Dating back to 2006, the months of March and April have not been interesting ones for Minnesota Timberwolves fans. In what was first inspired by a surprising and disappointing inability to reach the playoffs and a draft-pick debt to the Clippers that was protected if the Wolves picked high enough (finished with a bad enough record) the franchise introduced its fans to the concept of intentionally losing games. “Tanking” is the commonly accepted term in NBA circles. In 2006, Kevin Garnett sat out the season’s final 6 games. The Wolves lost 5 of them. The final game — when a win would have jeopardized the team’s ability to trade away Brandon Roy a couple months later — included the most embarrasing, shameless display of tanking in league history. Mark “Mad Dog” Madsen was deployed to chuck up shots that he had no chance of making. Mad Dog was 1 for 15 from the floor (and 0-7 from downtown) and the Wolves lost in double overtime. Welcome to the Twin Cities, Randy Foye.
Monthly Archives: March 2013
A couple weeks ago, in anticipation of the NCAA Tournament, we scribbled some preliminary thoughts on NBA Draft prospects. Now that we’re into Sweet 16 territory, and we know a little more about where the Wolves may end up drafting, we thought it about that time to do another quick #lottobound rundown of our current thoughts on potential Wolves prospects we like.
I pass the baton to Andy G to kick this thing off.
That said, who is #1? My take is, if we somehow win the lottery I think it’s Nerlens Noel or Anthony Bennett. Gotta get the star power at the top of the draft.
If we don’t win the lotto and take Oladipo, we might be getting a better player than McLemore anyway. Victor O plays Jrue Holiday-style defense and seems to have the shooting mechanics to become a pretty reliable secondary scorer. It’d be incredible to watch a Rubio-Oladipo backcourt terrorize opposing guards defensively.
The no-call following Kobe Bryant’s foul on Ricky Rubio was met with a wide-eyed, pleading reaction from the aggrieved shooter, Rick Adelman storming to mid court demanding an explanation, and 51 percent of fans at Target Center booing their lungs out. (The other 49, wearing purple and gold, had a different-but-also-loud reaction.) Twitter was equally reactive. Bitching. Expletives. Allegations of corruption. Probably some unpleasant messages directed @kobebryant.
In truth, it probably didn’t matter, and it is only one play out of a great many that decided tonight’s game. Had a foul been called on Kobe, Ricky would have had a chance to force overtime by making three consecutive free throws. His season free-throw percentage of 77.4 tells us that there is a 46.4 percent chance that he would’ve made all of them and five more minutes would’ve been added to the clock next to a tie score. If overtime is a 50/50 proposition (probably generous, given that they have Kobe and… we don’t) then it means that a foul call would’ve given the Wolves a 23.2 percent chance of winning the game.
The Lakers have won 21 straight over the Timberwolves heading into tonight’s tilt at the Target Center. With the Lakers vying for a playoff spot and the Wolves coming off a dominant win against Detroit, could tonight be the night when the hex ends? That’s why I’ll be watching.
Stay healthy, my friends.
1st Quarter Notes:
Sloppy start from both teams. Pistons scored early off of second chance points. Pekovic ended quarter with 8 points and 4 rebounds. He was heavily involved in the offense. When Budinger entered the game late in the quarter, the spacing and ball movement improved. Wolved led 19-16 after the first.
Andy G: New topic and one that seems to get discussed less and less often: David Kahn. You reminded me the other day about the time he gave Kurt Rambis a homework assignment. (!!!) We’ve come a long way from the days when Kahn wielded such authority over his coach. To everyone’s benefit, Kahn was later able to hire Rick Adelman; an acquisition that naturally shifted the channels of authority over at 600 1st Ave. N. But the degree to which Kahn seems less relevant is significant and poses some questions for the future of the franchise. He still holds the prominent title of P.O.B.O., which should amount to the team’s acting agent in matters such as trade discussion and free agent negotiations. We’ve got a recently drafted #2 pick that should be aggressively shopped and a star center up for restricted free agency. It’s important that the Timberwolves have a clear chain of authority on these matters, both within the ORG and to be transparent to callers from the other 29 teams.
