Let's call last night the fireworks game. For the first 95% of the action you sat there on your blanket getting eaten up by mosquitoes and dropping crumbs of potato chips on the picnic blanket while getting annoyed by the screaming kid and the parents who are too busy texting to do a damn thing about their yelling monster who are sitting 10 feet behind you. You keep telling yourself, "This should be festive. I have fond memories of the last time I went to one of these things. What in the hell?"
And then, the finale.
Action posted a nice fanshot of the 2 minute finale and you can read it here. There's not a whole lot to read into that 2 minutes of inspired ball other than a) it was about as fun of a 2 minute stretch of basketball Wolves fans have seen since Corey Brewer hit a 3/4 court shot against Houston 2 years ago, b) Kevin Love is good at basketball, c) the Bucks Pulled a Wolves and Britta'd/Ridnour'd their way to a loss, and d) it pretty much made up for the 46 minutes of intensely bad basketball played before the grand finale (and is exactly the type of game your basketball hating friends like to remind you of: "You only need to watch the last 2 minutes!")
The Dirty Mind:
Last night's performance by Malcolm Lee underscored the importance of guard play to the hopes for competitive Wolves basketball. With Ricky Flair and J.J. Barea (still in need of a good wrestling nickname--the tagteam duo needs to be assembled) back in Minny, Our Beloved Puppies took to the court with visions of slop and turnovers. There was little ball movement, minuscule player movement, and small doses of the inside-out action we saw on Saturday with the tagteam at the helm.
In stepped Malcolm Lee. In 24 minutes he put up a 9/5/4 line with 4 turnovers and a +1. He and Anthony Tolliver seemed to be the only bench players who wanted/could contribute. Granted, he turned the ball over too many times (Leave the 1-handed passes to Ricky!) and he has a long way to go in order to be a decent regular backcourt contributor (which will really underscore the awfulness of the Wes pick when he takes over Wes' minutes in January), but for 1/2 of last night's tilt, he approximated modestly competent guard play in a manner no other player in a Wolves uniform could. This is both something to be excited and annoyed about. Excited for Malcolm; annoyed that a 2nd round pick is going to obviously do what a #4 pick obviously cannot.
Guard play is going to make/break any hopes of .400+ ball this year. While the formula still remains Kevin Love + Rick Adelman (competent coaching) + 2 players worth of average-to-above-average production = competent pro ball (.400-.450), getting 1/2 of that 2-players-worth of acceptable production from the tagteam + Ridnour (again, we need a nickname for this thing) is going to, at the very least, make this whole operation seem a bit more smoothly running than the 1/2 of the production that hopefully can come from the frontcourt grouping of Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams, Anthony Randolph, and Wes Johnson. We don't have a whole lot of game time to go on, but I think it's pretty safe to say that Adelman and Co. are going to build this thing around the pick and roll game of their 2 new point guards. If Malcolm Lee can be added to the stable of players that can contribute to 35-48 player minutes of competent guard play/night, that will be amazing.
The Chaos and Disorder:
Long stretches of last night's game caused flashbacks of last season's talent-deprived action. Wes Johnson couldn't produce off the bench, Anthony Randolph turned in a Randolphian performance, Wayne Ellington started, Michael Beasley was up to his old tricks (my favorite was when he took a bad shot and then ran down the court to deliver a bad foul), Nikola Pekovic couldn't shine in his audition to be traded so that Bonzi Wells can be given a roster spot, Derrick Williams is a rookie, and so on and so forth.
This team is still wildly mismatched and short on competent professional basketball players. One of the best things about Rick Adelman is his avoidance of A System and his willingness to roll with the strengths and weaknesses of who he has available. This dynamic should get the Wolves to, at the very least, last year's Pythagorean W/L record percentage. Even more interesting is that the good and close-to-good players that the Wolves do have are all non-traditional and require something in order to be...well, activated. Kevin Love is great but he's like the Gloom Shroom in Plants vs. Zombies. He requires a bean in order to work in the daytime (click the link--I promise it will make sense).
There isn't a non-shroom (again, click on the link) player on this roster. Nobody can be counted on to do it on their own. On some nights where the tagteam is off its game or unavailable, we might be treated to a product that is very similar to last year's squad. At the very least, this should be interesting to watch Adelman plant his lawn with a quilt-work of mismatched plants in the face of a zombie invasion. (Don't forget the Tall Nuts.)
The Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic:
I don't know about you but I'm not going to sit through this sort of regular season game after the lockout, even if there is an awesome 2 minute finale. I have a bad feeling that the tail ends of back-to-back-to-back affairs are going to be more refundable-worthy than not. If the league and its players owe its fans anything at all this year it is 66 games worth of solid efforts.
This lockout burned me in a bad way and I'm simply not going to deal with the Dog Days of the NBA like I have in years past. I know that this is the pre-season and I don't want my general grumpiness about this particular game to distract from the fact that I am (for me) very optimistic about this year's squad (they have the tools to play .400-.450 ball) However, in terms of the larger NBA picture, I was very close to walking away from the damn thing after the Chris Paul trade nonsense. That lockout was about nothing at all and the fans are the ones who got screwed the most. I'm going to have very little patience for bad efforts and terrible action this year. Maybe last night was simply the result of playing a Scott Skiles-led team that finished last in the league in shooting in 10/11. I'm going to tell myself that this is the case and hope that this type of action doesn't carry over into the regular season.
- There are some good fanshots/posts out there right now. Check out the sidebar and don't forget to rec the ones you like. Now that we're back into the swing of an NBA season, I won't have as much space to bump up deserving posts so please make sure to give due attention to the posts that need it the most.
- Kevin Pelton and the good folks over at Basketball Prospectus have put out their yearly Basketball Prospectus guide. You can purchase it here. If you want a sampling of the content, they have put up the player card portion of the Minnesota Timberwolves section. I can't recommend these guides enough. I always get a copy.
- Last night's shot chart was a mid-range abomination on both sides of the action. Again, maybe this is just the result of the Bucks' style of play. Either way, it was also a mind-range abomination. 3s, free throws, shots in the lane. No more open looks from 3 converted into dribbled-into shots from 18 feet. We're looking at you, Mike Beasley.
- Stylistically, I'm glad I'm not a fan of the Bucks. They are terrible to watch. Winninglistically, I like their chances this year if Bogut can stay healthy. They'll struggle to shoot the ball but they've really upgraded the roster with Captain Jack and Dunleavy, and I have high hopes for Tobias Harris.