FanPost

The Fortunate 500 - Wolves Midterm

Ladies and gentlemen, your 17-17 Minnesota Timberwolves! This is better, isn't it? Much, much better. Not only are the Wolves actually winning games, they are doing it while being incredibly entertaining. This report isn't about the team as a whole, though, it's about the fifteen guys and head coach that make it up and their individual contributions with a few stats added in. It's not about "we need a wing", although we do, "they always start slowly", although they do, how they just... keep... coming no matter what the score, or how much esprit de corps shines through the group. I would like to preface this, however, by saying that this is probably the most likable sports team I've ever had the pleasure of rooting for. Go Wolves!

This is a fairly long piece of writing, I'm afraid, because I got bored at work (and watching All-Star Saturday. Bleh) and this team is just so damned fun to talk about. A quick note on format. Everyone's stat lines are per game points, boards etc unless explicitly stated. I've used True Shooting Percentage rather than FG% or eFG% because I think it is the fairest way to judge player scoring efficiency. After the jump, Notable Numbers - Midseason Edition!

17-17: Wolves Record

17 - Games won last season

10 - Wolves current playoff seed

1 - Games back from playoffs.

+1.2 - Wolves scoring differential

+1.2 - Wolves average turnovers over league average

I can't be bothered to work out how to work it out but I bet it's high - Amount Adelman is better than Rambis even adjusting for Ricky Rubio.

Since Stephon Marbury's rookie year (96-97), only two Minnesota Timberwolves rookies have managed a PER over league average 15 playing more than twenty minutes per game - Wally Sczerbiak (15.4 in 99-00) and Kevin Love (18.3 in 08-09). Ricky Rubio is on pace to join them with a PER of 15.7. Only seven T-Wolf rookies have achieved this since the team was founded in 1989: Starbury, Love, Wally, Kevin Garnett, Pooh Richardson, Christian Laettner and Dean Garrett (30 years old in rookie season). If you are ever asked why Ricky is so popular then you can observe that he's only the second decent rookie we've had since Wally Sczerbiak and only the third quality rookie guard ever. If you reduce the game time requirement to 15 minutes then Craig Smith can lend his epic presence. Yeah. He was dynamite. At fouling.

(I know PER sucks, but you get the point. Our rookies... wow. Rubio is scoring more ppg than even KG! Remember all these guys?)

Reports, in alphabetical order, followed by some Adelman-discussion.

Jose Juan Barea

10.8 pts @ TS% .524, 1.8 reb, 2.9 ast, 1.9 TOS in 20.7 mins

PER: 15.5 (career high) WS/48:.096

Barea's FG% of 38% is his career low, excluding his rookie season in which he barely played .

He is putting up career high FGA and 3PA numbers. His 3PT% (36%) is above career high.

Barea's career comparison score with Rick Adelman is 87.3/100 (Whatever that means.).

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The little Puerto Rican who could.

Life is a rollercoaster when JJB is around, seriously. He's had an incredibly up and down season, varying from unbelievably awful (@Magic, 1st half vs Utah) to genuinely inspirational (Putting Charlotte in their place, 2nd half vs Utah). Interspersed with these high- and low-lights has been rather a lot of frustrating shot-hoisting mediocrity, unfortunately, as he's struggled to overcome injury and adapt his game to Minnesota.

In theory, I love the addition of Barea. He's a very aggressive offensive player (and often quite an effective one) at the point guard position. Taking over as primary ball handler from Rubio or Ridnour JJ gives a completely different challenge to the opposition defenders, which is of course all to the good. The problem has mostly been that he's over-emphasised his role as change-up pace shooter and has developed a tendency to play out of control and ball hog. This is a shame, because unless he's hitting (and his FG% says he usually isn't) this utterly kills the Wolves. It's not like Barea isn't a good distributor when he wants to be - when he started scoring and sharing against Utah he led the team to an improbable and magnificent comeback victory.

Offensively JJ has a lot of different abilities. He's a good ball handler with exceptional change of direction speed, he has a nice stroke from downtown, draws contact, shoots Fts well and finishes inside. He is good at scoring in pick and roll situations. Efficiency has definitely been his biggest flaw on this end of the floor this season (career low FG%) and his occasionally suspect decision making leads to quite a number of turnovers.

Barea is too small (6 foot? 5'10" at most) to be a particularly effective NBA defender, but he compensates for this by being the best flopper this side of Manu Ginobili. Because his head is at elbow level for many players he guards, he has developed a brilliant ability to sell this contact to the referees. Heck, he even draws those fouls legitimately sometimes by throwing his head in there. He is very quick and surprisingly solid physically which limits the ability of his man to drive, but most NBA shooting guards can and do just go right over his head.

One of the most noticeable things about Barea on court and on bench is that he takes his veteran leadership very seriously. He's always talking to the rookies, getting involved from the bench and trying to keep energy levels and focus high. It's a good attribute - part of his very high basketball IQ. He's also adept at gamesmanship (This little bump on Gordon Hayward a great example), a frustrating opponent who gets in your head. I like that: we haven't had enough of that sort of player in recent years. Overall I'd say Barea has flashed his potential electric game changing ability, but generally performed at around or below minimal expectations. He gets a B.

GRADE: B

Michael Beasley

12.2 pts @ TS% .483, 42% 3pt, 5.3 reb, 1 ast, 1.8 TO in 25.6 mins

PER: 13.0 WS/48: .046

B-Easy has regressed statistically from his rather good year in 10-11.

Per 36 Beasley is having his best year from the perimeter, and worst from inside the arc.

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This shot inspires more groans per minute than any comedian could dream of.

