(Quick pre-post note: Before you read this, you really need to click here or scroll down to read Britt Robson's season preview. Go ahead, do it.)
OK, we all knew that there would be an adjustment period to the new offense, for the new rookies, with the new players, and amongst the new coaches. I think the general consensus is that this time frame would be a few months and that there would be a bunch of games that would be little more than a prolonged series of bumps and bruises before we saw some improvement near the end of the year. Let's see a show of hands from those of you who thought we would see a condensed version of this little bit of theater play out over the course of a single game.
I cannot for the life of me think of another Wolves game that played out in direct relation to the way I expect the season to play out as a whole. In the beginning there was a brief moment of competitiveness followed by a long stretch of holy-crap-this-team-isn't-even-an-NBA-squad-and-they're-completely-overmatched, finished with a nice run of up-tempo ball led by two rookies, a big man forced to play a different role, and...wait for it...actual 4th quarter defense.
Let's talk a bit about the holy crap moments. Specifically, a third-year shooting guard.
There were periods in the first three quarters where I found myself wondering how many games Corey Brewer would last in the starting lineup on a 24-win team with no solid replacements on the bench. His offensive performance was so unwatchable, so infuriating, so off-the-charts terrible that I couldn't help but wonder just how much of a defensive dynamo he would have to be just to sniff court time.
In his first 3 quarters of action, Brewer posted a -11 on 1-11 shooting. In situation after situation he found himself in fantastic position only to a) miss the shot, b) flub the pass, or c) do things you would not expect a professional athlete to do when the rock ends up in his hands. Corey Brewer open in transition...can't cleanly catch the pass. Corey Brewer making a nice spin move into open space...passes the ball to the opposition. Corey Brewer moving off-the-ball into the receipt of a wide open pass....clank. This is perhaps the most frustrating thing of all about Mr. Brewer: He's energetic, athletic, and smart enough to find himself exactly in the spot he needs to be in on the offensive end of the court...only to muff the execution in spectacular fashion. This is the primary reason why I find myself rooting for the guy. He's soooooo close. If he could just hit 2-3 of those jumpers. If he could just finish on 1-2 of those whirling dervish drives to the rim. If he could just catch a ball in traffic. Everything would be A OK.
Brewer's saving grace during the first 3 periods was his work on the glass (he ended up with 4 OReb and 8 total boards) and the equally bad shooting of Sasha Pavlovic, who put up a 1-5 1st half effort in less than half the time it took for Brewer to jack up a 1-8.
Corey's saving grace for the entire game was his work on the defensive end, particularly in the 4th quarter when he was asked to match up against Yi Jianlian at the 4 along down the stretch. Brewer was all over the place. Jumping the post, doubling from out of nowhere, popping into passing lanes; you name it and he was doing it on the defensive end, including coming up with a game-saving last-minute double stop on Yi in the lane with both a block and a strip. If he ever figures it out on the offensive end, I think we're all in for a nice surprise. However, if last night is any indication, we may be a loooonnnnnggg way from seeing him put it together on that end of the court.
One final thing about Mr. Brewer: It's not a bad thing that he ended up with a team-high 14 shots. Yeah, that's a big number but they were spread out 5/3/3/3 over 4 quarters, and they weren't exactly terrible looks. Again, this guy has a knack to get open in the 1/2 court and in transition. He just can't finish.
The second big theme of this contest was the in-game development of Jonny Flynn. Yes, I know it's just a single game. However, it was pretty hard to ignore what changed during the course of 4 short quarters with the Wolves' s shiny new point guard. He started the game playing like he was thinking a bit too hard about what was going on out there on the court. In his second and third stints he looked out of place, especially in relation to the cool performance of Ramon Sessions. My main guess as to why this was the case is that Flynn has to work himself through the maze of his team's pecking order. He just can't come in and attack, attack, attack while not passing the ball, and he balanced his sometimes out-of-control 1st 1/2 play with a tentative approach to the 1/2 court offense. In other words, he was all-on/all-off and very little in between for most of the game.