Why is this important? Well, James Harden was dealt to Houston in a swift and covert manner that involved Sam Presti making phone calls that he certainly needed a high degree of trust would be: a) fruitful in terms of possibly ending in a big trade; and b) confidential. I doubt the Wolves had the juice to get The Beard without dishing out Love or Rubio, but we’ll never know because (by all accounts, which includes a Bill Simmons report that Presti first called Golden State and Washington, before Houston) Presti never approached the Wolves. Opportunities could potentially be lost, is what I’m saying.
1) Do you agree that it is important for the Wolves’ authority chain to be clearly defined and transparent to the league?
2) How much — for comedy’s sake — would you enjoy reading about Rick Adelman being assigned homework from Kahn?
Andy G: First things first: The Wolves won by 31 points last night. On the road. On the tail end of a back-to-back. That never happens. I guess I should mention that it came against the Phoenix Suns and — unlike the last time the Wolves played (and lost) in Phoenix — it wasn’t a WESLEY JOHNSON REVENGE GAME. (Wes shot 2 for 12 from the floor.) I’d ask for your thoughts on the game, but I doubt yours are any different than mine, which could be summed up as: Nice to get a win, nice to see Chase Budinger contributing right away, but Phoenix is horrible and we’re in the thick of Tanking Season. If any of that is incorrect, let me know.
Patrick J: Ditto. We like those wins, and as much as that, we like how the team performs so far with Chase on the floor. Granted, they aren’t playing worldbeaters – SAC and PHO are peer teams at best – but still, you see the potential there. It’s almost enough to make me wish I knew how it looked at full strength, with Kevin Love on the floor. But not quite. We’re in the dog days of the season, writing posts that feature Youtube vids of our favorite college prospects whom we’re watching in the NCAA tourney, and are far, far, far from playoff contention. Do you agree that you’d rather K-Love stay away the rest of the season so as not to risk reinjuring his hand, or (let’s just assume this for a fun hypothetical), do you want to see him return so we can see whether a healthy Wolves squad with a few rusty pieces can compete with the Murderer’s Row schedule they have coming up?
It’s March. Spring is (officially) here.
Flowers are blooming and the air is warm. There’s still piles of snow on the ground and it’s cold as hell. But NBA and NCAA tournament basketball is being played. Basketball fans are in a state of full receptivity, like a f*cking lightning rod.*
Me, I’ve been traveling the last week, first to Minnesota, then to Chicago. Catching games when I could. But travel is disruptive, especially for someone who’s usually planted in his lounger in front of a 60-inch TV with the full suite of League Pass and cable options, and two(!) laptops, one usually dedicated to picking up a second NBA game on League Pass Broadband and the other to NBA Twitter. While on the road I’ve been catching games when possible. But it hasn’t been the same as my home base in The Hoops Junkie’s Blogger Lair. But now I’m back in the captain’s chair, and it’s on.
Anyway, here’s some stuff I’m thinking about.
The Wolves Remain Intriguing In Spite Of Everything
On the opening night of March Madness the Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings played a game of their own. The game was not televised which in this rare case worked out better for me. Despite not being able to hear the great Jim Petersen call the game, I could watch the Wolves on my laptop while simultaneously watching UNLV complete the destruction of my bracket that Oklahoma State began a few hours earlier. (NOTE TO SELF: Never again use “Which teams have projected lottery picks?” as the only deciding factor when picking teams.)
Games like last night’s at Memphis leave me wondering if there is any hope for this team, healthy or not. Facing a near-elite opponent on the road, the Wolves folded up in the third quarter and fell behind by as many as 25 points. They shot a collective 33.7 percent from the field and a miserable-but-close-to-their-average 6 for 24 from three-point range.
If you watched the game you saw that this was as much a product of not being able to generate open shots as it was simply missing them. Basic point being, the Wolves barely functioned at an NBA level on offense. Derrick Williams, fresh off his career night against the Hornets, flopped in his encore performance, shooting just 3 for 12 and barely drawing iron on many of those misses. He reverted back to what has been the norm. Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic failed to be the difference makers that the team needs them to be. On the whole, Pekovic was badly outplayed by Marc Gasol, the league’s best center. Perhaps worst of all for the Wolves chances at a competitive game, Ricky Rubio was a no show. He made 1 of 6 shots, registered just 2 assists and scared the bejesus out of Wolves fans by limping off the court with what looked like a leg injury. (Apparently a groin injury that is not serious.)
