Category Archives: Features

Brewer 51

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“Obviously Corey was incredible, unbelievable game. I don’t know where he works up the energy he has. I mean 45 minutes in and he’s still going strong at the end…

Really he’s just a guy who has just done his role in everything else. I don’t think they knew what to do with him. I don’t think we knew what to do with them. He’s just scoring and flying around and squeezing. Using his body leading us to get through those gaps then he hits a three at the end of the first half, just banks it in. It was his night. I give him credit. He set the tone for the whole night.”

–Rick Adelman

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Nate Silver(‘s site’s logo) ain’t got nothin’ on us

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Friend of the Blog William Bohl of A Wolf Among Wolves dropped this Twitter bomb on the day Nate Silver’s much-anticipated Grantland 2.0 fivethirtyeight.com launched. (Thanks Bill!) (Eds. Note: You can check out more of Bill’s Wolves stuff at Break the Huddle.)

While it’s cool that our logo –  which was designed by Andy G’s professional artist dad, who also designed the site’s banner – bears a resemblance to the graphic Silver chose for his mega-site, what’s even cooler is that Silver’s mega-site now exists. It already has a ton of interesting content on politics, economics, science, lifestyle and society, and–last but not least–sports.

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You GOTTA have an opinion! (on the NBA’s age minimum requirement)

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Vincent Vega thinks you should have an opinion on the NBA age minimum issue.

Adam Silver talked about it.

And then Chad Ford wrote about it. And Amin Elhassan wrote about it. Jay Bilas and Jeff Goodman wrote about it. Kevin Pelton wrote about it. And David Thorpe wrote about it. Tom Haberstroh wrote about it. And then Chad Ford wrote some more about it. So did Jeff Goodman.

And those are just recent espn.com pieces. (eds note: Many or all of those are “Insider” links that require a subscription to read.)

Last year, Steve Kerr helped get this ball rolling toward an increased age minimum for NBA basketball players. In “The Case for the 20-Year-Old Age Limit in the NBA,” written for Grantland, Kerr… well, made the case for the 20-year-old age limit in the NBA. His basic point is that it makes good business sense for the NBA to increase its age minimum from 19 to 20. He listed six basic reasons: Player maturity, financial costs, player development, marketing, “a sense of team,” and mentoring.

Kerr’s piece, and the entire notion of having an age minimum (let alone raising it) has invited mixed reactions. Those ESPN articles and many others contain some combination of the following opinions about this contentious issue:

* 18 and 19 year old kids are not ready for NBA basketball or the lifestyle it involves. They should go to college, get an education, and continue to grow up. Also, get off my lawn.

* Who is Adam Silver to say what 18 and 19 year olds should do with their lives? If they’re good enough to get drafted by an NBA team, they should have that choice and not be forced to get an education that they don’t even want.

* But they’re not actually good enough to play. Not most of them anyway. They get drafted for their potential.

* NBA scouting would improve with an additional year of performance to analyze.

* No it wouldn’t. Look back at the drafts before Kevin Garnett began the early-entry habit. Sam Bowie and Michael Jordan each played three college seasons. Spoiled with that trove of data, the Portland Trail Blazers selected the former over the latter in the worst draft mistake in league history. And that is not an isolated incident. The draft is a crapshoot and it doesn’t really matter if teams have one, two, or zero college seasons to analyze.

* College basketball is a better place for young players to develop their skills.

* NBA basketball is a better place for young players to develop their skills.

* Increasing the age minimum will be good for the college game, as star players will have to play for two seasons instead of one. And a good college game is ultimately good for the pro game. It increases the marketability of young pros, as more “casual” fans will recognize them from their college days.

* Yeah, it will help the college game, but that’s terrible for the NBA. It’s helping out a competitor for TV ratings and fan interest. How is this a good idea?

What I find most interesting about these arguments is that they are always focused on either the interests of the players, or the interests of the league. They are rarely, if ever, focused on the interests of basketball fans. It seems to be this way in any coverage of sports labor issues. In order to write something about it, you necessarily must be an advocate for one of the parties. The discourse — and this is probably more on Twitter than in published articles — also tends to be ideological. The facts of any particular sports-labor issue take a backseat to the need to choose a side between ownership and the players union. There are parallels to the deep divide between America’s two political parties.

