Caveats, Praise, Concern & Fun Ahead

Some caveats before praising the Timberwolves before acknowledging some (minor?) causes for concern before looking ahead to an exciting weekend of matchups.

Caveats

The Jazz are bad.

It’s nice to see the Wolves win any game, let alone one on the road that begins a winning streak. But Utah is really bad and tonight’s was a game that every fan expected the team to come away from victorious.

You could counter and say that Utah started the season horribly (1-14) and had played .500 ball over their past 26 games before the Wolves home and home.

And you’d be right.

But you’d also be ignoring the significance of Gordon Hayward’s absence from Saturday’s game (he’s their best offensive player) and Derrick Favors’ absence from tonight’s game (he’s their best interior defender).

These were games that the Wolves were supposed to win.

Timberwolves Praise

And they did win!

Both of em.

The Wolves first string jumped out to a great start in tonight’s game. At one point they led 30-12 in the first quarter. Talk about taking command of the game.

And they never really let up.

Corey Brewer played one of his finest offensive games, combining decent jump shooting with clever halfcourt basket cuts (which Love rewarded with assists) and a few of his patented leakouts. Brew had 19 points on 7-11 shooting. I’ll go out on a limb and say that they’ll never lose a game when they get that efficient of production from Corey.

Kevin Martin made a pair of threes in the early part of the game where his defender wasn’t quite out on him. The ones where he stands there with the ball, thinks about it, and fires. He missed a few of those, later in the game. They’re actually not bad looks and I don’t know why his opponents let him shoot. Martin then had a really cold stretch (he ended the game 5-16 from the floor) and sustained a pair of injuries. The first was to his ankle when he landed on Richard Jefferson’s foot. The second was to his hand — which was cut — when he deflected a pass. He left the game after the hand injury. Martin finished his game well, like he began it. Only at the free throw line instead of behind the arc. He and Brewer both had great cutting performances. Martin scored more than once by darting backdoor when his defender turned his head.

The man finding them on those cuts was Kevin Love, who posted an MVPish stat line of 19 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists – compared to just 2 turnovers. Love played under control, yet dominant. On more than one play, he saw Pekovic about to shoot a hook shot and set up shop on the opposite block. On one of them, the soft miss was right there and he tipped it in. On the other, he would’ve done the same thing if he wasn’t fouled. The whistle blew and the Wolves retained possession. He and Pek have formed an unbelievable chemistry on offense.

And last but not least, Ricky Rubio played an excellent game. Not only because he dished 13 assists and scored 11 points on just 5 field goal attempts, but also because defense matters. Even point guard defense. Ricky’s taken a beating in the newspapers and across internet punditry (some on this space) but it can never be repeated enough how awesome of a defender he is and how much it helps his team; a team that might truly suck on that end of the floor if he wasn’t playing. Early in this game, as the Wolves built their big lead, Ricky was digging down on unwitting Jazz post players. The steals he created led to transition offense and confidence for players like Corey Brewer who feel at home when the ball is rapidly changing possession.

It isn’t just the steals, either. Alec Burks, who is REALLY explosive off the dribble, was cut off by one of Ricky’s anticipatory lateral slides. Burks isn’t used to being cut off on dribble penetration. Not by a closing-out defender, anyway. But Ricky sees some things before they happen and he was there. Burks coughed up the ball.

Those types of plays should not be taken for granted. Trey Burke, who is off to a really nice start to his NBA career, was badly outplayed by Rubio in both Wolves-Jazz matchups.

And before I close on Rubio, I should also point out that he took the free time created by blood spilled on the floor to play catch with a little fan (from USA Today’s Sean Highkin):

Only Ricky.

Causes for Concern

Alexey Shved broke his nose when Rudy Gobert inadvertently smacked him upon landing from blocking his shot. While many fans might view a Shved departure from the lineup as good news, I’m less certain of that. He’s played much better of late; particularly since Ronny Turiaf returned to action and toughened up the second unit.

When Alexey left tonight’s game, the second-string offense went to crap. J.J. Barea was surrounded by Chase Budinger (more on him in a moment), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (one way player, and that way is not offense), Dante Cunningham (can shoot from the elbows, but creates nothing) and Ronny Turiaf (about as effective a scorer as LRMAM). The sets became a series of passes from JJ to teammates, followed by holding the ball until JJ came to take it back and create something.

Kind of like this, in other words:

I don’t know how long Alexey will be out. (Maybe they just fit him for a mask and he’s good to go?) But I worry a little bit about the second-quarter offense in his absence.

Okay, I just fooled around a little bit on nba.com with their lineup data. I think 4-man lineups are a better source of information on the Wolves second unit, because they don’t have a clear cut “second five.”

