Wolf Tracks 2/24

The Wolves picked up a big victory last night against Miami to keep them from spiraling even further down in defeat. The win snapped a six game losing streak and to do it on the road adds even more meaning to the “W”. Here are today’s Wolf Tracks:

Timberwolf Tracks:

Truehoop Tracks:

Other Tracks:

The Crazy Core-Roster Conundrum

Exactly one month ago, I wrote a piece titled “Wolves’ success should rely on Thunder’s rebuilding scheme” where I stated that the Wolves need to choose one player to build around instead of just acquiring a plethora of talent. David Kahn referenced that the team has a core roster of Jefferson, Love, Flynn, Brewer, Gomes and Ellington. That’s a BIG core roster. I believe that a team ought to be built more around one person as opposed to a group of players because that way you can implement a better game plan around one person and find talent to surround and support that one player. There’s only one ball to go around, right? Well the person I chose in that article was Al Jefferson and the evidence to support my claim I felt was justified at the time, but after a month of more evaluation, my opinion has swayed. So who deserves to be the Wolves’ “core” guy?

I have now turned my attention to Kevin Love. I’m not saying I disregarded him in the first place but I did feel, and still do a little bit, that Love may not be a true franchise player. He just doesn’t possess the scoring ability as other top franchise players do. I think he probably maxes out at about 20 points a game over the span of a regular season but what really caught my attention is his rebounding and overall efficiency ratings.

This chart compares and contrasts Jefferson and Love’s numbers this season through Sunday night’s game. It shows that Love’s efficiency is stable enough to carry a team on his back, despite his lack of scoring compared to other franchise players. The thing to keep in mind is that Love is the Wolves’ sixth man right now; he comes off the bench and plays less minutes than Jefferson. My point is that Love is way more efficient, if you look at PER (Player Efficiency Rating), for the time he is on the court. So, Love plays less minutes and, yet, is still more effective than Jefferson.

Jefferson does score more per game but again, that’s where Love’s lack of minutes comes in. If Love were to play the same amount of minutes as Jefferson does per game, the chart would then look like this:

As you can see, if Love were playing just four minutes more per game, equal to Jefferson, he would be grabbing about three more boards than Jefferson as well as scoring almost the same amount of points at 17.1 to Jefferson’s 17.5. Love’s PER also goes through the roof over 25 which would rank 6th in the league between Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, two clear cut franchise guys, thus proving that he is way more efficient on the floor.

We saw Darko Milicic last night post an astounding plus-35 in the plus/minus category. That basically just means that the Wolves were hot when he was on the court and scored 35 more points than they gave up with Darko on the court. Oh, and that was only in 19 minutes. Jefferson played 29 minutes last night and posted a minus-37. That shows you that the team was not as effective on either side of the court with Jefferson in the game, and he played the second most minutes on the team behind Kevin Love. Now in comparison, Love played 31 minutes and was plus-24 last night, showing he was effective on both sides of the court.

The bottom-line is that the Wolves, in the midst of rebuilding, need someone who can be both effective and efficient with their minutes on both ends of the court. By playing Love more than just 6th man minutes and showing he is one of most effective players in the league as well as one of the best teammates in the league, the Wolves can not only improve over the rest of the season but also possibly gain interest from free agents that will be available next summer who might be swayed into wanting to play alongside Love. Love has proven that he is “Mr. Efficiency,” even when coming off the bench. The Wolves will need to figure out how to build around him by implementing more scoring opportunities and maybe more of a true center next to him (Darko anyone?). More importantly, I now think that maximizing Jefferson’s value via a trade next summer just might be the right move.

With Darko being more of a true center, these next couple months will help spell out a lot for the Wolves and us fans. We will truly find out if Big Al and Love can play together in the long run and if having more of a true center coming off the bench to stabilize the front line can help improve the efficiency on both offense and defense. It really should play out in one of two scenarios: 1) We find out that Darko plays better with Love and we improve defensively, then Jefferson may be on his way out. (Assuming we can convince Darko to stay) or 2) Jefferson, and even Love, show improvement on defense and the Wolves are able to work this thing out with Big Al and Love. Which scenario will play out? We have only 25 games to accumulate our final evaluations until David Kahn makes his moves this off-season to continue to make this team into a playoff contender.

