Monthly Archives: October 2013

Mixed Feelings (WOLVES 120, Magic 115)

Some ambivalence about tonight’s game:

The Wolves barely — BARELY — escaped their home opener against a lottobound Magic team with a win. It took an out-of-timeout, set-play three-pointer from K-Love just to tie the game with 10 seconds left. Arron Afflalo missed a turnaround jumper for the win, and the home team took care of overtime. It was not a home-opening performance to feel great about for a team that has playoff aspirations for the first time in forever.

But every win counts the same in the standings, whether it comes against Miami in March or Orlando in October. The Wolves will need more than 40 wins to sniff the playoffs, and they got one tonight. For some perspective, the all-time great Heat lost at Philly tonight, to a team with one of the least-talented rosters in NBA history. Anything can happen. So again, a win is a win. It’s a good result, even if not necessarily a good performance.

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INTEL REPORT: Magic at Timberwolves (The Season Opener Edition)

Orlando appears to be keeping its eyes on the prize this season: The 2014 NBA Draft

Orlando appears to be keeping its eyes on the prize this season: The 2014 NBA Draft

The Wolves open their season tonight in Minneapolis against the already-tanking-for-Wiggins hard-charging  Orlando Magic, who’re 0-1 after last night’s season-opener loss to Indiana.

(Eds. Note: Is there anyway to figure out how many fantasy teams there are this season named “Tanking for Wiggins” or some variant of it? I don’t know how many fantasy teams there are total, but I’d still take the over on at least 10k “Tanking for Wiggins” teams this year. Maybe 15.  There were probably fantasy league owners everywhere trying desperately to change their league rules at the last minute to allow them to use their auction money to bid on the rights to the “Tanking for Wiggins” team name instead of on draft-able  players.)

Anyway, there’s a lot of interesting stuff to watch for, much of which could provide information on the questions we asked in our season preview post about the team’s starting lineup, defense, offense, and rotations.

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Timberwolves Season Preview: The Trent and Mikey Version

pekswingers

Pek is so money. But does he know it?

The NBA season is less than 24 hours away. The Timberwolves begin theirs on Wednesday Night versus the Magic. For the past six months we’ve relied on secondary sources to satisfy our appetite for pro basketball:

The Timberwolves-less playoffs and Miami’s championship repeat. David Kahn’s departure and Flip Saunders’s arrival. The draft. The Vegas League. Free agency and welcoming Kevin Martin to Minnesota (and welcoming Corey Brewer *back* to Minnesota). Pek’s new contract. Rick Adelman’s eventual, inconspicuous announcement that he will return to coach another season. Media Day. And, most recently, the training camp and preseason.

Beginning this week we can get back to the real stuff — the primary stuff. The games that actually matter.

In Case You Missed Them: There are a ton of great preview pieces out there. Hardwood Paroxysm and SB Nation put together comprehensive collections of team-by-team previews. Kevin Pelton forecast the Wolves season for ESPN Insider. (SCHOENE!) Bill and Jalen recorded short videos for The Grantland Channel for each team, which have been highly entertaining and mostly insightful. Bethlehem Shoals posted 30 Teams, 30 Questions preview for GQ that you have to check out. And the great Britt Robson has commenced a three-part NBA Preview at MinnPost, to include a Wolves-specific piece on Wednesday.

The bottom line is, if you want to be familiar with the issues facing the Timberwolves or any other team heading into the 2013-14 season, the information is out there for you.

Here at PDW, we’ll outline the basic discussion topics and add our two cents on the upcoming Timberwolves season. As always, thanks for reading.

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Finalizing the Wolves Roster

Personnel Decisions

Competition for the Wolves’ last couple roster spots has captured the attention of the very hardest core fans. (Eds. Note: See, for example, here and here, excellent analysis by Canis Hoopus’ Eric in Madison, a valued commenter here at Punch-Drunk Wolves.)

There has been some debate recently about how the Wolves should round out the bottom end of their roster: Should it be be Jeffers or Brown? Does Hummel’s preseason performance merit a roster spot? Is A.J. Price necessary to keep on the roster, really, when you already have three other point guards? And just how strong is Othyeus “Yolomite” Jeffers’ pimp hand, really?

