Tag Archives: greg monroe

A Retrospective on the Knicks, A Prospective on the Pistons

Chauncey Billups, Suited Up. (Photo credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Chauncey Billups, Suited Up. (Photo credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Wolves lost to New York on Wednesday night 118-106. The Knicks seized the initiative right away, and the game was only really close after an  8-0 run in the third-quarter brought the Wolves to within three, with the ball.

On the ensuing possession, Kevin Love  got the ball on the block against Tyson Chandler and shot an ill-advised jump hook airball. It was a look Love has made plenty this season, including against solid defenders who are longer than he is.

But on Wednesday it was emblematic of his struggles to establish himself as the purveyor of the game. Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler instead did that.

Neutralizing Kevin Love

You see, Love typically sets his self apart from the competition each and every night, doing things in quantity and quality that have almost never been seen before. Usually when Love steps on the court, “u alreddy kno” who it is, to paraphrase famed Canis Hoopus commenter MAYNHOLUP!, because of Love’s dizzying barrage of three-point shooting, outlet passing, offensive rebounding, high-low feeds, foul draws, and, yes, jump hooks. There might not be a more unique player in the NBA – including LeBron James and Kevin Durant. 

If in most games, Love stands out like the unique superstar he is, in the New York game, he blended in – in the wrong way – like the role player his critics expected him to be when he came into the League.

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League Pass Alert, Vol. 4: When Bad Teams Happen to Good Players, and the East’s New Stopper

Andy G and I are doing a series on players you’ll be watching for one reason or another this season on League Pass. Check out the first three entries below.

All-League Pass Rookie 1st Team, or “Rookies You Want to Watch”: http://punchdrunkwolves.com/2012/08/23/all-league-pass-team-vol-1-rookies-you-want-to-watch/
All-League Pass Rookie 2nd Team, or “Rookies You (Might) Want to Watch”: http://punchdrunkwolves.com/2012/08/24/league-pass-alert-vol-2-rookies-you-might-want-to-watch/
All-League Pass 1st Team, Eastern Conference: http://punchdrunkwolves.com/2012/08/25/league-pass-alert-vol-3-eastern-conference-league-pass-team/

 

This installment is a REACTION to Andy G’s All-League Pass Eastern Conference 1st team. It was an interesting list that suggested food for thought.

So, two things.

One. What to do about good players on bad teams. I don’t mean teams that are so bad they’re good. I mean the Pistons. Continue reading

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League Pass Alert, Vol. 3: Eastern Conference League Pass Team

Don’t think defense is fun to watch? Maybe you haven’t seen Taj Gibson play it.

Patrick J and I are doing a series on players you’ll be watching for one reason or another this season on League Pass.

Timberwolves fans are naturally less familiar with Eastern Conference teams and players.  This is one reason of many why League Pass is a worthwhile purchase and use of time.  The following is my ALL-LEAGUE PASS TEAM, Eastern Conference style.  Oh, and remember the discussion surrounding Rookie Blake Griffin’s eligibility for both the Rookie Game and the regular All-Star Game?  At Punch-Drunk Wolves, rookies only get one team — so the rookies Pat described here and here are INELIGIBLE.

G – John Wall, Washington Wizards: For the same reason you enjoy 100 meters of Usain Bolt, you should also enjoy 48 minutes of John Wall.  The dude is just stupid fast.  His shooting is a problem — a big one — but that hasn’t prevented Rajon Rondo and other point guards from doing good things.  The ‘Zards have expunged some of the cancer that plagued recent seasons and the development of Wall; they traded Nick Young and let Andray Blatche take his talents elsewhere.  Now that Wall can team with legit NBA talent (Nene, Okafor, Bradley Beal) the hope for League Pass aficionados is that Wall’s game will develop accordingly.  His athleticism is breathtaking and we’d all benefit from getting to watch more of this guy in big games. Continue reading

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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 to the Competition (WOLVES 93, Pistons 85)

15,598 people attended tonight’s matchup between the Timberwolves and Pistons, and most of them brought the same level of enthusiasm as the Wolves’ players. That is to say the arena had the feel of a tennis match as Tayshawn Prince destroyed Wes Johnson (and anyone else who tried to stop him) and Wolf jumpers continuously clanked off the rim, the backboard, or both.

