The Three-Pointer: Rock Bottom
1. Stupid and Lazy
The Timberwolves just lost by 32 to a squad that had lost 11 out of 14. Their shot selection was atrocious, combining a lack of patience with a lack of judgment with a lack teamwork to yield a loooonnnnggg series of too-quick jumpers that short-circuited ball movement and resembled nothing so much as a pick-up game among once-cool small-town high school ballers now trying to stave off a paunch and rewind the clock by attempting things that are beyond their ken.
And the defense was worse. No pick was too flimsy to stop a Timberwolf and free up a shooter, and if a pick wasn't available, the perimeter defenders merely gave them a little more space and invited the open jumpers the Warriors are clearly capable of making. There was no ball pressure. There was also no peripheral vision. Back door cuts, slashes across the paint, basketball 101 drive-and-kicks to the wings and the corners: the Wolves treated all of this as if it were a bewildering new style they'd never seen before. The rotations were slow and often misguided. And the lack of boxing out or jousting for loose balls was absurd.
You can blame a lack of familiarity only so much. Set plays are fine, but you can have ball movement without set plays and get open shots if people are keeping their eyes open, moving without the ball, and playing with a shared sense of purpose. Knowing the defensive sets is certainly required to shut down a good veteran team like the Pistons, but both Portland and Golden State played like jokers on offense; they need a pathetic defense to give them confidence and the Wolves obliged both times. Is there a different catcechism between Minnesota and Boston on fighting through screens? On getting back in transition? On putting yourself between your man and the basket when the shot goes up?
The basketball team I watched tonight played stupidly. They were mentally lazy, and quit providing 100 percent of their physical and intellectual capacity to this game. They became unlikeble; a team for which you do not want to cut slack, a team clearly without pride, or a clue about what they need to do to improve.
2. Honeymoon over for Dwane Casey
All season long there has been a hesitation to rip Coach Dwane Casey. At the time there were some very good reasons for this restraint. Casey is a rookie coach, caught with a team in flux, trying to affect a transition in both style and personnel.
But I'm done with that. After 46 games, does anybody know what the personality and identity of this team is? And is it really in Coach Dwane Casey's interest to continue to feed us all a line of bullshit?
Casey says Michael Olowokandi is sitting because of matchups; we learn through back channels Kandi is on the verge of being traded and that's why he is sitting. The back channel is accurate. Casey says all the trade talk is distracting and that he'd happily go to war for the rest of the season with the guys he's got in that locker room right now. Less than two weeks later, Kevin McHale makes a trade in large part to give Casey the kind of athletic players he thinks Casey wants.
Ever since the trade was made, Casey has habitually put three or four of the ex-Celtics on the floor at the same time. Uh, weren't those same guys playing--or riding the pine--for a team more than five games below .500, even with Paul Pierce as a teammate? And, perhaps more to the point, how are they supposed to learn the new sets when they all used to play together using the old sets, so that there are fewer guys out there who can show them the new sets?
Does Casey want to play Marcus Banks at the point guard position? Then start Marcus Banks at the point and bring Marko Jaric off the bench! You want to light a fire under Jaric, sit him down and let the speedy newcomer get a shot. You want the speedy newcomer to learn the offense, put him in with your top three guys (aside from Jaric, of course) in minutes played in that offense! But don't give Jaric the cursory starter's treatment. That just puts the screws to Jaric's already fragile confidence--you've got the scythe perched over his neck, without ever swinging the blade. Cut the head off and send him to the bench. Let him take a huge breath, realize he's still alive, just not starting, and get him itching to prove you were wrong to bench him. Make the focus on improvement, not demotion. This isn't rocket science.
