What we watched for: the frontcourt

A while back, before the season started, we cobbled up a list of "What to watch for" about the Wolves' roster. About half the text in the tables, there, came from comments in the thread, which was kind of cool.

Seems like we have some answers in progress now, doesn't it?




Here are my impressions, with some fair-sized holes, about the frontcourt for the team right now. Fair? Horribly undercut by my conflicted feelings about B-Easy's hairdo and its resemblance to that of Troy Hudson?

Kevin Love:


Rebound-seeking instincts.

Attention-seeking instincts.


So far that'd be "check" and "check." Grousing tendencies about the playing time and so on have ebbed – Love was diplomatic about Tolliver playing down the stretch of the opener, for example – but then he's playing a lot more, especially lately. When he put up his 30-30 game, too, young Kevin did not exactly shy away from interviews or from saying things like "I impressed myself. I don't even know what to say to be honest with you."

(When someone has four rebounding totals above the 20 mark inside of 10 games and leads the league in rebounding, meanwhile, we know he works on the glass.)



Starter('s minutes)? Continued 6th-man friction? Is he now a team leader, or still half in Rambis's doghouse?


Love took five contests this year to crack 30 minutes on the court. Over the last six games, however, he has played over 40 minutes three times, and 38 another two. Last night he had 31 minutes by the time he left before the end of the 3rd quarter. It seems as if Rambis has decided to give him those minutes, and it seems like he's playing okay with them.

As far as the leadership thing goes, I don't know how to define it. The relationship between Love and Beasley, especially when things were good, seemed to work with both as leaders on the team when they were going well.


Is he defensively at home? Playing team defense, or individual defense? Do pairings with Beasley still push him into awkward matchups?


According to lots of our posters, it's Beasley who's being pushed into awkward marks because he's out of position as a three. Oceanary's recent "Natural Position" post laid that position out.

As often as we hear the repeat button pushed on "he's a sucky defender" with Love, though, what I'm recalling this year isn't a ton of "Their stretch four is absolutely killing us" talk. Looking at the lines, though.... I don't know, did Tyrus Thomas go off that badly against Love? Thomas has crushed Love before. Maybe we're just used to seeing it at this point, maybe we're spreading the defensive blame around loosely.

In general I'd say the "good in some individual matchups, painful in others; not a great team or help defender" label's still attached.


"Usage"/shots – how do they look on a team where he gets a lot more minutes? (He's been possession-dominant on team USA, when he's in.) How central is he to the offense? Does the ball go through Love now?


The ball doesn't go through Love nearly as much as it does through Beasley, but Love has gotten more burn as his career's moved along these first few years.

The Wolves currently have only two regulars whose "usage" figure is above the hypothetical 'average starter' and his 20%. Love, at 24%, "uses" more possessions than the 1/5th a generic player would, but Beasley is by far the most possession-dominant player on the roster.


Outside shot developing? He's said this was a summer goal (again).


So far he's shooting a few more threes at a smidge below last year's percentage. (Edit: Oops. A 5-5 night means he's now at 38.6% as opposed to 33.3% last season. Small Sample Theater.)


Is he more aggressive with the outlets now that there are wings to take advantage? (Is this Kelly Dwyer's "derring-do"?)


I haven't noticed that it's happening more or less often. Anyone? Does Rascal Flats want to break down film again? Synergy subscribers?


Better alongside Darko (well-rounded play from both?) or Pekovic (where he's got a solid post scorer to play off of)?


The frontcourt is unsettled, partly, by injury. The question of who plays well with whom is still out there, right? Anyone?


The perception that his shot's blocked a ton (not particularly borne out in terms of the rate at which it happens, 9.5%, next to elite post players in the game) – how does that hold up if he's central to the offense?


The rate at which he's blocked has gone from 9.4% last year to 10.2% this time around. We've talked a little about this one elsewhere, in my "stuffed" thread among other places.


Michael Beasley



Honestly, I knew he had 'em, but we're still learning on this front. He's a rich tapestry, almost literally.

Potential scoring explosions.

Erm, "check"?


Will he ever become that go-to scorer?


Given his use late in games, and more obviously given the rate at which he's shooting it, I think we have to say the intent is there on Rambis's part right now. (That intention was never an issue with Beasley, either way. Guy wants to be this.)

It seems like this question should, like the one with Love, have mentioned "running the offense through" Beasley. Even with Beasley dominating possessions when he's on the floor like Dwyane Wade, some observant posters here do, based on their watching the film, think Beasley is still getting the ball away from 'his spots.'


Three or four, on either end of the floor?


We're still going around on this point. Planting a flag gets people to storm it, still, at this point, and no matter how much certain posters pound the issue into the ground I would suggest it's fair to say the team is trying to find out this whole year.


Fit in the trike?


Well now. This would crack open the topic of how much of the "triangle" we're truly from night to night and play to play, this season. Does Beasley see himself as playing a "triangle" wing slot on offense? That clear-out Rambis ran to get the win wasn't exactly textbook Tex Winter.


Fits alongside Love, Darko, Pekovic?


A "Which two of them will fire together tonight?" meme is developing apace, isn't it? We're working this one out all year barring trades.