Game 58 Preview: Wolves vs. Heat

Timberwolves: 13-44

Heat: 29-28

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The Wolves are storming South Beach, Florida tonight to take on a Wade-less Heat team. Dwayne Wade has sat two games thus far while nursing a strained left calf. Well, this gives the Wolves a good opportunity to start this road trip out right and stop this current six game funk. The Heat still have plenty of talent in the absence of Wade, so the Wolves will still need to fight hard in order to boost their horrocious road record of 4-24. The keys for tonight will be the play of our backcourt against theirs. Flynn had a nice game Sunday but needs to show some consistency, especially in this second half of the season. It’ll be fun to watch Darko Milicic get out there tonight and see what he has to offer in act 2. Again, I’m expecting around only 15 minutes for him but lets see if he can make them count for something. I really want to see if Jefferson can be the Jefferson of old tonight. His play has looked sloppy the past few games and the team struggles with him on the floor. We need to see if he can be our horse that we can ride to the finish line, like we used to do last season. Here are tonight’s matchups:

Match-ups:

Point Guard:

Jonny Flynn vs. Carlos Arroyo

Arroyo has played well starting over Chalmers but may struggle with Flynn tonight. Flynn is both quicker and stronger than Arroyo. Arroyo is a good pass-first point guard who play good defense, but Flynn’s skill set may out match him. We need to see consistency out of Flynn tonight. He played great on Sunday, so I want to see him string together a couple great games. This matchup also has a lot to do with depth — Chalmers for the Heat, Sessions for the Wolves — so, whichever bench plays well may have the advantage.

Advantage: Minnesota

Shooting Guard:

Corey Brewer vs. Quentin Richardson

The former T-Wolf of only a few days will have some trouble with Brewer tonight. Brewer has found his stroke and hits the open freebies he gets from the wing. His play has been solid and his defense has looked good as well.

Advantage: Minnesota

Small Forward:

Ryan Gomes vs. Dorrell Wright

Wright is a bigger 3 who can play a stretch 4, just like Gomes, in a smaller set. He’s not much of a scorer but will demand a little more attention around the basket than what Gomes probably likes to deal with. Gomes’ shot has been off the past few games and, just like Flynn, he needs to find some consistency. I’m giving the Wolves the advantage here though because Damien Wilkins played a terrific game Sunday putting up 18 points and is a lot better than Miami’s reserve, James Jones.

Advantage: Minnesota

Power Forward:

Al Jefferson vs. Michael Beasley

I am a huge Beasley fan, so its hard to watch him struggle to be who he is supposed to become. He was supposed to be a stud for the Heat but instead is just a good power forward on a good team. Sad. Anyways, as I said earlier, we will need to find out if the Wolves can ride Jefferson to the end of the game like we’ve done in the past. He hasn’t been that guy for us and that’s what might need to happen if we want to get out of this losing funk. Kevin Love’s play off the bench has been stupendous and he is what gives the Wolves the advantage here.

Advantage: Minnesota

Center:

Ryan Hollins vs. Jermaine O’Neal

Every Wolves fan is excited to see what Darko will do for his follow up act tonight. Well keep in mind that Hollins actually played a good game as well on Sunday by putting up eight points of his own, so don’t just count him out. But either way, O’Neal is a great player in this league and the Heat have depth in Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony to help O’Neal out. O’Neal will probably have a good game tonight unless Darko can show some intimidation under the hoop but even then O’Neal will probably go right around him to the rim.

Advantage: Miami

Wolf Tracks 2/23

The Wolves look to take on the Miami Heat tonight in South Beach and are hoping to snap this current six game losing skid they are in. Here are today’s Wolf Tracks:

Timberwolf Tracks:

How difficult is it playing for a losing team like the Timberwolves?

“We ended the first half of the season doing pretty well. I stepped up my leadership qualities. I need to get a consistent jump shot, be able to hit the three-point shot, get my range out a little more, be a vocal leader and lead by example.”

Truehoop Tracks:
Other Tracks:

Late Game 57 Recap: Thunder 109, Wolves 107

In statistical analysis there can be a lot of noise in small sample sizes, you know for instance when looking at just one game. Regardless of that fact I feel compelled to explain to you that for the 19 minutes that new Timberwolf Darko Millic was on the court last night the Wolves outscored the Thunder by 35, yes 35, points. Meanwhile during the 29 minutes that Al Jefferson was on the court the Wolves were outscored by the Thunder by 37 points. Even in a small sample size like just one game, a 72 point differential between two players is worth talking about. But I took the day to fully marinate my thoughts on it because last night I was ready to sign Darko to a long extension and ship Jefferson straight out of town for whatever we can get on the wing. Snap judgments come naturally to a fan of weaker team like the Wolves and especially to guys who blog about them. It’s how things like “#Darkogasms” come to be.

Getting back to last night’s game though some may argue that Darko did his damage on court against the Thunder’s bench, however for 15 of those 19 minutes that Darko and the Wolves outscored the Thunder, Kevin Durant was on the floor as well. I’d also like to point out that although Nenad Kristic starts at Center, backup Nick Collison is just a good or better and definitely a better defender and rebounder. He played about 9 minutes against each and mostly against Collison down the stretch.

The real question after the game was what Stop-n-Pop over at Canis Hoopus tweeted:

What other team’s best player gets yanked down the stretch for an out of shape replacement on his first day with the new squad?

