Tag Archives: DeMarcus Cousins

No Playoffs? What’s Next?

With a playoff run out of the picture, will Nikola Pekovic play out the rest of the season?

With a playoff run out of the picture, will Nikola Pekovic play out the rest of the season?

The Timberwolves aren’t making the playoffs. Let’s put that idea behind us.

The Wolves underachieved this year.

It doesn’t matter how many more games they win or lose. Making the playoffs this season was a benchmark – the benchmark - for that nebulous but real concept known as “success.” And this season, the Wolves were unsuccessful.

I’m not going to get into why the Wolves failed. We’ve talked all about the draft picks, free agent signings, the failings of the second unit, Adelman’s rotations, Barea over Rubio, close losses, and everything else, ad nauseum. 

What’s Next?

Lots of Wolves fans will check out. It’s no secret that interest in the team waxes and wanes with the team’s highs and lows. When the team is winning, fans take interest. When it isn’t, they don’t. This isn’t an indictment of fair-weather fandom. It’s just human.

The real question is whether the Wolves will also check out as a team.

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Kings vs. Wolves (The Run DMC Edition)

pekovic-cousins1

I’m traveling on business, and have to make this short.

The Timberwolves (18-19) host the Sacramento Kings (13-23) tonight at 7:00 pm CT. You can see and hear the game at the usual places, FSN and WCCO 830-AM, respectively.

A few notes of interest:

  • Pekovic-Cousins Grudge Match: Two of the best (and biggest) centers in the NBA go head-to-head tonight in what looks to be the game’s marquee matchup. Cousins is having a monster year, ranking among the NBA’s top 10 in both points (23.5) and rebounds (11.6) per game, which puts him in a strong position to make this season’s All-Star game. Pek has arguably been the Wolves’ best player in recent games, beasting his way to 23 and 10 on 55% shooting and over 5 offensive rebounds over his last dozen games.  All I can say about their head-to-head matchup is by way of a public service announcement: Any time Nikola Pekovic and DeMarcus Cousins are set to go to war, hide your women and children.

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Assessing DeMarcus Cousins’ Potential

DeMarcus Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins

Bill Simmons’ ever-intriguing “Trade Value” series of columns has begun over at Grantland. He has lots of provocative, interesting opinions, whether or not you agree with any/many of them. Simmons, tongue-in-cheek as can ever, also talks a lot of sense from angles that matter: player potential and history, team cap situation, and team need. It makes for a good read.

There are a bunch of guys I’d flag as worth checking out to see if Simmons’ idiosyncratic ratings comport with your own. But none more than DeMarcus Cousins, the almost-Wolf who was passed over in favor of Wesley Johnson.

I found what Simmons had to say – both the goods and the bads – remain revealing about what a team might be getting in Cousins. This isn’t directly Wolves’ related except insofar as he easily could’ve been a Wolf and probably still would be had we drafted him at #4 instead of Wes Johnson, but Simmons makes a fairly credible case both about what’s wrong (and right) with Cousins, what’s wrong in SAC, and how we might come to see this behemoth talent realize at least a good part of its massive potential.

Simmons writes:

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Wolves vs. Kings: What to Watch For

‘Reke rocks the party

A struggling Wolves squad limps into Sacramento tonight trying to break their five-game losing streak against the Kings. Can they do it?

A few weeks ago, this would’ve looked like a gimme. But not anymore.

The Wolves are in disarray. At 5-7, they’re already in the cellar of a solid Northwest Division, just behind the 6-8 Portland Trailblazers. But if the Wolves lose tonight and fall to 5-8, that gap is likely to wide further tomorrow, with Portland scheduled to take on the Winless Washington Wi’zards.They badly need a win.

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INBOX: With Pek’s emergence as a great center and DMC’s continued problems, is the 2010 Draft validated?

30″ x 22″
mixed media on paper
painting by Holly Grimsrud

Andy G: SCENARIO: You just pressed rewind all the way back to June of 2010.  You are David Kahn and you possess the rights to the fourth pick in the NBA draft.  You have two choices.  Draft Wesley Johnson out of Syracuse or DeMarcus Cousins from Kentucky.  You cannot draft any other player and you cannot trade the pick. Oh, and most importantly, you have all the benefit of hindsight from mid-November 2012 going backwards. What do you do?

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League Pass Alert, Vol. 5: Western Conference League Pass Team

Last year, one had to wonder if Gordon wished he were still wearing this uniform. This coming season, we’re all excited to see him back on the court.

