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Posted on: June 4, 2011 2:44 pm
 

Finally, Ricky Rubio

     Ricky Rubio signing a contract to play with the Timberwolves next season is phenomenally good news for the fans. No other way around it. I first got word that he might have signed around 10:00 PM on Tuesday night and like the rube I am, I stayed up until almost 1:00 AM reading a number of news articles, blogs and Twitter accounts on the development. I did the same thing this morning.

     What I found, not surprisingly, is that there is a lot of negativity out there. In what should be a really positive moment for the organization and its fan base there are those who feel the need to quickly bring us all back to Earth. Most of the criticism is based around his subpar stats in Euro leagues. The individuals who speak this sort of criticism are quick to forget the ancient history that was a 17 year old Rubio going head-to-head against Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd in the 2008 Beijing Olympic and in many ways, outplaying them.

     If we’ve learned anything at all about the transition from Euro to NBA ball, and vice versa, it’s that the two styles of play are very different and what works in one does not necessarily work in the other. As a result, the statistics do not necessarily translate.

     First and foremost, the games are 8 minutes shorter in Europe. That alone deflates the numbers. Euro leagues also tend to play a more all-inclusive style of basketball. There is much less focus on individual stat stuffing and more of a commitment to team play. For example, everyone talks about how Rubio only averaged 3.5 assists this season. That was good enough for 11th best in the league. The leader averaged 6.2 assists. Only 3 players averaged above 5 assists. The league leader in points averaged 17.2 a game (fun fact: it was former Timberwolf, Igor Rakocevic). Him and one other guy in the whole league were the only players to average over 15 points. Compare those two tidbits to the NBA this season in which 31 players averaged 5 or more assists and 62 players averaged 15 or more points. The games are very, very different and if you simply read a box score and think that x points here equals x points there, you are sorely mistaken.

     So if in spite of all that if you can manage to overlook the previous paragraph and instead focus on some less than eye popping statistics then I suppose I can admit some skepticism is deserved. Personally, I just choose to enjoy the moment for a while before getting back to basking in the negative. Are we embattled Timberwolves fans not allowed to be excited about something for even a few minutes? Is good news a phenomena that must evade us completely? Is the thought of a star caliber player voluntarily agreeing to play in the state of Minnesota such an abomination that we must immediately degrade the potential (and sanity) of the player? If being a Wolves fan is to live in a state of gloom and disappointment, can signing Ricky Rubio not serve as a little dose of Prozac?

     I really am okay to let the haters hate and watch the money pile up, but where I will interject and argue is on the basis of expectations. A lot of the detractors are essentially saying that Rubio won’t be able to score a lot or single handedly take over games the way a LeBron or Kobe do and so he basically amounts to much ado about nothing. These individuals, I am afraid, are the victims of a poor imagination. They are looking at Rubio all wrong.  He is not LeBron or Kobe or Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook. If we’re insistent on putting a current player comparison on him I’d say he probably most resembles Jason Kidd. A plus defender, good size, floor general, elite passer, questionable jump shot, etc… Rubio also shows glimpses of being a truly transformational player in his ability to conduct an offense in an uptempo-fast break offense. In that regard, an eventual progression to a Steve Nash type is probably his best case ceiling.

     That stuff covers his skill set. If you just look at his physical projections I can see why he wouldn’t look all that different from other top prospects.  Where Rubio sets himself apart, however, is in his intangibles. If you saw the Olympics in 08, if you’ve watched any of the plethora of Rubio highlight videos on Youtube, if you’ve followed the guys career closely  and what some of the top players and coaches in the world say about him, then you know that there are things about Rubio’s game that do not translate to paper. The guy simply has a feel for the game that appears unnaturally natural, made all the more impressive when you consider he is still only 20 years olds.

     Does his jump shot need a lot of work? Yes. Will he need to add muscle mass in order to stand up to the grind of a NBA season? Without question. Could he ultimately fail to live up to expectations? Considering the expectations by many fall right around ‘franchise savior’, yes, I would say there is a decent chance he could fail to live up to some expectations.

     At the present, none of that really matters. What matters is that this is a win for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Whether it puts the team back on the right track, energizes the fan base, sells some tickets, earns the team a little more national attention, makes Minnesota more attractive to free agents, plants the seeds of a big T-Wolves following in Spain or all of the above, Rubio’s arrival is a good thing.

And now, let me leave you with some quotes about the newest Timberwolf…

"He's an amazing defender, that's one thing that stood out to me is how well he pressured the ball and disrupted our offense…He's flashy, he's crafty as well and the passes he did...were kind of amazing."Kevin Durant

"It's crazy what he's already done. I am 23 and I think of the things I've done, but he is only 17, it's crazy! He has already been in the Olympics. I've played 3 years in college and 3 years in the NBA before going to the Olympics. He will come to the NBA to steal my job." – Chris Paul

"This is my third time playing against him, and he is definitely ready to play in the NBA. The kid can play. I felt like in the Olympics he played very well and showed a lot of poise and he reads a lot of things that average players don't."Kobe Bryant

“He’s gotten bigger and he plays outstanding defense, and because he’s a pass-first guard—he’s going to be liked by everybody who plays with him.” - Mike Krzyzewski

“It was great just to test him. He’s a young player and he played great. He really runs the offense well … I think he’s ready for the NBA.”Derrick Rose

"We're very high on him. If they (Minnesota) want to give him up, we're very interested. We would do that in a heartbeat…We tried to trade up to get Rubio. But we weren't close. We would have loved to draft him” – Mark Cuban





Posted on: May 23, 2011 8:58 pm
 

Dedworks 2011 NBA Mock Draft v1.0

You're wondering how to interpret this thing, right? Well, it's fairly self-explanatory. Just know that the number in parentheses after the player's name is my overall ranking of that player based on pure talent and potential.


