Timberwolves scan the horizon
Of course, Rambis also made his mistakes. His
banishment promotion of Kevin Love to the bench was done in the name of improving the second unit, but it mainly just seemed to limit Love's minutes and destroy his confidence. Love is arguably the Wolves best player: it was absurd to see him sitting on the bench while the Wolves bled.
More: it seemed clear all year that Ramon Sessions was better qualified that Flynn to run Rambis's offense with the first unit. He facilitated greater cohesion and ball movement in the half-court and he made shrewder decisions in the open floor. Flynn's year-long odyssey as a starting point guard was justified as a learning opportunity, but it never seemed a good fit. Both Flynn and Sessions were out of their element: Flynn's struggles as a floor leader are well-document here, but Sessions game also suffered. Playing alongside such luminaries as Ryan Hollins and Sasha Pavlovic, he often found himself in the wilderness, the only player on the floor capable of creating a shot. Needless to say, this did not suit his game: his assist rate, turnover rate and true shooting percentage all regressed from his previous season with the Bucks.
But there are deeper worries. For the past three seasons, Al Jefferson has been the Wolves' centerpiece. Coming into this year, he faced two deep questions: could he recover from ACL surgery? And could he adapt his game to Rambis's up-tempo-and-triangle offense? Well, Al had a tough year. His body cooperated only in fits and starts; he was plagued all year by personal problems (some of his own making); he was, as he has been every year of his career, caught in the upheaval of a rebuilding team.
Al is known as one of the league's few remaining classic back-to-the-basket scorers, owner of sublime low-post skills. If his defense is erratic, if his passing leaves something to be desire, the thinking goes, he makes up for it in sheer scoring prowess. But here's the thing: for a big guy, Al is actually not that efficient a scorer. He tends to use his skills to avoid, rather than draw, contact. And he settles far too often for jumpers, which he hits at only a 39% clip.
Even in '08-'09, before his knee injury, his true-shooting percentage was just 53.2%. Among centers and power-forward who used at least 20% of their team's possessions (Al's own usage rate was 28.9%), a full 14 players scored more efficiently. This includes obvious players like Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire, but also folks like Kevin Garnett and Andrea Bargnani, who play mainly from the outside in (Kevin Love and, adding insult to injury, Craig Smith also clocked in above Big Al).
So the question is: can Jefferson learn not only to mesh with a fast-paced, ball-sharing offense and play more consistent defense but also get to the line more often and settle for fewer contested, outside shots? If not, then its unlikely that he'll ever be able to assume anything approximating the Pau Gasol role on this year's Lakers (to say nothing of Shaq's role from LA's early-'00s championship teams). And let's not kid ourselves that Darko Milicic is any kind of solution to this problem. Sure the big Serb can block a shot or two, but he certainly doesn't play with the energy and activity that you might hope for from a top-notch defender and rebounder. And although he is a deft passer and moves his feet nicely...have you seen that clunky, fading jump-hook lately? Its becoming more obvious why, despite his great potential, Darko was such a strange fit with so many teams.
So this is kind of depressing. Because if Al can't be an elite scorer and can't adapt his game, and if Darko is not the player we wish he was, and if Jonny Flynn is no better than a scoring sixth (or seventh) man, these Wolves really have a long, long way to go. Let's hope they make some progress soon.