Meanwhile, In Mexico City…

UPDATE: The Timberwolves/Spurs game has been postponed to a later date, according to multiple sources on Twitter. No word yet on when the game will be played (or whether it will be played), but if it is, it will likely take place in Minnesota. Meanwhile, this is kind of a significant bummer. In a long NBA season, a break from the same old settings is fun, and a faulty generator robbed us off that tonight.

Anyway, until next time, I guess. The sads.

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Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

 

How did the Wolves fare in sleeved jerseys? Not bad!

Rubio looks slick in his sleeved jersey…but do the shirts restrict the shooting motion?

On Monday’s episode of The Starters (Mondays-Fridays at 5 pm CST on NBA TV!), host J.E. Skeets posed the challenge (paraphrased) “Someone should take a look at how teams are shooting with sleeves and without.”

Challenge accepted, Mr. Skeets! The Timberwolves have played just one game in sleeves — against the Denver Nuggets last Wednesday — and here are the results in table form.

With sleeves Without sleeves
FG% .455 .429
3-PT % .250 .328
eFG% .483 .474
FT% .893 .805

As you can see, the Wolves shot poorly from 3-point range, but better overall, and their better overall shooting made up for their 3-point shooting (since eFG% is an attempt to adjust field goal percentage to include 3-pointers).

Also: The Wolves are excellent free throw shooters as a team (3rd in the NBA overall), but that number took a significant hike with the sleeves.

Anyway, the sample size was obviously minuscule and useless, but as the year goes on, we’ll continue to keep an eye on this. The Wolves are one of the few teams with sleeved jerseys that actually look good (for my money, Golden State is the only other sleeved jersey I would wear willingly to play basketball), so if we find that they are unaffected, that will be kind of exciting.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Cause for concern: Nuggets beat Wolves 117-110

Sleeves!

Sleeves!

It would be really easy to panic after a game like this.

After all, the Nuggets (considered one of Minnesota’s fellow playoff contenders before the season) are forging ahead in the standings. Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson torched Minnesota. The second unit was a mess on both ends and was outscored 47-10.

And yet, late in the fourth quarter, Minnesota was close. So close that Kevin Love could have tied the game on a 3-point attempt with three minutes remaining, and again with 44 seconds left. He missed both times, and even though the Wolves kept pulling upward to the edge of the hole, the Nuggets had built too large a lead for Minnesota to hoist themselves out.

This recap has become predictable recently. First, here’s where I blame the sleeved jerseys (which admittedly looked pretty good, IMO) for the fact that Minnesota’s line looked uncomfortably like one from last year: 5-for-20 from behind the arc. Here’s the part where I tell you that Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will help the second unit’s porous defense. Now I’m going to tell you that there were encouraging signs from the starters, like Kevin Martin’s 29 points (on 0-for-5 shooting from 3-point range, oddly enough) and Corey Brewer’s 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting. Here’s the reminder, once again, that the Nuggets are hot, and I advise temperance on any panic within the ranks. Finally, I remind you that November is difficult, but not every team in the NBA is good (in fact, there’s an entire conference of bad teams directly east of us!), and that the Wolves will face many of the not-good teams in January.

But these losses rankle, and I’m sure the same could be said in the locker room. The Wolves are below .500, and although it’s not panic time, it’s also not a very comfortable place.

Here’s where I would ordinarily insert bullet points (but instead, I’m going to bed because it’s late and I’m annoyed with the loss).

Here’s where I tell you to follow me on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Shabazz Muhammad tweets cryptic picture of new Wolves jerseys

Here’s the tweet, and here’s a list of things we know about this jersey:

  • The part pictured is awesome.
  • The Wolves will play in it tonight against the Nuggets.
  • It looks really clean.

