It’s tempting to go down the road of a panic trade post, or some other irrational knee-jerk reaction after tonight’s game, but I’m going to fight that urge since we’re not even halfway through the season and, well, I’m not panicking. Maybe exasperated or discouraged. It’s not just that the Timberwolves lost tonight at home. It’s the three wins in their last seven games, the four five game losing streak, and seeing yet another injury pile up.
After all, we’re just 36 games into the season and the Wolves had just wrapped up a five game in seven stretch while being shorthanded, and also were playing the Clippers, who have played some of the best basketball I’ve seen this season. I mean, the Timberwolves just need time to get healthy, right?
I’m not one to make excuses, but this team is banged up. You really can’t call it an excuse because it’s so apparent how banged up they are. Every team deals with injuries — they’re a part of the game — but this team seems especially unfortunate. On top of Ricky Rubio trying to re-adapt to playing with his surgically repaired knee we have Malcom Lee, Brandon Roy, Kevin Love, Chase Budinger out for extended periods of time. This goes without mentioning Josh Howard being out for the season or the nagging injuries that have hit Nikola Pekovic, JJ Barea, and now Alexey Shved.
Yeah, yeah, it’s a long season, but this is getting ridiculous. Much like Malcolm Gladwell talked about in The Tipping Point with crime, Hush Puppies, and viruses– there has to be one for this insane injury rash, right? Or at least I hope there is one and that his idea even applies to this situation.
When healthy, this team is a playoff team, and that’s why you can’t just “make a trade” in hopes of solving all of the team’s problems. As unfortunate as the team’s injuries have been this season the solution won’t provide any sort of instant gratification, and that is patience. No, really. This team is missing it’s best player and its second-best player is still trying to regain it’s step.
We’ve still seen them fight through the injuries and play .500 ball with pretty much everyone but Love and Rubio. Love will be back. Budinger will be back. Rubio is getting his legs under him and hopefully we’ll start to see the team we thought would have been. I don’t think anyone penciled this team in for last in the Northwest, but injuries have a way of killing playoff dreams.
Since it’s not too late, I guess we just…wait. We wait and hope that the injuries curb themselves in time for them to still steal a low seed. Even if they don’t stop we still know that we have a very good team that is mostly intact for another season, but it’s not the time to concede the season either. If anything, I suppose the purpose of this post is just vent out some of these frustrations or discouraged feelings.
For once, I’m able to write something about everyone’s favorite trade chip — Derrick Williams — and have it not be a long-winded post about why and where he should be traded to. In fact, despite some of his struggles at the rim and rebounding, he’s making it more difficult for the Timberwolves to trade him. Or easier, depending on if you think he’s made his value increase. Mostly, I’m referring to his defense and his shooting from distance, which he has improved both. You can see it on the court, and the numbers back it up.
The biggest issue I had with Derrick playing the three, defense aside, was that he didn’t have the range to play the position. Even Rick Adelman wasn’t crazy about just giving him minutes there because he had never played the position. My case and point last year was in his .412 FG% and .268% from three. And this season didn’t start out looking any more promising for him, but look below:
Derrick Williams Three Point Shooting by Month:
November: .333% (12 games)
December: .412% (11 games)
January: .500% (4 games)
Admittedly January is a small sample that won’t hold at that high of a mark, but he’s still showing a gradual improvement while taking as many threes per game as he did last season (2.0). This is huge on a team that has a dire need for shooters, and even if Derrick’s .400 average on the season slips another couple of points this season, that’s above average, and greatly helps the Timberwolves. How much does it help them? Well, after last night they’re now 5-1 all-time when Derrick hits three or more threes in a game.