Forgive me then, for my selfishness here. When I think about NBA labor issues in 2014, I tend to place my interests as a fan and paying customer ahead of the interests of the owners and players. And in the case of this age minimum issue, I would like to see Adam Silver get his wish. I want a higher age minimum in my NBA that I pay money to watch. For two main reasons.

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The Tense Disconnect Between Adelman and Rubio

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets

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“I thought he was really active, but… this group has, uh… How do I put it?

(sighs)

When we’re 28 or 25 points up, we don’t need to score quick. I mean, we don’t have to make HERO PLAYS. We threw the ball away in the third quarter and even the last possession with a minute to go, we steal it, and Ricky throws that pass out of bounds trying to get it to Kevin–WHY?

Sooner or later that’s gonna cost you the game! We have to have more discipline in what we do. I don’t care what the score is, and that’s what we have to learn. It’s hurt us in the past and it will hurt us again.”

A leading question about Ricky Rubio’s good performance was posed to Rick Adelman.

It was supposed to elicit praise.

Instead, he got worked up.

Adelman’s team had just beaten the Pistons in convincing fashion. His starters dominated almost every second they touched the floor. Rubio in particular played well, nearly compiling a triple double (11 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds) in just under 36 minutes of action. Ricky’s 3 turnovers were offset by the same number of steals.

Rather than focus on the positives (which he explicitly said that he was going to do, a moment earlier in response to a question about his bench’s struggles) Adelman went on this vague, critical rant about “this group” that seemed — in context — a lot more like a thinly veiled, direct shot at Ricky Rubio.

If you have been following this Timberwolves season with any interest, you’ve noticed a simmering tension between Ricky Rubio’s playing style and Rick Adelman’s offensive vision. The tension is manifested in three ways:

First is the offense itself.

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Lovely Ambivalence

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[Editor's Note: The trade deadline is next Thursday, February 20. What follows is a conversation that many Timberwolves fans are having with themselves, in their own minds. Or at least I am, anyway. Enjoy.]

Mr. Pessimist: K-Love is gone. Just like Simmons predicted. Six straight years and no playoffs? Are you kidding me? And that bullshit with Taylor and Kahn refusing to offer the max? Did you read the Woj interview? He’s gone. They have to trade him, and they will. Before next week’s deadline.

Mr. Optimist: Nah, they can’t. They won’t. He’s their best player. Their FRANCHISE player. Kahn’s gone, ain’t ya heard? Flip Saunders is back. He and Love are tight. They have lunch all the time. And that stuff with the new practice facility? And the Mayo Clinic? Did you miss the part where Love said he’s looking forward — FORWARD — to playing in it and attracting free agents here. He’s looking ahead to the future. Here in Minnesota. Whats’ so hard to understand about that? He took out a full page ad in the Star Trib. What else do you need to see?

Mr. P: Well, some wins would be nice. The most they’ve won in Love’s five years here is 31. That’s not even .500 ball. Not even close. And Love barely even played that season. Oh, you musta forgot when he smashed up his hand doing knuckle push-ups. Or the part where nobody (except you?) believed that he actually hurt himself doing knuckle push-ups. Yeah, that happened.

Look, the team is flat lining and this plateau isn’t even close to where All-NBA players in their primes become satisfied. HE HASN’T EVEN PLAYED IN A PLAYOFF GAME YET! Why am I even having this conversation. Trust me, he’s gone. They’re putting on a happy PR face to keep his trade value and reputation intact. It’s smart business, but face the facts: Love is gone. Early next week, at the latest. You’ll read about it this weekend. Trust me.

Mr. O: But what are they gonna do without him?

Mr. P: Uh, keep losing? Whaddayou mean?

Mr. O: I mean, even assuming you’re right — which I don’t — what could they get for him? If everyone knows he’s a free agent in a year and a half, why would a team pay big for him now?

Mr. P: Because he’s an All-NBA forward and the best scorer-rebounder combination in the world. He could EASILY be the “2004 Sheed” that pushes a playoff team over the edge into a bowl of deep playoff runs and a championship.

