The Three-Pointer: Without A Clue
1. 46 points in 36 minutes
That's what the Timberwolves scored in the final three quarters of their disheartening 78-90 loss to the Washington Wizards tonight. The team's offense has steadily declined, averaging fewer points per game in each succeeding month since November. And anyone not driven to somnambulance by their putrid play can see why.
Begin with no ball movement. Precious few are the times when the Wolves make more than two or three passes once they have passed the half court line, and even then the passes are rarely proactive, probing, purposeful. This team doesn't attack with the pass, and after nine years of Flip Saunders it is a shocking contrast. They also don't exhibit good spacing on the court, lack a victorious quorum of reliable hands to catch whatever passes do happen to be doled out, and run a thoroughly unimaginative collection of offensive sets. Other than that, everything's fine.
What's especially troubling about the lack of offense is that it seems to stem from dysfunction. The team's top two scorers are both fine passers and relatively unselfish. And despite all the one-on-one basketball that occurs in place of deft passing, the Wolves rarely get to the free throw line. So why aren't the pieces fitting together?
Even the 32 points Minnesota registered in the first quarter tonight didn't stem from a capable offense. Clearly the Wizards came out flat, missing a lot of shots and not really getting back on defense. The Wolves turned those lapses into a few spurts of transition scoring, with Anthony Carter setting an uptempo pace. When the transition game bogged down, Ricky Davis simply launched jumpers that went in. In other words, even in the first quarter it was very rare for the Wolves to score by executing a set play in the half-court game.
So, again, why aren't the pieces fitting together? I repeat the question because I'm tired of ripping Coach Dwane Casey but I frankly don't know where else to ascribe the blame. I do know that Kevin Garnett owns few players in this league like he owns Antawn Jamison and yet KG received a bare minimum of touches in the 9-point second quarter. I know that if you start Mark Blount at center it is because you want to emphasize offense, and I assume you want KG and Blount to be spaced a fair distance apart. So why was KG constantly double-teamed, yet Blount was limited to just two shots, and no points, in 25 minutes?
Yeah, there are glaring limitations among the personnel. AC can't shoot, and so when the fast break falters, teams slough off him and double others. Ricky Davis loves to jack up shots early in the shot clock. Marcus Banks has loads of physical potential but continues to face a steep learning curve in terms of his passing decisions and general floor leadership. And Mark Blount has lousy hands.
The plan tonight seemed to involve a lot of lob passes to the big men down low. Why not set KG up in the high post, Hassell in the low post, and Blount and Davis on the wings. Run everything through Garnett and sling that rock back and forth. In particular, stop making Davis the fulcrum of the offense in the half-court sets. As well as he passes, he simply doesn't involve people with the same resolute democracy KG sponsors. Since the Boston trade, Garnett's assist total has plummeted. So has the won-lost record. There's a connection there. And if you can't figure out a way to get Blount more than two shots in 25 minutes, what the hell is he doing out there?
2. Anoint Davis or McCants 6th man.
Davis proved in Boston last year that he could be a dependable microwave as sixth man. Sitting him at the start of games would get the ball going through KG immediately, which is always a good thing. And while I understand the disastrous potential of starting McCants, I think this team is now hopelessly bereft enough to lose all pretense about this year and make the future the priority. Opening up with McCants and Banks in the backcourt with KG, Griffin, and Hassell to clean up their mess on defense would probably be a feast or famine proposition, depending on McCants's attitude and Banks's off-and-on ability to stay with his man, but does anyone doubt that the Wolves hope this is their backcourt of the future? And if that is indeed the plan, what the hell are we waiting for?
3. Let's make a deal.
The trading deadline is Thursday. The Wolves have a plethora of ugly contracts--Blount, Hudson, and Jaric foremost among them--that probably can't be unloaded. Personally, I think KG is the only player who isn't expendable. Even players with beguiling potential, like Banks, Griffin, and McCants, or talented performers with fair contracts, like Davis, should be included in any swap that helps this team get a clue, which might even lead to a plan, which in turn could actually lead to trying to execute that plan, and then, just maybe, successfully executing that plan.
What is the plan now; lock up Banks when his deal expires at the end of this year and simply eat the $12 million per year you are paying Jaric and Hudson to supposedly play the point? Foster gradually increased minutes for McCants, and, if so, at the expense of Davis or Hassell? Let Eddie Griffin rot on the bench?
Wolves fans deserve a braintrust--Taylor, McHale, Chapman, Casey, whoever--that cooperatively works with a unified strategy about how to rebuild on the fly. They deserve to see that this franchise has a clue about how far off the tracks this things has gotten.