put them completely behind us.  But I can’t.  I need to mention at least once how happy I am to have the J-Fly Era put to bed in Minnesota.  No more behind-the-back rotation passes or rebellious 30-foot hoists when Luke Ridnour is waiting at the scorer’s table.  I realize that Flynn suffered a serious hip injury that required surgery and that this likely was a cause of his second-year struggles.  But his first year contained the same stupid floor decisions, only with a (slightly) higher success rate.

Wait, this was supposed to be about Rubio.  Sorry about that.  If the Wolves do indeed turn this thing around, Ricky Rubio is going to become a Tim Tebow of sorts, but without the religion.  Put simply, Rubio wins.  Also put simply, Rubio’s stats are mediocre at best.  His shooting percentages as a champion point guard in Spain would rival the very worst in the NBA, and his assist numbers are not out of this world either, for such a renowned passer and floor general.  (Though European assists are skewed low, by how they are measured.)  It could be that Ricky (assuming a starter’s load of minutes) averages something like 8 points and 6 assists a night, with 37 percent shooting, and yet is given the all-important “credit” for the Wolves’ success.  Of course, this will be given by 50.1 percent of NBA fans, while 49.9 have an entirely different take.  The Tebow situation, in other words.  Can it be explained in ways other than numbers?  I can already see Skip Bayless’ head exploding on First Take.  For now, let’s just be happy that the Spanish Prodigy is here and we all will be able to enjoy the opportunity to watch a uniquely-gifted passer, which is a very rare thing in basketball.

The Glut

It might be that the Timberwolves five best players are forwards.  Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams, Anthony Tolliver, and Anthony Randolph will all expect significant minutes this year and each of them plays forward.  Hell, aside from maybe Beasley, they are all natural power forwards.  There’s a glut that will require some creativity with the player rotations from the bench.  Matchups will be important and I think it is safe to assume that the starting lineup will not be the same for all 66 games even if the Wolves are fortunate-enough to avoid injuries.

One possible scenario would be that one of the forwards (most likely Love or Randolph) could start at center.  Adelman started Chuck Hayes at center in Houston, despite his being only 6’6″.  Love would seem like a reasonable candidate for that type of role, given his history of solid defense against bigger post players and his elite rebounding ability near the basket.  However, it should be noted that he lost 25 pounds this off-season, and if you’ve seen any recent video from training camp, it shows.  The guy looks legitimately skinny which isn’t something we expected to say about Love.  Randolph has the length to play center, but not necessarily the basketball disposition.  He’s a ball-handling forward who likes to drive off the dribble.  On defense, in short samples last season, he was bullied by centers such as Marcin Gortat.  It remains to be seen whether he is a viable option in the pivot.

With the small forward position, it really boils down to Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams.  Beasley, like his buddy and teammate Love, also took to the Weight Watchers plan this offseason and is noticeably slimmed down.  I thought his body resembled Tracy McGrady’s when I had the chance to see him play at his charity event, a while back.  I have no doubt that Beasley has his eyes on that small-forward position.  With Williams, there’s no guessing about it, as he announced to anyone who would listen before the draft that he was a small-forward.  Unfortunately for Derrick, that doesn’t make it true.  He is at least 240 pounds and may have the same types of struggles that Beasley did last year in chasing players out to the 23-foot line.  On offense, does Williams have the burst to take his man all the way to the hoop from that same distance?  I question whether Williams is a 3.  In making some hopeful comparisons, I’d guess that he is more like a David West than he is a Carmelo Anthony.  I guess we will see.  Given their respective contract situations (Beasley is up for restricted free agency and a sizable payday next year while Williams is just beginning the bargain rookie scale contract) it would not surprise me in the least if Beasley is dealt in the coming weeks and Williams is your starting small forward as long as he shows he can play there.

Predictions

These predictions are worth about as much as it cost you to read this post, but here goes:

* Wolves will trade for a starting shooting guard.  This could be Monta Ellis, Ben Gordon, Kevin Martin, or somebody else but I think they’ll make a trade for a legitimate off-guard that can handle the ball and score.

* A Timberwolf will win Rookie of the Year honors.  The Tebow-like Rubio debate may even come to fruition in this context if Derrick Williams has the stats, but Rubio has the flair and the… “it” thing that just wins games and makes people love him or hate him.  In any case, I think one of those two will win the ROY.  I think Kyrie Irving will be playing for a terrible Cavs team and he will not be able to thrive as an individual playmaker right out of the get-go.

* The Wolves’ record will be 25-41.  Why 25 wins?  Because it’s one more than 24, which is the most the Wolves have had in any season since Kevin Garnett left town.  Given the shortened season, it would actually be a 31-win pace which is nearly double what they won last year and one short of the combined total of the last two years.  25-41 would show marked improvement and would lessen the blow of Clippergedden.  For those of you unfamiliar with this term, it refers to the 2012 NBA Draft, wherein the Minnesota Timberwolves will hand their pick to the Los Angeles Clippers due to Kevin McHale’s trade for Marko Lima Jaric, about a dozen years ago.  While this is spoiled milk or a sunk cost or something like that–and it isn’t worth fretting about more than we have to, it would be nice if the team won some ball games this year and they don’t hand Blake Griffin’s team a top draft choice.

That’s all for now.  I hope you enjoy reading the blog and contributing below with your own thoughts as well.  This should be an interesting season.

 

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