They really did seem like two different teams. The Timberwolves that took it to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday looked nothing like the Timberwolves that got it handed to them on Saturday by the Memphis Grizzlies.
In the words of Stuart Scott: "Wha ha happen???"
S-n-P's double game wrap ended up being more of an editorial on the Wolves' coaching staff and front office....which is fine, those are things that need to be discussed....but for those of you looking for some game notes, I got you covered.
- Minnesota's energy levels between Friday and Saturday were night and day. Against the Bucks, the team was focused, cohesive, and on the attack. Against the Grizzlies, they were lethargic, uncoordinated, and....well, it's hard to say anything about them was defensive, even as a figure of speech. I don't know what the transformation was about (Complacency after the win? Not enough sleep? Secret underhanded strategy by John Hollinger and Bill Simmons to fuel the "Free Kevin Love" campaign?) but it wasn't pretty.
- Hollinger, by the way, put a Tweet up on the ESPN feed about how Love's lack of minutes is getting "ridiculous". I guess he missed the part where Love was part of a starting lineup that put us in a 5-25 hole to start the game.
- As S-n-P has said, Action Beasley is this team's best hope for a surprise season. When he puts the ball on the deck, attacks the rim, and keeps his head on a swivel for passing lanes, he's practically unstoppable. On Friday against Milwaukee, Beas played with a single-minded purpose. He took smart shots, looked to draw contact, and crashed the glass in force. Against Memphis, he hogged the ball, went out of control forcing plays, and committed a slew of silly turnovers. There's a world of potential in this guy, and I believe he'll be more consistent in his good play than bad as the year progresses. But games like tonight's really hurt.
- The team certainly lacks a pecking order, but that doesn't mean it can't experiment with one. Put the ball in Michael Beasley's hands and let Wes Johnson be his #2. I can't turn out worse than playing top scorer by committee.
- Rambis' rotations are always a source of controversy around here. Wednesday against the Kings, a lot of people thought he dropped the ball. Friday, things were perfect. Tonight? Hard to say. In theory, it's easy to say he needs to roll with the guys who have the most talent, but it was just four days ago it was all about the guys who gave the team the best chance to win. Conveniently, Kevin Love happens to be both, in most cases. But not tonight. I don't think there was anything Rambis could have done against Memphis to get his team back into it.
- Speaking of Love, he was the most night-and-day player of them all. Against the Bucks he was energetic, hitting the glass with purpose and getting into Drew Gooden defensively. Tonight he was distracted...particularly in the first half...only halfheartedly rebounding and barely moving his feet on defense. Both games his box scores look great except for one contrast: +19 against the Bucks, -22 against the Grizz.
- Then again, none of the Wolves played even adequate defense against Memphis. Well, I shouldn't say that....Brewer and Wes both played pretty good defense, actually, but with the night Rudy Gay was having, it didn't matter. I don't think anyone could have slowed Gay down with the roll he was one.
- Speaking of Brewer, a lot of fans have been on him early this year for a number of reasons (his shooting being the biggest), but he's ultimately been more positive than negative over the last three games. +3 overall.
- Love, for what it's worth, is a -5 so far.
- At the bottom of that barrel are Darko (-19) and Wayne Ellington (-22). Leading the team positively are Wes Johnson (+17) and Anthony Tolliver (+13)
- One thing that I've mentioned in comments, but I think is worth saying here, is that we need to break the mindset that Love is vastly superior to any other option. Last year, there was no question he was better than....well, anyone on the team, but Ryan Hollins and Stewie in particular. This year....well, AT isn't quite at Love's level, I don't think, but it's close. In no way are we dropping off a cliff when Tolliver replaces Love on the floor.
- Also, my hope is Love will take Tolliver's presence as a challenge. Everything we read and hear about AT is that he's the hardest worker on the team, and I think we saw against Memphis that it doesn't matter if it's bright and sunny or pouring rain: he's playing 100% every second he's on the floor. Thus far, by my eye, Love has had one great hustle game and two pretty lazy ones. The frustration I have with that is that, even when he's playing lazy, he still produces big time. It's the same problem I've had with Lamar Odom for the better part of 10 years now....he's good already, but could be so much better if he'd go all out all the time.