If you filter out lineups that have played less than 50 minutes, two things stick out in the “net rating” (overall team performance, per possession):

1. 5 of the top 9 four-man lineups have Shved in them. These lineups all have Barea in them, too. That’s Adelman’s reserve backcourt of choice.

2. Barea is in 10 of the team’s 12 worst four-man lineups. Of those 10 four-man lineups, Shved is only in 2 of them. Now, those are four-man lineups, which means there’s another player on the floor with those four guys. So some of the time, that guy was probably Shved. But 10 out of 12 with JJ? That tells me that Invincible JJ is probably doing his thing while the team struggles without another player who can create stuff off the dribble.

I don’t think I like that idea.

Get well soon, Alexey.

The other cause for concern is Chase Budinger. He scored 0 points on 0-4 shooting in tonight’s game. On Saturday he made 1 of 5 shots, which amounted to his only 3 points of that night. In 7 games, playing 15.3 minutes per, he’s shooting 27.0 percent from the field. He doesn’t look comfortable. He’s not getting himself open and he’s forcing questionable shots anyway. Chase is also not looking too spry on the defensive end.

I made some halftime notes, one of which was, “Budinger isn’t getting to good spots.”

Then I saw Britt Robson tweet about it:

I’m sure coming back from his second knee surgery in as many years will take some time. But for now — at a critical point in this season on the brink — the Wolves aren’t getting much out of Chase.

Exciting Weekend Ahead

This is going to be a fun weekend. The Wolves play at Golden State on Friday night and at Portland on Saturday night. Both of those teams present interesting matchups (Rubio vs Curry, Pek vs Bogut; Rubio vs Lillard, Love vs LMA) and the crazy-late game times matter so much less when we don’t have to work the next morning.

I’d love a split of those two games. Either win would represent the team’s best of the season and help get them approaching the tougher games as if they f**king BELONG.

Should be a blast.

Until then.

Season Record: 20-21

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Caveats, Praise, Concern & Fun Ahead

  1. Nathan Anderson

    I like Rick Adelman, but I hate Barea in the fourth quarter.

    I’d rather run Fourth Quarter Foye out there than Barea.

    I liked the LRMAM-Williams trade, but shouldn’t the Wolves have received a 2nd round pick in that deal (even a protected 2nd round pick that evaporates)?

    *Kings, we get that D-Will generally sucks. However, he has “upside” when compared to LRMAM. If your record improves and the second round pick is 40 or lower before 2017, we get the pick. If not, you keep it. Flip! (But Wolves would waste the pick anyway)

    • I agree with the Foye sentiment. I never really wanted to see him go, I just wanted to see him in a reasonable role that would play to his strengths. (Although I must admit, seeing him go as part of the Ricky Rubio trade makes it easier to let go.)

      I don’t see what good LRMAM does for the team. Like everyone else, I think he’s a talented defender, but he can’t crack the rotation of an under .500 team. We know what he is, and sadly, it’s a low RoI even on Derrick Williams. The troubling thing is, it doesn’t seem like Flip and Rick coordinated on this decision. (If they did, Rick sure isn’t keeping up his part of the deal by not playing him.) This isn’t the first time, in his first season back in ‘Sota, that the two seem to have a disconnect. I get the Separation of Powers thing between Rick and Flip. Everyone’s worried about Flip taking Rick’s job, but I suppose in Flip respecting Adelman’s sovereignty on the bench thus far, Rick also respects Flip’s, and does’t try to nudge in and do his job for him.

      All of this might be for the best if Rick is planning to stay – they need to have a cordial relationship, because Flip isn’t going anywhere for at least a few seasons – but if Rick is going to retire after this season, then he needs to have the players he needs to succeed, and for them to succeed, he has to trust them. He obviously doesn’t trust the rookies, and I might not either if I were him. But in dumping a player no one liked (Williams) and bringing in a limited vet whom Rick doesn’t seem eager to get into the rotation, you get the sense that there’s too much separation of Adelman from the decision-making process that happens upstairs.

      It would be disappointing if Rick gave a lukewarm green light to the trade after it was basically in place just so that he wouldn’t have to check his blood pressure after practice every day anymore due to the anger that Derrick’s miserable fundamentals would evoke in any coach–especially one with Adelman’s lack of patience for young guys who don’t know how to play. I suspect it was even worse than usual with Derrick, because not only did he not know how to play, one of the many things he never learned before turning pro was how to play hard.

      Yikes. I don’t like sounding this glum after two lopsided victories, but my gut tells me (no statistical evidence of this, I’m afraid) that the coach-POBO relationship is unsustainable.

