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Wolves @ Memphis Grizzlies Report Card, Tuesday 3/27/12

I'll keep things simple and stick to our "school grades" frame this time. Indulging my tendency toward metaphor would result in too many Achilles heels in the kitchen. (See how that works?)

The Wolves may need to do something drastic to pull off a road win in Memphis. I'm writing a little preamble to warm up to the game, and then I'll try out a simple tally system to arrive at my grades.

Lesson Plan:

The Timberwolves played two previous games against the Grizzlies this season, losing both.

On January 4th Minnesota lost 90-86 at home in a defensive game. It was a cluttered affair in which both teams shot just a nudge above .400 for the evening. Memphis wings outplayed their Wolves counterparts that night; while Rudy Gay needed 17 shots for his 19 points he at least played the "volume scorer" role, and Tony Allen was perfect from the floor in adding 20. The Wolves squandered an 11-for-21, 27-point, 14-rebound performance by Kevin Love in the defeat.

By February 8th the Wolves sported three different starters in Ricky Rubio; Nikola Pekovic; and Derrick Williams, who was standing in for Kevin Love during his suspension. Minnesota failed to capitalize on Marc Gasol's (questionable) foul trouble in the first half, and struggled on the boards without Love's contribution. The result was another low-scoring loss, 85-80 in Memphis.

Given the low-scoring earlier outcomes, I wonder about the pace of tonight's contest.

Also, given losses in each of the last six matchups between these two teams (and in the last 5 games in Memphis, by something approaching 15 points a game), a Wolves fan might well class the Grizzlies with teams like Indiana – as a former peer that seems to have taken an extra step, at least for the time being, past Minnesota's level of development. In any case, Memphis matches up well with us. Their perimeter defense is obnoxious to face for a team prone to turnovers, for one thing.

Water main shenanigans: entirely out of the question?

(That scoreboard message was ridiculously reckless and vague. It's lucky there weren't injuries in a panicked rush to the exits, there.)

Classmates: Memphis

"In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."– Teddy Roosevelt

The Memphis Grizzlies have actively made some difficult choices. The Gasol(s) trade is where many fans would focus, but there've been others. For a season and a half, the Grizzlies had both Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley, Jr. on their roster. They made the hard choice to deal Lowry and stick with Conley. They've cut bait early on a high pick in Hasheem Thabeet. After all the attention OJ Mayo got during his rookie season, they nonetheless relegated Mayo to bench duty behind middle class free agent signee Tony Allen, whose elite perimeter defense has been a big part of their emergence from the primordial rebuilding ooze these last two seasons. (Since then Mayo's availability in trades has been a chronic low-boil question for the franchise.) They shipped out Xavier Henry, another recent first rounder, to address a need at PF after Zach Randolph went down earlier this year. And so on. They inked Rudy Gay to a gaudy contract.

This is not a team that's sitting on its hands. We may not agree with all their choices, but they've acted. They have a style of play; their roster makes a certain amount of sense. Presented with obstacles – Z-Bo's injury – they have made moves to address them – Mareese Speights, who was acquired for Henry.

Memphis is only 4-6 for their last ten games, but they're coming off of an impressive road win against the Lakers on Sunday night. OJ Mayo came up big in the 4th quarter of that game, but the Memphis defense was crucial throughout. (Andrew Bynum scored 30.... But then Nikola Pekovic, our pure post scorer, has been out.) As of Sunday Zach Randolph, now healthy enough to play, was still coming off the bench behind Speights. He put up a double double, but he's still getting back into game shape after the MCL injury.

This is Memphis’s version of Minnesota’s Denver home stand. They’ve been on a 4-game trip, and they’re having this one home contest before they head out for six more on the road.

Taking Attendance

Ricky Rubio is out. Nikola Pekovic's ankle apparently will keep him sidelined until at least Friday. Michael Beasley played against Denver, but there's always a chance he'll call in suffering from Shaq's big toe. (Why oh why did he agree to that transplant?) JJ Barea seems to have an extensive repertoire of "Finally I'm healthy and able to contribute!" quotes – a testament to his versatility and leadership off the court. A game after posting a triple double, Barea missed the Sunday tilt with a bruised thigh.