- Also playing lazy is Sebastian Telfair. He seems to have bafflingly lost his identity as a point guard, because he's taking a ton of unnecessary shots. Bassy tallied 2 assists in the last two games combined, yet took 14 shots. I've said it before and I'll say it again: if the backup point guard is going to be a gunner, then Jonny Flynn can't return soon enough.
- Part of this, however, I blame on Telfair logging significant minutes with Pekovic and Koufos, neither of whom facilitate the Triangle particularly well.
- Back to Ellington, it's clear he's in over his head as a starter. I like the guy, I think he's talented, and I think he's got a long, productive career ahead of him, but starting him and playing him 30 minutes a night is not working. I think there are some limitations in terms of height and length that put him at a disadvantage to begin with, and he also seems hellbent on forcing plays that are well beyond him to complete. He wants to be an all-purpose guard, but that's not his game. If Rambis really wants to have Martell Webster be a sixth man, he should put Wesley Johnson into the starting five, or at least reinsert Brewer.
- This team really needs Martell Webster, more for his defense than offense, but mostly for his veteran presence that says "I know what to do in this situation".
- S-n-P has directed me to a hilarious widget the Kings bloggers are running over at http://www.sactownroyalty.com/ called the "Mana Meter". In summary:
7 assists in 76 minutes
1 every 10.8 minutes
1 assist in 68 minutes
1 every 68 minutes
Kahn Genius Index: -20
- On a more serious note, it's becoming clearer and clearer that Darko is indeed a central player to this team....maybe the central player. Defensively, we all know his impact...I don't think I have to spell out the defensive difference between Darko and Pekovic or Koufos for anyone. But on offense, the minutes he spends on the floor versus the minutes he spends off it are the difference between the team executing the system and piling up assists, and Sebastian Telfair playing pick and roll at the arc and launching deep threes. Just like Love and Beasley, if Darko is going to be a key player moving forward, then he needs to be on the floor.
- That said, like Love and Beasley, Darko really needs to pick up the effort level and play consistently.
- Also, as I've noted before (and Jim Peterson as well....), Darko has a strange relationship with the baseline. He's always turning to it to shoot, and trying to force other players into it on defense. Someone needs to teach him to reverse that and get everything going middle instead. And by someone, I mean Bill Laimbeer.
- So let's talk about Wesley Johnson. This guy can really play. In three games, he's already started to win over S-n-P (I'm taking the "I'm genuinely excited to see how Wes Johnson plays if and when he can get healthy." comment as winning-overness) Even when he misses a shot, or commits a charge, he looks good (he got called for a BS charge in both games). His shooting has been rocky to say the least, but that's one of the stronger parts of his game and I'm confident it will pick back up as the season progresses. He can definitely shoot the ball. More encouraging is that his rebounding, defense, and basketball IQ are all top notch...well above expected....and his ballhandling is better-than-advertised as well (although it still needs a lot of work).
- Further, despite the typical graph of age v. potential, it would seem that Wes still has a ton of upside in him. For one, just getting settled into shooting at the NBA level will boot him dramatically. He's shooting 36% (20% from three) and a lot of that seems to be nerves and typical rookie confusion. I think it's fair to say he'll shoot around 45% for the balance of the year, and around 35% from three, and at the rate he's getting shots in our offense, that makes him a dangerous, dangerous player. He also is displaying very sticky defense, which will improve as he gets used to the speed and positioning of the NBA game, as well as ballhandling that isn't a lost cause. And of course, he's a supreme athlete.
- The balance of this is that Wes figures to be one of those guys that S-n-P is talking about when he says the Wolves need players who are both athletic and efficient. I think this is why Rambis and Ronzone are both so high on him...Wes can be a player that has both an exciting and effective style on the court.