Maybe this shouldn’t be so surprising because he was effective from distance at Arizona once he got the reps he needed. Put his month-to-month splits from last season against this year’s and you’ll see that he’s in a nice rhythm that he didn’t have before:
Derrick Williams Month-by-Month Splits ’11-’12:
December: .250 (3 games)
January: .267 (18 games)
February: .444 (15 games)
March: .269 (17 games)
April: .167 (13 games)
The comeback of Rubio has probably helped Derrick get better looks at more opportune moments, but he’s still had to step up and hit those shots, which he’s been able to do (Unlike last year with Rubio). Even this year’s sample looks more steady and trustworthy than last year’s did where his month of February just screamed “outlier”. Despite his inability to finish at the rim at times this season, even things like his eFG% and TS% have improved considerably, and could continue to climb as he improves as a finisher.
Remember, I never said he could never play the small forward spot, but that he couldn’t play it now. And if he keeps shooting like this, he could play it well one day.
Even defensively, we’re seeing Williams improve. There have been a couple of instances where I’ve watched Williams and been very impressed by what I’ve seen as far as his growth as a defender. Consider the following:
- As a power forward, Williams has posted a respectable PER of 14.4, but he’s held opposing PF’s to a much worse 9.4 PER. PER is far from a be all and end all, but paired with the eye test, it backs up what we’ve seen from Derrick as a defender this season.
Compare this to last season when he had a 12.2 at the position and opponents posted a 16.6 on him, and yeah, he’s made strides.
- With Williams on the court they surrender 101.5 points per 100 possessions, and 104.4 points per 100 possessions, meaning the team has performed better defensively with him on the court this season. Offensively, they’re actually more effective with him watching the game in it, however.
As I said above, Williams needs to improve as a finisher still, and his defense, while improved, can still get better, but he’s done some nice things of late worthy of recognition. If he ever can get his rebounding up to around his college level, he’ll be even more valuable as a player. The thing to remember with young big men is always patience, and we don’t typically see them peak until around their mid-20′s and Derrick is still just 21.
I’m annoyed. Maybe I shouldn’t let things like sports affect me this much, but some things are so flat-out dumb that it’s hard not to be aggravated by them. Of course, I’m talking about the false Kevin Love diatribe that began as soon as Love went out and his teammates stepped up to seal the victory Thursday night in Denver. I knew it was coming, and so did everyone else, but there was nothing we could do to stop it. Keep in mind I’m not addressing everyone in the space below, but you know who you are, and you need to stop it.
Of course, this stems from the Yahoo! article with Adrian Wojnarowski where fans took exception to Love’s remarks about the team, and his future with them. You know what? I think the way he went about vocalizing them was counterproductive, but the things he said weren’t necessarily wrong. Apparently he made some positive comments that didn’t make the cut, allegedly; whether you believe that or not is up to you.
This is pretty much the worst case scenario concerning Brandon Roy’s surgery: another surgery, and now more setbacks (per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski via Twitter). I really didn’t want to watch Brandon’s body breakdown up close and personal like we’re seeing, and it’s every bit as unpleasant as I imagined. You hate to see it happen to anybody, but especially to a world-class person like Brandon.
I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be in your twenties, the supposed prime of your life, but not have your body able to support both your abilities, dreams, and passion in life. We know the story of the Rookie of the Year, the All-Star, then the gradual disintegration of his knees, and the seven surgeries that have since followed.
Oh yeah, all of this is before the age of thirty. I don’t want to say I feel sorry for him, but this situation just sucks.
We knew that his knees were bone-on-bone, but you wanted to believe in his comeback. You may have wondered what he was thinking risking his long-term livelihood for basketball with the wonderful family he has, but when he talked about proving it to himself and finding that self-fulfillment (or however he worded it), you couldn’t help but nod your head and wish him the best. It almost seems unfair that others have taken their gifts and opportunities for granted, but it’s a guy like Brandon who doesn’t get to have a full career.
If he retires now, no one would blame him, or criticize him for coming back, even. He gave it what he could, put in the work, but it doesn’t appear that it’s meant to be. For Shammgod’s sake, his knees are already one level away from replacement; that’s something that typically happens to people twice his age!
