Sorry for yet another post - I know I've put up a bunch of stuff over the last 24 hours. I'm not trying to bore you all or needlessly take up your time, it's just that there's a number of things going on with this team that need (IMO) discussing and I've never been hesitant to go ahead and put it out there. I promise, this will be the last post for today!
OK, now that that's out of the way, I have an argument for how to understand this team that I'd like to make for you, an argument that I believe changes the way this team should be viewed and why the FO/coaching staff make certain moves/directions and pass on other moves/directions. Argument after the jump.First, the seed idea orginated from Rambis' post game interview from last night (approx. 2:34 in). A reporter asks about Rambis' take on Kevin Love, and he responds by saying that he tells Love to get his rest because he needs to do it again the next game. Then he goes on to compliment Love by calling his numbers 'ridiculous' and 'old school' (as in even before Rambis' time). But this is the quote about Love that raised the question that altered my understanding of this team:
"We don't do a whole lot for him [Love] - he's just out there doing it on his own."
Take a minute to think about that, especially given the back and forth Rambis and Love have had over the years (er, months?), the yo-yo of minutes, the lack of a role when Big Al was here, the questions about Love's fit with Beasley, and the seemingly idiotic usage of Love by Rambis in close games early this season. After paying Love about as high a compliment as I think Rambis could give him, (and don't forget that Love is a basketball history aficionado, which in my mind suggests that the 'old school' comment was intentional on Rambis' part), Rambis follows it up with:
"We don't do a whole lot for him [Love] - he's just out there doing it on his own."
Why is that comment so important to understanding this team? It is because, in my opinion, it is the ultimate affirmation of who Love is as a player and what his role on this team actually is, and that that affirmation by Rambis changes everything about how this team is being viewed by the FO and coaching staff, and subsequently how it is being constructed.
The title of this post is "It's a four man game", and there's a reason for that: Love is the ultimate between the gaps player in the NBA today. Night in and night out he can average 20 ppg, 15.3 rpg, with 2.1 apg and 6.3 FTAs a game, all by feeding on scraps and leftovers. (Even more impressive are these numbers: 21.9 ppg, 15.8 rpg over his last ten games, and 23.8 ppg with 17.8 rpg over his last five games. Taken as a whole, these three sets of numbers are no fluke.) Conceptually speaking, he is an elite level player for whom system doesn't matter and surrounding talent doesn't matter because he simply does what he does to support everyone else. Kevin Love is exactly what we all thought he was - an extremely competitive and intelligent player who intuitively plays the game at a high level. He is not an Alpha Wolf, he is not a number one or even a typical number two scoring option. At best, and I mean this as the highest compliment possible, Kevin Love is the ultimate luxury as a player but in no way a proto-typical 'cornerstone' player.
So what does this mean for us? It means that, conceptually speaking, building the TWolves with Kevin Love on the roster means that it's a four man game.
[Editor's note - I am basing this off of the assumption that the team will keep Love around for the future. Rambis of late sounds very much like someone who is not looking to deal Love at all. Obviously if Love gets dealt, this post is irrelevant.]
So instead of looking at the team as built around Love, Beasley, and Rubio, for example, it's understanding the team as built around Beasley, Rubio, and Darko. High level winning (and thus team building) is centered around understanding the team in that way and not around including Love into the equation (and I admit, this is the part about this argument where I don't fully understand what I'm trying to say, if that makes sense. I think it's generally the idea that the way you want your team to work, the way you want the offense to flow and the defense to react, is anchored around finding three guys outside of Love who all work well together and can play well together. Love will do what he does, and at a high level, so that's not conceptually a concern. It's maximizing the other guys around Love that matters - hence Love as the ultimate luxury player in the league).
So to understand our fortunes this year, this page shows you everything you need to know. It provides the reasoning behind why Rambis is so fixated on the continued development of Darko, Wes, and Beasley, (and to a lesser extent why he loves Tolliver so much, why he's still playing Corey so much, and why Rubio will not get dealt anytime soon), and indeed (arguably) why Darko and AT appear to be so important to the success of this team: it's not about Love. It's a four man game, (meaning that you still need your Big Three to be successful in the NBA today, and our Big Three has to come from the other four guys, conceptually speaking).
