Author Archives: Patrick J

Zach LaVine’s Big Phat All-Star Weekend

2015 NBA Slam-Dunk champion Zach LaVine

2015 NBA Slam-Dunk champion Zach LaVine

 

ZACH LAVINE!

All-Star Weekend is 66.6 percent complete. The Rising Stars (Rookies & Sophomores) Game was Friday night. The Wolves had 4 players participating; 2 on the International Team and 2 on Team USA (Wiggins, Gorgui, Shabazz, LaVine). Andrew Wiggins led the international squad to victory, and earned Game MVP honors.

Last night was the three-point shootout and dunk contest. Steph Curry, unsurprisingly won the shootout. He hit 13 straight at one point. It seems appropriate he wins a contest that celebrates his signature skill in the same season that he will probably win league MVP and has a great chance of also winning a title (and, presumably with that, a Finals MVP honor). Curry’s awesome.

But the big story of last night and the entire weekend is Zach LaVine. We had high expectations for what he might do in the dunk contest — because videos like this one exist — and he came through on the big stage. LaVine caught the ball off the bounce, pulled it between his legs and did a one-handed reverse jam on the baseline. In his next dunk, he caught the ball off the bounce again, but this time swung it behind his back and flushed it home with his right hand. Those were possibly the two greatest dunks in contest history. He made each on his first attempt.

LaVine’s third and fourth dunks were comparatively disappointing but that had more to do with the expectations he set by his first pair than anything wrong with the dunks themselves. (Also, he didn’t connect on the first try in the final round, which takes a little bit of the shine off.) He caught the ball off the stanchion and went under his leg for the final slam of the night. He made that look easy. Victor Oladipo made one really cool dunk, but was no competition for LaVine, who won the contest easily.

This was LaVine’s biggest career moment BY FAR. So we broke down our thoughts on Zach LaVine’s big phat All-Star Weekend below the fold.

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The Michael Beasley File: Dispatches from Shanghai

Michael Beasley played this season with the Shanghai Sharks, which are owned by former NBA great Yao Ming.

Michael Beasley played this season with the Shanghai Sharks, which are owned by former NBA great Yao Ming. Delonte West (right) was also on the Sharks roster.

Vice Sports published an epic meditation today on former Timberwolf Michael Beasley’s season in China. Beasley, who played for Miami last season and spent (literally not much more than) a hot minute in Memphis before being waived and inking a deal with Yao Ming’s Shanghai Sharks, had an interesting season.

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How Will the Wolves’ Improved Health Affect Shabazz Muhammad’s Role?

kevin-martin-23-kevin-love-42-shabazz-muhammad-15-and-nikola-pekovic-14

Kevin Martin Returns from Injury

Kevin Martin came back to the lineup last night in the Wolves’ victory over the Boston Celtics at Target Center. Martin had 21 points in the win and felt like a spark plug for the team, even though his +/- rating was -3 for the night. (Eds. Note: A fairly meaningless statistic in a single game, especially when close to zero.) I dislike Martin’s style and defense, and his fugly-j, nerdy, weak, aesthetic. But Martin did what he does–score–and the Wolves won. That’s what matters.

Martin was excellent off the bench. A sixth man role might be the one he’s best suited for in the future–if he’s ever going to play an key role on a high-end contender, that is.

Pekovic Also Returns, Thaddeus Young Moves to Small Forward

The recent lineup changes are not limited to Martin’s return. Nikola Pekovic, another of the team’s season-opener starters, is back. This is more unexpected and, frankly, better news.

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How the Wolves Whiffed on Whiteside

Hassan Whiteside

Hassan Whiteside

How Things Went Down

Here’s a little chronology for y’all. (Eds. Note: Warning: The following contains Wolvesian content that may not be suitable for perma-optimists.)

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Wolves Mid-Term Report: Reconceptualizing the Superlatives

Chase Budinger has been a disappointment so far in 2014-15.

Chase Budinger has been a disappointment so far in 2014-15.

Andy G wrote a nice mid-term report yesterday that assessed the team via “superlatives” rather than letter grades. It’s an excellent post.  Read it now if you haven’t yet.

I’d have given LVP to Chase Budinger, not LaVine, but a case can be made either way. LaVine has certainly hurt the Wolves more, on average, than any other player–at least among the ones who’ve been playing. But if you think about “Least-Valuable” in relative terms, based on some expectation of (solid-to-good) performance–like voters for the NBA’s MVP seem to–then I think I’m on firmer ground to argue that Budinger has been a huge letdown, while LaVine has been a sometimes-pleasant surprise, despite the spasms of mistakes he’s prone to making in rapid succession, especially when not playing in transition.

