Bet you were expecting this to be the Michael Beasley parade, huh?
Well, Beasley did pour in 42 tonight in what was perhaps the most entertaining basketball game the Wolves have played in years, but there was a lot more going on than just Action Mike tonight. This was a team effort, start to finish, and a little more accurate look at what this Timberwolves team could become.
Let's start with the obvious: Michael Beasley isn't going to score 42 points every night. He isn't going to shoot 55%, or make 2/3 of his deep jumpers. Likewise, Sebastian Telfair isn't going to go 8-14 very often. This is one of those games that...as S-n-P said after last night against the Lakers...you enjoy when it happens, but understand it's well above the norm.
That said, there was an avalanche of positive things that happened tonight that might be a little window into things to come for this team.
First up are the rotations. Kurt Rambis must have read our complaints from last night, because his substitution pattern was dead on tonight. Out of Love, Beasley and Wes Johnson, at least one was on the court every single second of tonight's game. Further, Rambis made smart substitutions, mixing the right players together at the right times. Most telling was the decision to sit Kevin Love for most of the third quarter after he had more or less slept through the first half, but then trusting him to come back into the game in the fourth to finish things up. Love proved up to the challenge, hitting all three of his shots, two of his free throws, and grabbing 3 boards in the final period. Further, all the starters except Love played over 30 minutes (Love finished with just over 28), with the hot hands of Beasley and Telfair both playing over 40.
As for the players themselves, the team bucked the trend of falling off a cliff in the second half. At halftime, the score was 51-45, with the Wolves shooting 51%. For Canis Hoopusters, that generally leads to the assumption that the team will proceed to shoot somewhere in the 30s in the second half, and finish the game with a 20 point loss. Not so tonight. The Wolves finished the game with a FG% of 47%, including 36% from three. And while the 60% from the line does need work, it was encouraging that the team got to the line more often in the second half....12 FTA after halftime, as opposed to just 8 before it.
- Wesley Johnson came in with a very good performance tonight. 12 points on 5-8 shooting, 7 rebounds, 2 assists. He also played solid defense for the second night in a row, including setting the tone on reigning Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans, and his potent slashing game. It'd be nice to see some more aggressiveness from him (egomanic-ism, as S-n-P would put it), especially in terms of getting to the line (no FTAs for him tonight), but as a complete package, Johnson is right there. He can shoot, rebound, move the ball, defend. I personally can't find enough good things to say about him at this point.
- Corey Brewer likewise played very well. Offensively he was his usual roller coaster (his one make in five attempts was a wild skyhook running full speed as he was falling down), but defensively he was an absolute terror, disrupting passes, contesting shots, double teaming, and forcing turnovers. It got to a point that the Kings started getting nervous just inbounding the ball when he was on the floor. Corey only got credit for 2 steals, but he probably had a hand in 6 or 7 of Sacramento's 19 turnovers.
- Nikola Pekovic played an efficient, if quiet game, scoring 4 points and grabbing 4 rebounds. More importantly, he wasn't a defensive liability for his 16 minutes on the floor, which is important since the team seems to have decided to go with a more sane rotation at the 5. Koufos didn't see the floor at all tonight, with the 48 available minutes at center getting split between just Darko and Pek. It's really for the best, since any position by committee is generally a bad idea, but for it to work, Pekovic has to not be a red carpet on defense.
- Pek did, however, continue his fouling ways. 4 fouls in 16 minutes.
- For the record, Cousins only committed 1 foul tonight (he's been averaging almost 5 fouls in just 22 minutes so far this year) Sorry for those of you looking forward to the Fouldome matchup.
- Kevin Love had a hard time finding his offense early (0-6 through the first three quarters), but he rebounded at his usual high clip, and his defense on Carl Landry and Jason Thompson was much improved from the season opener. He found his game in the fourth, when it mattered. As Jim Peterson said in the broadcast, it's not so much how many points you score, as it is when you score them. Kevlar came alive at exactly the right time for the Wolves tonight.
- Darko Milicic is showing signs of life, people. Ok, his shooting wasn't any better....just 4-12 tonight, which is about par for the course for him this year....but he was rebounding, moving the ball (his 4 assists led the team in this one) and playing some solid help defense.
- FYI, his 2.6 bpg average is 4th in the league right now, even though he's playing just 22 minutes a night on average.
Speaking of defense, that was as much of a story as Killer Beas tonight. The Wolves held the Kings to a respectable 44% shooting, and forced 19 turnovers. Some of the numbers are a little deceptive....the Kings did miss a number of wide open three point shots....but for a team that has been lambasted over its defense to start the season, the last two games here in Cali should be taken as a very positive sign that the team is starting to get it on the defensive end.