I left Beasley until last. This is because he is, simply put, the player I least understand. Some days he can be an unstoppable scorer and look superb - others he can be lost on D and shooting contested deep twos like they are going out of style (which they already have Mike, stop it already.) Latterly the unstoppable days are few and far between. Beas even has negative offensive win shares on the season.

I do wonder if Beasley is worth the effort, sometimes. He's a poor defender in almost every aspect and if he isn't scoring big and efficiently, he's not justifying his contract. But I still do think he's worth holding onto, for the following reasons:

1) He can score in isolation. Who else can on the team? Exactly.

2) He can go for twenty points a game when he's on a good stretch.

3) His biggest problems are mental and decision making based. I'd like to give Rick Adelman time to sort him.

4) He has still looked a bit dogged by injury.

5) Kevin Love likes him. "Get Things That Kevin Love Likes" should be written in block capitals on David Kahn's to-do list. (actual items thereon: 1. Introduce Smileometrics at the combine 2. Measure rookie grip strength 3. Get own back on KAAAHN video guy 4. MOAR POWER FORWARDS) If Kevin Love wants a giant chryselephantine statue in downtown Minneapolis or whatever, the team should try and make it happen.

Regarding Beasley's game, there's not really much to say. He's a good scorer who settles for jumpers too much and has a problem with ball stopping (which he has somewhat addressed since January) and a weak defender who watches the ball rather than his man. His most productive scoring area is the elbow jumper, which he hits at a high rate, and he has nice form and rotation on his open jumpshots. I think he's disappointed this year despite the injury and gets a C+, must do better.

GRADE: C+

Wayne Ellington

5.2 pts @ TS% .469, 35% 3PT, 1.5 reb, .5 ast, .5 stl in 17.3 mins

PER: 9.2 WS/48: .061

Ellington's offensive efficiency and totals are career lows.

His win shares per 48 are career high.

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The only NBA player with a catchphrase best said in an Elmer Fudd voice.

When he was on a roll, getting his very own twitter hashtag (#makeitwayne!) and generally balling off the bench earlier in the season, I predicted Ellington would be in a fight for backup minutes with Johnson behind Martell Webster. For whatever reason, Ellington has completely fallen out of the rotation. As the team's only pure 2 guard (excepting Malcolm Lee), one would expect Ellington to have had more chance to show off his skills, especially considering his visible improvement on D. His erratic shooting seems to have forced Rick to bench him for the time being, and coach has gone with the dual PG look in the backcourt almost exclusively since JJ Barea's return from injury. It's a shame for Ellington, who might have been looking to take a step forward this year.

Wesley Johnson

5.7 pts @ TS% .434, 21% 3pt, 2.8 reb, 0.8 ast, 0.5 blk, 1.2 tos in 22 mins

PER: 6.0 WS/48: -0.007

Johnson is attempting 4.1 3 pointers per 36 and making less than one.

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Few people are aware that Edvard Munch was actually a basketball analyst with the gift of prophecy. This piece was originally entitled "Wesley Johnson's Sophomore Year."

Oh. Dear.

Wes Johnson's sophomore season has been frankly no more or less than an unmitigated catastrophe. His page on Basketball Reference is a disaster area, reminiscent of pictures of the Midwest during the Great Depression. I keep expecting Tom Joad to come by with a shovel. He has regressed in nearly every statistical category, particularly shooting, at which he has been truly awful (discounting some recent signs of life). His shooting stroke just isn't there right now: he has a jerky release, a poor arc and hideously off rotation. Do you want a shooting guard in this offense who needs fundamental improvement in his jumpshot mechanics? Do you ****. The amount of times he has received an open pass from Ricky and bricked the crap out of it beggars belief.

Now I don't want to write bashing Wes too much - it's been done on the site recently and comprehensively, and it's a downer. So, in the positives column... um. He's played a few minutes of good D here and there. He can really dunk it. He's actually quite a good passer. He's the best guy in the team at chasing down transition layup attempts. He might be missing them a lot but at least he knows where to stand to space the floor with three point attempts (a positive somewhat reduced by the fact that he's shooting so terribly teams aren't even guarding him.)

Can he get better? In my experience players don't tend to improve drastically in season, but Wes has actually flashed some good moments in the last fortnight. Not enough, but enough to allow for the hope that he might start contributing positive win shares at some point in the not too distant future. Good luck, Wes.

Overall I think Wes has to get a D. The fact that he continually starts games is interesting in that it does reveal a fairly unfortunate truth - there's no reliability in the backups. At least you know what you'll get from Johnson, so you can actually plan around his "production." (That said, I can't believe he takes Wayne Ellington's playing time. #MakeItWayne!)

GRADE: D

Kevin Love

25.0 pts (4th NBA, 3rd WC) on TS% .569, 34% 3pt (3PT Shootout Champion 2012), 83% FTs, 234 FTM (1st NBA), 14.0 reb (2nd NBA, 1st WC), 1.9 ast, 1 stl, 0.5 blk, 2.7 TOs in 39.9 mins (1st NBA)

(I'll tell you what doubters. Type that stat line out and tell me Kevin Love isn't first team All-NBA.)

PER: 24.6 WS/48: .239 (T5 NBA)

Love's TRB% is career low at 19.3, his first season sub 20. This decline is in ORB% primarily.

Love's 25 and 14 average is Hall of Fame caliber. This. Deal with it, NBA. Oh, you can't. Notice that Love is shooting the fewest FGs per game of that list.

Love's 5% jump in USG% has coincided with a drop in efficiency from the floor.

