The Big 3 (Wolves 120, ROCKETS 108)

The early season narrative for the TWolves has been that Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love are amazing players who need some help.  Other starting players, most notably Wesley Johnson and Darko Milicic, have failed to provide meaningful production or consistent play that breeds any confidence in the two stars’ supporting cast.

Michael Beasley led last year’s team in scoring per minute (21.4 per 36; 19.2 per game) but didn’t make himself many fans after ankle sprains on each leg derailed what looked like a promising season.  In 73 games, he surpassed 30 points 8 times, and 40 points once.  But the way he scored those points, often isolation sets with some ball-stoppage, isn’t popular or always fun to watch.  Also, and much more significantly if we’re being fair, his defense was often times lazy and always incoherent.  A plausible retort to this would be that he was simply “joining the club” of Rambis-coached wings who had no idea how to rotate defensively.  Beasley had serious flaws to be addressed if he were going to be an impact player on an up-and-coming team led by Rubio and Love.

This season, some fans and analysts expected a breakout year from Supercool Mike, both because of Rubio’s playmaking but more so because Rick Adelman would devise schemes to get him the ball closer to the hoop.  A problem with the Rambis triangle was that it often resorted to clearing out for Mike 24 feet from the basket for everyone else to stand and watch.  This wasn’t good for Mike’s efficiency or the Timberwolves win/loss record.  In the early going this year, he showed flashes of improved play.  His defense was been better.  Night and day.  He’s played respectable defense on LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and even Kobe Bryant.  If you watched Wellington try to guard Kevin Martin (or if you remember the days of Shaddy McCants trying to defend Baron Davis or LBJ) you’ve seen an outmatched defender in a Wolves uniform. This is not Michael Beasley.  If he’s focused and coached, he’s an adequate-or-better defensive wing.  His shot was colder than we’ve ever seen it in the early going.  He put together stinkers of 11-27, 2-6, 5-16, and 4-12 before spraining his foot and missing the next 11 games.  It should be noted that the Wolves were probably playing their best basketball in that early going against a brutal schedule.  They trounced the Spurs and Mavs (with Dirk, unlike the second time they beat them without Mike) and held late-game leads on title-favorites OKC and Miami.  But Mike needed his shot to fall like it used to before things could really take off for he and the team.

Of course, the schedule weakened right around the time of the injury and the team ripped off an 11-game stretch of over-.500 basketball, going 6-5.  THEY’RE BETTER WITHOUT BEASLEY!  LOOK AT THE BALL MOVEMENT!  Only, if you watched the Toronto or Atlanta games, you saw what happened against a respectable foe when the game slowed down and shot creating became a necessity.  The Wolves have exactly one shot creator on the team, and he was sidelined for those games.  You might also look at those 6 wins and notice that they came against either garbage competition (Wizards, Hornets, Kings, Pistons) or good teams that were without future Hall of Famers (Clippers without Chris Paul, Mavericks without Dirk Nowitzki).  The record was inflated by an easy schedule.  Despite what some desperately wanted to believe, the team was NOT better without its best scorer.

Fast forward to tonight’s game at Houston.  The Rockets (who recently spanked the Mike-less Wolves at Target Center) held a mighty 9-2 home record heading into this game.  Minnesota had no rest, traveling overnight into Houston after a hard-fought loss against LA.  Houston rested last night in their beds at home.  This was not a game the Wolves should have won.

Oh, but they did win, and they pummeled the Rockets behind Mike Beasley’s 34 points on 14 shots.  Mike had his jumper going, his dribble penetration game going, and he was getting to the line where he hit all 12 attempts.  His monster scoring performance led the way in this one, increasing the lead throughout the second half.  The Ricky & Love show became a Minnesota Big 3, as Rubio damn-near f’d around and got a triple double (18 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds) and Love added 29 & 7 of his own.

Is Mike going to score like this every night?  Of course not.  But he will some nights, and on those nights Minnesota will be almost unbeatable.  When he’s clanking shot after shot?  Sit him down, or watch Kevin Love collect rebounds.  Beasley draws extra defenders, a skill that doesn’t show up in a box score but is essential to consistently-successful offense in the NBA.  He also complements the team’s best players by adding a skill that neither possesses: a dominant one-on-one game that will foul out opponents, allow teammates to get some rest on offense, and challenge opposing coaches into lineup decisions they might not prefer.

