You’ve probably heard the news: the Wolves reportedly have a deal in place that will send All-Star forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers for this year’s number one overall pick Andrew Wiggins, LAST YEAR’S number one overall pick Anthony Bennett, and a future first-round pick.
As usual, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story ahead of time. Woj has become a mythical figure for his ability to break *every* NBA story before anyone else. I mean, literally, every story. The “Woj Bomb” is now a trope on NBA Twitter, inspiring clever plays on words and witty tweets that are often structured along the lines of “If a Woj Bomb confirms X rumor, I will perform Y outrageous act!”
The difference this time is that Woj, in the way only Woj could, confirmed the biggest trade since the Thunder traded James Harden to the Rockets more than TWO WEEKS before it can legally happen. In a league in which trades involving superstars in their prime and trades involving number one overall picks are both rare, the rarity of such deals gave pause both to hordes of Cavaliers and Wolves fans.
Dion Waiters: Eerily reminiscent of J.R. Rider. Future Timberwolf?
Andy G: So, LeBron made another Decision. He’s going home to Cleveland; a decision that many in the media began to expect a few days ago. He wrote a great letter explaining everything, published by Sports Illustrated yesterday.
It did not take long after the announcement for the conversation to turn toward the Timberwolves. Specifically, it was previously reported (by Adrian Woj, no less) that the Cavaliers had been pursuing a trade for Kevin Love that would be contingent on them signing James. So, now that they signed James, everyone is wondering about that Love deal…
The obvious player that the Wolves covet is Andrew Wiggins, the number one pick in the most recent draft. So far, the Cavs are reportedly not willing to part with Wiggins. Instead, they’re only willing to go as far as (something along the lines of) Anthony Bennett (LAST year’s top pick) and maybe Dion Waiters and one more guy to make the salaries match up. Maybe they’d throw in a future draft pick or two.
The Wolves, by all reports to date, will not trade Love for the Bennett-Waiters package. They need Wiggins.
So here we are, waiting for Dan Gilbert (or Flip Saunders) to blink.
“I’m here to just check out the city and see what it’s like,” when asked why he was in town.
When a Boston Globe reporter approached him Saturday afternoon at a Boston hotel, Love said, “I’m sorry man, I can’t do nothing, I can’t.” He was referring to his inability or unwillingness to talk publicly about the purpose of his visit.
(Eds. Note: I wonder if K-Love took the Freedom Trail tour that every other citizen-tourist who travels to Boston because he wants to learn more about the place ultimately takes. If so, he could’ve got a lot just from this Lonely Planet vid.)
Given all this, some issues emerge from Kevin Love’s little offseason getaway..
Patrick J: There has been a lot happening around the Wolves over the past week. First, we got word that Kevin Love was likely going to use his early-termination option to explore free agency after the 2014-15 season.
At the same time, there were murmurs that the Wolves were looking closely at former Timberwolves player and Raptors coach Sam Mitchell as Rick Adelman’s replacement as Twolves head coach.
When we last wrote, both of these stories had an air of uncertainty around it. Woj had broken the Love story in one of his “should-I-really-believe-this” megaexclusives. And the Mitchell news crept upon us out of nowhere and felt like a shock to the system.
Since then, the Kevin Love news has only gotten more play, while the Sam Mitchell rumor quickly went away (Eds. Note: There has been some speculation that Mitchell could end up as an assistant on Joeger’s staff) –replaced by the rumor that current Grizzlies coach and Minnesota native Dave Joerger will be the one who succeeds Adelman on the Wolves sideline.
The Inbox below is a list of scenarios that do not seem implausible ways in which the Wolves could decide to go with whatever type of “rebuilding” strategy they will have to do, assuming that Love is traded and Joerger is hired.
So, this week we learned that Kevin Love has given the Wolves’ leadership notice that he intends to exercise the early-termination option in his contract after next season and become an unrestricted free agent.
It was Adrian Wojnarowski who reported it, so take the story for what it’s worth.
COINCIDENTALLY (?), word leaked that Sam Mitchell is a strong candidate for the Wolves coaching job.