It would’ve been fitting if our last image of Brandon was him in the playoffs against the Mavericks, and that impression will probably be the lasting one, but we’ll still remember the handful of games of Brandon struggling in a number three jersey. And with no timetable for return, that may be all we have of Brandon as a Timberwolf.
No matter what Brandon chooses to do, I’ll wish him the best, but I just hope he’ll know when to call it quits.
The criticism was, dare I say it, well deserved. In a game many thought the Wolves should’ve won — They really should’ve won — Love spent his time trying to shoot his way out of a horrible shooting slump since returning to the team from a broken hand before the season began. He ended up going 3-of-14 from the floor, including a pitiful 0-of-7 from three-point land, not including a botched play drawn up for him to take a three at the end of the game and one he actually took just before that — a step-back three attempt.
Rick Adelman combated the question of “Why Love?” with, “Well, all I can say, he’s our best player. I’ll take those two wide open threes any time.”
Love has battled criticism all season long. From the broken hand to the public relations monstrosity that was the Yahoo! article, he’s seen it all. It hasn’t helped that he hasn’t been able to find any groove whatsoever on the court either. Last night’s performance is just one of many poor shooting nights, as he finds himself shooting just 36-percent from the field coming into that game and not even 25-percent from deep.
It’s hard to believe that all of his problems are physical but he’s taken his fair share of beatings in just four months. Just last week he took a hard jab to his face that caused his eye to swell up and miss the New York game. Then just before that he mysteriously came down with the flu — just hours before tip off — after he was expected to start despite spraining his thumb the night before. But before it all was the bone-shattering knuckle push-ups incident, that broke his hand and forced him to sit out the first nine games of the season. Breaking your shooting hand is a huge blow in basketball because you almost have to retrain it once healed. But Love shot well in his first few games back, and Kyrie Irving just proved that it’s not a huge deal to break your hand and find the rhythm once healed.
So if it’s not his ailing physical health, what could it be? Everyone has always noted Love’s dreadful body language on the court ever since becoming the best offensive option they got. Emotionally, he expresses himself very deeply into the fibers of the game but also loses grasp of the meaning of “team” in the process. His constant complaining that comes from that lack of fouls forces mismatches on the defensive end in transition is most notable. It leaves the Wolves flailing back one man down and is part of the reason the Wolves allow the ninth most opponent fastbreak points per game this season.
Love’s start to the year just isn’t ideal; the season many thought the Wolves had a serious chance to make a run at the playoffs, the first time since 2004. But his behavior on the court is alarming and greatly unalluring. He looks out of shape, tired and entirely disjointed with what’s going on around him.
In last night’s recap, I wrote that “superstars earn their respective title because they perform at a very high level consistently on a night-by-night basis.” Love has failed to do such a thing since his miraculous debut on Nov. 21st against the Nuggets. I wrote further that Love’s failure to aid the team in other facets — clutch shots, defense, etc. — also raise the red flag in dubbing him a “star.”
But there’s no doubt in my mind that Kevin Love is still a great player in this league. It’s just unfortunate that his recent stresses haven’t allowed him to perform to his ability, which used to be that of a star in this league. This current slump has been difficult for all to watch, especially him to endure. Slumps come with more than just poor box scores; when you’re the leader of a team, it bodes great responsibility including taking the heat from fans and critics alike. We can sit back in our comfy chairs and criticize behind a computer screen — I’m a huge culprit of this — because we think we know best. But, in the end, we’re wrong. Love knows best and he’ll find a way to regain his heroic stature in Minnesota with the new coming year, and hopefully lead the Wolves to the playoffs like the star he really is.
And it all starts with his attitude.
“It’s frustrating for the entire team, we know that. I’m upset with the game, but it’s not going to hold me down,” Love said.
A somewhat hidden, highly entertaining aspect of Minnesota’s offensive success so far this season has been Rick Adelman’s proclivity for running nearly identical sets, but changing something slightly to throw off the opposing defense. When spotted, these sets feel like video game Easter eggs — small and unobtrusive, but very fun. I mentioned this tendency in Howlin T-Wolf’s recap of Monday’s frustrating loss to Orlando, and upon further review, it merits closer examination.
