OK, there's a fairly large elephant in 600 First Avenue right now. With David Kahn only talking to the national media about the untapped potential of his big off-season free agent signing, and with the Wolves playing entertaining and competitive ball for the 4th straight game, Darko Milicic is playing some mind-numbingly awful basketball. For the second straight tilt, he was pulled with no real center to back him up while logging only 20 minutes. From bad passes to terrible shots to ok defense to whatever other aspect of the game you can think of, Darko is stinking it up right now.
No matter how he may be affecting the team on the defensive end of the court, Darko's main damage is coming on offense, where he has a 72 ORtg and negative win shares. This is especially damning for a certain someone who said something about manna from heaven and passing like Vlade. Darko has a .301 efg, a 12 reb%, and he's turning it over on nearly 20% of his used possessions. He's a train wreck right now and now that the Wolves are actually in close games, it matters...a lot.
The Wolves lost to the Hawks with 4 of their starters and their two top reserves having a neutral or positive +/-. Their downfall came in the minutes given to the woefully ineffective Darko and the fallout of having a starting player push 28 minutes to bench players and out-of-position teammates. It really is impossible to overstate just how poorly Darko played against the Hawks and it is amazing that he was given a 20 minute leash.
Moving beyond a single player, we probably aren't going to see too many Wolves loses this year when their eFG is over 52%:
Pace Eff eFG FT/FG OREB% TOr
Minnesota 97.0 108.2 52.6% 29.5 32.4 21.6
Atlanta 114.4 48.1% 42.5 35.7 15.5
This is especially amazing when you consider that outside of the aforementioned 6 guys who punched their weight, the Wolves scrub patrol went 3-15 from the field. This was probably the first game where fans can look at the action and legitimately say that a full and healthy Wolves roster would have made a difference.
You'll also notice that the Wolves were uncharacteristically outdone on the offensive boards. A lot of this credit goes to the active Josh Smith and Al Horford. Kevin Love's 31/31 effort got a lot of attention across the league and it will be interesting to see how hard opponents bring it against him on the glass on a night-in/night-out basis. Against the Hawks, Love had the undivided attention of both Smith and Horford, and with Michael Beasley out for too much of the tilt with foul trouble, and with Darko being MIA, Love was left to fend for himself...and he damn near made it work.
Speaking of Love, we have always referred to him as an upper-level glue guy whose worth and value will correspond with the level of play of his teammates. He's not a go-to guy. He's not a guy you can count on for 1-on-1 breakdowns. The guy fills in the cracks like very few others and that's why he's so amazingly valuable. Against the Hawks, Love too often found himself in situations where he had to break down the opponent all by himself. Part of the reason for this was that the Wolves have 5 guys back in the Target Center training room. Part of it is that Mike Beasley was in early foul trouble. Part of it is that Kurt Rambis seems to think it is ok for the Wolves to run out a lineup without one of their two best players in it. Whatever the case, Love can fend for himself on the boards, but not 1-on-1 in a half court setting. The sad thing here is that the team's options were rather limited. Does he try and take his man off the dribble or does he pass to Darko? Does he look for all of the cutting wingme...never mind, those things are as rare as the Dodo in this offense. The team's limited options led to Love trying to do too damn much on offense and that led to blocked shots and some very nice hustle plays by guys like Smith and Horford. It also underscored just how much this team needs Mike Beasley to score.
Well folks, that's about it for the initial impressions. It was nice to see a good effort from the banged-up squad. Their bench was completely overmatched and they still hung in there. It will be really interesting to see the Popcorn Game Wraps, as my initial feeling is that Kurt Rambis really blotched the 2nd half rotations. Also, why on earth do coaches bench their best players with 10 minutes to go in the 4th when they pick up their 5th foul? I'll never get this one. If they foul out or sit out, either way they miss a ton of minutes. This is especially pronounced on a team like the Wolves, where someone like Beasley is quickly becoming the straw that stirs the drink.
What say you.