Punch-Drunk_Wolves_on_Twitter___Budinger_sucks__

Simply put, Budinger is touted to have one “plus” NBA skill–his three-point stroke–and he has shot poorly all season while generally playing tentatively and lethargically. He’s only shooting 33.3% from distance so far. Really, Wiggins and Muhammad have been the only bright spots from distance in an offense that generates few three-point shots. Muhammad was just beginning to get comfortable looking for shots from behind the arc when he went down with his current injury.

Wolves three-point shooting percentages, minimum 20-games played.

Wolves three-point shooting percentages, minimum 20-games played.

Andy kind of got at this concept of “relative to expectations” with his “Most Disappointing” superlative, which went collectively to the Power Forwards.

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A Look at Zach LaVine’s Offense So Far

Zach LaVine shoots a short shot

Zach LaVine shoots a short shot

I thought it would be interesting to look at Zach LaVine’s strengths and weaknesses on offense so far. LaVine clearly has shortcomings in numerous areas, but he possesses some unusual talents that continue to make him an intriguing if frustrating prospect.

Below I simply look at some trends in what he’s doing offensively, how well he’s doing at those things, and what that might mean about his current status as an inconsistent rookie and what he needs to work on moving forward.

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NBA Links I Liked

Here’s some stuff I liked, in no particular order (except #1).

  1. Smoking in the boys room: a history of NBA cigarette smoking.
  2. Pacers coach Frank Vogel on Mo Williams’ 52 point (!) game: “I was asked by someone who works here did I have nightmares about Mo Williams?” Vogel said after practice. “And my response was: ‘You’d have to be asleep to have nightmares.'”
  3. Along those lines, an interesting list of the least-likely 50-points-in-a-game scorers. Who isn’t there who should be? Who’s there but shouldn’t be?
  4. If you were going to build a boy band made up of NBA players, who’d be on it? Hardwood Paroxysm has thought about this.
  5. The Wolves are one of two NBA teams that currently forgoes the time-honored game day morning shootaround, instead doing an afternoon walk through. Why? Gaming until 3 AM, Flip Saunders says.
  6. Andrew Wiggins will be in this season’s Slam Dunk contest on All-Star Saturday Night. No other participants have been named yet. Somewhere, Zach LaVine is seething with jealousy.

Since the dunk contest is still a way off, here’s some Wiggins dunkz to pregame to.

 

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Punch-Drunk Podcast, Episode 10: Wiggins and the Rest (Plus GERALD GREEN!, Injuries and Tanking, and the NBA Draft)

Gerald Green put on a brief but amazing show on Wednesday against the Wolves.

Gerald Green put on a brief but amazing show on Wednesday against the Wolves.

In which we discuss Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young, Mo Williams, Zach LaVine, Gerald Green’s performance, injuries and tanking, and some NBA Draft prospects who intrigue us.

Check out the podcast below the fold.

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“Wolves’ Nikola Pekovic most likely to undergo MRI on Wednesday”

cabana-pek

The title of this post is the headline of a CBS Sports fantasy basketball post. Fantasy hoops can be silly, but those guys have an incentive to be realistic about when a player important to their team(s) is likely to actually play and produce.

The story reads:

Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic will most likely undergo an MRI on his injured ankle on Wednesday, reports the Associated Press.

Pekovic has not played since Nov. 15 while dealing with the ankle injury. In nine games, Pekovic is averaging 11.9 points and 8.1 rebounds.

Assuming the MRI happened (or will happen soon), the story notably fails to mention anything about why it would be that Pekovic’s MRI would only happen now, after the Wolves highest-paid player has been out since 15 November with injuries that are all but clear.

What is clear is this: Indications point to Pekovic not playing again this year. If he’s okay, he should be playing – not being re-evaluated. Given that he’s being re-evaluated, it appears that Pekovic isn’t okay. (Eds. Note: To be fair, the Wolves suggest that the point of the MRI is to clear Pek to come back soon. We’ll see.)

 

Fans are more enthused about Rubio’s return than Pekovic’s, which is understandable. But Pekovic’s return is an important part of determining whether the Wolves current core has a future if/when combined with its core of veterans–Pekovic, Rubio, and Kevin Martin.

Pekovic averaged 11.9 ppg in the 9 games he has played this season. He is being paid $12.1 million this year. If he doesn’t play again, he will have been paid $1,344,444 per game he played this season.

It is a bummer that Pek hasn’t been healthy this season. But it is an even bigger bummer that neither his injuries nor a credible timeline for his return have never been presented to Wolves fans.

Get well soon, Pek.

