If somebody were to tell me the Wolves would be missing 3 out of their 4 most productive players for a game against the odds on favorite to represent the Western Conference in the finals, I would have told you the Wolves would trail by double digits for most of the game and the hometown fans would be treated to heavy minutes from the end of the visiting team's bench. For some reason the Wolves decided to make a game of it, and I was glad to see it.
A couple of things became very clear by the end of the game. First and foremost, the Wolves do not have an answer to Kevin Durant on either end of the floor. Second, the Wolves need to spend some time working on their free throw shooting because they lost this game at the line over the course of the night.
In a couple ways this game was a tale of two halves. Not nearly to the extent the game in Denver was, but it was definitely noticeable. It had little-to-nothing to do with the scoreboard either.
On to the grades. Each player will be receiving two grades. The first grade will be based on how I felt the player compared to an average NBA player at that position. The second grade (in parentheses) will be based on how I felt the player compared to what I've come to expect from them over the course of this season.
A = Well above expectations;
B = Above expectations;
C = Meets expectations;
D = Below expectations;
F = Well below expectations.Nikola Pekovic; Starting Center: A (B). This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following the team closely this year, but I have to say: Pekovic is very good at playing basketball. When you consider the quality of the average NBA center it should come as no surprise that the "Serbian Soul-Stealer" (TM) (all rights reserved - take that Airete!) gets an A for his 14 point, 13 rebound performance. However, I've come to expect more from him. He was one of the main culprits of our poor free throw shooting, and he committed two uncharacteristic turnovers (they weren't traveling violations or three-second violations which makes them uncharacteristic for Pekovic). Still a good game from the big guy, but less than great.
Derrick Williams; Starting Power Forward: F (D). I don't know where his head was at but it certainly wasn't in the game. He was simply unproductive and detrimental to the team while he was playing. He made a couple of nice plays, but for the most part he was out of place on defense and not rotating. Adelman put him on the bench fairly early in the game and never called his number again. This is definitively less than I expect from him, and Power Forward is probably the most stacked position in the NBA at this point so he earned every bit of that F. My expectations of him are fairly low at this point and that is the only reason he salvaged a D in his personal grade.
Wesley Johnson; Starting Small Forward: D (C). When your starting small forward only plays 19 minutes without being in foul trouble for the whole game ("Way Wide Wes" (TM) (all rights reserved) got into foul trouble early but did not remain in foul trouble after the first quarter) it's safe to say he had a poor game. He shot 33% from the floor and scored only 8 points, but at least he made all 3 of his free throw attempts. As for his personal grade, this is pretty much the exact average game I expect out of Wesley Johnson. He played only modestly atrocious defense, was one for two on turnovers (I count open 3-pt attempts by Johnson as turnovers - because he might as well just be handing the ball over to the other team), but made up for it by earning three free throw attempts in one game. That last nugget is what bumped him up to a C - is that a season high for him in terms of free throw attempts in a single game?
Martell Webster; Starting Shooting Guard: B (A+). I think it says a lot about how poor our wing play is when a personal A+ game is the equivalent of a B when compared to the league average at his position. He only scored 7 points. He only made one of three free throws. But it felt like Martell had a bigger impact on the game than that. He looked good attacking the basket and brought the house down with a tip in dunk - he practically got elbow-deep in the hoop (I think he was propelling himself upward on the back of Randolph, but whatever, it was fun to see). He managed to make a nuisance of himself on the defensive end, and he was doing a pretty good job of rotating - though he left Durant open for 3-pointers a little too often. All in all I thought he played slightly above the level of an average NBA shooting guard, which makes me excited about how the Wolves will look and how good they will be if they can find a way to put an average shooting guard onto the roster with Pekovic, Love, and Rubio.
