Beaten into Confusion

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.)

All in all, it was the kind of night that — for a team that has won just 7 of its past 33 games — makes me wonder if the team is just hopeless.  After all, they were not that shorthanded.  They had Rubio, Kirilenko, Williams, Pekovic, and capable reserves like Barea and Shved.  Shouldn’t that group be able to play basic basketball at a competent level?

The +/- numbers for the month of March are not pretty.  The highest minute players — Rubio and Williams — are getting thumped to the tune of 6 to 7 points per game, on average.  Pekovic and Kirilenko are far worse, but in just two game samples sizes.  Less concerning, but far from great, are the February splits.  While all of the heavy-minute getters were in the red, it was much closer to even basketball being played.  Ricky Rubio led the way with an almost-scratch -0.2 per game.  Pekovic and Kirilenko played much more in February than they have in March and were both within 2 points of opponents, per game, while on the floor.  For a point of reference, Durant and Westbrook are 8+ points better per game than their opponents while on the floor.  I don’t think anybody expects the returns of Love and Budinger to vault the Wolves into the 60-win territory of the Thunder.  But if there are too many more games like last night’s I’ll begin to seriously question whether the full-strength Wolves can reach the more modest goal of a Top-8 placing in the always difficult Western Conference.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Beaten into Confusion

  1. Eric in Madison

    Well, last night was one of those nights. 2nd night of a back to back in a brutal place to play against a physical and tough opponent with an undermanned, worn down team.

    Memphis. Talk about a successful rebuild that had almost nothing to do with lottery luck or draft picks. A team that has gone from where the Wolves were in 2008 to where they are now without a single draft pick in that time really panning out is impressive. The last guy they drafted that has actually helped them is Mike Conley in 2007. They made the Love-Mayo trade in 2008. Thabeet in 2009. Xavier Henry in 2010, and despite that, they got better.

    Credit, in my view, must be given to Lionel Hollins. He figured out a way to play that maximizes their abilities. Success in the modern NBA without a 3 point game is pretty rare, but they do it.

    • Good call on Memphis and, specifically, Hollins. It’s easy to throw around the “underrated” label but I really think it applies to the Grizzlies coach.

      As you well know I’m prone to overreact to one game, but it was frustrating just how inept the offense looked, even if it was against a great defense. I was sort of encouraged by those February +/- numbers linked — assuming Budinger and Love provide a substantial boost, anyway — but man, this losing takes a toll…