Memphis is missing Marc Gasol tonight, and Zach Randolph's recovery from his MCL injury is ongoing. Gilbert Arenas's sprained ego (will he play in what's billed as his home debut?) and the oft-injured Darrell Arthur round out their injury list. Heal that heel, Darrell.

********************************************************************

Here come the specific grades. During the game I'm going to keep a sheet of paper with our players' names on it. Whenever I notice something, good or bad, I will put a tally in a given player's "Apple for Teacher" or "Demerit" column. (I fully expect to allot Darko Milicic a tally every time I see him sitting passively on the bench, not checking into the game. He may put up a truly superb Apple-to-Demerit ratio in this one.)

Applesdemerits_medium

Go.

Okay, I started writing notes next to most of the tally marks, and also wrote a disjointed running commentary on the general flow of the game as follows:

End Q1:

Grizzlies leading by two, 24-22 despite collecting early TOs from Minnesota and shooting 60% from the floor. Martell Webster’s collection of offensive boards sneaking back on the right baseline stands out for me – those resets mattered this quarter.

2Q:

First three minutes are clutter, backups in. Tolliver draws his 3rd foul. Malcolm Lee playing decent defense on Pargo, looking a little jumpy but doing okay offensively as a playmaker (largely on the right side). Score opens up through a pretty nondescript second quarter. Hopefully Mike Conley, Jr. isn’t seriously hurt; he came up limping toward the end there. Memphis’s shooting is down to 45% now.

It’s 44-41 at the half, though, which is consistent with the previous low-scoring losses Minnesota has suffered in this match-up. Memphis is largely winning the turnover exchanges, though the TO count is equal at 9 and things often just look like sloppy play. That’s Memphis’s game, but we’re hanging with them so far. Honestly, I expect this to play out in a late-game breakdown when Memphis turns up the defense.

3Q:

Open 6-point lead by middle of the quarter, partly as Love starts hitting adroit deep shots. Memphis comes back to 68-67 with a 6-point run while Love’s on the pine. Wolves not rebounding without Love.

4Q:

OJ Mayo trying to take over early scoring. Wolves lose pace. Love loses a potential offensive board to OJ Mayo, and commits a frustration foul on Mayo on the way back. Adelman calls a time out to calm things down. Back within 3 by 8:00 left. Memphis has yet to hit a three in this game.

By the time Derrick Williams appears to take a shot to the eye while being rejected, Memphis is up 7; they convert 5-on-4 at the other end to make it 9. No word on Williams that I noticed. Up to 11 with 3:00 left, Minnesota closes it to 8 and then 5, but it slips back. This is tough, blue collar basketball. Finally Lee and Tolliver go in with :30 left for a half-minute of garbage time, as it’s back to double digits.

The Final: a 93-86 loss to Memphis.

Tallies and grades:

Like I said, I wanted to do something novel and track how many times I simply happened to notice good or bad results from each player. That got a little out of hand, but I'm going to just post the raw notes and then decide on a quick letter.

Malcolm Lee: B+, A pleasure to have in class and a welcome defensive contribution.

Lee got a lot of burn in this one as a point. Defensively he acquitted himself quite well against Pargo, and even when Memphis sent Conley, Jr. back in there Lee had the quickness to stay in front of him. He's a little jumpy looking, a little jittery, offensively, and when the Grizzlies turned up the pressure early in the 4th Lee looked like a kid who hasn't been there before. All in all, though? Not a bad game from Malcolm. His defensive effort will earn him time.

I noticed Lee 11 times for a tally mark, and fully 10 of those were positive. Maybe I gave him too many passes for nervous handling, given that he was a rookie. One of them was also for his grey shoes, which I liked.