We now have a better understanding of the Wolves’ takes on these issues.

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Report: Wolves to Exercise Option on Williams

From Darren Wolfson:

First, what it means on the salary sheet: Continue reading

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Learning to Fire the [BRAND NEW!] 3-Point Weapon (WOLVES 104, Celtics 89)

In their last televised game of the preseason, the playoff-hopeful Timberwolves easily defeated the blown-up and rebuilding Celtics. It’s difficult to glean much from a preseason game, and doubly so when the opponent is severely undermanned and the score differential stretches beyond 20 in the second half. Had the result been flipped and the Wolves were blown out, there would be reason for some panic; especially since Rick Adelman played his starters for almost as many minutes as they will log when the games count. But the game played out about like it should have — at least if you are a Wolves fan with some degree of optimism for this season — and the execution was just inconsistent enough to make certain conclusions difficult to come by.

The pick-and-roll defense doesn’t look particularly good. The Wolves will not be “blitzing” ball screen this year the way that Miami and other more athletic teams will. With a more conservative approach, then, there shouldn’t be breakdowns leading to open baskets near the rim, or over-helping in ways that leave wide open shooters in the corners. Those things happened sometimes, in this game. But there were also positives on that end. Corey Brewer, while sometimes getting burned — including once on the wing so badly that Gerald Wallace walked in for a big dunk — was disruptively aggressive and parlayed some loose balls into transition offense. Nikola Pekovic continues to “wall up” (h/t Jim Pete) and play solid if not spectacular position help defense. I mean, they held their opponent to 89 points. The defense couldn’t have been too bad.

My takeaway from this game — or my thought after watching it anyway — pertains to the team’s three-point shooting. Without digging into the gory details, you already know this was a weakness last year. The Wolves were the worst perimeter shooting team in the NBA by a wide margin. Tonight, they shot 25 threes, which is kind of a lot. They made 10 of them — good for 40-percent accuracy — which is very good. Kevin Martin, the roster’s offseason shot in the arm, converted an impressive 5 for 8 from downtown. Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved, a pair of young guards in desperate need of better shooting efficiency, shot a combined 3 for 5 from three.

But I’m most interested in the team’s best player, Kevin Love. Continue reading

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Basketball Combat: What’s Cool and What Isn’t

Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball

Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball

Andy G: I don’t remember the 80s Pistons very well. I know they won back-to-back titles, I know the names of their core players, and I know they earned the “Bad Boys” nickname for physical play that often crossed the line into dirty and dangerous tactics. Especially against Michael Jordan. Bill Laimbeer in particular was known for being a controversial “enforcer” type. There was an NES game named, “Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball,” set in the future with Laimbeer commissioning a basketball league without rules and — importantly — WITH weapons. Larry Bird told Bill Simmons that he carries a grudge to this day against Laimbeer for the cheap shots he took against his great Celtics teams.

So I had a basic understanding of what the Pistons — and Laimbeer specifically — represented in the 80s NBA. But until reading David Halberstam’s “Playing for Keeps,” I didn’t realize the full extent of just how unlikeable “Billy Lamb” really was, as an NBA player.

From Halberstam:

What [Jack] McCloskey and [Chuck] Daly soon noticed about [Bill Laimbeer] was that he seemed to have little love for the game of basketball itself; indeed, Daly was never sure he even liked the game. He was a terrible practice player, and before games, when he was being taped, he often complained to…the trainer about the degree of mental fatigue he was suffering from, as if he could not play one more game. He was the first person to leave the gym every day after almost every workout, almost never sticking around as most players did to work a little extra on their shooting.

