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About Dieng Time?

Dieng or Pek? That shouldn't be the conversation...

Dieng or Pek? That shouldn’t be the conversation…

There’s been a lot of talk recently on the Wolves’ rookie center Gorgui Dieng. Most notably, David Thorpe had some overly nice things to say about the Louisville product’s development and, more importantly, his production over the last month.

The Timberwolves’ best news, though, has come in the form of their rookie center out of Louisville, Gorgui Dieng, who has exploded onto the scene and will now play a huge role in Minnesota’s future plans — a role that could also have a big impact on Love’s decision whether to stay in the Twin Cities.

Woah now! You’re telling me that Dieng could impact where Kevin Love is going to play basketball in a year and a half? Either Thorpe is psychic or he’s gone off the deep-end. But sure enough he stuck by his point/article and reiterated his enamor for the rookie big man on today’s version of TrueHoop TV.

Dieng has been a awful nice piece. I won’t fight anyone on that account. His per game numbers on the season are terribly misleading because of exactly what Thorpe said: Rick Adelman doesn’t want to play young guys unless; A) they can flat-out ball WITHIN the system; B) he’s forced to develop because management said so or now, in the Wolves’ case; C) injuries force Adelman’s hand to play unproven commodities. And if you argue with Adelman on that point, you’ll never win.

So instead, let’s take a look at his numbers for the past month since taking over for Nikola Pekovic, who is nursing a constantly troubled ankle that hindered him last year into this season. Firstly, Dieng’s numbers as a starter in eight games are pretty nice. He’s averaging just over 12 points and 12 rebounds as a starter. He boasts a solid true shooting percentage (59 percent) and, what I personally love, is that is usage rate is on the lower side compared to Pekovic, who runs as focal point 1B in Adelman’s offensive sets, especially early in ball games.

What Thorpe was so excited about in regards to Dieng was his defensive aptitude and the always-sexy athletic intangibles. He’s right that Dieng is a fantastic above-the-rim defender, whereas Love and Pek, now both average to above-average defenders, stay well below the rim, utilizing their strength to move bodies and grab defensive rebounds. At 6-foot-11, 245 lbs., Dieng is a force in the paint who can jump above the rim and force penetrating guards out and make some of the most offensively skilled big men to think twice about their movements.

Gorgui Dieng has exploded as a starter in lieu of Pekovic

Gorgui Dieng has exploded as a starter in lieu of Pekovic

But what I’ve noticed looking at the numbers is that Dieng only, and I stress only because of how Thorpe pumped up Dieng so highly, averages just over a steal and a block per start in an average of nearly 32 minutes in a game. Perhaps probing steals and blocks in just eight starts makes me look out to be a cynic but considering five of those eight blocks came in just one game, maybe you’d think more about Dieng’s rim-keeping abilities.

I know I’m being harsh. After all, the guy has a 99 defensive rating total on the year, which ranks him amongst some of the best big men (Tim Duncan, Deandre Jordan, Roy Hibbert, just to name a few) in the league. But that’s the point. Everyone is so hopped up about Dieng’s play, which stirs some converse feelings about Pekovic’s standing on the Wolves in the future.

Thorpe is convinced that Dieng is the answer and that the next proper move would be to exchange Pek for some help off the bench or perhaps try to lure one more star in here, at least for the short-term, to convince Love to stay five more years. I understand how refreshing it is to watch Dieng play but do we have to go back and remind everyone just how good and valuable Pek is to the Wolves too?

Pekovic is a better defender than what many give him credit for

Pekovic is a better defender than what many give him credit for

Pekovic came from nothing when he started in the league. He was foreign to NBA basketball and even the USA. He fouled too much, he was reckless and turnover-prone on offense and he didn’t seem to care all that much, taking after his good buddy Darko Milicic. But then something snapped, Pek got hot in his second season, corrected a lot of mistakes — many of which had to do with basic defensive positioning — and eventually performed consistently enough to land him a hell of a pay day last summer. Although the injury bug flies often near Pek’s home, he’s still a top-five offensive center with a knack for banging the offensive boards better than anyone BUT Kevin Love. Pek is actually the fourth-best starting center in terms of offensive rating and also a big-time free throw shooter at nearly 75 percent this season.

