Pouncing on an Opportunity… to Make Excuses (Bobcats 89, WOLVES 87)

Chris Webber lost a huge game because he called timeout when his team didn’t have any left. Tonight, the Bobcats made the same mistake… but won anyway.

If NBA fan objectivity had a pH scale with 0 being a non-stop complaining, the-world-is-coming-to-an-end pessimist, 14 being Tom Heinsohn’s views on the Boston Celtics, and 7 being perfectly objective, I’d rate myself at an 8 or 9.  I rely on my eye test more than an analyst should (I say “my” and not “the” because there is no such thing as “the” eye test.  I digress…) but I’ve learned enough over at Canis Hoopus to at least understand where I lose objectivity.  My tendency is to see hope around the corner when it isn’t there, or potential in an athletic young player that never materializes.  Tonight I’ll shift gears because I just watched the up-and-coming, feel-good-story Timberwolves lose a home game to the Charlotte Bobcats.  The Bobcats were 7-59 last season and did not add any veteran players of note.  The key guys in tonight’s game, Kemba Walker and Byron “Mullens Mafia” Mullens, were key guys on last year’s team; the worst in NBA (and maybe professional sports) history.  Before diving into the pool of negativity, let’s get the elephant out of the room: The Wolves are dinged up.  VERY dinged up.  The best player has broken knuckles.  The second-best player tore his ACL.  The third-best player sprained his ankle.  The fourth-best player tore his meniscus.  J.J. Barea and Brandon Roy, not much further down the list, were out with their own problems.  So the excuse was there.  And the Wolves took it.  The reason why I’m pissed off nevertheless is because I thought more of our bench than this.  I thought Alexey Shved, Andrei Kirilenko, Dante Cunningham, Luke Ridnour, Greg Stiemsma, and yes, even Derrick Williams, were good and seasoned-enough players to take care of business at Target Center against a terrible team playing on no rest.  I was obviously wrong.

I’ll break up the problems in two categories.  First are the nitpick things that were bad tonight but not reasons to worry.  Second are takeaways that might have larger implications.  Let the fun begin!

Nitpicks

* Free-throw Shooting – Wolves shot 20-37 from the charity stripe.  If you want to point to one reason why the game was lost, this is what I would choose.  The misses were steady throughout the game and made the exciting comeback the cliche’ “too little, too late.”  54.1 percent on a high volume like 37 attempts is totally unacceptable.  It’s a nitpick because I don’t expect those struggles to continue–particularly when the Big 4 come back in good health. (Did I just pay Chase the ultimate compliment and tie him in with Ricky, Love and Pek?  I guess I did.  Moving on…)

* Russian Turnovers – Five a piece.  10 turnovers from these two key players (very “key” in tonight’s game, for obvious reasons) is way too many.  The turnovers were especially bad because of their type–often careless passes that left fans scratching their heads–and their timing–Shved’s brutal, careless pass on a late-game possession that was only redeemed by Cunningham hustling down to foul and Sessions clanking both free throws.  Kirilenko makes IMMEDIATE decisions with and without the ball.  Most of the time, and even in tonight’s game, that is his best friend. (He had 26 & 12, with a team-best +8)  But an inordinate number of those decisions proved to be the wrong ones tonight, giving rise to 5 turnovers.  Shved’s turnover “type” will be discussed below, because it’s cause for more concern.

* Fatal Mistake from the Bench – With 11:03 remaining in the 2nd Quarter and the Wolves trailing 28-25, Adelman took out star forward Andrei Kirilenko.  Understandable, because AK47 had just played 12 minutes 57 seconds and deserved a quick breather.  Problem was, he replaced him with Will Conroy.  Second problem was, the other guard on the floor was Malcolm Lee.  With a set of guards completely incapable of making shots, setting up teammates for shots, or doing anything of real value, the deficit soared to 13 points in the mere 3:49 that Conroy was on the court.  You could come back and say, “What was Adelman supposed to do?  He only had 9 guys to rotate!”  Yeah, no.  In one regular season game, with no game yesterday and no game tomorrow, he absolutely did not have to put Conroy in the game–especially next to the almost-as-green Malcolm Lee.  I joked on Twitter about Conroy’s epic, small-sample-sized disaster of an on/off split.  While more playing time (heaven forbid he gets it) will bring that thing down to reality, its supreme negativity represents what’s clear on a single viewing, which is that Conroy should not be playing meaningful minutes.  He was trusted with those tonight and, along with Lee, contributed to a double-digit deficit that could not quite be overcome by stronger, late-game lineups.  I was just as upset when they entered the game as when they failed to execute–this is not working with hindsight here.  That combo absolutely should not have seen the floor.  Oh, and in case you’re wondering if Adelman knows how to manage a tight rotation, he does.  The only non-Timberwolves playoff game I’ve ever attended was between Adelman’s Kings and the Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers.  Playing only seven guys, Adelman led the Kings to a decided victory at Staples Center.  If he can play 7 to beat a three-peat juggernaut, I know he can do it to beat the Bobcats.

