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FREE DERRICK WILLIAMS!

Photo by Jean Pieri, Pioneer Press

Derrick Williams’ grade so far for the 2011/12 season could only be marked “INCOMPLETE.”

Williams has had his ups and downs this season, and it isn’t clear where Adelman is going to play him. Williams is averaging 14.3 pts/36 mins and 8 rebs/36 mins on the season and his 14.33 PER is 5th on the Wolves if you don’t count J.J. Barea, who has played only 5 games. Williams has great chemistry with Ricky Rubio and is a strong, surprisingly physical, defender, especially when paired with Kevin Love and Anthony Tolliver, which was on display when the Wolves trounced the Wizards last week.

But Williams has struggled the last two games, scoring just 5 and 4 points against Chicago and New Orleans on a combined 2-11 (18%) shooting, after three encouraging performances against Cleveland, Washington, and Toronto in which he scored 12, 14, and 13 on 42% from the floor. He has been noticeably less confident the last few games, leading Adelman to cut his minutes to 22 against the Bulls and 16 against Nola (compared to an average of 28 minutes in the previous three tilts), a vicious cycle that causes Williams to press when he gets in the game, which makes him play worse, which makes Adelman give him even less PT.

If he’s going to find his niche on this team, D-Will needs consistent minutes, in long-ish stretches where he can get into a flow and not have to be looking over his shoulder at the scorer’s table. Adelman himself says he’s looking for more minutes for Williams. With K-Love doing work but getting gassed down the stretch last night against the Hornets, Adelman should give Love a bit more rest and work Williams back into the rotation tonight in the second game of a back-to-back on the road, against the Al Horford-less Hawks. Alternatively, Rick could at least spot him Wes Johnson’s minutes at the three–Wes has done nothing to address the longstanding concerns about his game.

FREE DERRICK WILLIAMS!

UPDATE (Sunday, January 15, 2011, 1:03 PM ET): Williams played only 8 minutes in Saturday night’s heartbreaker against the Hawks, scoring 2 pts on 1-4 from the floor. Chin up, D-Thrill!

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Winning Time (RAPTORS 97, Wolves 87)

This.

Look at me, Nick, and answer me this question.

All right.

Who is the greatest basketball player in the history of the game?

- Do you mean ever? – Come on. This is easy.

- Michael Jordan? – Michael Jordan.

Why was he the greatest? Because he paced himself.

Because he always had something left at the finish.

Magic Johnson called it ”winning time.” See those guys over there?

Yeah. Those guys think they’re kicking ass.

Believe me, it is early.

We are a long way from winning time, so pay attention.

- Okay. – You say you want it.

If you really wanted it…

you’d be in here, suffering the tortures of the damned with those guys.

- What? – There’s a big difference between…

being horny and being willing to put in the time night after night–

I want it. Okay? I go to high school. You don’t think that’s torture?

This is a lot of information.

I’m giving you the keys to the kingdom.

Yeah, I know.

How many boys your age get an opportunity like this?

Yes.

So, stick your finger down your throat. Drink ice water, call it gin–

I don’t care what you do. Be ready to dive in at the moment of truth.

So… how often do you, like…

you know, like, get somebody to go home with you?

Every night.

Bullshit.

Just because you’re not having sex, doesn’t mean the rest of us…are sitting around playing cribbage.

 

Until tomorrow.

Season Record: 3-6

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On the Rebound (Wolves 93, WIZARDS 72)

The Wolves came back from a pair of lackluster home losses against Memphis and Cleveland to beat the Washington Wizards 93-72 Sunday afternoon in D.C. in the first tilt of a back-to-back-to-back on the road.

Today’s win felt great, mostly because Friday’s loss felt so bad. But before we get carried away with blowout euphoria, let us remember that the Wiz are truly awful. As a DC area resident, I can assure you that the ‘Zards really are that bad and that it’s no mistake the Wiz are 0-8. The Flip Saunders offenses Wolves fans grew accustomed to are nowhere to be found these days at the Verizon Center. The Wiz stand around a lot and eventually do some kind of iso for one of the Three Stooges–Andray Blatche, Nick Young, and Jordan Crawford. For variety, they’ll sometimes indulge Rashard Lewis’ itchy trigger finger and let him take a heat check from the three, which he’s currently shooting at a smelly 22%.

There are bright spots. John Wall could be Westbrook or Rose on another team – hell, in 2009/10 Wall excelled in Rose’s role for John Calipari’s  Kentucky Wildcats team, the year after Rose was the uber-athletic one-year rental who drove Cal’s Memphis muscle car all the way to the NCAA championship game – and JaVale McGee is leading the L in blocked shots and is DeAndre Jordan East. But the Stooges and Lewis drag down the ‘Zards like a rusty anchor and there’s no hope for the ‘Zards unless Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld overhaul the roster and give Wall a fresh start with a new cast of characters. (Hey! You know what? Wolves POBO David Kahn just did this in Mpls! And we just blew out the Wizards. Leonsis should poach him for a Wiz redemption project!)