Off the top of my head, the Bulls would definitely want him, and they’d send back Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and change. That’s 75 cents on the dollar, which ain’t bad. Chicago’s in an uncomfortable spot with all of these Derrick Rose injuries, but imagine if they could re-load with a Rose-Love-Joakim Noah core? That locks up Tom Thibodeau for the next half dozen seasons and they’ll probably win a championship. They’d certainly contend for a bunch of them. And Love wouldn’t leave Chicago.

Or the Thunder, where his college roommate Russell Westbrook plays. The Thunder are rolling now, but they couldn’t turn down a Love for Ibaka and Jeremy Lamb trade. Shit, they’d probably toss in a couple draft picks. Those are just two possibilities. I’m sure there are more, but you get the idea. The Wolves would take a step back, but what’s the difference? They’re not cracking this top eight in the West this year, or any other time soon.

Mr. O: Whatever man, I’m not buying it. We haven’t heard a peep about Love being shopped. He’s averaging 26, 13 & 4. Those are numbers from a different era. You don’t trade that for Serge Ibaka or Taj Gibson. You just don’t.

Mr. P: Believe what you want. Just don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

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A Look at the 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest Participants

John Wall gets high.

John Wall gets high. Will he win the 2014 Slam-Dunk Contest?

It was announced today that the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest participants will include Paul George, Damian Lillard, John Wall, and defending champion Terrence Ross, according to ESPN. Ben McLemore and Harrison Barnes are mentioned as the two others who are expected to round out the six-man field.

All are firmly in BMF territory as dunkers. But who’s the best?

The point of this post isn’t to pontificate about who’s the best dunker. That’s a matter of personal aesthetic preference: The dunk, like other special types of basketball shots, is more an art than a science.

That said, it’s fun to see what each participant has in his arsenal – and then to watch the contest to see if they have anything new up their sleeves.

Without further ado, here’s a video compilation of each participant. Enjoy.

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Shabazz Muhammad in the D-League: A Preliminary Scouting Report

Shabazz Muhammad made his NBA D-League debut this week for the Iowa Energy

Shabazz Muhammad made his NBA D-League debut this week for the Iowa Energy

Timberwolves rookie Shabazz Muhammad has now played his first three D-League games. Assigned to the Iowa Energy, Muhammad participated in the D-League Showcase this week, helping the Energy to two wins (box scores here and here). Muhammad and the Energy played again on Saturday night, losing 124-121 to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (box score here).

The excellent D-League blog Ridiculous Upside provided some timely analysis of Shabazz’s performance in the Showcase:

Muhammad only played a total of 48 minutes in his two D-League games this week, but he scored 46 points on 62.5 percent shooting and pulled down 18 rebounds. He’s done a fantastic job on the glass and has been too much to handle for opposing teams around the basket and on the fast-break, scoring 13 of his 23 points per game on second-chance opportunities or in the open-court. He’s also played with tons of energy, which has been a great fit in the Energy’s high octane offense. Obviously there were a few little issues here and there, but he’s had a great stint with Iowa and has clearly been a man on a mission.

The piece is worth reading in full.

Scouting Report

I watched most of Muhammad’s two games in the Showcase. I wasn’t able to watch last night’s game, but it appears that he continued what he started in the Showcase, scoring 26 points and collecting 12 rebounds, 10 of which came on the offensive end. Here are my quick reactions based on what I’ve seen, in bullet-point format, because they’re just that–quick reactions that aren’t fully developed yet. Besides, the sample size isn’t large enough to draw firm conclusions from, so this is intended to read more like a scouting report than an analytic product.

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Ricky Rubio and John Wall: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

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The Timberwolves take on the Washington Wizards tonight at 7 P.M. CST at Target Center. The game can be seen on NBATV or heard on WCCO 830.

The marquee matchup tonight is at the point guard position, where Ricky Rubio and John Wall will square off.

Rubio has been predictably enigmatic (OXYMORON!) this season. He does so many things well, but the unanswerable question is whether Ricky’s kryptonite–the jump shot–will forever banish him to second-tier status among NBA point guards and compromise his team’s chances to keep opposing defenses honest in half-court sets. Similar questions have been raised about Wall.

