An interesting take from FiveThiryEight’s Benjamin Morris. For a while, I’ve been inclined to think that steals are underrated because of the popularity of Hollinger’s PER statistic.
I get the substantive criticisms of both steals (or, more specifically, of over-relying on steals as a meaningful metric), but I still want players who’ll get steals. This includes players who’re active on defense, players who move their hands and feet well, and players who know how to play angles. It isn’t just the reckless gamblers.
Of course, it isn’t that simple – the players who move their hands and feet well and know how to play angles are sometimes more likely to gamble recklessly due to overconfidence in their own defensive prowess. But if that’s true, it doesn’t mean they’re bad defenders.
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“[Gorgui Dieng] really rebounded the ball. That’s the thing I really like about him. The more he’s played in the last few games, the more calm he is offensively. He’s slowed down a little bit. He made a couple moves tonight where guys came at him, he showed them the ball and then went up and scored afterwards. He’s got a little bit of confidence and he knows what he can do. And he’s really kinda sticking within our parameters of what we want him to do. Every once in a while he goes off like that little spin move he had (media laughs) but he doesn’t wanna do that all the time. But that’s okay. He’s rebounding the heck out of the ball. Every game he’s in, he goes and gets it.”
The Wolves beat the Hawks — the last Eastern Conference playoff seed, if the season ended tonight — by 24 points tonight at Target Center. After a sluggish, difficult-to-watch opening quarter that featured 13 turnovers between the two teams, the focus picked up and the quality of play followed. Despite a relatively modest 14 points and 12 rebounds from Kevin Love, the Wolves steadily built up a lead off of their defensive pressure. Atlanta’s 25 turnovers — 17 of which resulted from Timberwolves steals — were the biggest factor causing such a one-sided final score.
Ricky Rubio (6 steals) and Corey Brewer (3) in particular were aggressively picking away passes and dribbles, before leading fast breaks. Rubio literally took one in the chin in the first half, sustaining a cut that required 15 stitches. No matter. He came back in and dominated the third quarter with thievery and dime dropping.
But it was Gorgui Dieng who once again turned in the headlining Timberwolves performance. The rookie center from Louisville continued his impressive run with the starting unit, compiling a stat line that included 15 efficient points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. Perhaps most importantly for the foul-happy rook was that he limited himself to just 3 of those in over 41 minutes of action. Gorgui’s +25 plus/minus was the game’s best by 6 points.
He’s interesting to watch on defense; entirely unlike Nikola Pekovic, who is obviously the typical starting five man next to Kevin Love. Dieng is much quicker and covers a lot more ground after hedging a ball screen, for instance. He occasionally switches onto smaller, quicker players. He contested a Lou Williams three tonight after a switch. He successfully defended Shelvin Mack’s crossover dribble, after a switch. (Maybe he’s been taking lessons from Switch Defender Extraordinaire, Dante Cunningham?)
I apologize for the lack of content over the past few days. Since the double-overtime win over the Mavs, when Ricky Rubio put together a triple double and one of his greatest ever performances, the following has happened:
* The Wolves were blown out by the Rockets at Houston.
* The Wolves played really well for three quarters at home against the Suns. And then were blown off the floor in the fourth quarter.
* The Wolves were destroyed by the Grizzlies at Memphis, last night.
It has not been a fun stretch. The first and last of the three were unpleasant for obvious reasons. The middle game left a certain sting due to how the game unfolded (crunchtime collapse) and also because of how neatly it symbolized this entire season; one that has included first-quarter point barrages followed by late-game stagnancy.
Add these factors to my interest in the ongoing NCAA Tournament, and a busier-than-usual work schedule, and you have my excuse for not posting much, recently.
The big-picture team and fan issues remain the same:
We’re all pretty sure that Rick Adelman is coaching his last career games. Kevin Love is awesome, but worn down from trying to carry his team. Corey Brewer and J.J. Barea are playing outside of their natural (read: smaller) roles. Ricky Rubio is good, but needs to be better. Nikola Pekovic is big, and will always miss some games due to leg injuries. Kevin Martin can score, but he’s almost certainly overpaid. Chase Budinger seems like damaged goods, and needs to have a huge off-season in the weight room. The Western Conference is loaded and the Wolves might struggle to crack its top eight in the foreseeable future.