Early in the third quarter, before everything went to hell faster than Dimebag Darrell on the day he died, Minnesota had a play fall apart a bit when Andrei Kirilenko passed on a decently open shot. Here’s what transpired:
The easiest way to get a quick basket without pulling up for a contested jumper is to run a high pick-and-roll with a good ball-handler/passer, trusting them to create something. Here, after overloading the floor on one side and leaving Ridnour on his own in the opposite corner, the Wolves run a pick-and-roll with Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved. Shved is a decent ball-handler, and his court vision is good as well. But when a defense clusters together like this, the correct play is pretty obvious.
Jameer Nelson drops way off Ridnour to cover a rolling Pekovic which does prevent the open layup, although Nelson’s presence seems to confuse Josh McRoberts. McRoberts realizes where he should be much too late and goes flying out after Ridnour after the ball has arrived. This, incidentally, would have left Kirilenko open had Ridnour decided to make one more pass, but Ridnour buries the corner three. All in all, a pretty normal play: The Magic struggled to figure out their switches, and the Wolves, with a simple pick-and-roll, extended their lead to 15.
On the next possession, the Wolves appear to run a very similar set. (I apologize for the music playing in the background…screen recording mistake.)
At the beginning, this play is almost identical. Once again, Shved is the ball-handler. Once again Pek sets a screen to Shved’s left and rolls to the basket. Once again, the only Magic player who stops Pek’s roll to the basket is Jameer Nelson. Once again, Shved curls off the screen, sees Ridnour mostly uncovered in the corner and passes to him. But since the P&R started closer to the right side of the floor, Nelson has time to get back and stop Ridnour from scoring, so Ridnour passes inside to Pekovic. Since Nelson was the player blocking Pek’s roll, Pek has been able to get nearly directly under the basket before McRoberts gets over to stop his progress. On one hand, McRoberts did recover quickly enough to contest Pek’s shot a bit. On the other hand, Pek caught the pass with both feet inside the lowest block and really should have scored.
Despite Pek’s miss (and despite the events that would follow), sequences like this are becoming more frequent. The simplicity is part of the effectiveness, and they point to the kind of work a talented coach like Adelman can do with a full training camp and an increasingly talented roster.
Heel turn. It’s a professional wrestling phrase that helps explain the abrupt change in attitude and ego in any superstar from fan-pleasing warrior to the mat’s bad-boy. Wrestling storylines use heel turns to keep fans captivated and throw a wrinkle into ever-changing sport. The problem? Well, sometimes even your most adored athletes go through the phase to keep things fresh, leaving you with the decision to go, “Well, do I root for the bad guy intentionally? Or do I ditch his new ego-infused persona for a new, up-and-coming hero style wrestler?”
As a child, I cheered for the likes of Triple H and “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels. Continually whoopin’ ass week after week grabbed my fanhood with a tight grasp. But they too went through the hell turn story, in a different sort of way.
D-Generation X ruled the “Attitude Era” of the WWF — now WWE. A stable of wrestlers that largely worked in tag teams, the most notable was the team of Triple H and Michaels, worked together in a rebellion effort against the rest of the federation. If you dared, step in their line of work, you were surely to pay the most serious consequence, a brutal beat down of finishers consisting of Pedigrees, Bronco Busters and, of course, a little Sweet Chin Music.
Fueled by the crowd’s passion, D-Generation X gained momentum through the years. And with backup around every corner, it was near impossible to get your shot at the bad boys. Instead, because of they’re support, they were the ones who initiated the conflict. Through various pranks and vicious attacks, both physical and emotional, on fellow wrestlers, management persons and some times the great fans.
But still, the impenetrable stable never lost support. In some sense, they were underdogs in regards to the traditional wrestler. They used Guerilla attacks to go after enemies. They stood by each other’s side as one would lash out in search of a new adversary. They weren’t interested in saving the day or doing the right thing. They wanted to break things and make a mess and you dared not interfere or else.
