Friday Night’s matchup with Cleveland was a new sort of test for the Adelman Wolves. After a brutal stretch of title-contending opposition, the Wolves now faced an eminently-beatable opponent in the Cavs. Of course, as you probably already know, the Cavs came in and took control of this game, almost start-to-finish. Aside from Kevlar’s 29 & 14, Wolves starters provided little production and many mistakes. Darko was the only other starter to score in double figures with all 11 of his points coming in the opening quarter. Michael Beasley pulled down 12 rebounds, but continued his puzzling shooting woes that have plagued the early part of his season. Supercool Beas added injury to insult by spraining his foot. He is unlikely to play tomorrow night at Washington; a bummer that he won’t perform in front of his hometown friends and family.
Cleveland leaned on wily veteran Antawn Jamison, who chipped in 22 points, and also the energetic and unselfish Anderson Varejao. The Brazilian big man looked like his old self, after a serious foot injury cut his 2010-11 season short. He scored an efficient 13 points, but more importantly grabbed 12 boards, assisted 5 field goals, blocked 2 shots and had 4 steals. Varejao is an underappreciated talent.
There weren’t many interesting story lines to this one. The Cavs 7-point halftime lead would never get closer than that, and grew as high as 18-points in the middle of the fourth quarter. The Wolves continue to struggle at the free throw line (21-31 in this game; 68.6 percent on the season, good for 27th in NBA) and on this night also misfired on three-point attempts shooting 4 for 20. Cleveland hit 8 of 17 three-pointers, with spark plug Daniel Gibson hitting 3 dagger-treys that essentially buried the Wolves and their chances.
Rather than further relive a pretty miserable game, let’s take a peak at some stats after seven games:
* Everything NUMB#RS begins with Kevin Love. He’s now scoring 26.1 points/game to go along with 14.9 rebounds. His scoring bump from last year (20.2 PPG) can be attributed to a few different things. First, he’s playing more minutes (39.1 versus 35.8 MPG, more on this below); second, he is shooting more often (16.0 FGA/36 min. versus 14.1); third, more of those shots are 3′s, and his percentage on 3′s has gone up slightly (5.4 3PA/game versus 2.9; .421 versus .417); and fourth, he is getting fouled and sent to the line more often (9.3 FTA/game versus 6.8). The only problematic stat for Love is assist-to-turnover ratio. Through seven games, he assists 1.6 times per 36 minutes, compared to 3.4 turnovers in the same time frame. This is mostly speculation, but I think his high turnovers may be in part due to his attempts to draw fouls. When the refs don’t bite, those can lead to turnovers. Love’s numbers should earn him his first All-NBA honor, this year. We all hope that his personal accolades are paired with team success, once and for all.
* Michael Beasley is struggling to hit shots. Anybody who has watched the Wolves certainly knows this fact. Beas is hitting 39.4 percent of field goal attempts, this year. Whatever you think of Beasley’s game, it’s hard to not think that this will improve as more games are played. His career FG% is 45.5 and he’s never been lower than 45.0 for a season. Strangely this year, he is hitting 40.0 percent of 3′s–an excellent percentage, albeit on low frequency–and a PITIFUL 44.4 percent of free throws. Mike has hit 8 free throws and missed 10, this year.
* Things get a little weird with the on-court/off-court numbers. Well, the worst on the team is not weird. The Wolves are 22.2 points better per 100 possessions when Wesley Johnson is off the court versus when he is on. (-11.9 on; +10.3 off). That makes sense. But the weirdness comes with the second-worst on/off player, Kevin Love. Love’s net-difference of on-court/off-court is (-15.7). Most of this comes from the “off” column, where the Wolves are 13.2 points better than their opponents per 100 possessions, when K-Love sits on the bench. When Love is on the floor, the Wolves are 2.5 points worse than their opponents per 100 possessions. Anthony Randolph must be the sub for Love on many nights, because his on/off numbers are a mirror image of Love’s. In short minutes (18 percent of total, through 7 games) the Wolves are +13.4 per 100 possessions with Randolph on the court. When he’s off, they are -2.4 per 100. Ricky Rubio has positive “on” numbers (+4.7 versus “off” of -5.4), with much more playing time than AR15, and all of the 4th Quarter, winning-time minutes.
What can be taken away from these early on/off numbers? “Nothing” is one answer, perhaps. These measurements can have as much or more to do with correlation as causation, and certainly in Kevin Love’s case, they do not accurately reflect his value to the team. However, the second unit with Rubio, Williams and Randolph has been strong at times, even against mighty competition (they saved the Miami game from a blowout with a great first-half effort) and could stand to play a few more minutes. Kevin Love is currently third in the entire NBA in minutes/game with 39.1. The Timberwolves may improve if that number is cut to something like 36 or 37, and 2 or 3 extra minutes of high-energy bench play is the substitute. Rubio, quite clearly, is deserving of more than his 27.7 minutes/game. I think all fans, and presumably Coach Adelman, expect that figure to increase as the season moves along.
Season Record: 2-5