Most impressively, the Wolves completely shut down Tyreke Evans. 'Reke shot just 1-5 en route to a 5 points night. But the real kicker is the Wolves got him fouled out with their defense....5 of Evans' 6 fouls were charges, with the last one coming as Bassy stepped into his path in the open court. Jim Peterson talked before the game about how the Wolves were going to need to build a wall of blue jerseys in the paint to contain Tyreke, and they did that with perfection. Sometimes literally...on at least two of Evans' charging calls, there were at least two Wolves standing in his path, shoulder to shoulder.
We'll see if this is a high point on the roller coaster, or if it's going to become a trend. For the time being though, it's nice to see the team put together a coherent defensive strategy and actually execute it well. Last night, a lot of abnormal thing happened. Most of the positive things we did against LAL aren't repeatable. Not so much tonight. A lot of the good things the Wolves did against the Kings could become fairly regular with time, practice, and experience.
Then, of course, we have Beasley. Action Mike. Killer Beas. BeasTley.
The thing about saying 40+ games don't happen very often, is that it doesn't happen very often. It's an outlier....but it's also something special. If I did the research right, the last time a TWolf put in 40 points was April 8th, 2008 when Jefferson dropped 40 on the Bobcats in a 119-121 losing effort.
The Wolves have, historically, not been blessed with dynamic scorers. Kevin Garnett could put points up on the board, but we wasn't a scoring force like a Chris Webber or Karl Malone. Scoring sort of middled in his list of priorities. We've had a couple dynamite scorers of the troubled variety (Isaiah Rider, Ricky Davis and Rashad McCants), but woe to the team that tries to build a future on those shoulders. The only blitzkreig shooting force I've ever liked in a Wolves uni has been Sam Cassell.....and now Michael Beasley.
This is the kind of thing we're talking about when we say "Here's what Beasley can do on offense......
......he're what the rest of the team can do." He is a shot creator. For himself, for others, everything. It's an ability every team needs somewhere on the roster. Here at CH, we're very big on efficient players, and that's fine, teams need those too. A lot of them. But a team also needs a hierarchy, which is something a group of merely efficient players won't get you. Beasley is the kind of talent that can force the action when the defense doesn't give us an obvious open man, and that's what separates him on the offensive end. The ultimate hope, of course, is that Beasley can become both dynamic and efficient.
Speaking of which, you'll be pleased to know that Beas did, in fact, follow the 10-10-10 rule tonight. His shot chart says he took exactly 10 shots within 8 feet of the basket, and his box score says he attempted 10 free throws. Granted the 10-10-10 rule is more, in the words of Captain Barbosa, like a guideline (it's more about ratios than actually taking a hard and fast 10) but if you're going to put up 31 shots in one game, you should be able to actually, physically take 10 of them from the paint. Beas also took smart shots....when the defense loaded up on him in the second half, he didn't go crashing around trying to put shots up over double teams. He moved the ball and let his teammates establish themselves some, then went back on the attack when the defense stopped crowding him.
Beasley is now 5th all time in single game scoring for the Wolves. Garnett leads the way with a 47 point performance, and also shares second place with Wally World and Tony Campbell (each had a 44 point game with Sota)
What the Wolves displayed tonight was a total, complete effort from the opening tap to the final buzzer. Beasley did steal the show, but he hardly did it alone, and if the rest of the team can play the way they did tonight....especially when Ridnour, Flynn, and Webster are on the floor....we'll be winning a number of games, even when Beas isn't a one man army.
Finally, to wrap it up, a few comments on the Kings:
- This is a vicious team. Several of you noted that in the game thread. These guys are big, physical, and play with attitude. The chemistry isn't there right now, but just the physical beating you're going to take from these guys is quite something. Very very different from the Webber/Peja/Bibby finesse style they used to be known for.
- They're also really big. Cousins, Dalembert, Landry, Jason Thompson, Darnell Jackson, and we didn't even see Hassan Whiteside. That's a ton of height and weight to be throwing around.
- Speaking of which, anyone interested in trying to pick up Jason Thompson? He seems to be the odd man out in the rotation now, and I'd much rather see him manning the middle for us than Koufos. I think JT has the right blend of size and skill to be a competent Triangle big man, which would take pressure off of everyone.
- Jim Peterson made the obvious comment of the night when he said Omri Casspi is a good basketball player. Ya. He is. He looks lighter too....he was pretty heavy at the end of last season.
- I'm still not sure how this combination Evans/Cousins duo will work out. I think we saw a little bit of the problem tonight. Both are fantastic individual talents, but until one develops a consistent midrange jump shot, they essentially occupy the same airspace on the court. The paint is a crowded area as it is...if both are going to do their damage exclusively from it for the balance of their careers, they may not find real chemistry playing together no matter how hard either works. We'll have to see.
Welp, that's it for now from the S-n-P substitute. Wolves return home for a Friday tilt with the Knicks, so until later all...