D-Generation X were feared far and wide, not only by their wrestling peers but the managers above and even WWF owner, Vince McMahon. During their reign, McMahon lost his control of the group on multiple occasions. In 1998, McMahon grew furious with D-X’s gimmicks and rebellious behavior, he formed his own wrestling stable, something that could stand up to D-X like never before. McMahon formed the Nation of Domination around his beauty prize The Rock. Although the others, including D’Lo Brown, Farooq and once Mark Henry, were never up to snuff. Because of that, they’re feud with D-X never flourished and quickly put to rest.
So despite the best efforts from wrestlers, managers and the owner himself, the delinquent stable and their heel turn against the traditional WWF structure was largely successful. The biggest surprise was their following from the WWF Universe, though. Despite being the obvious “bad guys,” the fans still adored and cheered for them. Their gimmicks and blunt style made fans laugh, as well as their captivating attacks.
Not typically does one root for the legitimate bad boy, which is going to make Kevin Love’s case all the more interesting. If you haven’t read it quite yet, Love made his alleged heel turn on the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise by going public with some very angry, very real things to say. It’s not that they were the wrong things to say or anything like that because I’m sure they are real feelings that Love has going through his mind. But it’s not out of my bounds to go and say that they were ultimately inappropriate and attention-driven.
Love’s not a true D-X bad boy because they ultimately had complete disregard for structure and order but his heel turn resembles that of D-X ways and mentality. The insulting remarks made of management is brash move and certainly worth a double-take – He did what?? A double-take that may even question fans’ loyalty into the face of the franchise and one of the more likable players in the league. The criticism belted from the middle of the ring (Adrian Wojnarowski) so all could hear it, and it came at the brief interruption of another matter (The actual season going on), just like in true D-X form.
The message itself didn’t contain any “Suck it” or any other patented D-X phrase but came at the expense of the President of Basketball Operations, David Kahn, and owner Glen Taylor:
“I don’t know who labels people stars, but even [T'wolves owner] Glen Taylor said: I don’t think Kevin Love is a star, because he hasn’t led us to the playoffs,” Love told Yahoo! Sports. “I mean, it’s not like I had much support out there.
“Even people in my own organization were asking if it was a legitimate injury, people calling my honesty and integrity into question,” Love says. “And that’s what really hurt me.”
“You walk into the locker room every year, and it’s completely turned over,” Love says. “There’s new guys everywhere. And then it happens again and again. You start to wonder: Is there really a plan here? Is there really any kind of a … plan?”
He’s got a point in all three of those comments. Taylor has never been one to label his players worthy of high praise. Only Kevin Garnett got that honor, which makes me think that’s the only superstar Taylor believes is still alive. And the injury, it was disheartening to the entire franchise and fan base because of his standing on the team. For us to not question “knuckle pushups” would be a disservice. Being the center of attention on a team calls for public scrutiny and that’s why the injury was so highly dramatic. Then he talks about the constant turnover, year after year. It has to be sickening to Love to have to develop brand new chemistry with new guys each year but it’s also what you’re getting paid to do.
Love’s comments are all fair, and he brings up great points. But it’s not like the Wolves and the fans don’t know these things, which makes bringing his opinions public that much more scrutinizing. Now, because of his actions, we get to bring him and his words into the light and dissect them for what they are. And he received that criticism last night. Wolves fans spattered throughout Target Center welcomed him with “boos” and even jeered the former All-Star and Olympian with jeers when he was benched with three minutes left to go in the game. His comments were one thing but a 3-17 shooting performance in a big home game is another. Both deserved the reaction of those several wild fans.
The comments agaain, to me, were rude, out-of-line and the timing was greatly inappropriate. Currently, in the midst of a playoff run season, having your star come out and criticize the management and the team that they’ve brought in, it not only creates a complete PR mess but also insults his teammates. You know, the ones management chose to play alongside Love. That’s what I saw last night, an emotional Love going through the game’s highs and lows with little to contribute himself.
