Author Archives: Andy G

Lowe on the Wiggins Step-back J

From Zach Lowe’s Tuesday Column, in his 10 Things I Like and Don’t Like:

4. Andrew Wiggins’s Step-back Jumper

This baby is gorgeous. Again, it’s not an ideal analytics-era shot, but it’s handy to have in your bag with the shot clock winding down. Defenses have already figured out that they have to respect it, and Wiggins can start using the threat of his step-back to work defenders off-balance for blow-by drives.

I wrote about this when we were Waiting for Wiggins, after I spent some time watching his scouting tapes at Draft Express. The most exciting comparison to how Wiggins sets up his man for a step-back jumper is Carmelo Anthony:

Wiggins has a post-up game, and a footwork and cadence reminiscent of Carmelo Anthony on his square-up, step-back fadeaway. IF, and this is a huge if, far from certain or even likely… IF, he can pair that step-back footwork (and accurate shooting, with it) with a strong dribble drive game to the hole, he’ll be impossible to defend with only one guy.

Like Melo.

That’s a sneaky aspect of Wiggins’ game that shows huge offensive upside. There aren’t a lot of outstanding post scorers in the NBA, and the rules seem to encourage smaller-than-seven-footers to explore the post, with square-up action. Like Carmelo, and LeBron, and Wade, etc. If Wiggins can polish up those skills over the next 3 or 4 years, look out.

Anyway, it’s something to watch for. Over time, we’d like to see Wiggins mix some drives into his post-game.

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The Timberwolves Weekend & When Basketball Isn’t a Competition

“[I]f you want to call it a form of socialism, as some do, in terms of how sports leagues operate, I would say from an economic standpoint, we’re a single enterprise. We’re trying to create competition among teams. And that’s what makes our system.”
Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner

“I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.”
Daniel Plainview

competition \ˌkäm-pə-ˈti-shən\ : the act or process of trying to get or win something (such as a prize or a higher level of success) that someone else is also trying to get or win
Merriam-Webster.com

“YOU PLAY, TO WIN, THE GAME!”
Herm Edwards

Generally speaking, a professional basketball game is supposed to be a competition. Owners pay a management staff to hire coaches, scouts, trainers and most importantly players to compete against somebody else’s team. The goal is to win the game.

There are exceptions to this general rule. Sometimes, some things have greater priority than winning a game does. At the management level, teams sometimes trade away their best players in order to ensure a worse record and higher draft position. Philadelphia is the most notorious example of this “tanking” strategy. By intentionally fielding a worse lineup, Philly is not competing.

At the coaching level, Gregg Popovich will sometimes sit out his best veterans in order to rest them for the playoffs. In terms of a championship pursuit — his main goal — he is competing. But on that night, he is not. He would play his best players if he cared about winning that game.

Coaches fail to compete in other ways. Some might say that by “checking out” last season with an eye on retirement, Rick Adelman failed to compete. Or, for another recent Timberwolves example, Kurt Rambis talked about the slow process of teaching a young team and how he was asking his players to do things that they were not yet comfortable doing. However implicitly, Rambis was acknowledging that he was not competing to win. If he cared most about winning, he would’ve set more ball screens for Ramon Sessions and sat Jonny Flynn on the bench. But instead he was using games as practice laboratories. Losses ensued.

Lastly, sometimes the players themselves fail to compete. This can also take different forms. It can be excessive selfishness in on-court decisions. If a player is clearly putting his own stats over the greater good, he is not competing to win the game. It can be refusing to play through a reasonable amount of pain. Nobody is expected to be Kevin McHale, hobbling on a broken foot in the NBA Finals. But basketball creates soreness and every player responds differently to it. In the lens of competition, the ones that best balance injury prevention with playing as much and as hard as possible can be considered the most competitive. They are trying the hardest to win.

But the worst and ugliest deviation from competition is when the players simply don’t show up to play hard.

And that’s what we saw from the Timberwolves this weekend.

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A Turn Toward Player Development (Rockets 113, WOLVES 101)

The downside to the Ricky Rubio ankle sprain injury is as obvious as it is significant:

Instead of playing competitive basketball that is fun to watch, the Wolves would instead struggle to win and sometimes look really bad when nobody can create any offense. That was certainly the case in the second half at Orlando — the first Rubio-less action of the season — when the Wolves lost to one of the league’s very worst teams. It held true the following night in Miami, when they fell behind 29-13 after one quarter. Despite a gritty effort that cut the Heat lead to 4, the talent disparity won out in the end. The Wolves lost by 10 to D-Wade and Bosh.

And last night, facing the Houston Rockets in Mexico City, the Wolves were again outclassed. The Rockets probably have both the best shooting guard and the best center in the NBA. The Wolves don’t have a single player who is currently in the top five at his position in the league. Kevin McHale rode his superstars hard in last night’s game — James Harden played 40 minutes and Dwight Howard played 33 — and they did not let him down. D12 was a beast for every second he was on the floor. If he wasn’t posting up to score, he was tipping in a teammate’s miss. On defense, he was patrolling the lane and swatting anything in sight.

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A Frustrating Turn of Events (MAGIC 112, Wolves 103)

Let’s begin with an assertion that I have no way of backing up with real evidence:

Had Ricky Rubio not sprained his ankle in the second quarter of last night’s game, the Wolves would’ve beaten the Magic. Probably by a comfortable margin. They’d be 3-2 and riding a winning streak into a fun game tonight at Miami.