Laimbeer was not an easy person to deal with. He was a verbal bully off the court and something of a physical bully on it. He was deliberately rude to reporters in the Pistons’ locker room, and when, before a game, the time alloted to journalists there was coming to an end, he did his own countdown…He was a dirty player, and he knew it; it was the only way, given his physical limitations, he could stay in the league. Sometimes he boasted of what he had done after a game–the cheap shots he had gotten away with and how it had caused a more gifted player, say, [Robert] Parish or [Kareem] Abdul-Jabbar, to lose his cool. “It’s a mental game, not a physical one,” he would say. He was despised in most other arenas by opposing fans, and many opposing players actively disliked him, believing he was quite willing to inflict career-ending injuries on them if it suited his purpose and that he would do it casually, out of what seemed like innate malice.

Nor did he make it easy on his own coaches and teammates. He often seemed unusually spoiled. He was willfully rude to the coaches, even to Daly, who was giving him his big chance, and in the constant byplay between coach and players he not only failed to be supportive of Daly but often seemed openly dissident…As for his teammates, he was often blunt and rude with them in the locker room, flaunting his conservative politics. If someone mentioned his lack of grace with them, he would say, “I don’t plan on having any of these guys as my friends when I’m finished here.”

Laimbeer and [Isiah] Thomas roomed together during their first camp, and Thomas thought that Laimbeer could not have been more different from him: tall, white, upper middle class. His father was the head of a company, and therefore Laimbeer was said to be the rare NBA player who for a time did not make as much money as his father. He was a Republican and an atheist, whereas Thomas was ghetto-reared, black, a Democrat, and seriously religious.

My question to you then is:

Bill Laimbeer: Most uncool player ever?

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INBOX: Wolves Preseason: Minnesota Loses to Toronto 104-97, Now With More Othyus Jeffers

Patrick J: The Wolves were defeated by the Raptors last night 104-97. The Raps are a surprisingly good 3-1 on the preseason.

A few notes:

*Kevin Love: Kevin Love played like Kevin Love. He looks more and more like Daniel Plainview by the year. Which is actually pretty cool, because that’s the kind of ruthless competitiveness the Wolves need in order to become an elite team in the Western Conference. Love played well in the minutes he got last night, shooting 9-19 (Eds. Note: Many of those missed shots were misses of his own putbacks, for which he got credit for offensive rebounds, which eventually led to makes.) K-Love is in great shape, and, barring injury, he should be a shoo-in on the All-Star team this season.

*Ricky Rubio: Ricky shot like Ricky, which is to say, 0-7. But he made an impact whilst on the floor, finding open cutters and shooters unlike any other Wolves player entrusted with the ball whilst Ricky was on the bench. Ricky had 6 assists in 28 minutes, and this was good for a +8. He’s (obviously) a very legit point guard coming into this season, and will only improve when he has real wing options off the pick and roll. (Chase, get well soon! You too, Kevin Mart!)

What’s your take?

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When Michael Jordan Refused to Tank

Mjlottery

MJ preferred playoffs action at Boston Garden to a better draft pick in 1986.

If you were following pro basketball in 1985 then you probably remember when Michael Jordan broke his foot. MJ wasn’t quite the world icon that he would soon become, but he was a big star, and clearly on the rise. The year before, he won Rookie of the Year and 2nd Team All-NBA honors. He put up huge numbers on an immediately-improved Bulls team. Fans already knew Jordan from his college days at North Carolina. He hit a game winner as a freshman in the NCAA Finals and later became an All-American. So when the Bulls young star fractured the navicular tarsal bone in his left foot in just the third game of his second professional season, it was a huge bummer for the NBA and its fans.

I don’t remember it. I was barely three years old in October of ’85, and my first memories of watching Jordan involve him shoulder shrugging his way past Cliff Robinson in Portland and — the next year — kicking it out to Paxson for three, in Phoenix. This void of knowledge about the most athletic days of the most successful basketball player of my lifetime led me to read David Halberstam’s “Playing for Keeps.”

The story of Jordan’s broken foot, as told by Halberstam, touches on a pressing issue in modern NBA discourse:

Tanking.

The 64-game, Jordan-less stretch in 1985-86 was stressful for everyone involved. Chicago was worried about the health of its franchise player. Jordan quickly grew so restless that he moved back to Chapel Hill for his rehab, and had frequent spats with Jerry Krause about when he could return to action. Jordan would explain how he knew his body better than anyone else, and he was ready to play. (He was sneaking in five-on-five runs back at UNC, during his time off from the Bulls.) Krause wanted to err on the side of caution. He was never good with player relations, and even regrettably told Jordan that he and owner Jerry Reinsdorf would make the decision about his return because Jordan was their property. (MJ apparently never forgot nor forgave that one.)

