If there has been one thing that has been remarkably consistent over the past few weeks from this wildly inconsistent team it is this: Jonny Flynn has been beyond terrible. How terrible? So terrible that the home crowd over the past few games gets openly restless when he enters the game. Last night, the biggest cheer (before the game-clinching run) was when Rindour got off the bench to replace him in the fourth quarter. Everyone knows that JF wasn’t a great PG last year, but he most definitely wasn’t THIS bad. So I’ve decided to file a missing persons report (and a long one, be forewarned) below the jump.
Although all of you know it well, let’s do a quick summary of the history of this man, as putting it in context may help us find him. It’s a nice story: He’s a future all star and the star player of an epic college basketball game that made some inexperienced (methinks that’s putting it kindly) POBOs fall in love with him. He was drafted #6, which seemed like a bit of a reach, especially when the team that picked him drafted another PG immediately before him. There was a player with more size and one exceptional basketball skill (shooting) still available, but still. The POBO proclaimed (in essence) that he had found two-thirds of the next Isaiah / Dumars / Microwave combo (if only we’d kept Lawson, we’d have all three of them in camp next year!). He also said we were "going to fall in love with him" as if he was presenting his new fiancée to the rest of his family (us) after getting engaged after dating for 2 weeks. This was all, of course, before the hiring of a coach who runs an offense that is notoriously PG-unfriendly.
People were rightly skeptical. JF was put in a tough spot, on a bad team that seemed to have been purposely built to be devoid of talent (Hollins, Pecherof, Jawai, Wilkins, Pavlovic, Janitor, oh my!), after a summer spent wondering if the player drafted ahead of him would come over from Spain (and the POBO, who told us we’d love JF, stated flatly that the Spanish wunderkind would be the starter the minute he came through the doors). Of course, as we all know, the Spanish PG didn’t come over, preferring to wait until the Knicks accumulated the assets necessary to make a trade for him (still waiting . . . ). So JF became the starting PG.
And then Game 1 of his first season happened. Here is the headline from ESPN’s game summary says it all (I guess):
Flynn was 8-10 from the line and had 4 boards and 2 assists (3 turnovers). Interestingly (to my thinking, which I’ll get to later), a second year player had an outstanding night in that game. Not Kevin Love, who was enjoying the Wolves’ Second Year Player Curse and was injured, but Brook Lopez, who put up a 28pts-15reb-5blk-4ast while holding Al Jefferson to 9 points. Yi (who we all saw last night) had a 17-12 in the game.
Then, in mid-December, came what turned out to be the pinnacle of JF’s rookie season. In case you’ve forgotten:
The numbers for JF seemed to be great that night: 28 points (19 shots), including 4-6 from 3. Of course there were warning signs: 5/4 assist to turnover ratio, and the small matter of Deron Williams putting up 38-13 against him.
At that point, the Wolves had won 4 games, and JF had been solid in all of them – scoring at least 16 points in each, relatively efficiently, and generally not making too big a mess of the "Triangle" or defense. There seemed to be promise, if JF continued to improve throughout the season.
Of course, there was no improvement (in fact, some regression). Here are JF’s splits (through December / after December):
Oct – Dec: 14.1 ppg, 43.5% FG, 33% 3PtFG, 4.0 APG, 2.9 TOPG
Jan-April: 13.0 ppg, 40.3% FG, 38% 3PtFG, 4.6 APG, 2.8 TOPG
To me, it’s pretty remarkable that Flynn’s FG% dropped despite shooting better from 3. I think a combination of several things happened, namely:
1. Teams figured out that he was extremely right handed (watch that drive against Utah again). They took away his one way to attack the basket and JF didn’t have an answer except to shoot 3s (which he did at a pretty decent clip, by the way)
2. There had to be some of the "Rookie Wall" as well. We’re seeing it now with Wes (I hope), and I think it’s also combined with the next one:
3. The Wolves were unwatchable in Feb – April. Everyone pretty well stunk in that time period.
And then the hip injury in game 81. There was attempted rehab over the summer but he finally had surgery, pushing his debut into December of 2010. There was no summer of JF working on his left hand or his jumpshot, and no playing in summer league or training camp with his many new teammates.
Right now, 2009 JF has completely disappeared. Through 15 games he’s shooting 34% from the field with 2.8 APG / 1.7 TOPG. Even "October-early November Darko" would be ashamed of those numbers. A guy I thought who would have been one of the big beneficiaries from the talent upgrade has regressed completely. The last two games have been brutal – his inability to do anything when guarded by Bonner in the SA game to his variety of airballs and other bricks he put up while going 1-6 from the field last night only tell part of the story. Watching him run end-of-quarter sets would be comical if it wasn’t killing Our Beloved Puppies. Where is the guy from the Utah game last year?