Bigger Picture

* Will Conroy and Malcolm Lee: Not NBA Players – In Conroy’s case, I mean he probably shouldn’t have an NBA contract.  My guess–and this is all it is–is that he is a great guy with professional practice habits, whose acceptance of a pure bench role is something that the coaching staff wants from its 12th Man.  Oh, and I don’t think his close friendship with Brandon Roy hurt either.  In Lee’s case, I don’t mean that he doesn’t deserve an NBA contract–just that he doesn’t deserve significant playing time.  Ever.  He can’t really set teammates up to shoot, and he can’t make open jumpers.  To be on the floor, he’d better look damn-near like Tony Allen on defense.  But he doesn’t.  He’s okay on defense–he’s obviously a good athlete–but he is not a player to watch as potentially helpful down the road.

* Trusting Shved – The first person that needs more trust in Alexey Shved is Alexey Shved.  Tonight, Charlotte used quickness and aggressiveness to bother him when he dribbled around ball screens.  Like Ridnour often does, Shved let himself get pushed way out court, never initiating contact (the easiest way for NBA guards to draw fouls–just ask Chris Paul) and rarely challenging the defense.  His tentativeness early in the game had a momentary lapse during the transition-fueled comeback in the closing minutes.  But once the game slowed down in the final possessions, he tightened up again.  He’s had some brilliant stretches of play in recent games but it is cause for some concern that he allows himself to be taken out of so many plays.  The second person that needs more trust in Alexey Shved is Rick Adelman.  Malcolm Lee, who I just explained should not be playing extended minutes if at all possible, played 35:22 tonight.  Shved, a much, much better player, played only 23:28.  Flip those around and perhaps the result changes.

* Derrick is done. – I don’t fully understand why Williams remains in the starting lineup.  Adelman keeps trotting him out there only to yank him around for the entire game.  In what was probably unfair to the confidence-shaken youngster, Adelman subbed him in the game with just 38 seconds to go in a tight game after sitting him for over a quarter.  Tension was high when D-Thrill went to the line with a chance to tie or win the game with seconds remaining.  His first free throw caught more backboard than rim.  To his credit, he made the second, only to have Kemba send us home before the desired overtime.  But I’m not lamenting the free throw miss.  Early in the game, two things were apparent: 1) There was an opportunity available to punish Byron Mullens; 2) Williams wanted that opportunity, but couldn’t do anything with it.  He kept missing layups, a notorious problem of his.  The efficient college scorer went 3 for 12 tonight, a not-uncommon type of stat line for him.  Kevin Love needs to come back.  Soon.

I’ll spare you any more negativity.  I thought about digging into Amundson’s offensive skills–err, lack of offensive skills–or Greg Stiemsma’s Darko impression, but it’s late and time for bed.  Big game on Friday when the Warriors come to town.  If memory serves, I read somewhere that Bogut won’t make the trip.  I sure hope Pekovic suits up.  Brandon Roy or J.J. Barea would help too.

Season Record: 5-3

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Pouncing on an Opportunity… to Make Excuses (Bobcats 89, WOLVES 87)

  1. Eric in Madison

    It’s funny. SBNation seems to have this need now, and apparently so do you guys, to get a game recap opinion piece up 2 seconds after the game ends. I don’t think it’s conducive to quality thinking.

    But, you are a quality thinker, and these are good points. I’ll just point out a couple I disagree with: the Russian turnovers. Look, at this point, those guys are asked to make almost every play when they are out there. A couple of them were loose, but really, with the amount of time the ball was in their hands, I wasn’t fussed.

    Also, Shved. He’s 8 games into his NBA career, playing way more and way better then expected. He isn’t perfect, and there will be up and downs, but I’m not comfortable attributing it to a lack of confidence, and I’m unwilling to call really anything he’s doing “cause for concern.” He’s playing damn good basketball, and even tonight, when he lacked a first half impact, he made several huge plays in the 4th quarter.

    On the other hand, what on earth Mal Lee was doing out there for so many minutes is hard to understand. Still, when you are running the guys out there that they are running out there, this isn’t a big shock. They fought for it, but they really need some guys back.