But there was another factor at play in the decision to keep Jordan on the shelf while his team piled up losses.

Halberstam explained: Continue reading

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INBOX: The Wolves Preseason Offense Edition

Here's a snapshot of what the Wolves' offensive sets have often looked like

Here’s a snapshot of what the Wolves’ offensive sets have often looked like. Hi-Tech stuff here (don’t mind the DVR pause bar).

THE WOLVES SO FAR

So, there’s been a lot written already about the Wolves and the players’ individual performances so far during the preseason.

The Offense

Patrick J:  One angle that has gotten less attention is some of the sets that the Wolves have tried to run – with, shall we say, “mixed” results.

The set basically looks like this: Ricky takes the inbounds pass, dribbles past half court, quickly passes to a wing and cuts through to the strongside corner. The idea is that a post–often Kevin Love–will make himself available for a high-post entry. Then, the ball is in Love’s hands and the offense flows from there. The idea, I think is that Love will either be able to score the ball from the elbow, take a dribble and pass or score, or drive the ball off of a jab fake and get to the rim.

This offensive set seems to meet with limited success. The fly in the ointment is Ricky. Two reasons: (1) he isn’t great without the ball in his hands, and (2) he isn’t a credible threat to make a kickout catch-and-shoot opportunity from the corner. So, his defender can basically fade to crowd the high post and make the options for the high-post man that much more difficult to execute.

So, if this is to be one of the Wolves’ go-to sets, can it work? Should Kevin Martin basically have the Rubio responsibility–if and when he’s healthy again–to put a real threat in the strong-side corner? What gives?

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Shved & Williams Handed the Keys to the Wheel: (CSKA Moscow 108, WOLVES 106)

The final score might alarm casual fans, or even incite some good old fashioned Timberwolves jokes. But it really shouldn’t. First, international basketball — particularly at the level played by CSKA Moscow — is very close to the NBA. Recent “Dream Teams” that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony have had close calls en route to gold medals in recent Olympics. Certain members of tonight’s version of CSKA — definitely Milos Teodosic, Nenad Krstic and Victor Khryapa — would crack most NBA rotations. Teodosic — previously unknown to me; now my favorite non-NBA player not named Khalid El-Amin — played like some best-of-both-worlds combination of Ricky Rubio and Jimmer Fredette. When you add this to the fact that Rick Adelman sat his first unit for all of Winning Time, including an entire overtime, the loss isn’t alarming. At all.

Moving beyond that, I’m resorting to bullets. It’s preseason after all, and not worth over-analyzing…

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Minnesota vs Moscow: Things to Watch

Ricky Rubio

The Wolves host Moscow CKSA tomorrow night for their preseason opener. Moscow is Alexey Shved’s old team. It includes a small list of players that American hoops fans might recognize. Jeremy Pargo, for instance, was a star guard at Gonzaga and has had a few cups of coffee in the NBA. His best work — an assortment of posterizations — can be found on Youtube. Nenad Krstic played seven NBA seasons. He’s only 30 years old and presumably still plays basketball at a high level. Sonny Weems was a rotation player, if a mediocre one, for the Raptors, a couple seasons ago. And Victor Khryapa was an integral part of Russia’s bronze-medal performance in the 2012 Olympics. From the forward position, Khryapa rebounds, passes and shoots a high percentage from three.

For the Timberwolves players, it’ll be the first chance to test out new sets and plays, and to compete with one another instead of what must seem like endless position battles in practice scrimmages. For the coaches, it will be the first look at an updated roster with the game lights on. There will be a crowd, officials, and an opponent. Although the projected starting lineup seems set — barring any additional injuries, of course — there remain some outstanding questions in the playing rotation.

For the fans, here are a few things to look out for in an otherwise meaningless exhibition:

Ricky’s Jumper

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