***
We’ll do a full wrap after the three-game set, but a few Wolves notes on the Wiz game:

  • Rubio outplayed Wall en route to 13pts/14 ast/+29 in 30 minutes. What the 5-14 in the box score fails to reflect is that Ricky knows when to shoot, and that he shoots it in rhythm/with confidence. It took Rondo–whose rep as a weak shooter has led defenses to sag off him like they do on Rubio–2-3 years to get as comfortable calling his own number as Ricky is right now. Can you believe we got this guy for Mike Miller and Randy Foy?
  • Beasley was out and the offense ran better. But again, it was the Wiz. So, correlation or causation?
  • Williams/Tolliver/Love is my favorite front line. They outwork everybody, they’re strong, and they’re physical. They play D. On offense, they all know how to exploit seams in the D and swing the ball to open shooters or make 3s themselves. I hope Adelman gives them more time together, with Rubio and Barea in the backcourt, once J.J. gets healthy.
  • Ellington made shots. With Beasley out at least three games I wanted Adelman to start Rubio or Williams, so I was pretty bummed when I heard Ellington was getting promoted. But he played okay today and we won.

We’ll get to test the experiment again tomorrow night against the Raps. Until then.

Season Record: 3-5

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Game 3: The Heatles (Heat 103, Wolves 101)

The Wolves lost a 103-101 heartbreaker Friday night against the Heat and Birthday Boy LeBron James.  It was a heartbreaker both because of the promise the Wolves showed and the mistakes they made, as well as because the defeat is the latest tick in a growing tally of losses to start the 2011/12 season.

The Wolves looked like a different team from the group that suffered the lackluster defeat in Milwaukee Tuesday night. Kevin Love dropped a workmanlike (for him) 25/12/3, and Ricky Rubio f*cked around and got his first career double-double with a 12/12/6 line.

Before diving into Wolves takeaways from the game, first thing’s first: the Heat are good. Real good. Bosh, Wade, and James are gelling like the trio everyone expected coming out of the gates in 2010/11. LeBron is the best player in the world. He turned 27 today.

Takeaways

  • Turnovers: Adelman said prior to the game that if the Wolves failed to protect the ball, it would lead to a Heat dunk contest. His concern couldn’t have been more prophetic. Unforced errors and Heat ball-hawking led to 25 Wolves turnovers and what felt like a million transition buckets for Miami. Every Wolves player had at last one turnover. Love and Rubio were the chief offenders, with six and five, respectively, but their turnovers stung less than their teammates’, as aggressive play underlay the bulk of their mistakes, while the rest of the team played the kind of sloppy basketball that James, Wade, and company are only too happy to exploit. Adelman has lamented the Wolves’ sloppiness since the beginning of camp, and while the shortened preseason, the new system, and adjusting to new personnel all point to turnovers continuing to plague the Wolves for the foreseeable future, Adelman’s rotations are puzzling and he could ease the players’ burden by firming them up sooner rather than later.
  • The point guard situation: Rubio-mania has overtaken Minneapolis; Ridnour is no longer trying to mask his consternation with his declining role. Luke played just six minutes in the first half, missing his only field goal attempt. He had a nice stretch early in the third in which he made a quick three and then got a steal that led to a transition opportunity. But he started pressing in the middle of the third, taking an ill-advised three off the dribble that missed very badly, leading the already antsy Target Center crowd to clamor loudly for Rubio, who’d had a hot first half with 8 points, 6 assists, and a +7 in 15 minutes. When Rubio finally reported to the scorer’s table with 4:00 in the third, Ridnour retaliated with two difficult rapid-fire three-point attempts before exiting at the dead ball. Ridnour did not return, and finished the night with 6 points on 2-6 shooting and a -11 in 17 minutes. Rubio played the rest of the way, looking extremely good en route to 12 assists (which could’ve easily been 18+ with some help) and a +9 in 31 minutes. The stats are telling–the Wolves’ offensive sets and overall energy were markedly better when Rubio was in the game. With Rubio’s play exceeding expectations and Ridnour’s ineffectiveness and attitude forcing Adelman’s hand, the Wolves’ point guard situation is coming to a head sooner than expected. Kahn should be shopping the aggravated vet aggressively, but with Barea and Lee battling injuries, trading Ridnour would leave the Wolves thin at the point and so might not happen anytime soon.
  • Close but no cigar: In the three games thus far, the Wolves have been within three points with less than two minutes to go against two potential title contenders. They’ve failed to close each time. This year’s team clearly has more talent and a better culture than last year’s, but the Wolves’ inability to compete down the stretch is reminiscent of some of the ugly things we saw last year. Hopefully Adelman can instill some lessons about #winningtime where Rambis failed.
  • The last shot: A third-string guard seeing his first significant minutes of the season should never be in a position to take a potential game-tying or winning shot against anybody, let alone the Heat. Yet that’s what happened tonight in the game’s closing seconds when Wayne Ellington flung an extremely difficult dribble-jumper from 22 feet that clanked off the iron. Part of the reason the Wolves struggle to win close games is their lack of a go-to player down the stretch. Michael Beasley has the talent to get difficult baskets time-after-time when opposing defenses have hunkered down in the fourth quarter, but can he do it for this team? Beasley played poorly tonight, scoring only 4 points on 2-6 shooting in 22 minutes before getting benched in the fourth quarter. Yet Beasley is the Wolves’ only player who can create a decent shot for himself almost every time he touches the ball, as he showed during stretches of last season. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to second-guess Adelman’s decision to leave Beasley on the bench with four seconds left in a dead-ball situation in which the Timberwolves had possession. The Wolves will start to win close games against playoff-caliber teams when/if Adelman is able to trust Beasley or someone else to take and make big shots down the stretch. Ideally Beasley would need to earn that trust, but given his de facto role as the team’s sole 1-on-1 creator, Adelman should give Beasley a longer leash to earn it as he goes, despite the inevitable lumps that’ll come along the way.
Quick Hits
  • The Wolves sorely missed J.J. Barea at both guard positions. Get well soon J.J.!
  • Anthony Tolliver has so much heart. After getting slapped with a blocking foul on what appeared to be a LeBron charge late in the 4th, AT went hard to the cup and tried to CRAM on the entire Heat interior, drawing a foul. He’s proud and he worked his ass off on both ends.
  • That said, AT needs to work on his free-throws. He made the first shot and missed the second on at least three trips during the second half.
  • AR15 finally showed some signs and was a game high +18 in 25 minutes of action. He still has a long way to go before he’ll gain Adelman’s trust.
  • Randolph looks so much better when his 12-15 face-up is falling like it was tonight. It prevents him from trying to do too much off the dribble, which is when he tends to get out of control.
  • Derrick Williams looked better after a down game against Milwaukee on Tuesday. He mostly let the game come to him, and he hit two of three from downtown and had 10 points in 21 minutes.
  • Wes Johnson apparently didn’t read our letter.

