Eyes on the Rise and other cool stuff.
Eyes on the Rise and other cool stuff.
But the Knicks, they put the shackles on him, man, you know, on his whole game. They locked him up, like, in a straight jacket or something.
But when he was in the streets of Philly, in the playgrounds, ahh! (laugh)
You know what they called him?
That’s what they called him. Jesus. Cause he was the TRUTH.
It might have been due to Nikola Pekovic’s absence. Without him, the Timberwolves’ typical offense — which is very high-low intensive — does not make as much sense.
It might have been due to a specific matchup the Wolves wanted to exploit, like Jose Calderon’s poor defensive skills.
Or maybe it was because the playoff chances are now gone, and it is time to tinker with new ideas.
Whatever the case, Rick Adelman removed the shackles restraining his point guard, Ricky Rubio, and let him run wild.
Last night, Rubio played one of his finest games ever. He had a triple double with 22 points and 15 assists. He had 4 steals. His energetic, at times ball-dominant, floor leadership showed flashes of prime Steve Nash or Chris Paul. If the Wolves were not running pick and roll, it was because Ricky just took off on his own, reading and reacting the way only he knows how.
The only point in time in which things changed was with a few minutes left in regulation, when the Wolves went to a sticky isolation offense involving Kevins Love and Martin. That also happened to be the worst offense the team played all night. Rubio ended the game having played 49 minutes; 49 minutes in which his team won by 11 points, which is an impressive plus-minus in a game that ended with a 1-point win in overtime.
Dallas wanted that game, too. This wasn’t tanking-season stuff. Rick Carlisle called a pair of timeouts in the opening minutes to chew out his team and make sure they knew that — to borrow Bobby Knight youtube language (nsfw, language) — he wasn’t there to f**k around! But the timeouts did not change things. Because Ricky.
It would be fun to see the last 16 games played this way. It not only seems good for the health of Ricky Rubio’s development, but possibly Gorgui Dieng’s too. The young center had another double double last night; this one in just 25 minutes. Gorgui, and players like him, are more likely to succeed in the style generated by Rubio. Defenses become scrambled, which means more dunks and open shots become available. If Pekovic returns, it’s probably a different story — the Wolves had a very nice thing going (aside from crunchtime) with Love and Pek as the focal point. But if Pek’s ankle needs time to rest and heal, let it heal. Let it heal and let Ricky be Ricky.
If last night was any sort of predictor, we will all gladly watch 16 more games with Unshackled Ricky Rubio running the show.
“I thought he was really active, but… this group has, uh… How do I put it?
When we’re 28 or 25 points up, we don’t need to score quick. I mean, we don’t have to make HERO PLAYS. We threw the ball away in the third quarter and even the last possession with a minute to go, we steal it, and Ricky throws that pass out of bounds trying to get it to Kevin–WHY?
Sooner or later that’s gonna cost you the game! We have to have more discipline in what we do. I don’t care what the score is, and that’s what we have to learn. It’s hurt us in the past and it will hurt us again.”
A leading question about Ricky Rubio’s good performance was posed to Rick Adelman.
It was supposed to elicit praise.
Instead, he got worked up.
Adelman’s team had just beaten the Pistons in convincing fashion. His starters dominated almost every second they touched the floor. Rubio in particular played well, nearly compiling a triple double (11 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds) in just under 36 minutes of action. Ricky’s 3 turnovers were offset by the same number of steals.
Rather than focus on the positives (which he explicitly said that he was going to do, a moment earlier in response to a question about his bench’s struggles) Adelman went on this vague, critical rant about “this group” that seemed — in context — a lot more like a thinly veiled, direct shot at Ricky Rubio.
If you have been following this Timberwolves season with any interest, you’ve noticed a simmering tension between Ricky Rubio’s playing style and Rick Adelman’s offensive vision. The tension is manifested in three ways:
First is the offense itself.
In which we discuss Timberwolves injuries and their implications; the upcoming schedule; and longer term implications (TRADE DEADLINE). (!)
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.
By that measure (fourth quarter defense in losses) the Wolves rank 23rd in the NBA with a defensive rating of 114.5. (In those 24 games, their fourth quarter offensive rating is 100.0.)