Pekovic clearly has value to this team, despite his faults of not being a great defender or a low usage rate guy on offense. But in terms of statistics, he and Love have formed a formidable pair over the past two seasons, which is why he was awarded his fat pay check in the first place. As we all know, statistics aren’t exactly the best way to measure a team’s success — the Wolves would be the first to claim that after this abysmal, disappointing season — and wins are still the ultimate decider. Footnote: Dieng has a .139 win shares per 48 compared to Pek’s .170.

Getting back to coach Thorpe’s idea of trading Pek to make way for Dieng as the new starter in Minnesota, I think it’s obviously clear that that’s not an easy decision to make. Dieng’s sample size as a starting NBA center is too small to determine is long-term potential, and Pekovic’s inconsistent court time could simply be chocked up to shitty luck.

So here’s an idea for ya: Keep BOTH of them!

I’m a full-believer that Dieng can develop into a quality starting center one day but he, just like every rookie, must go through the learning curve, which will see plenty of ups and downs. Just as Pekovic. And as for Pekovic, having watched him grow over the past three seasons, I fully believe that he’s a top-five offensive center — perhaps even top-10 offensive big man — in the NBA. Just like Dieng’s hopping ability and length, Pek’s size and brute strength are healthy qualities to have at your disposal, no matter who’s coaching. So what’s so wrong with keeping both?

Here’s how I see it. You have a top-five, rim-protecting defender with great agility, some good abilities on offense and always plays with high energy in Dieng. You also have a top-five low-block scorer, who is at the very least average on interior defense and a rebound mogul. One is still learning the game, such as positioning, trends and playing styles and the other has been forced to miss a lot of time due to injury. Also, according to both players’ by minutes averages, they both play their best ball when seeing the court anywhere from 20-29 minutes per game. 20 plus 20 is a full game of basketball, folks.

If you ask me, together, Dieng and Pek create one of the most dynamic, physically-gifted tandems the league has seen out of two centers in a very long time. There’s no reason to think that these two players couldn’t play together for the next couple years and make an impact on both ends of the court each and every night. Playing a “center by committee” isn’t a popular strategy but it’s one that could very well work in Minnesota given Dieng and Pek’s strengths, abilities and physical and mental boundaries.

That is why there should be nothing wrong with these two playing together. But still, the problem with many NBA critics today — myself included — is they’re too quick to judge and immediately look to fix any mistake or redundancy they can find. Just because Dieng has looked great in eight starts does not mean that the Wolves should trade away a center in Pek, who’s posted PER numbers of 21, 20 and 20 that past three seasons. That’s why it’s utter lunacy to think and act on such a short-term basis. Most of the time, you’ll just end up sounding like a fool when all comes to fruition. And believe me, I’ve fallen victim to this more than I’d like to know.

In the end it’s a “Why get rid of one when you already have both?” situation for me. There’s no reason to rush a decision of who you have to keep right now when you can enjoy having both of them for the foreseeable future. While I appreciate reading and listening to David Thorpe and others bask in Dieng’s glimmer of success because it has been a silver-lining to what is yet again a very depressing season, there’s no reason to throw ideas of moving in a new direction or trading anyone when, in actuality, keeping both could be all the depth the Wolves need in the first place.

Another Back-to-Back: Clippers at Timberwolves Preview

I figured that since I have some time today before the game and that it’s been awhile since I’ve done a preview, I would do one for tonight. After all, tonight is one of those rare Monday night home games, so I may as well take full advantage. Tonight the Clippers roll in to town coming off of a good win against the Rockets on Saturday.

Los Angeles comes in having won 14 of their last 16, so, yeah, these guys are good. As for the Timberwolves, they dropped another one on the road last night in Brooklyn and will have a short turnaround before tonight’s game. Fortunately for the Timberwolves (and unfortunately for the Clippers), Blake Griffin is doubtful for tonight and Danny Granger is — now, stop me if you’ve heard this one before — out for a week with a hamstring strain. Also, there is still no sign of JJ Redick.

