Another One Gets Away (Nuggets 101, WOLVES 94)

Rick Adelman needs to fix the guard rotations before too many winnable games are handed away. Photo – David J. Phillip, AP

The Wolves extended their losing streak to 3 games on Wednesday, dropping a crucial game against a divisional foe that might be joining the Wolves (and Mavericks, Jazz and Warriors) in the battle of the playoffs fringe.  Despite a fantastic surprise in the minutes leading up to tip-off (more on that in a second) and a large 1st Half lead, the Wolves offense sputtered in the 2nd Half and a winnable game was lost.  This game was relatively simple, with one great thing slightly more than offset by one really bad thing.  Those two things:

Kevin Love unexpectedly returned to the starting lineup.  And was immediately back to his All-Star form.

When I opened up Twitter on my phone at 6:30 last night, I thought I might have been tripping on the acid that Wolves coaches are dropping before setting the playing rotations.  Why?  This:

What?!  Sure enough, Love was introduced in the starting lineup and received a raucous welcome from the home crowd.  Oh, and he played unbelievably well, too.  In vintage Kevin Love form he had a 1st Half double double, scoring 22 and rebounding 11.  The Wolves led by 14 at the half largely behind Love’s dominance of the Nuggets.  He would finish the game with a whopping 34 & 14 and his early return should be considered a huge bit of good news over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Unless your name is Derrick Williams and Love’s return removed you entirely from the playing rotation.

Moving on to the bad part:

Rick Adelman stubbornly refuses to acknowledge what has been obvious all season: Malcolm Lee should not see the floor.

I don’t want to beat this dead horse, but, well, it isn’t dead until Lee is out of the lineup like Derrick Williams now is.  Lee started and played over 25 minutes of last night’s game.  Alexey Shved, the better player who functionally replaces Ricky Rubio’s role, played only 21.  Make no mistake, this rotation blunder very likely made last night’s game a loss instead of a win.  Just like the Charlotte game.  Why is this so?

In those 25 minutes, Lee scored 2 points on 1-8 shooting.  He missed a pair of free throws.  You might look at the box score and say, “Yeah, but Lee was a +1 and Shved was a -5.  It isn’t so obvious that Shved should be taking those minutes.”  Except that would be wrong.  Almost all of Lee’s minutes came when Kevin Love was also on the floor, dominating the game for reasons that had nothing to do with Lee.  Love was a +11 in his first stretch in which he had 16 points and 6 rebounds in 9 minutes and 28 seconds of action.  Lee’s +/- happily accepted that boost that he didn’t do much to contribute to.  If Kevin Love would’ve continued that pace, scoring 50 points and pulling down 30 rebounds, the guard rotation would not have mattered.  But Love isn’t Wilt Chamberlain and he came back to reality in the 2nd Half.

The game was lost in the 3rd Quarter when Adelman continued to play the unproductive Lee next to the limited Luke Ridnour.  Lee played the first 9:38 of the 2nd Half, his last minutes of the game and hopefully the season.  In those minutes he took 5 shots and made 0.  He took 2 free throws and missed them both.  In that stretch of slightly under 10 minutes, the 14-point lead became a 1-point lead and the huge halftime advantage was forfeited.  Look, this isn’t a one-game fluke.  Lee scores 7.7 points per 36 minutes.  Shved scores 16.0.  Lee shoots 27.5 percent from the field and 10.0 percent from 3.  Shved shoots 37.8 and 26.2 percent, respectively, in those categories.  Lee’s 3.2 assists per 36 are doubled by Shved’s 6.4.  Lee has a PER of 5.5.  Shved’s is 16.3.  Lee has WS/48 of .004.  Shved has .111.  If Lee is the better defender, it certainly isn’t by a degree that makes up for the lopsided advantage that Shved has on offense.

What made the guard rotation extra maddening last night was that when Shved finally entered the game in the 2nd Half, it was with fellow ball dominator, J.J. Barea.  Adelman trotted out the two players that can’t do anything with the ball together, and then took them out and brought in the two that struggle to share the ball, each wanting to create the action rather than finish it.  Barea made some nice plays last night, but enough bad ones to help lose the game once the Lee minutes made the game competitive.

A frustrating loss in a winnable game.  Let’s hope the guard rotation gets straightened out.  It’s easy to blame the injuries for these issues.  It’s also disingenuous and ignores the Alexey Shved Elephant in the room.  There’s so much front court talent now that Love is back that 36 minutes of Alexey Shved might very well be enough to win a lot of games.  Last night, it seemed that way.