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?
Coming off of last night’s disappointing 94-90 loss to Memphis at home, the Wolves take on the Atlanta Hawks tonight in Atlanta in the second game of a back-to-back.
The Wolves had won five of six before falling to Memphis, but despite their stronger record as of late, at least three things still feel very off.
The first and most obvious is how the loss of center Nikola Pekovic has impacted the Wolves offense.
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.
Let’s preview this one in INBOX format.
The Timberwolves take on the Washington Wizards tonight at 7 P.M. CST at Target Center. The game can be seen on NBATV or heard on WCCO 830.
The marquee matchup tonight is at the point guard position, where Ricky Rubio and John Wall will square off.
Rubio has been predictably enigmatic (OXYMORON!) this season. He does so many things well, but the unanswerable question is whether Ricky’s kryptonite–the jump shot–will forever banish him to second-tier status among NBA point guards and compromise his team’s chances to keep opposing defenses honest in half-court sets. Similar questions have been raised about Wall.
The Wolves take on the Portland Trailblazers tonight in Minneapolis. Tip is at 7 P.M. CST. You can watch live on FSN or League Pass, or listen on WCCO 830.
The Blazers have the best record in the NBA at 22-4. They have the best road record in the NBA at 12-2. They’re on a five game winning streak, and they’ve won 9 of their last 10.
In short, the Wolves have their work cut out for them tonight.
The Wolves are in Boston tonight to close a three-game road trip. The game will be on NBATV at 7:30 P.M EST.
The 12-12 Wolves will be going up against a surprisingly decent Celtics team, whose 11-14 record is probably better than a lot of Celtics fans would prefer, given the strength of the top end of the 2014 NBA Draft, which will likely feature uber-prospects Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart, Dante Exum, Joel Embiid, and others.
New Celtics coach Brad Stevens is viewed by many as a coaching prodigy whose prowess on the sidelines underlies the Celtics (relative) success so far. There’s been a ton written on Stevens and the bang-up job he’s doing with a Celtics team largely bereft of blue-chip talent. Grantland’s Zach Lowe has a nice interview of Stevens here. (Lowe is always recommended reading, and this piece is no exception.)
The Celtics are a team on the rise.
The Wolves are at home for tonight’s tilt against the Cavaliers. The tip is at 7 P.M. CST. You can watch it on FSN (most of you) or League Pass (me).
The Wolves will try to undo some of the damage witnessed in their horrific first-three quarters performance on November 4, which presaged a Wolves run in the fourth quarter that fell a Kevin Love buzzerbeater away from a huge comeback win. (Eds. Note: Andy G and Patrick J attended the November 4 game in Cleveland. A photo diary of the festivities can be seen here.)
The starting lineups should look like this.
Several interesting matchups stand out.
Ricky Rubio vs. Kyrie Irving
Rubio-Irving is the marquee matchup. Ricky is a flashy point guard who’s leading the league in steals and is one of the best defensive point guards in the business. As Wolves watchers know too well, Ricky has his problems shooting the ball, and with scoring more generally. Irving is Rubio’s mirror opposite in many ways, excepting the flashiness part: Kyrie is arguably the best pure-shooting point guard in the League not named Stephen Curry, but he struggles mightily on defense.
Ironically, Mike Brown executed perhaps the best in-game strategy of any opposing coach this year to exploit Ricky’s shooting ineptitude, daring Rubio to take open shots and doubling down hard on Wolves post players, who struggled to get any interior offense going against the Cavs’ collapsed, outsized defensive trio of Anderson Verejao, Tristan Thompson (!), and Andrew Bynum, the last of whom has been moved into the starting lineup in place of Verejao.
The Wolves might consider executing a similar strategy by trying to bait Dion Waiters into taking long jumpers whilst shading Kevin Martin to help against Cleveland’s bigs.
I spilled a lot of virtual ink yesterday about the Wolves season to date. They went on to pummel the Lakers, defeating LAL by the most points in franchise history and for the first time in years. Three pointers by the Kevins, Outlet bombs to Brewer, pesky backcourt defense, and a Ricky Rubio triple double all factored into the win. Oh, and Nick Young’s shot selection.
Another big one tonight at the same arena, against a much better Clippers team.