Chauncey Billups, Suited Up. (Photo credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The Wolves lost to New York on Wednesday night 118-106. The Knicks seized the initiative right away, and the game was only really close after an 8-0 run in the third-quarter brought the Wolves to within three, with the ball.
On the ensuing possession, Kevin Love got the ball on the block against Tyson Chandler and shot an ill-advised jump hook airball. It was a look Love has made plenty this season, including against solid defenders who are longer than he is.
But on Wednesday it was emblematic of his struggles to establish himself as the purveyor of the game. Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler instead did that.
Neutralizing Kevin Love
You see, Love typically sets his self apart from the competition each and every night, doing things in quantity and quality that have almost never been seen before. Usually when Love steps on the court, “u alreddy kno” who it is, to paraphrase famed Canis Hoopus commenter MAYNHOLUP!, because of Love’s dizzying barrage of three-point shooting, outlet passing, offensive rebounding, high-low feeds, foul draws, and, yes, jump hooks. There might not be a more unique player in the NBA – including LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
If in most games, Love stands out like the unique superstar he is, in the New York game, he blended in – in the wrong way – like the role player his critics expected him to be when he came into the League.
The NBA should allow James Harden to play with that pick in his beard during All-Star Weekend.
The Houston Rockets (34-17) are in town to play the staggering (Punch-Drunk?) Wolves (24-27) tonight. Tip is at 7 P.M. Central. Views via FSN and NBATV. Sounds via WCCO 830. James Harden’s beard is traveling with the team and will be in the Rockets’ starting lineup.
We discussed some of the issues heading into this game during our first Punch-Drunk Podcast. (Eds. Note: We’re planning on adding podcasts to our repertoire on a semi-regular basis. More details on that to come.)
Coming off a big win last night at home in Minneapolis, the Wolves are in Oklahoma City to take on Kevin Durant and the Thunder tonight. Tip is at 7 P.M. CST. It can be seen on FSOK or League Pass or heard on WCCO 830.
The Wolves, now 24-24 on the season, are 4-8 on the second night of back-to-backs. And tonight’s will be among the most difficult of them all. The Thunder (39-11), as we know, are one of the best teams in basketball – with or without superstar guard Russell Westbrook, who will again be out tonight for the Thunder. The Thunder lead the season series against the Wolves 2-1.
We’re not really creatures of habit here and I try to mix up game wrap formats.
So I’ll borrow one from the excellent Knickerblogger site and do this one Report Card style.
Ricky Rubio: B+
Ricky had 13 assists and just 2 turnovers. Combine those stats with his 6 boards and +5 plus-minus and he deserves a positive grade even when he scored only 4 points on 1-4 shooting.
Coach Adelman yanked Rubio after an unnecessarily fancy pass in the 3rd Quarter, when the lead was shrinking. After the game, Britt Robson asked Coach if the flashy mistake was the reason for the immediate hook. Adelman replied, “We’ve been talking to him all the time about there’s a time and a place to attack the basket. And I think we were up 15 or 16 points up at that point, got the ball, and it’s one on five. And the chances are that nothing good’s gonna come out of that. Make them guard us for 20 seconds. Know the time. Know the score. And that’s just something he’s got to learn; when to pull it back. I was gonna take him out anyway for a blow, but that sealed it.”
It has become clear that Adelman and Rubio are not always on the same page. Ricky handles his late-game benchings with class, which comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed his career. And tonight, I should add, Ricky played down the stretch over Barea. But there are both stylistic and substantive reasons for the times Adelman chooses JJ in crucial situations and the quick hook after the turnover tonight was yet another message, even if a more subtle one.
But all things considered, Ricky played well tonight in his 31 minutes of action. Continue reading →
Okay, so there’s a bunch of stuff to review. Let’s cover it by way of an INBOX to flesh out some of the ideas and knowns and unknowns.
First, let’s briefly cover last night’s game. I’ll pass the torch to you for first reactions.
Last night’s game at Atlanta
Andy G: First reaction would be that last night’s game is a microcosm of the Kevin Love Era of Timberwolves basketball. Love put up Chamberlainian NUMB#RS in a losing effort to a “decent” team. No exaggeration here: Love dropped 43 and 19. In a loss. To the Hawks.