This actually comes as a bit of good news for the Timberwolves, especially if Griffin can’t go. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said earlier today that if Blake can’t go he’ll have to decide if this means going big or small. Since Chris Paul is his point guard I would say he’s overthinking this some, but we’ll have to wait until we get closer to game time to find out just what they’ll do. I would assume that if they do decide to go big Ryan Hollins would get the start and Glen Davis if they went small, but we’ll see. I’m a little sad they traded Byron Mullens so we won’t be able to watch him launch awful threes for 30 minutes, but oh well.

The Timberwolves continue to be mostly healthy, save for Ronny Turiaf and AJ Price. It’s unlikely Kevin Love will be confined to another 14 point and nine rebound performance like last night. It’s also hard to see Nikola Pekovic 13 point and six rebound perfromance, especially if the Clippers are without Griffin. Yet, I can almost guarantee you Corey Brewer won’t have another 21 point and four steal performance, but it would be nice to see Good Corey.

To my point about Pekovic, the Timberwolves’ frontcourt could be in for a big night. Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng shot a combine 7-11 last night and grabbed 17 rebounds. With no Griffin, the Clippers may have to lean on DeAndre Jordan a little more than usual, giving the Timberwolves an opportunity to test out their new found frontcourt depth. It’ll be interesting to see how the physical Pekovic fares at keeping Jordan out of the paint and also have the luxury of having Dieng’s length and shot blocking instincts to combat his athleticism. Really, Jordan isn’t much of a problem unless he’s within three feet of the hoop. Also, don’t be shy about using those fouls…

Anyway, game time is 7pm. TV is FSN and radio is WCCO AM 830, as always. You can also follow along @DerekJamesNBA on Twitter since I’ll be tweeting from the game.

THIS IS WHY YOU NEED TWO CENTERS: Timberwolves thrash Lakers 143-107

Follower screencapped me intently following my Twitter game.

Follower screencapped me intently following my Twitter game.

I don’t even know how to start this recap. I mean, how much is there really to talk about with a 36-point win. Really, the story of one quarter is the same as the next quarter, and the next quarter, and so on. We knew coming in the Timberwolves were the favorites, especially with Pau Gasol sitting out, and they backed that up. However, this doesn’t make for much of a story. Here were some follower ideas for a recap:

(Be glad I forgot about this idea. If I were to re-write this, I’d do this.)

 

 

Out of the gate, the Timberwolves set the tone with their frontcourt. Nikola Pekovic, playing his first game back after rehabbing his ankle bursitis, came out with 12 points in just 7:43 seconds of playing time on 4/4 shooting. Kevin Love did as well, with 12 points and five points, including 3/5 from three. Minnesota shot 65 percent, scored 41 points and held the Lakers to 24 points.

The throttling continued into the second when the Timberwolves padded their lead in part to a 12/19 shooting quarter, but also a five-minute scoreless stretch by Los Angeles. Things were so bad for the Lakers that Nick Young was their leading scorer with 11 points, but it took him nine shots to get there. Yet, the worst part was that I had Daily Dime duty and had to try to seem like an objective observer. But do you know how hard that is when the other team is so terrible?! I really was trying to be fair, but the only consolation I could find for the Lakers was that no one else got hurt.

You know the most exciting part of the third? Not even the fact that they scored 34 points in the quarter — just nine fewer than they had in the first half — but that their scoring was highlighted by Kent Bazemore’s 4/4 shooting. Yeah, that’s it. For the Timberwolves, Kevin Love notched his second career triple-double, and also became the first Timberwolf to do in under 30 minutes. To put it in simple terms: he was the Domino’s of gawdy stats. Or a better pizza place…either way; Love finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Perhaps the weirdest thing was the Timberwolves’ shaky bench not only holding a lead, but building on it. The Lakers porous defense and penchant for contested midrange jumpers on offense made it easy for the reserves to continue to push the lead into the 30’s and even 40’s. When it was all said and done, we witnessed history. The Timberwolves’ 143 points were a franchise record for points in a regulation game. On top of that their point total and shooting percentage (67) were the highest in the NBA all year.

After the game Adelman praised the team’s energy and felt everyone had a solid game, which is always a good thing. Really, this was the perfect way to follow-up Wednesday night’s blowout of the Hawks: with another blowout.

“Wait. I thought you capitalized the title for a reason, but you only mentioned one center? Do your job!” 

Easy. I was working towards that.