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Carlisle, Holzman, and Productive Pep Talks

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Howard Beck wrote a great piece about Monta Ellis. “The Evolution of Monta Ellis: Mercurial Former ‘Chucker’ Is Thriving In Dallas” examines the ways Ellis has improved this season — his first as a Dallas Maverick — and includes quotes from coach Rick Carlisle, owner Mark Cuban, and the player himself, explaining the process by which Ellis is transforming his image from ballhogging loser to efficient winner.

I found one part of the story especially interesting. Beck described a meeting that took place between Ellis and Carlisle last summer, after he signed with Dallas. In it, Carlisle pulled no punches in explaining to Monta how he was perceived, why he was perceived that way, and how things would be different with the Mavericks.

Beck writes:

Over eight NBA seasons, Ellis had assumed the aura of a prototypical gunner—his shot count high, his accuracy low, his judgment questionable, his conscience undetectable. Selfish. A bad teammate.

That was how fans had come to view Ellis, and that was the stinging image painted by Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle last summer, shortly after Ellis signed a three-year, $25 million free-agent contract.

“He gave me a rundown of what was said about me,” Ellis said in an interview with Bleacher Report last week. “Me being all about offense. Didn’t want to practice. Really wasn’t a vocal leader. Didn’t want to buy into systems.”

There was more.

“And then,” Ellis said, “he told me what he sees for me with this team.”

A partnership with Dirk Nowitzki. A devastating two-man game. Open lanes to attack the basket. A cast of savvy veterans: Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Jose Calderon. The chance to be a playmaker. The chance to win, to change perceptions, to change habits. To evolve.

This year, through 28 games, Monta is playing smarter and scoring more efficiently than he has in years. He is the second leading scorer on a winning team. It seems likely, if not obvious, that Carlisle and environment he has helped create in Dallas deserves some credit for the improvement in Monta Ellis.

* * *

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The Wolves Year in Review, 2013 (The Punch-Drunk Edition)

wolves2013

Here we go. A month-by-month rundown of our best and worst Wolves moments of 2013.

January (AG)

Best: Gelabale & Johnson Beat the Rockets

Remember all of the injuries last season?

What’s that? You’re hoping to never think about them again? Okay fine.

Let’s talk about who *was* healthy during the middle of the 2012-13 campaign. Signed to 10-day Kahntracts were Mickael Gelabale from France and Chris Johnson from Louisiana State and the D-League.

On January 19, 2013, riding a five-game losing streak and playing in James Harden’s house, a Timberwolves win was not expected. DNPs would be registered for Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved (pre stock plunge), and Brandon Roy.

Worries of a sixth consecutive loss were put to rest in the fourth quarter thanks to the dominant play of the 10-Day Wonders, Johnson & Gelabale. The Wolves won by 13, largely on the backs of the two newbies. Johnson had 15 points and 6 boards. He made all of his field goal attempts. Gelabale scored 11 points, 10 of which came in a hot stretch of the fourth quarter. He also contained Harden on the other end.

For one night, amid a miserable season of bad news and medical updates, the Wolves provided a feel-good story about two young guys trying to carve out NBA careers for themselves.

Worst: Everything else

Aside from that win over Houston, the Wolves were 2-10 in January. In the month’s first game, at Denver, Kevin Love reinjured his hand; this time shelving him for the rest of the season. In our season retrospective post, I named the January freefall as the lowpoint. I stand by that. They were getting blown out repeatedly. The injuries were such a real excuse that fans couldn’t really even get mad. What’s the opposite of cathartic?

I hated last January.

February (PJ)

Best: Timberwolves Destroy the Hornets in a Laugher on February 2

On February 2, the Wolves beat the New Orleans Hornets 115-86 in a laugher (boxscore here). The 29-point win was the only lopsided win the Wolves got in February, and it’s nice for Wolves fans to get to sit back and enjoy a dominant performance every once in a while.

Kevin Love was already out for the season by this point, but everyone contributed, making the lopsided win even more satisfying.

Indeed, the bench did most of the damage: Dante had 18 points on a perfect 9-9 from the floor; Shved had 12 points, 8 assists, and 4 boards and looked like a real prospect; Gelabale had 11 and 5, shooting 4-5 in 21 minutes.

