I don’t have a lot of time to write today, but last night’s win over the Memphis Grizzlies — by far the Wolves’ most impressive of the season — deserves some acknowledgement on the blog. With that in mind, here are some quick notes about the game, and things I’m noticing of late:
- Ricky Rubio’s fourth quarter was the obvious narrative takeaway from the game. He was having a solid, far from spectacular game, when he checked back in with 7:24 to play and the Wolves trailing by 6. He scared fans to death when he went down hard after a layup, and immediately checked himself out of the game, loudly cursing and hobbling his way to the locker room. The drama only increased when he quickly returned to the arena, to a big ovation, and checked back into the game to play the part of hero. He hit the big three to cut the deficit to 1 with under a minute to play. Then he stole the ball from Zach Randolph, Michael Jordan-versus-Karl Malone style, and was immediately fouled in the bonus. He swished two free throws for the lead, and the Wolves got the necessary stop to seal the win.
- It’s going to be really interesting, watching Rubio try to become more of a shooter and scorer. Part of the process is improving mechanics, and it seems like we’re seeing some evidence of that. But another part, which is probably at least as important, is developing the correct instincts about when to WANT to shoot the ball. He has often times, over the course of his career, taken shots where you can almost read his mind and its reluctance to not pass. In these first games back in action, I’ve noticed less hesitation (sometimes none at all) upon catching a pass and shooting a jumper. He’s such a great passer and leader that he’ll never stray too far from “pass-first point guard” territory. And that’s good. But the more times we see him bury jumpers in big moments, as the situation requires, the closer he comes to superstar territory. And that remains his potential, no question about it.
- Andrew Wiggins is going to struggle to score as much as he did before Kevin Martin returned. This is a plain-and-simple, “there is only one ball to go around” situation. Martin is not only a scorer, but he’s a scorer who knows how to get himself open for shots. When the play is not specifically designed for Wiggins, but more of a “read and react” set, Martin is going to prevail over Wiggins more often than not. “Wig” had a really solid game last night, scoring 18 points on 11 shots. But I don’t think the issue of getting shots with Martin on the opposite wing is going away… unless they trade Martin before the deadline, that is. We’ll see.
- Wiggins is a good defender and will probably become a great one. But in recent games against good-not-great opponents (Chandler Parsons and Jeff Green) I’ve noticed him having more attention lapses, and getting burned off the dribble or off the cut. Maybe I’m judging him on an unfair standard of “he should have no breakdowns.” Really not sure. I just think he’s played better defense against better players, and sometimes lets up against guys that fall more into the “role player” category.
- Pekovic’s play has been up and down. He’s probably still hurting a bit, and/or working his way back into game shape. But one part of his game that I’m happy to see return is his drop step. It’s always been his most lethal post move and I worried at times last year that he gave up on it – presumably because the league scouted it and everyone decided to force him into the middle of the lane for a jump hook. He has been scoring on the drop step in just about every game since his return.
- Thad Young has been much, much better over the past couple games since his veteran teammates returned. I don’t know what else to say about that.
- Anthony Bennett is such an interesting player. His season has been the exact opposite of Wiggins’ in terms of how the team has chosen to use and develop him, and how he has seemed to respond to using games as practice time. Wiggins is showing everyone how mentally tough he is by being able to break out of some shells and dominate parts of games, all while being watched by thousands of people. The NBA game floor cannot be the easiest place to “try shit out” but that’s the deal for some of these young guys this year, and Wiggins has made the most of those opportunities. Bennett has struggled with that. He’s cautious on offense, unless a dunk or mid-range jumper presents itself, in which case he reveals his inner aggressiveness. On defense, he’s still figuring things out, but probably isn’t as bad as he was when the season began. On defense, he DEFINITELY needs to play with more intensity and aggression. His long arms allow him to tip passes when he tries. His lapses come from “standing up” and relaxing for that split second that just isn’t allowed in the NBA, at his position. On offense, he’s probably smart to play carefully for the time being. He’ll need more practice, in a place where he is comfortable (read: somewhere that doesn’t have thousands of spectators) to fine-tune his game and find ways to be aggressive in productive ways. I hope the team doesn’t give up on him yet.
Anyway, that’s it for now. Off to The Barn for an afternoon college game.
Wolves play at Detroit tomorrow night.