I knew I wasn’t [completely] overreacting to that bad loss on Wednesday night. Despite the injuries that have overhauled the Wolves starting unit, the team still has enough talent and grit to play competitive basketball. “Competitive basketball” would have prevailed against the Bobcats that night. Last night’s game was fun to watch because expectations were low and the game remained in doubt into the closing possessions. Unfortunately, the comeback was incomplete and the Warriors prevailed. The “Good Job. Good Effort.” feel to this loss was on clearest display on the game’s pivotal possessions. Dante Cunningham had just pulled down one of the most impressive offensive rebounds I have ever seen. He FLEW through the air from the top of the key and collected Luke’s missed trey at a ridiculously high point. Cunningham was then fouled and, after a Warriors timeout, hit a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 3 points with under 3 minutes to play. Golden State ran a high ball screen for Jarrett Jack (Steph Curry had fouled out of the game) with David Lee being the screen and roller. Cunningham defended the entire play perfectly, even anticipating Lee’s spin move to a lefty turnaround. Lee somehow managed to make the shot. Tip the hat to Lee, because he played a great game against a slightly-overmatched team.
It was disappointing to lose a close game, but I can’t really complain about much, given the injury situation. It is worth pointing out that the Warriors are without star defender Andrew Bogut and high-quality rotation player Brandon Rush. But those pale in comparison to Minny’s IR List of Rubio, Love, Roy, Pekovic, Barea and Budinger. This was a well-played game, given the talent on the floor.
A few bullets about the game, and some happenings around The Association:
* Alexey Shved was given starters’ minutes and he took advantage of them. Coach got it right this time, giving Shved almost 33 minutes and limiting Malcolm Lee to 18:55. Alexey had his groove back after a slight regression against Charlotte. 22 points, 7 assists and only 2 turnovers is a solid night’s work for a rookie guard. Worth mentioning: Golden State was hardly “blowing up” the ball screens the way that Charlotte was. As time goes on, we’ll see teams try different tactics to frustrate him out court. He’s a little bit loose with his handle and doesn’t use his body very well to protect the ball. But he does seem to be [quickly] improving at drawing fouls. He even managed to get whistled for a technical foul; his second of this early season. Perhaps most important from Shved last night were the 17 shot attempts. He needs to shoot to keep defenses honest. Shved really is a “pass first and second, shoot third” kind of player. Much like Rubio. That’s fun to play with, and effective because he’s such a gifted surveyor of the floor, but he needs to shoot too.
* Mark Jackson has made himself an easy target of criticism, both for his work as a color commentator on ESPN/ABC and for his personal transgressions that are unbecoming of any husband and father, let alone one who also calls himself an ordained minister. Setting those things aside, I was impressed by his team’s offense last night. Golden State does not have a “superstar” player. Steph Curry is a crafty point guard with elite shooting ability. Klay Thompson is a big wing who aggressively hunts for his shot without dominating the ball. Harrison Barnes–called on for full duty after the Rush injury–is learning the ropes and has all-around fundamentals in a Shane Battier sorta way. David Lee scores and rebounds. Doesn’t defend. The center is by committee. I like how Jackson uses Curry and Thompson. They cause fits for defenders trying to keep up with them cycling around screens and, with enough patience, the Warriors finish possessions against a scrambled defense. Whether the shots go in or not is not necessarily dispositive. Last night, many missed shots were rebounded by Warriors (mostly David Lee) because blocking out is impossible for a helping defender. When–scratch that. IF, the Warriors can get Andrew Bogut in good health, they are a dangerous team. If Barnes improves over the course of the season, they could be better than the Wolves.
* Dante Cunningham makes 18-footers like they are free throws.
* Derrick Williams made jumpers last night. He missed bunnies. Solid game for him though, putting up 23 & 7 (with 4 blocks) in 37 minutes of action.
* Malcolm Lee is not a special defender. He’s a pretty solid one though.
* Josh Howard did some nice things off the bench, but probably got a little trigger happy late in the game. Still, a huge upgrade over the minutes that were being handed to Lee and Conroy in the Bobcats game. For now, he’s needed.
* I’m in a couple different ticket groups, but I usually sit in the back corner of the lower bowl. Last night, I was in the upper deck, about halfway up but right on the half-court line. Very good place to view the action. Obviously you can’t observe the players’ faces and hear things the way you can if you’re sitting close to the floor. But if you’re a hoops geek who really enjoys the action, it’s a great place to watch for an affordable price. Infinitely better than the upper deck seats behind the basket or in the corners that basically require binoculars if you plan to pay attention to the game.
