Coronavirus lockdown has taken us from a state of “I’m addicted to my iPhone and frenetic news cycles” to “I haven’t seen NBA basketball in two-and-a-half months and ‘I can haz NBA classic games?’” In the absence of the present-day NBA, we’ve been taking a deeper look at the past. At risk of heresy–and as much as I wish COVID-19 hadn’t forced the league to suspend the season–I can say that I’ve enjoyed the looks back. While the ESPN documentary The Last Dance, on Michael Jordan and the Bulls, captured the most attention, the Timberwolves have also had an interesting history, replete with bumbles, stumbles, heroes, villains, and other sundry characters. The time off from normalcy has forged some kind of interest in revisiting the Wolves’ weird history and some of the team’s most-interesting characters.
I’ve been watching the Timberwolves obsessively since the team tipped off its first game on day one of the 1989-90 season ‘til the novel coronavirus put the team out of its misery in March. Since then, I’ve been reading and thinking about how to synthesize 30-plus years of Wolves watching from my own selfish fan’s perspective. Not scientifically, but in light of the oddities and things I’ve found the most interesting in my mind’s own catalog. Hopefully my fever dreams and ramblings will amuse you also.
Be forewarned: lots of opinions and takes will follow. No, you won’t agree with all of them. But that isn’t the point. Some might fly over your head. Others might go under-the-radar as extreme Wolves-geek esoterica. Some might seem silly. It’s free content, so what do you have to lose? Buyer beware.
This edition of A Few of My Favorite Things discusses Wolves players whom I consider to belong to one important category of my favorite things–volume scorers. After all of you efficiency nerds stop rolling your eyes and fidgeting with your TI-86s, I hope you’ll enjoy the ride. No, this listicle won’t take you to the hallowed nirvana of hoops efficiency, but it might jog some memories you can jam to while you await the return of real, live, basketball.
So, here is the short list of *my*–not necessarily your–favorite volume-scorers who donned a Wolves uniform, along with a few random stats that jumped out at me in revisiting their basketball-reference.com pages and some video for those of you who are visual learners or simply appreciate the craft.
Jamal Crawford: J-Crossover had the best handle of anyone who made the list; yes, that means something to me. Brought in by Tom Thibodeau before the 2017-18 season, Crawford played just one season in Minnesota. While wasn’t even a starter, he was the guy who came off the bench to provide buckets. Did he play defense? No. Were his peripheral stats good? Nope. Again, that isn’t the point. This is about volume scoring and the art therein as seen through one observer’s eyes. Aside from handling the ball better than
you everyone, volume-scoring is J-Crossover’s basketball mantra. Crawford, who had not retired but remained unsigned when the 2019-20 season was suspended, is probably in a gym somewhere in the Seattle area embarrassing people and teaching his craft to the next generation of Pacific coast ballers. One can rest assured that J-Crossover is *still* a fierce bucket-getter and will be until he’s a very old man. (Editor’s note: Sort of like a real-life version of Uncle Drew, perhaps, with far less grey hair.) Crawford deserves remembrance from Wolves fans for bringing that energy to ‘Sota for a year. Here’s a reminder of some things J-Craw did in his lone season in ‘Sota:
- James “Hollywood” Robinson: There’s a very special spot in my heart for James Hollywood Robinson, who was one of the Timberwolves’ first–and most brashly unrepentant–volume scorers. He also had the coolest nickname of anyone on this list whose literal nickname isn’t “Ricky Buckets.” Robinson did two stints in Minnesota, in 1996-97 and again 1998-99. Hollywood had his limitations: he never started full-time or average double-figures. In fact, Robinson shot at a sub-40% clip for his career. But whatever he lacked in substance, he made up in style, specializing in high degree of difficulty shots for which a fan can forgive a showman on a below-average team. And he made some mediocre–ish Wolves teams at least a little bit more fun to watch. At 6’2’’, Robinson was an unconventional shooting guard before the “combo guard” had really come back into vogue in the early 2000s. He made the Star Tribune’s “Moments of Glory” series for scoring 23 points in 9:35 minutes in the fourth quarter of a game he tilted from a blowout loss to…well, it ended as a 12-point loss to the Terrell Brandon-led Cavs. Repeat with me: 23 points in 10 minutes. That projects out to 110 points per 48. Wilt Chamberlain, eat your heart out. A final thing about Hollywood that should be enough by itself to vouch for his elite showmanship: someone (Editor’s note: Maybe him?) uploaded a video to YouTube entitled “Greatest Dunk Yell Ever.” (Editor’s note: Robinson also has some ridiculously cool college highlights from his time at Alabama, if you’re feeling adventurous.) Check it out.