 

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Checking in with Corey Brewer as a Houston Rocket

Corey Brewer offers new teammate Dwight Howard a five

Corey Brewer offers new teammate Dwight Howard a five

Corey Brewer was always a PDW favorite. Since the Wolves traded him, they haven’t won a game. (Eds. Note: This is just an observation. The Wolves were already bad when Flip Saunders traded Brewer.) Suffice it to say, however, that some of the franchise’s few hardcore fans miss the goofiest backup point guard in Wolves history.

I haven’t followed Brewer’s performance as a member of the Houston Rockets closely he was traded on December 19th. So I decided to take a quick look and see how Brew’s transition is looking.

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In Memoriam: Timberwolves Trade Corey Brewer to the Houston Rockets

brew100

It’s official: my favorite Timberwolf of all-time is gone: on Friday, the Wolves traded Corey Brewer and Ronny Turiaf to Houston for guard Troy Daniels and two second-round picks, per Yahoo! Sports.

Woj had the beat, of course:

Brewer became famous last season for receiving and dunking Kevin Love’s outlet passes and for scoring 51 points in a game in Love’s absence.

Let us briefly appreciate this Bizarre Brewer Moment in history.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vC1srGqOrK4]

But Brewer was incompatible with Wolves POBO-Coach Flip Saunders’ rebuilding plan, which is focused on shedding age and salary and acquiring young talent and assets for future trades. (Eds. Note: Brewer is also famous for owning a pet goat named Billy.)

What does the Brewer trade mean?

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Breaking Down Anthony Bennett with Canis Hoopus’ Eric in Madison

Even Kyrie Irving vouched for Bennett going into the 2013 draft.

Even Kyrie Irving vouched for Bennett going into the 2013 draft. (Eds. Note: Disregard the Otto Porter-ness of this pic.)

Andy G and I recently engaged in an extended email dialogue with Canis Hoopus‘ Eric in Madison. (Eds. Note: If you’re a Wolves fan–if you’re reading this, I’m pretty sure you are–Canis Hoopus needs no introduction. The guys over there have the beat on the latest Wolves news and chatter.) EiM posted the conversation over on his site a few days ago. We decided to run it over here for those of you who only visit the site for wildly-optimistic fanboi takes on Anthony Bennett’s raw talent and killer mixtapes.

The cross-post from CH is below the fold.

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Appreciating Zach LaVine’s Diverse (and Elite) Company

Zach LaVine is playing with vigor, albeit inconsistently

Zach LaVine is playing with vigor, albeit inconsistently

 

Perhaps the most interesting stat line in Saturday night’s loss to the Spurs came from Wolves rookie Zach Lavine. Lavine scored 22 points and had 10 assists. It was his second-best game of the season. (Eds. Note: Lavine’s best game was his career-high 28 point night in the Wolves last win, against the Lakers in Los Angeles, on November 28.)

Take Lavine’s numb#rs with a grain of salt: Lavine, starting again at the point in place of the injured Ricky Rubio and Mo Williams, was going against the Spurs’ second unit. Tony Parker, the Spurs’ superstar point guard, had tweaked a hamstring injury the night before in the Spurs win at Memphis, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat Parker on Saturday against the Wolves.

(Eds. Note: Pop also sat star guard Manu Ginobili in the game but played Tim Duncan, who fucked around and got a triple-double the night before in the Spurs win over the Grizzlies.) So Lavine had more breathing room to get his bearings at the point.

Lavine’s Line

So, why should we care about Lavine’s numb#rs? Because Lavine’s night puts him into incredibly interesting company: LeBron James, Stephon Marbury, and Dajuan Wagner. Who, exactly, is that company?

The most important point to note is that the trio of teen NBAers who’d put up 20/10 double-doubles in points and assists is INCREDIBLY (!) cool. Just read the names again: Lebron James, Stephon Marbury, and DaJuan Wagner. They had special paths to the NBA. Now Zach Lavine is on that list. He didn’t. But he brings at least some of the “something-something” those guys brought, at least some of us think, and the Wolves front office seems to believe, since they were the ones who drafted him this past summer.

Lebron, Steph, and Juanny are and were cool in very different ways. What they all had in common was that as high school players, they were viewed as “the next coming.”

But the next coming of what? The answer is that it was different for each. But for each, it was some type of basketball greatness.

Let’s briefly walk them through, one-by-one.

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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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Jottings from the Wolves Win over the Lakers

Zach Lavine

Zach Lavine

The Wolves defeated the Lakers last night in a 120-119 barnburner at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant missed a wide-open three point shot that would’ve won the game at the buzzer.