    I no longer know what to say about Williams. His finishing around the rim problems are on the verge of unbelievable. If he were just a little better…

    • @Eric in Madison: I basically agree with your high-level points: the Russians are now required to do so much that they’re going to be making more mistakes; Shved is going to be an inconsistent but high-quality player; and Lee and Williams stink.

      The Russian Turnovers (which would be a decent name for an indie band) are to be expected not only because of usage issue, but look, both of these guys are new pieces on a team with different pieces moving in and out of the lineup around them just about every night. There are going to be some hiccups. A lot of the frustration lies in when, and sometimes how, they’re handing it over: the Shved pass toward the end was JV, and the Wolves dodged a bullet that it was Sessions who happened to grab it and not someone who could make free throws that would’ve mattered.

      Shved is who he is. We’ve been saying that since the first game we saw Team Putin play last summer. You take the good with the bad with him, and you don’t take the keys away, or else the confidence issues Andy’s worried about could become a long-term thing that’s hard to fix under this regime, which I think is what has killed whatever chance Williams had to shine in Minnesota. I was as frustrated as Andy was watching Shved fail to make plays late in the fourth, but I’m putting that aside for now because the law of averages persuades me he won’t bail us out each time, like we’re becoming somewhat accustomed to.

      Malcolm Lee. I like his D and his ball handling a lot, but he just doesn’t have the skill to be out there as much as Adelman has been. I know the roster is depleted, but still, his weaknesses really get exposed when he’s more than just a burst guy. A very, very poor man’s Avery Bradley isn’t going to cut it in volume, even if he might fill a niche somewhere in the League, someday, as a 10th man you don’t mind seeing in the game when the situation necessitates it.

      As always, thanks for reading and chiming in. We dig the conversation.

    • Eric–
      Just getting back to the site, as I was out of town. I agree about the immediate reactions not always being the best–for me, during the week, it just fits best into my schedule. On weekends, I’ll likely do a lot of posting the morning or early afternoon after game night.

      My “game wrap” style is a little different than what I’ve seen other places, and most of the time I don’t think the immediacy affects them in a negative way. I usually plow through the *story* with one or two paragraphs (if you want the traditional recap, startribune.com and other media sites have it, as you and everyone else knows). I mostly enjoy looking for details in the game–tendencies of players, tactical nuances–that won’t get attention elsewhere and sharing them here. I’m not a skilled writer like Britt Robson or the folks at A Wolf Among Wolves, so I don’t edit much beyond a quick check for typos or grammar errors. (Pat’s a good writer, and helps edit my more involved posts.) I’m also less adept at using numbers to explain basketball, so I happily leave that to the Canis crowd who has been doing a stellar job for years.

      This post was obviously more emotional than usual–I was in a bad mood after the game, and used it to blow off steam. I stand by the points made–the ones about Conroy appear to have been prescient, him having been waived less than 24 hours after the post. (I don’t feel at all good about that, by the way–I’m sure that hits his family hard. But I’d rather have Josh Howard in the playing rotation.) Regarding Shved, I’m a huge fan–I even emailed Pat before the Bobcats game and floated the idea of posting something about Shved as a Rookie of the Year candidate (he was averaging 14/7/5.5 per 36 with above-average PER and WS/48 and figures to get more playing time as year goes on.) But he is sometimes loose with the ball, and he didn’t react well to the smaller, quicker, more-aggressive double teams sent his way on ball screens the other night. It’s worth discussing any setbacks he has, because this next wave of games will be the ones where teams are keying on him. They’ve seen the tape of his jump passes, and they recognize he’s a key guy when all the others are out.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting here — you always add to the discussion and keep us in line when we’re veering toward the ditches with some opinions:)

  2. Dave A.

    Williams has difficulty finishing his drives. Therefore, he’s a 3 for 12 shooter. He’s a powerful man and yet doesn’t position his shoulders properly to protect the ball. His arms (and ball) are too exposed and he needs to lead with his shoulder. Adelman talks about this all the time which makes Williams a project and not ready for prime time. He’s a year away from becoming a 6-12 shooter. It will take time.

    • @Dave A.: You nailed it: in lieu of Pete Newell rising from the dead to teach him proper paint fundamentals, I’d nominate someone to get reps with him who can teach the offensive game. I thought Bayno’s work with him would lead to improvement and not just on D, but obviously it isn’t shining through, if it was ever there at all.

  3. Pingback: Selfishly Efficient | Punch-Drunk Wolves

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