Note: This article was written by TWB Forum member, wolfenstein.
After watching last night's game against the Spurs, I need to air a few thoughts and frustrations about our team and what we are trying to do. Rather than ranting about our team as a whole, I want to address specific players individually, because only then can we attempt to bring some semblance of order out of the murky chaos that is our game day roster.
In the interest of clarity, I will first voice my opinion on whether that player should be played or not, because a certain portion of our futility is directly caused by playing guys who, at this point, have no business being on an NBA court if we want to win. I'll follow with constructive criticism of their play, strengths and weaknesses, etc.
I realize this is a bit presumptuous of me, but I've been out of coaching for a few years and the bug just gets to me- I can't watch a team this much without wanting to provide feedback.
That said, thanks to CW and the rest for providing the forum where we can sound off like this. Without further delay…
Ridnour: Keep playing him. In spite of my being totally against it earlier in the year, he's been playing really well lately, except at the end of games where his decision making has still been extremely poor… Would ideally be a second stringer and a solid one at that. Needs to improve shot selection and defense.
Brewer: Keep playing him, although ideally he would keep his confidence but give us great minutes off the bench. Unless he plays within his offensive limits a little better, it's tough to see him starting on a winning team. That said, he has a competitive streak that I like, has shown great energy, and his quickness and length make him a good defender even when his fundamentals are off. Needs to limit what he's trying to do offensively: shoot the spot up shot, slash when he gets the ball with a lane to the basket, or one dribble jumper. His one on one skills with a set defender just aren't his strength. Needs to keep his center of gravity on top of his feet at all times on defense (no reaching, no leaning, etc.).
Beasley: Obviously keep playing him. Like Corey, he is one of the few guys on the team with a "win at all costs" competitive mentality. Offensively he's been playing well lately and sharing the ball. Defensively he needs to extend his arms to take up more space both on and off the ball. He could be a much better help side defender, as well as on the ball defender, if he would take advantage of his wingspan. See the ball and the man at all times. Communicate to your teammates. He would do well to watch some KG film from the Celtics' championship season to see what he should be trying to do defensively for this team.
Love: Again, obviously keep playing him. Great producer. Don't really need to say anything about his rebounding, or shooting, except that he needs to chin the ball in the post as well as he does on rebounds. Defensively, he needs to hedge on screens, trap the ball, and then recover quickly to his man or to the rotation. When his man goes to screen he needs to turn the "nimble" switch on and play lighter on his toes (see later notes on Tolliver). Being lighter on his toes on defense would help his help side defense as well, although at times he does a great job by stepping in and taking the charge.
Darko: Needs to play, but should have his minutes reduced in favor of Tolliver or using Love at Center in a small ball line up, until Darko can consistently demonstrate the ability to avoid The Void (self-abusive Darko mode). Needs to work on free throw shooting, face up play, and, like Love, chinning the ball in the post so it doesn't get stripped. Darko also needs to work on his mental toughness so he doesn't enter The Void every time he makes a small mistake or gets a bad bounce. He allows a lot of very easy mistakes to ruin entire games or large stretches of games for him. Having older brothers beat you up or being forced to shovel snow are good ways to bolster mental toughness, but I would have thought growing up in a war-torn country would also be good for this, but…? I guess Peko could qualify as a big brother figure for Darko, I advocate Peko bullying Darko relentlessly until Darko learns to stand up for himself and be a man. Finally, Darko also needs to watch Anthony Tolliver play pick and roll defense. He gives up silly fouls trying to do the right thing, but doing it the wrong way or, more specifically, with the wrong level of effort and intensity. It is an art, but one that we desperately need Darko to acquire. I have more thoughts on this at the bottom of the page.
Wes Johnson: Needs to play but for now needs to have minutes reduced in favor of Brewer, Tolliver, and Webster. Needs to improve consistent aggressiveness and decisiveness on offense and help side defense. Active mistakes are ok; passive mistakes are not. If someone's in your grill when you have the ball, blast past them and dunk the stinking ball. Spread your arms on defense so offensive players don't have so much space to operate in. He has the tools, but needs to be aggressive and use his strengths rather than being hamstrung by his weaknesses.