Apples: 1 Getting his sea legs early trying to probe the defense with Derrick Williams. Jittery, but does his job. 1 Nice defense on a drive by Pargo. 1 Knocking pass by Pargo from behind. 1 Breaks up another pass. 2 Cuts off Pargo’s drive, then blocks his shot, then draws a foul. 1 Staying in front of Conley’s quickness, creates TO. 1 Nice grey shoes? 1 Called for foul, but decent defense on Mayo drive. 1 Brings Mayo, his defender, into Love, creating a foul.

Demerits: 1 Loses his confidence in his handle against Memphis’s defensive pressure early in 4th quarter. Definitely a case of not having been here much, seems like.

Wayne Ellington: B+

Ellington was well into the game before I assigned his first negative mark, and again, I gave him eight positive marks against that one demerit. I would never have expected to be so positive on Wayne. He was taking it to the basket, especially in transition.

Apples: 1 Drive, lay-in in traffic. 1 Cuts off an attempted back door cut. 1 Beautiful break finish to draw foul. 1 An over-the-backboard attempt at end of shot clock! Novelty point! 1 Nice reaction for mid-range J against defense that got caught flat-footed. 1 Tough drive on 2 defenders, finishes. 1 Sprints back on D to foul Rudy Gay, make him earn the points. 1 Composed fake and made three down the stretch to make it 5.

Demerit: 1 Post pass in to Love out of reach, as Love is bodying defender and can't come back for it. Late TO as a result.

Luke Ridnour: B-.
Luke is simply a backup. It's not that his game detracted from the Wolves today, but Luke is not shaping this team. Late in a game, when you're closing from double digits to get as close as 5 down, Ridnour if anything becomes more discombobulated.

Apples: 1 Layup through defense. 1 Nice lefty snap pass to Tolliver for easy layup. 1 Nice pass to finishing Wes J. 1 Floater. 1 Nice pass underneath for Derrick W. 1 Boxing out OJ Mayo. 1 Mid-range two running to left in poor, unformed possession. 1 Good look to Ellington, despite missed trey late.

Demerits: 1 Can’t get things going on Pargo when Conley, Jr. is out. 1 Moving too much side-to-side for quick mid-range J attempt. 1 Handing it to Williams with ball too deep for a late three. 1 Dumb early floater attempt while game’s getting out of hand in 4th. 1 Burns another late possession on a questionable deep ball. 1 In general, little or no game management from our starting PG down the stretch of a game that, until the last 2:00 or so, could have broken either way.

Martell Webster: A-/B+
Boy do I want Martell to get his shot going. He was effective tonight early, active enough throughout, and came up with a number of possession-preserving rescue plays. (Adelman subbed him out for a bit too long in the second, I thought.) By the mid-4th, Martell had 9 rebounds. His offense was coming around the hoop, though, and not from deep.
Someone needs to tell Martell Webster to stop going to spin moves in traffic. I can't remember those working since his preseason game against L.A. in London at the beginning of last year.

Apples: 1 Traffic rebound. 1 His frohawk is evolving some! 1 Drew foul after an airball by Wes. 1 Collects own long FT miss. 1 Cleanup on bad shot by Williams. 1 Another o-reb, a putback. Sneaking for rebounds on right baseline all First Quarter. 1 Another pickup underneath on snap pass TO. 1 Tough board. 1 Another TO created.

Demerits: 1 Shaky missed 3. 1 Spin move low, blocked. Give up on those spins in traffic, Martell. 1 Ugly three miss. 1 Shaky handle costs a possession in 4th. Always when he spins.

Michael Beasley: D+. You'll be in summer school this year, kid.

Aside from representing a plausible offensive weapon off the bench, Mike was largely in Bad Beasley form tonight. He got the shepherd's crook as a result.

Apples: 1 Corner quick shot made. 1 Touch defensive board in traffic.

Demerits: 1 Bad bounce pass back for TO in traffic. 1 Sloppy defense on Rudy Gay, despite missed J. 1 Shaky bounce pass underneath on baseline. 1 Plays iso ball from waaaay outside, winds up drawing an offensive foul on drive. Not sure how long we saw him after this. Bad Mike Beasley.

