The T'Wolves succumbed tamely on the road at Orlando yesterday with a very disappointing performance. I really thought that they would get this one - Orlando's whole team construction should have been negated by the excellent performance of Nikola Pekovic against Dwight Howard. Instead, there was a complete failure to deal with jumpshots both defensively and offensively and by the end of the third this game had become the less-than-engaging spectacle of a jumpshooting team that can shoot playing against a jumpshooting team that can't shoot. The team that can't hit shots lost. Even the turnovers were incidental. Unless there are scoring threats spaced on the perimeter, Ricky Rubio is denied the space to cause havoc on the pick and roll, and without Ricky havoc... well, it's going to be tough for the Wolves to get wins. Everyone except Kevin Love (and Luke Ridnour, sometimes - it's why he starts, obviously) is culpable on this - at this point it's simply mathematically better to deny Rubio and risk an open trey than stay home on your defensive assignment. Notable Numbers after the jump.
3pt%: MIN 28.6, ORL 40
1:7 - JJ Barea's AST-TO ratio
17 - ORL points off turnovers
28 - Minutes played by Dwight Howard
1 - Amount of awesome chasedown blocks from Wesley Johnson
3 - Amount of players in this game who shot over 50% from the field: Earl "I Wasn't Good Enough For Phoenix's Frontcourt" Clark, JJ "Why Everyone Loves Duke" Redick and Ricky "Can't Shoot" Rubio.
0 - Martell Webster 3pt attempts
Over 9000 - Nikola Pekovic's power level.
Nikola Pekovic: 16 pts on 6-13, 13 reb (7 offensive), 1 stl, 1 blk, 1 TO, 1 PF (yeah Pek!) in 33 mins
This guy is turning into a phenomenon. In recent games he's taken on Bynum and Boogie, playing them well each time, and now he's become Pektonite to Dwight Howard. Only Marcin Gortat and Andrew Bynum are left to face the Peksecutioner among the ranks of elite centers. This was a great performance, have no doubt about that. His shooting looks less efficient than usual but in fact a couple of his misses were off tough putback attempts leading to Kevin Love baskets. On first chance attempts, he must have gone about 5-8. He got Dwight Howard in foul trouble, on the road no less, and played some of his best and smartest D as an NBA player. One thing I liked to see was the bump on Howard as he went for the running hook - it reminded me of how KG bodies up without fouling. It's only a shame that the spacing issues on the team make it hard for Rubio and Barea to get the ball into the deep post to Pek - because if that ball is down low and you aren't perfectly positioned defensively you can forget about it. Even Dwight Howard couldn't really slow him down once he had deep position - awesomely, he spun away from D12 and dunked at one point. Despite his great play, Rick looked away from Pek for most of the fourth quarter, which was a shame. I can only assume it was a minutes issue.
Early in the game the announcers (who were extremely good, informative, thoughtful and unbiased) said "they say Nikola Pekovic is the strongest guy in the NBA. Well, we'll be the judge of that tonight." Yes, we were. It's absolutely true. Dwight Howard has the physique of an elite athlete, a human outlier close to the peak of physical perfection - Nikola Pekovic has the body of a rough, tough, huge, mean, rootin', tootin', post-banging-bone-crushing-soul-eating-bear-strangling-son-of-a-bitch. NBA forwards are scared. They should be. They goddamn should be. He's coming.
Kevin Love: 19 pts on 8-17 (0-2 3pt), 15 reb, 3 ast, 1 stl, 1 TO in 40 mins
19 and 15? Bog standard, move on.
Seriously, there's not much to say. Kevin Love will size you up, take you on, and get about 18 and 14 minimum regardless of what you have to say about it. Tonight he added in some nice distribution and had his fadeaway working pretty well. It would be good if he or the team could find a way to get him better looks from the perimeter though. His threes are very important. A lackluster defensive game and lack of crunch time impact drop him into the B range.
Martell Webster: 5 pts on 1-4, 4 reb, 2 TO in 23 minutes
The Most Awesomely Coiffed Player in the Association got his first season start and was largely disappointing. He provided very little on offense (the worst moment was a pump fake and drive for the charge. We need him to be shooting from deep!) and had a surprisingly weak game defensively. He was by no means the only culprit, but the fighting over screens was reprehensibly bad. The Magic seemed to get open looks and dribble penetration around Davis, Clark and Howard almost at will. I still like Webster as a starter, but he's going to have to show a lot more in the weeks to come. In his defense, the conditioning is still not there - he was huffing and puffing at the free throw line.
Wesley Johnson: 6 pts on 3-7 (0-2 from 3pt), 5 reb, 1 ast, 2 blk in 21 minutes.