  • Zach Lavine: Lavine made shots. The media made a lot out of his psychology in this game because he was squaring off against his childhood hero, Kobe Bryant. Lavine played by far his best game as a pro. He had 18 points in the second quarter alone (28 for the game), and shot 11-14 from the floor. He and Jeremy Lin were locked up against each other for much of this quarter, and Lavine looked confident that he could get any shot he wanted against Lin.  Lavine’s shot selection leaves plenty to be desired and maybe always will — a lot of his makes last night were of the “dribble jumper with plenty of time on the shot clock” variety — but you feel a lot better about it when the shots actually fall, and he doesn’t look surprised by the result.

A lot of times before last night, it looked like Lavine simply shoots to try to get his self going, but doesn’t really expect the ball to go in. Last night was a different story. As athletic as Lavine is, it goes to show how important timing and rhythm are for his offensive game. He was well within the flow of what was a very fast-paced game last night. Hopefully he can take away some lessons about why he was so successful last night and has looked so poorly on other nights.

But it bears emphasis: Lavine put together one of the best games that any rookie plays this season.

More below the fold…

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Confirmed: Anthony Bennett Should Be Shooting Three Pointers

Anthony Bennett going up for a long two.

Anthony Bennett going up for a long two.

 

A lot has been written about Anthony Bennett’s lack of three-point shooting this season. Flip Saunders told him not to shoot threes, and he hasn’t.

This post takes a look at what Bennett’s and the Wolves offensive numbers might look like if Bennett were taking a step back and able to shoot at the same clip he’s been shooting at.

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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.

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Punch-Drunk Podcast, Episode 8: Early Impressions on the Newcomers

Will this man be playing a lot in a backcourt near you?

Will this man be playing a lot in a backcourt near you?

In which we discuss Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Thad Young, Flip Saunders, and, yes, Zach Lavine.

Enjoy.

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A Brooklyn State of Mind? Wolves defeat Nets, 98-91

Ricky Rubio played well in the Wolves victory over the Nets on Wednesday.

Ricky Rubio played well in the Wolves victory over the Nets on Wednesday.

Bouncing Back and Developing Winning Habits

The Wolves won a road game tonight over an Eastern Conference playoff team that has legitimate star talent on its roster. That includes former Timberwolf legend Kevin Garnett, whose star has greatly dimmed in the twilight of his career. This felt like a big win after the Wolves’ demoralizing loss against Chicago on Saturday night. That game was decided on a last-second foul by Andrew Wiggins with the Wolves up by one. Jimmy Butler went to the free throw line and won the game for the Bulls from the charity stripe.

Bouncing back from a hard loss like the one against the Bulls, against a talented veteran team like the Nets on their home court in New York City is big for the Wolves. Yes, it’s good for restoring short-term morale, and that is important. You don’t want the team to go into an early season funk in which it develops bad habits that become ingrained in the culture that’s currently being cultivated by the Wolves organization under Flip Saunders’ direction.

As both POBO and coach, to be successful Saunders needs to ensure good habits are developed. The rookies have upside, but what kind of professionals they’ll develop into over their career will largely determine whether they reach it. This is why it’s encouraging to see the Wolves playing very hard in each game so far this season.  This year’s Wolves play more aggressively on both ends, and, frankly, they play hungrier than last season’s Wolves ever did under Adelman. If these trends continue, they’re going to be better than the Vegas bookmakers prediction of 26 wins. They’re 2-2 now, and are one whistle in the Chicago game from being 3-1.

No Sleep in Brooklyn

Tonight’s win over Brooklyn was far from a sure thing. The Nets came in at 2-1 and remain perhaps the most intriguing talent in the Eastern Conference. Even having lost Paul Pierce in free agency, the Nets’ core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez, who’s back from a serious injury, is a slew of experienced pros with many All-Star appearances among them. They relocated to the most interesting part of the United States, are owned by perhaps the most intriguing owner in the NBA, and have a new high-profile coach in Lionel Hollins, who replaced Jason Kidd after Kidd was ousted in a ill-fated power play apropos of a classic Russian tragedy.

But the Wolves outplayed the Nets on their home floor and managed to seal a victory in a close game that they deserved to win.

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Punch-Drunk Preview, Part I: The NBA-Wide Edition

punchdrunkpreview

Good news, sports fans: Another NBA season begins tomorrow night. TNT is showing a Western Conference double-header that leads off with Mavs at Spurs and closes with Rockets at Lakers. If you’ve got League Pass, you can catch Magic at Pelicans in the early slot. (Eds note: That’s what we’ll be watching. November is for Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, and Anthony Davis. We’ll see enough Dirk and Duncan, come spring.)

In Part I of the Punch-Drunk Preview, we’ll discuss topics ranging in seriousness and importance across the league as a whole. On Wednesday, we’ll get down to the specifics of this year’s Timberwolves team.

Without further ado…
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