It’s been the latest #hotsportstake around these parts to talk about trading Pekovic in favor of starting Gorgui Dieng without really having any real reason whatsoever. I wrote about it on Monday for Hardwood Paroxysm, but can rehash my main points quickly: 1) Good teams have depth and now they do, so why not keep them; 2) Dieng and Pekovic are not redundant skill-wise, so why not keep them; 3) We haven’t seen nearly enough of Dieng to know that he can be consistent, but we know Pekovic will. Then there’s a fourth that Steve McPherson of A Wolf Among Wolves brought up, and that’s the fact that they will cost roughly $14 million dollars combined for the next three years; that’s a bargain.

Tonight we saw each player showcase their strengths. Dieng had 14 points, nine rebounds and a block. Yet, he had five fouls in 22 minutes because he struggled at times to get in the right position. Pekovic on the other hand finished with 26 points on 9/10 shooting and three rebounds. In almost exactly the same amount of time he finished with two fewer fouls. The two players scored in their different ways– Pekovic with his brute strength and Dieng by taking advantage of easy looks.

The Timberwolves are undoubtedly better with both players, and again, no one is making them choose between them! I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been subjected to so many terrible teams and we’re just not used to having nice things, but this is what good teams have. Playoff teams need depth, and while they may not be one this year, they will have the postseason as a goal next season. This is literally what the team has been searching for as long as I can remember and now they have it, so they’re not going to break that up.

While Pekovic may deal with his nagging injuries, it’s nice to know that Dieng could be a reliable spot starter in that event. That way a guy like Ronny Turiaf is now your third center, but also a viable backup for a few games. See, this is how injuries don’t derail your season. It’s awful, I know, having two good players, but we’ll just have to make the best of it.

“I think his experience, playing, it’s going to help him,” said Adelman after the game. “I think he has some confidence and the guys are getting more confident that they can throw him the ball at the basket and he’s going to make it.”

From the sounds of it, Adelman is also okay with having two good players at the same position. This should go without saying, but it gives a coach options and avoids any drop-off at the position when one goes to the bench. When you can alternate between two players who are efficient, can rebound and play proficient defense in their own way, you are in an advantageous position.

Anyway, why don’t I touch on some other things.

– Shabazz Muhammad didn’t check in until the game was well within hand with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but when he did he played well. Muhammad went 4/4 from the floor for nine points, and scored from all areas of the floor including three; the midrange; and even a Dwyane Wade-esque tear-drop floater while driving baseline. Some lamented his late check-in to the game, but it really didn’t matter when Adelman put him in.

– The Timberwolves committed 21 turnovers to the Lakers’ eight, but won by 36. This is atypical of a team in this game but they made up for it by dominating the second-chance and points in the paint battles.

– There were zero lead changes. The Lakers’ biggest lead was…zero. Conversely, the Timberwolves’ was 41. Tonight’s only tie was at tip-off when it was 0-0. Yeah, the Lakers are bad.

– Tangent: All of this talk about the Timberwolves having to prove to Love that this will be the best shot at his long-term success, but nothing about the Lakers having to prove that they will be good again any time soon? Obviously acquiring Love would speed up that process, but they need more pieces to go with him still. Yeah, his parents and girlfriend live there, and he went to school there, so there are ties, but you would think that this has to come up. Also, “But the Lakers always find a way!” is not a real argument; it’s a seven-word revisionist history on the Lakers’ track record.

– Ricky Rubio’s steal tonight was his 175th of the season, tying Ty Corbin’s record set in the ’89-’90 season.

– If you don’t high-five kids when you come out of the tunnel, you’re a terrible person. Also if you don’t share the media room M&M’s.

The Winny City: Timberwolves drop Bulls 95-86

The Timberwolves have never really fared well against the Bulls given the respective arcs of the two franchises. Initially, the Timberwolves were in their expansion phase and the Jordan Bulls were in full-swing. Then, Jordan retired and Garnett reigned freely, and then as he left Minnesota Rose rose to prominence in Chicago. Really, it’s made for a very uneven series in the 25 years of the matchup’s history. And coming into tonight, the Bulls had swept every series since ’09 against the Timberwolves, including three straight at United Center and seven consecutive overall. Tonight, with the Bulls short Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah (Illness), the Timberwolves were in prime position to pounce.