1. Cleveland Cavaliers – Kyrie Irving, PG DUKE (1)


The Cavs could get creative if they think Brandon Knight is comparable to Irving and as a result, take Derrick Williams here and hope for Knight at #4. In the end, I think they’ll go Irving. The NBA is becoming a league dominated by elite point guards, the Cavs can’t pass one up. The only question that remains: who wants Baron Davis?

 Other possibility – Derrick Williams or Enes Kanter, likelihood of either: low


2. Minnesota Timberwolves – Derrick Williams, SF/PF ARIZONA (2)

If Ricky Rubio signs, as is rumored, getting the #2 pick is probably just the same as getting #1. There is no question they will shop this pick and it seems like there could be a fair amount of interest in either Williams or Enes Kanter, especially if the new CBA lowers the cap and teams around the league look to cut salary. If they can’t turn this pick into a borderline star they’ll probably take Williams, although Kanter also makes a lot of sense.

Other possibility – Kyrie Irving (steal) or Enes Kanter (reach)

 

3. Utah Jazz – Enes Kanter, C TURKEY (3)

In my opinion, there are three no brainer top 3 picks in this draft and they are represented by the top 3 picks in this mock. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if by June 23 Kanter has auditioned himself into the top 2. He’s big, strong, offensively gifted and quick for his size. As a prospect, the only thing he’s not is a shot blocker. This would create a bit of a jam in Utah’s front court but I’m guessing they’re done with Mehmet Okur and will try to move either Al Jefferson or Paul Milisap this offseason.

Other possibility: There’s a decent chance they’ll take Brandon Knight here instead. All depends on how they view Devin Harris in their long term plans.

 

4. Cleveland Cavaliers – Jan Vesely, SF CZECH REPUBLIC (7)

If the Cavs don’t deal this pick I think they’ll go for a homerun. Any foreign player is tough to project in the NBA and so by default one taken this high is a big risk/reward pick. That being said, I think the Cavs view JJ Hickson as a solid big man to move forward with along with Irving. Vesely’s game has flashes of Dirk Nowitzki and Andrei Kirilenko and is fairly NBA ready. He'll be the first Euro after Kanter off the board.

Other possibility: If Enes Kanter falls there’s no doubt he’s the pick. Kawhi Leonard has an outside chance, as well.

 

5. Toronto Raptors – Brandon Knight, PG KENTUCKY (4)

Truth be told, I don’t know what the Raptors will do here.  Andres Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis are likely building blocks for the future.  They have Jose Calderon at point but he’s not a long term option, so I think they take the best player available in Knight.

Other possibility: Kemba Walker is likely if Knight is already gone. Jan Vesely will get a long look, but there could be some redundancy issues with him and Bargnani.

 

6. Washington Wizards – Marcus Morris, PF KANSAS (14)

Morris isn’t anything to get excited about (that was last year when they got John Wall) but he could end up being one of the safest bets in this whole draft. He plays hard and is good at everything you’d want a PF to be good at. This, of course, assumes they aren’t sold on Andrey Blatche as a legit starting piece. If they are, this pick will be different.

Other possibility: Kanter has said he wants to go to the Wiz so they may find a way to move up and get him. Also, if they lose Nick Young I think Alec Burks has a great chance of going here.

 

7. Sacramento Kings – Kawhi Leonard, SF SAN DIEGO STATE (11)

The Kings have a lot of wing players but none of them are very good. I get the feeling they aren’t pleased with the development of Tyreke Evans, especially as a makeshift point guard. They’ll think about taking a true point but the next best one is Kemba Walker and a Evans-Kemba backcourt would probably set the record for all time fewest assists by a starting guard duo. Leonard is a safe and slightly boring pick but he has very little bust potential and will compliment Evans and DeMarcus Cousins well as a guy who doesn’t need the ball to be effective.

Other possibility: Brandon Knight is their #1 scenario. Their #2 scenario is probably trading the pick. Leonard is #3. Marcus Morris is #4.

8. Detroit Pistons – Bismack Biyombo, PF CONGO (6)

They’ll be looking for Ben Wallace v2.0 when they make this pick. It will be fears of Darko Milicic v2.0 that will prevent them from taking the better overall prospect, Jonas Valenciunas. At first glance, Biyombo would make for a slightly unorthodox pairing with Greg Monroe but their games actually complement each other well. Together, the pair could grow into one of the most defensively dominate front courts in the league.

Other possibility: They need almost everything. Taking an upside player like Jonas Valenciunas wouldn’t be a surprise.

 

9. Charlotte Bobcats – Kemba Walker, PG UCONN (9)

 Michael Jordan has a track record of drafting proven college players who have questionable upside in the pros. I suppose taking Kwame Brown first overall will tempt you to play things a little safe from there on out. Walker will fill a major need for the Bobcats at the very least, bring some excitement to a somewhat forgotten franchise.

Other possibility: Speaking of needing almost everything. The Bobcats can go in any direction. Kawhi Leonard to replace Gerald Wallace, or even better, a dude I love as a pro, Chris Singleton.

 

10. Milwaukee Bucks – Alec Burks, SG Colorado (5)

Michael Redd is technically still on roster. John Salmons was underwhelming at best last season. The Bucks need help on the wing. Burks isn’t a great shooter but he is underrated in almost every other regard. He’d be a great pick at this spot.

Other possibility: They might opt for the better shooting SG in Klay Thompson or look to replace the Drew Gooden mistake and opt for Tristan Thompson.