The Punch-Drunk Wolves League Pass Series has taken on a life of its own.  We’re on Volume 5 after two rookie teams, an Eastern Conference Team, and a REACTION POST to the Eastern Conference Team.  Since Pat is enjoying some vacation time back in ‘Sota, I won’t be surprised if he follows this one up with some of his own thoughts again.  Here is your Western Conference League Pass Team.  (Eds. Note: No Timberwolves since we watch those games with Jimmy Pete on the local stations.  League Pass EXEMPT.)

PG – Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors:  Remember how fun it is to watch Steph Curry play?  Me neither.  Because he only played 26 games last year on a tanking Warriors team.  Not this year.  The Dubs now have Andrew Bogut and a supporting cast of wings that actually complement Curry’s playmaking and shooting.  As a Timberwolves fan hoping to see them make the playoffs, the Warriors scare me as 8-Seed Competition.  Curry will be fun to watch this year.  I should add: Steve Nash in a Laker Uniform is more MUST-SEE TV, at least at first, than Curry.  But you’ll see the Lakers on national TV so much that they don’t belong on a League Pass team. Continue reading

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Royal Beatdown (KINGS 115, Wolves 99)

With Ricky on the mend (surgery this Wednesday), the season hitting the homestretch, and the Wolves’ playoff hopes looking dimmer by the day (now 2.5 games behind Houston for the 8 seed), there is less and less to add to the discussion with these game wraps.  With that in mind, I’ll share a few brief observations about each Wolves player from this disappointing loss that may not come through in the newspaper: Continue reading

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A Loveless Victory (WOLVES 86, Kings 84)

Nobody quite knew what to predict for Minny’s first game of the season without its best player.  In fact, PJ published two separate posts in anticipation and speculation on exactly how this should shake out.  While the Kings are pretty lousy, they were coming off three consecutive wins and had big man DeMarcus Cousins playing the best basketball of his short career.  To eek out a win, even if ugly and way-too-close for comfort, is impressive in Love’s absence.

No Love

First things first: How did they do at replacing Kevin Love?

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SAVE THE CENTER: A Rule Change That Should Actually Happen

George Mikan, Minneapolis Lakers

Kyrie Irving is a 6’3”, 191 pound point guard who left college after his freshman season at Duke to declare for the NBA Draft.  Having played only eleven college games, and without any of the special physical gifts that made scouts’ mouths water over Derrick Rose and John Wall in previous years, the Cavs selected Irving first overall to be the cornerstone of Dan Gilbert’s Post-Decision Rebuilding Project.

Irving’s rookie season and NBA career are off to a wonderful start.  The Cavs are noticeably improved (6-7 at this point), and he’s averaging an efficient 18 points and 5 assists per contest.  Only he’s no lock for Rookie of the Year, even if he can continue this pace.  That’s because Ricky Rubio happened. Rubio is the buzz of the basketball world due to his style and incredible ability to impact games as the Timberwolves’ floor general. Last year, Rubio couldn’t get anything right in Spain. Now he flourishes night in and night out against the best players in the world.

A month or two before David Stern (or was it Adam Silver–I’ve tried to permanently erase all memories of these suits since the LOCKOUT) called Irving’s name in New York, Derrick Rose–another 6’3” guard barely old enough to get into Chicago bars–won the league MVP for leading the Bulls’ revival from his spot at the point. The Bulls won 62 games last year, in large part due to his offensive dominance.

Irving, Rubio, and Rose are not alone in succeeding to improbable levels at point guard in the NBA.  John Wall, drafted first overall a season before Irving, had a dynamite rookie season for the Wizards and has the look of a future All-Star.  Philadelphia (10-4) is a dark horse title contender, starting 21-year old Jrue Holiday at the point.  The 11-4 Atlanta Hawks are starting a 23-year old, Jeff Teague, who was barely drafted in the first round.

Jrue Holiday...really?

Do a quick scan of every team in the league and ask yourself if any DOES NOT have a good point guard.  Sacramento?  Maybe, but only if Tyreke doesn’t qualify for the position.  The Lakers and Heat?  Perhaps, but they’re so stacked at the wing that having a point who dribbles a lot would be more of a hurt than a help.

So, all of these great point guards… does it reflect something nation or worldwide about basketball interest, and an influx of newly-20-somethings that have been dedicated to hoops?

If that were the case, wouldn’t there be a similar phenomenon amongst the bigs, too?

It isn’t.