Worst: The Games Didn’t Mean Much Anymore…and Alexey Shved Started to Disappoint

February was another bad month for the Wolves. After going 3-12 in January, they went 3-10 in February. Apart from the lopsided win over NOLA on February 2, their only wins in February were over Cleveland and Philly–not exactly powerhouse teams.

The NOLA game was one of the last times Good Alexey has been seen in an NBA game. Starting in mid-February, his game took a precipitous decline. The Alexey of late 2012 and early 2013 hasn’t been seen again.

March (AG)

Best: Ricky Rubio’s Triple Double

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Happy Holidays from Punch-Drunk Wolves

Holiday Cheers

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all our readers and friends out there. Thanks for supporting the blog, and for following the Wolves with us the past couple of years.

Now go eat, drink, and be merry. (Eds. Note: All can be done whilst watching as many as five NBA games today. Just sayin’.)

In the meantime, here’s some more Christmas goodness from Kurtis Blow.

Patrick J and Andy G

 

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How the 76ers are the Best Team in the NBA (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Wins and Love their Style)

Exhibit A: Wilt Chamberlain could still give a team more quality minutes than Darko Milicic.

Exhibit A: Wilt Chamberlain could still give a team more quality minutes than Darko Milicic.

The Wolves play the Philadelphia 76ers tonight at Target Center at 7 P.M. CST.  The game will be shown on FSN (Minnesota) and League Pass (everywhere else). It can be heard on WCCO 830.

This is the second game of a back-to-back for the Timberwolves (10-11), who bounced back from a 103-82 by Miami on Saturday to annihilate Detroit on the road last night, beating the Pistons 121-94. Having a rested Kevin Love helps (obvi): Love had 26, 16, and 7 after missing the Heat game because of his grandmother’s funeral and having additional rest because of the Mexico City “Up In Smoke” non-game.

The 76ers (7-15) are not a good team right now. And they’re especially bad on the road, having  lost eight in a row on the road heading into Wednesday.

Making matters worse for the Sixers, it looks like they will again  have to play without injured super rookie Michael Carter-Williams, who was recently released from the hospital after being hospitalized for three nights whilst waiting for  an arthritic skin infection in his right knee to clear up. Carter-Williams is listed as day-to-day, but  appears unlikely to play  in tonight’s tilt.

It’s hard to overstate how much MCW’s absence hurts the Sixers. The dynamic rookie is averaging 17.7 points, 7.3 assists, 5.8 rebounds and (an NBA-leading) 3.1 steals. More important, Philly is 1-6 when Carter-Williams hasn’t played, and 6-9 when he has played. In his absence, they’ll rely on large doses of Evan Turner, with Thad Young and Spencer Hawes their other main options.

The Wolves should win this game. The 76ers are miserably bad and are perhaps the worst team in the NBA.

“But wait,” you might be thinking. “Your headline says ‘How the 76ers are the *Best* Team in the NBA.’ Wtf are you talking about”?  

Below the fold, I explain how the 76ers can be considered the best team in the NBA .

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Super Cool: The Michael Beasley Appreciation Post

beassss

After five days off that included a Mexican vacation and postponement of a Spurs matchup, the Timberwolves return to action tonight at Target Center. They face the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. The Wolves will be without Kevin Love, who is home with family mourning the loss of his grandmother. (Eds note: Best wishes to Love and family.)

The Heat has lost two consecutive games; the latter being a 20-point drumming by the Roseless Bulls on TNT. They’ve been without Dwyane Wade, but the reports on Twitter indicate he’s shooting around and might play tonight. That’s not good news for a Wolves team trying to get back to .500 without its own best player. In any event, it will be a fun game to watch because… well, LeBron James.

But we’re less interested in the MVP or his All-Star teammates than we are a former Timberwolf returning to Target Center with career-best numbers and a renewed sense of basketball purpose. That’s right, we’re talking about the one and only Supercool Mike Beasley, a longtime PDW favorite.

Beasley is only playing 17.6 minutes per game, but that’s 17.6 more than just about anybody expected after his famous regression from prized draft prospect and promising young talent to inefficient chucker who didn’t play defense but did get himself into off-court troubles. Beas isn’t just playing in Erik Spoelstra’s rotation. He’s playing REALLY well. His 23.2 points per 36 minutes is a career high. So is his 54.6 field goal percentage, which is downright ridiculous for a combo forward like himself.