Wes Johnson: C, on the Plaid-Pants-in-the-class-picture curve.

Johnson kept his accustomed scoring goose egg well into the second, but showed a bit of offense in quarter three. My notes about him are a mixed bag.

Apples: 1 Feed to Derrick W., layup. 1 Defended Gay well on a made jumper. 1 Breaks up alley-oop to Allen. 1 Decent feed to Martell, though maybe he should have shot. 1 Block. 1 Made jumper. 1 Offensive board and quick snap to Williams. 1 Block.

Demerits: 1 Bricked early 3. 1 Fumbles ball after breaking up alley-oop. (This was worthy of Corey Brewer. Nothing Invisible about that exchange.) 1 Terrible air ball moving to his left, luckily collected by Martell. 1 Scoreless in 2nd Q. 1 Blocked by Gay. 1 After his only make so far, he fouls Gay from behind on a dunk. “In no-man’s land” – J Pete.

Anthony Tolliver: C. This was a generic bench player.

I took very few notes about Anthony, which isn't to say that he wasn't active enough while in the game. Nothing about his performance particularly stood out for me, is the thing, and his offense wasn't falling. Tolliver played a fairly clear "backup C" role, behind Love.

Apples: 1 fouls Z-Bo rather than give him the easy layup.

Demerits: 1 Foul over Mayo on board attempt gets him 3. 1 Badly beaten by Gay for a power dunk. 1 Bad early missed J in transition.

Derrick Williams: B+

Minnesota's starting PF. Williams was active for most of the night. His leaning form on almost everything inside or out drives me to distraction. I wouldn't describe anything he did tonight as passive, in any case. Adelman left him in for big minutes, especially in the first half, if memory serves.

Apples: 1 Left-handed rebound contest over Z-Bo. 1 Decent composure on an open (missed) 3. 1 Claims board away from Z-Bo on right baseline. 1 Rolls it in with nice touch. 1 Forces a hard foul on a TO and break where nobody caught up with him. 1 Breaks up lay-in on Z-Bo, creating a break. 1 Credible aggression from the 3-point line, drive inside for harm. 1 Nice defensive board. 1 Logging big minutes in a game where Wolves are thin. 1 Leaning open three in flow. 1 Nice pass to Martell on baseline for layup. 1 Taps board to Ridnour. 1 Attempts to draw a charge, but no call from refs. Bizarre non-call. 1 Stays with deep layup he’d missed on pass from Luke, drew shooting foul.

Demerits: 1 Contested three well short. 1 Uncontrolled spin, blocked by Cunningham. 1 More out-of-control moves close. 1 Losing his defensive assignment. 1 Unnecessary early 3 missed. 1 Drifts off Gay when switched onto him. 1 Offensive foul.

Brad Miller: C-

Brad Miller played in this game. That's a demerit all by itself.

Apples: 1 Clock awareness to put up terrible three when he's given the ball late; tries to draw harm on it, at least.

Demerits: 1 Seeing him take off his warm-ups. 1 Stupid handoff to Lee with two defenders on him right under our basket, creating TO.

Kevin Love: B

It says a lot about a player when he grinds out this kind of 28-and-11 performance and we're seeing it as decent but unremarkable. Love made his gaffes, and the ball's going through his hands so often that you can't miss those. His defense, particularly on Speights, was lackluster tonight. But land's sakes, is the guy productive. One could make two notes about him on every danged play.

Apples: 1 Fakes to take baseline from Speights, finishes on Tony Allen. 1 Uses glass from mid range. Tim Duncan would be proud. 1 Draws charge on Speights. 1 Cleans up out-of-control drive from Derrick Williams. 1 Offensive tap that also draws harm. 1 Great rebound on botched Wes drive. 1 Steps back for three. 1 Forcing his lukewarm offense to the rim, drawing harm. 1 Three made in loose traffic. 1 Oh, deadly three on left, spinning step back. 1 Steal from Randolph and lay-in. 1 Tough finish on slapping Z-Bo. 1 Silly deep three down the stretch when it had opened to 15. 1 Crazy late Jedi defensive board where ball seems pulled to his hands. (1 Everything possible to force a 3-point play late. He’s playing alone as a scoring threat right now.)