Dwight Howard is the only center in the NBA who can fairly be categorized as a “superstar.”  And he isn’t a star for his offense.  Last season, his seventh as a pro, Howard averaged a career-high 22.9 points per game.  The only other centers who played in the All-Star Game (Tim Duncan and Al Horford, each of whom started his career in the league as a power forward) each averaged under 16 points per game.

What happened to the 1990s, when centers ruled the league? (Well, other than games that Michael Jordan was playing in.) In different seasons, Ewing, Robinson, Olajuwon, and O’Neal averaged between 27 and 30 points per game.  Today, that simply doesn’t happen with back-to-the-basket players. Shaq, Hakeem, and Robinson won championships; Ewing came preciously close.  Yet Dwight Howard remains ringless.

If the plethora of good points and the dearth of good bigs isn’t a coincidence, then what explains it?

The rules changed.

Instead of “illegal defense” (guard your man or double-team the ball, essentially) defenders would only be restricted to a “three-seconds” rule for situations were they weren’t defending an individual player.  In other words, zone defense was now legal–with limitations–and perimeter players could now hedge down on the post without having to commit a full double team that left their own player wide open for a jump shot.

Why the change?  No need to speculate, there.  NBA Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations explained for us back in 2002:

The illegal defense guidelines needed to be eliminated because they have become problematic. They are problematic for our fans, who don’t understand the rule. They are problematic for the officials, who admittedly have had difficulty administering the rule. And finally, our teams have used the guidelines in a way that produces isolation basketball. Teams identify areas on the floor that they can use to their advantage in a given offensive matchup and this produces a real sameness of play amongst a lot of our teams. With isolation basketball, a lot of our teams began standing around. There is little player movement, there is little ball movement, and there is a decreasing amount of fastbreak opportunities. These developments began with the misuse of the illegal defense guidelines and therefore they needed to be eliminated. By eliminating them, our desired result is to get a game that once again is based on passing, cutting, player movement, and ball movement. A game that hopefully produces fastbreak opportunities because that is the way our game should be played.

Those admirable goals were, in large part, met with the rule change.  But along with the changes were some unintended casualties: namely, most of the superstar centers who used to dominate games with their backs to the basket.  Sure, Shaq won MVP’s and titles with the Lakers, but he was a unique case of overwhelming size and skill that has never been seen before, or since.  Tim Duncan was almost as dominant as Prime Shaq, but much of his play was at power forward, thriving off of a square-up game and bank-shot that is now emulated by fours like Chris Bosh and even Kevin Love.

After the announcement of the rule change, Shaq was asked for his opinion.  All he would say was, “Stinks.”  In the same Sports Illustrated piece, P.J. Brown added, “I don’t think it’s good at all. Zones will bring the games to a grind.”  What he wasn’t taking into consideration were the ever-tightening restrictions on hand-checking that would help make point guard the easiest offensive position in the league.  In other words, the game would only come to a “grind” for posts now facing more defenders from the same island, eight or more feet from the basket.

How many NBA players today actually prefer to score with their back to the basket?  Al Jefferson is probably the best, and it’s up for debate what type of role he can command on a competitive team.  The help-down defense on the strong side, combined with allowing free roaming of the other three defenders, is a strong deterrent to the post moves once relied upon by the best in the game.

Al Jefferson's post game is muted with the current rules

Given that the point guard-to-center exchange rate seems to be approaching 50:1, and there isn’t a single center as offensively-gifted as Patrick Ewing was in an average year, shouldn’t something to be done to remedy the situation and clear the way for some talented bigs (DeMarcus Cousins, Al Jefferson, Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe) to challenge the sort of impact that Rose and his ilk are making?

Here’s a basic idea that is more-conventional than many rule changes that the most-conservative NBA has made over the years:

NARROW THE LANE.

In 1951, the NBA widened the lane from six to twelve feet.  This change, by no coincidence, occurred during George Mikan’s reign as the best player in the league and a flurry of (MINNEAPOLIS) Laker titles.  In 1964, a different Laker-to-be was dominating the league too much on the interior.  With Wilt dropping 100 on a hot night, the league felt the need to expand the lane even beyond twelve feet, out to sixteen.  Note that zone defense was outlawed back in 1946.  So the compromise was reached.

Defense: You can’t mess with Wilt too much; either a full double team or guard him straight up.

Wilt: Get out from under the damn hoop.  You’re enormous.

This equilibrium lasted for almost 40 years, until Pat Riley’s Knicks started playing clutch-and-grab, hack-a-anybody defense that damn-near carried them to a championship not seen in New York since the seventies.  But while New York is a big market, and the Spike-Reggie Rivalry was high entertainment, the brand of basketball was lacking.  Scoring was way down, players were being rewarded for thuggery under the hoop, and fan interest was deflating fast after the (second of three) retirements of His Airness.

