Monday, February 27, 2012

STOB's Timberwolves Mid-Season Checkup

Could Durant and Love also battle in the first round of the playoffs?
Raise your hand if you had the Wolves at .500 coming out of the All Star break when the NBA season started?  

Now those of you with you hands up, I've got a good place for you to get rhinoplasty for that all of the sudden growing nose.  If near the Wayzata, MN area, give em a call 952-473-1111 or visit their website.

For the rest of you with normal noses, not currently in a growth spurt, you have to be a bit surprised Adelman and the boys are doing this well.  I am. I thought they'd be much improved, but not .500 and battling Portland, Denver and Memphis for the 8 seed in the playoffs.  Now there are the questions for the second half of the season.  What has worked so far?  What hasn't?  Who needs to step up?  Trade deadline deals?  Are the Wolves going to make the playoffs?

What has worked? -

Kevin Love - 25 points and 14 boards on top of signing an extension that in my mind was a win for Love, win for fans and win for the Wolves.  If the Wolves make the playoffs and he keeps his current numbers up, Love very well could steal some MVP votes from Kevin Durant and Lebron.

Ricky Rubio - 11 points and 8 assists all while playing possibly the biggest role in creating the spark that got the interest of the country, and more so the state of Minnesota, burning at the beginning of this year.

Rick Adelman - Has matched his predecessors number of wins from last year already at the All Star break of a shortened season.  Wolves have found ways to win some close games that pre-Adelman, they would've surely lost.

Nikola Pekovic - Dude is a freakin beast.  When you manhandle Demarcus Cousins, or force your way into good post position on Dwight Howard, you are strong.  Pekovic has done both, and Nikola maybe the Wolves answer to the center position not only for this year, but for the future as well.

Defense - 107.7 points per game given up to the opposing team last year to this year's average of 95.6, that says it all.  To have company of teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder next to the Wolves at that number (95.6 points against)  is a very good thing.  This could very well be the stat that wins Rick Adelman Coach of the Year honors if the Wolves continue the success in the win/loss column.

What Has Not Worked? -

Wes Johnson - The guy I root for the most on the entire team isn't figuring it out.  He can't shoot (21% from 3), can't handle the ball effectively, doesn't make great decisions, isn't amazing defensively and for most of the first half of the year has really been a waste of space on the court.  Probably only getting time right now because we can't play 3 point guards at once can we?  Oh what's that?  We already have?

Wing positions (SG/SF) in general - Luke Ridnour has worked for the most part, but it just isn't the answer at the SG position for the Wolves moving forward and probably shouldn't be currently but is the best we can do.  When you see Gordon Hayward looking like Lebron just physically dominating the Wolves wings due to them being point guards, you understand that as nice as Ridnour's offense and shooting has been he can't guard at the SG position on most nights.  Others included in this FAIL: Martell Webster, JJ Barea and Wayne Ellington.  Leaving Malcolm Lee out as he hasn't been healthy or seen court time yet, though that is a fail (not his fault) in itself.

B-Easy - In the five games prior to the All Star break Beasley has seen his minutes really decline.  Outside of the Denver game in which he had 17 points in 33 minutes his minutes were: 8, 18, 11, 8.  Statistically he is having his worst year all around in his entire career.  Not exactly driving up his potential trade value before the deadline.  The Wolves still may move Beasley before the March 15 deadline, but it maybe better to just keep him and let his expiring contract come off the books at the end of the year, clearing more cap space.  To use on what?  Not sure, but taking on someone else's problem just to get rid of your own doesn't seem like a good idea, so it could be better to take the money and hope you can convince a free agent wing player they want to play with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.

Darko - During his long stretch of being out, he was replaced by Nikola Pekovic at center, a position he has had around a season and a half to win but hasn't.  He is now becoming good friends with Anthony Randolph and Brad Miller as Pekovic stepped in and won the starting spot.

Time to Step Up -

Derrick Williams - You can complain about playing time when you don't make a mistake or miss a shot and follow it by loping back slowly on defense and then play with no effort once you finally do make it back.  Note this issue and watch for it this week, if you haven't already noticed this. Rick Adelman has noticed, I guarantee you and Williams' playing time will continue to suffer until this stops.

JJ Barea - On the title winning Mavericks, Barea was the wild man off the bench that brought a spark when hot, or fizzled when cold and then just handed it back to a title winning team with a MVP in Dirk to continue on without him on that off night.  On the rebuilding and very young Wolves, Barea is still trying to be that same guy.  It works nice on some nights, see the Utah game right before the All Star break as an example of this, but on the off nights it really hurts the Wolves.  Barea needs to maybe back off on his risk taking and try to give more consistent output night in and night out as that steadiness is more of what the Wolves need most nights.

Martell Webster - Maybe his oft-injured back will never allow him to be the guy on the wing the Wolves need.  Yet, it wasn't his back that made him brain fart his way to his dunk when the Wolves needed a three at Denver last week.  Get your head in the game and we will forgive a bad luck bad back, but if you look like you spend more time on your stupid hair style than you do your struggling jumper, don't expect us to be so forgiving.

Wes Johnson - We all know the talent is there...just have to see it transfer on the court.  At the very least, give us your rookie year shooting from three (35.6% last year, 21% this year).

Trade Deadline Intrigue? -

Not much here to talk about.  A look around the rumor mill and all you really see if Beasley to the Lakers talk.  Obviously the rumor mill doesn't always get it right but there just isn't much steam on the Wolves making a big move prior to the deadline.  David Kahn doesn't want to trade away any future talent to try to solve the short term, and really has a bunch of mediocre pieces elsewhere that won't thrill anyone looking to buy at the deadline.  So that leaves the Wolves possibly standing pat and waiting until the entire season has played itself out before making moves come the off season.  If anything a trade of Beasley for picks, an expiring contract, cash or a combination of all of it seems like the most likely thing to happen prior to March 15.  Yet, with names like Dwight Howard and Steve Nash being thrown around and teams possibly needing to find third or even fourth teams to help a trade go through, anything could happen.

Will the Wolves Make the Playoffs? -

In the Wolves remaining 32 games, 19 of them are on the road leaving only 13 at home (I am good at math).  Within that there is a  stretch from March 12 through March 28 that the Wolves will play 9 out of 10 games on the road with a 7 game road swing in that mix and teams like the Lakers, Spurs, Thunder, Nuggets and Grizzlies on the slate.  That will be a tough run, leaving a more favorable month of April for the Wolves to make a run and hope to slide in the a 6, 7 or 8 spot of the playoffs and show they have taken a huge step forward in their rebuilding.

In order for this to happen, first and foremost the Pups need to stay healthy.  Losing Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio or Nikola Pekovic for extended periods of time in the second half will kill their playoff hopes.  Losing any of the other cast of characters that give the Pups depth (not always quality depth...but depth) would hurt as well.  In the shortened season, with teams like Denver and Portland (hey, the guys just in front of us in the playoff hunt!) struggling with injuries, the Wolves luck with health could be their biggest asset.

On top of health, getting better play from the wing, an emergence of Derrick Williams (saw a glimpse against Utah last week), continued strong play from Rubio, Love and Pekovic and on the defensive side of the ball is all the Wolves can hope for.  If all of those things can happen and their effort stays consistent night in and night out, even on 7 game road swings, the Wolves will have a good shot.  I think the new goal for the season should be to make the playoffs, at the beginning of the year it was just to improve.  Now they have already achieved that goal and the new bar is set for 2010/11's worst team to make the playoffs just one year later.

So, will they do it?

I say yes.

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