Unfortunately, as you probably already know, he did sprain his ankle — badly, it seems — and he missed not only the remainder of the game but will probably be out for at least a couple of weeks. The Wolves ended up losing the game, 112-103 in overtime. There is no positive spin on this injury news–not unless Zach LaVine surprises everybody with quality play in Ricky’s absence, anyway. The Wolves were 2-2 and generating positive vibes about both present and future. Now, without a viable starting point guard, they figure to struggle considerably. The probably-delusional playoff hopes that we’ve heard so much about will be dashed sooner than expected if Ricky sits out a month. That would mean 14 games, and – just eyeballing the schedule — more than half of them come against likely playoff teams.

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The Wiggins Microscope, Part I: Finding Easier Ways to Score

microscope

First off, I just made up that title, and I don’t even know if this will be a series. But given the attention that we all pay to Wolves rookie Andrew Wiggins when he takes the floor, it makes sense to carry that over into closer detail of his game on the blog.

With a tiny sample size of three games — which also happen to be his first NBA experiences — we do not have a lot of data to work with. Wiggins has played a whopping 73 minutes and attempted 24 field goals. He’s made 9 of them.

So this is REALLY a first impression we’re talking about.

But having seen him play three real games now, I feel confident in saying that too many of his shots are of the “contested jumper off the dribble” variety. Those are fun to watch when they go in, but difficult to make consistently for just about anyone not named Kevin Durant. While Wiggins shares an important quality with KD — height and athleticism that allows him to get a shot whenever he desires — he’s clearly not as talented a shooter at this point in his young career. If he ever approaches Durant’s abilities as a straight scorer, he’ll be playing a Hall of Fame career.

So what can Wiggins do, for now, to get easier shots and score a little bit more efficiently?

His first two baskets against the Pistons on Thursday night offer a road map:

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Early Impressions (WOLVES 97, Pistons 91)

Forming Early Impressions of the 2014-15 Timberwolves

It was important to get a win last night. For one thing, the Wolves opened their season against at Memphis, where victory seemed nearly impossible and in fact the Wolves lost. They also have the Chicago Bulls coming to town on Saturday. Many expect Chicago to win this year’s East. Therefore, last night’s contest versus the Detroit Pistons was the only clear-cut winnable game of the first three.

For another thing, Flip Saunders and the Timberwolves were introducing their new players to the home crowd for the very first time. The #EyesOnTheRise crew and the entire roster were introduced out of the tunnel with a laser show and drum line. Clearly, Flip is channeling his inner 1970s Bill Musselman — a personal basketball mentor of his — in promoting this Wolves product with as much flair as he can get away with while also carrying out his duties as coach and front office boss.

So with these heightened stakes, the victory that the Wolves pulled out in the closing minutes of last night’s game — thanks to the huge run in the 3rd Quarter behind Pekovic’s work around the basket, and a string of Andrew Wiggins highlights — caused some excitement and perhaps some sense of relief. While the Wolves don’t — can’t — realistically expect to vie for a playoff spot, they do have hopes of being competitive. Beginning the season 0-2 with Chicago up next would’ve set things off on a shaky track.

The Pistons entirely closed what was a 19-point Wolves lead (70-51) when Caron Butler hit a three with 1:43 to play. Butler was out of his mind shooting the ball in the 2nd Half (finished with 24 points on 10-14 shooting) which led the Pistons comeback. But Thad Young immediately answered with his own three. From there, Mo Williams hit one more shot and the Wolves fouled Andre Drummond — a career 40% foul shooter — to help prevent anymore shooting silliness from Butler. A win was had.

It is difficult to watch this team right now and come away with conviction about much. There are just so many players who do so many different things; both good and bad. Flip played 11 different guys last night, and — in his postgame remarks — he naturally emphasized the struggle that he experiences trying to set a rotation that satisfies all of his players. He mentioned that Chase Budinger did not get into the game. He also mentioned that if they had lost the game, he would’ve second guessed himself for not subbing Wiggins back in to defend Caron Butler, who had heated up (putting it mildly). But as things played out, they hung on for the win and Flip was happy that Wiggins had left the game having played well, experiencing what Saunders referred to as “positive reinforcement.”

Last night’s game was not necessarily a pretty one. Both teams fouled too much. For the Wolves, Ricky Rubio and Mo Williams were reaching all night and combined for 10 fouls. For the Pistons, star center Andre Drummond had to check out in the 3rd Quarter having picked up his 4th foul. That one may have swung the game’s outcome. Drummond’s backup, Greg Monroe, was out serving a suspension.

Because there are so many players and so many different types of action with the Timberwolves in their season’s early moments, it’s almost easier to just rattle off the good and bad.

So here are a few things that I liked in last night’s game:

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Gritty, Ultimately Grinded (GRIZZLIES 105, Wolves 101)

Tonight’s loss at Memphis accentuated what many believe will be a season-long theme:

This Timberwolves team has a LOT of players.

Over the course of the season this will cause effects both positive and negative.

On the plus side, a deep rotation is insurance against injuries and excessive fatigue. If one player is struggling, maybe his replacement will get hot. There was some of this in tonight’s opening game.

On the negative side, it makes Flip Saunders’ job difficult. If certain players are taking over the game in the middle of the fourth quarter (all hypothetical of course:)) should he ride them to the finish? Or should he put the starters back in, with a predetermined plan to close with slightly-more savvy vets? There was also some of this in tonight’s game.

The game at Memphis was hard fought, with Memphis holding a single-digit lead, most of the way. Zach Randolph was a matchup nightmare for Thaddeus Young, who otherwise played fabulous basketball. Z-Bo finished with 25 points on 12-16 shooting, operating in the deep low post against Young. Thad had 26 of his own points, mixing square-up drives to the cup with perimeter jumpers and hustle-junk buckets around the hoop.

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