Monthly Archives: March 2014

No Playoffs? What’s Next?

With a playoff run out of the picture, will Nikola Pekovic play out the rest of the season?

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. 

What’s Next?

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.

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You GOTTA have an opinion! (on the NBA’s age minimum requirement)

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Vincent Vega thinks you should have an opinion on the NBA age minimum issue.

Adam Silver talked about it.

And then Chad Ford wrote about it. And Amin Elhassan wrote about it. Jay Bilas and Jeff Goodman wrote about it. Kevin Pelton wrote about it. And David Thorpe wrote about it. Tom Haberstroh wrote about it. And then Chad Ford wrote some more about it. So did Jeff Goodman.

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.

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It’s Algonquin for ‘The Good Land’ (WOLVES 112, Bucks 101)

I guess it’s 90s Movie Clips Week here at Punch-Drunk Wolves.

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.

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“The Best Part of My Day” (Raptors 111, WOLVES 104)

(Not safe for work, language)

@PDWolves: See, for me, it’s like that scene in Good Will Hunting. You guys have seen that, right?

@brianjacobson: Yeah.

@bobs219 (nods)

@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.

How’s that?

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.

Until then.

Season Record: 31-31

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The Tense Disconnect Between Adelman and Rubio

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

“I thought he was really active, but… this group has, uh… How do I put it?

(sighs)

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:

First is the offense itself.

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A Retrospective on the Knicks, A Prospective on the Pistons

Chauncey Billups, Suited Up. (Photo credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

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.

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Wolves-Knicks Preview & Why Shabazz is more interesting (to write about) than K-Love

The Opponent

The New York Knickerbockers are in town.

That sounds cooler than it actually is. Despite their rich history and big-market glitz (and luxury-tax qualifying payroll), the Knicks are terrible this year.

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.

For the best summation of what it means to be a Knicks fan in 2014, see netw3rk’s, The New York Knicks: It’s the Hope That Kills You in the End, written for Grantland on Monday.

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.

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