I hope this isn’t a one-game fluke, and an amazing coach like Adelman can draw as much of Beasley’s natural talent as is possible.  He’s a restricted free agent this off-season and the forward duo lauded by John Hollinger last year could be really something, especially with the Spanish floor general leading the way.

Some additional thoughts:

* Martell Webster’s feisty defense in the second quarter turned the game.  He plays D on a slightly-different level than his teammates.  Watch a Memphis Grizzlies game for comparable effort and approach.  This is an asset, for sure, especially from a guy that the team can afford to get in foul trouble (because he will, if he plays this way).  Webster should be the starting shooting guard very soon.  Let’s all hope his back stays healthy.  No more of these.

* Derrick Williams is frozen out of the rotation.  TRADE DERRICK WILLIAMS will become a common meme.  That could be wise, depending on the deal, but let’s not lose sight of the talent here, and how similarly-awesome college players with talent took their licks en route to NBA improvement.  James Harden and Evan Turner took time to adjust, as Williams will.  Biggest reasons for NOT trading him:  (1) He’s on the rookie scale; and (2) He’s insurance against Love getting injured or Love bolting after 3 years.  If he continues to improve as a power forward, and he will, those are not insignificant factors.  A shooting guard can be signed in free agency this off-season, if need be.

* Kyle Lowry versus Ricky Rubio could be an All-Star debate in the next few years.  Lowry bested him at Target Center, and Ricky took this match.  Very different players.  Very good players.

Season Record: 10-11

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “The Big 3 (Wolves 120, ROCKETS 108)

  1. Chris F.

    As always, I’m enjoying your post-game posts.

    I rarely get to see Wolves games (as I am living and working in Taiwan), so I depend a lot on bloggers like you guys to get my Wolves fix. It’s just hard for me to believe that this team has won this many games so far after the debacle of the past several seasons, but blogs like this help me to understand why they are doing better.

    I have a question. I’m confounded (as I’m sure most everyone else is) about players such as Beasley, Randolph, Johnson, et al. I recall reading a quote from Tom Kelly when talking about baseball players. He said something to the effect that “you pretty much know what kind of hitter a player is by the time he gets 1000 at-bats.” I heard this some time ago and I’ve always remembered it. There are, of course, always exceptions, but I was wondering if you guys feel there is a similar type of baseline (in terms of games, minutes, or the like) to generally predict whether a player still has time to bring his game up a notch or if what he is now is likely all he will ever be.

    So, with these points in mind, what do you think? This could be a question which could elicit an extensive answer, but any input you have (extensive or not) would be appreciated!

    • Chris-
      That’s a great question and I’m sure that more stats-intensive analysts and fans (see Canis Hoopus, which you probably already read) would have a good answer for you. With respect to the players you listed, I personally think we know what we’ve got with Johnson. His limitations don’t appear to have much to do with system/situation as much as a lack of ability with the ball. Randolph has played for four different coaches in his short career–four very different coaches in Don Nelson, Mike D’Antoni, Kurt Rambis and now Rick Adelman. He’s only 22 years old. He is, as our boy Kahn would say, extremely long and athletic. Also, he’s been productive by some measures in most places that he’s played. I don’t think we can write the book on his career, just yet.
      Beasley entered the league on a team that had Dwyane Wade on it, and made the playoffs a couple of times as a second option scorer who logged quite a few minutes in his second season. He became the overwhelming first option last season and was perhaps mis–and over–used. Given these situations, I am personally willing to at least watch a full (okay–almost full) season of hoops with these guys playing for a proven coach.

      http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/MIN/2012.html

      See the per 36 numbers for Randolph and Beasley. They produce more than their peers, aside from Love. It might make sense for each to see the floor quite a bit. With Randolph, that may be a problem against the more physical bigs in the league, but there are plenty of situations (see the big run against LAL in the 2nd Half) where having him out there will help the team.

  2. Rodman99

    Great write up. So refreshing to read some practical, grounded positivity.

    Totally agree about Beasley. For all the names floated around to replace him, I haven’t seen any with the upside he has. Hope he can play solid ball day in and day out.

    Thinks are looking up for our beloved Wolves.

    • Rodman – thanks for the kind words.