Aside from a quick stretch in the third where he was the only effective offensive option (seriously), Wes had another poor night. The only highlight was a nice chasedown block, but really he can't be allowed to start any more. His 2 attempts from deep were pathetic - his deep jumper is simply broken. Crap rotation, flawed mechanics, dodgy release. Teams aren't even guarding him anymore. There's nothing more to say that we haven't already moaned about at length.
Ricky Rubio: 11 pts on 4-7, 3 reb, 8 ast, 1 blk, 5 TOs in 40 mins
People have been asking if Rubio has hit the "rookie wall." Let me break it down for you. Ricky Rubio hasn't hit any goddamn wall, rookie or otherwise (unless it was open for three.)
Tonight Rubio got 11 and 8. How the hell did he get those 8? The team couldn't hit the proverbial ocean from a boat, the Magic packed the paint (with some quality defenders, too) and he STILL got 8 assists. To put that in perspective, Kyrie Irving hasn't had eight assists yet all season. He had at least four passes to open looks as well. He is a genius, the motor that makes the team go. If a couple of shooters get hot and he starts finding them, we're going to be in games. If he starts to hit the 20 ft jumper consistently he's going to be an All Star and the team will be winning games.
Unfortunately Ricky had an uncharacteristically poor game on D, along with most of the perimeter players, which keeps him in the B range. No steals, got hung up on screens too much, couldn't even stay in front of Chris Duhon.
JJ Barea: 11 pts on 4-10, 2 reb, 1 ast (!), 7 TOs (!!!) in 25 mins
No no no. This was a terrible game for JJ, possibly (hopefully) as bad as he will ever be. He was out of control, out of sync with the other players and seemed to throw it away on nearly every possession. Criminally, he even turned it over on the last possession of the first half. The worst thing he did though was straight out of the Luke Ridnour playbook - the quick bricked three in transition. He added his very own Puerto Rican flavour to this timeless classic by attempting it in the middle of a furious rally attempt early in the fourth, killing the momentum stone dead. He then attempted to flop against JJ Redick (on the road, in the fourth? Please, JJ, think about that one a bit), allowing the ex-Duke man to stick in the dagger with an open three.
Like Ricky, Barea needs room to work inside the arc. His turnovers mostly came from losing his handle when surrounded by four Magicians in the paint. Spacing is such an issue. We need a shooter. Someone like James Jones, Jason Kapono,
Larry Bird or Anthony Morrow would be ideal.
Michael Beasley: 13 pts on 5-13 (2-8 from deep), 2 reb, 1 ast, 2 TOs in 27 minutes
I was not overly displeased by B-Easy tonight. You'll notice he went 3 of 5 from inside the arc, for example. His 2 of 8 from 3 is obviously not great, but I liked how he got open on the perimeter quite a lot and took those shots. His jumper is also looking pretty nice at the moment - it has sweet rotation. If he makes a couple more threes playing this kind of game he will be contributing very solidly. There is a good offensive player somewhere in Michael Beasley, but it is one hell of a job to find it.
His D, however... yuck. He and DWill together is not a winning proposition unfortunately.
Derrick Williams: 5 pts on 1-5, 6 reb.
Lions are a bad choice of metaphor for an athlete really. Observe this epic lion. It is super cool, obviously, natural grace, power and beauty. They are also really lazy bastards that fight among themselves and let lionesses do all the work. DWill should start comparing himself to a leopard, or perhaps a wolverine.
I'm really starting to get worried about Williams. He's going to have to do some serious offseason work if he wants to be a top tier NBA player. His inside finishing is awful, and his post play far from polished. He didn't bust out the Euro step tonight, thankfully (he should NEVER do that again). On D he didn't seem able to cope with Orlando's movement and "everyone shoots" offense.
Making It Wayne Ellington: 3 pts on 1-4 in 8 mins
Ellington needs to play more. He's a better defender and shooter than Wes Johnson, simply put.
Darko Milicic: 1 blk, 3 PF in 4 minutes
Are you kidding me Darko? Get the **** out of here.
The Orlando Magic
Grade: Don't it always seem to go...
The Maj aren't a bad squad really, and SVG has an offense and a defense that can work (the way they distribute shots, in particular, is first class). The problem is they are sitting under one big-ass Sword of Damocles with an albatross chained around their necks with Howard's unrestricted free agency. They can't plan or build for the future without knowing which way he'll jump, and right now they are a second round team at best.
Ryan Anderson is balling this year. Personally I'm sceptical about the viability of unathletic white guys with mediocre defense, good rebounding and terrific trey shooting in the NBA, but whatever. I love JRich, what a legend. Jameer Nelson is just not a legitimate answer on a contending team. Hedo Turkoglu can still play well in spurts. I've never rated Davis. Earl Clark looked good last night. JJ Redick would look good on the Wolves bench.
Alpha Wolf: Nikola Pekovic
Omega Wolf: JJ Barea
Ok, so time to break this losing streak with a visit from the Bobkitties at Target. Go Wolves!