I’ve seen this movie before. It’s not a good movie.
So yeah, #fml.
The Wolves aren’t very good defensively. (Duh.) Yeah, they’re smart about not fouling too much and their efficiency stats are pretty decent. (They remain 11th ranked in the league.) I tried to think of a way to capture what I feel like is the truth (the Wolves stink on defense, despite the overall efficiency metric that says otherwise). The best I could come up with is to filter by 4th Quarter defense in losses. The Wolves have too many blowout wins (and almost no close wins) to make their fourth quarter performance a reliable measure of anything. But they have 24 losses in 47 games, and a great deal of those were games that the Wolves *could’ve* (should’ve?) won.
Last night, the Wolves scored a ton in the fourth quarter. 38 points. That should’ve been enough to come back and win, but they allowed the Hawks — THE HAWKS! — to score 34 in the same period.
I don’t have it in me to dig into more detail than that. The roster just isn’t built very well, right now. There are too many one-way players. I’m not even sure there’s a single “two-way” player on the team. That makes it hard to win against good teams, or build anything resembling a sustainable formula for success.
So, there’s more to it than that – what of the Adelman-Rubio-Barea dynamic that’s been overshadowing backcourt rotations lately?
The Wolves have not won a game in Salt Lake City since 2009.
After rolling over the Utah Jazz (14-28) 98-72 at home on Saturday, the Timberwolves (19-21) are in Salt Lake City to take on the Jazz in the second game of a rare home-and-home involving the Wolves.
On Friday, everything that could’ve gone right did. They got off to a 9-0 start, and led by as many as 36 at one point. Nikola Pekovic carved up Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and any other challengers on Utah’s front line en route to 27 points and a season-high 14 rebounds in just 29 minutes; Good Kevin Martin came to play, tallying 20 points; and Kevin Love had 18 and 13, totals that would’ve been higher had the Wolves needed him to play more minutes. (He played 29.)
On the Jazz side, what was already arguably the worst team in the NBA was without its best player, Gordon Hayward, and the team had a historically-bad shooting night, going a franchise-worst 28.8 percent (21 of 73). With 18 points, Alec Burks was the lone Jazz player in double-figures. For one night at least, the Wolves quieted some of the naysayers who’ve loudly criticized their decision not to select Trey Burke with the ninth pick in last summer’s draft. Ricky Rubio clearly outclassed Burke on Saturday night, holding the rookie to 9 points–almost five below his season average–on 2-10 from the field and two assists. Burke also had three turnovers.
Tonight’s game in Utah figures to be a more difficult win for the Wolves than was Saturday’s laugher for two reasons: Gordon Hayward and the Delta Center EnergySolutions Arena.
The Wolves have lost six straight games to Toronto and its star forward, DeMar DeRozan.
The Timberwolves (18-20) are in Toronto to play the Raptors (19-18) tonight at 6 P.M. CST. The game can be seen on FSN or NBA League Pass or heard on WCCO 830 AM. The Air Canada Centre (ANGLO SPELLING ALERT!) has been a house of doom for the Wolves: Minnesota has lost its last nine games in Toronto.
Being unable to beat Toronto on its home floor is a trend that needs to end. Coming off of a bad loss against Sacramento on Wednesday at home, the Wolves need a win in a bad way. Defeating the Raptors on their home floor would help Minnesota claw back toward .500 and could help the Wolves exorcise their Air Canada Centre demons.
But getting that win will not be easy. Toronto has a better record than the Wolves do. (Eds. Note:Caveat emptor: They play in the Eastern Conference.) They’re tough at home, having won a season-high five straight home games (Dec. 28 – Jan. 13), something they haven’t done since 2010. All around the League, the question is, “Are the Raptors for real?”
The Raptors have hit their stride since trading Rudy Gay, who tortured the Timberwolves en route to 33 points in Wednesday’s loss to Sacramento. Toronto was 7-12 before the trade. Since the trade, the Raps have gone 12-5.