 

11. Golden State Warriors – Jonas Valenciunas, C LITHUANIA (13)

The Warriors will do everything in their power to get rid of Andres Biedrins and his bloated contract. That will leave them with a severe lack of size in their frontcourt. If, and this might be a big “if”, Valenciunas is guaranteed to leave Europe and play in the NBA next season they’d be getting themselves a heck of a center prospect. GSW has shown in past years that they aren’t afraid to take projects, like they did with Anthony Randolph and Brandon Wright.

Other possibility: Bismack Biyombo would be the rim protector they need. Or they take the other big Euro, Donatas Montiejunas.

 

12. Utah Jazz – Jimmer Fredette, PG BYU (12)

Last year the Jazz sniped the hometown destiny pick of Gordon Heyward going to Indiana. This year maybe the Pacers will find a way to move up and return the favor. Jimmer would enter into a great environment in Utah. The fans already love him and he could develop his game behind Devin Harris for a season or two before the reigns are fully handed over.

Other possibility: They look at a wing like Leonard or Singleton. Kemba, if he falls, is an option here, too.

 

13. Phoenix Suns – Tristan Thompson, PF TEXAS (15)

The Suns could go after Steve Nash’s replacement but there isn’t anyone available who fits the bill. Thompson will give them an actual inside presence to offset the entirely outside presence that is Channing Frye.

Other possibility: If The Jimmer falls they’d love it. Otherwise, they’ll be glad to take either Marcus or Markieff Morris, in that order.

 

14. Houston Rockets - Donatas Montejiunas, PF LITHUANIA (21)

Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of this guy. I do, however, understand why scouts like him so much. He’s basically a clone of Andres Bargnani, or rather a clone of what people hoped Bargnani would be come. With the team already having begun the gradual descent out of the playoff tier of teams in the Western Conference, the Rockets will look to replace the massive hole left by Yao Ming.

Other possibility: Hometown kid, Jordan Hamilton, is a lethal scorer and would fill a major need for them on the wing.

 

 

The rest of my Top 20 prospects not listed above...

- Kenneth Faried, PF MOREHEAD STATE (8)

- Chris Singleton, SF FLORIDA STATE (10)

- Josh Selby, PG/SG KANSAS (16)

- Klay Thompson, SG WASHINGTON (17)

- Jordan Hamilton, SF TEXAS (18)

- Marshon Brooks, SG PROVIDENCE (19)

- Reggie Jackson, PG BOSTON COLLEGE (20)



Category: NBA
Tags: draft
 
Posted on: May 14, 2011 8:43 pm
 

My Lottery Pick Prospects in 50 Words or Less

1. Kyrie Irving, PG Duke – Critics knock this draft’s talent level but in an alternate reality he had been in last year’s class he would have gone third, after only John Wall and Evan Turner.  Washington is the only lottery team that would pass on him with the #1 pick.

2. Derrick Williams, SF/PF Arizona – Williams combines the respective games of Josh Smith (big but doesn’t play like a traditional big), Channing Frye (great outsider shooter for his size) and Michael Beasley (quick step with a fair degree of boom or bust potential).

3. Enes Kanter, C Turkey – Euro who took the rare approach of attempting to play US college ball (NCAA banned him). Given his strong frame and experience in pro leagues, I have to believe he would have put up gaudy numbers on a Kentucky team starved for a post presence.

4. Bismack Biyombo, PF/C Congo – An admittedly one dimensional prospect, but so potentially dominant at that one dimension, defense, that he might warrant a pick this high. Concerns about his true age aside, a Serge Ibaka-like projection is very realistic.

5. Jan Vesely, SF/PF Czech Republic – A lot of Dirk Nowitzki projections have been haphazardly made over the years for a slue of Euro prospects. I believe Vesely is the first one who actually possesses the overall athleticism and well rounded game to, however unlikely, pull it off.

6. Alec Burks, SG Colorado – He’s every bit the prospect Evan Turner was. People will knock the fact that Burks played at a smaller school but in games against Texas, Kansas, Baylor, Missouri and Kansas State he averaged over 20 points. Like Turner, he’s not a great shooter. Unlike Turner, he’s got NBA caliber athleticism.

7. Brandon Knight, PG Kentucky – Super high turnover rate came down as the season progressed, as did his overall performance. Knight vaulted himself into top 5 pick range with an outstanding NCAA tournament. I have a suspicion he could end up being one of the steals of this draft.

8. Kenneth Faried, PF Morehead State – The small school thing doesn’t bother me. He averaged 13 rebs over the season, including a 17 reb effort vs. Louisville in the NCAA tourney, as well as 20 pts/18 rebs against Florida and 15 pts/12 rebs against Jared Sullinger and Ohio State. The intensity and passion he brings are outstanding.

9. Kemba Walker, PG Connecticut – Great talent, intangibles and leadership. His 6 foot height doesn’t concern me as much as it does others. My hesitation is that given Walker’s tendency to dominate the ball, he would need to go to a team that would fully turn the reigns over to him. Is he that great of a talent?

10. Chris Singleton, SF Florida State – Singleton has the size, strength and speed to guard the 2-4 positions depending on the matchup. He has the rare potential to be a true lock-down defender in the NBA. Not a great offensive player, but not a liability either.

11. Kawhi Leonard, SF San Diego State – A safe and somewhat boring pick, but also a very solid pick. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if when all is said and done he's being drafted in the top 5 picks. Good defender and great rebounder for a SF. A prototypical wing who didn't get a lot of attention at San Diego.

12. Jimmer Fredette, PG BYU – Is #12 too high to draft a 6th man? I think Jason Terry has shown it can be worth it. Fredette could start on a team like Sacramento with a ball-dominant two guard such as Tyreke Evans. His shooting and passing will translate, defense will be rough.