Patrick Ewing going head-to-head with David Robinson

But with zone defense principles allowed for the first time in over fifty years, the league should have reciprocated to the tall folks of the hoops world by narrowing the lane.  Wilt and Mikan (and Shaq, had these changes not happened before him) needed a bigger lane because only one player was allowed to guard them.  In today’s game, posts are faced with defense from all directions.  This isn’t entirely center-specific (can you even imagine Charles Barkley trying to back his man down for 12 seconds with today’s rules?) but the seven-footers of the world are affected the most for two reasons:

* Their comparative advantage (height) is most-negated by being pushed away from the rim; and

* They possess the least ability to dribble with nearby defenders.

If the league narrowed the lane back to 12 feet (same as high school and college) two things would undeniably happen:

* Centers would score more points.  They’d be allowed to establish position closer to the hoop and traditional back-to-the-basket moves, like drop steps, up-and-unders, and jump hooks would all be executed from a reasonable distance.  Rather than having to square up and essentially dribble penetrate from the extended elbow, posts could be posts again.  In the 90’s, Ewing and Hakeem could spend as much time as needed backing down their man to get prime position.  In today’s NBA, there are too many quick hands and sneaky help defenders for the tallest players to be putting the ball on the floor with any frequency.

* Shot Blockers would matter more than they do now.  If Darren Collison and Eric Maynor and Jeff Teague and D.J. Augustine can be solid NBA players, why can’t Hasheem Thabeet?  Why shouldn’t a 7’4″ freak who can bat your weakass shit into the fifteenth row be able to make a living despite weaknesses, the same way a 6’1″ lead guard with court awareness but no value added to league entertainment be able to?  With a narrow lane comes quicker helpside defense.  Shot blocking would be more relevant than it is now.

A narrow lane would not make centers unstoppable.  The best post scorers like Jefferson, Howard, and Bynum, would simply attract more defense and their teams would have to hit perimeter shots to counter.  It’s still the team game and free-flowing concepts sought by Stu Jackson in 2002, just with a fair fight between the less-coordinated-but-mammoth centers and the lead guards that will soon need their own league to employ all capable job candidates.

The NBA has made radical changes to its rules over its history.  Think about the three-point shot.  How crazy would it seem to us young adults (who weren’t around when that change happened) if a four-point shot was instituted for 30-footers?

Is narrowing the lane to a width used at an earlier point in history so crazy?  Do fans simply not enjoy great bigs? Did somebody forget to consult Bill Walton?

One final question:

If the league had to widen the lane when centers become too dominant, shouldn’t it narrow the lane when the position is nearly extinct?

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Playing the Matchups (WOLVES 99, Kings 86)

Luke Ridnour had 25 pts and 9 asts in Monday's victory over Sacramento

Wesley Johnson, the player selected fourth overall in the 2010 NBA Draft in large part due to shooting prowess, is now hitting 31.7 percent of all shots from the floor and 12.5 percent of three-point attempts.  So, why did Johnson log 34 minutes on a night when his shooting woes (3-11 total; 0-4 3PT) continued?  My only guess is that the coaches felt that the matchups dictated Wes being out there.  JOHN SALMONS! is actually a pretty good isolation scorer.  He’s played this role on decent teams (Chicago, Milwaukee) unlike many nondescript ballers of his ilk.  Wes, shooting struggles aside, stayed right with Salmons all night, leaving the scoring specialist with a 4-11 shooting line, with 11 points and 2 turnovers.  In this respect, Wes did his job.  But man–he’s missing WIDE OPEN SHOTS.  Wayne Ellington is not missing these shots and is a noticeably-better offensive player than the second-year wing from The ‘Cuse.

The Wolves hit a rough patch in the 2nd Quarter.  After a pair of Derrick Williams free throws (his only points of the evening–more on this below) the Wolves led 30-22.  Over the next 11:21 to end the half, the Kings ripped off a 24-12 stretch that had Wolves fans a little-bit restless at the break.  Much of these struggles was directly attributable to missing jumpshots.  On some of these–particularly with Derrick Williams and Kevin Love–there was hesitation to shoot after a solid pass, usually from Rubio.  I thought we were done with this.  The Rule of Rubio is that he passes, you shoot.  How many of the great Wolves moments from this early season HAVEN’T been tied to catch-and-shoot basketball?  In any case, the Wolves went to halftime with a 4-point deficit and some talking points ready made for the coaching staff.