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"Oh my oh my oh my, is that great basketball or what?" - Hubie Brown

So Kevin Love is good at rebounding. Really good. Sometimes it's the simple things in life you love, and I personally enjoy it greatly when Love fights off two guys, rips down the D-board and slams his hands on it to make that lovely "BAMP!!!!" sound before dropping it off to Ricky. He's good at rebounding for a number of reasons - first, immense strength in his legs creating an immovable center of gravity; second, the instinctive ability to calculate ballistic trajectory like he should be working for NORAD shooting down ICBMs; third, terrific hands; fourth, high energy; fifth, great timing; and sixth, supreme toughness. Teams seem to assign two guys to box out Love offensively, and he just doesn't care. He gets fouled all the time in the opposition paint but never slows down or backs off. It is superb. The only reason he isn't leading the league in rebounds is some dude from Montenegro, of whom more subsequently.

It's quite hard to talk about Kevin Love, I am surprised to discover. I just think I have a degree of faith that Kevin Love is unstoppable (except by the Jazz). As far as I'm concerned, he's easily the number one power forward in the Association. Only LaMarcus Aldridge is in this conversation with him right now. He's now top five in the league in boards and more surprisingly points, because over the past couple of seasons Kevin Love has actually become an elite scorer - who would have projected that? Genuinely elite, and he's putting up the fourth best PPG (very efficiently) of everyone in the L. How?

Love's scoring game has evolved since the former Bruin was traded for Ovinton J'Anthony Mayo on draft night. In his first year he looked good but limited. Over the next couple of years he settled down, and started to move out to the perimeter more, culminating in his terrific shooting performance from deep last season. This makes him tough for PFs to guard, so now they've started running him off the line preemptively (although he's still shooting 4 a game). To counter this, Love lost weight, gained agility, and a surprising ability to drive the basket - just ask the Philadelphia 76ers, who got caught expecting KLove to stay outside and paid for it with a tick in the L column. Primarily, though, he's become supremely good at two extra skills: drawing fouls and post scoring. Love's octopus hook (a sort of baby push hook cum finger roll) has become effective from far further out than in previous years and he can now make it from quite a few feet out which makes a big difference to his scoring threat in post-up situations. The fouls have come both from his now-a-superstar status and the amount of activity he puts in on the boards and under the basket going for layups. And when he goes to the stripe, he's pretty much money in the bank - consequently his league leading free throw makes. He could still stand to improve his finishing inside (although he does get fouled a ridiculous amount - see below) because frankly he's missed too many close shots this year. So has the team, come to the think of it.

Love's D is never going to be great, I think that's just something we'll have to deal with. He's not bad, exactly, just not a stopper. I would love to see him get his hands up defending the post more often - hand down, man down, Kevin - but he'll probably never improve that side of his game much beyond what it now is. On the positive side he doesn't kill the team or qualify as easy points for the opposition, and he gets his rotations and positioning mostly right. Plus, constant effort when he's actually playing D, not slapping his forearms at referees. Which leads to my biggest gripe.

He's been whiny this year. Now I'm with him that he gets hacked a lot for no-call, but come on now, KLove. Get back on D, and get the next foul call. And don't get suspended for stepping on faces any more. That sucked. It's rather good to see he has toned down the moaning in the wake of Stepgate, but with any luck he'll be able to find that edge between the fired up anger that makes him work and boiling over and losing his focus. Also in the negative column has to go his 2.5 TOs per 36. He handles the ball a lot in big minutes but that could stand to drop to sub 2.0 optimally. He gets picked in the post far too much. His assist numbers are down, but that's probably not a hugely bad thing since it implies we are actually going to our best scorer.

Overall, grading Love was tricky, because my minimum expectations are already a season best game for normal NBA ballers. I have to give him an A+, honestly, because he's added to his game in ways I didn't anticipate. Reducing his weight and staying just as strong has been absolutely key - now he's a lean mean machine. Couple his continually evolving game with his repeated coming up in clutch situations and you have your NBA superstar and franchise lynchpin. Also, he is challenging for Beard of the League (although the mighty James Harden is still king), and you gotta respect that.

GRADE: A+

Darko Milicic

4.9 pts @ TS% .446, 3.7 reb, 0.3 ast, 1 blk, 1.1 TO in 16.3 mins

PER: 9.6 WS/48: .021

That Darko has a higher WS/48 than Wes is... let's put it as "not good" for Johnson.

Milicic is playing his lowest minutes per game since leaving Detroit in 05-06.

Darko-milicic-marc-gasol-mike-conley-2011-2-2-21-10-0_medium

The lefty hook, Darko's only go-to move, is super high percentage. %

The NBA's most enigmatic player? Once, possibly, but by now we really know all we ever will, I think. At least about Darko's game - the man himself is still utterly, magnificently, unpredictably weird: "I don't use banks. I keep [my money] myself." WTF? Checking out Darko's stats for this season (last year was his career high in points per game. Rambis was right! Feed him! Oh wait, it was still only 8.8 ppg. Failed again, Kurt.) shows the numbers for a fairly poor career backup, to whom 20 million Wolfdollars are contracted. Yay Manna.

He has had a couple of good games, it must be admitted, particularly in the special win over the Clippers in which he scored 22 and rejected Griffin like an absolute boss. In our second win over the Mavs, Darko showed that shotblocking potentiality with seven rejections (mostly on Odom, who was special guest at the block party that night.) Otherwise... sigh. Probably the low point was when he cut his hand when dunking. That really summed up Darko Milicic and he bums me out too much to chat about any longer. C, since he was worse than my minimum expectation but not by all that much, and did help us get two dubs. Since Pek has grasped that starting spot Darko has seemed to be pretty much constantly injured, saving one gamewinning tenth of a second.

GRADE: C

Brad Miller

Miller hasn't played enough for any real appreciation of what he can bring. His veteran presence on the bench and understanding of Adelman's playbook makes him, I imagine, a useful locker room character.