It Was A Good Day (NSFW, depending where you W)
Patrick J: The Wolves were defeated by the Raptors last night 104-97. The Raps are a surprisingly good 3-1 on the preseason.
A few notes:
*Kevin Love: Kevin Love played like Kevin Love. He looks more and more like Daniel Plainview by the year. Which is actually pretty cool, because that’s the kind of ruthless competitiveness the Wolves need in order to become an elite team in the Western Conference. Love played well in the minutes he got last night, shooting 9-19 (Eds. Note: Many of those missed shots were misses of his own putbacks, for which he got credit for offensive rebounds, which eventually led to makes.) K-Love is in great shape, and, barring injury, he should be a shoo-in on the All-Star team this season.
*Ricky Rubio: Ricky shot like Ricky, which is to say, 0-7. But he made an impact whilst on the floor, finding open cutters and shooters unlike any other Wolves player entrusted with the ball whilst Ricky was on the bench. Ricky had 6 assists in 28 minutes, and this was good for a +8. He’s (obviously) a very legit point guard coming into this season, and will only improve when he has real wing options off the pick and roll. (Chase, get well soon! You too, Kevin Mart!)
What’s your take?
THE WOLVES SO FAR
So, there’s been a lot written already about the Wolves and the players’ individual performances so far during the preseason.
Patrick J: One angle that has gotten less attention is some of the sets that the Wolves have tried to run – with, shall we say, “mixed” results.
The set basically looks like this: Ricky takes the inbounds pass, dribbles past half court, quickly passes to a wing and cuts through to the strongside corner. The idea is that a post–often Kevin Love–will make himself available for a high-post entry. Then, the ball is in Love’s hands and the offense flows from there. The idea, I think is that Love will either be able to score the ball from the elbow, take a dribble and pass or score, or drive the ball off of a jab fake and get to the rim.
This offensive set seems to meet with limited success. The fly in the ointment is Ricky. Two reasons: (1) he isn’t great without the ball in his hands, and (2) he isn’t a credible threat to make a kickout catch-and-shoot opportunity from the corner. So, his defender can basically fade to crowd the high post and make the options for the high-post man that much more difficult to execute.
So, if this is to be one of the Wolves’ go-to sets, can it work? Should Kevin Martin basically have the Rubio responsibility–if and when he’s healthy again–to put a real threat in the strong-side corner? What gives?
We’re t-minus 10 days from the beginning of Timberwolves training camp, and it’s time to begin musing about the upcoming season.
We know the big news from the offseason:
All in all, this year’s team has the makings of a good one….(more below the fold)
The roster is mostly set. (C’mon, Pek, sign that dotted line…) The coaching staff seems to be in place, replete with a (David) Adelman for Billy Bayno swap and Shawn Respert proxying for the late Pete Newell as the Wolves new big man coach instead of teaching Ricky Rubio how to make a jump shot.
That said, there’s a lot to be optimistic about. Rick Adelman will be back. The Wolves lost a wing, but added a pretty good one to replace him. Two or three actually, depending on how Shabazz Muhammad plays out. Most important, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and others whose major, or niggling, injuries derailed the Wolves’ 2012-13 season are all reportedly healthy for 2013-14.
So now you’re looking at a rotation that might be something like this:
PG: Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved
SG: Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammad, Alexey Shved
SF: Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad
PF: Kevin Love, Dante Cunningham, Derrick Williams (!)
C: Nikola Pekovic, Gorgui Dieng, Chris Johnson
Our team should be pretty good.
That’s a nice segue into today’s edition of Punch-Drunk Wolves’ INBOX feature.
Craig Kilborn’s decision to step away from hosting “The Late Late Show” remains the biggest tragedy in television history. From his time spent as a SportsCenter anchor to hosting The Daily Show to his move to CBS where he followed David Letterman in the 12:30 slot, “Kilby” was the best there was in late-night TV. He also happens to be a native Minnesotan (Hastings) and an athlete (scholarship basketball player at Montana State). To bring this closer to the Punch-Drunk Wolves home, Kilborn once practiced with our own Minnesota Timberwolves.
With all of this in mind, one way to preserve his legacy is the occasional “Five Questions!” post, where we pose — you know — five questions. Kilby used to do the same.