13. Jonas Valanciunas, C Lithuania – Multi-faceted center holding his own in Europe’s top leagues. On talent alone he deserves a ranking higher than this but, I would still hesitate to draft him in the lottery at all. He’s barely 18 years old and I would bet he’ll stay in Europe for at least one or two more seasons.

14. Marcus Morris, PF Kansas – Holds the distinction of being the most pure PF in the draft. He does everything well and brings great intensity and work ethic. Ultimately, I think he’s a great college players who will need to find a niche as a solid role player in the pros.



Category: NBA
Tags: NBA draft
 
Posted on: May 14, 2011 8:30 pm
 

Do or Die: The 2011 Timberwolves Offseason

This is it. The upcoming offseason is a do or die offseason for the Minnesota Timberwolves organization.  There is a nuclear scenario taking shape that isn’t so improbable as it first appeared three seasons ago. If these various scenarios all come together and are allowed to play out the Wolves will waste what few gains they have made throughout this rebuilding effort and be once again left at square 1. No one, and I mean no one, has the stomach for another relaunch. This is it.

 

The Clipper Effect

One final parting gift from McHale’s wonder years is yet to be opened. The Christmas morning equivalent of a giant lump of coal that is an unprotected 1st round pick is destined to go to the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2012 draft. Look closer and you’ll see the lump of coal is actual a pile of dog shit when you realize that the pick was dealt for the services of one Marko Jaric. Given that the Wolves have won a combined 32 games over the past two seasons it is very plausible that the pick they eventually give away will be a very high one. Probably the 1st overall pick, if you believe the Wolves are as ironically snake bitten as they appear.

In fairness to Kevin McHale, all the Timberwolves would have had to do to avoid losing an unprotected pick in 2012 was at any point over the past five seasons finish outside of the 10 worst teams in the league. In their prolonged failure, they failed to do so.

It’s really too bad it has to go down this way. Randy Foye, Corey Brewer, and Jonny Flynn were the equivalent of forfeited picks. If only McHale could have foreseen the future. He could have said to Clippers GM Guy, “Hey, instead of that future provisional 1st round pick we’ll give you our 1st rounders in 2006, 2007 and 2009 straight up.” I suppose that would have looked extra bad, even by McHale standards.

To the average Wolves fan, an acceptable pick loss would probably be in the range of #7 and later. Don’t get me wrong, we fans don’t want to lose any pick but ending up around that #7 mark would imply a significant amount of improvement from the absolute worst record they earned in 2010 to a slightly less worse record in 2011.  Still not great, but when you’re at rock bottom even plain old non-rock bottom looks appealing.

 

The Rambis Effect

Two years into a ‘down to the studs’ rebuild and most would agree that the Wolves probably don’t have their head coach of the future under contract. On one hand, you can hardly fault David Kahn for this one. At the time of his hire, Kurt Rambis was the most high profile candidate out there. Going out and landing a big name was very unWolves like. Previous hires, Randy Wittman and Dwayne Casey were straight off the clearance racks. Rambis, on the other hand, was poached from under Phil Jackson and the Lakers. Looked good at the time. Looks like a wasted two years at the present.

Rambis defenders will cite the poor talent on roster for the poor results of the past two seasons. I'll agree that the talent isn’t great, but it’s also not as bad as it has appeared at times. There are many more reasons that suggest he’s not cut out to coach a young and inexperienced team, such as the team’s inability to improve on fundamental flaws over time (ie. Refusal to contest three point shots). But more than any one factor, it’s a lack of player development that dooms him in my eyes.

Young players should get better. To the contrary, the only guy to improve under Rambis is Kevin Love and I kinda get the feeling he was destined to improve no matter who the coach was. In fact, many players appeared to get worse under Rambis. Beasley started great and declined as the season wore on. As did Darko. Wes Johnson regressed throughout his rookie season. Jonny Flynn went from inconsistent to complete train wreck in record time.  There was no steady cohesion or improvement. There were no signature wins against superior competition that signaled this ship is headed in the right direction. Really, there was nothing to get excited about. A very young team like the Wolves, at the very least, should be exciting.

 

 

The Rubio Effect

David Kahn made the absolute correct pick in 2009 when he selected Ricky Rubio with the 5th pick. Rip the Flynn pick one spot later all you want, but Rubio was the right call. And in spite of that, Kahn will likely lose his job over it.

Rubio has been the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the past two seasons. With every Ridnour, Sessions and Flynn unforced turnover we took solace in the fact that the savior would be here soon. The fanbase was told upon his drafting that we might need to wait two years before Rubio would play in the NBA. We were also told it would be worth the wait. Rubio was to be the transformational star that would put the Wolves back on the map. Well, it’s been two years. Where the hell is he?

The next month will be pivotal on this front. If he signs with the team, us Wolves faithful take to the streets elation at a renewed sense of hope. If he decides to stay in Spain the morale hit to a perpetually demoralized fanbase will be near apocalyptic. The mood will quickly turn to one of grief, then anger, and then complete apathy. No one will cared that they get screwed in the draft lottery. No one will care that in an effort to save a few more Bucks Glen Taylor declines to fire Rambis. No one will even care when Kevin Love starts dropping the “get me some real help or I’m outtta here” hints.  Only a major countermove, such as winning the lottery or a blockbuster trade or a legit coaching hire, will offset the utter disappointment.

Time following this organization over the years has taught us one thing: don’t hold your breath.

 

The Lock Out Effect

The grand finale to all the Wolves’ woes is the upcoming player lock out. As if the team didn’t have enough to worry about. The lock out will lessen Rubio’s likelihood of coming over this year and increase the likelihood of Rambis staying another year. It already has impacted the quality of prospect to enter the NBA draft. It will defer free agency and trades. Overall, it will deter the Wolves from having the sort of aggressive and monumental offseason they so desperately need in order to avoid total nuclear meltdown. The only real hope is that David Stern and the Player’s Association see the ugliness developing in the NFL situation and do everything they can to end this quickly.

