Andy G: Wolves host Clips tonight. CP3 isn’t playing. He has a bruised kneecap. The Clippers have lost 3 of their last 4 games played without their MVP. On our side of things, disaster relief is on the way. Nik Pekovic is back. Alexey Shved is back. And most importantly, Coach Rick Adelman is back. The Wolves should be able to trot out some semblance of a starting NBA lineup tonight, perhaps the only eye sore being Luke Ridnour at the starting off-guard, should Adelman choose to move Shved to 6th Man. Personally, I’d just as soon start GELABALE next to a creator like Ricky, but there’s no chance of that happening so I’ll stop right there. In any case, the way I see it the equation goes something like:
Adelman + Pek + Shved – CP3 = Automatic Wolves Win
Tell me why I’m wrong.
Patrick J: The Wolves get better starting tonight, even if you remove the external factors – i.e., The Chris Paul Factor. (Eds. Note: Speaking of, I’d like to see some WEIGHTS in that equation, as I’m not quite convinced it balances quite right…). The questions are (1) how much better do they get with the current group, plus Nik Pek, Alexey, and Rick, and (2) do we see the improvement immediately?
The answer to the first is pretty obvious: we get a lot better. The biggest upgrade over replacement is Adelman – damn near a HoFer as a coach – relative to Terry Porter, who drew everyone’s wrath very quickly in Rick’s absence. Now that Rick’s back and you’ve had a chance to take a few breaths into a paper bag, you feel kind of bad for relentlessly ripping Porter. It’s also obvious how much we’ve missed Pek and Shved. I mean, the Wolves were alright during Phase One of Knucklegate, largely thanks to these guys. And it’s no secret which positions opposing teams have been exploiting in their absence: the post and the wings. Smart writers like Britt Robson and Eric in Madison have gone to bat for the Pek and Shved, respectively, and the defense that they offer at their positions, and the unfortunate experiment we had to endure, in which both were absent, highlighted how right they were. While Pek and Shved shake the rust off, I think we see stronger D than we’ve seen in a while (not saying much, I know, but still…)
The answer to the second is less obvious. I think we see better effort and better organization, starting tonight, largely due to Adelman. As for Alexey and Pek, I think it takes longer. They’re out of shape. They’ve probably been smoking unfiltereds while injured, and not getting the Kahnditioning they need to be at top speed tonight. Pek might miss a few bunnies he usually makes; Alexey will get caught in the air one or two more times than usual in making his vaunted jump passes. So I think we see better D, but plenty of rust on offense.
The big questions for me are two. First, whose minutes does Alexey take (or, is Rick willing and able to limit Barea in ways Porter wasn’t), and, to turn your equation around on you, what to make of CP3’s absence? Care to speculate about how Superman Backup Eric Bledsoe impacts tonight’s tilt?
Andy G: Whose minutes get Shvedded into pieces tonight? Let’s look at who is playing how much in the last five games:
Mickael Gelabale: 21.8 mpg
J.J. Barea: 25.0 mpg
Luke Ridnour: 34.6 mpg
I’ll cop out and say all three lose minutes to Shved tonight, but I think the most dramatic loser–The Biggest Loser–will be Ridnour. He’s simply not a 35 minutes per game player, and Adelman knows this. Luke knows this. There won’t be any strife if 10-12 of those minutes are lopped off tonight. Of course it’s possible Gelabale will see his time slashed because Adelman hasn’t coached him yet, but I suspect the majority of Shved’s time tonight comes at Luke’s expense.
What to make of CP3’s absence? A lot. Eric the Amazing is having a breakout season, finally looking like an NBA-ready player, and a good one at that. Despite relatively limited playing time (the obvious reason being that he backs up an MVP candidate) he’s making the most of his opportunities with per-36 stats of 16 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. He’s a terrifying defensive player that will test everything Rubio has got in that recovering leg. But it isn’t just Bledsoe to worry about. Blake Griffin is a great power forward; maybe the best in the world and certainly superior to whichever 4 that Adelman uses most tonight. Off the bench, Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford could give the Wolves fits. It’ll be a tough game despite Paul’s absence.
Hopefully they can get off the schneid and get on a winning streak.