Saturday Jottings: Recapping the Knicks and Spurs, Previewing the Kings, and Anthony Bennett

Andy G: Let’s quickly get caught up since we last posted.

Wolves Trounce Knicks

On Wednesday, the Wolves blew out the Knicks. Kevin Martin — who we later found out suffered a broken wrist — had it going. He poured in 37 points and couldn’t miss. Mo Williams got his groove back. Shabazz Muhammad started at power forward (!) and had one of his best games ever (17 points & 8 rebounds).

The Knicks looked tired and clueless, allowing Corey Brewer to rip the ball out of their hands and forfeiting three attempts to the red hot Martin. Amar’e Stoudemire looked great on the block against Gorgui — not a great sign for the young center’s development as a post defender — but Gorgui did enough other stuff (5 steals) to contribute to a great plus-minus of +22.

Andrew Wiggins got to guard Carmelo Anthony for a bit — his education continues — and he also heated up for a fun stretch in the 2nd Quarter, scoring his only 12 points of the game.

Spurs Trounce Wolves

Friday’s game — last night — was not so successful.

 

Against a Spurs team on the other end of the NBA spectrum from the Knicks, the Wolves were overmatched. Kevin Martin was no longer available, which hindered the offense. On defense, the Wolves had no ability to keep Tony Parker out of the lane. After a slew of layups — which Parker is better at than anybody, maybe ever — the Wolves sent more help. That just led to open corner threes.

A lot of them.

A blowout ensued.

The bright spot for the Wolves was the scoring bursts shown by the young Canadians, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. Wiggins had a stretch of post-ups in the 3rd Quarter, when he just kept on scoring, no matter who was defending him (Kawhi Leonard? Psh.) and no matter how he went about trying. He hit square-up jumpers, dribble step-back jumpers, and blew past his man to the hole. His first step going to his right is REALLY explosive. He is quickly developing a nice rocker-step, which provides a credible drive threat that he’ll need. When Wiggins is too far away from the hoop, his ball-handling limitations are more evident. Closer, operating from the mid-post, he only needs one hard dribble to sky to the rim. We’ll see more of this as the season goes on.

Bennett had a career high 20 points, mixing in some jumpers and monster dunks. This was in the context of a blowout, which is relevant, but it’s still good to see Bennett putting the ball in the basket. He shows flashes of potential that shouldn’t be ignored.

But overall, last night’s game was awful. The Spurs shot open corner threes all night and won by 29 points. Their appreciation for the value of corner threes stands in stark contrast to the Timberwolves’ new offensive philosophies. See Britt Robson’s column from yesterday for more on that.

Random Observations: The Anthony Bennett Edition

So, Bennett is showing off two basic skills: 20-foot jumpers from the top of the key, and huge two-handed dunks — sometimes in traffic — when he gets a head of steam toward the basket. But I worry that he isn’t getting used enough in the latter way, because of Flip’s offensive system.

Last night, in the first half, Bennett had a couple of ugly plays when he rolled off a pick, and either caught the pass and got stuffed, or just dropped the pass altogether. In reviewing the tape of those plays, each happened when Gorgui Dieng was standing right outside of the lane on the opposite side. Without a spread floor, the help defender was already right there when Bennett caught the pass.

It’s an issue with Flip’s offense: the floor isn’t spread like it is for most other teams. I’ve mentioned that I enjoy watching Quin Snyder’s Utah Jazz team, but I don’t even know if it’s as much the Jazz offense as it is *not* the Wolves: They spread things out, so that when a big man (Derrick Favors for them, Bennett could be for us) catches a pass while moving to the basket, there isn’t too much in his way to prevent an easy basket.

Tonight: Kings at Wolves

Patrick J: Tonight, the Wolves square off against the Sacramento Kings at the Target Center. The Kings have been a pleasant surprise so far this season. They have a winning record (7-5), and more surprisingly, Rudy Gay and his NUMB#RS are contributing to the Kings’ success. The rap on Gay, of course, is that he’s an inefficient chucker who can score but doesn’t do much else. Ultimately, the trope goes, Gay’s teams end up worse off with him than without him. Just ask the Raptors.

