Do you know what's really amazing? It's been 12 years now since the Bulls crazed-out intro has meant anything. At some time they have to retire that, right? In the name of karma it almost has to be done. If this site ever gets down to running Simmons-esque calls for me to be hired as an NBA GM, I want the Bulls job. I think I might even do away with the intro before VDN.
Moving on to the game, this is one of those tilts where you really had to feel good about the Wolves' chances, especially when the Big Piranha opened up the scoring with a left-handed hook from the right block, with the glove no less. The Bulls immediately tried to push the tempo on the Wolves, who were on the trailing end of a back-to-back, but they quickly found out that Our Beloved Puppies had their legs underneath them and that Big Al and Kevin Love can run the floor better than it would first seem.
Speaking of Mr. Love, his first time out of the game showed just how valuable he is to the offense. This has been a trend all season long. Love currently boasts a team high +8.14 points/100 possessions compared to when he is off the court. His closest teammate is Al Jefferson at +4.49. Tonight clearly wasn't his best game but it is yet another example of the fact that he is the straw that stirs the drink for the Wolves.
Wayne Ellington can really run a nice pick and roll. He had two nice plays in the Indy game and he came right out tonight with a fantastic play with Ryan Gomes in the first quarter. His ability to run plays, rebound, and defend have really made him a nice option over the past 10 games. The only big problem I see with him right now is that he doesn't appear to know exactly when he should shoot the ball. He needs to become this team's fisherman: a master of the catch and release. When he comes off the pick, he will often take one or two many dribbles which takes him too far into traffic instead of curling around the pick and immediately pulling the trigger. What is really interesting about this point is that Corey Brewer seems to be a master of the quick jumper off of a pick...he just can't seem to make them. If only there were a way to combine the two players in some sort of crazy science experiment.
One of the biggest items I picked at over and over and over again last season after Big Al's injury was the idea that the big problem the Wolves had were not the loss of Big Al's minutes to Kevin Love, but the loss of Kevin Love's minutes to Mark Madsen, Brian Cardinal, Craig Smith, and Shelden Williams (and yes, that was the Wolves' front court last season). This year, the Wolves' single biggest rotational issue (and one that I have harped on before) is the time when Kevin Love and Al Jefferson are both on the bench. In the past two games this nasty little scenario has led to two significant runs. Tonight, both players left the court in the 2nd quarter and were replaced by Ryan Gomes and Nate Jawai. The Big Aussie ended his short 1st half no-Love/Jefferson stint with a +3 while surprising the Bulls with his nimbleness and soft hands. He posted a similar +4 number in the 34d quarter. That +7 number was a magical gift for the Wolves and it went to waste with a bad 2nd half.
I have seen it written in a few places where Kurt Rambis has encouraged Kevin Love to stay away from shooting a ton of threes. I have no idea why this is the case. The guy can make that shot. In the 2nd quarter Love had a wide open look from straight away with time running out on the clock and he passed it to Wayne Ellington who was forced to take the worst shot in all of basketball: a contested jumper from just inside the three point line. Take. That. Shot.
Let's take another stab at the Jonny Flynn issue. Flynn was arguably the best player on the court in the first half: disrupting passing lanes on d, getting into the lane, scoring at will, etc. However, in the 2 half he reverted to Bad Jonny and he proved, once again, that once the scoring goes away, Flynn doesn't really bring anything else to the court.
This raises an uncomfortable question: If you really believe that Ricky Rubio is the business, then how on earth can you run him in this offense? If the position will be judged by passing off quickly and drifting to the corner, Ricky Rubio is not your man. If the position will be weighed by how well it scores on any given night, Ricky Rubio is not your man. How do you think this sort of play goes over with Rubio's agent? Hey Ricky, come be a part of an offense that will do its very best to negate your greatest strengths!!! This question is almost as uncomfortable as the central Al Jefferson/Kevin Love dilemma: How much will the team give Love if he is better than Big Al?
Getting back to Flynn, I'll say what I have said over and over and over and over: 6 foot star guards are a very rare breed and if you are going to have one on your team, unless he is an otherworldly talent (see Iverson, Allen) he has to be able to create for others (see Thomas, Isiah and Paul, Chris). This is simply not happening right now. Flynn drives to get his own, he dribbles and dribbles and dribbles in one spot without doing anything, he drifts to the corner where no one expects him to cut again or get a kick out...you get the picture.
When his shot is going, things are fine and his scoring punch somewhat makes up for the Wolves' general lack of proficient perimeter play. When the shot isn't going, the team is a train wreck. The best example of the night came when Flynn disrupted a beautiful kick around the perimeter that should have ended up in the hands of Oleksiy Pecherov for an open three. Instead of making the one additional pass, Flynn dribbled into traffic, killing the spacing and causing the Wolves to walk away from a possession with a shot that had less chance of going in than an uncontested three and zero points. Flynn has to start showing an ability to do something other than score when he is on the court. He has a very high ceiling as a scorer (amazing speed and handle to go along with serviceable shot and decent outside shooting) but he has showed next to nothing in terms of being able to facilitate an offense. That's problematic. This team has sunk a boat load of assets into the point guard position. They have to walk away from it all with an above average play maker, not an above average 6 foot scoring guard. Take a moment or two to think about what David Kahn said about Flynn vis-a-vis Stephen Curry. Now think about how well Curry would play in the role of drifting to the corner or being the point guard in a system that was previously headed up by guys like Derek Fisher and BJ Armstrong. This isn't so much crying about spilled milk as it is my first question about the new front office's ability to properly select personnel that fit its system. I think it's becoming fairly likely that Curry is more of a triangle point guard than Flynn and that Flynn is more of an NBA scorer than Curry. The problem isn't that one player is better than the other, it's that the front office had their roles criss-crossed. If only they had taken the Stop-n-Pop Drafting Golden Rule seriously: When in doubt, go with the taller guy who can shoot. (BTW: I think both will be good pros. Sometimes it's just a question of fit.)
Over the last 4 weeks the Wolves have been getting to the line like a bunch of demons. They rank 2nd to only Denver in FTAs over that period with 29.21/game. Thank you Kevin Love. Again, thank you Kevin Love. Last night the Wolves only managed 24 FTAs. At several points during the contest their offense simply stopped attacking the lane and settled for long range jumpers. The Wolves are not the type of team that can afford to stop the ball movement and attacking the paint. Part of this problem was having to go with a lineup that relied heavily on Pecherov (nearly 10 minutes) and Pavlovic (nearly 24 minutes) but it was occurring with the starters in there as well.
Love and Big Al were thoroughly outplayed tonight.
Aaron Gray missed two ridiculous bunnies in the last 2 minutes of the game.
On a night where the Wolves fell to the Bulls, the Wild showed the ballers what they are going up against for the Minny winter audience by coming back from 4 goals down against Chicago at the best arena in all of professional sports. In a state where high school hockey games are broadcast on TV and where you see more pick up hockey games than pick up basketball ones...well, the Wolves will have to be pretty damn good to compete with the product on the other end of town.
Well, that about does it for tonight. We'll see you later.