Monthly Archives: December 2014

Punch-Drunk Podcast, Episode 9: Ricky and the Rest

Ricky Rubio's ankle injury may end up as the season's defining event.

Ricky Rubio’s ankle injury may end up as the season’s defining event.

In which we discuss what the team is (or, rather, isn’t) without Ricky Rubio, our impressions of the Wolves youngsters so far, and whether Flip Saunders looks like a good coaching fit in Minnesota.

(And, yes, a little Zach Lavine).

Enjoy.

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Timberwolves This & That

Monday’s game was another blowout against a Western Conference contender and another game I didn’t feel up to recapping. The Wolves had a great first quarter on offense, led by Gorgui Dieng’s 5 assists and all sorts of fun ball movement. In the second quarter, the Clippers got a few breaks from the refs, the Wolves ball movement stopped, and the total inability to play defense prevented Minnesota from keeping it close. The Clips led by over 30 for stretches in the second half.

The following is a random set of thoughts about this team, where it’s at, how it should be viewed and what may be going on behind the scenes.

“You play basketball against yourself; your opponent is your potential.” –Bobby Knight

I read John Feinstein’s classic, “A Season on the Brink,” a few months ago, and had this quote highlighted. I think it applies to how this Timberwolves team — now decidedly in “rebuilding mode” — should be viewed going forward. The Wolves were able to win at Staples Center against the crappy Lakers on Friday night. While the end result was fun, it wasn’t all that important. More important was that Zach LaVine showed off shot-making ability that we hadn’t previously seen. A few nights later, in the same arena, the Wolves were blown off the floor by Chris Paul’s Clippers. Again, the loss doesn’t matter as much as how inept the Wolves looked on defense.

It’s frustrating because it’s a familiar approach and so far from ideal, but the process and progress matter a lot more than the game-to-game results on the scoreboard this year. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy the wins or lament the losses; just that they lack the importance that they have for most teams, and that they had for this one, last year.

 The Handling of Injuries: A form of tanking?

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The Wolves should run this play more often.

I’m not a big fan of the offense that the Timberwolves are running. They don’t spread the floor very wide. They don’t shoot many threes. They don’t run much pick-and-roll action. Instead, a lot of energy is wasted with non-ball screens that — if executed correctly — will set up an open jump shot. Unless the cutter is Kevin Martin — and even sometimes when it is — that shot will usually be taken from the mid-range, which is generally considered the worst type of shot in basketball. (Basic logic: It’s worth less than a three without being much easier, and it’s not nearly as easy to convert as layups and/or free throws are.)

The other night against the Lakers, the Wolves second string improvised with the shot clock dwindling down, and showed off a basic NBA set that most teams would run regularly with this set of players.

Shabazz Muhammad had the ball on the right wing without much happening with the offense. Anthony Bennett was set on the opposite block, and saw Shabazz left out on his own. He ran up to set a ball screen for his teammate.

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While this ball screen was being set, Robbie Hummel and Zach LaVine got out the way.

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The wide-shouldered Bennett set an effective screen on Nick Young, and Shabazz — with his strong left hand — drove hard into the lane, drawing attention from Robert Sacre, the screener’s defender. Young was left trailing the action and in need of help.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 6.14.20 PM

Wes Johnson did not help enough off of Robbie Hummel, and Shabazz and Bennett had a 2-on-1 situation right by the hoop. Bazz dropped off the dime around Sacre, leaving Bennett open for a layup.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 6.14.44 PM

Young was too late in catching up to the action, and he fouled Bennett as he laid it in for two points and a chance at a third.

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This is incredibly simple, easy-to-repeat basketball that a young team like the Timberwolves could run all night long. Preferably, Ricky Rubio would be the playmaker for most pick-and-rolls. That can happen when he gets back. But Shabazz could also develop nicely if he could attack the heart of defenses from the right wing, much like other lefty wings like Ginobili and Harden. As defenses adjust, it will — at worst — lead to a simple drive-and-kick pass to the left wing, and better ball movement. As things are, the Wolves waste too many possessions without some of their more passive players (Wiggins and Bennett) even touching the ball. Instead, Mo Williams and Thad Young dominate it, en route to difficult and contested shots of their own.

Here’s hoping to see more pick and rolls like this one.

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