Well that was certainly interesting. One game into the Kevin McHale era and the Wolves have given their fans a head-scratcher of a question: Is this the team most fans thought could reach the 30-win plateau or is it simply a carbon copy of the first few close games of the year that featured Witt at the end of the bench?
On one hand, this game certainly felt like one of the Witt-led losses early this year. It had what can roughly be called a 4th quarter collapse, shoddy shooting, and an inescapable aura of inevitable doom. You just knew Mehmet Okur was going to make that shot. He could have fallen backwards off of the wrong foot and thrown the ball towards the hoop from between his legs and it still would have gone in the damn bucket.
Perhaps the closeness of the Witt-style game was simply a matter of catching an above-average team on a below-average night. Deron Williams still isn't 100% after suffering a terrible pre-season ankle injury, Carlos Boozer sat out the game, and let's face it: Minnesota at this stage of the game (and this time of the year) probably doesn't get the opposition's competitive juices flowing. It's also probably fair to say that the Wolves will not play harder for a single game all year. That has to count for something.
On the other hand, if I were a doctor diagnosing an ill patient, looking at the internals of last night's game, I'd tell the Wolves that the damage was bad but keep doing what you're doing because you'll be better if you do.
Here are the Four Factors from last night's game:
Our Beloved Puppies Zombies took 82 shots compared to the Jazz's 69. They were (27-43) compared to (31-37) at the line. They were ridiculous on the boards; outgrabbing Utah (19-43) to (9-40). They even had more steals (12-9) and fewer turnovers (15-21). (The 12 steals were a season high.)
They played an up-tempo game that featured very few "plays" and a lot of playing. I know that J-Pete and Hanny were full-force into creating the talking points for the newest 600 First Avenue snow job during the broadcast, but despite what you may have heard, there was very little "coaching" going on during last night's game. I've watched and played basketball for a while now and...well, maybe McHale's "system" will be installed by the start of the new year. Then again, maybe not. I'm not complaining. I'm just anticipating the inevitable nonsense from the TV duo and I want our readers to be prepared.
When it comes down to it, the Wolves lost a tough game last night because they had their worst night from the line since the season opener against Sacramento. Actually, you can pin this one on the Rook; Kevin Love had a horrible, no good, terrible game at the line. However, 2-9 from an 80% free throw shooter isn't going to happen often (neither will 0-4 down the stretch) so we may just have to chalk this one up to karma: the team really couldn't win it's first McHale-led game in manner that would suggest McHale's personnel decisions were right, could they? Of course not.
The answer to the question in the title of this post is, for me, somewhere in the middle. They played an emotional home game against a short-handed Utah squad and they exhibited signs of being able to increase the tempo, attack the rim, depend on their superior rebounding, and...be entertaining. One can only imagine what such an approach would have been like with Mike Miller and Corey Brewer in the rotation instead of Kevin Ollie and Rodney Carney. They also didn't have enough juice to make it over the hump in the 4th. Randy Foye was able to get a call on one of his patented to-the-right drives with 10 seconds left in the game but this team still lacks an end-of-the-game perimeter player who can play the Tony/Manu part to Big Al's Tim Duncan. (Here's hoping for Stephen Curry.)
As mentioned before, last night's game didn't exactly feature a lot of coaching, plays, or sets. It was loosey-goosey and entertaining. Moving forward, here are a few of the adjustments I would like to see the team make during practice (and not during the game in the form of yelling; which was a welcome development with Witt no longer at the end of the bench): incorporate dribble-drive/AASAA principles, develop some 4-out/1-in sets, develop some 5-out sets for the reserve unit, and work more on making quicker moves in the post. The only time the Wolves really slowed down last night was when the ball was entered to Big Al in the post and he waited for something to happen. In order to make this thing work, Big Al needs to be a quicker decision maker. As soon as the ball is entered he either needs to make a move (preferably towards the middle), hit the cutter, or kick it back out to the perimeter. Last night we actually saw a play during the 1st where Al received the ball from Foye and they two played a 2-man game. In and out, in and out. During yesterday's presser, McHale made the point that basketball is about repetition and running plays that work over and over. I agree. It's not rocket science and they have the tools to make some fairly easy plays work rather well. This team rebounds extremely well and they have some forwards who can put the ball on the floor. Up tempo, attack the middle, and volume, volume, volume. Volume is this team's friend. They should aim for 90 shots a night.
That's about it. What say you?
PS: here is the set I would most like to see with Love in for Big Al:
PPS: I avoided the elephant in the room. The Wolves had fun last night. McHale was laughing and not yelling. Players played and coaches saved the coaching for practice. This begs two questions: how could this front office not know Witt liked to yell and how long will the fun last? They need to be loosey-goosey. They need to be free-flowing. Can you be a mediocre-to-bad loosey-goosey team? In order for McHale's approach to work, doesn't the team have to play well? I guess we'll find out.
Check out the Jazz take here.
PPPS: Did anyone else notice how Big Al gave K-Love the cold shoulder after his 4 missed free throws down the stretch? Al has a history of sticking it to Foye. Was last night the first shot across the bow of SS Love? If the fun, loosey-goosey thing is going to work, teammates can't be spazzing on one another after a few missed free throws. Positive reinforcement. Save the cold stares and nasty attitude for behind closed doors if you're going to do it at all. It's a respect thing.