 

Hope

In the interest of ending this on an uplifting note, there is reason for hope.  Here is a list of possibilities, any number of which would be an improvement. Maybe the fact that Rubio isn’t getting many minutes with his Spanish team which is consequently hurting his stock will cause him to want to sign with the Wolves this offseason? Maybe Rubio will want to lock in at the current NBA rookie salary rate before a new CBA can be reached? Maybe Rubio’s Spanish team will force him out because they don’t want to pay the millions they owe him next year for what amounts to a roleplayer? Maybe Rambis wants out and he’ll reach an amicable buyout? Maybe due to a lack of overall openings a quality head coach would be interested in the Wolves job? Maybe David Kahn will realize his neck is on the line and will do everything he can to make some dramatic moves to improve the team? Maybe Glen Taylor will get sick of losing money and open up the check book and add some real payroll? Maybe Michael Beasley will finally realize his star potential? Maybe Kevin Love will sign a long term deal? Maybe the Wolves will win the draft lottery? Maybe a team would be willing to trade us an established talent for a top 2 pick? Maybe they’ll draft Kyrie Irving, which will then enable them to deal Rubio?

 

Maybe, just maybe, this will be the year the Timberwolves finally turn the corner. They better, because if they don’t, the nuclear scenario I detailed above will probably unfold and this organization will slowly die, figuratively speaking. But then again, sort of literal, too.



Category: NBA
Posted on: March 25, 2011 1:15 am
 

Timberwolves 2010-11 Recap

Another underwhelming Timberwolves seasons crawls to a slow, predictable and all too familiar death. This marks the second in a row as a league bottom feeder, a designation surprisingly more disheartening than just plain old loser. To any individual or team accustomed to winning this would be totally unacceptable and the heads of Kurt Rambis and David Kahn, in particular, would roll. But for an organization quickly creeping in on the Clippers monopoly on perennially sucking, firing Kahn and Rambis at this point would merely set the effort back another year or two. I’m not sure the already depleted and demoralized fanbase has the stomach for that.

 

 THE GOOD

  • Kevin Love emerged as a top level talent. Not a Tier 1 guy like LeBron or Kobe, but certainly in that 2nd or 3rd Tier of very good players. At the age of 22, he’s got plenty of time to still climb towards that top group. He’s firmly established himself as the elite rebounder in the game, as evidence by his ridiculous 53 game streak of double-doubles and being on pace to average 15.5 rebounds per game, the most since Dennis Rodman averaged 16.1 in 1996-97. His offensive game has evolved to the point of being able to consistently and efficiently score against bigger and faster opponents, which is impressive given that about 80% of NBA power forwards are technically bigger and faster than Love. Most importantly, he’s developing as a leader. His inner and not-so-inner struggle with the attitude, demeanor and nightly effort it takes to be a true team leader has been evident throughout the last year but it’s a positive struggle in that his growth in this regard has been equally as evident. It’s kind of like in The Matrix when Neo does some crazy shit in the training mod and even though he’s stumbling through a lot of the basics everyone gets that glimpse of his potential, of what could be. They see that Neo could actually be The One. Well, this season we’ve seen surefire signs that Kevin Love could be “the one” to lead us Timberwolves faithful out this dark time.
  • Wesley Johnson has shown signs of his own that he’s capable of being a game changer from the wing position. No question, he’s had his moments that made us all wonder if DeMarcus Cousins would have been the better pick,  but what rookies don’t often make you second guess those decisions. Also, in fairness, Darko’s often lackluster play has elicited more of those moments than anything Wes ever did. If you’re looking for proof that the Wolves might indeed have their small forward of the future (cc to Rambis: Wesley Johnson is not a shooting guard) look to the last two games against the Lakers in which Wes went head-to-head against Kobe for the majority of the game.

Wesley Johnson: 24.5 points, 6 rebs and 2 steals on 50% shooting

Kobe Bryant: 21 points, 4 rebs, and half a steal on 40% shooting

 

  • Anthony Tolliver makes this list because all winning teams have guys like Tolliver. He takes charges, he brings outstanding energy every night, depending on the matchup he can guards 3s through 5s, he doesn’t need a lot of minutes or a ton of shots to make an impact on the game, and so on and so forth. And then there’s this quote from last week. "I know it's been tough on Kurt," said Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver, who claimed after Sunday's loss that "a lot of guys on this team don't bring it every night.” That’s a hell of a statement. A true statement. Not done in a way that passes blame but in a way you’d like a vet leader to step up and hold his teammates accountable. He’s like Mark Madsen, but with game and attitude.

 

