First things first. No Rubio tonight. No Love tonight. Both are mild surprises (to me, at least) as I thought Ricky’s 9 days off would be enough to get his back spasms resolved, perhaps with more strength work on his legs to continue working to regain his old burst. Kevin Love left the game the game at Denver with another right-hand injury; this one labeled a sprained finger. Since Love returned to the bench, I thought he might return to action two nights later. It might be for the best–scratch that. It is for the best that Love takes the time he needs to get his right hand back to normal. Presumably that would mean his shot, which was once one of the best in the league, returns back to its normal greatness.
About Ricky’s status:
This sounds about right. I’d guess the back spasms, even if a true condition, were a partial cover for giving Ricky some extended, additional rehab of his knee and leg. He wasn’t playing well–not on offense, at least–and some hard workouts like today’s with Terry Porter are probably a better use of his energy right now than playing in games and growing more frustrated than confident in his progress.
What else about tonight’s game?
* Portland has a better record than Minnesota. I did not expect this to happen. They have almost no bench whatsoever and relying so heavily on a rookie point guard did not seem like a recipe for success. But here they are, 2 games over .500 as we near the midway point of the season. If it ended today Portland would be a playoff team. Speaking of Lillard, check out the profile piece by James Herbert over at Hardwood Paroxysm.
* Looking back at my game wrap from the last Portland game, I’m remembering how dominant Lillard and Matthews were in that game. Adelman had yet to unleash Alexey Shved to the full extent possible, like he is now, and Malcolm Lee played too many minutes that night. One thing to look for tonight: If Shved finds himself guarding Lillard on ball screens, watch for Shved jumping in anticipation of Lillard’s toss-back passes to the popping big. Lillard, for all of his early excellence, is a small player and in looking at some footage of his last few games, his pop passes occasionally get tipped due to their low release point. Shved relies on his height more than most when defending perimeter players and is good at anticipating those types of passes on ball screens. Don’t be surprised if he tips or steals one or two of them tonight. Of course, Luke and J.J. will spend much of the night on Lillard so this may not be possible aside from scrambled sets.
* Wes Matthews shooting open threes in the corner is not something I would prefer to watch tonight. Matthews shoots 5.3 treys per game and makes over 40 percent of them. He’s been a thorn in the TWolves’ side for years. Let’s guard him tonight.
* I haven’t seen any confirmation of this, but tonight could be the 10th game of the season that Derrick Williams starts. Due to Kevin Love’s ongoing and various ailments Williams has been given more opportunities to sink or swim than he or anyone else could have expected, coming into this season. Taking a look at his numbers, Derrick is averaging 16.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. These are both slight improvements from his rookie season. His PER and win shares per 48 are each a hair shy of league average. (14.7 & .099, respectively). The two noticeable problems on his stat sheet are field goal percentage (a paltry .411; almost identical to his .412 from a season ago) and assist to turnover ratio (1 to 2.75). For now, I think the bigger problem is the crappy shooting percentage. In particular, his struggles at finishing around the rim are a big problem. According to HoopData.com, Williams attempts 5.5 shots at the rim per 40 minutes. Of those he only converts 49.1 percent. By comparison Nikola Pekovic makes 61.9 percent and Andrei Kirilenko makes 69.7 percent. Blake Griffin, a high-flying “power” forward, kind of like how I envisioned Derrick Williams to maybe become, converts 71.5 percent of his shots at the rim. A little bit of math says that if D-Thrill improved his rim finishing to Kirilenko-Griffin levels, it would mean one additional field goal made per 36 minutes. He would average 18.8 points on 48.2 percent shooting (per 36) instead of 16.8 on 41 percent shooting. I don’t know what exactly it would do to PER and win shares, but I’d guess the difference would be significant. What about consequential benefits? If Williams made 70 percent of rim shots, might he draw extra defenders and open up more assist opportunities to chip away at that inverted assist-to-turnover ratio?
It’s easy to just plop on 20 additional percentage points and get excited about hypotheticals, but how could he actually do this on the floor? I’ll just rapid fire a few off-the-cuff ideas:
* Watch how Andrei Kirilenko times his cuts when a teammate moves off the dribble. Copy that. Kirilenko shots a high percentage at the rim in part because he finds himself open by the rim after successfully losing his man on a cut.
* Sticking to the Kirilenko tapes, notice how, when he is contested, he uses the rim as a shield against potential shot blocks. Kirilenko releases layups very quickly. He doesn’t try to jump high; he tries to quickly bounce to rim level with arms extended and get that ball on the glass–at which time any swatting is automatically a goaltend–as quickly as possible. Derrick, up to this point, is totally inefficient with how he uses his bounce. He’ll squat down, bringing the ball down with him, usually losing his center of balance and always slowing the process way down. The difference between how Andrei converts and Derrick doesn’t is probably most attributable to the distance Derrick makes the ball travel from that low squat up to wherever he ends up jumping. Distance and time. He needs to clean that up and make it more efficient. If he does that, his stats will follow.
* He doesn’t have an advanced feel for how a half-step advantage off the dribble should be followed by reversing momentum into the body of his defender. This does not only lead to more fouls and free throws, but also helps create separation to finish at the rim. Nobody on the Wolves does it better than J.J. Barea who, at about 5’10” short, finishes 58.2 percent of shots at the rim–and he does it in high volume.
That preview turned into a rant about Derrick Williams. I’m not sure how that happened, but I hope he plays well tonight!