- Rashad McCants: Rashad McCants played for some truly putrid Wolves teams: in his four seasons in Minnesota, spanning from a relatively small role on the Transition to The Lottery 2005-06 squad to the miserable teams of subsequent seasons, until the Wolves traded him midseason to the Kings in 2008-09. While McCants was in town, the Wolves never won more than 33 games. McCants seemed to revel in the role of “volume-scorer-on-a-bad-team.” Did McCants actively make the team worse? Maybe, maybe not. It’s complicated. Okay, okay: there’s reason to suspect he did: in his rookie season–the 33-win-season–he had the likes of KG and the late, great Eddie Griffin on the roster alongside him. By the end, McCants was surrounded by this group, which was so bad collectively it is difficult to pinpoint the blame. (Editor’s note: I appreciate Brian Cardinal and Craig Smith as much as anyone, but rookie K-Love wasn’t like current K-Love and the team’s pieces didn’t fit together well.)
But Shaddy McCants had a knack for getting buckets, with a tough-to-defend rocker step, a well-developed post game, and a soft jump shot at his disposal. At 6’4’’, McCants looked a bit undersized for a shooting guard, but this bag of tricks enabled him to consistently put buckets on the heads of bigger defenders. After a foray into acting, McCants washed out of the league after a brief sojourn in Sacramento and was last seen carrying the Trilogy, of Ice Cube’s Big3 league, to the league’s inaugural championship in 2017. Here’s a video of McCants’ glory days in Minnesota.
- Anthony Peeler: AP came to the Wolves after stops with the Lakers and Grizzlies. He was perhaps not as much of a chucker as the others in my top-5, and he played a valuable role with some solid KG-led Wolves squads between 1997-98 and 2002-03. Peeler wasn’t a big scorer–he didn’t average double-figures in his overall tenure with the Wolves–but Peeler’s game and gravitas strongly indicated a volume-scorer’s mentality, which is what initially fetched my attention while he was a college star at Missouri in the ‘90s. Also, the music in this highlight mix:
- Ricky “Buckets” Davis: Ricky “Buckets” Davis, aka “Grits N Gravy,” aka “Slick Rick,” was volume-everything. Davis, who played at Iowa (!), was primarily a gunner, and he infamously demonstrated how much of a statshound he was when he took and intentionally missed a buzzer beater at the opposing team’s hoop so he could scoop up a cheap rebound needed to consummate a meaningless triple-double he ended up notching that night. In reality, Davis was actually a surprisingly good–if only an occasionally willing—passer. That said, few among Ricky’s sizable fanbase were tuning in to see him getting nifty assists. They were there for the buckets.
- J.R. Rider: Last but not least is my favorite volume-scorer in Wolves history, Isaiah “J.R.” Rider. What separated J.R. from the rest is that, with the exception of Crawford, he was not only a volume scorer, he was also a really competent NBA player. The kind that can help a good team while doing his thing. See, most volume scorers are just niche guys–sometimes, they’re derisively called ”professional scorers.” You’ve seen the type, and you know it when you see it. They’re skilled craftsmen at the art of getting buckets. But they can’t offer the full suite of tools one needs to stand out in the league. Many, like Robinson and McCants, are undersized; some are unathletic; others just can’t defend anybody. These are players who might make a useful 6th man on a decent team. These abilities are what separates Rider, who started his turbulent nine-year career in Minnesota, and went on to lead some solid Portland teams in scoring en route to a playoff berth in each season he played there. The 1997-98 Trailblazers, for example, were a solid 46-36, and Rider led the team in scoring at 19.7 points per game (five points more than their second-leading scorer, Rasheed Wallace). To be sure, in the ‘90s the NBA wasn’t the high-scoring league it is now. But Rider still filled it up. You can check his resume: J.R. led the NCAA in scoring his junior year at UNLV before being drafted fifth overall by the Wolves before the 1993-94 season. In his three seasons in Minnesota, he either led or was tied for the team’s highest average ppg each year while winning a memorable dunk contest as well–a further testament to the kind of flair and showmanship that radiated from his body whenever he stepped on the court.
Conclusion: Honorable Mentions
These are some other guys I thought about adding to the list but ultimately left off for various reasons. Troy Hudson probably deserved more love in this article, but c’est la vie. Rest assured, he could get buckets.
- Shabazz Muhammad
- Tony Campbell
- Troy Hudson
- Gerald Glass
Till next time.