Happy Hump Day, Timberwolves fans. Your favorite team will look for its eight win of the season tonight in its game against the Boston Celtics, the 45th of this season. It should be a winnable contest against a Celtics team that fields fewer bad players than the Wolves, but no good ones either. They’re 16-27 and have traded away their two best veterans, Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. At Target Center, the Wolves should have enough pride to expect a win, or at least a game that goes down to the wire.
Rather than dig into the details of this late-January matchup of lottery-bound rebuilders, I felt more like discussing different things I’ve come across in NBA news and writing over the past few days; some of it Wolves-related, some not.
* Wolves whiffing on Whiteside
I might as well start right here at Punch-Drunk Wolves, where Patrick J wrote about Hassan Whiteside, the current buzz of League Pass; specifically how the Wolves failed to spot a talented, available big man from the free agency scrap heap when Nikola Pekovic was first declared injured and instead Jeff Adrien was pursued and signed. Pat specifically mentioned the relationship between Flip Saunders and Adrien’s agent, perhaps suggesting that the marginal roster decision was made for reasons other than merit. Whatever reasons were behind the Adrien pickup, we know they had nothing to do with long-term potential because he had none of it. And Whiteside did.
I understand the rebuttal to this, because it’s pretty simple: The Wolves missed on Whiteside along with the other 28 teams who failed to sign him when he was available. Props to Miami for finding him and having the proper infrastructure to tap into his enormous talent. He had a points/rebounds/blocks triple-double on national TV on Sunday.
Another rebuttal point could be that the Wolves have enough “upside,” between Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett, and even Glenn Robinson III. (I leave Andrew Wiggins out, because he’s already pretty good and not a clear-cut “project.”)
But newer readers may not be aware that we’ve both been big fans of Whiteside — or at least “the idea of Whiteside” — for a long time, even devoting a short post to him in August 2012 when there were some rumors swirling that the Wolves might have interest in bringing him in. I just did a quick “Whiteside” word search in my email inbox, and the list of hits was long, going back over three years. So it wasn’t just after-the-fact, hindsight-is-20/20 for Pat to write that. Whiteside was blocking shots like whoa in his first, abbreviated NBA stint, and his physical tools didn’t disappear in his time away from top-notch competition. If you read his post in full, it’s not like he was crucifying Flip for missing on this, but just acknowledging that the Wolves have been rotating new anonymous big men in all season, and none of them was the available guy who is now dominating the Eastern Conference.
* Lorenzo Brown: a point guard at last!
The Timberwolves are reportedly set to sign Lorenzo Brown from the D-League to play point guard, possibly as early as tonight against the C’s. Canis Hoopus and A Wolf Among Wolves have what you need to know — what’s available anyway — about this 6’5″ guard that the Wolves actually drafted themselves — deep in the 2nd Round — back in 2013.
I’m just hopeful that Brown has the confidence and ability to execute basic action off of ball screens so that passes can actually be made to open teammates, and defenses actually have to shift a little bit when defending the Timberwolves.
This season, with few exceptions, has been BRUTAL to watch from a pure basketball standpoint. The team has refused to make this basic move — sign a competent point guard — and it’s had them playing with one metaphorical hand tied behind their back in every single game since Rubio went down in early November. There’s possibly been some benefit for Andrew Wiggins. He’s been required out of total necessity to fight hard for post position and charge through help defense to the rim for contested shot opportunities. It may have upped his aggressiveness a bit and familiarized him with What the Paint is Like in the NBA.
But it probably wouldn’t hurt for him to get familiar with Functional Offense, too. Even if Wiggins becomes Tracy McGrady 2.0 he’ll never play the style he does right now on a title contender.
So I’m hopeful that Brown is at least able to run basic sets, bring an extra defender to him before kicking it to a teammate, and get the ball moving a bit. Some non-Wiggins Wolves — Anthony Bennett comes to mind — might benefit even more from a system that allows for an easy basket here and there, and a better sense of purpose for the guys not posting up.
* Is Draymond Green overrated? Is Robbie Hummel underrated?
Questions I’ve been asking myself. Jeff Van Gundy, during an ABC telecast, said that Green will probably get a max contract this summer, and Ethan Sherwood Strauss — ESPN’s designated Warriors writer — examined Green’s value in great detail, kinda sorta making the case that maybe he is a max guy. Yesterday, in his Tuesday Grantland column, Zach Lowe included Green as a quasi-honorable mention for his All-Star Team selections.
For one reference point, Lowe did not mention the words “Kevin Love” at any point in his piece, even thought Love plays in the weaker conference against far worse competition.
I’m torn on this to some extent, and part of my thinking on it is framed by my well documented Robbie Hummel fandom. I like guys who do the little, unnoticed things that help teams win. Just like Draymond, Robbie shows up best in the on/off and plus-minus stats. Last year he was the only Timberwolves bench player with a positive plus/minus. This year, he has (among players with a lot of minutes) the best plus-minus on the team. And yes, I realize that Green is significantly better than Hummel right now.
I guess I think that Green is at least a little bit overrated right now, if he’s in the discussion for a max contract and All-Star spot. While I appreciate versatile defenders with intangibles, those players are not where roster construction begins. A team can win without an elite glue guy, but it cannot win without playmakers. Green deserves plenty of praise and plenty of money in his next contract — just not quite as much as is being discussed right now.
Hummel, who just broke his hand and continues to play less than he deserves (15.0 minutes per game on the worst team in the NBA) should hope to find himself in a better situation, like Green’s, where his fill-in-the-blanks value will be appreciated and he can earn himself a better contract.
* Rubio’s Ankle: Asking a real doctor
One of my best college friends is now a radiologist and we were emailing a little bit about the Wolves. I asked him for his take on Ricky Rubio’s ankle injury, eager to hear the perspective of somebody who looks at MRI scans for a living.
“I forgot to reply to your email about how his ankle could be that bad. Basically, it’s impossible to know how bad his ankle is from media reports. But ankles are made up of ligaments, just like knees, and if you tore one of those ligaments it would be just like tearing an ACL, I guess, and pretty tough to recover from without a long time off.
That’s rare though, because the ankle bones are small enough you usually just break the bone instead of tearing an ankle ligament (whereas knee bones are big enough that you tear knee ligaments instead of breaking bones – it’s rare in young strong men to hear about broken femurs or upper tibia. Paul George would be an exception, and I think he broke his tibia more the mid-calf, not near bone knee where the bone is biggest).”
“Do you think that Rubio would be able to go through fairly intense shooting drills with ligament damage to his ankle? Before every game (for some time now; probably at least a month) he can be seen working out with the new shooting coach before games. I suspect more of this stuff is happening behind the scenes, too, and he’s done some practicing with the team.
Also, do you have a sense of how easy it might be to seriously misdiagnose an ankle sprain; particularly with the high-level diagnostic tools at an NBA team’s disposal?”
“It would be hard to misdiagnose an ankle sprain. Just need an MRI. If it was just sprained, it may not matter because the treatment would be the same (they don’t do surgery for ankle ligaments like they do for knee ligaments, as far as I know). Basically, just means that the worse the sprain, the longer to recover. So maybe they could mistake a bad sprain for a not-as-bad sprain, but hard to say.
If it was really bad and torn, it would be hard to be doing jump shots. Think about all the ankle sprains you probably went through, and how painful it would be to shoot hoops. And those sprains probably didn’t tear any ligaments, because if they did you would’ve been out for months instead of recovering quick.
Sounds kind of fishy.”
Anyway, I thought it was worth asking somebody who knows more than Twitter does about such things.
Come back soon, Ricky!
Another game tonight. Go Wolves.