Some were blow-outs, a few were nail biters, and nearly none of them seemed certain.
Most were agonizing, many were demoralizing, and some were embarrassing.
10th in the Western Conference.
Two spots out of the party that is the NBA playoffs. So close but, oh so far.
What Went Wrong
1. Where they Over Confident?
2. Streaky Offense
- Rubio struggles as a shooter because he always looks to pass. He’s thinking about passing 100% of the time even when he’s going up for a layup or jump shot.
- Kevin Love has a tendency to be fighting for a rebound without challenging an opposing players dunk or lay up.
- Corey Brewer bails on defensive possessions to leak out to try to catch an outlet
- J.J. Barea get’s in crazy try-to-score-crazy-J.J.-baskets that work surprisingly well sometimes but frequently result in bad shots and stagnant offense.
- Kevin Martin constantly tries to draw fouls on crazy off balance jumpers and floaters. This is a major problem when he doesn’t get his calls.
- For the longest time Nikola Pekovic refused to take open jump shots.
- Dante Cunningham rarely uses his athleticism on the offensive end. I mean he’s pretty good at the mid rage game, but he’s no LaMarcus Aldridge.
4. When Wolves Reach, NBA Usually Teaches
Three players on the Wolves roster have a tendency to go for crazy steals. Ricky Rubio is always playing pressure defense, and Corey Brewer, especially at the end of the season, is always going for the pilfer. Even Kevin Marin has a tendency to take chances in the passing lanes. This is a major gamble, especially when this makes up more than fifty percent of the Twolves starting line up. It’s even more dangerous if there is not a capable rim protector in the front court, which of course neither Nikola Pekovic or Kevin Love are. Even near the rim, because Pek and Love are lacking vertical rim protection ability they reach at the last moment.
5. Major Defensive Lapses
The Wolves made a major blunder when they got rid of Luke Ridnour in order to keep J.J. Barea. Because of Barea’s electrifying style and unbelievable ability to get to the rim, a skill the Wolves do in fact lack, the organization over valued Barea’s offensive ability. Ridnour was certainly less flashy, but he took good shots instead of crazy ones. I think offensively their production is similar. Their value is basically a wash. But it’s on the defensive side of the ball where Ridnour added value. No, Luke Ridnour is not a great individual defender, but Luke caused problems. He was tenacious and made things tough for people. He got his hands on the ball when big guys brought it up and fronted his man. He used absolutely all of the strength and weight his body had to offer to guard guys that he probably had no reason guarding in the NBA. He may not have made that much of a splash using the eye test, but I think, considering the circumstances, his play was not a defensive liability. J.J. on the other hand, pressures his man on the ball, but commits ridiculous fouls out of some temper tantrum like emotional break downs, and flops like a portuguese striker to try and draw calls. One of these styles of play are better for the team and I’m pretty sure it’s the hard working, good positioned defense of players like Ridnour. Not to mention Ridnour’s constant and consistent effort and unwavering durability.
So What Now?
These negative observations leave the Wolves at a incredibly pivotal position. They must win a lot of games in 2014-15, or change is manditory. How do I think the Wolves manage to do this? First:
What the Wolves Have Going for Them
1. At Least One More Year of Kevin Love Getting Better
Every offseason Kevin Love has added something to his game. First he showed he could hit the long range shot. Then he further developed his post game. Now he’s become a distributer, with his outlet passing and dime dropping in the half court. He’s even improved as a defender by being impressively willing to take charges. What is next for Kevin Love? I hope that Kevin Love takes more time this offseason working on his quickness to improve his defense and ability to create his own shot. If he could find better rhythm with that step back jumper, he could be even more dangerous than he is. This also has a lot to do with endurance. It’s odd because basketball endurance is not fixed by simply getting in good shape, by running or doing yoga. It’s something that has to go with prolonged workouts within the burst and jump constructs of the game. If he could build up his endurance, he’d be better off when called upon to make a big shot at the end of a game. It would also be great to see Kevin add to his repertoire low and high post scoring. The passing he displayed this year makes him deadly in this position, especially with active bigs like Pek and Gorgui. I fully believe that Kevin Love will come back next season better than ever. I’m certain he will continue to astonish me with the skills he adds.
2. Rubio’s Post-Allstar Break Shooting Percentage
While hovering around forty percent is not a shooting percentage, it has to be encouraging that the last two months of this seasons Rubio shot the highest percentage of his career. His steals and assists were coming at a great clip as well. I hope Ricky finds away to play some nice friendly games this offseason, and focuses on trying to be a scorer. I made a joke that ricky needs to get in some semi-pro-league and organize a condition that every basket made from an assist he makes only counts for half the value, so he can focus on letting his shots fly and attacking the basket in game situations. Of course that is extreme, but I still think the idea is good. Ricky has passing in his blood and the subconscious and desire to dish dish dish, compromises the effectiveness of his bucket making. Considering Ricky really only has two years of NBA experience, he is doing very well.