Gorgui Dieng seems to be the one bright spot of late. Over the past five games (the first five starts of his career) Gorgui is averaging 12.2 points and 13.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game, in 32.4 minutes per game. He’s shot 56.1 percent from the field and 71.4 percent from the foul line. In these games, the Wolves have performed at their best with Gorgui on the floor and at their worst with him off of it. This is a nice change from earlier in the season, when Gorgui’s sporadic playing time usually coincided with poor team performance. In one of the weaker draft classes in memory, the Timberwolves may have plucked a good player at Number 21. That is your dose of optimism for this Tuesday morning.
Next up are the Hawks, tomorrow night at Target Center.
But the Knicks, they put the shackles on him, man, you know, on his whole game. They locked him up, like, in a straight jacket or something.
But when he was in the streets of Philly, in the playgrounds, ahh! (laugh)
You know what they called him?
That’s what they called him. Jesus. Cause he was the TRUTH.
It might have been due to Nikola Pekovic’s absence. Without him, the Timberwolves’ typical offense — which is very high-low intensive — does not make as much sense.
It might have been due to a specific matchup the Wolves wanted to exploit, like Jose Calderon’s poor defensive skills.
Or maybe it was because the playoff chances are now gone, and it is time to tinker with new ideas.
Whatever the case, Rick Adelman removed the shackles restraining his point guard, Ricky Rubio, and let him run wild.
Last night, Rubio played one of his finest games ever. He had a triple double with 22 points and 15 assists. He had 4 steals. His energetic, at times ball-dominant, floor leadership showed flashes of prime Steve Nash or Chris Paul. If the Wolves were not running pick and roll, it was because Ricky just took off on his own, reading and reacting the way only he knows how.
The only point in time in which things changed was with a few minutes left in regulation, when the Wolves went to a sticky isolation offense involving Kevins Love and Martin. That also happened to be the worst offense the team played all night. Rubio ended the game having played 49 minutes; 49 minutes in which his team won by 11 points, which is an impressive plus-minus in a game that ended with a 1-point win in overtime.
Dallas wanted that game, too. This wasn’t tanking-season stuff. Rick Carlisle called a pair of timeouts in the opening minutes to chew out his team and make sure they knew that — to borrow Bobby Knight youtube language (nsfw, language) — he wasn’t there to f**k around! But the timeouts did not change things. Because Ricky.
It would be fun to see the last 16 games played this way. It not only seems good for the health of Ricky Rubio’s development, but possibly Gorgui Dieng’s too. The young center had another double double last night; this one in just 25 minutes. Gorgui, and players like him, are more likely to succeed in the style generated by Rubio. Defenses become scrambled, which means more dunks and open shots become available. If Pekovic returns, it’s probably a different story — the Wolves had a very nice thing going (aside from crunchtime) with Love and Pek as the focal point. But if Pek’s ankle needs time to rest and heal, let it heal. Let it heal and let Ricky be Ricky.
If last night was any sort of predictor, we will all gladly watch 16 more games with Unshackled Ricky Rubio running the show.
This post is not a knee-jerk reaction to Gorgui Dieng’s nice performance last night in his first career start; a points-rebounds double double with 5 blocks mixed in for good measure. Despite the low level of competition — the Kings sans Cousins — Gorgui impressed fans with his calling-card rim protection, as well as some competent-looking finishes around the basket.
Adelman sung Gorgui’s praises after the game. “Dieng did a great job coming in, double-double and as the game went on he got more and more comfortable,” Coach said in his presser. “It was a good win to get.”
But this isn’t the Gorgui Kneejerk Post. There are enough reasons to delay that one for a while: His 6.5 fouls per 36 minutes, his 42.4 percent free-throw accuracy, and his horrific plus-minus numbers, are good places to start when chilling one’s enthusiasm about the Wolves rookie center.
This post is about why we should take interest in Gorgui’s development and what he *could* mean to this team going forward.