Rudy Gay and his offensive inefficiency have been the punchline of so many (advanced!) analytics jokes over the last several years, that the facts only crowd could only smugly sneer and say “I told you so” when the Raptors improved after trading Gay on December 9th. And unsurprisingly, Toronto’s efficiency stats have improved since Gay’s departure. Sean Highkin notes:
With Gay, Toronto had a net efficiency of -0.3, scoring 101.4 points per 100 possessions while giving up 101.7. Since the Gay deal, that mark has jumped into the black, sitting at 6.3. The team is scoring 103.9 points per 100 possessions while holding opponents to just 97.6.
With Gay on the roster, the Raptors had the bulk of their possessions used by two players, Gay and DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has still put up a team-high 28.7% usage rate since the Gay trade, but the rest of the team’s possessions are being distributed more evenly. Center Jonas Valanciunas has taken on a bigger role in Toronto’s offense, and his play contributions to the team during their recent hot streak have been vital.
Highkin notes that Valanciunas has not been the most significant beneficiary of the Gay trade. High-flying guard Terrence Ross has:
The main beneficiary of Gay’s absence on the Raptors has been second-year guard Terrence Ross, who has seen his playing time skyrocket. He was playing 18.9 minutes in the first 19 games of the season, and that number has jumped to 30.2 minutes a game since the Gay trade. His production has spiked as well since being given the opportunity to play, especially from beyond the arc. Before the trade, he was shooting 34.5% on 2.9 three-point attempts a game; since the trade, he’s shot three more times from long range a game (5.9 attempts) and his efficiency has ballooned to 46.1%.
This is a very important trend for the Raptors. Ross has a high ceiling, but he showed few signs that he would reach it last season. Now, with minutes freed up, Ross is again a player to watch–and not only for his *ridiculous* dunks, which are worth marveling at:
There’s much more on the Raptors’ trajectory since the Rudy Gay trade here.
A few other Raptor-related notes in the run-up to game time:
Kemba Walker has the (second) meanest crossover in the East.
Your Minnesota Timberwolves will be playing basketball tonight against the Charlotte Bobcats at Target Center. Tip is at 7 P.M. CST. The game can be seen and heard through the usual channels.
The Wolves are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night at home. Former Wolf Gerald Green–a longtime Punch-Drunk Wolves favorite–hit the game-winner on a tough baseline jumper with seconds remaining.
One question to ponder after the Phoenix loss is whether the Wolves have chemistry problems. (Eds. Note: No, not the Breaking Bad kind of chemistry problems, at least that we know of.)
Tempers flared on Wednesday after Rick Adelman pulled J.J. Barea with 8:07 to go in the 4th quarter. Barea, a player whose passion and intensity run so thick that they’re palpably evident even in pre-game warmups–the sideline-to-sideline defensive shuffle-suicides J.J. does each night as part of his pre-game ritual is all you really need to see–was visibly upset and stormed off the court, cursing in at least two languages. (Eds. Note: Barea was in fact cursing in three languages, if you count Spainglish.) The next thing you know, neither Barea nor Dante Cunningham joined the team huddle during a timeout.
Kevin Love, the team’s best player by orders of magnitude and an League-wide MVP candidate, didn’t appreciate Barea and Cunningham’s lack of team spirit. But Love himself was moody, and it doesn’t take a trained psychologist to deduce that Love appeared to be projecting frustration with his own sub-par performance onto Barea and Cunningham.
Love is serious about his image and is protective of his NUMB#RS. This video is by now a cliche, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean anything.
Kevin Love’s image took a hit on Wednesday night’s loss. In one of the Wolves’ few nationally-televised games of the season–Love played downright bad basketball and looked nothing like an MVP candidate. In fact, Love’s performance was sub-par on both ends: he shot 4-20 from the field, and got lit up by Suns three-point specialist Channing Frye after repeatedly failing to close out on Frye three-point attempts. Love’s failure to close on active shooters like Frye and Ryan Anderson is not a new phenomenon, and is one of the few aspects of his game for which he can be legitimately criticized and for which he is not called out enough by writers, many of whom give him the benefit of the doubt because they love Love for his fat stats.
The Wolves play at Philly tonight. I’m sure everyone involved is happy to be outside of Minnesota where the temps are so cold that the Governor canceled school (and apparently Minneapolis has already done the same for tomorrow). The game is at 6:00 CST and can be seen on FSN and heard on 830 WCCO.