Consistent enough as a scorer to demand floor time? What sort of relationship will he have with Rambis? Does playing time cause friction? 


He's gotten the time except when he's in foul trouble or banged up, so there's no friction about that from him anyway.

Basically my impression is that Rambis knows he doesn't have anyone else with the same scoring potential, and he's given Beas a green, green light. Stop-n-Pop's mention of Beas's usage number has stuck in my head for real.


Did he tell Kahn the truth about smokin' reefer?


Um, about how he smoked too much, or about quitting?... Or did Michael just say he wouldn't smoke "too much" any more?

We've had at least one game where posters here questioned the look in Michael Beasley's eye, anyway. Not to defame the guy, but I guess we won't know about this for a while.

Darko Milicic


Good passing from high post to cutters, so-so in other situations.

Anyone want to comment on Darko's performance as a passer in various situations this season? The text here was based on the old NBA Playbook scouting page.

(Rather poor [offensive] rebounding for a center.)

Darko is currently 69th in a ranked list of NBA players (with  more than 150 minutes for far) in terms of offensive rebounding %. Among centers he fits in at about 26th overall, right there with Spencer Hawes. He's not a great offensive rebounder.

As a defensive rebounder, Milicic is... "so-so," like we said. He's in mixed company at about that percentage spot.

His 12.7% overall rebounding percentage is similarly a not-terrible, but rather soft spot in terms of the league. (So far this year LaMarcus Aldridge is cleaning the glass better than Darko.)



How does playing time work out between Darko and Pekovic?



Pek having been injured makes this hard to say too much about. Nikola P.'s foul trouble – his only two games playing 20+ minutes were not coincidentally the ones where he didn't foul the way we rightly expected him to – probably gives us the outlines of an answer.

Anyway, Pekovic hasn't pushed Darko for starts, even with Milicic shooting so abysmally early.



How much does his defensive presence matter in the context of the current roster? Is he willing to play a "garbage center" role as needed?



He's willing to block shots, which we knew. It's been a return to his first half-season in Orlando, in terms of block percentage. 

But "in the context of the current roster"? How much does Darko matter to the team's defense? That's another conversation. The team isn't playing great defense, as a whole, so there's that.

Offensively, either way, "garbage center" isn't his role. He doesn't get enough offensive boards to live on put-backs anyway, and on that end we've seen Rambis almost force-feeding Darko's confidence by dumping him the ball down low. Probably Rambis sees Milicic as the Wolves' first-chance post offensive threat now that Jefferson's gone.



(Same question about rotation among bigs.)

Offensively, is an in-shape and up-to-speed Milicic a significant asset within the tricycle offense?


He's an asset. He's a liability. He's a paradox, and we have high-low expectations.


Nikola Pekovic



Hard-nosed inside play on offense.

Reasonably adept at filling holes on break, trailing, etc.



He's looked tough out of the gate, even when he can't make the "bruiser" role work for him quite yet.
Not sure his legs are under him for the various "basic smart ball" stuff implied by the second sentence.




Fouls – particularly offensive ones, given his seeking contact as much as he does?

Basic defensive questions.



He's had foul trouble. Someone who watched closely could tell us about his offensive vs. his defensive play, that way.



Will his physical play in any way intimidate NBA backups? Can he in any sense be a bench "enforcer" type?



We don't know enough to say, do we?



Anthony Tolliver



D-league type who's probably going to bust his hump.

Sense of humor seems to be intact.



Seems fair enough.



I don't know much about his defense.

Safe to say that Tolliver's defense has, starting with the first game of the year, sometimes been keeping him on the floor. I'd be interested to know where people think he's thrived, or not.

Does his Target Center magic continue? (The guy absolutely went off here late last year.)

Well, he's playing more at home and generally producing in those extra minutes. Hardly earth-shaking, but it wasn't that serious a question.

What position can he force some PT in? Natural four, probably, and played the center some in G.S., but only the barest spot duty as a three last year. Is he some sort of specialty "shooting big" for tactical situations now?

This came up in Oceanary's thread about Beasley and his production at the 3 and 4. 82games seems to record Tolliver as a 3 pretty often – almost as much as at the 4 – but we're not necessarily agreeing with that. Tolliver did keep Love on the bench in that opener, and glancing at the last few gameflows on The Popcorn Machine I often see Tolliver subbing in for Darko as much as anyone else, and then some flexible lineups when Milicic comes back in that are harder to assign positions in... I feel some sympathy for the 82games data collector, there.

As far as being a 'specialty shooter' goes, first off we have to say that he's not limited to offense. His defense lets him play more than someone who just takes shots from range. After a preseason in which he wasn't exactly shy to hoist shots up, he's also reigned his own offense back; Tolliver's "usage" is at 13.8%, which is markedly low. He's shot almost 44% from deep, though. Limited shots, sharpshooting.... Eh, the labels don't matter that much except so far as they let us examine the player.

My take is that we're still finding Anthony Tolliver a role, but he's proven he deserves one by being that D-league hustler.

We didn't even bother to say anything about Koufos.

I think Beasley at this point is spanning the gap between "front court" and "wings," so if I have another 45 minutes to look at the 2s and 3s together he'll show there too....

Thoughts? Other than "Boy, this interface really bites for using indent levels"? I already had that one.

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