The Timberwolves began the game jumping out to a modest lead by getting out in transition early and racking up all the easy baskets they could get. Then, halfway through the first, Nikola Pekovic went down with a sore achilles and did not return to the game. In his wake, everyone’s favorite player, Ronny Turiaf, stepped in and gave the team a much-needed boost.

Turiaf played well with the team’s backup point guards in the pick n’ roll and getting easy lobs off of those plays. When Turiaf wasn’t scrapping for points on offense, he was bringing the swat to the defensive end, too. Turiaf finished with a season high 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks and was an absolute difference maker. Thanks to Turiaf, the Timberwolves were able to coast into the second half with the lead.

While the Timberwolves never really had their lead in question, the Bulls were not going to back down that easy. Especially not a Tom Thibodeau coached team. Chicago came out, grabbed a few points off of turnovers and made Minnesota uncomfortable enough to call a quick timeout. Still, the Bulls’ offense proved to be too anemic despite the Timberwolves own offensive struggles and still led going into the fourth quarter, 72-65.

By this point, it had become clear that the Timberwolves were going to need a bit of a push to not let the Bulls hang around. Well, that sort of worked out, thanks to more steady bench contributions from Turiaf, but also Chase Budinger who finished with 12 points. The Bulls pulled close late in the game behind a DJ Augustin three, but Kevin Love would answer it on the  other end with a layup off of a Rubio pass and that seemed to seal it. Actually, no. The true dagger was when Rubio came down with the defensive rebound and flipped it to Brewer streaking towards the basket and screamed, “FATALITY” (citation needed) as he emphatically dunked the ball.

Because Thibs, you continue fouling when it’s a 3-4 possession game and under a minute left, the Bulls gave the Timberwolves several freebies on the night, in part because they insisted on continuously sending Love to the line who finished 14-14 on the night. Love may have struggled with his three ball, but made up for it with his perfection from the line. Love also finished with just eight rebounds, begging the question: did he accidentally sip out of Noah’s Gatorade cup during pregame?

So, the Timberwolves break yet another streak, this time to the Bulls. Perhaps more importantly they take three of four on the road and head into a much easier portion of their schedule. In a way, tonight also had to be good for their finishing abilities in late game situations. The Bulls may have been shorthanded, but this was still a road game in a building they hadn’t performed well in and never let them back in the game. Even when Chicago would make a run, they would calmly push back the charge and continue to play their game.

Love finished with 31 points and eight rebounds and JJ Barea led the team with seven assists. Rubio played a nice, even game, finished with 9-6-4 on the night. Carlos Boozer led the way for Chicago with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Jimmy Butler (!) and Augustin finished with 16 and 19 points, respectively.

Shorthanded team or not, the Timberwolves needed this to carry over some positive momentum into this upcoming lighter portion of their schedule. It wasn’t necessarily a guaranteed win for them, but they certainly went out and got it even when things got tough.

Pekovic and Martin Carry Timberwolves over Mavs, 112-106

On the first night of yet another back-to-back, the Timberwolves rolled into Dallas on Saturday night to play the Mavericks. The Timberwolves came in carrying a five-game road losing streak and would need to find someday, any day, to build some confidence on the road if they planned on being a playoff team. In fact, the Timberwolves were just 2-6 on the road and have yet to win a game away from Target Center since the Lakers game.

Things didn’t start out so well for the Timberwolves, as they began the game in a shooting slump that put them down 7-2 early in the first quarter. Yet, six straight Nikola Pekovic points and a Kevin Martin three later, they were right back in the game. The Mavericks had a tough time contending with Nikola Pekovic all night, who finished with 21 points on 10-13 shooting and nine rebounds. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Pekovic’s nine boards was the fact that five of them were offensive rebounds. Dallas really had no answer for him last night.

The other big story of the game was Kevin Martin, who eventually saw his 37 straight made free throw streak end in the final minute of the game. When Martin finally began to heat up in the second quarter, he began to hit the Mavericks from everywhere, which is what I suppose happens when you tab Monta Ellis to be your Martin-stopper. Martin managed to get out in transition for quick dunks and pull-up threes, as well as working off of screens per usual. The Timberwolves even exploited the Martin-Ellis matchup on the block with a post-up! Yet, the brunt of Martin’s damage was done at the line– shooting 10-11 as a part of a Timberwolves team that shot 19 more free throws than their opponent.