While it’s cool that our logo – which was designed by Andy G’s professional artist dad, who also designed the site’s banner – bears a resemblance to the graphic Silver chose for his mega-site, what’s even cooler is that Silver’s mega-site now exists. It already has a ton of interesting content on politics, economics, science, lifestyle and society, and–last but not least–sports.
With a playoff run out of the picture, will Nikola Pekovic play out the rest of the season?
The Timberwolves aren’t making the playoffs. Let’s put that idea behind us.
The Wolves underachieved this year.
It doesn’t matter how many more games they win or lose. Making the playoffs this season was a benchmark – the benchmark –for that nebulous but real concept known as “success.” And this season, the Wolves were unsuccessful.
I’m not going to get into why the Wolves failed. We’ve talked all about the draft picks, free agent signings, the failings of the second unit, Adelman’s rotations, Barea over Rubio, close losses, and everything else, ad nauseum.
Lots of Wolves fans will check out. It’s no secret that interest in the team waxes and wanes with the team’s highs and lows. When the team is winning, fans take interest. When it isn’t, they don’t. This isn’t an indictment of fair-weather fandom. It’s just human.
The real question is whether the Wolves will also check out as a team.
And those are just recent espn.com pieces. (eds note: Many or all of those are “Insider” links that require a subscription to read.)
Last year, Steve Kerr helped get this ball rolling toward an increased age minimum for NBA basketball players. In “The Case for the 20-Year-Old Age Limit in the NBA,” written for Grantland, Kerr… well, made the case for the 20-year-old age limit in the NBA. His basic point is that it makes good business sense for the NBA to increase its age minimum from 19 to 20. He listed six basic reasons: Player maturity, financial costs, player development, marketing, “a sense of team,” and mentoring.
Kerr’s piece, and the entire notion of having an age minimum (let alone raising it) has invited mixed reactions. Those ESPN articles and many others contain some combination of the following opinions about this contentious issue:
* 18 and 19 year old kids are not ready for NBA basketball or the lifestyle it involves. They should go to college, get an education, and continue to grow up. Also, get off my lawn.
* Who is Adam Silver to say what 18 and 19 year olds should do with their lives? If they’re good enough to get drafted by an NBA team, they should have that choice and not be forced to get an education that they don’t even want.
* But they’re not actually good enough to play. Not most of them anyway. They get drafted for their potential.
* NBA scouting would improve with an additional year of performance to analyze.
* No it wouldn’t. Look back at the drafts before Kevin Garnett began the early-entry habit. Sam Bowie and Michael Jordan each played three college seasons. Spoiled with that trove of data, the Portland Trail Blazers selected the former over the latter in the worst draft mistake in league history. And that is not an isolated incident. The draft is a crapshoot and it doesn’t really matter if teams have one, two, or zero college seasons to analyze.
* College basketball is a better place for young players to develop their skills.
* NBA basketball is a better place for young players to develop their skills.
* Increasing the age minimum will be good for the college game, as star players will have to play for two seasons instead of one. And a good college game is ultimately good for the pro game. It increases the marketability of young pros, as more “casual” fans will recognize them from their college days.
* Yeah, it will help the college game, but that’s terrible for the NBA. It’s helping out a competitor for TV ratings and fan interest. How is this a good idea?
What I find most interesting about these arguments is that they are always focused on either the interests of the players, or the interests of the league. They are rarely, if ever, focused on the interests of basketball fans. It seems to be this way in any coverage of sports labor issues. In order to write something about it, you necessarily must be an advocate for one of the parties. The discourse — and this is probably more on Twitter than in published articles — also tends to be ideological. The facts of any particular sports-labor issue take a backseat to the need to choose a side between ownership and the players union. There are parallels to the deep divide between America’s two political parties.
Forgive me then, for my selfishness here. When I think about NBA labor issues in 2014, I tend to place my interests as a fan and paying customer ahead of the interests of the owners and players. And in the case of this age minimum issue, I would like to see Adam Silver get his wish. I want a higher age minimum in my NBA that I pay money to watch. For two main reasons.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about tonight’s win at Target Center over the Milwaukee Bucks. The Wolves were supposed to win by a lot of points on their home court against the worst team in the NBA. They came out all too conscious that inevitability and fell behind early. Despite being owners of one of the league’s worst offenses, the Bucks made their first 12 field goals (!) and led 33-22 toward the end of the first quarter.