Nikola Pekovic

12.5 pts @ TS% .624, 79% fts, 7.3 reb (4.2 offensive), 0.4 ast, 0.8 blk, 2.2 tos in 24.4 mins

PER: 22.4 (2x previous season!) WS/48: .192

PFs p/36: 3.5 - half last year. ORB%: 18.9 - 1st NBA by over 3%! TS% 7th in league. FG% 2nd behind Tyson Chandler with +6 pts per 36. On pace to become one of only six players in league history to have greater than 18 ORB% in more than twenty minutes per game.

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"An obvious offensive foul shown above" - hipity

"Thank God they took Pekovic out of the game." The Bear Andrew Bynum

"PEKKKKKK!" - Cynical Jason

I have a confession to make. I wasn't a believer. I thought Pek was hopeless, to be honest - just another big body with a lack of skills, getting in the NBA because of the size factor. Boy. I was one wrong fool. Sorry Pek. Please don't crush my bones.

Since he recovered from a slight injury and has been getting playing time and eventually starter's minutes, Pekovic has blossomed into a legitimate Most Improved candidate. I can't recall anyone changing so rapidly and dramatically in my estimation. He's gone from "limited, turnover prone backup C" to "unstoppable force of nature" since early January. Finally free of the constraints imposed by constant foul calls and unforced turnovers, Pek has been able to do what he does: move inferior men out of the way with his massive physical strength, grab offensive rebounds and score in the post.

He understands his skillset better than a lot of NBA players and rarely takes a bad shot (that is, one outside the paint). Down in that low box area he has a lot of moves, though, starting with a simple lefty hook. He has an up and under move that is absolute money in the bank, a spin move that punishes attempts to shade him baseline and even a little bit of Dream Shake action (this over Tim Duncan's corpse). He goes glass on his layups from any angle and unlike a certain individual on the team has a nice soft touch on his hooks. He is a great complement to Rubio because he gets into great post position in a number of different ways and has terrific hands to catch in the Pek and Roll and tricky entry passes. UnexPektedly the Montenegrin has also demonstrated that when fully healthy (he rocked up to the NBA this year in great shape, testament to an often overlooked work ethic) he's surprisingly nimble and light on his feet. He plays the roll game better than anyone in the squad, by some margin. Having someone who can set bone rattling picks (I love Pek picks. It must be like running into concrete. B-Easy: "He literally doesn't move") then roll to the basket, catch in traffic and finish is exactly what the Unicorn ordered. The way that he runs the floor aggressively and goes strong to the paint in fast break situations is also very laudable. Plus, the true rim rattling dunks are a fun spectacle.

Pekovic's ability on the offensive glass is not just remarkable, it is historically remarkable. It is fairly unusual for any big minute NBA player to get more offensive boards in a game than defensive - Pekovic does this as a matter of routine. This is probably a function of his post positioning, Kevin Love's vacuuming of the D boards, that he is getting whistled less and his essentially immovable frame. If Love and Pek both get offensive rebounding position then you can forget about getting that ball back, they'll tip it in eventually.

Offensively his biggest weakness is definitely post turnovers now he is avoiding too many three second calls. He gets picked from behind in the post too much, and might benefit from trying to keep the ball higher before taking a dribble. Some improvement with his rebounding and outlet passing might help the team - as will Pek demonstrating that he can pass from the post. I expect plenty of double teams to start coming at him in the second half of the season.

Pek's D isn't elite, but it's not awful either. His biggest weakness really is that once he moves out of his comfort area down low he is pretty poor at closing out to the elbow, the baseline and especially the perimeter. He does rotate well to stop penetration but isn't enough of a shot blocker to really alter shots that much. Cutting down on his fouling has been a big improvement for Pek defensively. He stays more upright when he challenges than he used to and times his post pressure well.

Combined with Love the Wolves have one of the best starting frontcourts in the NBA right now, a frontcourt that provides about 40 and 25 combined on their average night. And they are complementary - Pek owns the post, Love owns the perimeter, and they both crash the boards like caroms killed their dogs. Seriously, try and name significantly better frontcourts. Los Angeles (on their best day yes)? Lob Angeles (no)? Memphis (best in the league, IMO). Utah strength in depth?

One thing about Pek (this is going to sound like a diss, but it honestly isn't)(I know I'm not saying it to his face though. To his face I would say "holy s**t you are one huge-ass motherf***er") is that there is something innately humorous about him. Watching Pek is fun, but it is also funny. He's almost too big - it's like some great cosmic joke. This is a man who is so strong Andrew Bynum is intimidated by him! There's that whole mean expressionless look he generally wears, which even more amusingly masks a genuinely pleasant human being. He provides great material for CH jokes, which I'm sure we all appreciate, but his contributions on court have really given the Wolves an interior scoring presence, the first in some time. High percentage buckets, people, and his awesome Unadjusted and True Shooting Percentages bears witness to Pek's contribution in this regard. He can't have exceeded my expectations more soundly and thoroughly deserves a top grade. PEKKKK!!!!

GRADE: A+

Anthony Randolph

5.8 pts @TS% .558, 2.5 reb, 0.6 blk in 12.2 mins

PER: 16.6 WS/48: .126

Randolph is shooting career highs in FG%, eFG% and TS%

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AR celebrating a victory. He's delighted.