THE BAD

  • The point guard play has been totally unacceptable the last two seasons. Luke Ridnour is a backup. He’d be good in that role. What we saw this year out of Ridnour is the reason why at the age of 29 he has never been a long term starter before. He’s a backup miscast as a starter. He was asked to do more than he is capable of and in my opinion, that means he was set up to fail. Of course, the other half of what I believe to be one of the worst point guard rotations in the league is Jonny Flynn. No excuses here. When you take a guy 6th overall you aren’t drafting a backup, you’re drafting a starter or at the very least, a key contributor. Flynn, on the other hand, is a constant liability and often times his entry into the game was an indication that things were about to unravel quickly. In only his second season I’m ready to declare Jonny Flynn a bust. Keep in mind, this is coming from the guy who argued the merits of Foye over Roy well past the point of reasonability. Flynn was a bad pick. Not because they had previously drafted Ricky Rubio, I actually thought the logic there was sound. Instead, Flynn was a bad pick because he is a bad player. He’s terrible defensively, he’s beyond careless with the ball, and his on court awareness and overall decision making boggles the mind. Whether Rubio comes over or not, Jonny Flynn must go this offseason.
  • The Wolves are a very poor defensive team. Shocker, right? I tend to feel the coaching staff gets too much blame for the inabilities of their players, but this is one area in which the coaches are on the hook. They could have and should have demanded more of the players. If I were the coach I would have said something like this: “Either you guys follow the defensive game plan and guard your assignment or so help me God, I will bench you. And if the guy who replaces you won’t play defense, then I’ll bench him, too. And if the next guy won’t do what I say, then I’ll scour the D-League and the ABA and Europe and all of the Earth until I am literally pulling civilians off of First Avenue to come in here and put a hand up.”
  •  The Al Jefferson trade and, in effect, David Kahn’s job performance gets failing grades (so far). Former Golden Gophers Football Head Coach, Tim Brewster, was a breath of fresh air here in the Twin Cities after being hired a few years back. He talked a big game about restoring honor to the program, going to and winning the Rose Bowl, and all sorts of other ranting that sounded great at the time. The problem is when those dreams didn’t come true he looked like an even bigger asshole than if he had just been a quiet loser. Kahn appears to be following in Brewster’s footsteps. Kahn rolled through the door as an anti-McHale. Open, honest and engaged. He was going to turn this thing around and make the Wolves a championship caliber organization, or so he said. It looked good at first, too. He got rid of all of McHale’s garbage, hired a high profile coaching candidate in Rambis and made an aggressive pre-draft trade to acquire the biggest name in the 2009 draft, Ricky Rubio. Flash forward two years and nothing is really that much better. The team is younger, faster and possessing more potential but in the end, they’re not much closer to being competitive than they were pre-Kahn. He failed to make his one big “signature move” after outlining a series of now expired time periods in which making such a move would be likely given all the Wolves’ tremendous…assets. He followed up a good trade for Michael Beasley with a bad trade of Al Jefferson. The two 1st round picks the Wolves received in the trade are yet to be determined so I’ll resist calling it a complete debacle but the highly touted trade exemption they received for Big Al quietly faded away into oblivion at this season’s trade deadline, leaving the Wolves with a bunch of nothingness in exchange for the guy we trade KG for. The rationale for trading Big Al was that the Jefferson-Love duo was brutal defensively. Here’s a newsflash: the Darko-Love combo is equally as brutal. At least with a Jefferson-Love-Beasley frontcourt they would have had a tremendous amount of scoring ability on the court at any given time. Instead, Kahn made the decision to sell low on Jefferson and we are where we are. Factor in Kahn’s poor draft record and he’s officially one offseason away from me forming some not so positive conclusions about his ability to build a winning team.

 

THE UGLY

  • At times Michael Beasley was one of the few bright spots on this team. At other times it was painfully clear why the Heat were willing to give the former #2 overall pick away for circus peanuts. In fairness to Beas, he was playing injured for most of the season. Unlike a lot of other players in this league, he refused to use it as an excuse. That’s part of it. The other part is that he really struggles to maintain focus throughout the game. The lapses on defense are most obvious. He simply stops paying attention to the flow of the game and the next thing you know his guy is streaking to the basket uncontested or comfortably spotting up on the 3 line waiting to knock down an open shot. It’s frustrating because this is completely correctable. Or is it? What can Kurt Rambis say that hasn’t already been said to him at some point? Can you really improve someone’s attention span? Ignore all the stuff about him not being committed to basketball or lacking the passion to win on a nightly basis. It’s untrue and completely blown out of proportion because of his laid back demeanor.   Beas, as simple as it sounds, needs to get his head in the game and keep it there.
  • Part of me wanted to put Darko Milicic’s performance this season in the bad category, but truthfully, it wasn’t all bad, or even mostly bad. There were some definite positives, such as his 2.2 blocks per game, which puts him at 4th for blocks among centers. In the end, the Darko experiment is/was a disappointment and therein lies my unfair inclination to label his season as bad. It’s not because he didn’t live up to his modest salary (yes, overreactors, his contract is modest by NBA standards), but rather because there was a legitimate hope that Darko’s defense, his efficient scoring and his excellent passing ability for a big would make an ideal starter in the Rambis hybrid triangle offense. He struggled out of the gate but quickly adapted and after the first month of the season it appeared the Wolves had found their starting center of the future. From there, it was all downhill. His offense became more and more selfish, evoking memories of Al Jefferson and his “black hole” presence on offense. He passed less. He hustled less. He visibly sulked up and down the court when his shot wasn’t falling. However annoying, none of this stuff bothered me as much as his decreased commitment to defense. That should have been his bread and butter. The offensive stuff was all secondary. On defense is where he could have and should have been a force, but that too faded as the season went on. It appeared as though he simply stopped caring. And there, my friends, is the summary of Darko’s career in a nutshell. Tons of ability, but not enough desire. Put ‘starting center’ on the list of Timberwolves needs this offseason.
  • Nothing is more ugly than a lack of fundamentals at the professional level. Behold, your 2010-11 Timberwolves…
* 30th (aka worst) in turnovers at 17 per game
* 30th in points allowed at 107 per game
* 29th in fouls at 23 per game
* 24thin assists at 20 per game

This all results…
* 29th in wins at 17
* 25thin fan attendance at just under 15,000 per game

 

Not much more to say than that.



Category: NBA
Posted on: January 29, 2011 10:33 am
 

Like it or not, Kevin Love is an All-Star

If history is the gauge by which we assess the present, then in a few days Kevin Love will be screwed out of an All-Star game appearance. Just like he was in the rookie game a couple years back. Just like Al Jefferson was for the All-Star game the same year when he was clearly one of the top bigs in the West. Love isn't flashy enough, his team sucks, he plays in fly over country. The usual stuff.