Last night, the Timberwolves were able to keep this game out of the Mavericks’ reach, dangling it tortuously just passed arm’s length. The Mavericks fared well in categories like points in the paint, points off of turnovers and turnovers. However, their inability to keep Minnesota off of the glass, the line and inability to force them to miss threes would ensure they were never really coming back in this thing.

Now, the Timberwolves come into Oklahoma City to play a Thunder team that has hit their stride with Russell Westbrook back in the fold. At least they come in with a little bit of momentum, which they’ll need since this won’t be a blowout of Biblical proportions like the last time these two teams met.

Notes: 

– Nikola Pekovic’s shooting over the first seven games was a common talking point at the very early stages of the season. In the team’s first seven games he shot just 31-77 from the floor or 40 percent. Yet, since November 11th against the Clippers, Pekovic has been on a bit of a tear. Since then, Pekovic has made 80 of 131 shots in 10 games, or an impressive 61 percent. Pekovic’s shooting in the last few weeks is why it was so odd that he was struggling as much as he was, but now he seems to be doing very well for himself.

– Luc Richard Mbah a Moute made his Timberwolves debut tonight. In 26 minutes Mbah a Motue posted four points and seven rebounds, but it was cool to see how he got those points. His first basket he realized he was matched up against Vince Carter on the perimeter and took him off of the dribble and was able to eventually get into the paint for the layup. Now, do you want Mbah a Moute regularly try to create like that? Probably not, but Carter is a much better defender in post-up situations, so there was an advantage there. His second was a transition basket that he was fouled on and earned an and-one opportunity. Don’t look for Mbah a Moute to stretch the floor, but look for him to play intelligently within himself and taking his spots where he can.

– The Timberwolves improved to 9-0 on the season when leading after three quarters. The Mavericks broadcast threw out a stat that the Mavs have never won a game all season when they’ve trailed by more than six, which seems off, but noteworthy if true.

– Kevin Martin has made a ridiculous 39 of his last 40 free throw attempts.

Timberwolves-Lakers Preview: WHY WON’T YOU DIE?!

I should clarify something: I don’t actually want anyone to die. It’s just that this Lakers team on paper looks like a team that should be among the dregs of the league, but they not — and games aren’t played on paper — and the Lakers are somehow 3-4 and hanging around in the middle of the Pacific division standings. This team was supposed to have lost too much in the offseason without bringing enough back in, and to top it off they’re doing this all without Kobe Bryant.

They are quite the puzzling team in that we don’t really even know what to make of them. Through seven games we’ve seen them blown out and we’ve seen them blowout or steal wins from some good teams.

Here is a list of things this Lakers team hasn’t been very good at: making shots within the arc, making free throws and forcing turnovers. But they have been the league’s ninth-best three point shooting team and fourth-best defensive rebounding team which has kept them competitive throughout the early stages of the season. When you rebound well defensively you eliminate second chance point opportunities and are able to control the pace of the game. Coupled with strong three point shooting, you’re making high value shots while eliminating a way for your opponents to get second chance points– a dangerous combination on any given night.

This is what 3-4 looks like: boom or bust.

This is what 3-4 looks like: boom or bust.

The Timberwolves have not been a great defensive rebounding team so far this season, but they’ve been about an average offensive rebounding team this season and will need to continue to do that tonight. Additionally, even though the Lakers have shot the ball well from distance, the Timberwolves have forced opponent’s to shoot the three at the ninth worst efficiency in the league. In doing so, the Timberwolves will ideally be able to force one of the league’s worst offensive rebounding teams to step up or allow their opponent to control the game.

Minnesota also loves to force turnovers while Los Angeles really hasn’t so far. The Timberwolves are the fifth best team in forced turnovers percentage and the Lakers are the third worst, coming at 27th. While the Lakers have been good at avoiding turnovers, they will be tested by the Timberwolves’ defense and could present an opportunity for the visitors to come away with a victory in game one of this back-to-back.