Demerits: 1 Turnover casually throwing to Luke. 1 Bad TO on drive. 1 Loses defensive board, possession ends in an alley-oop to Speights. 1 Not defending Speights well for a stretch. 1 Doesn’t cut off pass over the top from Zach Randolph. 1 Complains on missed jumper over Z Randolph. 1 Frustration foul on Mayo after OJ stole a board.

Darko Milicic, Anthony Randolph: Incomplete.

Rick Adelman: B+

This is either English class or Film Studies. Reading the opening sentence of an Isak Dinesen story, one is immediately aware of the author's distinctive and assured narrative "voice." Some writers, and movie directors, are instantly recognizable that way. Rick Adelman, as an NBA coach, has that sort of voice. Judging a given single game by Adelman, I'm asking myself, "Did that read like a Rick Adelman game?" This was one where he wasn't that present, but as a reader I trust the guy.

Apples: 1 Notable lack of time outs used, as of mid-3rd. 1 Calls a timeout after Love’s frustration foul on OJ Mayo in 4th. 1 Recognizing that Lee was over his head a bit in early 4th.

Demerits: 1 Not sure he’s rewarding Martell’s early hustle by holding him out well into second quarter.


Tom Hanneman: B
Apples: 1 Succinct description of Memphis’s team defense, with pertinent stats to back it. He’s easily the most conscious pre-game announcer when it comes to Memphis’s defensive play.
Demerits: 1 “Clash of the titans tonight in Tennessee.” Cut the generic announcer stuff. 1 No idea why he starts regurgitating the history of the matchup at random times. You’ve already said this before the game, Tom. 1 Says they were down 11 in third, fails to remember that they were also down 11 a couple of minutes ago in 4th.
Jim Peterson: A -
Jim Pete had no negatives, but wasn't extending himself that much tonight. Points for honestly, though.
Apples: 1 Knows Luke usually hits mid-range J moving to left. 1 Noting uniform size of Wolves lineup in 1st Q at one point. 1 Has book on Mareese Speights. 1 Notes Memphis is middle of the pack in terms of pace at around 94 a game. 1 IDs two terrible calls in a row, spells them out. 1 Much credit for correcting himself on a late foul against Derrick Williams that he didn’t see at first. Admitting when you’re wrong is a good trait.
Anthony LaPanta:
Demerit: 1 Generic “tight game down to the finish” prediction. It was a good game; both teams played hard.

Robby Incmikoski:

Apple: 1 Pregame emphasis on “ball security.” Memphis's game is turnovers.

Kevin Lynch:
Demerit: 1 “Zach Randolph is a pretty good defensive player.” Love hasn’t scored well on him, but that needs some qualification to do with Memphis’s team play.
Overall FSNN broadcast and setting:

Demerits: 1 Commercial for how to find the FSNN Plus channel is on the FSNN Plus channel, not the regular FSNN. 1Patronizing “Including others, Pass it on” commercial in which a kid in a wheelchair is put into a soap box racer. We’re sure this isn’t a flashback to how he got his spinal injury, right? And do soap box racers not havefoot brakes?? 1 The entire idea of the “FSNN Girls” is pretty sorry, though they probably are fair sports fans. Nothing against ‘em, but....

Kobe Bryant:
Demerit: 1 Silliest tapered winter cap ever in pregame taped sequence on Love.
Refs:
Demerits: 1 Two bad non-calls in quick succession. 1 At the end of the third, a missed Memphis airball smacks out of bounds with more than one second left, it seems like. The scorekeeper never stops the clock. Martell seems to ask about this. 1 Suddenly in the 4th, Lee gets called for borderline fouls because Mayo’s attacking him. Seemed like rookie calls to me.

There we go. I'm gonna post this sucker, look for the editing engine to give me its usual 17 hiccups, and call it a night. (Forgive the weird blocking and blue colors.... Sigh.)

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