It all starts again on Sunday against Dallas. Until then.

Season Record: 0-3

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An Open Letter to Wesley Johnson

Dear Wes,

With the announcement that J.J. Barea will not play (pulled hamstring, likely to return on Sunday versus Dallas) in tonight’s game versus the Miami Heat (7:00 CST, Target Center), I wanted to take this bit of time to write a letter, in (deluded) hopes that you’ll read it and apply three basic tactics to tonight’s game and every other performance in the future.  You may already know this, but Timberwolves fans have largely written you off as a draft-day bust. Despite being drafted fourth overall, you’ve set yourself on a performance track that will send you to Europe (if you’re lucky) within a year or two.

I held strong as an APOLOGIST of yours for over sixty games last season. But your lack of improvement and inability to do anything with the ball in your hands eventually wore even me out. J.J. Barea now looks like the team’s best backcourt player. He has a resume’ that includes impacting the NBA Finals from the shooting guard position.  BUT– J.J. isn’t playing tonight, so there’s no better team for you to showcase talents (that you were supposed to have when you were drafted) than the Miami Heat.

The three keys:

1) Focus on defense.  Entirely.  Many, perhaps most, NBA players are heavily-geared toward one side of the floor.  What made Michael and Scottie special was that they were the best at both ends.  That isn’t you, and it never will be.  Join the masses of NBA rotation players who specialize in things.  It just so happens that you find yourself on a team in desperate need of help on this end of the floor, particularly a player with the (potential) versatility that your LONG AND ATHLETIC frame allows.  Think about tonight’s game: the Heat have the best shooting guard and small forward/player in the world.  You may very-well defend both of them, at different moments.  If you focus 90 percent of your mental and physical energy on defensive tasks, you just might help your team and show your fans and coaches something they’ve been waiting to see: upper-level perimeter defense.

2) Run the floor.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that you’re now surrounded by teammates that can create easy baskets for others.  When a shot goes up, and you see that Kevin Love has or will soon have the rebound, take off running.  Fans can all agree that you’re a wonderful dunker of the basketball, and K-Love outlets are a great way to get one or two of these easy buckets.  ALSO– you may have noticed the Spanish point guard on your team who seems nothing short of obsessed with creating dunks for his ‘mates.  Take advantage of this!  Everyone else is doing it, and if you don’t join in soon you’ll get left behind or traded to Detroit.