Many clutch plays contributed to tonight’s close win over the soon-to-be Pelicans of New Orleans. Ricky Rubio cut a 4-point deficit to 1 when he made a layup — and one — with under a minute to play. Shortly before that, Rubio chased down Al Farouq Aminu to foul him and prevent a layup and two points off of Ricky’s own turnover. Aminu missed both free throws, keeping the Wolves in the game. When Eric Gordon found himself on an island with Luke Ridnour and the ball in his hands, the Wolves’ 1-point lead appeared in serious jeopardy. That is, until Andrei Kirilenko came flying in from out of nowhere to swat away Gordon’s runner and corral the rebound in what seemed like one motion. And Nikola Pekovic made a pair of free throws with the game on the line to give the Wolves that lead in the first place. All of these plays led to a St. Patty’s win before the home crowd. But these plays were not the biggest story of the game; the one most easily molded into narrative.
Hey folks, Patrick J here. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
Game tonight. Here’re the deets: Hornets @ Wolves. 6 PM. FSN, 830-AM.
Given that these game preview posts always include info on where you can see the game, it seems like a fan should never have trouble catching the action. But that’s not the case.
In this late juncture of the too-long NBA regular season and with the Wolves’ absence from the Race for the 8 Seed, we’re going to begin talking some DRAFT. We’ll try to make this a weekly series but as with all things Punch-Drunk Wolves, that’s subject to change based on, well, whatever we feel like doing. In any case, here’s Draft Talk, take 1.
Best Fit, or Best Player Available?
Andy G: It’s a common question faced by teams of any professional sport that drafts players: Do we draft a player that fills a need, or do we draft whoever we’ve pegged as the best player available, regardless of position or fit? In 2011 — the last time the Wolves had a lottery pick — this was a pressing question as there was a perfect storm of clear-cut “best player available” (only he wasn’t, but who’s counting?) that played precisely the same position as the Wolves’ All-Star and best player. Of course I’m talking about Derrick Williams. It’s been mostly a disaster with D-Thrill because a) he can’t play anything except the 4; and b) he’s not even that good at the 4. Looking back, the Wolves woulda been better off going purely for need and drafting or trading down for a wing like Kawhi Leonard or Klay Thompson. Oh well.
The Wolves remain without talented wing players. They have a good point guard, a good power forward, and — assuming he is re-signed — a good center. Do they absolutely have to draft a wing in the 2013 lottery, or what?
David defeated Goliath last night. Goliath wasn’t at full strength. It was down 3 of its 4 best players.
But that doesn’t really matter right now. Not for the Wolves. It was a good day.
Ricky Rubio showed why people are all jazzed, and always have been all jazzed, about Ricky Rubio.
That GIF says a 1,000 words. Rubio was great. He f*cked around and got a triple-double. Ice Cube would’ve been proud. Punch-Drunk Wolves sure was.
Tonight, the Wolves play Indiana. They’re real good. Real good. And unlike the Spurs, Indy isn’t sitting three of their top players. Frank Vogel would be happy to eat your heart and mine.
What to know about the Pacers game tonight? Andy G and I break down a few key factors in this INBOX post.
Just wakin’ up in the mornin’ gotta thank God
I don’t know but today seems kinda odd
Some odd lineups tonight on each side. For the Spurs we saw Cap’n Jack, Tiago Splitter and Devoe Joseph’s brother all in the starting lineup. For the Wolves it was the now-not-unusual crew that includes Luke Ridnour, Mickael Gelabale, Derrick Williams, Greg Stiemsma, and not Kevin Love or Nikola Pekovic.
UPDATE (3/12, 12:24 PM): Dan McCarney is reporting that Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard didn’t make the trip to Minneapolis.
Spurs @ Wolves. 7 PM. FSN, 830-AM. Boo-yeah.
The Wolves take on the Spurs tonight at Target Center. On paper, it looks to be a lopsided affair. The Wolves are 21-39. They have lost consecutive games by over 20 points. The Spurs are 49-15. They just beat OKC by 12. Two games before that, they beat Chicago by 18.