Beas has always had obvious talent and it appears he’s finally begun to tap into it in a way that helps an NBA team win games. The Heat are playing 12.9 points better than opponents, per 100 possessions, with Beasley on the floor. Suffice it to say this is a sharp change from his recent seasons in Phoenix and Minnesota. It’s also way better than LeBron and the other Heat starters, which is probably unsustainable but nevertheless a reflection of how well he’s been playing.

For more on Supercool Mike’s improvement, check out Tom Haberstroh’s espn.com feature (Insider, sorry).

We thought it appropriate to preview tonight’s matchup by recalling our favorite Beasley stories.

Without further ado…

#10 – The Kevin Love 30/30 Game…in which Beas dropped 35 (Andy G)

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Sunday Jottings: Shooting Woes, Respectable Defense, Long Outlets and Extended Thoughts about Kevin Love

The Timberwolves have won four of their first six games and sit tied with the Blazers for second place in the Northwest Division. They’ve blown out the division-leading Thunder and have been manhandled on their home court by the Warriors. With the season now 7.317073 percent complete, it seems a good time to step away from the game wraps and look at some early trends, causes for hope, and causes for concern.

Poor Shooting

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Photo Diary: A Road Trip to Quicken Loans Arena

quicken

Inside The Q

For the second straight season, Punch-Drunk Wolves attended a Timberwolves road game. Last year was easy: Pat lived in Washington D.C., where — you know — an NBA team plays. He moved to Pittsburgh in the off-season. While The Steel City has no professional basketball, it’s just a two-hour drive from Cleveland, where the Cavaliers play. Since we’re both outspoken fans of Kyrie Lee Irving, and predraft boosters of Anthony Bennett, it seemed only logical to plan a trip to see the Wolves play the Cavs at Quicken Loans Arena.

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Timberwolves Season Preview: The Trent and Mikey Version

pekswingers

Pek is so money. But does he know it?

The NBA season is less than 24 hours away. The Timberwolves begin theirs on Wednesday Night versus the Magic. For the past six months we’ve relied on secondary sources to satisfy our appetite for pro basketball:

The Timberwolves-less playoffs and Miami’s championship repeat. David Kahn’s departure and Flip Saunders’s arrival. The draft. The Vegas League. Free agency and welcoming Kevin Martin to Minnesota (and welcoming Corey Brewer *back* to Minnesota). Pek’s new contract. Rick Adelman’s eventual, inconspicuous announcement that he will return to coach another season. Media Day. And, most recently, the training camp and preseason.

Beginning this week we can get back to the real stuff — the primary stuff. The games that actually matter.

In Case You Missed Them: There are a ton of great preview pieces out there. Hardwood Paroxysm and SB Nation put together comprehensive collections of team-by-team previews. Kevin Pelton forecast the Wolves season for ESPN Insider. (SCHOENE!) Bill and Jalen recorded short videos for The Grantland Channel for each team, which have been highly entertaining and mostly insightful. Bethlehem Shoals posted 30 Teams, 30 Questions preview for GQ that you have to check out. And the great Britt Robson has commenced a three-part NBA Preview at MinnPost, to include a Wolves-specific piece on Wednesday.

The bottom line is, if you want to be familiar with the issues facing the Timberwolves or any other team heading into the 2013-14 season, the information is out there for you.

Here at PDW, we’ll outline the basic discussion topics and add our two cents on the upcoming Timberwolves season. As always, thanks for reading.

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Basketball Combat: What’s Cool and What Isn’t

Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball

Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball

Andy G: I don’t remember the 80s Pistons very well. I know they won back-to-back titles, I know the names of their core players, and I know they earned the “Bad Boys” nickname for physical play that often crossed the line into dirty and dangerous tactics. Especially against Michael Jordan. Bill Laimbeer in particular was known for being a controversial “enforcer” type. There was an NES game named, “Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball,” set in the future with Laimbeer commissioning a basketball league without rules and — importantly — WITH weapons. Larry Bird told Bill Simmons that he carries a grudge to this day against Laimbeer for the cheap shots he took against his great Celtics teams.