      Let’s face it: positivity flows a bit easier after a lopsided victory for the Wolves. Beasley’s value to this current team probably dwarfs his trade value right now. He is the only wing scorer on the team. I’d guess the team extends that $8 Million qualifying offer and waits for him to (inevitably) sign a long-term deal somewhere else that we’ll have to decide whether to match. A Beasley trade, at this point, seems infinitely-less likely than a Derrick Williams trade. That’s my take.

      • Rodman99

        It’s funny with Beas, one day $8 million seems like an outrageous contract and the next day it seems like a steal of a deal. One thing I think that’s overlooked about him too, is he seems like he lost a lot of weight this offseason too. Just on eye test, he looks like a SF, not a PF. Really think he’s going to be a key asset going forward, but we also need a more consistant 2 to cover for him on his off days.
        I agree Williams seems tradable but also the kind of guy I can see blowing up in a year or two. But I’d take a good deal for him.

        • Here’s the thing: all go-to scorer types have off shooting nights. If Beasley can mitigate the damage on those, and be a solid defender, he’s a good player. If his defense falls apart (like it kind of did in that early game at Milwaukee when he started fouling himself out of the game) things take a different turn.

          $8 Million for one year is a lot different than $40 Million over 5. What I’m expecting is the Q.O. to be extended and, depending on how the rest of this year plays out, perhaps a longer deal at a lower rate will be what Minny is faced with matching.

  3. Hey Andy, I think you know where I stand on this….Michael Beasley has the potential to be a huge asset for the Twolves but he will need time and careful handling. When he plays like he did against Houston he’s as good as anyone. I put this down to the new set-up behind the scenes at the Target Center and the shrewd acquisition of Norm Nixon’s fatherly advice. The “down time” Beasley had with the injury has been a blessing in disguise and has allowed him breathing space. I am particularly liking his reaction on court, when he scores, just now…it’s like…”Yeah, okay, let’s go…I can do that again!!” there’s no posturing or chest beating…business like….dare I say, mature?
    Very promising….let’s draw a halt at promising…If he gets it all together he’s headed towards a good place.

    • Kevin,
      Agreed on Beasley and the injury. It’s allowed him to watch and get a feel for what a good offense can look like with Rubio running it. There will be some ball stops and missed shots along the way (as there are with Love, already) but the net effect should be a gain if things go according to plan.

    • Rodman99

      Well put. He’s also needs to have some fun. Good Beas smiles now and then.

  4. Joe in Mpls

    Good stuff. I’m pumped for the Pacers tonight. A chance for the Wolves to get to .500 against a playoff team. What do you think of the matchup with Hibbert? Are we going to see Bynum numbers from Hibbert, given that he is going against Love and Pek? Also, I really want Webster to have a breakout night and to provide Rubio a shooting guard that maximizes the opportunities (see assists) Rubio creates.

    • Joe,
      Pacers present a tougher matchup than most because both of their bigs can score. Love will probably defend West much of the night, leaving Darko (if he plays) Pek, and Randolph on Hibbert. Randolph has the length, the other two the bulk, to contest Hibbert shots but it won’t be easy. Pacers seem like a fringe title contender in the early going, so this should be a difficult game to win.

      Look the other way whenever Paul George and Wes Johnson match up, and erase all memories of the 2010 Draft.

  5. Anyone read this?

    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1047338-nba-michael-beasley-is-minnesota-timberwolves-fools-gold

    I find it funny how it’s predominantly “stats” guys that seem to snipe at Michael Beasley. This story isn’t about numbers it’s a young man getting his head straight…right now he just needs to ignore facts and figures and get on with becoming part of this team. I understand the need and desire for statistics but sometimes they don’t tell the whole story.

    Joe – Hibbert is going nuts just now…I was under the impression that Darko and JJ were game time decisions?….if Darko is fit then I stick him in against Hibbert to start off with, see if he can get one or two blocks and put him off his stride. Indiana are tearing it up at the moment, if we can get to 0.500 by beating them it will be a massive victory.

    It’s Love, Rubio, a wing…and a prayer.

    • It’s fair to criticize Beasley for his defense last year (not as fair, this year, if you’ve paid attention) and his inefficient offense. The talent is pretty obvious on enough viewings, and the hope is that a great coach like Adelman can pull most of that out. Individual defense metrics by anyone outside of the team’s coaching staff are pretty worthless. Ethan Sherwood Strauss of Hoopspeak wrote about this recently, in a nice piece.

      http://hoopspeak.com/2012/01/stop-synergy-abuse/