The ray of hope for this one is that SAS is not invincible. Dame Lillard & co beat them 136-106 in San Antonio on March 8th in the worst loss of the extremely long Tim Duncan era. Can the Wolves shock the world tonight? If I knew the answer, I’d be on a flight to Vegas, not writing this.
That said, things look grim. The Blazers are fighting for the 8th seed in the West. The Wolves are, well – depending on how you judge incentives – fighting for a respectable finish or a higher lottery pick. One thing they’re decidedly not fighting for is a playoff spot.
Which isn’t to say that they aren’t playing hard.
Anyone who’s been watching knows Ricky Rubio is setting an example that good players on bad teams ought to be required to follow. The energy and leadership Rubio displays nightly is a model for other NBAers to follow (even if his jump shot isn’t).
Late in my freshman season in college I was getting some rare playing time during a blowout loss at St. John’s when I found myself defending a two on one fast break. As the three of us approached the basket, me back-pedaling the whole way, the ball was passed high over my head. I committed the cardinal sin of trying to jump up to tip the pass. Next thing I knew I was seeing stars, lying on my back, staring up at the rim — and the bottom of a pair of sneakers dangling over me. I was alley-oop dunked on. Hard. Not [nearly] as hard as that one, but hard enough to knock me on my ass. Drunk college kids were yelling at me. It was embarrassing.
So, Brandon Knight, I guess I’ve “been there bro.” (Just with no Twitter, YouTube, or even 1/1,000,000 of the amount of people watching.)
Knight used the opportunity to show his good sense of humor and humility:
(What a dunk.)
1. The oxygen shortage that was last night’s game.
The Wolves were 15.5 underdogs in last night’s game at Denver. Denver never loses at home. The Wolves, without 4 important starters, almost never win. We lost by 23. Denver ran the floor (Corey Brewer had some of his patented leak-outs) and the Wolves couldn’t shoot well enough to keep up with a top-flight transition offense. Specifically Alexey Shved made only 2 of 11 shots and Derrick Williams made only 4 of 14 shots. Ty Lawson had 32 points and Denver shot 53 percent from downtown. To add insult to injury, George Karl was allowed to go FULL BOBBY KNIGHT without suffering the obvious penalty of ejection. It wasn’t a pretty game for the road team.
2. Williams & Shved: Two kinds of struggles.
Wolves take on the surging Denver Nuggets tonight. 8:00 tip seen on My29 or heard on 830 WCCO. Apparently Denver is getting blasted by snow.
Safe travels to Wolves players and staff. They play back here in Minnesota tomorrow night. A postponement doesn’t seem unlikely if the weather in Colorado doesn’t calm down.
The game tonight? Well, the Wolves are still without Chase, Kevin, Andrei and Nik. They won their last one, but lost the 6 before that. Denver? They’re on a 7-game winning streak that included wins over the Thunder and Clippers. At home the Nuggets are as good as any team in basketball. They’ve got a 27-3 record at the Pepsi Center that is a half-game shy of Miami’s for the best home record in basketball. (Interestingly enough, the Wolves were one of the 3 teams to win at Denver already this year.) The gamblers have taken notice as the Wolves are a whopping 15.5-point underdogs.
In terms of what to look for tonight, Denver plays fast. They often send defenders (like Corey Brewer) out on leaks to steal quick buckets when the opponent isn’t expecting. They lead the NBA in fast break points per game (19.7). In order to have a chance tonight the Wolves will have to get back on D and capitalize on the opportunities that the Nuggets’ risky style sometimes presents. Should be interesting.
1. A win! Normally a hard-fought home win over the Wizards in March wouldn’t feel like cause for celebration. But this was — like all too many games this season — an extremely shorthanded Wolves lineup without Andrei Kirilenko, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Love and Chase Budinger. This collection that trots out Mickael Gelabale and Greg Stiemsma in the starting lineup (and Luke Ridnour starting at shooting guard) should be laughably overmatched. But they play hard and, for the most part, make the best ball decisions within their abilities and tonight that was enough for a win. The Wizards aren’t so bad anymore, either. At least not since John Wall returned from injury, they’re not. With the dynamic young point in the lineup they were 14-11 heading into tonight’s game. For the Wolves to win without 80 percent of their preferred starting lineup is impressive indeed.