 

Then there is this subplot bubbling below the surface of this game. Yes, the last time the Timberwolves beat the Lakers at all I was a senior in high school and the last time they beat them at Staples Center I was but a sophomore. That’s a really long time, so it’s understandable that a lot of fans are going to be watching tonight to see if the drought ends tonight. Sure, there have been some blowouts and some close games in this 22 game losing streak, but the Lakers were almost always the better team.

Yet, now things are a little different right now. The Lakers are in a weird place between competing for a playoff spot and rebuilding. I liken it to denial and like to think of their roster as Mitch Kupchak saying, “Rebuilding? No. Yeah, we lost Dwight Howard, but we got Chris Kaman and Nick Young is going to be a steal. Oh, and Wes Johnson is just about to get it, just you wait.” Basically, Kupchak is building a clear bridge to nowhere while telling us that we’re going somewhere. For the Timberwolves, as long as they can extract useful contributions from their bench on at least a semi-regular basis, they’re going somewhere and the Lakers won’t be there. I don’t mean the lottery, either.

Of course, beating the Lakers tonight at this stage in the season doesn’t actually mean anything in the grand scheme of things. However, to a group of people looking to overcome years of futility against the same franchise, this means something. It’s no longer a relevant footnote and a weight to be lifted off of their back. So, it means something without actually meaning something. Make sense? It might be more fun to beat a stronger previous incarnation of the Lakers, but at this point we’ll just take what we can get.

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

When: 6:30 pm CST

See/Hear it: FSN and WCCO AM 830

 

 

 

Warriors at Timberwolves Preview: We Live in the Past Because it’s Cozy

I almost always enjoy watching the Golden State Warriors play whenever they’re on. It helps that they play a fun brand of basketball and have several talented players, especially Steph Curry. Yet, the reason I say almost always is because of the latter reason and because there is a certain faction of Timberwolves fans that would rather complain about how, “We could have had him!” instead of just appreciating Curry and the Timberwolves team that is currently in front of them. Also, we should learn from Warriors fans, whose game of coulda-woulda-shoulda is probably sad enough to keep the average fan in bed for two weeks; hindsight is always 20/20.

Hey, guys! Did you know the Timberwolves could have had Steph Curry but they took Jonny Flynn instead? Even though neither player was a sure thing at the time and it’s four years later, we should make sure to tell everyone this at every opening we get– whether it be Wolves-Warriors games or an exciting playoff series, we should definitely talk over it as much as possible!

Yes, Curry is an absolutely brilliant shooter and I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone make pull-up 27-footers with such ease. It was great to see a finally healthy Curry light up the Denver Nuggets in last spring’s first round series that caused the Nuggets to blow it all up in the summer. Curry’s three point shooting in games three and four was brilliant, shooting .555 percent from deep on 18 attempts.

Curry has only continued to be a threat from deep this season, likely making him a key focal point to the Timberwolves’ defensive strategy. Not only is Curry shooting .500 percent from three, but is doing so on nine attempts per game, which is ridiculous. But it’s not just from three; Curry has converted on .577 of his two point attempts so far this season and is averaging an eye-catching 9.8 per game.

Where is Curry most effective?

Shotchart_1383747556795

 

You see, Curry has been most effective from above and to the right of the break, shooting nearly .730 percent from that spot. We’ve become so accustomed to Curry’s brilliance that when we see numbers like .416 and .375 percent that you almost wonder why he’s struggling from there, but all of those numbers are no worse than, if not above average.

However, Curry is not alone on the wing. Teammate and shooting guard Klay Thompson has also expanded upon a strong playoff series and continued his excellent play. Thompson has shot .600 from the field (Which is high for even a center), .520 from three and .667 of his two-point attempts. While stats for percentage of certain shots assisted is not yet available this season, Thompson was assisted on .945 percent of his three point makes last season, making the Warriors’ backcourt even more dangerous because double-teaming is incredibly risky, yet playing them one-on-one has been problematic for NBA defenses so far.