Throughout most of the first half, Kevin Love looked uninvolved and not particularly engaged. Ricky Rubio sat out more than usual after picking up his second foul. The Wolves trailed by 6 at the half.
Things got better in the second half, but never quite so good that you felt much of anything about the game. The Bucks are 13-51 after the loss, after all, and like I said, the Wolves were supposed to win and pretty much played like it.
@PDWolves: See, for me, it’s like that scene in Good Will Hunting. You guys have seen that, right?
@GymRatInParis (doing something on phone, not paying attention)
@PDWolves: Ben Affleck’s like, “One day I just wanna pull up to your house to pick you up, and you’re not there. You’re just gone.” And for me, one day I wanna just turn on a Wolves game, and Ricky’s shot just LOOKS DIFFERENT. Rather than that weird sequencing and wind up, he just pops up and fires it. With way more arc. I don’t even care if it goes in, I just want it to look different.
You know what I mean?
@bobs219: (seems a little confused) Yeah.
@brianjacobson: (incredulous look on face) That’s a pretty loose ‘Will Hunting’ tie-in.
@PDWolves: But you got it.
@brianjacobson: I’m not sure that even makes sense.
@PDWolves: Whatever, you’re right with me.
@bobs219: Grimmy, do you have any other super popular movies you wanna force comparisons to? Maybe something from Shawshank?
@PDWolves: Well, let’s see.
I know that hope is a good thing; maybe even the best of things. And with tonight’s loss the Wolves’ playoff hopes are shot. And that really sucks.
The Timberwolves lost to the Raptors on Sunday night.
Kevin Love played a great game, scoring 26 points and almost notching a triple double. Nikola Pekovic was solid, chipping in 17 of his own and fighting hard all night for the deepest, choice real estate possible and cashing in on baby hooks near the rim and off the glass. Corey Brewer played like a slightly-crazier-than-usual Corey Brewer with a surprising level of success. He had 17 points and 6 steals and was a best-among-all-starters +10 in 44 minutes of action. Say what you want about Brewer, but it’s damn impressive that a person can play that hard for almost an entire game.
But the Raptors were just better. DeMar DeRozan scored 25 points despite battling some foul trouble. Steve Novak came off the bench to shoot 6 three-pointers and make 5 of them. Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, and Chuck Hayes set bruising screen after bruising screen for Kyle Lowry, who posted a triple double with 20 points and a pair of steals.
When Shabazz Muhammad scored three times in a short fourth-quarter sequence, and Ricky Rubio was gesturing for the crowd to get excited, the Raptors responded with sweet perimeter shooting and extra hustle on the offensive boards to fend off any possibility of a dramatic finish.
The Wolves’ most blameworthy stretch came at the beginning of the second quarter when a 33-33 first-quarter score quickly became a 13-point Raptors lead. Kevin Love, who ended up playing 41 minutes, had to check back in a little bit early to keep the ship from sinking. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who took back some first-half minutes from Muhammad (who did not play until the second half) was extremely ineffective, dropping the ball for turnovers and doing nothing to limit Raptors points. LRMAM somehow ended the game with a plus/minus of -18, despite only playing 4, middle-of-the-game minutes.
But credit goes to the Raptors and former Timberwolves coaches Dwane Casey and Bill Bayno. They have an impressive team that includes skill and grit at point guard, length, athleticism and shooting strokes on the wings, and punishing size up front. They earned this win.
Next up are the Milwaukee Bucks, who come to Target Center on Tuesday night. Milwaukee has the worst record in the NBA and the Wolves will probably win that game.
“I thought he was really active, but… this group has, uh… How do I put it?
When we’re 28 or 25 points up, we don’t need to score quick. I mean, we don’t have to make HERO PLAYS. We threw the ball away in the third quarter and even the last possession with a minute to go, we steal it, and Ricky throws that pass out of bounds trying to get it to Kevin–WHY?
Sooner or later that’s gonna cost you the game! We have to have more discipline in what we do. I don’t care what the score is, and that’s what we have to learn. It’s hurt us in the past and it will hurt us again.”
A leading question about Ricky Rubio’s good performance was posed to Rick Adelman.