      • I think LRMAM has an unusually specific role (iso-wing stopper) that only matters against great iso wing scorers. (Well, it only offsets his horrible offense in those instances.)

        Iguodala isn’t a great wing scorer, but he’s a pretty damn nice creator off the dribble.

        Might we see LRMAM check him on Friday?

        On Saturday, Portland has Batum. Nothing special there, but Brewer best not be gambling too much in the lanes. Like Kawhi a little while back, Nic knows how to cut to the basket.

        • LRMAM matches up better against Iggy because Brew is so weak that he must whisk in the wind a bit at the mere thought of checking him for 40+ minutes. LRMAM should get some minutes against Iggy. We’ll see.

          Brew matches up better against Batum. They basically have the same body, and I like Brewer’s ability to create a hoop or two on his leak outs, which you’re not going to get from LR. I don’t think LR sees the floor against Portland, and that’s probably the right call.

          How frustrating is it to watch Budinger right now? It’s almost to February, and he’s still *really* rusty. Nor does he look to be moving very well. When you see multiple injuries and limited recoveries, you worry that the guy has a chronic injury. It’s too early to panic, but as down as a lot of fans are on Brewer and his kahntract, it might turn out to be Budinger’s they rue even more if he isn’t back to his old self by the quarter mark of next season.

          • Nathan Anderson

            Both wing contracts are killers. 3 years $15 (with player options?). But if Bud can’t run, his contract is more killer. Why did Flip think it was a good idea to invest $30 million on two SFs that would likely not play more than 20 minutes a night on a winning team?

            did you all catch the recent Adelman quote on Shved playing time? Something like: if you’ve got a young guy that can play, you have to live with his mistakes.

            The Williams-LR trade is also consistent with Flip being a terrible GM. Flip and Rick could have talked and agreed that Williams was not a net positive for the team and that he should go. Flip scours and the league and says this is the best I can do: LR.

            Rick has to trust him that he could get nothing more. Rick thinks, well I don’t know how much I can play LR but at least when he is playing he will contribute.

            • Good points. I’ve always thought Budinger has been a bit overrated by Wolves fans lusting after the shiny object (literally and figuratively, in Bud’s case) who fit their idea of the kind of player the team ought to be pursuing in free agency and deploying on the court to shoot threes efficiently. Because they barely got a glimpse of what that shiny object actually looked like last season before he got hurt, it seemed like there has been a lot of wistful thinking and false optimism about Budinger how big a difference he would actually make for the team.

              I get that Budinger has shown that he can shoot at times in his career, and that his advanced stats suggest he’s got the makings of a pretty decent role player (which he still might turn out to be). But I spent a fair amount of time watching him play both at Arizona and more so in Houston, and the eye test always disappointed relative to the expectations. To me, Budinger has just never looked very impactful on the court, which is why I disagreed when people were suggesting he should be a lock to replace Brewer in the starting lineup upon his return. (I’m happy to acknowledge all of Brewer’s flaws, but he’s so much more active than Budinger that until Bud becomes consistent as a three-point threat, I prefer the active player to the relative non-factor.)

              I’ll be very happy if Budinger proves me wrong and has a few nice seasons for the Wolves, but he’s now been here a year-and-a-half and has shown little when healthy and has mostly been paid to watch games while rehabbing injuries.

              I think this gets to the Rick-Flip issue–this seems to be the one case, along with the Kevin Martin signing, presumably, when Flip made a decision at least partly because he knew it was what Adelman wanted. Assuming that Flip was reading Adelman in, or actively soliciting his feedback, on free-agent signings, why not on the draft and on trades? I suspect Rick would not have supported the decisions that resulted in Shabazz and Dieng ending up here, and as we’ve discussed, he doesn’t seem enthusiastic about LRMAM’s ability to contribute. I just don’t get the disconnect across the various transactions the Wolves have made since Flip took over.

              • Nathan Anderson

                Budinger is the great white hope. IIRC, Milwaukee was the other team (over) bidding on his services. Wow. Two astute front offices in a bidding battle.

                I find it hard to see a disconnect when I see so much incompetence from Flip. Maybe Flip is listening to Adelman and trying to get what Rick wants but literally cannot do it.

                Flip: I’ve been looking into Williams trades. You told me you wanted a 3 can defend and is capable of being a two-way player. I called all the GMs and was offered LRMM and Jason Richardson. That’s the best I can do.

                Similarly on the draft.

                Flip: Rick, I can trade our pick and get Olynk at 14 and a SG at 21.
                Rick: That sounds great!
                Flip: Well, I screwed up, Rick.

                Is that a disconnect or just a bumbling fool as GM?