This really is unprecedented in my opinion and is something that could only happen with our beloved Minnesota Timberwolves. Did Jefferson play poorly last night? On offense? No. He was 5-11 for 10 points along with 6 rebounds and no turnovers. On defense he even chipped in 3 blocks. But while he was on the court the Wolves got badly outplayed by the Thunder. The verdict: we need to see more from both Jefferson and Darko. One game is just not enough. The other thing that no one has mentioned is that Darko and Big Al didn’t play a minute together. There is certainly the possibility that Darko could complement Jefferson just as well as he did Love.

The good news we do know is that I don’t think Darko could have played any better in his Timberwolves debut. And to think this is the “out of shape, I don’t want to be here” Darko Millic. He looked bigger than I remember, like a legitimate NBA center. He looked fluid in the triangle offense easily moving and playing at either the high or the low post. Best of all he was alert and aware on defense. Overall he looked the opposite of Ryan Hollins (who always looks awkward), like he really is a basketball player who belongs out there.

In the end us Wolves fans have something to hope for and be encouraged by for the last 25 games. We can hope that in our complex and messed up little franchise Darko Millic can find a home and that in him we can find a legitimate center to complement our 2 good power forwards.

Wolf Tracks 2/22

The Wolves suffered a tough loss to a great team last night in a game where their heart played a bigger part than a few games in the past. Here are today’s Wolf Tracks:

Timberwolf Tracks:

Darko Milicic even had fans chanting his name — “We want Darko! We want Darko!” — during a timeout with 3:54 left in the fourth quarter. Fans urged Wolves coach Kurt Rambis to put the 7-foot center back in the game, and Rambis obliged. Milicic, playing in his debut game with the Wolves, almost shared in a dramatic win.

Truehoop Tracks:
  • ESPN analyst, Chris Sheridan, writes about T-Mac’s debut with the Knicks and how he didn’t want to be the hero in overtime.
  • Salt City Hoops discusses the Jazz’s deals over the deadline and how Deron Williams is not too happy with how it all went down.
  • Check out Royce’s take on last night’s game over at the Daily Thunder.

Other Tracks:

Wolf Tracks 2/20

The Wolves let one slip out of their grasps last night in the 4th quarter against a short-handed Bulls squad. We’ll have to wait and see if they can break this current funk during tomorrow’s interactive, commercial-free broadcast against the Thunder. Here are today’s Wolf Tracks:

Timberwolf Tracks:

Truehoop Tracks:

Other Tracks:

Game 56 Recap Bulls 100, Wolves 94

The Wolves shot the ball well early and lead at halftime but instead of getting cold in the 3rd quarter they waited until the 4th to frustrate us fans. The Bulls out-rebounded the Wolves by 10 but there were only two real differences in the game: The Wolves hit 5 more of their 3 pointers than the Bulls and the Bulls made 11 more free throws. Those 6 points were the difference. The Wolves left the win at the line as they went 11-20 and continued to show that the free throw line is not one of their strengths.

Onto some quick Wolves related notes:

Corey Brewer looked to have outplayed Luol Deng on the wing shooting 8-17 to Deng’s 5-17. Brewer even chipped in 2 3’s. Deng however got to the line 14 times and converted 8 of them while Brewer went 1-5 including missing 3 straight.

Al Jefferson couldn’t get much going last night. The Bulls even without active defender Joakim Noah defended Jefferson as well as any team this year. They were aggressive throwing second and even third defenders at him and the refs were letting a lot go down low. As Jefferson’s post moves work to avoid contact he didn’t get a single call all night and got frustrated early.

Jonny Flynn finished with a nice stat line of 14 points, 6 assists and 7 rebounds on 6-13 shooting with 1 3. The problem: Derrick Rose did just about anything he wanted to against him. Although Flynn is the type of guy who needs to get up into opposing guards and frustrate them with his quickness, he played off Rose a good couple feet and gave him too much room to operate in the pick and roll with Brad Miller. Rose was also still quick enough to get his bigger body past Flynn. Flynn’s play on offense has been hit and miss but his defense is consistently lacking. Pretty disappointing from a guy David Kahn said was going to be one of the better lock down defenders in the league.

Corey Brewer took two charges last night. If he continues to put in more of these complete performances with scoring, shooting, defense, taking charges, running the break, and can knock down his freebies, I personally will lead the Corey Brewer for most improved charge.

Kevin Love had another sick outlet pass to Brewer (I think it was Corey either him or Ellington) where he grabbed a made free throw put one foot out of bounds with the other in the air and fired a 90 foot pass down court for an easy lay-in. I really love watching that. Then he came down the next time down and hit a 3 from the top of the key. He finished 3-11 from the floor and most of the misses were down low were he was frustrated with the same pressure as Jefferson. I’m not sure if Rambis thought he was having an off night or what but I was surprised not to see Love play much in the 4th.

That’s it for last night’s frustrating loss, but the good news is Sunday’s first of its kind Fan Forum Interactive Broadcast should be awesome. Be sure to have your computer on and your TV set to Channel 45 and be ready for a great night of Wolves content from both old and new media. I’ll be tweeting away myself so feel free to send questions/messages my way @HowlinTWolf and I’ll be replying as well.