So I had a basic understanding of what the Pistons — and Laimbeer specifically — represented in the 80s NBA. But until reading David Halberstam’s “Playing for Keeps,” I didn’t realize the full extent of just how unlikeable “Billy Lamb” really was, as an NBA player.

From Halberstam:

What [Jack] McCloskey and [Chuck] Daly soon noticed about [Bill Laimbeer] was that he seemed to have little love for the game of basketball itself; indeed, Daly was never sure he even liked the game. He was a terrible practice player, and before games, when he was being taped, he often complained to…the trainer about the degree of mental fatigue he was suffering from, as if he could not play one more game. He was the first person to leave the gym every day after almost every workout, almost never sticking around as most players did to work a little extra on their shooting.

Laimbeer was not an easy person to deal with. He was a verbal bully off the court and something of a physical bully on it. He was deliberately rude to reporters in the Pistons’ locker room, and when, before a game, the time alloted to journalists there was coming to an end, he did his own countdown…He was a dirty player, and he knew it; it was the only way, given his physical limitations, he could stay in the league. Sometimes he boasted of what he had done after a game–the cheap shots he had gotten away with and how it had caused a more gifted player, say, [Robert] Parish or [Kareem] Abdul-Jabbar, to lose his cool. “It’s a mental game, not a physical one,” he would say. He was despised in most other arenas by opposing fans, and many opposing players actively disliked him, believing he was quite willing to inflict career-ending injuries on them if it suited his purpose and that he would do it casually, out of what seemed like innate malice.

Nor did he make it easy on his own coaches and teammates. He often seemed unusually spoiled. He was willfully rude to the coaches, even to Daly, who was giving him his big chance, and in the constant byplay between coach and players he not only failed to be supportive of Daly but often seemed openly dissident…As for his teammates, he was often blunt and rude with them in the locker room, flaunting his conservative politics. If someone mentioned his lack of grace with them, he would say, “I don’t plan on having any of these guys as my friends when I’m finished here.”

Laimbeer and [Isiah] Thomas roomed together during their first camp, and Thomas thought that Laimbeer could not have been more different from him: tall, white, upper middle class. His father was the head of a company, and therefore Laimbeer was said to be the rare NBA player who for a time did not make as much money as his father. He was a Republican and an atheist, whereas Thomas was ghetto-reared, black, a Democrat, and seriously religious.

My question to you then is:

Bill Laimbeer: Most uncool player ever?

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When Michael Jordan Refused to Tank

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MJ preferred playoffs action at Boston Garden to a better draft pick in 1986.

If you were following pro basketball in 1985 then you probably remember when Michael Jordan broke his foot. MJ wasn’t quite the world icon that he would soon become, but he was a big star, and clearly on the rise. The year before, he won Rookie of the Year and 2nd Team All-NBA honors. He put up huge numbers on an immediately-improved Bulls team. Fans already knew Jordan from his college days at North Carolina. He hit a game winner as a freshman in the NCAA Finals and later became an All-American. So when the Bulls young star fractured the navicular tarsal bone in his left foot in just the third game of his second professional season, it was a huge bummer for the NBA and its fans.

I don’t remember it. I was barely three years old in October of ’85, and my first memories of watching Jordan involve him shoulder shrugging his way past Cliff Robinson in Portland and — the next year — kicking it out to Paxson for three, in Phoenix. This void of knowledge about the most athletic days of the most successful basketball player of my lifetime led me to read David Halberstam’s “Playing for Keeps.”

The story of Jordan’s broken foot, as told by Halberstam, touches on a pressing issue in modern NBA discourse:

Tanking.

The 64-game, Jordan-less stretch in 1985-86 was stressful for everyone involved. Chicago was worried about the health of its franchise player. Jordan quickly grew so restless that he moved back to Chapel Hill for his rehab, and had frequent spats with Jerry Krause about when he could return to action. Jordan would explain how he knew his body better than anyone else, and he was ready to play. (He was sneaking in five-on-five runs back at UNC, during his time off from the Bulls.) Krause wanted to err on the side of caution. He was never good with player relations, and even regrettably told Jordan that he and owner Jerry Reinsdorf would make the decision about his return because Jordan was their property. (MJ apparently never forgot nor forgave that one.)

