The Three-Pointer: Margins of Error
1. Casey's regression
Time for Dwane Casey to take a day off, maybe two. By most accounts, the guy's an obsessive worker, ever prepared, wed to the film projector, and suffused with strategy. All that seems to be sabotaging rather than abetting his intelligence as the Wolves spiral to a series of close, shoulda-won losses--he can't see the forest for the trees. Specifically, he can't see that when his tenuously confident, up-and-down 23-year old center has five blocks in the first quarter and has locked into a rhythm that is primarily responsible for Milwaukee scoring only 14 points in the game's first 12 minutes you don't sit him down for the entire second quarter!
There is nothing to justify it--least of all common sense. The decision would be difficult to defend even if Casey wasn't taking out Griffin in favor of a career underachiever who is in the last four months of his three-year contract; and even if Milwaukee didn't follow up that 14 point first quarter (when Griffin played) with a 34 point second quarter (when Kandi and then, belatedly, Madsen played, but no Eddie). It is asinine first half decisions like this--one that even ostensible Wolves cheerleaders like announcers Jim Peterson and Tom Hannaman had to harp on--that inevitably spell the difference in a narrow 95-92 defeat on the road.
Remember when Casey said the Wolves' identity would be on defense? Well in the 19:20 that Griffin played tonight, the Wolves outscored Milwaukee 30-28. In the 20:22 that Kandi was on the floor, Minnesota was outscored 42-51. Otherwise, their lines were remarkably similar: 4 points apiece on 2-5 (Kandi) or 2-6 (Griffin) shooting, with one offensive rebounds and two defensive boards and one turnover apiece. Kandi an assist and a steal, one block and five fouls. Eddie had no assists, no steals, five blocks, and one foul. Obviously, the things that jump out statistically are the differential in points scored (by both teams) and blocked shots when Eddie was on the court. If you want to emphasize defense, Eddie Griffin is the person you play tonight. If you want to build this franchise for the future, Eddie Griffin is the person you play tonight. Nothing like losing ten of your past dozen games with a win-now philosophy to cement your status as a panicky rookie coach.
2. 4th quarter lineup a joke
With the Wolves down 63-68 after three periods, these are the five players Casey sent out for the 4th quarter: Szczerbiak, Hassell, Hudson, Frahm, and Olowokandi. As the Church Lady used to say, isn't that special? Kandi, Huddy, and Frahm as your crunch time trifecta. Gee, I wonder how Milwaukee scored 15 points in the first 5:06 of the period, much of it spent without leading scorer Michael Redd on the floor? (When Bucks coach Terry Stotts rested Michael Redd after 2 and a half minutes, Casey substituted Jaric for Hassell.)
I understand the need to rest Kevin Garnett, whose customarily enormous burden became even greater when Szczerbiak picked up his 4th foul and had to sit for much of the third period. Resting him nearly half the 4th quarter (he replaced Kandi at 6:36) is too much, for both the team and KG's mental equilibrium, but if you are going to do that, why not put in Madsen and Anthony Carter in the game with Wally and either Hassell or Jaric and play some go-go, high octane basketball for 4-5 minutes? As it was, the Bucks were killing the Wolves with 37-year old Tony Kukoc bombing from outside. What better way to expose Kukoc than to run?
If the argument is that the Wolves needed offense, well, Wally supplied it pretty much on his own for most of the time KG sat, hitting long-range jumpers with people hanging all over him. Huddy chipped in a couple, and Frahm had one layup--in two total attempts, in more than 17 minutes played. He's afraid to clank the trey anymore.
What it boils down to is, who do you trust? What worries me most about Casey is that he trusts Kandi more than Griffin, Hudson more than Carter, Frahm more than Madsen as a situational bit part. Anyone who has watched this team for the past few years knows that these are not good instincts. In fact they are lousy instincts.
Meanwhile, Rashad McCants has regressed to the point that he's really on the cusp of a lost season. Whether McCants or Casey is most to blame is certainly open to debate, but neither one has distinguished himself in that relationship. The Wolves called up Bracey Wright from the developmental league, the rook from Indiana that Rex Chapman argued hard for on draft night. The notion that McCants is fighting for--and losing--minutes with Richie Frahm and Bracey Wright is profoundly depressing, especially since McCants is justifying the unflattering comparison.
3. Trenton Hassell as silver lining
Let's slap a happy face on this sucker. Especially in the first half (when he went 8pts-4rbs-4assists) Trenton Hassell got his own shot with some nifty paint work while denying Michael Redd many scoring opportunities. Even the jumpers Redd eventually nailed in the 4th quarter required much effort, and Hassell's defense on Redd during Milwaukee's final possession, when the Bucks were up 3 and trying to ice it with less than 20 seconds left, was textbook perfect in terms of not leaving your feet on up-fakes, crowding the shooter but not so much he can blow by you, and sidling crablike in front of the shooter so he doesn't even have good vision on the basket. Redd's fadeaway moving toward the baseline barely grazed the iron and set up the opportunity for the Wolves to tie it with 3.5 secs to play. Bravo, Trenton.