The saving grace tonight for the good guys was just how inept Detroit has become. Despite a hot shooting night from Prince (13-23, 3-5 3PT, 29 points) and a (relatively) efficient night from Ben Gordon (7-15, 18 points) Detroit made enough mistakes and missed enough free throws to lose to Minnesota on a REALLY cold night. The Wolves shot just 30-75 from the floor (40.0 percent) and that number must have been even lower at halftime, when they trailed 42-36. I overheard somebody in the concession line remark that “it’s okay; you only need to play one quarter to beat the Pistons.” That was proven correct in this game. The Wolves ratcheted up the defensive pressure in the 4th Quarter (WINNING TIME) and buried Detroit with a 29-14 quarter point.

This really wasn’t the most interesting of contests, even for the die-hard NBA fan. With that in mind, and with a weekend double-header on the way (Clippers on Friday (CP3 may not play–hamstring), Jazz on Saturday) I’ll bring this one home with a few brief notes and let readers add anything they see fit in the comments:

* Detroit lost this game at the free-throw line. They shot 10-21 (47.6 percent) and a respectable 15 or 16 makes would have SERIOUSLY pressured the Wolves comeback effort.

* Ricky missed everything tonight–EXCEPT the coolest layup I’ve seen all year. He drove left, whirled the ball around his back and finished as the defenders’ heads were spinning. He shot 1 for 8, yet impacted the game with filthy dime after dime down the stretch. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but the winding kick-out to Wellington on the wing for a trey stuck out as an uber-important basket. This bucket extended the lead to 7 (88-81) with 4:22 to go and was the moment that the game felt in hand.

* Oh, and Ricky was getting his hands on every loose ball and rebound opportunity, too. This type of game is what optimists expected as his upside. (9 points on 8 shots; 7 rebounds; 8 assists; 6 steals). His impact was second to Love’s in securing this win.

* Love had 20 and 17. Ho. Hum.

* Derrick Williams, I continue to believe, needs to aggressively drive from that 15-feet, square-up position. When he does it without hesitation, he looks like Amar’e Stoudemire. Too many times, he looks more like Wes Johnson, shuffling his feet and wondering how best to not do something productive. Come on D-THRILL! He’s good, just give him time.

* No matter what you might think, or what you’ve been led to believe, the team is not benefitting from Michael Beasley’s absence. They’ve managed to beat some bad teams (Wizards, Hornets sans Gordon, Kings, Pistons) and have lost to the Raptors, Bulls, and Hawks. If Beasley’s shooting regresses to the mean of his career, he’s a player this team could use. That isn’t to say he’s perfect, great, or even “good.” Just that he possesses a skill set that no other Wolf comes close to. That may change over time with Derrick Williams, but he isn’t anywhere near as polished as Mike is at collecting baskets against real defense. Combine Rubio’s passing with Love’s foul-drawing and then add in Mike’s shot creating–that has the feel of a legitimately-good team. Not just one that eeks out scrappy wins against dog shit competition.

Season Record: 6-8

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Pistons Preview

Photo by Getty Images

The Wolves should win easily tonight against the Pistons, but Monday’s ugly win over SAC illustrates that you can’t take anything for granted.

What I’m most interested in about tonight’s game is Adelman’s rotations. What adjustments should he make?

Here’s what I think we’ll see:

Wes Johnson: For the first time this season, Adelman was praised Monday for giving Wes extended minutes against SAC, mostly because he did an effective job against Kings hired scorer John Salmons. With Webster still out and the Wolves facing Tayshaun Prince, another long three, look for Wes to get over 30 minutes no matter how bad he shoots.

Darko: The Wolves will need Good Darko to come out tonight, at least on the defensive end of the floor, because Pistons big man Greg Monroe is their best player and is emerging rapidly as a BIG headache for opposing defenses. Monroe’s finesse game and footwork would get Pekovic into foul trouble in a hurry, so look for Darko to play a lot of minutes tonight–closer to 30-35 minutes than 21-22, which he tends to get against smaller teams.

J.J. Barea: J.J. is due back from injury tonight, and it’s a good game to have him return for: Pistons SG Ben Gordon is ridiculously strong and won’t be the easier cover for Ridnour. With Rubio presumably committed to guarding Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey, J.J.’s strength could be a huge factor in keeping Gordon from getting the looks he wants.

What else? K-Love should own Jerebko. Love has been logging a lot of long minutes, so if the Wolves get ahead, maybe Adelman can get Anthony Randolph or Derrick Williams some time tonight.

Enjoy the tilt.

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