Here’s a list of things we don’t know:

  • Is it sleeved? (Shouts to @xThugNastyx for pointing out to me that the top of the right hand picture doesn’t appear to have the arm hole of a sleeveless jersey)
  • Are those mountains or W’s along the side?
  • Will Shabazz peel off his warm-ups at any point so we can see bazzketball/this particular jersey?
  • Is it possible (UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT) that this jersey could look cool even with sleeves?

STAY TUNED FOR MORE.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Timberwolves destroy Brooklyn Nets 111-81

For the first time in his career, Love won the battle of the Kevins.

For the second consecutive game I’ve attended at the Target Center (I was there for Saturday’s match-up with Boston as well), the Wolves obliterated a struggling Eastern Conference opponent last night, knocking off the Brooklyn Nets 111-81, and somehow that score seems closer than the game.

Let’s be clear about two things: First, the Nets are awful right now. Second, that doesn’t necessarily take away from what Minnesota accomplished.

There are a lot of problems in Brooklyn, and a lot of them seem to be stemming from the coaching staff. The Nets ran much of their offense through Paul Pierce and Andre Blatche, and three years ago, that would have been half of a good idea. Joe Johnson got a lot of touches and baskets in the second and third quarters, but by the time he had heated up, the Wolves were up by 20 or more. If you want to make some NBA bets, book it on sportsbettingdime.com

This is not what Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce signed up for when they joined this squad. Admittedly, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Andrei Kirilenko are hurt (as is Jason Terry, but believe me: I watched Boston last year, and he isn’t helping this team), but the Nets’ offense was uncomfortable and robotic last night. Most of it was built around pick-and-rolls on one side of the court, as well as something that resembled the Triangle. If a play started on one side of the court, it was incredibly unlikely to travel to the other side. This stagnant, stiff offense allowed the Wolves to get their hands in passing lanes, either to steal the ball or deflect it which led to a lot of throwaways.

Minnesota, meanwhile, executed…sufficiently. The Wolves didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (41.2 percent to Brooklyn’s 39.7), but they got an absurd amount of second-chance opportunities with 17 offensive rebounds. In addition, they scored 17 fast break points and 22 points on Brooklyn’s 20 turnovers.

One of the fun things about this season, however, has been how little explanation some of these wins have needed. In a lot of games in 2013-14, the Wolves are just simply better than their opponent. It’s a nice change.

Some bullets:

  • Another exercise in “ASDFKJDFSKDF Kevin Love stat lines”: 17 points, 16 points in 28 minutes. Love very well might have recorded another 20-20 game if he had played the fourth quarter, but none of the starters for either squad played in the final frame.
  • Cut Robbie Hummel some slack for that 1-for-8 shooting performance from 3-point range. His shots were almost all corner 3-point attempts, which are usually nice for him. He just hit a cold spell in the fourth quarter that he couldn’t shake.
  • I was at the game with my dad, and I mentioned how much I missed Rubio-to-Derrick Williams alley-oops. Williams entered the game late in the third quarter, and Rubio ALMOST connected with him, but Williams flubbed the catch before recovering and laying the ball in. In the fourth, Barea and Williams got out on a fast break, and Williams climbed the stairs to throw down a monster slam, but nothing was the same. Drake knows.
  • The Wolves played a Blurred Lines parody starring Nikola Pekovic at one point which went completely over my head until someone explained it to me. I’m old, shut up.
  • Corey Brewer got a wide open 3-point look in the corner on Minnesota’s first possession, and that seemed to spark him from downtown, as he finished 3-for-6 and tallied 15 points.
  • Kevin Garnett got: Two (2) standing ovations, eight (8) points, one (1) flagrant foul and one (1) technical. Both the technical and the flagrant came right on top of each other and seemed to stem from frustration more than anything (it’s hard to blame him). But Love’s response was pretty priceless: “That’s kind of vintage KG, just tried to get himself going, himself into the right mind frame. I just didn’t really care.”

