The Three-Pointer: Positive Signs
1. In good hands with KG
In the wake of Minnesota's 99-93 victory over the Bulls tonight, coach Dwane Casey made a point of emphasizing the lack of turnovers as the key to the win. After averaging a horrid 17.7 turnovers the previous 7 games (2-5 record), the Wolves burped it up just ten times against Chicago.
But the key to the key is running the offense through Kevin Garnett. Jaric, Hudson, Carter, all have their strengths and weaknesses, but none of them are better decision-makers or can dish the ball from the visionary aerie Garnett has about 7 feet up, operating in either the low or high post.
Check this out: In the 1st and 4th quarters, Minnesota shot better than 50% (22-42) and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 16-to-6. In the 2nd and 3rd quarters, the team shot an absurdly bad 23% (8-35) with 5 assists and 4 turnovers. The difference was KG, pure and simple: He dished for 9 assists and one turnover in 21:11 total minutes of the 1st and 4th quarters, and had nada assists and zero turnovers in 19:17 minutes of the 2nd and 3rd. In other words, take away KG's involvement in those ultra-productive beginning and ending periods and the rest of the squad's a/to ratio is 7/5; not that much different than the 5/4 they put up when Garnett wasn't dishing.
When I mentioned this (without all the stat geek stuff) to KG in the locker room after the game, and asked him if it was tough adding waystation authority to his rebounding, scoring, and defensive responsibilities, he pounced on the question, saying not only doesn't he mind it, but that he likes running the flow, and that his teammates will be a lot better off if they accept it and let him create shots for them. He specifically noted that his teammates don't fully understand his ability to do this yet, without calling anybody out by name.
I'll take a 9/1 a/to ratio anytime. I'll take a happy, enthused, KG any time. Casey brought him back at the 9:11 mark of the 4th quarter after his customary early-4th Q blow, a dramatic improvement over the too-late insertion at 6:36 against Milwaukee on Monday. As the Wolves ride out this rough patch in the season, I think the man's minutes need to stay in that 40-42 range for awhile.
2. Go-go nexis
For some reason, the trio of Szczerbiak, Madsen and Carter seem to play very well together. For the past year or so, I've referred to it as the "go-go lineup" (because all three love to run and because AC and Mad Dog have nonstop motors that create chaos and Wally thrives in the crevices of chaos) and endorsed its implementation in selected settings, especially when the Wolves need to maintain energy when KG sits. I thought it would have worked when Garnett rested in the 4th quarter on Monday.
Tonight, for the first time in a long while, Casey grabbed the go-go from what he likes to call his tool box (because it contains items that come in handy but aren't used on a regular basis). With 3:56 left in the 3rd and the score tied, Madsen replaced Griffin. At the 2:40 mark, with the score still tied, AC replaced Trenton Hassel. Boom--5 straight points, which was cut to a three-point lead as the third period ended, a margin the go-go crew held for the 2:49 of the 4th that KG sat. Then Garnett returned (earlier than usual--good move Coach Casey) and gave Wally a break and Madsen and AC spurred an energy surge that had the Wolves up 7 when Mad Dog fouled out with 5:37 left to play.
Madsen isn't effective all the time, but ever since he arrived in Minnesota, it's been apparent that he boxes out extremely well, knows how to create low-post space for Garnett on offense (knows how to get out of the way, in other words) and, especially in conjunction with AC, gives the squad a scrappy intensity that provides them with the benefit of the doubt on borderline calls with the officials. In other words, Mark Madsen is a quietly valuable dude.
Ditto Anthony Carter. Any points you get from AC are a bonus. Casey went to him because Kirk Hinrich was slicing and dicing up everybody else en route to a 17-point, 17-assist, 8-rebound night. Perhaps Coach Casey will remember what the Wolves felt like the last time Carter was a part of the regular rotation. I'm sure he remembers what the Wolves have felt like in the recent games when AC hasn't been part of the equation. (The Wolves were 3-11 over their last 14 games going into tonight.) Anthony Carter rotates on defense with what only can be described as a vengeance. He is dogged enough to go for the steal and then hustle himself back into position even if the recipient of the pass breaks for the hoop. Anthony Carter, too, is a quietly valuable dude. Together, Mad Dog and AC are the go go grunts. They're not always going to be effective. But, especially at home, with the crowd on their side, they will ensure the Wolves won't be lethargic when they're synergistically paired out in the rotation pattern.
3. No Kandi
Michael Olowokandi's DNP-CD is not the end of his effective contributions to the Wolves. There will be games when Kandi's length will be much in need, and games when his utterly capricious rhythm and intensity will click into sync and make him a (very very temporary) force to be reckoned with. But sitting Kandi down for the entire game and have that game be a gritty win is not a coincidence. Plus, keeping Kandi on the pine had to be good for Eddie Griffin's confidence, further indicating that he is the pivot man of choice on this team. And it was good for everybody to remember what Madsen brings to the table. So another bump or two down the pecking order for the Kandi Man is a net plus for this ballclub.