But luckily, most heel turns in the WWE come full circle. They reach the very tipping point of losing fans and interest in a character. That’s what happened to Triple H and Michaels. Once their juvenile ways were over, they went right back to the adored single wrestlers that the fans loved. Right back to the superhero type storyline they were destined for. Right back to making wrestling one of the best entertainment options in the country because it was allowed for fans to love them once again.
But somehow the heel always finds the exact right time to retain their original superstar form. That includes adoring the fans once again, bucking your high horse and doing what’s right for the organization as a whole. Love has created enough of a mess to earn himself that heel turn title but there’s always time to turn it around. It doesn’t come easy because he’s certainly lost the respect of some with his words, and performances like last night certainly don’t help any bit. But, as he’s proven before, he’s worth the captivation of our hearts and minds, and once he clears his head and puts up the kind of game he’s typical of, the face turn will begin and we can safely root for him again.
David Kahn has a special affection for Pau Gasol, doesn’t he? The Timberwolves executive has been linked to the skilled Lakers’ big man for over a year now. The reason for Kahn’s fixation beyond Gasol’s basketball expertise and high i.q. is puzzling, though. Gasol’s proved that he’s deteriorating right before the NBA’s eyes and his game is losing that touch, as Gasol’s confidence continues to drown.
The Lakers have been openly — and secretively — shopping Gasol over the past year, which coincides with Kahn’s timeline perfectly. They understand his better days are behind him and need to start putting a foot through the aging franchise’s future door. Ideally, the Lakers would be able to receive back what Gasol should’ve given them this season. But it’s not 2010 and Gasol’s knee tendenitis is not a welcoming sign that he’ll turn it around any time soon, if ever. And in a free trade market, assets lose value quickly, especially big men with little-to-no mental spark or determined attitude.
That’s what makes the latest rebuff at a Wolves’ trade offer so intriguing. Marc Stein and Ramona Shelbourne reported today that the Lakers again denied a trade from Kahn’s office, reportedly centered around Nikola Pekovic and Derrick Williams with potentially more pieces involved beyond that.
Talk about an impressive little package. Pekovic has quickly established himself as a top-10 center in the league, while Williams, the former second overall pick in 2011, has yet to prove his worth stuck behind superstar Kevin Love and madman Dante Cunningham in the rotation.
But it’s just not enough for the Lakers to pull the trigger.
But let’s pretend. Let’s say the Lakers did go all in on a deal with the Wolves on a package revolving around Gasol, Williams and Pekovic. What would that mean for the Lakers and the Wolves?
The Lakers, it certainly means getting younger. Williams, contrary to Minnesota fans, still has hope. He’s shown this season that he can connect from deep. He’s still got moves in isolation. It all comes down to his finishing ability and overall consistency. He hasn’t been able to show that due to the eight inch thick cement walls that encloses Rick Adelman’s doghouse. As for Pekovic, well, he’s a scapegoat in case Dwight Howard bails after this season. Not likely, but Pek may be a cheaper resign option, and in the mean time, help form the strongest center tandem in the league. By far.
For the Wolves, or Kahn, I should say, he welcomes the Spaniard big man with open arms. He brings a specific skillset and veteran leadership to a squad lacking both from a big man perspective that Kevin Love just doesn’t. Love’s game is more integrated than Gasol’s but his niche skill in the post and passing ability creates serious problems for defenses when defending the paint and the baseline. Love just doesn’t have the post presence and ability to score from that spot, let alone find open players with his back to the basket. Not to mention the Spanish connection he and Ricky Rubio have already and can further root from the means of playing together in Minnesota.
But with Adelman’s offense and the current makeup of the team, Gasol’s slower pace doesn’t fit the team at all. The Wolves like to run, and once Rubio returns, the pace will pick up exceptionally more. Thinking that Gasol can run with the youthful Pack at this point in his career would be blasphemous.