J.J. Barea; Starting Point Guard: 1st half D, 2nd half A+ (A). Barea was one of the ways this game was a tale of two halves. In the first half Barea seemed like he was actively getting his own shot. He was driving and laying the ball in pretty well, even putting it up over the long arms of Serge Ibaka. I give his performance a D though because he wasn't active on defense, he wasn't getting anyone else involved in the offense, and he started complaining to the refs instead of playing the game when a call didn't go his way. Maybe I'm a little hard to please when it comes to point guard play, but in my opinion the starting point guard is supposed to get open looks for his teammates and get them into something of a rhythm. Barea failed to do that in the first half. In the second half though, it was a whole different story. Barea was creating good looks for his teammates. He got everybody else involved. He was hustling on defense and causing problems on every long outlet pass the Thunder attempted to make. He made a few errant passes that resulted in turnovers, but for the most part he took care of the ball. That's what I like to see from my point guard so for his second half I gave him an A+. As for his personal grade, I look at Barea as an ideal change-of-pace guy. He can be instant offense when needed, but he can also get into the paint and set up others for easy baskets. He did both of those things tonight at a level above what I expect from him, and for that I give him an A.
Anthony Randolph; Back-up Center/Power Forward/Tayshaun Prince: A (B). NBA teams don't expect their reserve big men to produce like this. They just don't. He was even playing some pretty stellar defense on Russell Westbrook in the waning moments of the fourth quarter - highly reminiscent of Tayshaun Prince guarding Allen Iverson in his prime. His shot selection is still questionable a little too often, but I really don't see any way we can let Anthony Randolph walk away at the end of this season if he continues to play the way he has been lately. All I can say at this point is that right now Anthony Randolph is Ice Cream (Caution: Adult Language. Picture Randolph's agent this summer as Johnny Knoxville's character).
Anthony Tolliver; Third-String Forward: C (C). Tolliver pitched in with a Tolliver type effort. I didn't see him do anything particularly good. However, I also didn't see him do anything particularly bad either. He was just kind of there. I feel it's exactly what you'd expect from a third stringer, and exactly what you'd expect from Tolliver. I guess in retrospect I would note how he was switching well defensively - normally this wouldn't be noteworthy but compared to most of what I noticed all night from our other players, this stood out. Just Tolliver being Tolliver.
Michael Beasley; Back-up Small Forward: A (A++). I find Beasley to be a selfish player who falls in love with his jump shot far too easily. Tonight he put up 26 points fairly efficiently with only a handful of poorly selected shots. Plainly put, he brought somebody else's A game. He still didn't get to the free throw line, but he attacked the basket consistently. He had a mismatch most of the night on the offensive end and took advantage of it at every opportunity. His defense was still sub-par, but he made up for it on the other end. We got "Good Beasley" tonight, so we can expect him to make no more appearances this season. Well Played, Super-Cool Beas.
Malcolm Lee; Back-up Point Guard/Shooting Guard: C (B). Lee didn't play a whole lot, but I thought he played up to the level of an NBA reserve Point Guard. He didn't seem to do anything particularly good, but he only made a couple of bad plays, and the team wasn't bleeding points while he was playing. He played soundly tonight, which is a little more than I've come to expect from him over the past few weeks.
Rick Adelman; Head Coach: A (C). There's something to be said about playing the group of 5 guys who are having the most success in the current game. I expect Adelman to be a top-notch coach in this league, and tonight he showed again that he is. Any coach who is willing to assign his reserve center to defend the opposing team's point guard, and have it actually work better than any other option he tried, gets my praise.
The Referees; Three Blind Mice: 1st half A, 2nd half F (C). The referees were the other way this game was a tale of two halves. In the first half I only noticed three calls with which I clearly disagreed. Considering the speed of the game, I'd say that's really impressive. Whatever it was that made them so good in the first half was clearly gone by the time the second half rolled around. It seemed like they couldn't get a call right to save their lives - I counted 15 calls/missed calls that seemed clearly in error. To me it didn't seem like they were playing favorites though, so at least that part is good. They missed calls and made poor calls for both teams. Of course, the officiating this season has been a total $#!+ show, and overall tonight was no different.
It was a much closer game than I anticipated it being before the opening tip-off, but still a Wolves loss. That's my take on how our Wolves fared, what's yours?