Season Record: 5-5

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Another One Gets Away (Nuggets 101, WOLVES 94)

  1. Eric in Madison

    You nailed it. Lee should not be playing. I get that it isn’t ideal for Shved to play 36 minutes a night; he’s still learning. But he’s clearly a better option then Lee, especially last night, when, and again you pointed it out, the Nuggets turned the defensive pressure up to start the 3rd quarter, and the Wolves simply had no effective way to respond with Ridnour and Lee.

    They desperately needed Someone who could get into the lane and make plays effectively, which is really neither of those guys.

    • Yeah, Shved is far from perfect, but he’s a better option than Lee and when he’s in the game, open shots seem to come pretty frequently. Josh Howard looks capable of playing some decent defense–the way Lee does–without being quite the liability on offense.

  2. Raskolnikov

    I started following the Wolves last year, primarily because I was intrigued with Rubio’s game. When Rubio returns healthy in December or January, the Wolves’ll be more fun to watch than the early 70s basketball ballet (a synthesis of the streets, the playgrounds, Princeton, and inexplicable God-given talent) known as the (classic) New York Knicks, with Pek, Love, Rubio, the wonderful Shved, and Kirilenko (and Cunningham, Budinger, Barea, Ridnour, etc., bringing it off the bench) picking up where their forebears– Earl the Pearl, Clyde, Willis Reed, etc.– left off. Potentially, the Wolves’ll have the coach and the pieces and the chemistry that, at certain moments, and on a nightly basis, could well give basketball fans the privilege of seeing things happen on the basketball court that somehow transcend the game itself. I don’t even know what that means (who does?), but you definitely know it when you see it, and it was seen briefly for two or three seasons in the early seventies before it faded away and was gone forever. Rubio’s one of the most extraordinary basketball players ever, and barring (further) injuries will go down in basketball lore as such. Rubio’s been likened to Pete Maravich, but Pete Marivich was far too far ahead of his time. Rubio is Pete Maravich fulfilled, blending his (Rubio’s– but also Maravich’s) seemingly preternatural skills into a ballet of wonder-inducing teamwork in a form and fashion that Maravich, by all reports, yearned to obtain back in his day.

    What’s preternatural?

    Three preternatural plays on the basketball court: A very, very tight game. A big game. Dr. J swooping along the baseline air-borne through a massive throng of defenders, a mile from the basket, the basketball cradled in his right hand; Dr. J flying, flying, flying– he HAS to come down sometime, doesn’t he? either that, or he’s going to be stuffed like a pillow first– and suddenly, STILL flying, still air-borne, he’s underneath (and in back of!) the backboard, fatally trapped and fatally outnumbered (but it was an amazing trip nonetheless– wow!) and then… then… wait… wait– what’s THIS– he’s back on the other side of the backboard and still air-borne– still flying– and he’s spinning– still flying, still air-borne but actually, somehow, spinning– and now he’s coming out of the spin flying towards mid-court, flying, flying, flying– but the ball’s no longer in his hands– yeah, he was stuffed!– but, HEY, wait, no he wasn’t, because THERE IT IS rising, rising, rising in the air far far far above the crowd of outstretched hands grasping at it– the ball rising rising rising in the air– it hits its peak, lingers– lingers high up in the air at it’s peak– waits a moment there, just… waits… lingers… and then it softly softly softly drifts earthward and– KISSES THE BACKBOARD, DROPS THROUGH THE NET, AND– and there’s Dr. J, way down on the other side of the court, already on defense, waiting. All of that in one, quick, fleeting, moment.

    LSU and Pete Maravich on offense. The NIT. The defense has been trapping LSU all over the court. LSU has got the ball across half-court, but Maravich is now trapped by, what, three? four? defenders deep deep deep in the corner with literally no where to go, a whirling, jabbing, aggressive, attacking phalanx of hands, arms, and legs cutting off, pressuring, attacking, and obstructing his every option, not to mention his view. And suddenly Maravich whips a behind-the-back perfectly-timed perfectly-placed inter-contintental pass which perfectly nails a teammate who’s cutting straight down the lane to the basket for an easy, easy lay up.

    And the third example: Ricky Rubio. His GAME– his 48 minute game itself– is preternatural. Period. And expect his shooting to improve dramatically, from year to year. Eventually he’ll have games where he’ll shoot lights out– and yet that’s not his game. His game is team. Team, team, team.

  3. Sounds like Adelman has found a replacement, in Lee, for that unfathomable Wes Johnson role…y’know…the one where he got heavy minutes and no one knew why?