Anthony "Sad Dog" Randolph the Grey has been a disappointment. I think most T-Wolves fans hoped that he would play center minutes alongside Klove. It hasn't really panned out that way, and he's now a casualty of Adelman's rotation shortening, his own inconsistency, and the rise of the Peksecutioner. He's looked at his best this year as a target for Rubio on backdoor cuts and the fast break - he finished off perhaps my favourite Rubio assist so far (hey Jimmer think fast!) - and occasionally starts to completely own everything for about 45 seconds, but overall he's looked like a deep bench guy. Part of his problem is not having a particularly defined skillset in the way someone like Pek does. Is AR a high energy putback guy? A fast break specialist? A point forward? (lol no, AR. No.) A post player? A paint patrolling shotblocker? A midrange pick and popper? I don't really know, and neither does he, and therefore neither does the coach. And that's not good in the NBA, where matchups are key. His stats are actually pretty good, oddly enough, but he isn't getting burn behind KLove and isn't center size.

I hoped he might do better, personally, but you can't have everything. I also wish he would stop looking so miserable all the time. His "I'm a three point play boss YARR" face needs to take some lessons - as (once) our very own Kevin Garnett will demonstrate. KG looks like a total badass. Randolph looks like his house has just burned down and the only thing that could be salvaged was a large unpaid credit card bill. Overall, C.

GRADE: C

Luke Ridnour

11.3 pts @ TS% .538, 33% 3pt, 85% fts 3.7 ast, 2.5 reb, 1.5 tos in 26.8 mins.

PER: 13.1. WS/48: .112

Career lows in TOV% & USG%. On pace for career high total blocks.

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Suck it, Mormons! And also you, Matt Harpring! This play was notable for producing the longest silence in sports broadcast history. Very unprofessional.

Luuuuke! I feel like my main man Luke has come in for quite a bit of unfair criticism when we lose. In my eyes he's easily the fourth or fifth best player on the team. He's the best shooter, certainly, and the only reliable option if we need to space the floor. And we ALWAYS need to space the floor.

I don't know if I've actually expressed this explicitly on the site before, but I really like Ridnour's game. I like his ability to hit open jumpshots off the catch and off the dribble. I like his ability to finish floaters over shot blockers (his silky teardrop over DeAndre Jordan is one of the highlight plays this year) - and to hit gamewinners with it! I like him as a secondary ball handler when teams are putting their best defender on Ricky Rubio early. I like his free throw shooting. I like his TS% of .538 - it's going to trend up if he gets more open threes. I like his career low turnover numbers this year when everyone else is dropping it like it's hot. I like how he's the only guy on TV in America without ridiculously perfect teeth. I even... brace yourselves... like his D.

This is the elephant in the room on Luke Ridnour. He's not a great, good, or even poor one-on-one perimeter defender. He's terrible at it. Terrible. But that's just one thing, and that's why you have defensive rotation. At other defensive duties Ridnour acquits himself very well indeed. He helps on the weakside. He comes strong at double teams at the correct angle. He denies his man. He gets in the lane. He stripped Deron Williams to win the game in New Jersey. The Wolves have a great record for fourth quarter defense, and who's on the floor in crunch time at the two? Luke Ridnour. If certain players on the team with great athletic gifts played D with anything like Ridnour's effort and intelligence the Wolves would be a defensive force, no lie. It's easy to blame Luke when teams are getting in the lane, and it's an obvious matchup to target (although you'll notice that, for example, Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons didn't light him up excessively), but he puts in his maximum effort and plays D to the best of his abilities and personally I appreciate that.

So Luke's not great, then, but he's a very good player who does his best. We are lucky to have a solid guard like Ridnour to back up our Spanish Phenomenon (you know, the guard rotation of Rubio, Ridnour and Barea is definitely playoff caliber). Excepting one stretch in January, Ridnour has had a good season, and I don't think he's getting enough credit for it. He's played better than my minimum expectations for sure and gets himself a B Plus. Then after I wrote this he hit a gamewinner to send us to five hundred - that makes two games Ridnour has won in crunch time and I'm going to kick his grade up a notch accordingly (not least because it let me use the terrible pun in the title! Thanks Luke.)

GRADE: A-

Ricky Rubio

11.3 pts @ TS% .494, 4.4 reb, 8.6 ast (5th NBA), 2.4 stl (2nd NBA), 3.4 TOs in 34.9 mins

PER: 15.7 WS/48: .105

Rubio is behind Mike Conley in STL/G (2.5), but leads the NBA in total steals (80).

Only eleven guards sub 6'5", Ricky included, are averaging four or more TRB/G this year.

Ricky leads all rookies, including the forwards and centers, in total DREB!

Rubio has 140 more assists than Kyrie Irving and only 28 more turnovers.

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Not pictured: horn, halo, chorus of angels.

Oh Ricky. Ricky Ricky Ricky.

I wasn't expecting much, honestly. I don't actually watch foreign or college ball, so it's more or less a blank slate for me regarding rookies. As the time from the draft passed and the rumblings I heard were "Ricky sucks in Barca" I more or less forgot he existed and focused on finding as many derogatory ways to describe Jonny Flynn's game as the English language can express. Turns out, there are lots.

Then he turned up at Target and got straight in the gym, and I remembered.

The footage started coming in, and the talking heads were talking him up.

Then we started the season against Oklahoma, and he got 6,5,5, messed with Russell Westbrook and looked like a quality player. By game three, he was being guarded in crunch time by LeBron James and we had our very own phenomenon. He turned out to be a passer of All-World quality, a defender of ability far beyond my expectations, capable of scoring the basketball, a top drawer guard rebounder and possessed of the indomitable will to win that's the hallmark of all truly great sportsmen.