In the 4th quarter, Flynn traded in his point guard hat for an Alpha Dog one and he placed himself at the top of the team's pecking order by attacking the lane, pushing the tempo, and getting to the line. The only times the 4th quarter started to drag were when Flynn would make attempts at dumping the ball down to Al Jefferson. This shouldn't be a bad thing in the long run, but Big Al's legs clearly weren't there and he really struggled from the floor.
Getting back to Flynn, he was able to get wherever he wanted to with the ball in the 4th quarter. Granted, he was getting to where he wanted to score, and he showed very little in terms of using his speed for facilitation, but anytime you see a player quick enough to make Devin Harris look like a lead-footed plodder, you have to hope that he can eventually find a way to make his quicks work for the good of his teammates. It was fantastic to see Jonny get to the rim at will; it will be even better when he turns on the jets in order to set up a lob pass or to collapse the weakside defense. These are the sorts of things that will turn him into a top flight point and not just a more likable Nate Robertson.
Let's finish this thing up with some bullet points:
- The Wolves' starting wing players (Brewer, Damien Wilkins, and Ryan Gomes) went 10-35 from the floor. If you throw in Pavlovic, they did a 13-46 number on the home rims.
- While Flynn had the flashy 4th and Wilkins hit the game-winning shot, my game ball goes to Wayne Ellington, who quietly played the entire 4th quarter while showing defensive grit, ball-handling skills, and an ability to hit the open shot. He was active on the offensive end and he even grabbed 4 rebounds (2 of them offensive) down the stretch. Again, we're only talking about one game, but Ellington had the best all-around game of any Wolves wing player last night.
- Brian Cardinal was the team's best player in the 1st three quarters.
- The winning formula for this game was 60/40 Wolves' effort to the Nets' late-game buffonery. Brook Lopez could have scored 50 points last night and for the life of me I will never understand why Lawrence Frank didn't ride that horse all the way home.
- At one point in the 4th quarter, Frank ran out a lineup of Lopez, Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Terrence Williams, and Rafer Alston. 3 wings, a sort-of point, and a big. Again, I have no idea why they didn't pound the ball into Lopez when he was getting whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, but maybe the Wildcat offense has made its way to the NBA. This lineup gave up a -5 in the heart of the 4th quarter. It allowed the Wolves to not be exposed at the 4 (which had been a huge problem up to that point) as well as to keep their most effective players on the court. Thank you Coach Frank.
- In something we will be keeping our eyes on all season long, Ramon Sessions got Kevin Ollie's minutes....all 19 of them. Sessions and Cardinal deserve credit for holding down the fort when nothing was going right during the middle of the game. Last year, the Wolves go down by 20+ in that situation with Mr. Ollie or Randy Foye running the point. I love having Sessions at the helm for those minutes but can they really give the guy only 17-20 mpg?
- Did I mention that Wayne Ellington had a really nice game and completely bailed out the team's poor offensive wing play with his excellent 4th quarter?
- Ryan Gomes, where art thou? I think we have this one nailed down by now: Gomesy only works when playing big at the 3 or small at the 4. Last night he found himself up against his natural foils at both slots and was appropriately ineffective.
- The White Hole played 5 minutes and took 4 shots. Awesome.
Well, that about does it. One thing I want everyone to pay attention to going forward is the number of shots the Wolves take compared to their opponents. Last night that mark was 93 to 81. Getting 12 more shots than your oppoent while beating them by 6 FTAs at the line will make up for a lot of bad shooting. How did the Wolves get 12 more FGAs and 6 more FTAs? They were +12 in the turnover department. They didn't shoot that well and they were out-rebounded without Kevin Love, but they won the offensive rebounding, turnover, and free throw battle and that's why they won the game. Solid defense (i.e. generating turnovers) and hustle on the offensive glass generated 18 more scoring attempts than the Nets. Wilkins had a nice shot to end things, but a single possession is not why they won the game (BTW: credit for Wilkins' shot should go to Big Al's work on the offensive glass, as he's the one who tipped it to the open man). If only they could shoot the ball...