- Nikola Pekovic still has a lot of work to do on the defensive end. He's committing 4 fouls per 12 minutes right now, and still has a European tendency to let him man drift away from him. He also needs to rebound much much better, which by my eye, will start with him accepting that he can't jump quite as high as Dwight Howard.
- Offensively, however, Pekovic is a remarkably polished product. Very efficient, not just with his box score numbers, but in his fluidity. No wasted motion under any circumstance.
- I absolutely love the Luke Ridnour signing. Over the last two games, he's averaged 10 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists (to just 2.5 turnovers), and has played his role marvelously. He clearly understands what he can and cannot do and what is expected of him, and that's the real difference between what we'll get with him this year and what we got from Ramon Sessions last year.
- Sessions, by the way, has looked pretty awful so far this year. He's shooting barely above 40%, and has a negative asst/TO ratio. In his second game, he went 1-10 with with 4 assists and 5 turnovers, in a game that looked eerily like the "Drunken Sessions" games we started seeing at the end of last season.
- Also, speaking of shooting, I think it's easy for a lot of fans to say we really clamped down on the Bucks defensively, but I'm not entirely sure that's true. For one, Brandon Jennings isn't exactly a great shooter (37% last season) so for him to go 4-15 isn't totally out of line with what's normal for him. Then, if you look at the rest of their starting five, Drew Gooden attempted the second most number of shots (12) and over half of those were from beyond 15 feet. I think if you're going to have Jennings and Gooden be your primary shooters and have them shoot mostly from distance, you can expect to shoot poorly overall.
- That said, the Wolves did do a great job of shutting down some of the other Bucks' scorers....Salmons and Illyasova in particular. So the great defense is really more a point of the Wolves forcing the Bucks to lean heavily on Jennings and Gooden to make shots.
- We of course, ignore Corey Maggette in this equation. He, like division by 0, is a law unto himself in the box score.
- Conversely, the Wolves allowed OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay, and Darrell Arthur to shoot a combined 29 for 56 last night (52%). No team will win letting those three go off like that. Granted, Gay was hitting shots over some good defense at times, but still....
- Also painful is the fact the Grizz did all this without Zach Randolph.
- ALSO painful is that the Wolves had a good chance of getting into the game, and maybe even stealing a win at the end, if they could have taken advantage of the Grizzlies' bench. Memphis is painfully lacking in depth, and their bench was all negatives across the board last night (except for Haddai, who played just 3 minutes). Memphis' bench as a whole didn't play a whole lot, but enough that we should have been able to do some damage.
- I will say that I personally don't have much faith in Memphis' coaching staff to get the most out of that team. I agree with S-n-P that Lionel Hollins does the smart thing by relying on his starters, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize there's not much of a choice on that matter. More to the point, everyone keeps waiting and waiting for Gay and Mayo to make that leap to the next level, and it isn't happening. Rudy Gay has been the same player four years running, and OJ Mayo showed no improvement last year from the year before. Both of those players....and Hasheem Thabeet....can be so much more than they are, but none of the Grizzlies' coaches have been able to make it happen. Last night, Mayo and Gay took a combined 3 free throws....even Darko managed to get 3 free throws. That says to me that they aren't doing anything different than last year or the year before....we just caught them on a night when both their jump shots were on.
- As a whole, on balance for the last two games, I think we're going to see a lot of this this season. Some nights we're going to look fantastic, some nights we're going to look awful. That's just the nature of a team with 11 new players and an average age of 23. The thing with young teams is that some nights things all come together for no real reason, while others, it all falls apart. Maybe David Kahn could run things better, or Kurt Rambis could coach better, but as a whole we're really not seeing anything freakishly abnormal on the court. The real crime is the lack of effort; there's no excuse for the team to look this lethargic 3 games into the season. And that's very much on the players. The great wins aren't a reason to be unmitigatedly enthusiastic, and the bad losses aren't a reason to say the sky is falling. Those are normal happenings for a team in our situation. The team that got it's teeth kicked in by Memphis is the same team that did the kicking against Milwaukee, because that team is still trying to find its way.