You don't want Eddie Griffin to shoot from beyond three feet? We all agree with you. Next time Eddie jacks up more than two stupid shots in a period, yank him, no matter how much or little time has elapsed. But don't yank him if he's playing smart and he's 5-6 from the field with 3 blocks in 8 minutes, or if the Wolves are up by double digits and he's not shooting. Don't make him automatically the first starter pulled from every game. Because guess what coach? Mark Blount can't play defense. He can pop the midrange jumper and when you need a high post offensive presence, he's a good option. But if you really claim to want a defensive identity on this ballclub, curb Griffin's shot selection and reward Griffin's paint-centric improvements at every opportunity.
By the way, are the Wolves still supposedly a defensive-oriented team? Then why are you holding your tongue on the childish ineptitude of Rashad McCants? Don't you think it is time SOMEBODY called out McCants, loud and clearly, for being a first-class punk on the court? Is his behavior what you endorse? Your silence says it is. The King of Garbage treats his defensive assignments with contempt. He is smart and he is athletic, so the only thing left to conclude is that he really doesn't give a damn about playing defense. You're the coach. If this team is really going to sink like a stone on your watch, don't you think it is time you delivered a few wake-up calls along the way?
Hell, after only six games, you've got an eminently coachable character like Justin Reed steaming down and launching jumpers (something he should try from out of 12 feet approximately once every three games) like he's World B. Free or something. And Marcus Banks? All the tools in the world, and some decent instincts, at least some of the time. But isn't it time Mr. Banks was introduced to his bread-and-butter, Mr. Garnett? KG goes 12-13--a franchise record!--and doesn't shoot in the last six-plus minutes of the 4th quarter in a narrow loss to a totally inexperienced Blazers team? You're the coach. How about a timeout and a play drawn up for your MVP? How about benching the player who doesn't get that play run for KG? How about some quick hard lessons for the newcomers, so that if and when they ever get around to learning your sets, there will be some priorities to guide them along the way. Here's one, for Ricky Davis: After you get your shot blocked four times driving into Joel Pryz or Ben Ratliff, try something different the fifth time.
Coach Casey, everything about your demeanor demands respect. You are the physical epitome of a disciplined, dedicated, decent coach. But front office personnel are coming into your locker room and yelling at your players. Your top draft pick is sulking his way through a lost season without any outward signs of resistance from you. What you say to the media and what has happened have not always been the same thing. You have intimidated your starting point guard (the one with the six-year contract who will cost you a first-round pick someday) into a steady decline. You use your bench liberally and vary your substitution patterns according to matchups, or what you feel to be the appropriate tool in your "toolbox," yet your bench has been outscored by your opponents' bench in 17 of the last 19 games.
The honeymoon is over. This is your team. At the very least you owe us honest answers about what you are trying to do with it and how well the players are--or aren't--responding.
3. Opinions are like brains...everybody's got one
For what it's worth, here is what I would do.
Sit Kevin Garnett in the middle of the second and 2-4 minutes of the 4th period.
Start Marcus Banks and play him 26-34 minutes a game while hammering home the need to hone his half-court game with better passing, something that will happen the more he relies on KG. On defense, he needs to use his speed to pressure the ball; why do we notice Banks's quickness three times as often on offense as we do on D?
Stoke the confidence of Jaric and Griffin whenever possible, but set specific rules and regulations on their play. Be merciless on Griffin's shot selection and understanding about his lack of body-up defense on occasion. For Jaric it is purely a matter of energy. Freed of the starter's role, spot him in at the 1, 2, and 3 positions, according to matchups, and encourage him to vary his defensive attack--very physical, on-body defense sometimes, hanging back and using his length for steals at other times. When he plays the point and he turns down easy transition opportunities, let him know about it. When he turns down open jumpers that are clearly being offered him by opponents, let him know.
Stop walking on eggshells around McCants. His offensive explosiveness is making him feel like he can half-ass it on defense, and his offense obviously isn't nearly consistent enough to warrant it. Inform the guy that he's in the midst of fulfilling a bad reputation that will be very very difficult to shake two, three, four years down the road, if ever.
Don't be afraid to ask Kevin Garnett for suggestions, and to involve him regularly in your thought process and decision-making. I wouldn't do everything Garnett says, just most of it. The guy has earned it.