Around the league…
* The Knicks finally lost, dropping last night’s game to the Memphis Grizzlies. Those teams are atop the league standings, each with only 1 loss. They are also two of my favorite non-Wolves teams, so this pleases me. I’m not sure if either is a contender, but Beckley Mason had a pretty interesting take yesterday that compared the Knicks to the 2011 Mavs. It’s nice to see Melo getting some deserved credit and annoying to see the wrong takes that he’s somehow changed his game. He hasn’t. He just has–like much of his career–some good teammates and a good coach. A team built around Melo’s scoring can win 50+ games and be a fringe title contender. Yes, that means he’s an elite player. Through a whopping 7 games, I’m feeling good about my “Knicks will win the Atlantic Division” prediction. A prolonged injury to Melo or Chandler would derail this, of course. Amare RETURNING from injury could also derail it. It’s a long season.
* Royce White. A damn shame. In case you haven’t followed the recent developments in White’s rookie season, he is away from the team and entangled in some type of dispute about how the Rockets are (or are not) handling his anxiety condition. I don’t know the details of the dispute, but White tweeted today that it has nothing to do with his fear of flying. He tweeted a short while ago:
(In case that tweet gets taken down–and I really hope he just shuts down his Twitter account as it is doing him WAY more harm than good in recent days–I’ll quote the tweet. White wrote, “Last Thing: This is not about FLYING, travel plan is solid. This is about setting PROTOCOL and a willingness 2 become educated. #AllProgress”)
White has said that he is prepared to give up his NBA career if necessary. He explains:
We all look at the stories that happen later and go, ‘Man, you just wish this guy was able to communicate his problems.’ Or you wish somebody would just’ve talked to him and wished that the communication would’ve been there.
Well now the communication’s there and there’s still a problem, right? That means the problem isn’t us. The problem is the art of the business, right? At no point will I compromise my health in the interest of business.
The first part is a little scary, because it sounds like he’s possibly referring to suicide. The second part needs more explanation–I don’t see much connection between “the art of the business” and whatever his hangup is with the Houston Rockets. They have appointed a doctor for him to see about his issues. My guess is that White and his agent were consulted in the process of choosing the doctor and laying out a plan. Maybe not. But something is obviously going wrong.
I’ve followed White’s basketball career longer than most of the national writers that have gobbled up his story and placed him on this humongous pedestal of Outspoken Anxiety Awareness Advocate. I watched him play a high school game against current Gopher and should-have-been teammate Rodney Williams. White was strong and physically gifted; incredibly unselfish, always looking to pass first. His team won by 20 or so, and White was the best player on the floor. As a lifelong fan of the Gopher program, I was ecstatic when he “took his talents” to the U of M. Despite his checkered past (he was expelled from DeLaSalle–Alan Anderson’s alma mater) I was confident that Tubby Smith would be a positive influence on him and that he would thrive as a Golden Gopher. Then he was arrested for shoplifting and shoving a security guard at Macy’s. Then he was implicated in a laptop theft on campus. Then he was suspended from the basketball team. Then he was no longer a student of the University of Minnesota. Dammit.
Later, I watched him play at the Howard Pulley Pro-Am. Just like in high school, White showed mad game; this time on a floor with college stars and professionals. He was just TOO BIG to be able to handle the ball like that. If he could stay out of trouble, he’d be a star. Fred Hoiberg, former Timberwolves player and executive, welcomed Royce with open arms at Iowa State and, sure enough, he was great. White shined in the Big 12, eventually starring in an NCAA Tournament game in which he was the best player on a floor that had Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on it. He played himself into high draft position and was selected by the Rockets in the first round of the draft. A “guaranteed” contract, unless he quits his job, which now sounds like a distinct possibility.
How are we to discuss this situation? It’s a touchy one, because a great many people are affected by different mental illnesses and they bring about a stigma that White is relentlessly trying to rid from society. He’s an admirable young man, in that respect. But he’s failing so miserably in his basketball career–the thing that gives him that pedestal to speak from–that it’s worth questioning whether he’s now doing more harm to his cause than good. What are the parameters for discussing this? One extreme side would be, “What a pussy. He needs to toughen up and get to work.” The other end of the spectrum would be to excuse every mistake, citing anxiety as the cause of skipping the opening days of training camp and now continuing an extended absence from his team in the middle of the season. Reasonable is clearly somewhere in between.
Two questions drive the issue of whether Royce White will ever play an NBA game:
1) Is he just extremely immature? Nothing to do with his anxiety or fear of flying–just plain old immaturity that keeps people from taking accountability for their actions and their lives? I don’t know the answer to this, but if it’s “yes” then it’s something he has in common with many failed NBA players before him. If the answer is no, there is hope for him to make things work with the Rockets or a different team.
2) Does Royce actually want to be a professional basketball player? Maybe he doesn’t. One of his endearing qualities is his interest in John Lennon and music. He might just not have his heart in basketball, and–whether he realizes it or not–this is keeping him from committing to his new job. Nobody could fault him for this, but it is something the Rockets would like to know before paying him millions of dollars to be a member of their team.
Royce is one of the most interesting basketball players I’ve seen. He’s become one of the most interesting figures in all of professional sports. I really, really want to see his career take off like I think it could. But at this point, it’s beginning to look like he may never play a real NBA game. Maybe that’s alright with Royce.