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After resting their starters for the entire fourth quarter, one would hope the Wolves will be somewhat fresh for their match-up with Houston tonight. I won’t be in attendance though, so maybe there is cause for concern.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

The Anatomy of an Outlet Pass

Photo credit: Star Tribune

One mark of a good team is the signature play, hereafter capitalized for clarification. The Play can be something basic (Dwight Howard’s pick-and-rolls with the ’09 Magic, for example), or it can be something complicated (the wondrous and well-documented elevator set run by Golden State). The Play must involve the team’s best player (iso sets for Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Durant), but he doesn’t have to be the scorer (any crazy thing designed and executed by Chris Paul). Finally, the Play must be something most well-informed fans start to recognize before it happens. When Ray Allen played in Boston, the crowd started to rise and cheer whenever he started running through a series of screens in his floppy action. It wasn’t the most used set in Boston’s playbook, but it was the most anticipated.

Not every good team has a Play, but it’s pretty rare to see a bad team with one — it’s hard to imagine Sacramento running a functional set, let alone a signature one.

For years, we heard about Kevin Love’s ability to throw the perfect outlet pass, but we never truly saw it in action. Sure, he grabbed a lot of rebounds and certainly, he rarely turned it over throwing an outlet to Ricky Rubio, but frankly who cares? Lots of NBA players can throw that pass, and it doesn’t REALLY set the offense up any faster.

This year, however, the Wolves are using Love’s ability to develop a serious weapon — something which fans recognize as it’s developing, something as exciting as it is effective. The key? Minnesota’s prodigal (well…traded, then traded again, then signed) son Corey Brewer.

Brewer is you-better-call-your-plumber-before-your-entire-house-smells-like-mold leaky, and Minnesota is the perfect team for his style. The Wolves are third in overall rebounds and third in defensive rebounds, and Brewer isn’t much help on that score (he’s last on the team in rebounds per 36 minutes with 2.7), but that’s by design. He’s not really necessary with board vacuumers Love and Nikola Pekovic patrolling the paint.

Let’s take a look at how the play unfolds on its most basic level (and my apologies for the poor video quality…not sure what’s going on with my ripping software).

The first thing that stands out is the stark contrast in styles. The Cavaliers work the ball deliberately around the perimeter and into the lane before getting a baseline jumper. When they miss, it takes Minnesota all of 3.5 seconds to race out and create a layup on the other end.

Once again, this starts because Brewer feels comfortable enough to begin leaking out before he’s even certain the shot is going to miss.

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Once Love gets the rebound, he nearly always takes an exploratory glance down the court to see if an opportunity is presenting itself.

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Here, Brewer’s leak out has given Love the chance to display his rather incredible ability to throw a round object a very long ways very accurately. Cleveland isn’t known for its defensive acuity, but the Cavs are caught badly out of position here, and it’s probably not entirely their fault — keeping track of Brewer is enough to turn any coach’s head prematurely gray.

Although Mike Brown’s hair probably won’t turn gray.

Anyway, Brewer’s leak out has created a one-on-one opportunity at the rim. In some instances, Brewer might pull out of the fast break when another player is back with him, but most of the time he attacks the basket assuming that if he doesn’t score, he’ll be fouled. This approach has worked extremely well — in 70 transition opportunities so far this season, Brewer is averaging 1.27 points per possession which is good for 27th in the NBA. Considering that Brewer isn’t 27th or better in the league at just about anything else imaginable, this might be one of the best examples of maximizing someone’s usefulness we’ve seen in the NBA.

The above play is the basic outlet pass we think of when we imagine Kevin Love throwing them. But sometimes his outlets trigger something without flying 70+ feet.

Unlike the Cavs play we documented above, the Celtics have been decent at defense thus far, surrendering 97.7 points per game, 9th in the NBA. What’s more, it was clear that the Celtics were working to get back off missed shots more than usual. Brad Stevens’ squad has been attacking the offensive glass so far this season, but against the Wolves, Boston was careful to cut off the leak out as much as possible.