In the third, the shooting wasn’t hot, but the Wolves (specifically, Kevin Love) grinded it out with a combination of free throws and better defense.  Love had 11 points total in the quarter, en route to a 33-point, 11-rebound, 3-assist, 2-steal gem of a performance.  This was classic Love, baiting officials into questionable foul calls, and hitting opportune jumpers to break the opponent’s back.  His interaction with the refs reached a tipping point tonight, earning him a technical foul and later flirting with an ejection.  He is quickly approaching the Kobe and LeBron level of getting utmost respect from the refs, and giving thanks by way of whiny gestures.  Oh well — it’s a lot-less annoying when it’s your team getting the calls.  On this night Love was a team-best (+22).

The lid came all the way off the basket in the fourth, with Ellington, Ridnour and Love taking turns making it rain at Target Center.  After a Jason Thompson dunk cut the lead to 1 (72-71) Adelman called timeout.  The Wolves then proceeded to a 27-15 closing stretch over 8:51.  Rubio hit a trey to extend the lead to 9 at the 5:11 mark and swung a fist of celebration to the crowd.  This was a frustrating game for him, in part due to his own misfiring on jumpers (3-10 total) but also because teammates (Darko, Wes, Pekovic) blew easy scoring opportunities that only Ricky can provide.  Pekovic and Milicic, as was pointed out by David Thorpe who attended this game, are not at all Rubio’s kinda guys on the court.  His (-3) was a rare negative +/- for the young phenom.

All in all, it was a hard-fought win against a bad team.  In years past, a win was a win was a win.  Since this year is DIFFERENT (the Wolves currently own a 0.5 game edge over the BOSTON CELTICS!) a struggle-fest against the Kings that requires a Wellington Bailout feels less satisfying.  I hope they dispose of the shitty Pistons on Wednesday with relative ease.

A few bullets:

* DeMarcus Cousins can’t get no respect.  I don’t even mean this as a joke–sure, he invites criticism by his constant whining, but so does Kendrick Perkins and it doesn’t seem to prevent Perk from getting a call or two.  Cousins must have been hacked or pushed a half dozen times in this game by the Serbian-Montenagran combo of Darko and Pek.  He shot 0 free throws for his efforts and was called for 4 fouls of his own in 25 minutes of action.  From my view it looked like the refs had it out for the enigmatic big man.  For what it was worth, he hit some nice jumpers and really does show off excellent footwork.  For his sake, I hope he finds some sort of comfort level in the NBA so we can all watch his talent on a consistent basis.  The league needs more talented bigs to balance out this wave of awesome lead guards.

* Since Rubio looks like the business as a true point guard, I’ll make what some might consider to be a BOLD STATEMENT: Steph Curry wouldn’t be any better for this team than Luke Ridnour is.  Luke is playing off the ball now, and is shooting as well as any Timberwolf I can ever remember.  He had 25 points and 9 assists tonight on 10-14 shooting (4-4 from 3.)  Curry is an awesome point guard, but if you’re sticking each slightly-built point guard off the ball, I don’t see a big difference between he and Luke Ridnour.  Not only did Luke shoot well tonight, but he also defended Marcus Thornton just fine.  I doubt very much that Curry would have been able to handle that matchup the way Ridnour did.  (OBVIOUS REBUTTAL: Curry would have trade value that Luke doesn’t.)

* The Kings might improve some if Francisco Garcia played more.  He “fits in” out there and doesn’t need to dominate the ball.  They’ve got a surplus of ball-dominant wings (without a single true point) who like to slash.  The lone saving grace is that they penetrate-and-kick.  On some similarly-built offenses (the Dunleavy-led Clips come to mind) the isolation is without passing.  Sacramento doesn’t seem quite as selfish as they do mismanaged.  Jimmer was a stupid draft pick for that roster.

* Pekovic fouls on damn-near every possession.  He was called for 4 tonight in 16 minutes and none of those were the time he threw DMC to the ground after a missed free throw.

* Derrick Williams made exactly one move tonight that got me excited.  He squared up a defender from 14 feet and went right at him to the cup.  This is the Amar’e stuff that he seems to have the potential to try.  He got fouled and made a pair of free throws; his only points.  The next time he found himself on the elbow with one-on-one coverage, he looked lost and passed it off after a hesitation.  He is battling some confidence issues.  Given this team’s propensity to start chucking from three (perhaps the best way to win games, right now) it sure would be nice if it could incorporate D-Thrill as an interior scoring presence.

Season Record: 5-8

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