3. Kevin Martin’s Scoring
When Kevin Martin is healthy, the Wolves offense is flat out explosive. He scored nineteen points per game this season. That’s better production out of the shooting guard spot than most Twolves’ teams have had. While he is leaving his prime, he’s still a scorer and has a huge role on this team coming into next season.
4. Pek, Gorgui and Ronnie
Once again, back in training camp I remember hearing about Shabazz Muhammed’s scrappiness. That he was crashing the boards with great effort and scoring the ball with his will alone. This guy is talented. He has NBA skills, shooters touch and skills to capitalize upon his strong frame. I think there’s a good chance Shabazz could open the new Timberwolves coaches eyes and become a solid bench player or someday even a starter for the Wolves. What I thought was more encouraging about Shabazz was that he proved doubters wrong. Not by the way he played, but by the way he handled not playing. There’s no doubt he would have rather been on the court but he sounded completely sincere in interviews when he talked about putting in the work. It’s a really good thing when talented players know how to work. I hope Shabazz goes to work this offseason building on his game and dropping some weight to help with his conditioning and quickness.
So What Now?
It’s not like the Wolves are over because they failed to reach their goals this season. I think they can still right the ship. Somethings that could help are:
1. Refining the Roster’s Balance
2. Finding the Proper Coaching Candidate
I argue that the Wolves should employ a simple offensive system. I think they must hire a coach that will design the offense defined by what the Wolves players do well. Because the Wolves are in win now mode, they have to play within themselves. The Twolves will be a great offensive team next year, even if they’re just as unbalanced and streaky as they were this year. I think the Adelman years have been great in developing, Ricky, Kevin and Pek into the kind of offensive players that have the basketball IQ to succeed in the NBA. I do think a lot of the time players are stuck in their head when running an offense like Adelman’s. When it works, it’s a powerful well oil machine, but when a gear gets stuck, it gets a little clunky. I think about it like this. If the Timberwolves basketball team are a pack of Wolves/Huskies, Rick Adelman has been strapping them to a dog sled and teaching them to pull their way towards a goal. A dog sled is a precision machine, everything works together, everything does its job. But I think this next coach should metaphorically cut the lines a little bit. A pack of dogs is going to eat. So I’d say, it’s the primal offensive instincts of this talented offensive team that must be tapped into. On a more specific level, I think this coach also should develop some plays specifically designed for Rubio to go to the rim, or hit an open shot. Run them repeatedly in training camp, and about three times a game.
Most importantly, this coach has to stress a defensive mentality. This is really the key. When a team is talented on offense, I think for the most part players natural instincts will kick in and that will take care of itself. The defensive side of the ball needs to be emphasized in every single way. The wolves must be highly engaged on defense. They must play with respect to the abilities of the other players on the court. For instance, if your are Ricky and Corey, maybe you lay off the on ball steal attempts a little bit when the Bruise Brothers, Pek and K-Love, are on the floor, because they are not great at protecting the rim. But when Ronnie or Gorgui are in the game, they can be more free to go for those game changing steals. Simple things about defense in basketball such as, denying players the ball just has to be emphasized. A few games this year, especially two of the games against OKC, Corey Brewer put on a ball denying clinic. He hounded Kevin Durant and just was always throwing his lanky lanky arms around in the path between KD and the ball. KD can’t really be stopped. That’s becoming an NBA reality, but the harder for key players to get the ball the better.
My key thought about NBA defense it’s not really about stopping the team every time, but about impeding the flow of the opponents offensive machine. Get in their and muck up the gears. If the defensive is disciplined and high energy, I think the Wolves could have a team long and athletic enough to really cause some problems. I don’t even think this takes very much. Another key thought about defense is that a lot times you play great defense and an opponent still scores. The defensive mind set has to look past this. It has to see that possession as a victory because the shot that was forced was a low percentile shot, or it was taken, theoretically, by Serge Ibaka, or better yet Kendrik Perkins, instead of KD.
Whatever the Wolves do, they need to execute. This sounds simple, but somehow they have to learn from this year and find a way to make plays in the fourth quarter. We need a player that can step up and hit the shot, or at least be a threat to hit that shot, to take some pressure off of Kevin Love. We need a coach who is invested and engaged in putting his players in places where they can succeed. I can only recall a handful of times this year that Adelman drew up a play and it actually looked like it worked. The most memorable one being K-Loves game winner in the opening game of the season. The Timberwolves need to execute. That’s the bottom line. If they are going to try to rely on their offensive firepower they better not go ice cold when it counts next year.