Martell Webster: Needs to play more than he does. Does a lot of good things for us when he's in. Needs to be more aggressive defensively, and limit turnovers to the greatest degree he can while maintaining his aggressiveness on offense. Needs to continue to create his own shot when things break down late in the shot clock, especially when Beasley is not on the floor.
Jonny Flynn: D-League express. Simply put, while I like what he is trying to do at times, his execution is terrible. If you aren't shooting well, don't force shots. He consistently freezes out his teammates at the end of quarters, throws up awful "heat-check" shots, and isn't aggressive when he should be, which is after the ball has rotated in the half court set once or twice. He gets out and runs, and I know he is a likable guy. Needs to learn to invert his possessions: move the ball early in the shot clock, attack late in the shot clock. Stop fouling 3 point shooters. Needs to limit what he tries to do offensively in the same manner as Corey Brewer- shoot the spot up, one dribble jumpers, or get to the rim. Don't get fancy, and limit the dribbles.
Nikola Pekovic: D-League Express. Gives us fouls. Has potential, but can't catch the ball. Against mobile bigs he is a disaster. Love his tattoos and the moral support he gives Darko. I'm not giving up on him yet, but he needs to acclimate to the American game a bit before we give him key minutes.
Anthony Tolliver: Needs to play much, MUCH more. I can't believe how much better we are with AT on the court than without him, in almost every scenario, as long as one or more of our other crucial players are out there with him. He is the only player on the team that I have seen play great pick and roll defense all year, and he plays within himself generally speaking. Gives great energy off the bench, hustles, and plays with positive body language. Coaches love that stuff, which is why I'm confused that he doesn't get more burn as it is. Could afford to assert himself more on the offensive end, looking specifically to spot up and get himself points. Other than that, he does a great job with his minutes.
Kosta Koufos: D-League Express. I don't know if Koufos has compromising pictures of Rambis, or if he hustles extraordinarily in practice, or if Rambis just likes his goofiness, but Koufos has no business on the court at this point in his career. He has the tools, and like Darko, we can't write him off- but he's nowhere near ready right now, and could use some work in the D-League if he needs playing time to continue his development.
Sebastian Telfair: Should probably be playing in Jonny's minutes if winning now is any sort of a priority. I think he's done a solid job in the minutes he gives us, but for reasons that have been discussed we feel obligated to play Flynn and Ridnour. I don't see this getting better next year, so my guess is Bassy will be on the move.
Wayne Ellington, Lazar Hayward: Nothing to say here, they really haven't been a contributing cause to our losing season. If we aren't going to roll the dice on Telfair, I'd rather have a look at Wayne running the point than Flynn at this point since there's little to lose. Ellington can shoot the ball, and typically doesn't overdribble or make terrible decisions. Not likely to happen, but still I'd give him a sniff at some minutes at PG off the bench. I like Lazar and he probably helps a lot in practice.
We end with a rotation that is 8 players deep. Beasley's and Tolliver's versatility as well as Love's rebounding leave us with the ability to cover the court fairly well with 8 guys over the course of a game. Really, this isn't bad. We get into trouble when guys who have no business being out there try to play, and when Luke is playing bad, since we have no viable back up at this point.
Final Thoughts on Pick and Roll Defense:
Defending the pick and roll is, in my opinion, an art that is more difficult to perfect even than running the pick and roll offensively. The man being picked is the much, much less important half of the equation. It is the secondary defender's job to communicate the screen coming, to jump out to disrupt the ball handler's ability to make a play, and then to recover to his man or to the rotation. In order to do this, the defender needs to explode out to the trap position on the screen, and make the ballhandler pick his dribble up, then race back to his man. Tolliver does this pretty well. Besides him, I have yet to see a single Timberwolves defender play the P&R properly.
Well, that's all I have. I hope we turn this ship around.
"The longest journey begins with a single step."
-Lao Tzu, 6th Century B.C.