Looking at the chart below we see Thompson likes to operate in that exact same space above and to the right of the break as Curry with remarkable proficiency:

Shotchart_1383747637064

Really, Thompson has been burning teams from everywhere on the floor this season– inside and out. The Timberwolves will have to continue to be the same team through four games that has been the NBA’s sixth best team in turnovers forced percentage if they hope to throw the Warriors off of their game. This won’t be like being able to put Corey Brewer on Kevin Durant and forcing his teammates to beat you, because Curry and Thompson’s teammates will. Golden State also ranks 28th in turnover percentage with .178 percent, meaning they turn the ball over nearly 20 percent of the time per 100 possessions.

The Timberwolves are also among the NBA’s best at getting to the line and making their free throws where the Warriors are not. Combined with their ability to force turnovers and their propensity for running out on the break as much as possible, look for Minnesota to go after every single easy basket that they can– be it free throws or fast break points. By doing so this will also prevent a decent defensive team in Golden State from getting set and force them to play the Timberwolves’ game.

If the Timberwolves are able to force turnovers and draw fouls they may be able to conceal one of the weaker aspects of their game so far this season, and that is rebounding. So far, the Timberwolves have grabbed .717 and .242 percent of all available defensive and offensive rebounds available, respectively. This may sound pretty good, but it puts them 24th and 21st in all of the NBA in each category. Now, the Warriors are 19th in Defensive Rebounding percentage and 24th in Offensive Rebounding percentage, but they don’t miss a lot as the league’s best shooting team, so defensive rebounds will likely be at a premium.

Both of these teams enter tonight at 3-1 and among the league’s most exciting young teams. With so much talent and so many great players on both teams, this will undoubtedly be an incredible game. Yeah, the Timberwolves don’t have Curry or Thompson, but they do have Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic. You could always spend your time thinking what could have been and what should have been, but what for? Timberwolves fans have spent the last decade hoping and waiting for a return to relevancy and a legitimately good team they don’t have to talk themselves into every season. And now that team is here, finally. So let’s just appreciate it while we can.

Exit Interviews: Nikola Pekovic

The NBA's harder than you thought, eh?

Although you never produced up to your potential, this season was not a lost one. You are a rookie in the NBA, you do have time to improve.

Alongside your new best friend, Darko Milicic, you grew into the NBA game and the American lifestyle. It’s not an easy adaptation to say that least. But it could’ve gone a lot smoother than it did. At times I feel we just threw you in to a den of hungry lions. A season, or at least a start, in the D-League could’ve helped you gain some confidence and give you time to work on your fundamentals. How many times did you find yourself in foul trouble this year? How many times did you influence a 3-second call? How many lay-ups did you miss, thinking work under the hoop would be as easy as the Euro-league?

Wake up, it’s the NBA.

Seeing that we signed you long-term — I’m questioning why now — you’ll be with us next season, so listen up. Start your work on the defensive end. Your help defense is pathetic. Just like the rest of your teammates, you rely too heavily on reaction to time out your defensive rotations. But in your case, for some reason, your reaction time is possibly three seconds behind everyone else. Can you explain? Somehow, someway, we need you to learn the idea of help defense without having to madly foul anyone in the process. This is a tough task, I know, but I think you can do it.

Another aspect of you game that needs work is conditioning. Conditioning is going to be huge going forward for you. Sometimes you looked like the fat white kid on the court that huffs and puffs his way to alternating ends of the court. Oh, wait. That was you. Well, perhaps you start taking brisk runs with Darko through the dense forests of Serbia this summer? Both of you could use it.

Now, on the offensive end is where you found your stride. Sort of. Your post moves lack fluidity and grace but your bouldering and powerful moves are effective. Your shoulder thrusts and pump fakes are all it takes to get these gullible NBA centers in the air and to potentially foul you. I really like how you can get to the free throw line, and cash in too (76-percent is actually very good for a 6-10 center). If you could add a 10-foot jumper to your game, you could very well become a good post player for years to come, so definitely work on that. You do struggle at passing out of the post, though. You were an awful lof like a black hole. When the ball came to you, everyone was as good as dead. Work with Darko and learn to pass in, out and from the post. Some more versatility to your offensive game will go a long way.

Other than that, I don’t have much for you. When we come back to start the season, we may need to evaluate whether you’re ready to contribute to this team without being detrimental to our defense and whether or not, for that reason, if you should start in the D-League or not. But that’s a ways away. Keep on lumbering, big man.