If NBA fan objectivity had a pH scale with 0 being a non-stop complaining, the-world-is-coming-to-an-end pessimist, 14 being Tom Heinsohn’s views on the Boston Celtics, and 7 being perfectly objective, I’d rate myself at an 8 or 9. I rely on my eye test more than an analyst should (I say “my” and not “the” because there is no such thing as “the” eye test. I digress…) but I’ve learned enough over at Canis Hoopus to at least understand where I lose objectivity. My tendency is to see hope around the corner when it isn’t there, or potential in an athletic young player that never materializes. Tonight I’ll shift gears because I just watched the up-and-coming, feel-good-story Timberwolves lose a home game to the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats were 7-59 last season and did not add any veteran players of note. The key guys in tonight’s game, Kemba Walker and Byron “Mullens Mafia” Mullens, were key guys on last year’s team; the worst in NBA (and maybe professional sports) history. Before diving into the pool of negativity, let’s get the elephant out of the room: The Wolves are dinged up. VERY dinged up. The best player has broken knuckles. The second-best player tore his ACL. The third-best player sprained his ankle. The fourth-best player tore his meniscus. J.J. Barea and Brandon Roy, not much further down the list, were out with their own problems. So the excuse was there. And the Wolves took it. The reason why I’m pissed off nevertheless is because I thought more of our bench than this. I thought Alexey Shved, Andrei Kirilenko, Dante Cunningham, Luke Ridnour, Greg Stiemsma, and yes, even Derrick Williams, were good and seasoned-enough players to take care of business at Target Center against a terrible team playing on no rest. I was obviously wrong.
I’ll break up the problems in two categories. First are the nitpick things that were bad tonight but not reasons to worry. Second are takeaways that might have larger implications. Let the fun begin!
* Free-throw Shooting – Wolves shot 20-37 from the charity stripe. If you want to point to one reason why the game was lost, this is what I would choose. The misses were steady throughout the game and made the exciting comeback the cliche’ “too little, too late.” 54.1 percent on a high volume like 37 attempts is totally unacceptable. It’s a nitpick because I don’t expect those struggles to continue–particularly when the Big 4 come back in good health. (Did I just pay Chase the ultimate compliment and tie him in with Ricky, Love and Pek? I guess I did. Moving on…)
* Russian Turnovers – Five a piece. 10 turnovers from these two key players (very “key” in tonight’s game, for obvious reasons) is way too many. The turnovers were especially bad because of their type–often careless passes that left fans scratching their heads–and their timing–Shved’s brutal, careless pass on a late-game possession that was only redeemed by Cunningham hustling down to foul and Sessions clanking both free throws. Kirilenko makes IMMEDIATE decisions with and without the ball. Most of the time, and even in tonight’s game, that is his best friend. (He had 26 & 12, with a team-best +8) But an inordinate number of those decisions proved to be the wrong ones tonight, giving rise to 5 turnovers. Shved’s turnover “type” will be discussed below, because it’s cause for more concern.
* Fatal Mistake from the Bench – With 11:03 remaining in the 2nd Quarter and the Wolves trailing 28-25, Adelman took out star forward Andrei Kirilenko. Understandable, because AK47 had just played 12 minutes 57 seconds and deserved a quick breather. Problem was, he replaced him with Will Conroy. Second problem was, the other guard on the floor was Malcolm Lee. With a set of guards completely incapable of making shots, setting up teammates for shots, or doing anything of real value, the deficit soared to 13 points in the mere 3:49 that Conroy was on the court. You could come back and say, “What was Adelman supposed to do? He only had 9 guys to rotate!” Yeah, no. In one regular season game, with no game yesterday and no game tomorrow, he absolutely did not have to put Conroy in the game–especially next to the almost-as-green Malcolm Lee. I joked on Twitter about Conroy’s epic, small-sample-sized disaster of an on/off split. While more playing time (heaven forbid he gets it) will bring that thing down to reality, its supreme negativity represents what’s clear on a single viewing, which is that Conroy should not be playing meaningful minutes. He was trusted with those tonight and, along with Lee, contributed to a double-digit deficit that could not quite be overcome by stronger, late-game lineups. I was just as upset when they entered the game as when they failed to execute–this is not working with hindsight here. That combo absolutely should not have seen the floor. Oh, and in case you’re wondering if Adelman knows how to manage a tight rotation, he does. The only non-Timberwolves playoff game I’ve ever attended was between Adelman’s Kings and the Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers. Playing only seven guys, Adelman led the Kings to a decided victory at Staples Center. If he can play 7 to beat a three-peat juggernaut, I know he can do it to beat the Bobcats.
* Will Conroy and Malcolm Lee: Not NBA Players – In Conroy’s case, I mean he probably shouldn’t have an NBA contract. My guess–and this is all it is–is that he is a great guy with professional practice habits, whose acceptance of a pure bench role is something that the coaching staff wants from its 12th Man. Oh, and I don’t think his close friendship with Brandon Roy hurt either. In Lee’s case, I don’t mean that he doesn’t deserve an NBA contract–just that he doesn’t deserve significant playing time. Ever. He can’t really set teammates up to shoot, and he can’t make open jumpers. To be on the floor, he’d better look damn-near like Tony Allen on defense. But he doesn’t. He’s okay on defense–he’s obviously a good athlete–but he is not a player to watch as potentially helpful down the road.
* Trusting Shved – The first person that needs more trust in Alexey Shved is Alexey Shved. Tonight, Charlotte used quickness and aggressiveness to bother him when he dribbled around ball screens. Like Ridnour often does, Shved let himself get pushed way out court, never initiating contact (the easiest way for NBA guards to draw fouls–just ask Chris Paul) and rarely challenging the defense. His tentativeness early in the game had a momentary lapse during the transition-fueled comeback in the closing minutes. But once the game slowed down in the final possessions, he tightened up again. He’s had some brilliant stretches of play in recent games but it is cause for some concern that he allows himself to be taken out of so many plays. The second person that needs more trust in Alexey Shved is Rick Adelman. Malcolm Lee, who I just explained should not be playing extended minutes if at all possible, played 35:22 tonight. Shved, a much, much better player, played only 23:28. Flip those around and perhaps the result changes.
* Derrick is done. – I don’t fully understand why Williams remains in the starting lineup. Adelman keeps trotting him out there only to yank him around for the entire game. In what was probably unfair to the confidence-shaken youngster, Adelman subbed him in the game with just 38 seconds to go in a tight game after sitting him for over a quarter. Tension was high when D-Thrill went to the line with a chance to tie or win the game with seconds remaining. His first free throw caught more backboard than rim. To his credit, he made the second, only to have Kemba send us home before the desired overtime. But I’m not lamenting the free throw miss. Early in the game, two things were apparent: 1) There was an opportunity available to punish Byron Mullens; 2) Williams wanted that opportunity, but couldn’t do anything with it. He kept missing layups, a notorious problem of his. The efficient college scorer went 3 for 12 tonight, a not-uncommon type of stat line for him. Kevin Love needs to come back. Soon.
I’ll spare you any more negativity. I thought about digging into Amundson’s offensive skills–err, lack of offensive skills–or Greg Stiemsma’s Darko impression, but it’s late and time for bed. Big game on Friday when the Warriors come to town. If memory serves, I read somewhere that Bogut won’t make the trip. I sure hope Pekovic suits up. Brandon Roy or J.J. Barea would help too.
Season Record: 5-3