3) Use a triple-threat position.  Now we’re getting technical, but no worries: this is something many are taught in the junior-high ranks.  I have no doubt that you can master the art of holding the basketball in a way that threatens the defense with a pass, shot, or dribble.  Let’s begin with what you usually do when you catch a pass on the wing.  Many times, you’ve got a move made up in your mind before you catch a pass.  Depending on the player and the level of competition, that can be okay.  But for your purposes, let’s not do that.  To adopt a cool quote from one of the coolest ballers in history, let’s instead mimick Earl the Pearl Monroe: “The thing is, I don’t know what I’m going to do with the ball, and if I don’t know, I’m quite sure the guy guarding me doesn’t know either.”  Just catch the ball with a freed mind, and use your instincts.  If there’s a defender in the viscinity, spread your feet and use a jab step.  DO NOT do what you often do, which is stand tall with your feet close together and your weight on your toes.  This leads to you leaning (the top half of your body, anyway) to one side, losing your balance, and either traveling, dribbling off your foot, or heaving up an errant shot.  I can’t tell you how easy it would be to defend these plays when you show your hand the instant you catch the pass.  Ask Rob Pelinka to send over as many Kobe tapes as he has in his archives.  Kobe’s the best in the world at the triple-threat.  You need the ball either swinging through in a way that threatens a shot or drive, or held lower (like Michael Beasley often does–he’s good at this) in a way that seriously threatens the dribble.  A rocker-step move would do wonders for your game, but just holding the ball correctly would set you on the right path.  Maybe one day you’ll bust out some moves like The Pearl and wonder how any of it happened.

Good luck out there tonight,

Andy

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Inbox #1: Kevin Garnett, Hypothetical Trade Target

Andy G writes:

Celtics got BLOWN OUT by the Gordon-less Hornets last night.

If Ainge would take Derrick Williams + every last bad Wolves contract and would send us KG (and his EXPIRING $21 million deal), would you do it?

The lineup would probably look something like:

PG – Rubio/Barea
SG – Webster (Lee until Martell gets back)
SF – Beasley
PF – Love/Tolliver
C – Garnett/Randolph

(We might have to take back a few SHITTY CELTICS players like SASHA PAVLOVIC to fill our roster.)

Thoughts?

Patrick J replies:

Probably not. KG can’t be relied on to stay healthy, and Williams has the most upside of anyone in the deal. We don’t have that many bad contracts, and besides, if the Celtics can’t even win with the Big Four, why should we expect to win with a KG/Love/Rubio core? Nix.

Andy G retorts:

Idea being that with Rubio-Love-KG and about $40 Million in CAP SPACE , we’d attract a free agent or two of notoriety.

It won’t happen….

(Eds.–I have no idea what the actual cap space would be.  But if we ditched Luke, Wes, Darko, Pekovic, and Williams, and KG expired and presumably re-signed for reasonable value, there would be a lot of it.  The 2012 free agent crop can be found here.  Looking at it now, it’s thinner than I expected after Deron and Dwight.)

Patrick J replies:

I didn’t mean to shit on it, I’d just rather stand pat. Maybe I’m just down on KG, but seeing as Brandon Bass (not David West) was their marquee free agent acquisition this year, it could still be tough to get guys here UNLESS Rubio were to attract those FAs.

(Eds.–Brandon Bass wasn’t actually acquired via free agency, but in a trade for BIG BABY DAVIS.)

Andy G replies:

You are probably right, but I wouldn’t have too much objection to a full commitment to Love-Rubio + veterans who know how to win.  Plus, KG could retire with dignity in a town that loves him.  Of course, he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2012, so the Wolves could just wait and approach him then, after their draft pick is used (and announced!) by David Stern to select Anthony Davis for the New Orleans Hornets.

Would you trade Derrick Williams and bad contracts for KG?  Would David Kahn? Would Danny Ainge sign on?

Chime in in the comments.

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Malcolm in the Middle

Malcolm Lee looked way better than I expected in his four minutes of burn in Saturday’s preseason opener. He’s gonna be pretty good.

SAMPLE SIZE!”, you scream.

The thing is, Minnesota has no viable option right now at the two, so Lee’s gonna get burn. How much, we still don’t know. But it’s clear he already has the handles Johnson lacks, the length Ellington lacks, the defensive chops Barea lacks, (presumably) the ability not to get hurt Webster lacks, and the UCLA/Ben Howland pedigree everyone lacks. NICHE!

Lee’s 29.5% 3PFG last year isn’t good, but Rick Adelman won’t be giving him those fringe rotation minutes to chuck threes. So keep an eye on Lee this season and see if you can’t help smiling a little, not just because of Lee’s showy ball-hawking but also because as the dust clears from Kahn’s draft night trading spree, it looks like he actually walked away with some value.

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