Saturday Scribbles

This’ll be a stream of consciousness post, but with headers!

Last night’s game: Ricky Choked!

Legit basketball was played last night.  I’ve written recently about how this is unusual for the Timberwolves in the Spring months and how it maybe even marks a new day.  It’s a thin little silver lining to a season lost by injuries.  Credit goes to Toronto for winning a game that both teams seemed to be heavily invested in despite its lack of playoff implications.  I hadn’t planned on attending it, but got a last-minute offer of great seats behind the visitor’s bench.  It was clear from that vantage point how much the Raps players and coaches wanted that win.  Kyle Lowry especially.

The high level of intensity provided background for Ricky Rubio’s two trips to the foul line with under two minutes to play.  In each instance the Wolves trailed by two points.  In each instance Ricky made just one out of two, leaving the Wolves behind by a point.  The second instance happened with only 1 second left in the game, which meant that his miss cost the team a chance in overtime.

A person who sees glasses half full would say that this was a great learning experience; a “trial by fire” of sorts without the game’s result actually mattering.  I’d certainly rather see Ricky choke miss late-game free throws when the end result is improved draft position and not a Game 7 loss to the Thunder or some other meaningful game.

Missing key free throws can mess with the psyche, though.  Nick Anderson is the key example and it would be a radical overreaction to even play that comparison out further.  I remember Kevin Love missing a bunch of free throws in a game against Utah when he was a rookie.  If memory serves it was right after Wittman was fired, and he had a bit of a slump at the line that followed.  It happens, it happened to Ricky last night, and he’ll get through it.  For all of his struggles as a jump shooter, he is generally reliable at the foul line; 79 percent this year and 80 percent in his rookie season.

Plus, he gets another game tonight to put that one in the rear-view mirror.  The beauty of the pro schedule, I guess.  Ricky played a solid game overall, scoring 13 and assisting 12.  What a fun player to watch.

Tonight’s Game: Gunning for 1,000: Take 2

About that game tonight.  It’s against the Detroit Pistons at 7:00 at Target Center.  It can be seen on My29 and heard on 830 radio.

Detroit sucks.  The Wolves will probably win.  That’s the simple preview.

(Peruses nba.com/stats to develop a better preview…)

The Pistons are 25-51.  What’s worse is that they’re 3-17 over their last 20.  My college team was 3-17 in the conference my senior year so if it isn’t obvious enough on its face, let me confirm from PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: that means the team is playing really, really poorly.  In those 20 games the Pistons are connecting on just 31.6 percent of 3’s; a mark that would rival but not quite reach the Wolves’ league-worst percentage of 30.2.  In those 20 games Detroit is an unconscionable -267, rocking an average point differential of -13.4.  In those 20 games Charlie Villenueva is shooting 28.7 percent from the field.  He’ll make $8.6 Million next year.

Some good news for Detroit is that Andre “Big Penguin” Drummond is back from injury.  (He was out for almost two full months spanning from early February to late March.)  Drummond has been a League Pass fave of many and Wolves fans get their first look at the rookie big man tonight.  He’s putting up 13.6 points and 13.7 rebounds per 36 on 60 percent shooting.  He blocks 2.9 per 36.  Tyson Chandler sorta stuff.  Does he fit well with Greg Monroe?  That’s an open question.  In any case, the Pistons bigs — both Drummond and Monroe — are their team strength and best reasons for leaguewide fans to watch them play.

Despite the rest Detroit has had by not playing since Wednesday, I expect them to lose tonight at Target Center.  So do the bettors, apparently, as they are 6-point dogs according to the espn preview.  Tonight should be the night for Rick’s 1,000th.

College Hoops

Scheduling conflict tonight: The Wolves game will be right smack in the middle of the Final Four.  I rarely ever choose college over pro, and I might not tonight either, but I’m tempted to skip the Wolves game and instead watch Louisville-Wichita and Syracuse-Michigan.  Pitino’s Louisville team plays a wild brand of full-court defense that should be an absolute nightmare for the Shockers.  Should be, but what if it isn’t?  In the late game, which I expect to be better, we’ll see Boeheim’s self-described best-ever 2-3 zone against the nation’s best player, Trey Burke.  Michigan is one of the most fun-to-watch squads that I’ve seen in this tournament, probably because they run pro-style sets, and execute them well.

Speaking of college hoops and Rick Pitino, the Gophers just hired his son, Richard, to be their next head men’s basketball coach.  Pat and I are both Gopher fans, having grown up in this state and not having attended colleges with major sports programs to alter those childhood allegiances.  I like the hire.  It’s impossible to know whether a new coach will succeed or fail, but I like the idea of a younger and hungrier coach hoping to establish himself better than the idea of Flip Saunders venturing into Big Ten waters after a full career in the professional game.  Pitino has a reputation for being analytical with statistics and has experience working on the benches of both his father, Rick, and Rick’s own prodige Billy Donovan.  On a more specific level, I like the idea of full-court pressure defense for this program.  Tubby Smith had the personnel to play that way, but rarely ever used it.  He would abuse non-conference opponents with pressure defense, but always preferred half-court basketball in the Big Ten.  He was clearly a control freak, standing and barking out specific orders to players.  God I hate that style of coaching.  I hope Pitino does well here.

One last thing about college ball.  Ethan Sherwood Strauss wrote a TrueHoop piece that compared March Madness to the NBA Playoffs.  In his typical fashion, Sherwood countered conventional thought, concluding that the NBA Playoffs were a far superior format for determining a champion because a seven-game format is far more likely to reward superiority.  His final paragraph neatly sums up the sentiment:

But what makes the NBA a superior product, from my perspective, isn’t just that its play is superior — it’s that its system rewards superiority. In the NBA, great basketball is ultimately validated — not conspired against. Because of this, the results matter in a deeper way. Because of this, it’s hard for any self-respecting hard-core basketball fan to prefer the college product.

His point is well taken, and I think everybody would agree that playing more games is a better way to reveal the better team.  Upsets are less likely to occur and when they do, as Strauss points out in the piece, they carry more historical meaning (Warriors over Mavs, Mavs over Heat, etc.)  The idea of a far-superior competitor losing in a fluky case of small sample size is not unique to college basketball.  Remember this face?

But there is something that was missed in Sherwood’s piece: The NBA schedule, by its sheer number and frequency of games, causes injuries.  Sometimes serious ones.  Danilo Gallinari of the title-contending Nuggets tore his ACL this past week.  This tweet from @netw3rk reminded me of Sherwood’s post:

Many NBA championships have likely been affected by injuries, which goes against Sherwood’s notion that the NBA is vastly better than college at rewarding superiority.  The 2009 Celtics did not repeat as champions, and it’s quite possible that the reason is that Kevin Garnett suffered a knee injury; not that the Lakers were the better team.  The 2012 and 2013 Chicago Bulls would have been/would be championship contenders, but for Derrick Rose’s knee injury.  Our own Timberwolves know about this.  The lone title contender in the team’s history had little chance of beating Kobe and Shaq after Sam Cassell went down with an injury.  Bill Walton’s career was defined by injuries.  His defending champion Blazers team of 1978 was 50-10 when Walton went down with an injury that ultimately ruined their season and most of Bill’s career.  It seems likely if not inevitable that Portland would’ve repeated as champs had that injury not happened.

This obviously has more to do with the regular season format than the playoff format, but if the discussion is framed more broadly as: “Which better rewards superiority: NBA basketball, or college basketball?” then I think it’s at least closer than Strauss concludes, because the NBA marathon is far-more likely to be affected by injuries than the college sprint is.

Alright, that’s all I’ve got today.  Go Wolves.

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