Choose Your Own Adventure (Clippers 102, WOLVES 98)

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-A

If you view an NBA season as a marathon, and each game as 1 micro-sampling not be taken very seriously, go to A.

If you view each NBA game as a meaningful event worthy of dissection and takeaways, go to B.

If you are a pessimist, go to C.

If you are an optimist, go to D.

If you watch Timberwolves and other NBA games for entertainment only, to to E.

A.

After tonight’s loss at home to the Clippers, the Wolves are 7-6. Depending on the results of some Western Conference games being played as a write this, they’ll either be barely in or barely out of the playoffs, from an “if the season ended now” perspective. Their offensive rating of 102.9 is 11th-best in the league. Their defensive rating of 99.1 is surprisingly-good and 5th-best in the league. (Again, as I type this. These will be slightly different in the morning.) Kevin Love is putting up MVP caliber numbers. In the halfcourt offense, he’s formed a nice chemistry with Kevin Martin, who has been a prolific scorer. Off of defensive rebounds, he’s clicked with Corey Brewer on more than a few amazing outlet bombs for dunks. Love’s 4.8 assists per game would shatter his previous career high and show significant improvement. Overall, the Wolves are on pace for a .500 or better season for the first time in a long time.

B.

The Wolves came out flat-footed and allowed a slew of J.J. Redick [wide open] jumpers get the Clippers out to a 12-0 start. Coach Adelman called timeout and got things straight, but when the game ends with the Clips ahead by 4, it’s hard to tell if it might’ve been lost in the early moments. I mean, when you know Ryan Hollins is going to see the floor during the middle stretches, you have to do all you can to tread water when it’s Blake and DeAndre (and CP3) out there. Kevin Love struggled to find good shots against the most athletic front line in the league. He shot just 2-14, but did collect 8 assists. Love was not good tonight though, and it marks his second consecutive poor game (by his standards). Ricky Rubio was really ineffective on offense, as the Clippers defense continued what Washington began last night, keeping the Wolves in halfcourt sets and inviting Ricky to shoot (which he never does). Kevin Martin aggressively hunted his shot tonight, and converted at a much higher rate than in Washington. Martin led the Wolves with 28 points on 11-21 shooting. On defense, the Wolves made some aggressive steals and generally played okay (after the horrid start). The Clips led most of this game, but the score was usually close. When the Wolves desperately needed stops down the stretch, Chris Paul made tough shots, or DeAndre Jordan tipped out offensive rebounds. Or both. The Wolves second unit struggled early, but managed to mostly play even. Down the stretch, Paul was too good. He was the best player on the floor, which is not an unusual situation for him.

C.

Derrick Williams is really bad. There is literally no position for him in the NBA because he’s not talented enough to be a go-to guy and he has none of the instincts or requisite (basic) skills of a role player. He might have a shorter NBA career than Wes Johnson, who can at least be a versatile defender. Ricky Rubio might be the worst “shooting” guard in the NBA. It’s crazy not only how unable he is to shoot but how unwilling he is to even try. It’s going to compromise the Wolves halfcourt offense all season. Love’s stats remain ahead of his actual game impact, even if he’s narrowed the gap some with his improved passing. He continues to rely on head fakes and desperate attempts at foul draws more than the league’s other great players. The Western Conference is loaded and the Wolves will struggle to earn even the 8 Seed. If the struggle continues, Love will be traded and Adelman will retire.

D.

The Wolves will be fine. They would’ve won this game had they had the extra night of rest that the Clippers had, or if Love hadn’t had an unusually poor shooting game. Williams is struggling, but he’ll soon be traded to a better situation for him and hopefully it will bring back a more helpful reserve and maybe even a future draft pick. Rubio struggles with his shot, but way more often than not he compensates with aggressive drives that open up passing lanes. He is also an elite defender who takes every available opportunity to push the ball and create extra scoring chances for teammates. Love is amazing, just look at his stats. Or watch him play. Either way he’s playing the best basketball of his career. The Clippers are one of the league’s five best teams. While the Wolves are not there yet, they’re still learning a complex offensive system based on read-and-react principles. As Charles Barkley says, “players are made in the off-season; teams are made during the season.” (Or something.) Well, even if Rubio doesn’t improve his jumper during the season, the Wolves team can continue to iron out the kinks and capitalize on the various elite-level skills they throw out there, including Love’s rebounding and outlets, Pek’s post-ups, Martin’s cutting and shooting, and Ricky’s passing. This team will be in the playoffs, and the only question is whether or not they’ll have homecourt advantage for a round and maybe even find themselves in the “contender” category that pundits like to form for discussion. It’s going to be a fun season.

E.

Watching CP3 operate down the stretch… that was pretty damn fun.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Choose Your Own Adventure (Clippers 102, WOLVES 98)

  1. Love this post–cagey.

  2. Ryan T

    Watching CP3 score 16 points in the 4th quarter was hard to watch. We did nothing creative to try to prevent him getting wide open looks off pick and roll. We need Pek and Love to be more active hard hedging or doubling to force the ball out of his hands. I know that is not Pek’s or Love’s strong suit. Wish we would of gone offense for defense with Daunte & Pek. Pek couldn’t keep Jordan off the offensive glass anyways might as well have a better P&R defender out there. Just gave the whole league a great blueprint on how to hurt us down the stretch.

    • Ryan–
      I think this touches on a weakness of Pek and Love (aggressive pick-and-roll coverage) but also it’s worth noting that Paul is pretty unusual in how he can navigate defenses to create offense down the stretch. There aren’t 3 better ones in the entire league at this and some of his shots were pretty difficult. (There was one where Ricky dropped about 8 feet under a screen that looked pretty ugly on our end.)

      When an MVP-caliber player comes in and looks great, it’s hard to tell whether there should be more credit or blame dished out. It’s hard to win when Paul does that, but it would’ve (obviously) been easier to handle if they had a lead — rather than a deficit — going into it.

  3. Graham

    A really great summation of this game, on all fronts. Really sad to see Derrick Williams continually not look good, the optimist’s take here is something I really hope comes to fruition.

    • Thanks, Graham. And I agree about Derrick – I would like to see him on a team that is more focused on rebuilding (read: tanking) so that he can be just thrown out there with less feeling that every move is being microanalyzed from the sidelines. Personally, I think he’s always going to struggle because of his poor finishing ability around the rim. (In his early NBA days, I viewed his best potential as a strong pick-and-roll finisher, but that hasn’t happened.) But strange things happen sometimes and maybe a light bulb will turn on that improves his finishing ability. (Which, I think, might then improve his passing ability as he draws double teams.)

  4. Is it ok that I read all of the sections?