This is all assuming that Gasol’s knees heal up and he can return to just 80% of the form he once used to be, which is a huge if. Not to mention the heavy contractual load that Gasol brings to an already messed up cap situation that has serious financial obligations through the next three years.
All factors considered, Gasol’s fit within the current team just isn’t right. The deal that would be in place to get him here would have serious implications on the team’s chemistry down the stretch in an integral season, where the Wolves are looking to make their first legit playoff push in a long, long time. Gasol just has too much baggage — attitude, health and contract combined — to really make a positive impact on the Wolves for the rest of the season. It’s definitely a gamble, and Kahn’s a gambling man. We just have to hope he isn’t given the real opportunity to go through with rolling the dice in the first place.
I woke up to Jerry Zgoda this morning in a delightful way. Not like that.
Take a look at this. Zgoda analyzes Ricky Rubio’s return to practice and the harmony that he and the Wolves’ new international star, Alexey Shved, will create in the backcourt. He makes a strong point, calling it the most “dynamic entertaining backcourts” in the league.
But the essence of being dynamic in the NBA is all about chemistry, something the Wolves have greatly lacked. We’ve seen it already this season with the barrage of injuries. It’s tough to create chemistry when your teammates have a knack for missing games and practice in place of the trainer’s table, therefore an effective, efficient set of players can be hard to come by.
The return of Kevin Love spells it out perfectly. Love’s first quarter back this season was remarkable. It was fueled off pure energy and emotion from his dramatic return, which was great for the fans. But soon after, we saw Love look disjointed for the rest of that game and a few after that even. He’s still putting up the numbers because, well, he is Mr. Numbers. But it’s visibly and painfully obvious that he’s still getting back into the flow of the offense and slowly but surely working to build chemistry with his new teammates.
Luckily, Rubio likely won’t go through that much of a learning curve upon his return. Rubio has already been touted as a chemistry kind of player. He’s highly unselfish, so much it’s almost a bad thing sometimes, and because of that he makes his teammates
better; he puts them in positions to score anywhere on the court. With Rubio, teammates learn to work off his flow because he is so good at what he does.
Shved has a similar approach to the game. He’s a creative playmaker, who looks to scramble a defense into dysfunction that leaves teammates open to score. But he’s also an above-average shooter that has yet to show his potential this season in that regard. He’s only shooting 39-percent, 31-percent from three-point line, but he’s proved in practice and film that I’ve seen from Russia that he has the ability to knock down open shots with ease.
Pairing Rubio’s playmaking ability with Shved’s hidden shooting stroke could form one of the league’s best backcourts, especially in the fourth quarter, given their tendency to outperform opponents in the clutch. This season, Shved’s putrid three-point percentage is a result of poor penetration, missed kick outs and Shved’s wherewithal to create his own, sometimes poor, shot. According to Hoopdata, Shved’s three-pointers are only assisted 52-percent of the time. A little context, Kevin Love, the Wolves’ best perimeter shooter last season, had 92-percent of his three-pointers assisted. Shved hasn’t had the luxury of a point guard who can pick and probe and kick out to him for an open shot. Many of his threes are forced or are open but only for a split second because they aren’t crafted well enough. Love’s assisted three-pointer rate was a direct result of Rubio’s special ability to find open perimeter shooters.
Shved’s going to thrive alongside Rubio for that reason alone. We’re going to see his three-pointers made and overall shooting percentages increase because he’s going to have more opportunities at open shots and more space because of how well Rubio draws defenders like a magnet. Shved’s not the only one who’s going to benefit from Rubio’s return; Nikola Pekovic will find more looks and Andrei Kirilenko will have more room to work the baseline off of cuts and on the receiving end of the patented Rubio bounce pass.
Rubio’s return means so much in terms of the offense, defense and overall culture of the team. He and Shved will stir opponents’ emotions on both ends of the court, forcing steals and creating plays and open shots. It’s going to be fun to see the end result, and it may come sooner than you think because chemistry means everything and these two should be able to hit it off sooner rather than later.