If you clicked on the link above, you will see the top three man rotations in +/- for this year's Wolves. Of the top 25 combo's, the highest ranked one featuring Love is 13th. In fact, Love only appears on the list 3 times. Now part of it is because certain combos of lesser used players can have a great run over a short time, and thus vault up the list because they simply don't play enough to equalize the results (that is, regress to the mean). However, teams that are ready to compete for a championship regularly feature their best players in these rankings. Of the Celtic's top ten 3 man combo's (in terms of +/-):
7 of them feature Paul Pierce
5 of them feature KG and/or Shaq
and only 1 of them features a different player (Glen Davis)
Now look at the Wolves' top ten 3 man combo appearences:
9 of them feature Anthony Tolliver
5 of them feature Wes and/or Beasley
3 of them feature Darko and/or Luke
and filling out the rest, Corey shows up twice and Bassy once.
Clearly there is roster building yet to be done on this team.
I said earlier that this page of our top three man units explains a lot of Rambis' moves, and hopefully you are beginning to see the rationale behind why I believe that:
It provides the reasoning behind why Rambis is so fixated on the continued development of Darko, Wes, and Beasley,
If Tolliver is our super bench guy, and I don't think anyone has any illusion that Tolliver's a starter waiting to happen, then who's left over? Wes and Beasley are the two 'stars' we have to build around - but first Rambis needs to get them to produce as stars. So far Wes and Beasley haven't really figured out how to play with each other. This will be something to watch in the future.
(and to a lesser extent why he loves Tolliver so much, why he's still playing Corey so much,
Right? Tolliver is manna for this team. He's not a potential star, per se, but he makes positive things happen. So does Corey.
and why Rubio will not get dealt anytime soon), and indeed (arguably) why Darko and AT appear to be so important to the success of this team
I don't know how the Beasley/Wes thing will resolve itself (or even if there is anything to resolve). What I do think I understand, now, is why Rambis is so high on Darko (and why Darko is so important to the team), and why Rubio is equally as important: they are the two guys with star potential that Rambis can build and anchor this team around. Now, I should add that I'm not saying that Darko's going to be an All-Star or something. What I am saying is that in terms of having a 'Big Three' to anchor the team around, Rambis is viewing Darko as one of those legs of the triangle (no pun intended). So the question becomes, then, can you win with a three headed monster of Darko, Rubio, and Beasley/Wes? I think that is how Rambis and the FO is viewing this team.
Conceptually, guys like Luke, Bassy, Corey, Jonny, Martell, Lazar, Wayne, and Pek are all going to end up playing off those three guys. A guy like Martell has an outside chance of surprising and pushing himself into the 'Big Three' mix, but doesn't it make a whole lot more sense why some of these guys seem to fit in well with what we're doing and why some don't, given this? Put a different way, is it any wonder that Bassy and Luke simply aren't up to the challenge of being one of the key guys in the Big Three? Or why it seems as though Wes and Beasley haven't found their groove yet (because they're essentially competing with each other, trying to figure out the pecking order)?
it's not about Love. It's a four man game, (meaning that you still need your Big Three to be successful in the NBA today, and our Big Three has to come from the other four guys
Love is a great, great player...and yet I believe this statement to be true. For better or worse, there's a reason why Darko is so important to this team, and why Rubio is so important to this team. Rambis and the FO believes that these two guys can form an important combo together. The big question will be who fills it out? Is it Beasley? Or Wes? Or even Martell? Do we bail on Rubio and go for Iggy?
Who steps up and lays claim to being one of this team's Big Three will go a long ways in determining whether or not we will win relatively consistently this year or whether this team will continue to be maddeningly inconsistent. For this year, Darko is clearly a member of the Big Three, and Beasley appears to be as well (although he hasn't quite recognized that it's his chemistry with Darko and whoever else steps up that will make him even better and lead to more wins, not necessarily his chemistry with Love). Martell certainly might be (he's my odds on favorite), although Wes could be as well (although I think he's better suited in Beasley's role for this, as a SF and not a SG).
So finally, we come back to Love, and why he's the greatest luxury player to have in the NBA. A triumvirate of Darko, Beasley, and Martell let's say may not be the greatest triumvirate at all for winning in the NBA. But adding to that triumvirate between the gaps contributions of Senor Amor, you suddenly get the sense that that team could win some games.