Rubio is a joy to watch when he's racking up the fancy assists. Some of his passes are just otherworldly. His in-rhythm no-hesitation lead-player behind-the-back left-English broken-play-recovery against Houston last week, for example. I went and tried it. Good lord, Rubio, you are some passer. But the fancy assists are just the delectable icing on the delicious Rubio cake, because he's extremely sound fundamentally. His bounce passes, although they often come one handed on the run between two players while he stares down the opposition bench, are always based on the simple basketball principle that you aim 2/3rds of the way to the receiver and land that rock in the shooting pocket... but I could gush about Ricky Rubio the passer all day, I know he's awesome at it, you know he's awesome at it. Let's just watch the YouTube highlights and grin with pleasure, then move on. Honestly I could go on forever about things I love about Ricky - the behind the back dribbles! The ball handling! The warrior spirit! The Rubioops! The beard! The juego de pies! That picture with Jason Kidd! The ball fakes! The head fakes! The Nash tightrope! The court vision! The fast breaks! The hilarious Spanish bandwagon that came along too!... and so on.

When he was being projected before the season we continually heard that Ricky Rubio would be incapable of scoring points in the NBA. I even read he would have trouble cracking double figures. This has turned out to be hugely untrue, and Ricky can score, but even the most ardent Rubifan will admit it's the part of his game he most needs to work on. When his feet are set he has a pretty decent stroke from three (just ask the Clippers) although it does come out with a desperately slow release. From midrange he really lacks a stroke pulling up - if he can get that shot to 45% he'll be an All Star. In the paint Ricky can finish, but misses too many bunny layups and gets blocked at a high rate. He is a very nice foul shooter (1-6 against Utah notwithstanding). It's the midrange game where he needs to put in the offseason work, and maybe shooting threes off the dribble. I'm willing to bet he'll be a good shooter within a few years - at least, good enough to open the floor for his passes.

As awesome as all this offensive Ricky Business is, he also shines as a defensive player. One of the first things you notice about him is that he's a big NBA point guard at 6'4" with extendy long arms. Combined with his quickness, IQ and competitiveness, you have all the ingredients of an elite on-ball defender. I don't think it's hyperbole to suggest that Ricky is already a top ten defensive guard in the league. His league leading steals don't do justice to the amount of deflected passes he gets and the plays he breaks up. His only real flaw defensively is in the post, where he has no experience. Another stronger guard can work him down there - fortunately, there aren't many great post up guards around these days.

There are always negatives, and in the harsh light of day it has to be admitted that his numbers have gone down as the season has progressed and the book is out on him a little bit. I'm going to have to disagree with Magic Johnson here (per Zgoda in the Strib) and argue that teams do gameplan for Rubio as much as they do for Kyrie Irving. It's been crystal clear (to me at least) that teams are playing the numbers and aggressively denying Ricky Rubio's space and driving lanes. Once he gets into the space between the arc and the paint he's in his element and points are forthcoming with gratifying rapidity. If the paint is packed, the easy shot options heavily covered, Rubio has to kick it out in heavy traffic. And if he does get the shot open to his wing, they aren't going in at a high rate. Really, he's struggled to adapt to this scheme (although he's still getting those assists - he only needs the slightest defensive lapse), which seems to account for the lower assist numbers: he just isn't making the halfcourt offense tick with the same panache. I also feel like he doesn't use the screen as well as he optimally might - he needs to get closer to Pekovic especially and really make those defenders smash into the bone rattling picks. Too often Rubio's defender has enough space to slip around Pek without entering the "Pain Crucible", as I have just now decided that fighting over Pek screens will henceforth be known as. Rubio doesn't fight over screens that well on D either, so we'll call that his secondary area of improvement.

What's Ricky Rubio's ceiling? Hard to say, but to my great pleasure it seems not improbable that he can be Steve Nash with fewer points and more defense. Every time he does something Nashty (the baseline tightrope off the pick and roll and swing pass in traffic is CLASSIC Nash, for example) I get a little tingly inside. Absolute worst case he's going to be a solid starter for many years to come, and always worth watching. More moderately, we might hope he becomes a Rajon Rondo type player.

Overall... well, what is there to say? In 30 games he's up there with my favourite players of all time, and I know I'm not alone in that. They say good things come to those who wait - and we waited a long time before our good thing rode in astride a celestial unicorn to save Minnesota basketball. I'm always excited to see what he's going to do next and I've hopefully got many years ahead with that excitement. After the last six years, I would have taken a lot less than that. Hooray! I have to give him an A plus simply because he's exceeded even the most optimistic hopes I had.

GRADE: A+

Anthony Tolliver

3.6 pts @ TS .490, 3pt% .271, 2.7 reb, 0.3 ast, 0.4 blk, 0.6 TO in 17.5 mins

PER: 6.9 WS/48: .060

AT's scoring is career worst in totals and efficiency since he played for San Antonio in 08-09.

His 3PM/36 is career low at 1.1, among many other per 36 numbers.

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The only thing AT has got in rhythm lately is that karaoke video. Click for a gif of AT's moves.

AT has fallen out of the rotation lately as Adelman has shortened everything down (at the expense of Kevin Love's energy. Tolliver, Randolph or DWill will have to step up if he is going to make to the end). Some of this has to do with his fairly poor play in 2012 so far. "Trolliver", as he is affectionately known to our friends the Minnesota TimberTrolls, is a known quantity around these parts. He's a hustle machine who puts his body on the line, a physical defender and tough shot blocker despite being undersized for a PF, capable of scoring the deep ball (lol Dirk. FIVE HOLE!), is a partner in line of Jesus-based clothing, and is a good locker room and bench presence. I expect he will play more in the coming month, and you know he'll be ready when his number is called. A poor series of games has dropped Tolliver below my expectations to a C+ grade. I hope to see him hit more threes to be more of a factor offensively if he gets back on court in the coming weeks.

GRADE: C+

Martell Webster

5.1 pts @TS% .455, 28% 3pt, 2.5 reb, .3 ast, .7 stl, .5 blk in 17.7 mins

PER: 7.8 WS/48: .035

Webster has never before had a TS% below .500 for a season.