OJ Mayo never found his place in Memphis. Rotating roles from starter to sixth man, he never shined like many thought he would when he came out of USC. The third overall pick had lofty expectations that sprouted from being the most highly touted high school prospect since Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony.
An outstanding rookie campaign placed him second in voting for Rookie of the Year behind Derrick Rose. And it probably could’ve been the worst thing to happen to Mayo.
In his third and fourth seasons, Mayo failed to live up to those expectations that his followers laid out before him. He couldn’t keep up. And thus he found himself in an unfamiliar environment: On the bench, and the Grizzlies felt that he wasn’t the player he was supposed to be, allowing him to walk free.
Last Summer Mayo signed with the Dallas Mavericks as an unrestricted free agent to the most modest of modest contracts imaginable for a smooth-shooting sixth man, at the very least. Looking to bolster their backcourt after losing Jason Kidd and just the general aging of the squad as a whole, Mayo was the perfect combination of youth and experience and potential and proven ability. He was the clear-cut choice to come in and start immediately. And he’s dong exactly what the Grizzlies wanted him to do the last two seasons for the Mavericks right now.
Mayo’s exceeding all of his career totals in all of the main offensive categories, including eFG% (60%), TS% (64%), and PER (20.29). He’s a huge reason that the revitalized, Dirk-less Mavericks are fourth in the league in offensive efficiency and eFG%.
The currently star-less Timberwolves were in dire need of some backcourt depth, just like the Mavs, this past summer. They decided to take a risk on the knee-bent Brandon Roy. By convincing David Kahn, Glen Taylor and the Wolves fanbase to take a leap and give him a chance, he was given a bold two year, $10 million deal.
The expectations, like that of Mayo in Memphis, set by Minnesota fans were paramount. The preeminent factors involved Roy’s history of near-Kobe-Bryant levels of production that seemed like just yesterday. Just like Mayo, Roy had a past so tantalizing, so seducing that we can’t help but create a phony set of standards for their performance. Acquiring a once-superstar who’s still young enough to pray for a comeback is the root of fans’ expectations for Roy. The fans fell for his convincing story, management fell for it, and I’m pretty sure even Roy himself swayed himself that his comeback was feasible.
But here we are. Roy has now missed the last three games due to knee “soreness,” and his return is all but sure as of right now (He’s reportedly wishing for a Friday night return against Golden State). No one has an exact answer to the reason but it’s a fair assessment that the comeback has not gone as planned according to anyone’s account. The games he has played in have been ugly. Averaging just under six points a contest, a 31% shooting percentage and defense that resemble that of an old-time swinging saloon door.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put together the facts: Mayo has been fantastic; Roy has been awful. The Mavs made a brilliant move signing Mayo for two years, $8 million; The Wolves got swindled signing a washed-up superstar for two years, $10 million. Mayo’s bid for a “comeback” season has trumped anything that Roy has done to this point in his return to the NBA. It makes you wonder, “What if…” What if the Wolves had chosen another option over Roy? What if they had decided that Mayo’s youth and shooting range outweighs Roy’s risky knees and potentially beautiful comeback fairy tale? What if, just for once, things just swung in favor of the lonely Wolves? What if…?
Roy has a chance to make his mark on this team still. It’s by no means a longshot to think he can’t return to the lineup and do some good things. But it’s time to give up on the expectations, folks. He’s not the Roy he used to be nor will he ever come close. Mayo, on the other hand, would sure be useful right about now. He’s efficient, he’s shooting threes and, most importantly, has no knee issues; everything the Wolves want and need right now from a 2-guard in a desperate time, where players in suits outnumber reserves on the bench.
The Wolves had Mayo once before — sorta. And they passed on him then. They decided to pass him up again. What will come of it? Only time will tell but you have to admit, even in just a small sample size to start the season, the Wolves are going to get burned. I’m hungry.