There are some good theories, and it starts with him not being fully healthy. It’s pretty obvious to everyone who watches that he doesn’t have any explosiveness. Since the team is mum on it we can speculate on the duration of the injury: is this the type of thing that is going to take a while to recover, or has his quickness =been permanently diminished? The physical limitation, combined with the fact that he couldn’t spend the summer improving or developing chemistry with his teammates is also killing him. Finally, his problems are obvious to opponents and JF alike, which allows teams to be very aggressive when defending him and it has sapped JF’s confidence. All of it is leading to incredible indecision, dribbling and passing with no purpose, poor shot selection and generally no attacking moves whatsoever. It appears that JF has lost whatever basketball instincts he had (we can debate how good those were to begin with), and that instinct and confidence is critical to all players and PGs especially.
It’s this last point that is particularly concerning to me. If you watch Rindour (who quietly has put together a very good if not great December / January but that’s another post), you will see a guy that for every time he puts up the maddening 3-pointer within the first 6 seconds of the shot clock, two times he’s turning the corner aggressively on a pick and roll and trying to get to the rim, pull up for the elbow jumper or make an easy pass. Flynn, more often than not, can’t or won’t turn the corner, drifts sideways rather than attacking, and inevitably gets trapped near one of the sidelines. If he does attack the basket, he finds himself often way down on the baseline with his angles cut off and defenders swarming him. As SnP notes, often the best thing that can happen in these situations is that he throws the ball out of bounds – at least it doesn’t lead to the other team’s PG streaking the other way. And if JF can’t run the pick-and-roll effectively in the NBA, what does he bring to a team? I think we can start calling him the Italian Microwave, because that’s where he’ll likely be playing.
And then there’s the defensive side of the ball. It’s like he’s never seen a pick-and-roll before, despite the fact that that’s all anyone ran against us last year. He can’t / won’t fight through screens and has no idea what he wants to do or is supposed to do in those situations. Again, contrast it with Luke, who is a D minus defender in his own right. Some of this is experience and time with teammates, but the way he’s been playing goes beyond any of those simple excuses.
Quite frankly, at this point, I don’t see many silver linings. Last year’s JF (who wasn’t average to begin with) is gone. I don’t think we can "find" him by putting him out on the court right now. He needs time to get healthier, practice with his teammates and get his confidence back. Anyone can see he’s hurting the team and his trade value by going out there. It speaks to the dysfunction of the organization that he’s out there, unless Bassy really isn’t healthy (I don’t think he was on the bench last night. Anyone know why?). Are we playing him because he was Kahn’s pick and DK is demanding he play? Because Rambis wants to show how crappy that pick was and that it’s the ingredients, not the cooking? Because we think there’s a 2% chance he’s going to go for 10-5 off the bench for a couple of games and some team is going to come calling? Because he’s got a great smile?
Either way, the results have been obvious to anyone watching the games, to the point where Wolves’ fans have turned on him like he’s T-Jack. Pretty remarkable for a guy who’s been here less than 1.5 seasons and is generally considered a good guy.
Since I’m passing the 1,600 word mark (about Jonny Freaking Flynn!), I will wrap this up with one note of caution. Think back to the 2009 opener and Brook Lopez. After that that first game last year and for much of last season some (most?) people would have taken Lopez over Love (and we shouldn’t get started on Lopez / Jefferson / Beasley v. Love / Darko / Beasley alternate reality). Today, we’re pining for Curry, Jennings, Lawson or DeRozan instead of Flynn. Lopez, meanwhile, has regressed in every statistical category. For him, it’s surely a combination of a new coach, new teammates, new system and teams figuring him out. But a little perspective and perhaps some patience is in order, at least when it comes to determining if JF can be a decent pro (all-star is another matter). We’ve got to figure out how to get JF healthy in body and mind before a real judgment can be made. We can extrapolate performance based on past performance and similar players, and we can factor in things like their age and height and injury history and what their eFG was in college. And those things are valid and good indicators and the results don’t look promising to be sure. But if you’re a fan of this team you’ve got a long second half of the season ahead of you, so I’m putting out an APB for the JF I want to find in that time:
Wanted: Undersized, shoot-first point guard with good leadership qualities and a love of the game. Able to get to the basket using either hand and finish or pass to open 3 point shooters or large Serbians. Can take contact and finish or knock down his free throws. Decisive running the pick-and-roll and amorphous triple-post offenses. Above average spot-up shooter with the ability to make the extra pass. Minimizes defensive deficiencies with moxie and consistent effort. Possible sixth man on a playoff team.
If anyone sees him let me know.