He is having the worst statistical year of his career by some margin.

28% on threes is terrible for Webster (9-32 on the year), and his attempts are down too.

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Drawing widespread derision from the basketball world at large the first dunk ever to get the other bench out of their seats. Ricky is eloquently expressing the Timberwolf responsein the background.

That Martell Webster hasn't been able to beat out Wesley Johnson for the starting 3 spot tells you all you need to know about how disappointing he has been. I'm tempted to end it there, but that would be cheating.

I was quite confident that Webster would have a decent year, having had time to rehab his injury. The sad fact is that it simply doesn't appear like he has entirely shaken off the damage done to his back - back injuries are incredibly tricky and debilitating, and Webster just doesn't seem to have the confidence and balance you would expect of an athlete of his level.

The Wolves need Webster to have confidence in his three point shot, primarily. He hasn't been shooting them well at all and even seems tentative in catch-and-shoot situations, often settling for the horrible one dribble pullup two. On D he's been adequate but not outstanding. The real horror was wrought in one terrible overtime play, which was a miserable lapse from a player of Webster's experience.

Overall I'm going to give Webster a D. He should have beaten out Wes and hasn't. I know he's been injured - if he improves physically we can hope for significant improvement. Good luck, Webster.

GRADE: D

Derrick Williams

7.3 pts @ TS% .506, 4.2 reb, .5 ast, .5 stl, .4 blk in 18.4 mins

PER: 13.9 WS/48: .094

Williams' 3PT% (25%) is down precipitously from his second year at Arizona (56%)

His FT% of 64 is horrible for a guy who gets almost 5 trips per 36.

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ROOARRRRR!!!

The number two pick in the draft has failed to set the NBA alight so far, but he does show flashes of serious potential. Only in the last game before the break did Williams really step up and put on a show. His tough rebounding and high energy were an essential part of that great comeback - his tough and-one to tie the game was just a great play. But it showed a problem for the Wolves: Derrick Williams looks and plays like a power forward.

When DWill was drafted out of Arizona I think most of Wolf Nation was hoping that he would be able to take some of the minutes at our desperately weak wing spot. Unfortunately, although Williams has impressive handle (some of the time) and top-tier athleticism, he's also simply too slow to play the three. He's big for an SF, too - listed at 6'8" but he looks to be at least as big as Kevin Love and Michael Beasley. If Williams wants to be an SF, and get the minutes he probably deserves to play, then he's going to need an offseason's work on his foot speed and finishing on the drive.

Williams does a few things well. His rebounding is very nice, his finishing on dunks is strong (this was a nasty Kodak moment for whoever that is on Charlotte) and his best skill is probably drawing contact at the rim, at which I expect him to be elite when he reaches his prime. This means he will desperately need to improve his shooting from the stripe. He has definitely earned the nickname "Mr. 1 for 2" in that department. Coming in to the NBA, it was thought DWill would shoot well from deep (over .500 in college) but so far he hasn't shown much of that.

Defending is his biggest weakness, and a major reason why his playing time is low. The biggest problem is that he defends with hands not feet, a correctable issue, but he also looks a bit lost some of the time. With extra speed and some experience, he may well turn out to be very solid defensively, but time will tell.

I hoped and rather expected a bit more from the caged lion. If he can roar like he did against Utah, things will be looking up for him and the team. If he is not traded, Williams can still be comfortably thought of as a one or two year project. Whether the team has that time (thanks Kahn!) remains to be seen. B minus. Also he was part of a sucky dunk contest - although I thought his 360 off the edge of the backboard was tasty.

GRADE: B-

Rick Adelman

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Mind powers or epic double facepalm? You decide!

I don't really feel qualified or justified to grade Adelman, for the following reasons. First, I'm not really a great technical basketball observer. Secondly because so much of coaching happens where the fan can't see it - the private chats, the game planning, the practice sessions. But mostly because I would be all "hey Rick, I was thinking about grading you for the season..." and he would be all "bitch please, I've won 60 percent of my NBA games over 21 years, what have you ever done? Now shut up and go and hand wash Pek's jockstraps! And call me sir when you talk to me!" and I would be all "yes sir, Mr. Adelman, can I also clean your car with my tongue?" so it feels a bit presumptuous, you feel me?

The difference between Adelman and Kurt Rambis is night and day. Quite apart from anything else, Adelman recognises mistakes and corrects them (I'm assuming Wes will explode into Wade 2.0 after the ASG here) in time to actually affect the game in any meaningful way. The other day at Houston he went zone - it wasn't working, he switched back. The rotation had been getting out of hand, so he's trimmed it back to the bare necessities while he gets things back under control. Mistakes and missteps are totally forgivable, because it's not like he had a training camp to feel everything out and he's dealing with a group of backup players we might charitably term "somewhat inconsistent." One or two people on the site have suggested we might be winning despite Rick Adelman: I have no sympathy for this opinion at all.

Without sufficient time to drill his offense into our young unit, Adelman has had to rely on a pared down collection of offensive sets and the genius of Ricky Rubio to get a half-court offense. Generally, the Wolves come out in a Princeton offense with four guys on the perimeter and a big body in the low post. Either/both the stretch four or/and post man collapse towards Rubio to start high pick action. Once Rubio is past his defender, he can either hit the five-man rolling to the bucket, the four-man popping to the perimeter or the wings. Our wings either spot up for three/attempt an isolation drive (Wes, Tolliver, Beasley, Webster), cut baseline (DWill and AR love this) or come off the staggered pindown screen (this is the play we run for Luke Ridnour a lot - Rubio screens off Love and Ridnour comes off the Pekovic screen on the weak side). Simple, really. Sometimes we run a little 2-2-1 stack (especially when we have small ball with Love at the five), a 5-out set (AKA the Rubio crunch time look) and more rarely some triangle-y action, primarily looking for post isolations and backdoor cuts.