But that isn’t the case this season, at least so far, in a small sample. Gay is averaging 21 ppg, 6.6 rpg, and 3.6 assists per game. His stats this season don’t differ wildly from those from previous seasons. Gay is getting to the line more often (7.1 FTAs this season; his previous career high is 5.4), which helps his overall efficiency.

But the more interesting narrative has to do with Gay’s participation in the FIBA games. Team USA didn’t have its usual array of top- top-shelf NBA star talent, with previous Team USAers Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Love sitting out. Gay came out of the gates strong to start the NBA season, as did other FIBA participants (Klay Thompson, most notably), and Gay’s and Thompson’s teams have met or exceeded expectations. Meanwhile, Durant got hurt, James and Love haven’t meshed well yet in Cleveland and Love hasn’t looked as sharp as in previous seasons.

The fashionable complaint of late has been that the NBA season has too many games, and that players who play all summer put unnecessary mileage on their bodies. They need their rest. That may be correct, but in the short-term Gay’s success hints at the benefits that guys like him, who still have incomplete or flawed games, reap from reps gotten in a competitive environment whilst surrounded by high-level talent. Whatever correlation exists between playing for the national team and how well a player plays to begin the following NBA season is almost certainly affected by lots of other factors, many of which are idiosyncratic to individual players and situations, but what’s interesting (to me) about the current narrative around guys like Gay and Klay is that there might be one or more identifiable “type” of player who stands to benefit more from year-round play than others. The counterfactual here – that Gay would be the same ol’ Rudy Gay, a guy who hurts his team’s prospects if he hadn’t played in FIBA – is impossible to evaluate. Still, it’ll be interesting to see whether more players who aren’t yet finished products begin to elevate their games after a summer run with Team USA. And, of course, it’ll be interesting to see whether Gay’s contributions to Sacramento’s “success” so far are sustainable as the sample size increases.)

The main attraction for Sacramento, however,  is not Rudy Gay–it’s DeMarcus “BOOOOOOOGIE!” Cousins. Cousins (Jalen Rose voice) is averaging 22.5 points per game and 9 boards.  He’s always shown flashes of dominance, but this season he appears poised to sustain a type of dominance that not only leaves fans and writers wide-eyed, but makes Sacramento a far better team than they should be.

Oh, and I should mention: Boogie isn’t the best matchup for the diminutive Gorgui Dieng, by which I mean Boogie is a HORRIBLE matchup for Gorgui, who struggles to defend stronger post players. I don’t know if Ronny Turiaf is really hurt or if the Wolves just have too many players and so he just ends up in street clothes, but if he could go tonight, he’d be the least-bad defensive option against Cousins in lieu of a Nikola Pekovic sighting.

Back to the Kings: Not many predicted that a team built around Boogie Cousins, Rudy Gay, and little else (DERRICK WILLIAMS ALERT!) might end up being relatively competitive (i.e., ~.500) in an extremely competitive Western Conference, but the progress both Boogie and Gay have shown could make modest yet improbable aspiration a reality.

Tonight we’ll also get a  close-up look at the Ben McLemore-Nik Stauskas deathmatch, which is ongoing in Cowtown. Neither player has played particularly well this season, but each brings unique skills that can please the eyes. McLemore’s athleticism is off-the-charts, and Stauskas’s long-distance shooting was deadly at Michigan and will be interesting to monitor as he gets more NBA experience.

And if Stauskas fails to deliver any eye candy in tonight’s game, there will always be the incredibly awkward NBA Draft documentary that chronicled his road to Sacramento. If you haven’t seen it and you appreciate Curb Your Enthusiasm/Seinfeld humor, you’ll get plenty of cringeworthy laughs out of it.

Meanwhile, here’s some Ben McLemore mixtape to pregame to.

Enjoy the tilt.

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