But there was another factor at play in the decision to keep Jordan on the shelf while his team piled up losses.

Halberstam explained: Continue reading

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INBOX: Are the Heat still hated? (Now with more Ricky Buckets and Master P)

beas & lebron

The Heat welcome back the affable-but-troubled Mike Beasley. Does this pickup, along with the Greg Oden signing, flip the script on whether to cheer for the Heat?

Andy G: In I Wear the Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman devotes a chapter to hating rock bands.  He runs through a list of every band he’s ever hated, explains the specific point in his life, and why that particular group evoked irrationally negative feelings from him.  The chapter is largely focused on The Eagles.  In the end, Klosterman forms the discomfiting conclusion that he now no longer possesses the capacity to hate rock bands.  Even The Eagles.  (He included the band three different times on his list.)

He explains why this is problematic:

Being emotionally fragile is an important part of being a successful critic; it’s an integral element to being engaged with mainstream art, assuming you aspire to write about it in public.  If you hate everything, you’re a banal asshole . . . but if you don’t hate anything, you’re boring.  You’re useless.  And you end up writing about why you can no longer generate fake feelings that other people digest as real.

Klosterman goes on to explain his “brain’s unwillingness to hold an unexplained opinion,” and articulates a general feeling that I’ve struggled with on this blog.  Caring about sports — or art — is not a rational exercise.  Hating a professional athlete or sports team is as dumb as hating a rock band.  Hating a professional athlete is as irrational as loving one.  Those are emotions far too strong to hold for people that don’t even know that you exist.

Reading that chapter reminded me of the Miami Heat and its best player, LeBron James.

I hated The Decision. I hated LeBron’s *decision* itself to overlap his talents with Dwyane Wade’s, I hated the primetime stomach-punch to Cleveland, and I hated the Kobe rip-off, “taking my talents” delivery pitch. I hated everything about LeBron exercising his rights as a free agent.

Four things about Heat Hatred:

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Excerpts on Kareem

kareem

I caught myself day dreaming about sky hooks yesterday.  I’m not sure why.  Long day in the office?  Not enough *real* basketball to keep my mind occupied?  Whatever the case, I was specifically thinking about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the NBA’s all time scoring leader — and his supposedly unstoppable go-to move.  First, why hasn’t anybody copied the sky hook?  Second, why isn’t Kareem — a six-time MVP and champion — discussed more in G.O.A.T. debates?  (Seriously, look at his basketball-reference page.)  And finally, it occurred to me that almost every book I’ve read on basketball history has a section on Kareem.  His career arc was interesting for multiple reasons, but mostly because he spent most of the 1970s as the league’s best player and most of the 80s as a champion with Magic Johnson receiving more of the credit.

With that in mind, I thought I’d scrap together some of the better stuff I’ve read on Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

David Halberstam, The Breaks of the Game:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is likewise a dominating player.  He is not the defensive force that Russell or Walton was, but he is so consistently good on offense that he changes the texture of every game he plays…

He was very tall and his height was a matter of some conjecture.  He listed his height as 7’2″.  Other very tall young men, seven feet even, who had played against him, swore he was at least 7’4″.  Some, not given to exaggeration, said he was surely 7’6″.  What most people did not see was the grace, the agility so rare in any man, but truly astonishing in a man of his height; they saw only the height, which was greater than their own.  Failing to see the grace, they also failed to see the passion, which was brilliantly concealed, hidden behind two layers of masks, first a protective eyepiece which was a mask to the face, and then the face itself which was a mask to the soul.  They saw the lack of emotion and decided that Kareem did not care as they cared…

His play had, if anything, too much consistency to it.  His good games were forgotten, his bad ones remembered.  He had played for much of his career on weak teams or on teams poorly designed for him.  Often too much depended on him, and because he was so dominating a force, opposing teams always knew that the key to stopping the Lakers was stopping Kareem.  His teams, strong in their regular-season records, tended to wear down in playoff games.  Opponents always based their strategy on stopping him and he rarely got very much help from referees.  He was held, fouled and elbowed more than any otehr player in the league, all with the semitacit approval of the referees; for in truth, if they did not allow his opponents some small advantage there would be no way of stopping him.

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