Slowly, though, Rick has started to introduce some more complicated plays to go with the sets. Occasionally, for example, the Wolves run the high screener on a baseline loop after the high pick and roll. This play can get Kevin Love good looks at a layup or a mismatch in the low post. As Pek has come in and done well, there have been some variations on the simple four weak one strong post iso used typically - they particularly like to run Pek into the deep post off a cross screen from Love. In Brad Miller's extremely limited minutes he's looked for the backdoor cut at a very high rate. The double collapse screen with Pek, Love and Rubio is a nasty one to guard. Some practice time - and maybe a training camp - and the Wolves potentially have a very high powered offense. Right now it's streaky: entertaining, sometimes effective, and using what we have, but still streaky.

DISCLAIMER: The above analysis may be utter bull, it isn't really my metier.

It's on D that Adelman has made the biggest impact. For one superlative thing, Our Puppies actually defend the three point line (looking at you, Rambis; it's only the mathematical difficulty required to work out the difference between 2 and 3, man). Run guys off that, make them shoot two pointers. We have Michael Beasley, we know where the efficient shots aren't. There's a real commitment to D most of the time, which when you consider that the Timberwolves aren't stacked with great or even good individual defenders is quite a coaching achievement. My only slight gripe is Adelman's use of the zone, which I've never been a fan of. I do understand the rationales for why he does it, it's just... I don't know. We never seem to benefit from zoning up and just give up threes far too easily.

Overall, I think Adelman has really done a great job. To get wins out of this mercurial lot is a task that needs patience, experience and a good basketball mind. Thanks Rick, and thanks Kahn for getting him here.

The National Basketball Association

Grade: C+

Eeesh. Let's not have a lockout again, mmmkay? This hasn't been a great year for basketball really. There are too many terrible teams and divisions (heck, there's one terrible conference) and the lack of training camp shows. All Star days 1 and 2 sucked. Even Inside the NBA is worse than it was - although Shaq has got better lately - and network basketball press is just as mindless and obsessive as usual. Exhibit A, Jeremy Lin puns (good for you, though, JLin, I like a point guard who dribbles low to the ground and plays hard). On the plus side, the West is super competitive, with 11 potential playoff teams including our Pack and only one clear WCF contender, the scary good Thunder. I'm gonna give my three candidates for each yearly award and some I invented myself because it basically seems to be the rule that if you write about basketball near the All Star break you have to do this. I don't want to get sued by ESPN, so roll it:

MVP: LeBron James, LeBron James, LeBron James

The dude might be obnoxious, but he's obnoxious and amazingly good at basketball. He should have been MVP last year as well and right now it isn't even a contest. His stats are outrageous.

ROY: Ricky Rubio, Kyrie Irving, Markieff Morris

The first two are 1 and 1a. Personally I'd take the better defender and passer, but other guys prefer the better scorer. Irving is some kinda player though I must admit and would be a deserving winner, and Ricky isn't really a rookie. I really like Kieff Morris down in Phoenix who has good NBA size, skillset and athleticism at the power forward position and is 14 and 8 per 36, but only one of Irving and Rubio is taking home the I Forget Who The Trophy Is Named After Trophy this year.

MIP: Nikola Pekovic, Greg Monroe, Ryan Anderson

I find it hard to look past Pek, even trying to account for homerism. He is destroying all comers right now at the center position. However, I love what Greg Monroe is doing down in Detroit these days. He's upped his scoring really significantly while staying just as efficient. Ryan Anderson has really come alive, especially from deep. (Where's Lin, I hear you cry? Lin hasn't improved, he's actually playing basketball.)

6MOY: James Harden, Mo Williams, Lou Williams

Harden is a great player. Mo off the bench in Lob Angeles has been dynamite. The depth of the Sixers requires recognition - Lou Williams has the best game of that second unit in my opinion.

DPOY: Dwight Howard, Serge Ibaka, LeBron James

Dwight will probably win again but I have to give props to the paint patroller that is Power SERRRRRGE!!! and recognise how spectacular LeBron is on the less glamorous end of the floor.

COY: Doug Collins, Tom Thibodeau, Greg Popovich

The Sixers and Bulls are smartly coached squads - the Spurs have become so good I can hardly believe we beat them, thanks to coach Popovich, who has coaxed a great team out his parts and a "I should be in the HOF with Tim and Manu" season from Tony Parker. He should win if things continue as they are.

Most Surprising Team: The Philadelphia 76ers

They good. They real good. Deep, skilled, smart and extremely well coached Philly is one of very few good teams in the East. From their personnel I would never have called it. Respect deserved.

Most Disappointing Team: The New York Lins

If they hadn't lucked into Lin this would be a ridiculous team. What's the point of having Amar'e Stoudemire and no pick and roll ball handler? That's like hiring Leonardo da Vinci to draw your portrait but throwing away all your pencils.

Team Most Likely To Cause Mass Fan Suicide: The Charlotte Bobkitties

‘Nuff said.

Team Most Unfortunately Irrelevant: The Phoenix Suns

A very sad situation in Arizona. Some of my favourite players, Hill, Dudley, Nash, Frye and Gortat in a completely untenable and non-competitive situation. Sad indeed.

Most Ridiculous Player: JaVale McGee

Ha ha ha he's one crazy fool.

Dunk of the Year: Griffin over Perkins

Um, at least you'll be on highlight reels forever, Kendrick.

Clutch Play of the Year: Kevin Love

"Oh my oh my oh my, is that great basketball or what?" - Hubie Brown

Charles Barkley Joke of the Year: "Come on home, LeBron!"

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