Usually in these situations I would wait for the inevitable to happen and then complain about it. I thought I'd mix it up and go all preemptive on it this year.

Before I state the obvious, let me first address this claim that Love shouldn't make the All-Star game because his team is bad. This is a made up excuse. It usually works that the best players happen to come from the best teams but to my knowledge it's called the "All-Star" game, not the "All-Stars Who Also Play For Winning Ball Clubs Game". There is no way anyone can deny that Kevin Love is an All-Star. Some can say the Wolves are only a 10 win team and so how good can anyone on that team individually be? Well, to them I counter, the Wolves would be a 1 win team without him.

One final disclaimer, I do not in the slightest bit care about the All-Star game. It's not about that. Watching a bunch of divas laugh up and down the court while they take turns dunking holds zero interest for me. People rip the NFL's Pro-Bowl for being a pointless exhibition. Then what is the NBA All-Star game? There's an equal percentage chance I'll watch The Bachelor or Housewives of Madison County or that new sitcom about those two obese people who manage to love each other in spite of their wretched BMIs. It's not about that. It's about respect. The Wolves haven't deserved it a lot lately, but in the few instances they do, believe I will let it be known.

Kevin Love is #1 in the NBA in rebounding at 15.7 per game. That's 2.3 more per game than the next guy, Dwight Howard. He has 30 more offensive rebounds than the guy with the 2nd most offensive rebounds, Zach Randolph. He has 60 more defensive rebounds than the next closest guy, once again, Super Dwight.

Kevin Love is #1 in the NBA in player efficiency rating at 29.6. LeBron James is 2nd at 26.9. Google it if you want the real definition but basically player efficiency measures how bad ass you are and how few chances you need to prove you are a bad ass. Kind of like the new inmate who walks into prison and immediately punches the warden in the face and then shanks the first guard who steps to him. That guy would have a really high inmate efficiency rating.

Kevin Love is shooting 44% on 3 pointers. The only other forwards who are also in the realm of All-Star consideration and near that mark are Paul Pierce at 41% and Dirk Nowitzki and 39%. His 63 3-pointers made are 5th among all Power Forwards/Centers in the NBA.

Kevin Love is 4th amongst power forwards (3rd in the Western Conference) in points per game at 21.6, which leads to...

Kevin Love is #1 in the league in double-doubles at 41. Blake Griffin is next with 37. The Wolves have played 44 games, which means that 93% of the time the Wolves take the court Love is going to get a double-double. That's more than Dwight, LeBron or anyone else in the league can say.

Kevin Love is 7th amongst power forwards (5th in the Western Conference) in assists per game at 2.54. That number isn't Earth shattering but it shows he is at least in the conversation and by no means some sort of black hole who gets numbers simply by dominating the ball.

Kevin Love's 47% overall shooting percentage and 2.3 turnovers per game aren't especially noteworthy. They also aren't by any means a detriment or a source from which a detractor could draw criticism.


The truth is, I actually think Love will make the Western Conference All-Star team. Not out of blind fandom or luck but based on what you just read. These numbers are undeniable. When Al Jeff got overlooked in 2009 one could say his turnovers were too high or that he was a ballhog, but with Love there is nothing not too like.




***I was so gonna end that last sentence "nothing not to Love" but then I played through the whole scenario in my head of having to punch myself in the nuts for being such a wank and decided against it. Just thought you should know that.




Posted on: December 14, 2010 4:53 pm
 

Two Trades of a Different Kind

   As a long-time Wolves blogger and die hard fan, I’ve concocted and assessed dozens of trade scenarios in print, hundreds in discussion and probably, sadly, thousands in my mind. Throughout the last five years of perpetual rebuilding 99% of those scenarios have involved trading for young, potential laden players. This idea is a complete change in direction.

 

TRADE #1: Wolves trade Luke Ridnour and Corey Brewer to Portland for Andre Miller

Rationale: It has been reported that Portland is considering dealing away some of their aging players for younger ones given that the team has seemingly plateaued and/or been injured to death, so to speak. Andre Miller is at the top of the list for such players. Mostly because of his age (34), but also because he has a team option in his contract for next year for 7.8 million and it’s unlikely the team would pick that up if they decide to head in a younger direction. Portland would replace Miller with Ridnour, who should score fan points as a former Oregon Duck. They also add Brewer, who would replace much of the perimeter athleticism and defense they’re missing from Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw.

 

TRADE #2: Wolves trade Wayne Ellington and Nikola Pekovic to Detroit for Richard Hamilton.

Rationale: There is no question, Rip is overpaid at over 12 million for each of the two seasons after this one. His production level just doesn’t justify that. Part of that is due to a declining skill set but I would argue that even more of it is a result of Detroit’s further reliance on Rodney Stuckey and the addition of Ben Gordon. Ellington gives them a shooter at a fraction of the cost. They also get some big time potential in Pekovic, which seems like a really good fit because we all know how well Detroit develops Serbians.

 

The cheap/expiring contracts of Lazar Heyward, Sebastian Telfair and Kosta Koufos could be thrown in along with a handful of draft picks in order to balance these deals if necessary.


The next question that begs answering is what would the Wolves want with a couple of past their prime players like Rip Hamilton and Andre Miller? I can answer that in three parts.

