The early season narrative for the TWolves has been that Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love are amazing players who need some help. Other starting players, most notably Wesley Johnson and Darko Milicic, have failed to provide meaningful production or consistent play that breeds any confidence in the two stars’ supporting cast.
Michael Beasley led last year’s team in scoring per minute (21.4 per 36; 19.2 per game) but didn’t make himself many fans after ankle sprains on each leg derailed what looked like a promising season. In 73 games, he surpassed 30 points 8 times, and 40 points once. But the way he scored those points, often isolation sets with some ball-stoppage, isn’t popular or always fun to watch. Also, and much more significantly if we’re being fair, his defense was often times lazy and always incoherent. A plausible retort to this would be that he was simply “joining the club” of Rambis-coached wings who had no idea how to rotate defensively. Beasley had serious flaws to be addressed if he were going to be an impact player on an up-and-coming team led by Rubio and Love.
This season, some fans and analysts expected a breakout year from Supercool Mike, both because of Rubio’s playmaking but more so because Rick Adelman would devise schemes to get him the ball closer to the hoop. A problem with the Rambis triangle was that it often resorted to clearing out for Mike 24 feet from the basket for everyone else to stand and watch. This wasn’t good for Mike’s efficiency or the Timberwolves win/loss record. In the early going this year, he showed flashes of improved play. His defense was been better. Night and day. He’s played respectable defense on LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and even Kobe Bryant. If you watched Wellington try to guard Kevin Martin (or if you remember the days of Shaddy McCants trying to defend Baron Davis or LBJ) you’ve seen an outmatched defender in a Wolves uniform. This is not Michael Beasley. If he’s focused and coached, he’s an adequate-or-better defensive wing. His shot was colder than we’ve ever seen it in the early going. He put together stinkers of 11-27, 2-6, 5-16, and 4-12 before spraining his foot and missing the next 11 games. It should be noted that the Wolves were probably playing their best basketball in that early going against a brutal schedule. They trounced the Spurs and Mavs (with Dirk, unlike the second time they beat them without Mike) and held late-game leads on title-favorites OKC and Miami. But Mike needed his shot to fall like it used to before things could really take off for he and the team.
Of course, the schedule weakened right around the time of the injury and the team ripped off an 11-game stretch of over-.500 basketball, going 6-5. THEY’RE BETTER WITHOUT BEASLEY! LOOK AT THE BALL MOVEMENT! Only, if you watched the Toronto or Atlanta games, you saw what happened against a respectable foe when the game slowed down and shot creating became a necessity. The Wolves have exactly one shot creator on the team, and he was sidelined for those games. You might also look at those 6 wins and notice that they came against either garbage competition (Wizards, Hornets, Kings, Pistons) or good teams that were without future Hall of Famers (Clippers without Chris Paul, Mavericks without Dirk Nowitzki). The record was inflated by an easy schedule. Despite what some desperately wanted to believe, the team was NOT better without its best scorer.
Fast forward to tonight’s game at Houston. The Rockets (who recently spanked the Mike-less Wolves at Target Center) held a mighty 9-2 home record heading into this game. Minnesota had no rest, traveling overnight into Houston after a hard-fought loss against LA. Houston rested last night in their beds at home. This was not a game the Wolves should have won.
Oh, but they did win, and they pummeled the Rockets behind Mike Beasley’s 34 points on 14 shots. Mike had his jumper going, his dribble penetration game going, and he was getting to the line where he hit all 12 attempts. His monster scoring performance led the way in this one, increasing the lead throughout the second half. The Ricky & Love show became a Minnesota Big 3, as Rubio damn-near f’d around and got a triple double (18 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds) and Love added 29 & 7 of his own.
Is Mike going to score like this every night? Of course not. But he will some nights, and on those nights Minnesota will be almost unbeatable. When he’s clanking shot after shot? Sit him down, or watch Kevin Love collect rebounds. Beasley draws extra defenders, a skill that doesn’t show up in a box score but is essential to consistently-successful offense in the NBA. He also complements the team’s best players by adding a skill that neither possesses: a dominant one-on-one game that will foul out opponents, allow teammates to get some rest on offense, and challenge opposing coaches into lineup decisions they might not prefer.
I hope this isn’t a one-game fluke, and an amazing coach like Adelman can draw as much of Beasley’s natural talent as is possible. He’s a restricted free agent this off-season and the forward duo lauded by John Hollinger last year could be really something, especially with the Spanish floor general leading the way.
Some additional thoughts:
* Martell Webster’s feisty defense in the second quarter turned the game. He plays D on a slightly-different level than his teammates. Watch a Memphis Grizzlies game for comparable effort and approach. This is an asset, for sure, especially from a guy that the team can afford to get in foul trouble (because he will, if he plays this way). Webster should be the starting shooting guard very soon. Let’s all hope his back stays healthy. No more of these.
* Derrick Williams is frozen out of the rotation. TRADE DERRICK WILLIAMS will become a common meme. That could be wise, depending on the deal, but let’s not lose sight of the talent here, and how similarly-awesome college players with talent took their licks en route to NBA improvement. James Harden and Evan Turner took time to adjust, as Williams will. Biggest reasons for NOT trading him: (1) He’s on the rookie scale; and (2) He’s insurance against Love getting injured or Love bolting after 3 years. If he continues to improve as a power forward, and he will, those are not insignificant factors. A shooting guard can be signed in free agency this off-season, if need be.
* Kyle Lowry versus Ricky Rubio could be an All-Star debate in the next few years. Lowry bested him at Target Center, and Ricky took this match. Very different players. Very good players.
Season Record: 10-11