But it didn’t always work. Here, we see Love gathering the rebound. Brewer already has his back to the basket and is sprinting up the court, but Gerald Wallace (not pictured) is in pursuit and is able to cut off the passing lane between Brewer and Love.

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So instead, Love throws a fairly long outlet to Ricky Rubio, but it’s a pretty basic pass to set up the offense. Since Brewer never stopped running, however, the Wolves still have a fast break.

8

 

After Love didn’t throw him the ball initially, Brewer began shading toward the middle so that when Phil Pressey stopped Rubio’s progress, the Spaniard was able to loft a pass over every Celtic perfectly into Brewer’s fingertips. Wallace is able to contest Brewer’s shot enough to make him miss, but break has created confusion on the glass and Dante Cunningham is able to lay in an easy putback.

Finally, Love’s rebounding ability sometimes means that the Wolves are able to get out in transition without his involvement in the play at all.

This time, it’s Nikola Pekovic gobbling up the board, but it’s difficult to imagine Pek launching a fullcourt floating outlet pass to a streaking Corey Brewer. Instead, he hands off to Rubio. 4

Meanwhile, Brewer is off to the races once again — as usual, he is able to ignore the glass and race ahead full tilt. This time, he ends up in corner.

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But this time, Brewer wasn’t the only player hustling to get back ahead of the defense. Robbie Hummel and Love are spacing the fast break perfectly. Rubio ignores what would probably have been an easier pass to Hummel and instead fires it crosscourt to Brewer, who drains the corner three.

Running in transition consistently is difficult — defenses tend to adjust, and those adjustments force turnovers if the offense continues to press. More turnovers occur if the the offense starts to get tired from all the running.

But man. It’s a lot of fun to have a Play again.

For your viewing pleasure of many instances of The Play, check out our friend Owen Kinsky’s Kevin Love Outlet Pass Extravaganza, which was showcased on Deadspin early last week:

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Timberwolves squeak out 124-95 thriller over Cavaliers

If it wasn’t for Ricky, the Wolves would have been SCREWED.

If there’s anything to be said about this Cavaliers squad, it’s that they are a scrappy bunch that’s willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, the Wolves were just a little bit better tonight — besting the Cavs by 29 at the Target Center.

Wolves fans were on the edges of their seats from the beginning, as Minnesota scored just 38 points in the first quarter and 70 in the first half. The Wolves ended up with 124 points, which tied the game for 18th highest scoring in Wolves history. This, as anybody could tell you, is not as good as 17th and was cause for significant concern for fans and analysts alike.

Minnesota was bailed out by the performances of Kevin Love, who needed 16 shots to get 33 points, and Corey Brewer who made all of his 3-pointers but was a concerning 5-for-12 from inside the arc.

Now that we’ve all regained our breath a little bit, let’s take a look at some bullet points — an appropriate term, given the bullet the Wolves dodged this evening.

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Cavaliers at Timberwolves Preview: The Year of the Wolf

Going to the movies is fun, but it’s always more fun if you are there in time for the previews.

From the folks over at @TimberTrolls on Twitter, here’s this piece of YouTube perfection (NSFW if your workplace doesn’t approve of Ludacris).

Here’s the grade breakdown for this video:

  • 10/10 for the song choice, and 10/10 for the way the clips and the song tied in with the movie “Tropic Thunder.” EXPERTLY done.
  • 10/10 for this Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 1.00.35 PM
  • 10/10 for thisScreen Shot 2013-11-13 at 1.01.34 PM
  • 10/10 for thisScreen Shot 2013-11-13 at 1.03.18 PM
  • 10/10 for thisScreen Shot 2013-11-13 at 1.04.11 PM
  • 1/10 for whatever the hell this is (because I don’t know what it is, and it’s scary) but an added 9/10 for using it in conjunction with the song’s “Woop woop!” so back up to 10/10.Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 1.05.03 PM

Unless my calculations are off, this adds up to a perfect 60/10. Grammy awards, all around.

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