1. The Wolves don’t need more youth. They need knowledge. They need to learn how to win. Adding a couple of savvy vets like these would expedite that development. Beasley and Love are immensely talented. Darko, Wes, Martell and Flynn have all shown flashes of exceptional play at times. Add in Ricky Rubio and another lottery pick next year and you have the core group of eight Wolves players moving forward. Keep in mind, when I say ‘learn how to win’ I don’t necessarily mean teaching plays or how to properly take a charge. I’m talking about developing the mental toughness and perseverance required to consistently win games. There have been five games already in this short season in which the Wolves had double digit 4th Quarter leads only to squander them away and eventually lose. There have been another seven losses in which they either had commanding leads at some other point in the game or were competitive throughout before letting it slip away. That’s twelve losses. Twelve games out of eighteen where if the team were only a bit more experienced or prepared or disciplined the outcome might have gone the other way. Throw Hamilton and Miller into those games and that’s two more players on the court who know how to win. Two players who know how to protect the ball and work the shot clock and how to execute when the game is on the line. That’s what the Wolves are missing right now. Add that and give the future guys, Love, Beasley, Flynn, Wes and company, a taste of winning sooner rather than later.

2. It’s not like Hamilton and Miller are completely cooked, they’ve just lost a step. They’re both still productive players. Think about a lineup of Miller – Hamilton – Beasley – Love – Darko with Flynn, Wes, Martell and Tolliver bringing up the 2nd unit. It’s hard to project a win total for that group but I do know it would be a lot more than it is now. Again, this isn’t about winning a championship or even the division. It’s about developing a culture of winning and making sure these young guys don’t become mentally defeated by too much losing at such a young age.

3. As the summer of 2009 taught us, big time free agents aren’t coming to Minnesota in its current state. It will take at least two years of winning before this organization is even remotely viewed as an attractive destination for players seeking anything other than a massive payday. By that time both the Hamilton and Miller deals would be off the books. Why not bring in a couple of high character pros to bridge that gap? Given the state of NBA trade market and the respective situations for the Pistons and Trailblazers, I think both deals are realistic.

 

Thoughts?




Posted on: December 10, 2010 11:02 pm
Edited on: December 10, 2010 11:15 pm
 

Giving Credit, post mortem

Things were so much more simple way back in the summer of 2008.

I was in my 20s.

The Wolves had only sucked for two years in a row instead of five.

George W. Bush was still President.

You Don't Mess With the Zohan was still in theaters.

But getting back to the Wolves, they sucked. Badly. Hopelessly bad. They needed more than just better players. What they needed was a franchise face. Someone to resurrect this one perennial playoff team. They had Al Jefferson to work the post. They needed a dynamic guard to carry the outside scoring and to also carry the spirit of the fan base. The draft was approaching. They needed OJ Mayo. Everything about Mayo looked good. I mean, hell, for a while when he was in high school the experts all compared him to LeBron. We could use a LeBron here in Minnesota. Even his name, OJ Mayo, sounded like the name of a star. Nothing ever goes right for the Wolves but on draft night that year things did go right…for once. David Stern got up and said his name and for a few hours we had OJ Mayo. The savior was coming North.

We Wolves faithful went to sleep that night (if one could manage to overcome the excitement and actually fall asleep) with visions of OJ Mayo taking over Target Center the way KG did not so long ago.

Then we woke to text messages from our Dads saying “Did McHale really just do that?” Were our Dads not happy with the Mayo pick? Why would he not want Mayo? Surely, we didn’t do something catastrophic like trade Mayo for anyone other than say, LeBron.

Then we flew to the computer and in a few clicks came across the headline “Wolves Deal Mayo to Memphis in Midnight Blockbuster.” LeBron did not play for Memphis.

Rage. Hysteria. Crushing disappointment. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m a rube. I felt cheated. I ripped off an email to the T-Wolves ticket rep who I had been talking to about potentially purchasing season tickets with a summation of “Go F--- Yourself!”

Kevin Love, Mike Miller and scraps for OJ Mayo and bad contracts.


I remember thinking WTF? And that was before people really started using the abbreviation WTF. It looked cheap and stupid, as if we had given away our future franchise leader in order to shed some ugly contracts that McHale was responsible for in the first place.

The line from McHale and Co. at the time was that Mayo was a low upside guard with limited athletic ability. Essentially, players like him are a dime a dozen. On the other hand, we were told that Kevin Love possessed a highly unique skill set. He could rebound on a truly elite level and pass as well as any big in the league. OMGod, how they raved about his outlet passing. Love’s basketball IQ and intangibles would clearly make him the better pick. That’s what the guy who traded Brandon Roy for Randy Foye said.

To a disenfranchised fanbase, it all sounded like an elaborate ruse to clear Marko Jaric’s horrendous contract off the books. McHale had been so wrong so many times before, where did he get the nerve to think he was capable of outsmarting another league executive? The fact that the only NBA starter-worthy player on the team, Al Jefferson, happened to play the same position as Love only added to the vitriol.

Nothing happened during year one to change anyone’s mind. Mayo got off to a hot start. It looked then like he was ascending to stardom before our eyes. 

Flash forward three seasons and McHale’s prophecy is basically coming true exactly as he said it would. Instead of ascending to stardom it appears Mayo was only hitting that low ceiling McHale had projected. Kevin Love, on the other hand, is a monster. OJ Mayo is a back up. There isn’t a GM in the league who would choose Mayo over Love right now. That’s pretty wild. It's wild because the guy who let Chauncey Billups walk while signing Troy Hudson to a long term deal called it.


Compare the numbers this season.

Kevin Love – 20.1 points, 15.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists on 43% shooting (41% on 3 pts)

OJ Mayo – 11.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists on 39% shooting (37% on 3 pts)


It's not even close.


Of course, the next chapter of this book could swing back around again. And then back the other way once more. But for now it's lopsided. For as much as I ripped the guy who orchestrated an illegal contract with Joe Smith, got caught, fined up the ass, had draft picks taken away and then signed Joe Smith again a couple years later, I can certainly be man enough to admit that, in this instance, I was wrong and he was totally right.




 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com