1. Summer League in Vegas: Did we learn anything?
Maybe. Certainly not very much. The players to watch were Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. Neither amazed. Both showed flashes. The situations they found themselves in — particularly so in Muhammad’s case — were just so unlike anything they’ll see during the regular season that it’s difficult to extrapolate. I was pleasantly surprised by Dieng’s willingness to take jumpers. His form looks good enough.
With Shabazz, the clear question is whether he can blend shooting with passing. At different times in Vegas he did each, but rarely did the decision appear derived from instinct. It always seemed premeditated. That’s not a very good sign for his rookie year, but he should get better. Plus, as a limited role player off the bench, he’d hardly be unique if he erred heavily on the side of “gunner.” If he makes more than 40 percent of his shots, he’ll be fine.
2. The Pekovic Contract: What the hell is taking so long?
From ESPN TrueHoop’s assessment of the Las Vegas Summer League’s top rookies, here’s Justin Verrier’s take on Shabazz Muhammad:
Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves
8.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.8 APG, 41 FG%, 38 3P%
The good: The fit is there. Muhammad has the build of your everyday athletic, break-you-off-dribble wing scorer, but he thrived at UCLA mostly in situations where he didn’t have to dribble — off the catch, running the break, posting up. And on a team like the Timberwolves, with a scorer/rebounder and ball handler as its two cornerstones, it’s those “other” areas where Muhammad will need to do his work.
Despite the lure always present at summer league to isolate everything, Muhammad primarily stuck to that script, floating around the arc and running off screens, and looked right doing so. His rebound numbers in Vegas were ho-hum, but he can be a great wing rebounder with his size, if he puts in the effort. He also shot 41.1 percent from 3, better than his college average (38 percent).
The bad: The production was not there. The 20-year-old (we hope) Muhammad averaged just 8.5 points on 41 percent shooting. Which isn’t awful. But when a player who lives off offense can’t produce, particularly against inferior competition, the deficiencies in the rest of his game become more noticeable. And in Muhammad’s case that’s his ambivalence toward passing (five total assists) and mediocre defense despite the tools to be pretty good.
Bottom line: Muhammad has a lot to work with, and you’re inclined to dismiss some of the disappointment to playing a defined and limited role, but it’s hard to write all that off after a drama-filled freshman season. That age stuff doesn’t matter anymore, but can he be happy with an even smaller role in snowy Minnesota than the one he griped about in Los Angeles?
— Justin Verrier
It’s hard to argue with Verrier’s take. We know the following:
[A] new regime has new philosophies. Barring an unforeseen health catastrophe, point guard Ricky Rubio will get the maximum five-year contract extension offer next summer, the first time he’s eligible to sign.
–Doogie Wolfson in his latest column at 1500espn.
While this isn’t shocking news (I’ve been running with the assumption that Ricky gets maxed out in 2015) it is definitely “news” — especially the five-year part; the part that, you know, Kevin Love didn’t get.
It’s one area where the Kahn-to-Flip transition makes things very convenient for Timberwolves Brass: They can essentially throw David Kahn under the bus (“Kevin, you know I would’ve given you the five years, but we are where we are.”) while at the same time locking up Ricky Rubio for as long as possible, without looking like hypocrites talking out of both sides of their mouth. (At least if you remove Glen Taylor from the equation…)
The Timberwolves were routed 105-89 last night against the Warriors, as the Dubs clinched only their second playoff appearance in 19 (!) seasons. These late West Coast games are wildcards for Patrick J, as they usually start at 10:30 Eastern Time, which is fairly late on a school night. Which is to say, I fell asleep around 10:30 P.M. last night, just before the tip of the Wolves-Dubs game. That’s what League Pass’s game archive is for. I plan to watch the game in its entirety as soon as I satisfy all of the niggling responsibilities today at my actual job here in DC, hopefully as a prelude to staying up late to catch tonight’s Wolves-Clips game live.
Operating on more forgiving Central Time, Andy G took in all of last night’s action. In this INBOX post, he’s going to wrap last night’s game and I’m going to preview tonight’s game, both with a simple “5 things” rapid-fire approach. Enjoy.