It was supposed to elicit praise.
Instead, he got worked up.
Adelman’s team had just beaten the Pistons in convincing fashion. His starters dominated almost every second they touched the floor. Rubio in particular played well, nearly compiling a triple double (11 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds) in just under 36 minutes of action. Ricky’s 3 turnovers were offset by the same number of steals.
Rather than focus on the positives (which he explicitly said that he was going to do, a moment earlier in response to a question about his bench’s struggles) Adelman went on this vague, critical rant about “this group” that seemed — in context — a lot more like a thinly veiled, direct shot at Ricky Rubio.
If you have been following this Timberwolves season with any interest, you’ve noticed a simmering tension between Ricky Rubio’s playing style and Rick Adelman’s offensive vision. The tension is manifested in three ways:
Chauncey Billups, Suited Up. (Photo credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The Wolves lost to New York on Wednesday night 118-106. The Knicks seized the initiative right away, and the game was only really close after an 8-0 run in the third-quarter brought the Wolves to within three, with the ball.
On the ensuing possession, Kevin Love got the ball on the block against Tyson Chandler and shot an ill-advised jump hook airball. It was a look Love has made plenty this season, including against solid defenders who are longer than he is.
But on Wednesday it was emblematic of his struggles to establish himself as the purveyor of the game. Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler instead did that.
Neutralizing Kevin Love
You see, Love typically sets his self apart from the competition each and every night, doing things in quantity and quality that have almost never been seen before. Usually when Love steps on the court, “u alreddy kno” who it is, to paraphrase famed Canis Hoopus commenter MAYNHOLUP!, because of Love’s dizzying barrage of three-point shooting, outlet passing, offensive rebounding, high-low feeds, foul draws, and, yes, jump hooks. There might not be a more unique player in the NBA – including LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
If in most games, Love stands out like the unique superstar he is, in the New York game, he blended in – in the wrong way – like the role player his critics expected him to be when he came into the League.
New York’s record of 21-40 only tells part of the story. Mike Woodson’s squad went 2-11 in the month of February, when its playoff hopes in the anemic Eastern Conference were on the line. They’re off to an 0-2 start in March. They’ve lost their last 7 games. Three of their last four were blowouts and the other was a double-digit loss at Detroit.
Oh, and Carmelo Anthony — the ray of sunshine reflecting out of this dumpster fire of a roster — is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Oh, and the Knicks first-round draft pick, which promises to be a high one in a loaded draft, will go to Denver as part consideration for the same trade that brought Melo to Manhattan in the first place.
Of course nothing is taken for granted here in Minnesota, where the “longest playoffs drought” title belt proudly sits. Carmelo has torched the Timberwolves many times before and unless Adelman wants to dust off Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for some specialized isolation defense (and he very well might) Melo might just go off once again tonight.
Nikola Pekovic has likely traded in his Phoenix poolside garb for a Denver ski jacket.
The Wolves are in Denver to close out their West Coast road trip tonight at 8 P.M. CST. The game can be seen on FSN or League Pass, or heard on WCCO 830 AM.
The Wolves have won three of four games on their current road trip, and aim to make it four out of five tonight against the Nuggets. The Wolves should win tonight – they beat Denver by 27 points on February 12 – but it isn’t a gimme, as Denver has demonstrated in two wins over the Wolves this season.
Timberwolves fan expectations are in a funny place. Heading into last night’s game in Sacramento, the team had a win/loss record of 28-29; under .500 and good for tenth place in the Western Conference. They are far removed from playoff contention. Minnesota’s road record was 12-18, which happened to be the exact same number of wins and losses that the Kings had on their home floor. With these facts taken under consideration, one would think that a victory — any victory — would generate some good feelings.
But when the Wolves did win — by 11 points, no less — it just didn’t seem all that impressive.
There are a few possible explanations for this:
One is that the Timberwolves have underachieved compared to expectations. Wins like last night’s over the Kings feel overdue. According to Basketball Reference, the Wolves have an “Expected W-L” of 37-21; a record that would have them in sixth place and in the thick of the playoff picture. Instead, here we are at 29-29 and most likely looking forward to another draft lottery.